With the mainstream movie-going experience increasingly full of hi-tech gimmickry (3-D, Imax, D-Box shaky chairs) and high-maintenance mistrust (try going to see Avengers Assemble at your local multiplex without having your bag searched or your time watching the film observed by infrared-equipped cinema staff), it feels oddly appropriate that Glasgow art collective 85A has chosen to create an interactive prison-like environment to showcase their first fully produced short film, Chernozem (the title is a Russian word for “Black Earth”).
Taking over industrial art space the Glue Factory as part of Glasgow International’s fringe festival, they’ve constructed an impressive, multi-leveled, labyrinthine dungeon – a sort of unholy amalgam of the penal colony from Alien 3 and Club Berlin from Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (a reference made more apposite by the Mohawk-haired woman tending the collective’s merchandise stall) – through which audiences are pushed, chased and generally harangued as they’re “forced” to take in fractured sequences from Chernozem as it’s projected across a myriad formats.
Before you see anything, though, an in-character usher for this self-styled Kino – the show’s full title also reflects the shadowy influence of German expressionism on it, Kino being German for cinema – asks if you’re “walker or a climber”. This ominous-sounding question is really just to check if you’re up to climbing ladders or not (there’s a stair option if not), though the sense of foreboding it engenders is heightened by an etched-in-chalk health-and-safety disclaimer offering a full refund for anyone who changes their mind and doesn’t feel able to proceed.
Once inside the Kino all bets are off.
Ordered to dress in black-and-white striped prison uniforms and freaky looking skeleton masks, participants – taken around in small groups – are introduced to the film in short, sharp blasts with the surreal, distorted action on screen intensified by the freaky and highly amusing interactive live show going on all around.
Ghost-train rides, a “forest of eyes” made up of old-school spherical CCTV devices, and a Weimar-style peep-show are just some of the ways 85A make the cinema experience more immersive, though the funniest is being chased around the outside of the building by a “geek” – in the old carnival sense of the word – who looks like an extra from the original Planet of the Apes trussed up like a gimp. It’s that sort of show.
The film itself, which was shot in and around wasteland areas of Glasgow, has been cleverly tinkered with in post-production to give it the feel of the bleak 1920s propaganda films that 85A has spliced into some of the action.
The imagery suggests a narrative of sorts involving sacrifices being made to an industrial god, but it’s not as polemical or wrought with symbolism as that description implies. In truth it feels more like the show’s MacGuffin, there to propel us through an experience that ultimately frees us from the passive way we watch films by transforming us into the manipulated stars of a live show that emulates being trapped inside a movie.