Wednesday, 5 March 2014

GFF2014: Festival Diary 3

As we reach the final weekend of the Festival (and, consequently, the last of my Festival diaries), I’d like to rewind the clock and revisit a trio of recent special screenings, beginning with the most mysterious entry in the whole festival calendar: Potholing Expedition Seeks Recruits.

What do you bring to a potholing expedition? The brochure recommends sturdy footwear, but assures recruits that all other equipment will be provided. Nonetheless, an unsettling uncertainty lingers in my stomach as I enter Central Station’s concourse and add my number to the gathering crowd. A quick scan of the assembled throng brings a modicum of relief: there’s not a carabiner or hard hat in sight, and just as importantly (given the horror movie vibe I’ve subconsciously projected on the whole affair), no one looks likely to start murdering us one by one and stashing our bodies beneath the tracks. Nonetheless, I scout out fit and able factions with whom to align myself should we become trapped beneath the ground, and consider the fact that it’s not too late to pretend I’m actually here to catch the 19:05 to Neilston.

Once the group is complete, the organisers split us down the middle (definitely a bad omen…) and lead us towards the rear of Patisserie Valerie. As we re-congregate behind the passport booths and await our ride down into the station’s underbelly, it all feels faintly Harry Potter-ish – ducking off main walkways to explore a world not usually visible to muggles. Even at this stage, I’m still not certain what precisely the evening has in store, though I’m just about ready to rule out any actual potholing.

Down in the station’s bowels, we’re led to a dark entrance from which unearthly groans and moans are emanating. Instructed to grasp a length of rope and not let go, we make our way single-file through the barely-lit corridor – a nice theatrical touch – and are handed a pillow on the other side. The pillow, it seems, is what was meant by ‘specialist equipment’, and its comfort proves pretty invaluable upon reaching our journey’s final stop: a makeshift cinema beneath the concrete arches, with piled bricks for seats. The unnerving sounds are now much louder and gelled lights cast spooky shadows on the walls; an eerie vibe only deflated by the presence of a refreshments table laden with primped gateaux and tarts. Once we’re settled, GFF special projects manager Sharon Grogans thanks everyone present for 'taking a chance' on tonight’s secretive happening, adding that if anyone needs to go to the bathroom during the screening they’ll 'figure out a way'. I decide to just cross my legs if the need arises.

Finally, the exact nature of our evening’s entertainment is revealed: Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror The Descent, in which a group of friends venture underground in search of adventure and discover instead a colony of bloodthirsty subterranean mutants. Having not seen it since its original cinema release, I’m pleased to discover the film just as effective as I remembered, and the echoing acoustics of tonight’s unorthodox cinema space ensures that every stinger registers with full force. After its visceral final act, we’re kindly asked not to tweet or otherwise share details just yet, so as not to spoil the surprise for the next three nights of sold out ‘expeditions’. And then, proving we’ve learned nothing from Marshall’s cautionary frightener, a few of us start foolhardily wandering down the wrong corridor in search of the exit.

The following night we’re at the Glue Factory for a less mysteriously pitched but similarly formatted event. For the second year of his Game Cats Go Miaow! strand, Robert Florence has commissioned Tron, and the Glue Factory has been tarted up accordingly. In the bar area, a cluster of arcade machines give me plenty of opportunities to prove how thoroughly rusty I am at games of all classes: on Street Fighter 2, the only thing I manage to KO is my own beer (sent flying by an overeager joystick swipe), and though I’ve little way of judging the exact worth of my zombie shooting skills, I’m going to assume that 37% accuracy and zero villagers saved doesn’t qualify as a resounding success. In the end, I decide pinball’s the game for me: there’s only the most basic connection between cause and effect, you rack up implausibly high scores within seconds, bonuses and extra lives are bestowed with no discernible rhyme or reason – plus it’s a whole lot less conspicuous than firing a blue plastic pistol at groaning onscreen sprites.

Upstairs in the cinema space, black lights on white walls prove an effective and efficient way of evoking the film’s sleek pristine world. Squinting through the ultraviolet gloom, Florence thanks us for coming and in the same breath admits it 'isnae actually that good a film' – which is true enough, but hardly a problem/revelation for an audience unlikely to be seeing it for the first time. That said, in a very real sense we’re all coming to the film cold tonight – by which I mean the heating’s broken and it’s absolutely freezing. Cannily, however, everyone’s offered free beer at the end by way of compensation, which is almost enough to encourage me to have another stab at zombie-slaying. Almost.

Friday night brings more monsters, with a screening of Young Frankenstein at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for which attendees are encouraged to dress up in spooky garb. Upon arrival, I spy more than one Igor, a furry mogwai, plus plenty of non-specific creeps and ghouls; face-painters in the foyer, meanwhile, coax those in plain attire to get into the spirit. Admittedly, spending the first twenty-five minutes queuing in a cafeteria flattens the ‘monster’s ball’ vibe a little. But once upstairs in the museum’s atrium, the atmosphere is quickly restored thanks to a themed organ recital featuring what is certainly the most imposing and distinguished rendition of the Scooby Doo theme tune I’ve ever been witness to. I select a seat just out of the eye-line of the stuffed elephant, and spend the rest of the pre-film build-up taking in the grandeur of the surroundings; a grandeur that’s only enhanced when the lights dim, casting shadows in every archway and corridor. The film itself is as fun as ever, and peals of laughter echo around the high ceilings throughout – reverberations that reach their peak with the monster’s Puttin’ on the Ritz wails. Like the Potholing Expedition and Tron: Off the Grid before it, it’s a unique and evocative way of revisiting a familiar film, and a continuation of the Festival’s tradition for screenings in off-beat locales – one I wholeheartedly hope to see continued come GFF2015. Till then, goodbye!

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