If one word was to describe the Hacked Off Films Immersive Cinematic Experience showing of Black Swan, one would look to thrilling, or certainly ambitious, even quietly ground-breaking. Immersive, perhaps not. This, sadly, is not at all a criticism of the actors, performances, décor or organisation, but rather a judgement of the audience itself. The concept of an immersive cinematic experience is somewhat bizarre: it is a little of both cinema and theatre, yet demands more of an audience than either. Despite the tinge of student clumsiness in the Sainsbury’s own brand Cava or occasional confusion when directing the audience, the cast and crew of Hacked Off did a fantastic job delivering a stimulating experience to match the colossal work of Aronofsky’s genius.
The experience itself took us into a champagne and canapé reception. We re-lived the scene in which Thomas Leroy, the choreographer, announces the retirement of Beth Macyntire and then welcomes the new star of Swan Lake, Nina Sayers, in a single breath. We clapped along to the death of one swan and the birth of another. We were then driven through a fabulously frantic backstage of dressing rooms and personal assistants shouting chaotically about Nina’s latte or cigarette, rushing past and through us. We saw the dancers gossiping in their dressing rooms. We walked through the tiny corridors with sanguine red lights, and it was perhaps here than one would feel most immersed in the vile urgency of the theatre in ballet.
We were then driven to the stage itself, arriving as performers in our own right to find some dancers eagerly rehearsing. We sat down and watched. The cast and crew made wonderful use of the irony of it all – we as a live audience actively accept the retirement of Beth Macyntire, although she is but thirty years old. We clap along to the disposability of immaculate dancers and thus support this very culture of transience and expendability, watching, in our evening dress, Nina’s tale spiral into self-destruction. The experience burdens us with a much heavier and much more real moral responsibility: we are now directly culpable for the fate of Nina Sayers. Our clothes, our champagne, our canapés, and this entire façade of glamour gave us the higher ground to grant approval. It allowed us to legitimise absolute self-sacrifice in the cause of an artificial and temporary concept of perfection. In its pursuit therefore, the immersive experience was awe-inspiring.
Where it failed to achieve its full potential, however, remained in the audience itself. Whether victims to the inevitable infection of crowd mentality or simply far too unnerved by the demands of it all, rather than wilfully participating in the experience the audience was often transformed into a mob of school children casually bursting into giggles at the thought of people pretending to be in a film. No such occasional giggles can be found in a theatre. No-one points at Sir Patrick Stewart and whispers – “He’s not really Macbeth, he is just pretending. Isn’t that funny?” Even more ludicrous concepts are taken as a given in cinema. Not a thought was given in any screening of The Avengers at the absolute ridiculousness of a demi-god from another universe communicating to a mechanical genius in a perfect Australian accent. And yet, as there is no established mode of conduct at Immersive Cinema Experiences, the audience seemed keenest of all not to be engaged by constantly reminding one another of the fact that this is a performance like any other.
Such experiences are yet to materialise as a natural part of culture and until then, their newness and experimentalism makes them the victims of rather unfortunate negligence. One thing is certain, however: the more familiar we become with the concept of immersive cinematic experiences (as we rightly should) the more complete the immersion itself, as it will spring not only from the excellent cast and crew, but also from us – the no-longer bewildered and blissful passive observers.
For more information about Hacked Off Films including future screenings, please visit their website