Scala Cinema, remembering the most ludicrous place in London

Often described as one of the most ludicrous places in the capital, the Scala cinema in London’s King Cross is being remembered with a book by Jane Giles. The venue became synonymous with London’s underbelly and often played host to the heaviest doses of hedonism.

The club came to fruition out of a socialist collective which held court in Fitzrovia but with the arrival of Channel 4 in 1981 the group were moved out of their premise and instead found their home in King’s Cross – itself a notable spot for excess. There they fund their home at the Primatarium which was an old picture house and rock venue. It was here the group remained until 1993 where development and financial depravity meant the dream died.

Jane Giles’ new book ‘Scala Cinema 1978 -1993′ celebrates the group’s joy and sorrow perfectly. Below are some of the memories and moments from the weirdest place to watch a film ever. 

A sleeping punter at Shock Around the Clock, 1989 Photograph- David Hyman

“In the summer of 1981 I was, like Viv, a teenager in the audience with a boyfriend’s arm around my shoulders. We were up from the sticks for a quintuple bill that included Assault on Precinct 13 and Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue. The intermission music was Love Will Tear Us Apart. That night I fell for the Scala’s incredible atmosphere and its eclectic mix of cult movies, horror, hardcore experimental and LGBT cinema, which became my unofficial film education.” – Jane Giles  

Billy Bell, technician installing projection equipment at Scala King’s Cross, 1981 Photograph- David Babsky
Lux Interior of the Cramps with Scala programmer JoAnne Sellar at the launch of The Return of the Living Dead, 1986. Photograph- Roz Kidd
Divine Ticket, 1982
SCala cinema programme 1986

“The Scala had magic. It was like joining a very secret club, like a biker gang or something… They could show films uncut because they had memberships, well that’s insane! It’s like they were a country club for criminals and lunatics and people that were high,” John Waters said.

“Which is a good way to see movies,” he added.

Opening night of the Kings Cross Scala, 1981. Photograph- FAB Press
Huston, the cinema’s cat, 1987 Photograph- Mair Payne
Foyer of the Scala, c1990. Photograph- FAB Press

“I often used to spend the whole night in the Scala, dozing towards the early hours with a boyfriend’s arm around me, drinking double vodkas. The Scala’s where I first saw the films of John Waters, Russ Meyer and Ingmar Bergman. I’ll never forget the first time I went there on my own, to see Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. I was utterly entranced by the film and loved that I didn’t have anybody next to me to think about or be distracted by.

“I always felt safe at the Scala, so had no qualms about going there alone, whereas I wouldn’t have even considered it at any other cinema. I still remember almost every frame of that vivid, female-led film. I was at film school at the time, and seeing The Red Shoes that afternoon made such a deep impression on me that I went back to see all of Powell and Pressburger’s films and became a lifelong fan.” – Viv Albertine 

scala interior
Image result for shock around the clock scala

(All images via Jane Giles book Scala Cinema: 1978-1993)

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