Have you ever felt like just watching a film wasn’t enough? For movie lovers desiring to get a bit more out of a night at the cinema, The Movie Experience is an immersive film event presented by The Secret Sessions designed to bring audiences into their favorite cult classic films. Though the first event of its kind hosted by this organization, similar fusions of film and theatre having been popping up in the Toronto social scene off and on for the past few years and seem to be gaining popularity.
The feature film and the location of the event are kept top-secret. Would-be audience members purchase a ticket ($45) and place their fate in the hands of the organizers.
Having never attended an event like this before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A few days before the event takes place, ticket-holders are sent instructions regarding the dress code. I opened an e-mail from The Secret Sessions three days before the screening informing me that I was to dress as a 70’s newscaster – the organizers even attached a helpful explanatory video about the dress code for ticket holders who may be unfamiliar with the retro-look. Knowing that the film of the night would be a cult classic, I felt prepared to make a rather educated guess about what the secret movie was going to be. About twenty-four hours before the immersive experience was scheduled to take place, another e-mail arrived with the location details.
In case the film of the night wasn’t already abundantly clear from the required dress code, refreshments consisted of burritos and signature cocktails with names like “Scotchy, scotch, scotch”. Actors dressed as characters from the film mingled amongst the crowd, interacting with the audience. A tall man sporting a fittingly dated yellow suit and mutton chops offered to introduce me to Ron Burgundy, as soon as the “big man himself” arrived. I was feeling even more confident that my guess was correct.
Photo Taken By: Kathy Anderson
Occasionally a spotlight would fall on a corner of the room and the characters would act out a scene from the film or deliver a monologue – most of which centered around the film’s inside jokes and quotable moments. This was a fun touch, but given that audience members are buying into a “mystery experience”, there’s a chance that they won’t have seen the film before. These scenes would be, at best, completely lost on those who were unfamiliar with the night’s feature presentation. At worst, they might spoil some of the funniest moments in the movie by exposing the audience to key moments and jokes out of context before the screening.
Just as we had suspected, the movie of the night was the ultra-quotable cult classic Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Starring Will Ferrell as the titular Ron Burgundy and Christina Applegate as lady-newscaster extraordinaire (and Burgundy’s love interest), Veronica Corningstone.
The whole event seemed to find its groove after the screening began, and the presence of the actors began to seem more purposeful. The actors remained in another room for most of the screening, only appearing during key scenes to act them out along with the film. This added a genuinely immersive quality to the experience: during a particularly memorable moment, the entire audience joined the actors in a sing-a-long to “Afternoon Delight”.
It had been several years since I last saw Anchorman. For some reason, the impression that the film had left in my mind was of it being a goofy, if a bit embarrassing and poorly executed, waste of time that appealed to an immature audience. Maybe this was because I was about fifteen when I saw it in a friend’s basement.
I was surprised at how well the film held up, even though it has been over fifteen years since its initial release. Despite the cringe-worthy sight of Ben Stiller in brownface during the brawl between rival news gangs (a moment in the film that strikes me as overt racism played for laughs, but has been defended by articles, such as this one by Omayra Zaragoza Cruz, that convincingly suggest the moment is part of the film’s underlying discussion of the city of San Diego and Latin identity), Anchorman is a much smarter comedy than I remember. When I first saw it, the irony of focusing on a masculine protagonist in a film that’s plot hinges on the story of a woman’s journey to becoming the first female news anchor was more-or-less lost on me – but of course, that’s the whole point of the film.
Part of me is glad that I got to re-watch it in such a memorable and unique setting. The Movie Experience’s immersive evening shed a new light on the film – it would be impossible not to see it with a fresh perspective. Despite some kinks in the event’s execution, it was an enjoyable evening. A nyone looking for a change from the usual “dinner and a movie” outing should certainly check out The Secret Sessions’ next event.
Photo Taken By: Kathy Anderson
Learn more about The Secret Sessions by visiting their website!
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