My second visit to Secret Cinema (proper that is, excluding last summer’s The Lost Boys) was every bit as impressive as the first. This time I was in on the ground floor so to speak so I felt much more involved the run up to the event itself. So what were the clues – a pan European Post-War setting, smuggling, spy drama, involvement of The British Consulate?! I was pretty sure I’d figured it out but then they kept throwing the occasional curve ball like the simultaneous screening in Afghanistan that made me doubt myself. In the end though what else could it have been other than Carol Reed’s seminal film The Third Man.
Upon receiving my instructions from ‘The Provost’ it seemed I’d been put into the British military police group (Guardians) and was to be attending a funeral so I needed to wear a black armband or scarf and bring a single flower to lay at the grave. After traveling somewhat nervously to what turned out to be a disused warehouse near The Barbican I identified my meeting point and began to wait there despite being quite early. However, I was soon approached by The Provost who greeted me warmly but warned me that I might be in for a bit of a surprise.
He was not misleading me, though I had been assigned as a guardian I was ordered into a different alleyway by a Russian soldier along with people from all the various groups. We were then led a bit further down where we were passed on to the criminal element who informed us that we were now all part of his gang – we were smugglers and bootleggers and were to avoid the police and particularly the Russians at all costs. He then led us a further on again and we witnessed the funeral of ‘a very important man in Vienna’ (Harry Lime of course) from the public side of the railings outside the churchyard. We then heard some strange noises and were instructed to run the next part of the journey to evade capture by the police! Our ‘boss’ (who himself had a heavy limp) then deposited us at the entrance gate which was staffed by some very scary Russians!
Once we’d gotten through the check point we were lined up the courtyard and escorted into a ‘secret’ entrance which involved some very difficult terrain. Bypassing the main entrance we were lead across some planking and into a narrow corridor leading to a basement which was almost pitch black – it was incredibly difficult just to see the person in front of me so I could follow them and I nearly tripped a few times because I couldn’t see if there were steps. We climbed over beams and squeezed through dark and narrow passageways into what was the brewing/distilling area for the bootlegged alcohol until we eventually found the stairway into the main area.
Once inside were free to roam around and engage whichever tasks took our fancy. I wandered around exploring and taking photos looking for where the action was and it wasn’t long before I tracked down ‘Holly’ and ‘Lena’. After that I tried to keep following them but I lost them a few times. Some highlights: The French police raiding the old lady’s apartment, meeting Dr Winkel and his ‘friend’, the children’s hospital (some lucky man was getting some attention from a nurse one time when I went by), the ‘lab’ right at the top of building which I later helped the British/Russian military police raid (this was very exciting!), being pushed into a room and taught drill and right at the very end I ended up stood right in front of ‘Lena’ as they brought ‘Harry’s body’ out of the sewers and had to tell her who it was! I didn’t know what to say at first, whether I was supposed to play along or not but I just answered honestly and it was a bit sad, I felt quite bad about it. After the big showdown we were all led into the various areas for the screening. I ended up in Cecil’s seminar room so he introduced the film which was preceded by a really funny noiresque short about a trio of people who were really bad at trying to murder each other.
I think I probably enjoyed Battle of Algiers a bit more because it felt like such a big experience, I was quite moved/overwhelmed as I left that screening streaming past the actors in posed in white gowns and attitudes of peace. The Third Man, despite being one of my favourites, obviously doesn’t quite have that sort of resonance so even though I really enjoyed it perhaps it didn’t quite impact me in the same way. As always though it was extremely well done and the only thing I really hope for next time is some more comfortable chairs for watching the film (and for it not to be freezing cold!).