Remember when I visited Rome earlier this year? I’m turning into a regular (virtual) globe-hopper, as the magical time-lords behind the immersive, mysterious movie events known as Underground Cinema had me traipsing to North Africa via Essendon Fields but a week ago. Given a date, a secret location and a theme of ‘La Guerre’, I found myself driving through the Melbourne winter dark as the rain pelted across my windowshield – wrapped warmly in layers of my lady-spy costume (read: bumper bangs, beret, frenchy-chic worsted wool greatcoat). The cold and wet had me momentarily wondering what I’d got myself into as a sped across an industrial estate, and wouldn’t I be better off cosied up on my couch under a blanket? Reader, how wrong I was. Underground Cinema’s production of ‘La Guerre’ was extraordinary – another level up on the immersion scale – taking you not only to a place, but a time which will never exist again.
Part of the pleasure of attending an Underground Cinema event is the mystery of the venue to come, followed by choosing one’s outfit, guessing the movie … and then your arrival on location. Guided into a disused factory site, I was transported to a colorful bazaar, rowdy with guests (who knew how many were actors?) dressed variously as military lads and ladies, gendarmes, street vendors of the souk in rich red fez, exotic spies and European emigres in furs and faded glory. One thing is for sure … too much is NEVER too much for your outfit of choice at a UGC event. My guest Kate soon guessed the film and theme of the evening was that classic romance of Bogey and Bergman, Casablanca. As I’d never seen it before (I know! Quel horreur!), I sunk easily into conversation with the surrounding actors having little expectation of plot but much enjoyment of various bad accents I rolled out one after another. Unlike Rome (which was essentially a series of vignettes featuring The Life Of Brian one could wander through at leisure), the comparatively-small space of La Guerre’s venue encouraged one-on-one interaction between players and guests. We had a meeting with a certain colorful Senora at The Blue Parrot Cafe, where we attempted to swap an item in exchange for safe passage. Characters told you a little of their lives and how they happened to be in Casablanca, before haggling with you and sometimes sending you on a wild goose chase to meet other players. The light in the souk and bazaar area was low, so I unfortunately have few photos to share of this first part of our La Guerre experience. My lasting memory of sheer attention-to-detail glory is of sitting around small table, listening to an exotic jazz songstress in 1940’s accoutrement as around us, tables buzzed with the clink of glasses and shisha-steam melted into the beautifully-lit air. Mon dieu, cinematic perfection. Other elements of the night included a belly-dancing venue where one sat upon ottomans before drinking illicit Hendrick’s Gin from teapots, and a gendarme station where your papers were well-checked by a mustachioed officer.
Before long, the police broke up the party of gin-drinking shisha-smokers and we were moved through the night to another industrial space – warned that we couldn’t share details on social media of the events of the night to come. Walking into a giant hanger, collective jaws dropped as we were confronted by a gleaming vintage aircraft, underlit by pink and blue – a fine backdrop to a floor filled with tables glittering with candles waiting for guests to enjoy their movie. Totally audacious.
The hanger was filled with all the giveaway elements of Casablanca – most notably Rick’s Cafe Americain, replete with a baccarat table, neon yellow light illuminating the dark and crooning jazz trio. The wonder and total delight and surprise on the crowd’s face was uplifting – that a production company would go to so much detail to create something so utterly unusual, pleasurable and delightful.
A character of a night, Senora of the Blue Parrot who nabbed our wallet in exchange for …. well, very little really. We were had in our attempt to leave Casablanca!
For a few hours, a lucky group of Melbournites were taken to Casablanca via an aging industrial estate – creating moments of magic and a fantastical, environment of exoticism that we lived in … if only for a short while.
We’ll always have Essendon Fields. Here’s looking at you, kid.