Imaginarium review

by Aleksandra Jurczak

In the dark of the evening, the brightly lit building of the cinema attracts the eyes of passersby. Crowds gathered by the entrance sigh and whisper with delight. Two richly dressed mistresses in gowns mesmerise the viewers fire dancing. A masked man invites the crowd inside – into the world of unimpeded imagination. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, let the show begin!’

Fire dancing outside Cameo cinema
Fire dancing outside Cameo cinema

The screen room quickly fills up with anxious viewers expecting to be thrilled and dazzled. With a few minute delay, the lights go off and the curtains slide open for the audience’s first wave of giggle when The Poo Poo Productions appears on the screen. But then silence falls and everyone holds their breath, ready to enter the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

It seems like a familiar story: the pursuit for immortality, a pact with the devil, a 16 year old girl at stake and a quickly approaching deadline: we all know these from so many stories already told. But Doctor Parnassus believes the story has to be passed on for the world to keep turning – and his daughter living. The inconspicuous street show under his name hides extraordinary mysteries on the other side of the prop mirror: a scene from a dream where good and evil lead a battle over lost souls. Whoever gathers most, that side wins the prize… so it’s all up to Parnassus to save his only child from perdition before her 16th birthday. And the clock is ticking…

The tragically famed production, which almost didn’t reach completion, is a dream one in many aspects. Due to the accidental death of Heath Ledger in the middle of making of the film, the credits gained three biggest Hollywood names as his substitutes to pay tribute to their actor friend. The whole-star-cast of Ledger, Depp, Law and Farrell makes it the dream film of a true cinema lover (or at least of your average female).

This was also a dream night for Cameo in Edinburgh – the only cinema apart from London which gained the rights to an exclusive preview of the film, one day ahead of the rest of the country. How did they do it? ‘It was mainly charm,’ says Ian Hoey, the general manager of the cinema ‘The film suited the style of Cameo and we decided to pick it for our fundraising event. I contacted the distributor and he agreed for us to screen the film a day before the others. I only found out that we were the only ones to get such a permission after I’d been asked about it and looked it up on the Internet.’

The crowds waiting before the screening
The crowds waiting before the screening

The ‘fundraising’ was an additional fee of 30p added to each ticket. ‘Some people wanted their pennies back… but most of them didn’t mind, they actually thought we should be taking more!’ The full audience spoke for itself: all tickets sold out, and a great feedback to follow. ‘It was wonderful,’ I am told by a lady when the curtains fall ‘Brilliant. It was like… inside Terry’s head.’

And an interesting place it is to be. Terry Gilliam’s head is like a child’s imagination trapped in a grown-up’s mind. You enter the wonderland of candyfloss clouds and golden gondolas – next thing to be struck by gruesome pictures of a body dangling on a rope under a bridge or corpses of dead cows floating in the river. The adult humour is provocative and likely to cause a lot of controversy; there is, for example, a bunch of chubby policemen in skirts encouraging to join the forces through a merry sing-along, a ‘sprite’ describing midgets as ‘small arms, small legs, big heads, run in a funny way’ or a 16 year-old girl claiming: ‘I’m a woman now, a cold hearted bitch’. And some national redtops won’t appreciate the publicity they receive when Heath clearly implies they’re not trustworthy…

Some strong language and sexual references on top of that put the 12A rating into question – at least for those who don’t have enough imagination to take it with a pinch of dust. Dream dust that is.

As every fantasy production, this one will have its fans and foes. It’s a film to see, primarily for the last ever role of Ledger, but also for the chance to feel like a child again – get lost in a world with no limits, only opportunities. Sure, you know it’s not real and it’s not going to last. But at least for a short after leaving the cinema you’ll carry with you a childish of joy, a pursuit of happiness. The smiles on people’s faces speak for themselves.

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Cameo was opened in 1914 as The King’s Cinema and is one of the oldest cinemas in Scotland still in use. To restore the building it needs to gather £80.000 to carry out all the needed renovation works.

Fundraising events go along with cinema’s regular interactive and live p like the New York Met or the National Theatre Live. It was also the only cinema in Edinburgh to show Rage. The Movie, a live broadcast event including stars like Eddie Izzard and Jude Law which allowed a satellite Q&A via Skype and SMS.

‘At Cameo we believe the nature of cinema is to entertain. This means engaging with the audience and not being afraid of doing things differently. We are always open to new ideas. We get many of them, some too fantastic to be put into practice, but much appreciated nevertheless. This ideas help us make Cameo a place people still choose to visit and enjoy’

Ian Hoey, general manager of Came.

The nearest project has been prepared for Halloween with a special preview speech from a real Werewolf – a unique appearance exclusive to Cameo.