“The word Scala has practically entered the dictionary”: An Interview With ‘Scala Cinema’ Author Jane Giles

Billie Manning

The Scala cinema is a London icon and a cinematic legend. 2011 even saw the beginning of Scalarama, a festival dedicated to its spirit. Now, 40 years after its first programme, and 25 years after its closure, an event as part of Scalarama 2018 will see the launch of a book detailing the history of the Scala and featuring a complete collection of all 178 iconic monthly programmes. We chatted to author and Scala expert Jane Giles about celebrating the cinema’s legacy.

Image Credit: David Babsky

London Calling: What makes the Scala so important to you?
Jane Giles: I started off as a member of the audience at the Scala. I used to travel from West Sussex with my mates to come to the all-nighters in 1981 when I was 17 – which is actually underage! The Scala had a huge influence on me as an arts student, as I was starting to think about the world visually.  Then in 1988 I got the job as programmer at the Scala - partly because I was such a dedicated fan, I think. The Scala specialised in the films I loved: cult movies, horror films, LGBT films. It was a dream come true!
LC: Why did you decide to write the book now?
JG: Over the past few years I’ve been coming across a number of filmmakers who said they had been to the Scala as teenagers - people like Martin McDonagh [Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri]. I was even told by Christopher Nolan’s [Inception] assistant that he still carries his membership card in his wallet! So many filmmakers were inspired and influenced by the Scala, it made me realise how important it is to modern culture today.
LC: And what a book it is! It’s beautiful.
It’s huge! I thought I was writing a history book about film culture in the 1980s, but then I met a publisher who wanted to publish a picture book of all the Scala programmes – something that had never been attempted before for any cinema. So what we agreed to do was combine the visions. It was a big cinema, people have big feelings about it, so we made a big book.
 Image Credit: David Babsky

LC: How did the Scala evolve into this haven for film – and people – that were different?
JG: Stephen Woolley [who wrote the foreword for the book] was an usher at the cinema and took it over in 1978. He was a film fan but was also very inspired by punk music, and he combined the programming with live music gigs. So it evolved as a music venue and a cinema simultaneously. It was those two crowds in the post-punk era, which defined the Scala as a place for a very different type of film and a very different type of audience. It was everyone from pensioners to Boy George.

LC: What’s your best story from working there?
Everyone’s best anecdotes from the Scala are about the cats. The cinema always kept cats and it was almost as if they became part of the staff. They would sit in the auditorium and try to eat people’s ham sandwiches. We were screening ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ and there’s a scene in which one of the actors mimes strangling a cat, and at that same moment one of the cats let out a great big yowl. I could see everyone’s heads turning in the audience trying to work out what had just happened.
 Image Credit: Mair Payne

LC: And now you have Scalarama to celebrate the cinema, which is really nice.
JG: Yes, I was amazed when I heard about it at first, because Michael [Pierce] and Philip [Foxwood, who started Scalarama together] were too young to have ever attended the Scala, but they had read about it in Total Film and Sight and Sound.
They wanted to do a tribute season [the Scala Forever season in 2011], so they did a lot of research and it was fantastic. It’s gone from strength to strength, growing from a London-wide thing to UK-wide, and its main motivator is to retain the enthusiasm and DIY feel of community cinema. The participants range from big established cinemas to tiny little screenings in people’s living rooms all around the country as part of Home Cinema Day. I’m doing a screening of two Scala films and a talk about the Scala at the Curzon Soho [Scala Double Bill/Curzon Enthusiasms] as part of Scalarama this year, as well as the launch event for the book at the Scala.
I take my hat off to them; they’ve done a fantastic job, and they really understand the type of programming and the attitude towards cinema screening the name represents. Thanks to them, the word Scala has practically entered the dictionary.
SCALA CINEMA 1978-1993 by Jane Giles is out 26 September and is available for pre-order now.
The Great Big Scala Book Launch Party will take place 26 September at the Scala King’s Cross, with film screenings, music and more.
Scala Double Bill/Curzon Enthusiasms: Scorpio Rising & Pink Narcissus with Jane Giles will take place on 30 September at Curzon Soho.
Scalarama, a festival inspired by the energy and creativity of the legendary Scala Cinema, takes place every year UK-wide for the month of September.


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