Under London’s Night Streets
The Scala map of Underground films is born in 2016
This article appears in the 2016 Scalarama festival newspaper.
Download the article as a PDF here.
On one of his occasional sojourns in London, the American author Stephen King expounded the view that the city’s place names, like ‘Crouch End’, are “infinitely sinister”. “What is crouching?” The horror maestro was heard to ask aloud. “And why does it end?”
‘Artists have made profound use of real and imaginary subterranean worlds that promised places of mystery and a search for truth and power,’
the cultural critic Peter Stanfield observed in the 2011 academic compendium of studies of film-going ‘Explorations in New Cinema History’
This quest was mirrored in the excavations carried out by geologists, palaeontologists, anthropologists and archaeologists who sought, through their tunneling, mining and drilling to unravel the ‘Mystery of lost time’. The excavations uncovered a truth about the world’s development; its strata and fossils exposed to the light a time before man, as archaeological digs exposed a hitherto unknown history of man’.
The London Underground is over one hundred and fifty years old, cinema technology is a century old. As the 2016 Scalarama DIY film festival begins, the London Underground is born anew with the advent of the Night Tube. The name itself conjures up the image of a vast pipe emerging from the shadowlands inside the Earth, from the darkness which we usually only glimpse in the cracks between paving slabs; glimpses of the places where woolly bears dwell and do whatever it is woolly bears get up to.
Is the night tube bringing London’s Id, its dreaming, to the surface? Or is it swallowing everyone’s hopes, aspirations, anxieties, nausea, alienation into the submerged maze of tunnels and ducts; Londonder’s whims, caprices, their erotic confusion, their peacock displays of intoxicated abandon, siphoned into one consensual, hypnopompic, hallucinatory miasma between midnight and dawn?
From Friday August 19th, the Central and Victoria lines will run all night and all morning. Services on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines follow in autumn. While post-Brexit fear and loathing are erupting on the pavements above, beneath the tarmacadam are the tracings of London’s collective dreamtime beginning a century and a half ago (at least). These unconscious patterns are made visible by Harry Beck’s simple, beautiful Art Deco masterpiece, the London Tube map.
What will Londonders find to do in the expanded Spacetime, which until recently was the preserve of urban foxes and shift workers in hi-vis vests? Will the capital see a new generation of cinemas and viewing parlours for moving images, channeling the spirit of the Scala film club? (Which, before it landed up at Kings Cross, started its life in the basement of the old Channel Four building on Charlotte Street; the footprint of what was once the Scala theatre, which you can see The Beatles performing in at the end of Richard Lester’s ‘A Hard Day’s Night‘; hence on our Scala map – swapping tube stations on Beck’s wonderful map for movies filmed near them or associated with them – The Fabs are at Goodge Street).
Resonance FM – London’s art radio station – and programme makers The BeeKeepers have created the Scala map and will be broadcasting during the Scalarama season, inviting the public to join us as flâneurs, exploring the links between London films and London locations.
Some of the revelations may be unsettling, like the discovery about humanity’s roots made in the film of Nigel Kneale’s ‘Quatermass and the Pit‘, when archaeologists unearth a crashed Martian spaceship at ‘Hobbs End’, an imaginary Tube station in W10 somewhere between White City and East Acton. Hobbs End, had it really existed, would have been built at some point from 1938 when the Central Line track was converted to the four-rail electrification system to take 8 car trains, and Wood Lane station was abandoned as too small for West London commuter’s needs.
Other discoveries are glorious. Neglected gems like Julien Temple’s love letter to lost Soho and White City ‘Absolute Beginners‘. Julian Henriques’s celebration of Harlseden’s raggamuffin and Dancehall culture ‘Babymother‘. Frankie Dymon’s ‘Death May Be Your Santa Claus‘, arguably the only British black power film, featuring the prog rock band The Second Hand, and Dymon’s striking imagery that bears comparison with Sun Ra’s ‘Space Is The Place’, the films of Ken Russell, Jodorowsky, Kubrick or Zeffirelli.
Now that we’ve made our mandala of subliminal and hidden London in the Scala map, with the occasional cooings and cat calls of the Scalarama organisers encouraging us along the way, cinemas and film spaces across London are responding to the succubitic siren songs of the Scala’s many spirits.