Venturing out past 11pm on a Sunday night is always a tricky one. With work the next day, I bailed on the usual Sunday Club dinner plans with the family to experience a jungle-themed cinema in the midst of south London.
Whilst I had accepted I’d be missing out on my weekly garlic bread and steak at the local Italian, I prepared for the worst; an all day breakfast for lunch, followed by a joyous afternoon of vegetation, peaking at roughly 4.20pm.
After allowing my lunch to digest and priming my senses for the ensuing excursion, I promptly headed off south of the river to meet my chum – a last minute replacement for my date who bailed on me. Perhaps the idea of a jungle-themed screening of Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto’ (with giant beanbags, blankets, popcorn, ice cream and champagne) wasn’t enough to swing it. She said she was too hung over to leave the house but I’ll assume she was simply unwilling to waste any more of her life re-watching a Mel Gibson feature.
I’ll be the first to admit I chose the movie. I liked the setting and some vague recollections of particular plot-points enticed me. It’s one of Gibson’s better attempts to market his own fascist and oppressive views to the masses under the guise of gratuitous violence, using an ancient language in subtitled form as an attempt to distract from how historically abstract and utterly fantastical the film actually is. Naturally, given the film’s Mayan theme and rain forest backdrop, I had always imagined it to be best enjoyed in what Backyard Cinema had to offer.
I wasn’t far off.
Backyard Cinema was aptly found in the back corner of one of those pop-up hipster congregation hotspots one would expect to find on Shoreditch High St. You know, the ones where you find people on a Saturday night wearing their neon leg warmers and cassettes on chains, 27 years old, relishing the last of their youth as if they were a university fresher again. Yeah – those places. A few bars, cocktail stands – except no pulled pork filled brioche buns. No clay oven pizzas. Not here. This place was most certainly not hipster. This was the ‘Mercato Metropolitao’ in the vibrant heart of Elephant and Castle. This place was designed for people who want a gin and tonic vendor at the entrance and nothing else to east besides ‘nibbles’… prosciutto, bruschetta stands and a token bar serving independent brands of alcohol, soft drinks and ‘snacking sticks’ aka Pepperami for the gentrified. Oh, and profiteroles – worth mentioning that none of this luxury cuisine can be taken into the jungle. It was almost as if I’d taken a wrong turn (perhaps in life) and ended up backstage on Bear Grylls’ Ultimate Survival.
Anyway, after nearly a full decade of witnessing the rebirth of the hipster and seeing it wind down, I feel that I stumbled upon the next level of pretence particular cliques of the next generation that will inevitably follow and for fuck’s sake, of course there’s free wifi. Watching these rebooted high class hipsters in action at 8pm on a Sunday night, furiously tapping away on shiny fondle slabs complemented by endless peppermint tea really made me want to perform a legal u turn.
But I stuck with it. Turned a corner and there it was; the brightly, yet subtly lit sign of Backyard Cinema hanging over a hobbit-sized hole adorned with rushes and red rope. After a quick health and safety briefing, I stuck my head through said hole with lyrics of General Levy alongside the M-Beat echoing inside my head. I emerged into the bark-covered, tree laden intermediate stage of my trip to find out how unsuitable my junglist reference actually was in this regard.
The jungle was most certainly not wicked, nor massive. In a space slightly larger than a disabled toilet, the transformation was worthy of praise; the tropical sounds of rain and tree-dwelling animals accompanied the masterfully recreated musty smell you’d expect to find at the rain-forest exhibition at the zoo – just enough to titillate the senses with jungle fever.
Having successfully navigated the final ‘challenge’ of a foam pit complete with swing rope at the end of the jungle, I emerged in a far from Tarzan like style to find what I’d endured this supreme level of hip debauchery for.
Just like the pictures, beanbags formed neat rows on the floor, cable-disguising vines sprawled up the walls – and either side of the screen, two giant skulls decorated with foliage, suitably lit to tastefully top off the expected level of rainforest ambience. Accompanying as a soundtrack was a flurry of tropical animal sounds, eventually replaced with a selection of “Lost World” themed theme songs from classics also showing including Jurassic Park and Hook amongst others.
Having taken my seat and sprawled out as much as my limited legroom would allow, I was soaking in the atmosphere when I noticed to my right a couple ingeniously using the empty beanbags in front as extra legroom. Being seated behind a romantic couple myself, I was unable to execute the legroom hack and was of course unable to stand at the end of the movie due to a mild state of paralysis induced by lack of blood flow. That said, the last entry time at 8pm gave me an extra 30 minutes to enjoy the recline and obtain some reasonably priced munch before the film started.
After a brief technical glitch, by which I mean the music stopped and the house lights turned on, ambiance was swiftly restored and we were back in the jungle with a few minutes to spare until the start of the movie.
Roll end credits…
By this point I remembered the only reason I watched this movie again was not for the actual movie but for the experience itself. Towards the end, I did indeed lose feeling in my legs from sitting at almost floor level, on my back for over two hours, with my knees up, unable to move partly in fear of blocking the view of “Mr & Mrs making out under the blanket” behind me and partly because of how the bean bags mould to you the second you sit down. My back started to stick to the beanbag, which did become rather uncomfortable in the final and most exhilarating part of the movie. Can’t imagine anyone in my vicinity would have appreciated that either. This in turn got me thinking… Who was the last person to sit in this increasingly warm room on this here beanbag gradually calcifying and perspiring? What did they watch? It must have been better than Apocalypto. How did they feel afterwards? Did they make it out of this jungle in one piece? Were they fornicating under blankets on this very beanbag like my hip new neighbours?
I guess my questions will never be answered but all in all, Backyard Cinema offers a fun escape from the concrete jungle to as close as you’ll get to a real one right here in London. Treat yourself to an afternoon or evening out to watch your favourite jungle-themed movie in an apt setting. With a reasonably priced and fully stocked bar, you won’t fail to enjoy a well-designed cotch.
Words by Ed Jacobs