Aliens come to Wales
Mark Kermode On How a Bijou Cinema Will Bow Out in Style
The Guardian, 15 February 2008
It began with a challenge; to arrange a fittingly glamorous Hollywood-style swansong for one of the UK's oldest - and smallest - cinemas, which was finally going dark after more than 50 years.
Built inside a converted railway carriage, and located in a back garden in Gorseinon, South Wales, La Charrette has been screening movies to packed houses of 23 people since 1953. But the ravages of time and a crumbling structure have forced the closure of this pocket-sized picture palace, to the heartbreak of its members including regulars who have been coming since the curtains first opened. Some claim never to have visited another cinema in the UK ("Why would we?"); others remember "courting" in the tiny back row as movies ranging from "King Kong" and "Barbarella" to "The Queen" and "Saving Private Ryan" played out on the silver screen. But now, it's all coming to an end.
I visited La Charrette for BBC2's The Culture Show before Christmas, and immediately fell in love with its old-world beauty - the flock wallpaper, the velvet seats, the hand-cranked curtains. But more importantly, I was impressed and enchanted by La Charrette's patrons, and their undying belief in the magic of cinema itself. This odd little train-carriage-cum-movie-hall had become a temple of their dreams, a place where they came to enjoy the inimitable companionship of watching movies together in the dark. They deserved a memorable send off, and (in a rash moment) The Culture Show promised to give them one. A world premiere! With stars! Right here in Gorseinon! Brilliant. Now we just had to pull it off.
Phone calls were made to all the UK's major film distributors, many of whom were baffled by our "brilliant idea", but most of whom were won over as soon as we sent them photos of La Charrette. Within days, we had offers of several upcoming movies, ranging from off-beat arthouse fare to big budget mainstream fantasies. But I wanted something special, something unique, something unattainable. I wanted "Alien Love Triangle" ...
I had long known of this legendary "lost film" from the team behind Trainspotting; director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge, and producer Andrew Macdonald. Details of the plot were sketchy, but rumour had it that this 30-minute weirdie (small but perfectly formed, like La Charrette) involved bizarre romantic inter-species entanglements between Kenneth Branagh, Courteney Cox and a green-painted Heather Graham. Oh, and apparently it did for Golden Earring's 'Radar Love' what "Trainspotting" did for Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life'. It sounded irresistible, but having been designed as one third of a projected portmanteau trilogy, "Alien Love Triangle" was shelved when the other two sections blossomed into full-length features ("Mimic" and "Impostor"). Thus, the film that Danny Boyle once temptingly described as "really very strange" was condemned to sit unreleased in the vaults, its cult cachet growing every day.
Having been involved in the recovery and restoration of several "lost" scenes from infamous movies (the spider-walk from "The Exorcist", the rape of Christ sequence from "The Devils"), I felt challenged to rescue "Alien Love Triangle" from its celluloid prison. In fact, I had tried previously, on two separate occasions, but to no avail. Yet somehow La Charrette seemed to work like a charm. A phone call to producer Andrew Macdonald met with an enthusiastic response, and a promise to take the matter up with Miramax. Danny Boyle was in India but confirmed his enthusiastic support. And then came the cherry on the cake - if we could get the film, Kenneth Branagh himself would come to the premiere! Forget London's Leicester Square - Gorseinon was about to get the real red carpet treatment.
La Charrette's world premiere of "Alien Love Triangle" is now set for February 23, and you can see all the behind-the-scenes highlights on The Culture Show's double-bill coverage, starting this Saturday, and concluding on March 1. It took five years, a railway carriage and a group of die-hard cinema devotees to make it happen. How's that for a Hollywood ending for La Charrette?