The outside of the Scala cinema

In recent years there have been many attempts to redefine our view of the 1980s and wrench that decade away from the legacy of Tory Margaret Thatcher.

The latest attempt is the new documentary Scala!!!, directed by Jane Giles and Ali Catterall. It chronicles the rise and fall of an extraordinary cinema and places its story in a social and political context.

The Scala Film Club emerged out of the radical non-profit The Other Cinema, which deserves a documentary all of its own.

It then moved to its now legendary location close to King’s Cross Station, in London. The Scala was responsible for some of the most radical film programming ever brought together in a British cinema.

It introduced audiences to everything from Eraserhead and Hellraiser. And it pioneered more confrontational works such as In The Realms of the Senses, Salo and Pink Flamingos.

The Scala created a sense of inclusion and belonging— many of those interviewed in the documentary still proudly possess their Scala membership cards.

It features riotous stories from a host of former staff members and attendees that attest to the hedonistic atmosphere of the place. Lina Gopaul and John Akomfrah of the Black Audio Film Collective make clear the sense of solidarity and inclusion the Scala fostered.

Welcome They say that they were made more welcome at the Scala than they were at the National Film Theatre. The cinema ran benefit events for the miners during the 1984-5 strike and for Gay’s The Word bookshop after it was raided.

It was generally considered a refuge by LGBT+ people during the height of the HIV-Aids crisis and the loathsome Section 28 laws.

But ultimately an illicit screening of A Clockwork Orange was a provocation too far, and the Scala closed its doors in 1993.

Scala!!! is a glorious memorial to a landmark space where alternative culture once thrived. Not for nothing does the writer Cathi Unsworth describe it as “a wonderworld”.

It’s proof that we should both cherish and defend our beloved cultural spaces now. 

Scala!!! is on cinema release— go to for details.

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