When I arrived at university one of the first things I did was attend that semester’s first editorial meeting of the student newspaper, Concrete, to see how I could get involved. I walked away from the meeting having scored a free preview screening of a new film at one of Norwich’s main cinemas. All I had to do in exchange was write a review of White Men Can’t Jump for the paper. And so it was that three years of free films commenced.
I regularly contributed reviews (yes, I’ve kept them all in a box in the basement, but can’t be bothered to dig them out to scan and upload just at the moment. Trust me, they were brilliant) to Concrete from autumn 1993 to summer 1995, but I had to share the opportunity to see free films with several other people working for the paper. Things really took off when I got involved with Nexus UTV, the student TV station. I spent pretty much every spare minute up there, playing with the cameras and edit suite, and it wasn’t long after that I realised I could get free entry to all the preview screenings I wanted simply by starting a film review TV programme. I wrote to the two main local cinemas to inform them of our project and got myself added to the mailing list, and from then on every week we’d receive one or two envelopes containing a single photocopied sheet with the film’s poster and the screening time (usually around 10:30 or 11 on a Monday night).
Considering that five or six films get released in any given week in the UK we obviously weren’t getting screenings of all the new releases, but we got most of the big Hollywood films. I and a friend would turn up at the cinema after all the normal screenings had finished, and would be shown upstairs to a special waiting room where we could sit alongside local newspaper hacks, nibble stale peanuts and peruse the film’s press kit. Now obviously we were under no real obligation to actually review the film. The TV show was only visible in certain locations on campus, so it was almost impossible for anyone to check whether or not we’d actually bothered to share our opinions of Waterworld or Judge Dredd. Having said that we did go to the effort of reviewing most of the offerings, and often attempted to add some visual spice to the show by filming them in some way which was reminiscent of the film. For example, for my legendarily scathing review of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein we set up some gothic lighting and added atmosphere by having someone just out of shot with a cigarette blow smoke into my face (the review would be interrupted occasionally by coughing fits), and for my review of sky-diving turkey Drop Zone I was filmed from below as I pretended to fall towards the camera. Again, I have copies of all of this, but only on VHS, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it looked fantastic.
Obviously I saw a lot of crap that I was glad I hadn’t had to pay for, but I also got to discover some good stuff before any of my friends, like Midnight Sting and The Usual Suspects (one female journalist came out of our screening and sniffed “Just another ‘Boys and their guns’ film”). We even managed to get into previews of all the big summer blockbusters even though it wasn’t term time so it should have been pretty obvious to everyone that we weren’t going to review them.
Since then I’ve been invited to a couple of free screenings through work (or my wife’s job), including a packed screening of No Man’s Land (highly recommended), complete with an introduction from the director. And then yesterday we received an invitation to a free screening next week of Paul “Resident Evil” Anderson’s new 3D version of The Three Musketeers.
I don’t think I’ll bother.