In response to critics of outdoor presentation I set myself the challenge of proposing a film screening at the newly installed Big Screen Edinburgh during the first Fringe Festival period of operation, to prove that events of this form could hold their head up alongside digital cinema presentation. Much is made of the lower resolution of outdoor screens (they ain’t that bad!) or the ‘inconvenience’ of sitting outside, but criticism of this type fails to account for the collective experience of audiences participating in a shared moment.
Yes, it’s better on Blu-Ray or in surround sound, at home, alone, or in the dark of the cinema. But watching your favourite musicians in concert as they gasp and pant out of tune is preferable to sitting on the bus with earphones in, whilst the sound of a crappy radio during a balmy picnic beats Bang & Olufsen perfection any day. Vinyl scratches v CD clarity? Pass me the Sheena Easton 7”. Home baked disaster v immaculately iced confection? I’ll have the burnt wedge please.
I settled upon a response to the 3-D revolution sweeping the nation’s multiplexes in which the joy of ping-pong balls fired at a lens in the final 5 minutes of an otherwise dreary feature has been ruthlessly discarded in favour of feature length joyless wizardry. Lacking a convenient fault-line to replicate ‘Shakeorama’, I thought scratch ‘n sniff might do the trick. A little research led to the doorstep of Bompass & Parr, culinary event experts who had only earlier this year developed a scent-based screening of Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, replicating such scents as rotting meat and mildewed books.
The result was Scratch ‘n Sniff Cinema presents Gregory’s Girl. It took place at the Big Screen Edinburgh, Festival Square on Sunday 26th July 2009 at 5pm as part of London 2012 Open Weekend and was a totally free event thanks to the support and funding of City of Edinburgh Council. An audience of over 300 settled down during a beatific break in the clouds as I rattled through the obligatory certification comments (“…there is a scene of brief nudity at the start, blink and you’ll miss it – so don’t blink…”)
Jonny, our volunteer in the penguin suit (in reference to a minor and unexplained character in the film who waddles through the school corridors), proved a hit with the audience as he first scurried into view waving his placard to notify us of scent no. 1 (deodorant for the boy’s changing room). Despite receiving his instructions only an hour earlier our flightless bird with a full beard matched De Niro for star appeal as he cantered, scampered and danced into view. Afterwards the children present lined up to meet him and shake a flipper.
Silliness aside, I hope it encouraged people to think about nostalgia, how not only sight but sound, smell, taste and perhaps even the touch of certain surfaces are equally powerful triggers in memory recall. Speaking to audience members afterwards, most realised that each of the three female characters had a signature scent, but as the numbered cards didn’t state what these were everyone had their own take on each. I can now reveal that Dorothy was (sssh!), Madelaine (not a word!), and Susan – for the final snogging scene – (to be revealed…)
By far the most popular scent was of course the worst, with grimaces and gag reflexes rippling through the crowd for no.6… which will remain a secret for a little longer!