Last Saturday, in a move that no doubt heralded the final tragic nail in the coffin of my fast-fading youth, I went on a walking tour. Film-themed walking tours are the latest ‘craze’ to sweep the capital’s vibrant cultural scene, with countless new events organised, which is to say that there have been about two. This coming Sunday, the superlative film blog Ultra Culture will be wandering around central London for ninety minutes. And last Saturday I and around 30 other intrepid pedestrians donned sensible shoes and weather-appropriate clothing to trundle around film-relevant parts of Southwark and Lambeth for the inaugural ‘Film Crawl‘.
The Film Crawl, or to give it its snappy official title, ‘Scala Beyond Presents The Central South London Peninsula Film Crawl’, fortuitously coincided with two big cultural strands: Scala Beyond, the rather brilliant nationwide screening season of cult favourite double-bills and rarities; and London Open House, a weekend in which nice buildings not usually open to the public are opened up to anyone as long as you wipe your feet and don’t touch anything.
Despite being the youngest person on the walk by maybe a geologic time scale, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time and only occasionally got a bit bored. Our guide for the day, the magnificently mustachioed Sam Cuthbert, was engaging and funny, wisely keeping proceedings informal. We were each given a beautifully-designed map with some handy facts on the back. And where it was dark enough, film clips were projected onto a bit of cardboard from a portable projector, which was quite a neat way of seeing the filming locations we’d just walked down. I’ve been to the street where Hugh and Colin fight in Bridget Jones’ Diary! Who wants to touch me?
And somehow I paid enough attention to learn a few facts as well:
1. Borough Market is a filming hotspot.
Or at least, it was until the foodies moved in. The SE1 area, and Park Street in particular, has played host to the likes of Mission:Impossible, Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Naked, An American Werewolf In Paris (the climactic alley scene), and the aformentioned Bridget Jones. The market’s rise in popularity – and the gentrification that came with it – meant Park Street is now one of the most expensive streets to film on in London.
2. IMAX stands for Image Maximum and the Southbank IMAX used to be a a homeless community.
I had no idea IMAX was a rubbish abbreviation, nor did I have any idea that the Waterloo roundabout used to be known as ‘Cardboard City‘. What now houses the UK’s largest screen in a gleaming glass enclosure was once home to over 200 cardboard-dwellers. (I felt particularly ignorant not knowing this.)
3. Elephant & Castle once boasted some of the most beautiful cinemas in London
The friendly man below, equipped with a portable microphone and a somewhat more stoutly moustache than Sam’s curlier number, gave a little talk at Elephant & Castle’s turd-scented shopping centre to wax lyrical of the area’s forgotten glories. The Trocadero and the Coronet were once the grandest art deco jewels in London’s cinema crown. Now the area is cinemaless.
4. The Heygate Estate is now an abandoned wilderness
The notorious Heygate Estate, one of the grimmest examples of brutalist architecture, saw the last of its residents evicted in 2005 and the site was due to be redeveloped. Then asbestos was found in the flats. It is being painstakingly removed, flat by flat, before any demolition can take place. So for now, the enormous complex remains dormant and empty, and will do until at least 2015, doors and entrances welded shut. I’d cycled past the estate plenty of times but never walked around it, and it is a profoundly bone-chilling and sad experience. What was once home to over 3,000 people now only houses a modest community garden, and a lot of filmmakers: over twenty films a year are now shot on the estate, and its grim concrete can be seen in Attack The Block and Harry Brown, amongst others.
5. The Cinema Museum is both brilliant and a little bit dull
Round the corner from the Heygate, tucked away in a fairly unassuming housing estate, is the Cinema Museum, dealing in cinema theatres, rather than cinema, the art form. The building is a converted Victorian workhouse where a young Charlie Chaplin and his family once toiled. Now its walls are plastered with some fantastic old art deco artefacts from long-forgotten picture houses, like this rather brilliant ratings guide with the old ‘H’ for ‘Horrific’ rating.
Unfortunately at this point I realised I was not the athletically perfect specimen I initially thought, and after nearly four miles of walking, with the Museum guide going into slightly too much detail about the architectural minutiae of the building’s brickwork, I was ready for a nice cup of tea and a sit down, and maybe a biccie. (I am 25 years old.)
Still, it was an undeniably fascinating and enjoyable day. Film-watching is an inherently lazy hobby, practiced almost exclusively in the dark, on a chair; so an excuse to go outside and see things you may not have seen before should always be welcome. This was the first of several planned Film Crawls, with night walks anticipated in the future. I would very much recommend you keep your eyes peeled at the website, and your hiking boots ready by the door, for the next one.