The delightfully debauched Scala cinema in London receives loving tributes from the likes of John Waters and Adam Buxton

Film Review by Anna Ireland | 02 Jan 2024
  • Scala
Film title: Scala!!!
Director: Jane Giles, Ali Catterall
Starring: John Waters, Stewart Lee, Cathi Unsworth, Adam Buxton, Douglas Hart
Release date: 5 Jan
Certificate: 18

They just don't make ‘em like they used to; this line echoes throughout the chaos and debauchery described in Scala!!!. This lively documentary on the infamous north London cinema of the same name recalls a time when cinemas were a space where you could smoke, meet famous musicians, watch banned films… and sleep all night.

The Scala was a hub of self-proclaimed outcasts, misfits and counter-culturalists in the 1970s and 80s, many of whom went on to become famous artists, filmmakers, writers and activists. A colourful host of talking heads – including John Waters, Adam Buxton, and Stewart Lee – bring its walls to life through their memories of saucy screenings, riotous behaviour and illegal activity.

Throughout, the Scala adopts a mystical quality. One fan calls it a ‘secret world’; another an ‘alternative reality.’ Remaining elusive, it shape-shifts between a place to watch X-rated independent films and the meeting point of the radical 1970s. What is clear is that the Scala was a space that was defined by much more than its hair-raising programming. As Mrs Reeves, an elderly Scala fan, comments: “We call the Scala ‘her’ because we love her.” By the end of the film, her four walls are mirroring our own images of hope and rebellion.

Scala!!! is a testament to a riotous cinema experience from a time gone by. Although its subject matter is niche, and the stories can be wistful, it’s an interesting meditation on cinema's fierce history of creating – and providing space for – community.

Released 5 Jan by BFI; certificate 18
Glasgow Film Theatre host a Q&A screening of Scala!!! with co-director Jane Giles on 17 Jan