All the way back in June, there was a big announcement for all sci-fi nerds and geeks. Hill Valley, California, the place where the Back to the Future franchise took place, was coming to England. Courtesy of Secret Cinema, a team of creative types would be working hard to recreate the fictional town, for films buffs to step into, fully immersing themselves in the 1950’s flair, eventually ending the evening with watching Back to the Future.
At this point Julien was on a work trip to Ireland, where he was writing a piece for the Daily Mail about the filming locations for Game of Thrones; so I thought to myself, as a treat to him I’d grab us a couple of tickets as a surprise.
If you’re reading this and tried to book tickets at the original sale, you will remember the sheer frustration and tediousness as Secret Cinema decided upon using a server that could not handle the volume of customers, who clearly would be trying to book tickets for an event with such a cult classic status and following. After sitting for the majority of my working day, at my desk, staring at the same screen telling me my booking was processing and to sit tight and not refresh, there was finally a message saying that no one managed to buy tickets, and to try again the next day; when they’d be using See Tickets instead.
So 24 hours later, I found myself with great ease, booking two tickets for Secret Cinema Presents Back to the Future. Success. Finally.
I told Julien about the surprise just a few hours later, seeing as A) I was super excited to hear his reaction, and B) I was worried he’d go and book himself tickets, not knowing I had.
Being a MASSIVE Back to the Future nerd, of course he geeked out straight away and started planning his outfit out. Even though we’d been told the theme for the night would be 50s, as that is the era that the movie mainly revolves around, Julien opted to plan his outfit around Back to the Future Part II, specifically Marty McFly’s pretty rad hat, jacket, hover board and of course, those sick Nike Mags.
Julien’s friend, Fern Blevins, had done an amazing job turning an old, unwanted bag; into a fully-fledged, legit looking hover board, as if straight from the film itself. It looked incredible, and she had been up until the early hours the night before, desperately trying to get it ready for him on time. With this to truly finish off the look, we knew we were going to look so (Marty Mc) Fly.
We had tickets for the opening night; the 24th July, and we were both excited beyond words. The plan was for Julien to meet me from work, at Highbury and Islington, and for us to catch the London Overground to Hackney Wick. Everything was set, it was a baking hot day, and I’d asked to finish work an hour early. As I went to collect my things from my desk at exactly 15.52, my phone lit up.
“Tonight’s Secret Cinema: back to the Future is cancelled. We apologise for the inconvenience & will send further details via email. SEE Tickets & Secret Cinema.”
Bearing in mind we were meant to be at Hackney Wick at 17.00, I instantly thought this was some kind of hoax. However I then received an email with the same message. And of course, social media was purely erupting with anger.
So with the knowledge that this was for real, and a deflated heart, I called Julien to deliver the bad news. Bless him, he was in West London, where no one would have any idea about Secret Cinema happening on the other side of London, and a sad little Marty McFly had to begrudgingly get off the train, and head back home to change.
I immediately requested that we attend on a date at the end of August, and therefore be guaranteed that they sort this out in time and we could go.
That night Julien and myself decided to drink a lot of cocktails in the sun to try and make it all better.
So fast-forward nearly one month to the 21st August. We are the proud owners of two tickets for that night. We wake up, excitedly, and go downstairs to cook ourselves a fancy breakfast. Lets have omelette, we say. It’s Back to the Future day.
I go to my hairdresser in Mayfair, Jimo, who runs the magnificent Salako salon on George Street. Being someone who literally gets told off by their boyfriend for not brushing their hair when they get out of bed in the morning, I just knew I’d need a helping hand in achieving that 1950’ s look.
Jimo is a literal dream. I’d discovered him through a Time Out London offer that turned up in my inbox one day. I went along for a haircut and was blown away by not only his talent, however also his experiences, who he’d worked with, his kind nature and hospitality. It’s not a general experience like many other hairdressers you visit. He makes you feel like no one or nothing else is more important than your hair, and he works his magic.
So anyway, after Google Image searching for the perfect hairstyle, and agreeing I probably wasn’t going to be looking like Scarlett Johansen (he’s a hairdresser, not a magician / surgeon) we agreed on an extravagant French Pleat.
In just over an hour I was done, and felt a million dollars. I’d changed into my outfit, a yellow dress, and a red handkerchief round my neck, teamed with a vintage American baseball jacket draped over my shoulders, and very dramatic red lipstick, with almost Winehouse style eyeliner flicks. Walking through Marble Arch during a Thursday rush hour, I certainly got funny looks, however, I kept telling myself I looked fabulous and just shook it off.
I got home to find my boy all dressed up as Marty McFly, and looking great in his whole get up.
We grabbed some tinnies for the road, and off headed to Hackney Wick. The vibe on the train, as we got closer was mixed. The many of us that were donned in our 50’s outfits were all excitedly looking around, giving one another almost a secret nod, as if to say “Hill Valley? Me too”, whilst everyone else was thinking “what the hell train am I on?” or even “Oh just a normal day of eccentric East London idiots, dressing in order to show off”. The latter being the most likely, to be fair.
Anyway, we got off at Hackney Wick, and were directed across the bridge, and down the road to the Olympic Park. Already, the actors were out in force to recreate the feeling that we’d suddenly time travelled back to the 1950’s. Instead of having your usual security asking you to stick to the side of the path and allow other pedestrians to pass, they had actors in true 50’s American Cops uniforms shouting and yelling for us to get into file, and for us to put away our “calculators”, meaning our iPhones.
After a swift queue we were finally at the front, and declaring we had no phones or cameras on us. Which of course, was massive lie. We’d done our research via the different hashtags on social media, and worked out people were certainly sneaking in different devices to take photos, therefore making us even more determined to get footage. Even more of a reason to not want to listen to the rules, was how much we’d been messed around with the whole cancellation saga. So screw it. We had cameras and we were going to use them.
In we went, like excited little children and ran up the ramp and round the corner, to a big sign greeting us to “Hill Valley, a Nice Place to Live”. Just like in the movies. We passed all the little bungalow huts that depicted scenes from the 50’s, to which we would later return.
We walked past these and into the main area of Hill Valley. It was a square, with the infamous clock tower being the central focus, which would later display the movie, projected onto the front. Directly opposite this was Ed’s Diner, which served amazingly strong and fabulous adult milkshakes containing liquor. Along the two parallel sides connecting the clock tower to Ed’s Diner, there were a series of shops, including a florists, a Post Office and such like, broken up by Hill Valley High School. We opted for this as we heard the music blaring out. We had to queue for a very short while, and quickly went into the school hall, where the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance was taking place.
Again, there were incredible actors / dancers who were talking to Julien about his outfit and how they’d never seen anything like it before in the 50’s. They’d then suddenly break out into synchronised dancing; not having previously given any indication that they were processionals.
We had a bit of a dance, had our pictures taken, explored some more, and then decided to ride the big Ferris wheel. We only had to queue a short while, and we were at the front. We got on, and as we started gradually escalating higher in the sky, I remembered how I have a fear of even Ferris wheels and how safe they are, which of course is embarrassingly silly. However, this did make for some great sneaky GoPro footage, as I was squealing with joy and excitement on the wheel.
After some more eating and copious amounts of drinking and dancing, it was time to settle down to the film. We squeezed in any space we could find on the floor, facing the clock tower and town hall; which was harder than you’d imagine. The serious film goers had been saving their seating area on the grass right from the beginning; which I guess is fair enough in a way, however also, they’d completely missed out on the essence of visiting Hill Valley and checking out all the amazing parts of the re-enactment of the town from the 50’s, and to be quite honest should have just gone to an open air cinema to watch it. Anyway, these die-hard fans were very arsey about letting the people that were dancing sit down; as that was ruining their “area” they’d been camping out in. The film started, and after a few huffs and puffs and groans from certain people around us, we decided to go and sit in Ed’s Diner at the back, and watch from the seats there. Which of course suited us just fine, as we sipped away on our alcoholic milk shakes, and laughed, joked and watched the movie without disturbing anyone.
Whilst the movie played, actors were employed to act scenes out in sequence, on the stage underneath the projected film. They did this so well, and even ran between audience members. They also had cars going around the audience, including the DeLorean – which of course excited Julien beyond belief.
At the end, during the infamous scene where Marty McFly needs to get back to his real time life, in the future, and The Doc is trying to link the clock tower cable up to meet the lightning bolt, actors were indeed playing this out at the same time. Credit to Secret Cinema for this part, massively. The Doc manages to zip wire down and over the heads of the crowd, whilst Marty drives the DeLorean back to the future, leaving fire skid parks on the pavement.
The movie finished, and instantly came on a 50’s jive bands, and everyone got up and danced. Inside Hill Valley High, another band was playing and people were dancing in there too. It was literally like being taken back in time, and nearly everyone was getting really into the spirit of things and having a wonderful time.
We went into the little huts around the back of Ed’s Diner, where each one depicted a little taster of a home from the era. With old décor, and pictures of James Dean on walls, it was a very sweet little extra touch to the set.
With the night soon coming to an end, we took ourselves away, and started making the walk back to the station to go home.
We’d had SUCH lovely evening, and left extremely happy customers. Secret Cinema, without a doubt, seriously messed up with the pre organisation of the event, and I feel the general consensus is the people who flew over from other countries for the original events, have not been compensated for air fares or for hired hotel rooms, which I do think is massively cheeky, however I just feel lucky enough to have been able to make a different date alternatively.
Aside from that, it was done incredibly well, coming from someone who liked the movie but wasn’t a fanatic, and also from Julien’s perspective as someone who is a phenomenal fan of the franchise.
I can honestly say I hope to experience another Secret Cinema at some point in the future. Bar the initial mess ups, it was an incredible evening.