Scala was once home to the world’s wildest cinema – the documentary.

An anarchic, uproarious, and ultimately heart-breaking big-screen feature-length documentary telling the riotous inside story of London’s legendary Scala cinema, 1978-1993 is released this week titled..

SCALA!!! Or, the incredibly strange rise and fall of the world’s wildest cinema  and how it influenced a mixed-up generation of weirdos and misfits

“The Scala had magic, it was like joining a club, a very secret club, like a biker gang or something. It’s like they were a country club for criminals and lunatics and people that were high. Which is a good way to see movies” 

John Waters

Scala cinema graphic image in black and red

During Britain’s politically turbulent post-punk ‘Thatcher years’ over a million people from all over the UK passed through the doors of the Scala cinema. For 15 glorious years, it inspired an entire generation with its iconic monthly repertory programmes, which included everything from high-art classics to sexploitation, horror, Kung Fu and LGBTQ+ in daily-changing double-bills and unforgettable All-Nighters.

Battered 35mm and 16mm prints of films by alternative auteurs such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Walerian Borowczyk, Russ Meyer, John Waters, Derek Jarman and David Lynch formed the beating heart of the Scala’s monthly programme, alongside others who pushed even further at the boundaries of taste and convention. 

The Scala was formed in 1978 out of the defunct socialist collective The Other Cinema (1976-77), purpose-built on the site of the old Scala theatre (1905-69) in Fitzrovia, where the Beatles had staged their climactic gig for Richard Lester’s film A Hard Day’s Night (1964). The Scala’s young manager Stephen Woolley championed an eclectic American rep-style programme and put on landmark gigs by the likes of Spandau Ballet and Throbbing Gristle, attracting a young music-loving cinephile audience. In 1981, the Scala moved from Fitzrovia to King’s Cross, when the new offices of Channel 4 took over their building. 

Scala foyer (1986) by Rob Brown

And it was in the King’s Cross cinema that the Scala legend really took hold. First opened in 1920, this cavernous, crumbling picture palace also had a music history. Iggy Pop and Lou Reed played their first UK gigs here in 1972, as recounted in the film by eyewitness Nick Kent. Reverberating with the rumbling of the underground trains below, the Scala became infamous for its edgy programming, resident cats, and off-screen mayhem. It would finally implode in a perfect storm of recession, technical changes and the rise of home video, plus a ruinous lawsuit… But what a legacy!

Many of the Scala’s young audience members went on to become musicians, writers, artists, actors, activists and, of course, filmmakers. Presided over by ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters, some of the other famous names appearing in the documentary include Cathi Unsworth, James O’Brien, Mary Harron, John Akomfrah, Ben Wheatley, Isaac Julian, Caroline Catz, Stewart Lee, Adam Buxton, Peter Strickland, Thurston Moore, and Jah Wobble. 

The interviewees recall what the Scala cinema felt like and its importance to them, also telling a series of tall-tales such as an unlikely performance by wannabe popstar Boy George, the onstage electrocution of a lead singer, feline chaos, cottaging, ‘the Looking for Mr Goodbar incident’, audience mass participation, Barry the local drug dealer, mushroom-smoking box office staff menaced by tentacled monsters wanting to buy tickets, and the challenges of King’s Cross at 6:00 a.m on a Sunday morning.

The Scala cinema closed 30 years ago in mid-1993 when its lease expired. 2011 saw the launch of Scalarama, an annual UK-wide film festival carrying the Scala cinema’s flame for future generations. 

The Scala became an independent music venue in 1999. Having survived lockdown, the Scala celebrated its history with a Blue Plaque unveiled by Thurston Moore to mark the 50th anniversary of the Lou Reed / Iggy Pop gigs of July 1972 as photographed by Mick Rock for the album covers Transformer and Raw Power.

A kaleidoscopic combination of archive film and photography, eye-popping movie clips, graphics and animation alongside the interviews, SCALA!!! is highly evocative but much more than mere nostalgia. The film is a universal shout-out to the power of cinemas to inspire impressionable young minds and create a sense of community for outsiders – a place where everyone is welcome.

Watch the Trailer

Screening in London and around the UK from 5th January

SCALA!!!  Or, the incredibly strange rise and fall of the world’s wildest cinema and how it influenced a mixed-up generation of weirdos and misfits
Directed by Jane Giles and Ali Catterall
(UK 2023, 96 mins)
Content Warning: swearing, nudity, sex, violence, gore, drug use, suicide references, strobe lights

See a list of screenings in London and around the UK at