Osbert Parker celebrates London’s Scala with a trio of animations

The artist and director’s shorts tie in with a new documentary about the former cinema, which Parker says still has an influence on his practice nearly 40 years later

Author Jane Giles and writer Ali Catterall have kicked off 2024 with a new documentary film about Scala, an iconic space in London’s Kings Cross. Now a live music venue, between the years of 1978 and 1993, Scala operated as cinema and became one of the city’s most well-known countercultural hubs frequented by filmmakers like John Waters and Mary Harron, and comedian Stewart Lee.

Humorously titled Scala!!! Or, the Incredibly Strange Rise and Fall of the World’s Wildest Cinema and How It Influenced a Mixed-up Generation of Weirdos and Misfits, the documentary seeks to celebrate the institution’s enduring legacy.

All images courtesy of Osbert Parker and Scala!!!

Alongside the film itself, Giles (who is also the ex-programme manager of the cinema) commissioned London-based artist and director Osbert Parker to create a series of animated shorts to feature on the forthcoming Blu-ray release of Scala!!!

As an art student in the 80s, Parker frequently visited the Scala to watch “everything from trashy B-movies to vintage Hollywood classics and experimental avant garde films”. These influences shaped his film education and experimental approach to animation, which have incidentally fed back into his Scala!!! shorts.

The first, titled Tentacles, saw Parker use stop motion to re-animate dead octopuses while a former staff member recounts a magic mushroom trip she experienced during one of her shifts. Convinced that she was being attacked by walking sea creatures, Parker’s animation depicts these monsters as real-life octopuses with heads made from B-movie cut-outs.

“The staff member’s magic mushroom trip was full of comedy and I wanted the monsters to help communicate the humorous tone with the playful animation style, so I had one of them smoking a giant joint,” he says – specifically a ‘Camberwell Carrot’, coined in Withnail and I, if anyone was wondering. “This gave them personality and attitude, in keeping with some Scala visitors at the time.”

The second animation, titled Primatarium, shows the building’s former use, and employs a similar technique as the first by using a combination of animated cut-outs beneath a glass multi-plane. The latter contained a collage of dried leaves from Guyana and it is through these that the viewer watches paper primates “commune in a stylised jungle interior”.

“I wanted to take viewers through the heart of this environment and be surrounded by nature, secretly looking through bushes to give a sense of mystery and wonder that matched the tone of Ali Catterall’s brilliant David Attenborough impersonation,” explains Parker.

In a further display of his adoration for Scala, Parker also created a third animation to serve as “a twisted love letter” to the cinema. Finding narrative connections between the lyrics in Barry Adamson’s song It’s Business as Usual and the “instantly recognisable images created by 2D Design for Scala’s poster-sized programmes”, the animation is close to the title sequence that Parker had originally pitched to Giles upon hearing of the project.

“I’ve always liked the concept of 1 + 1 = 3 and think this animated Scala programme has a similar effect, creating alternate narratives in surprising ways,” he says, “with flashes of unexpected humour, horror, and hardcore themes – possibly making a greater sum of its individual parts.”

Scala!!! is available on Blu-ray from January 22; @animatedplayground