"I thought Secret Cinema was doing Star Wars?"
It is, and in spectacular style, but the launch of Secret Cinema X is allowing the theatrical film event group to regain something of its clandestine glamour.
In the glitz cavern of Camden's Koko Club, an assortment of flower-wearing ladies and Trilby-sporting gents were welcomed to an evening of live jazz and the promise of memories. As a two-night only spectacle, you've missed out on this intimate affair - but are Secret Cinema X nights worth looking out for? And what to make of Amy, the choice for this inaugural special.
It's about the songs
The evening hinted its purpose with more subtly than the lavish spectacles of the Star Wars extravaganza - this was a truly secret event, the Koko Club had been filled with lamp-lit tables, a jazz ensamble taking to the stage after guests shuffled to their seats, clueless as to what they were here to watch.
Any true Winehouse fans (not us) would have clocked the purpose of the evening the moment the band took to the stage, each of them having played with Winehouse at points during her short career. It was a thoughtful touch that added to the bitter-sweet proceedings: at the close of the film, the projector screen ascended to reveal the band in full, a vacant microphone tugging on the already tender heart strings.
For those with only a limited acquainted with Winehouse's work (us), the documentary adds a wealth of understanding to a handful of her best-known tracks: it's a tactical play, allowing the audience to invest in the starlet with intimate glimpses of the poems and personal relationships that inspired her purposefully obtuse lyrics. It's an education that leaves any viewer feeling that they now have something to lose in Winehouse's story.
It's about the people
In the same way that Asif Kapadia's Senna subverted the usual documentary style, Amy does away with talking heads in favour of archive footage, home video material and still photography, over dubbed with friends, family and professional colleagues. It's powerful, intimate stuff, making the documentary the perfect subject for Secret Cinema's return to exclusive, intimate evenings - despite the fact that it wasn't drawing on any nostalgic memories for a film that hadn't yet received a wider release.
You come away from Amy with a strong impression of loss, such are the details that her friends and family expressed throughout the narrative of the film. You don't know Amy, nor her mother, friends or body guard - but the tearful, sometimes blunt commentary, is more exposing than any magazine interview or TV documentary you ever read back when Winehouse was on every media hit list.
You know the story
Such was the public obsession with Amy Winehouse - for better and worse - the narrative arch of Asif Kapadia's documentary doesn't attempt to second guess your memory of her tragic rise and fall.
Instead, it garnishes your recollection of the events - of that cancelled gig and those eye-popping photos. Kapadia approached the subject much in the same way he did with Senna - not as an obsessive fan looking to make the right picture, but as an observant director looking for the truth in the story. He succeeds in finding a version of it...
There are villains
...but it's not a version that's popular with everyone.
Mitch Winehouse has already called the work "a disgrace", most probably due to the way in which the documentary portrays his involvement (or lack there of) in Amy's life. Both he, Blake Fielder-Civil and various managers are propped up as being all-too influential in pushing Winehouse over the edge.
Best things come in small packages
In their smoky screening of an unseen documentary, Secret Cinema has proven it can do secret - when it suits them. They'll make more money from the grand events like last year's Back to the Future and this summer's Star Wars, fairground stunts designed to pull in the casual and the super fans - but Secret Cinema X could mark a return to the quiet, enhanced experiences the group made its name with. The £30 seated tickets were reasonable, the £12 a bargain, and even a technical mishap with an audio output that saw the film restarted (twice) didn't upset the mood created by the setting and scattering of actors.
If you thought that Secret Cinema had sold out, get yourself to the next Secret Cinema X. It'll restore your hope in this experiential treat.
(Images: Marianne Chua, Al Overdrive, Secret Cinema, Rex)