“Secret Cinema” Skulks New York–Ward

Photo: Alamy

The thousands of Britons who obsessively track Secret Cinema’s updates by now know the routine. Tickets cost £43.50, but the film that will be shown is not revealed in advance. At the location (say, a warehouse done up as a spaceship), patrons are handed props (such as a protective suit and a surgical mask) as a “soundscape” composed by Radiohead sets the mood. Then the lights go down, and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus begins to play. With Hollywood at a crossroads, the series’s 36-year-old founder, Fabien Riggall, has come up with a way to make a night at the movies very much an experience; when Secret Cinema did One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, ticket holders mingled with dozens of actors dressed as psych-ward attendants, and its showing of Lawrence of Arabia featured camels and a sand pit. Lately, Riggall has been organizing a second, non-furtive set of dates for his popular productions under the banner of Future Cinema. His company’s four-week run of Prometheus was the film’s highest-grossing first-run outlet in the U.K. And now Secret Cinema is on its way here.

Riggall is notoriously hard to pin down, but on a trip to London last fall, I decided to try to learn more about his New York plans. I soon found myself sitting in the café of Riggall’s choice, on Brick Lane in East London. He texted me to say he wanted to meet somewhere else. Half an hour later, a cab dropped me on a deserted street in front of a creepy, even-more-east London building. I entered through the basement. Out popped Riggall. With praying hands, he asked: Could I hang on a bit longer?

While I waited, Riggall’s assistant coldly made me sign a nondisclosure agreement. Riggall reappeared, saying, “Mad crazy here—I can’t really talk. Come with me.” We rushed off in an ancient camper van at headlong speed, with Riggall steering single-­handed, back to Brick Lane. He yawned twice, explaining that the night before, he’d been at a “brilliant” new rave party dubbed “Where the Wild Things Are,” and he’s in between girlfriends, and, well … He talked about Secret brand extensions. Last summer, he organized Secret Swimming, a mass skinny-dip in an Oxfordshire lake, and he’s also branched out into Secret Hotels and Secret Restaurants. One day, “maybe Secret Airlines,” he says.

When I got back to New York, Riggall’s PR woman called to ask if I’d please not write about the U.S. launch until her boss could meet with me while scouting venues here. She suggested that I might also get to meet the mysterious man who will be running Riggall’s American operations. But then in December, Secret Cinema’s London showing of The Shawshank Redemption sold out immediately, and there were local press obligations, delaying him again.

Riggall finally made it to New York a couple of weeks ago. I phoned him to arrange our meeting. An uncomfortable pause. “I’ll call you around one tomorrow.” My phone rang at three. “I don’t want anyone watching me set up the series. It’s not what Secret Cinema is about. People must find it organically. It’s not a secret if I tell people where it will be or how I go about it.” Secret Cinema’s official New York arrival is slated for late spring. Further details, naturally, are secret, until Riggall takes to its Facebook page to make them otherwise.

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“Secret Cinema” Skulks New York–Ward