The Cult Of Outdoor Cinema: Aliens In Manchester

Somewhere, near to the centre of Manchester, there's an alien planet. It's perhaps not obvious from the outside but pull in closer, past the attractive green lighting and subtle advertisements for a famous brand of whiskey and you'll enter a hollow decked out to look like LV-426, the colonized planet which features in James Cameron's 1986 film Aliens. There's a lot of dry ice (or otherwise, there's just a lot of dust); the place looks, as you would suspect, almost derelict, abandoned; a tad dishevelled. There's plenty of flashing orange, blue and green lighting and an industrial-sounding audio track plays whilst guests enter. If you try to take a picture of it on a rather rubbish mobile phone camera, it looks a bit like this...




This is my first encounter with the growing cult of showing films in places which might add to experience of seeing them and I'm obviously not really in LV-426, I'm in a disused part of Manchester's Great Northern, just off Deansgate. The lighting, screening, audio and drinks (hic) have all been provided by Jameson Cult Film Club, which has been touring the country putting on a selection of cult classics for free to audiences who want to drink whiskey and see the films on the big screen. They've also enlisted the help of a few friends...




Rightly or wrongly, I always associate the beginning of this movement with Secret Cinema, the London-based screening club which organises events like this one with actors bringing key parts of the film to life around the audience. The Cult Film Club isn't quite as overt as this but the subtle pieces of paraphernalia - which include a man lying dead, covered with a face-hugger, on a bar called Hadley's Hope - do help to create an atmosphere of joviality and film-related respect amongst the assembled audience of film geeks. And my, are there are a lot of film geeks here...




Because, ultimately, the gimmicky nature of the Jameson's promotions and the transformation of The Great Northern into LV-426 matter little if you're not going to put on a great film. The real appeal of this sort of endeavor is in seeing a movie which many in the audience will never have seen on the big screen. And for that sole facet, The Cult Film Club is a huge success. Most noticeable is the sound which booms out and echoes around the basement like a supercharged amp at a rock concert. Run by Aliens.

The projection is top quality, the audience are (largely) quiet and respectful of the piece and everyone watches the film with a Jameson cocktail in hand, decked out in hats, scarves and gloves to ward off the increasingly shivery November cold. It's a great, community-based event with a friendly atmosphere and values which are in the right place. In short: I'm sold on this whole trend and I'll probably be back to see the next Jameson offering (apparently Control) in Manchester in March. Which leaves us just with the film itself...




Aliens, older than much of the whiskey at a ripe fourteen years, looks nothing like its apparent maturity and it's incredibly interesting to revisit it in a post-Avatar world. Cameron's direction here, as opposed to in his latest opus, is stripped back and pleasantly bare-knuckled but, similar to his latest, Aliens runs on for too long and has, at the very least, one coda too many. The respect afforded to the film (it sits at fifty-nine on IMDb's Top 250 list) is difficult for me to comprehend; it's occasionally tense and very well produced but Cameron doesn't get as much horror or tension out of it as he should and the addition of a small girl (Carrie Henn) to the band of people being picked off by the benevolent Xenomorphs is a hindrance to the plot rather than an enhancement. It's an average science-fiction blockbuster: the perfect film to enjoy with friends and whiskey in a wintry Manchester basement.

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