If the idea of going to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show appeals to you, but you’re squeamish about all the stage directions and traditions, like throwing rice at the screen, or having to fake an orgasm in front of the whole theater if it’s your first time, then Little Cinema might be the immersive movie experience for you. The creative team behind Little Cinema pairs a film with live performances that may include dancers, aerialists, a live orchestra, actors and DJs–each movie is a different mix. I saw The Fifth Element last week, (previous nights have included Donnie Darko, Bird Man, and Labyrinth) and I never want to watch this gorgeous, but incredibly confusing movie any other way.
The immersive experience began the moment I arrived at House of Yes in Bushwick, where Little Cinema has made its home. The entire staff was rocking futuristic costumes including a lot of silver spandex, gold lamé, and glitter with the occasional magenta wig in the mix. A glowstick on every seat (a campaign slogan we could all get behind?) allowed those of us who were less sparkly to ease into the futuristic rave vibe.
Prior to the start of the film, a DJ played trance-like music to get everyone relaxed and ready. For the first 20 minutes or so, The Fifth Element played without much accompaniment, until I noticed a woman crawling up the bar and into a silver hoop that hung above the liquor bottles. As characters on film begin to fly across the screen, including in or onto flying cars, she glided above us, in sync with the movie.
The in-person action did a lot to alleviate my fears over whether or not Bruce Willis could save planet Earth, understand Milla Jovovich, or frankly, whether I could understand the movie. Is Jovovich an alien? Where did Willis get his cat? With so much else going on, I was able to turn off my brain and simply enjoy. I felt completely engaged by the combination of film and live action, but I did not worry that I was about to be dragged on stage and expected to don a wig or perform acrobatics of my own.
Later on, a woman hung upside down from a barely visible trapeze, inside a bubble, floating above a sea of moviegoers who were thrilled both by her flexibility, and that the whole apparatus remained comfortably in the air and didn’t come crashing down on their heads. A few minutes later, a man in a leopard print jumpsuit performed an aria, while two women clad in vintage flight attendant uniforms crawled around his feet, imitating the action on the screen.
Little Cinema is the brainchild of artist and producer Jay Rinsky, in collaboration with an ever-growing team that includes Anya Sapozhnikova and Kae Burke of House of Yes. Rinsky said that he was inspired by his love of film, and driven by the desire to create a new kind of movie-going experience. As he explained in an email, he wondered what would happen if he could “integrate other people’s art, such as music, circus performance, dance, even cooking, into the very traditional framework of film…and make it interactive and responsive?”
The result, at least the night I attended, was a packed house, a happy crowd, and an event that pushed the boundaries of what is usually a passive experience. “There’s no real formula,” Rinsky explained. Keeping the experience fresh with a wide ranging selection of films and corresponding performances, is key, he said. The partnership with House of Yes has been a major factor in Little Cinema’s success, and the show will continue there for the foreseeable future. Upcoming events include a new series called Little World which focuses on international films, which launches on April 12 with the South African film, Necktie Youth. Immersive screenings of The Craft, Blade Runner, and Dead Man are also coming up.
Rinsky promises that a night at Little Cinema will be “always different, always new, always surprising and always good. Our door is open, come play with us.”
For tickets and dates for upcoming Little Cinema events, visit their website; tickets range from $10-12 in advance, $15 at the door and $20 VIP, which gets you early admission, assigned seating with table service and in some cases, a poster or other merch to take home.