The Electric Notting Hill – London’s Underground film’s over a century – arriving in 2023
What is crouching… and why does it end?
“London never sleeps deeply, and its dreams are uneasy”
Stephen King, 1980
Since 2014, The BeeKeepers have been re-imagining the map of the London Underground, the city’s countercultures and underworlds, as a film festival programmed by the legendary midnight cinema club which ran all-nighters at the Scala, Kings Cross. In 2023, for the first time you can read the story of London’s Underground cinema century.
This isn’t the story of street fighting men and revolutionaries, heroically manning the barricades. Rather, it’s a guide to rained-off affairs, people muddling-by between foiled schemes and failed uprisings, retreating into London’s tunnels, cafés, pubs and cinemas, to fight another day.
The stories of stymied revolt weave around the Electric Cinema – the oldest continuously operating film theater in Great Britain – which in the early Seventies was a hub of radicalism and community activism which saved the Notting Hill carnival in one of its darkest hours. The Electric inspired an internationalist and eclectic attitude to film. This attitude suffused the Scala’s repetoire, Channel 4’s programming of cinema on British television in its heydays during the 1980s, and lives on through the annual Scalarama film festival.
‘The Electric Notting Hill’ investigates, station to station, the links between David Bowie’s Fitzrovia and the Chelsea of the Rolling Stones, Dalek movies and ‘Blowup’, and the Ladbroke Grove of ‘Performance’, ‘Absolute Beginners’, ‘Alfie’, Hawkwind, and the film of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novel ‘The Final Programme’.
By linking a movie to every station on the London Tube map, that’s either filmed at, which is near to or has some link to the movie, it’s a guide to London’s myriad boroughs and communities, its buildings, epic structures and their divergent histories. Mainly, it shows how they’re all joined together through the world’s first subterranean transport system. To be a fan of ‘An American Werewolf in London’ is to know that a scene was filmed on the Underground; which is in a sense to be a fan of the Tube and of Tottenham Court Road station as well.
The inner struggle of London, kettled and sempiternal, gave rise in the Twentieth Century to dizzying waves of youth subcultures – Teddy Boys, the Mods, Punk and New Romantics – to music, fashion, art, literature, films and ideas that continue to define the world’s perception of England.
Surveying more than 350 feature films, and with numerous illustrations, ‘The Electric Notting Hill’ asks the question: will London ever be this cool again?
“We regard ourselves as part of the local community,” says Paul Gregory, who refers to himself as a committee member, but who everyone else regards as the governor. A year ago the Electric was an unusual experiment in local cinema. Today full houses are the norm, and a trail of underground organisations are happier for the hand-outs they have received from the profits.
“We put all profits either into the club or these organisations,” said Paul, “We regard ourselves as trustees of the money, nothing more.”
Donations are often in the region of £50-£100 [£750-1500 in 2021 money]. Groups to have benefited include International Times (to help pay for their defence in an obscenity case) and the local Black Panthers. “They’re a minority group who want to do their own thing. They needed money, so the committee gave it to them,” said Paul.