The first edition of 360 Screenings featured Ghost and Patrick Swayze. (Not his, the movie.)
The final step in purchasing your ticket for the 360 Screenings—the film event which incorporates live theatre, allowing audiences to “step out of the audience and into the film”—is checking a little box by which you waive any right to sue the founders of the mysterious series for what may transpire during your attendance. Given that the film, location, and specifics of the screening (art installation? event? experience?) remain a mystery until you arrive, this little box seemed rather ominous. Though perhaps this was all part of the plan. Billed as “Toronto’s first immersive cinema event,” it is easy to think of a multitude of scenarios in which bodily harm could result: The Descent, Hurt Locker, Titanic… Checking that little box felt like a final step in letting go of what was to come.
When we spoke to organizers Ned Loach and Robert Gontier on the eve of the inaugural event, they remained closed-lipped about what audiences could expect. This tactic worked, as our curiosity got the better of us. The day of the event, we were emailed an address and told to dress like it was the late ’80s or early ’90s—or wear a paint smock—and bring a lucky penny. We complied, as much as wearing a plaid shirt and ripped denim counts as dressing up. Upon arrival at the Burroughes Building (the Toronto Standard, headquartered there, is a partner in the series) audience members were given dust-masks by actors in hazmat suits, who repeated warnings about being careful upon entering “the construction site. While we had put off attempting to guess the film ahead of time, in keeping with the spirit of surprise, by this point we were wracking our brains (and Google) for the key words “construction,” “’90s,” and “penny.”
Ushered into the building in groups of six, the ride up in the elevator crystallized what the viewing experience would be. As two men in business suits chatted about a spreading rash and feigned coughing fits, it became clear we were stepping into Jerry Zucker’s Ghost. For those who are less familiar with this scene from the 1990 schmaltz-fest, more clues awaited—as when the elevator doors opened we were greeted with a large room filled with pop-up installations ranging from a corpse in a red shirt laying in a pool of blood (Patrick Swayze post-hold up); a disgruntled man berating guests on a subway platform (the subway poltergeist); and a medium performing palm readings (Whoopi Goldberg). But tucked away in a corner was the biggest clue: a woman working at a pottery wheel. Cue up “Unchained Melody.” For the next hour and a half guest milled about, chatting with some actor-nuns and waiting (some with quiet resignation) to watch Ghost.
In our interview with Loach last week, he said: “We’re not selling the film itself, we’re selling the experience.” It seems hard, however, to separate the two. Moreover, this raises the question of whom this series is for. If it isn’t about the film, cinephiles and movie-lovers may be less inclined to attend as it sounds like experimental theatre rather than a screening. On the other hand, if it is about the experience that is still fundamentally tied to the choice of the film, theatre goers who might be attracted to the event would still expect to find themselves immersed in a rich and complex world—the particular world of the film in question. (Especially at this price point: tickets are $60.)
This isn’t to say the concept of the series is inherently flawed: it is highly ambitious and holds much creative potential. In choosing Ghost, however, it got off to a rocky start and exposed its weaknesses, such as the participatory elements reduced to wearing oversized overalls and tying a plaid shirt around your waist for an evening. The programming choice could have been much more inventive—ideas tossed around as we waited for the movie to start ranged from The Shining (blood-filled elevators!) to Shivers (worm parasites in bathtubs!) to The Big Lebowski (bowling!). It’s not that the screening would have to be violent or hold cult status to work—the family friendly Amelie with its colour-saturated Paris and French pastries would have been nice—but the world that we are entering should feel, well, worth stepping into.