WRITTEN BY EMILY GAGNE
PHOTOS BY MICHELLE MEDFORD
This Friday night, the Cinefilles went a little bit crazy. We didn’t go paint the town pink (or some other stereotypically “girly” colour), partaking in some sort of elaborate, fruity drink-filled, seen-in-every-chick-flick Girl’s Night Out. We did something much more our style, attending the first of this weekend’s 360 Screenings events, which ended up being an insanely entertaining tribute to one of our favourite films, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Since its inception this time last year, 360 Screenings has been a business after our heart. The Toronto-based company, created by the lovely Ned Loach and Robert Gontier (read my interview with Ned here), hosts detailed events themed around specific films, hiring local actors to recreate noteworthy (but not quite spoilery) scenes in an environment eerily similar to the one seen on screen. The catch is, the name of the film is not revealed until late into the event, when Ned and Robert invite you to join them in screening the film. So before that it’s simply up to you to solve the movie mystery, whether that be through talking to the characters, analyzing your surroundings, or simply sharing educated guesses with your friends/fellow partygoers.
Although the 360 boys have done a stellar job at keeping all their previous events mysterious (see: our reviews of 28 Days Later and Amélie), they played their cards really, really close to their chest with this One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest one. The clues they gave attendees over social media in the weeks leading up to the screening seemed purposefully vague (think shots of hospitals, nurses), and the location they picked — the gorgeous Christie Mansion at Wellesley and Queens Park — couldn’t be pinned to a specific movie at first glance. Even the instructions they offered ticketholders in their 24-hours-before location announcement weren’t leading — we were just told to wear white, so as to blend in with the other “patients” and that if anyone asked us where to find “clarity and peace of mind,” to answer with the following codeword: “CANADA.”
I suppose that last clue should have been a no-brainer, considering that two of the main characters of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack Nicholson’s Randall McMurphy and Will Sampsons’s Chief Bromden, talk of escaping their asylum existence by fleeing to our home and native land. But then again, there is also talk of high-tailing it to Canada in Girl, Interrupted, the Oscar-winning Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie film based on the Susanna Kaysen book of the same name, a fact that I remember vividly from my pre-teen, “Winona Forever!” years. And some of the other clues, including one specific image featuring a lighthouse, pointed to Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island.
The point is, going into this 360 Screening Friday evening neither Michelle nor I knew what to expect. But the moment we got there, the moment we were greeted by male patients and several ’70s-looking female nurses offering candy pills, ideas started swirling (male patients meant we could cross off Girl, Interrupted). And once we walked inside and saw a Nicholson-evoking young man speaking to a doctor, Dr. Spivey to be exact, we were sure of what we were getting into. And we couldn’t have been more excited.
Although Michelle was interacting with the film’s characters for the first time ever on Friday, I am a huge fan of Cuckoo’s Nest. I read the Ken Kesey book in high school and fell in love with the way it blurred the lines between sanity and insanity, the “normal” and the “crazy.” The 1975 film is an excellent adaptation of it too, especially with Nicholson and Louise Fletcher facing off as the infamous McMurphy — a criminal who gets sent to the psych ward after repeatedly not following prison rules — and his nemesis, the retched Nurse Ratched.
I have to say the 360 version of Cuckoo’s Nest did an excellent job of capturing the intensely intimate vibe established by the book and recreated in the film. Although there were technically five unique spaces to explore — Dr. Spivey’s office, a group therapy room, a shock therapy room, the everyday ward common room/nurses’ station, and the ward as it was set up during McMurphy’s impromptu Christmas party — the event felt very open concept, as characters — nurses and patients — moved freely from room to room, occasionally even inviting you to join them in their next adventure (I, for one, was tapped on the shoulder and lead to the group therapy session by a man playing McMurphy’s biggest support, Cheswick). I suppose you could say it was a bit of madhouse, especially with white-wearing guests (everyone not in the cast was asked to wear white tops) coming and going in droves and amping up the already slightly-unbearable temperatures, but those factors just added to the authenticity of the setting.
What I found especially amazing was the attention to detail in terms of props. The shock therapy station became even more chilling when I took a close look at the table within it, which featured what appeared to be a vintage voltage device and accompanying old school implementation nodes (sort of like headphones, but terrifying). Then there was the common room, which had McMurphy’s nudie playing cards strewn about alongside all sorts of discarded cigarettes, a form of currency for McMurphy and his wardmates. And the party room didn’t only feature actresses playing McMurphy’s gal pals Rose and Candy, but also vintage booze bottles, Christmas cards, military-esque hospital beds, and oodles of the type of tattered red tinsel that set that climatic scene in the film.
I also thought the actors they chose to play the main characters were extremely apt, both in terms of looks and behaviour. Although I would have much preferred to see the fellow chosen to be McMurphy in his signature black toque instead of a baseball cap, the guy’s acting chops more than made up for it. He even had the raspy-sexy Nicholson voice down, putting it to convincing use during a recreation of a group therapy session during which McMurphy asks Nurse Ratched to allow him and the boys to vote on whether they want to watch the World Series on the communal TV that afternoon. (Note: I voted in McMurphy’s favour before he dramatically urged us to throw our hands up in the air.) I didn’t get much time to speak with the woman playing Nurse Ratched, but she certainly looked the part, overly groomed hair and all. And I loved the other nurses I encountered, including one who seemed delighted by my question about the single pair of work boots left in the shock therapy room. “Who do those belong to?” I said, to which she responded, “You know, there was one patient who used them as a shield. But he felt that after he did the therapy that he didn’t need them anymore. He felt free!”
I think my favourite part of the 360 Screenings process is interacting with the actors, and seeing what details they’ve been asked to divulge from and/or about the film. The woman playing Rose, for example, talked to me about how Christmas is about “sharing,” nodding to a line warden Turkle (Scatman Crothers) says to McMurphy before allowing her and Candy in for the aforementioned party (Turkle wants to make sure that the girls will “share” more than just the booze they’ve brought). Meanwhile, the actor playing Chief Bromden remained mute and to himself the whole time, purposefully avoiding socializing as the Chief did for most of the book and film. He didn’t even break when my friend approached him and said, “You’ll get out of here someday.”
Admittedly, I did take issue with the lack of interaction between the Chief and McMurphy, who are meant to have a special understanding of one another. I suppose that McMurphy had a lot of metaphorical heavy lifting to do throughout the night, having to appear in all scenes for at least some period of time, and the Chief had to get to his literal heavy lifting (just as Sampson’s Chief did, this actor was seen attempting to pick up a water fixture — although his appeared cardboard, instead of marble). And perhaps they did talk and I just missed it (there is, after all, a little over an hour to enjoy the performance part). But that friendship is such an important part of the film, and it seems a shame not to have it represented in some form.
My only other complaint involves food. Previously 360 events have offered free themed hors d’oeuvres (i.e. the Amélie night included adorable tarts and whole French baguettes), but this time you had to shell out $5 if you wanted to get a sandwich from Rebel Food Inc. I’m glad I brought money, or else my stomach would have had an audible fit in the middle of the film screening. I suppose they did make up for the catering snafu at the end of the evening though. As each person exited the theatre, they were offered a free bag of Oreos or Chips Ahoy! cookies. It didn’t necessarily go with the theme of the film, but was a great parting gift (you better believe I went to town on my Oreos on the subway ride home) and provided a nice segue into some trivia about the venue (it was originally the home of the creator of the Christie company).
Those minor issues aside, I was pretty mad (in the good way) for this 360 event. It could have gotten a disastrous diagnosis too, considering my attachment to and knowledge of the legendary flick that inspired it, and the humidity of the evening. But, once again, it’s clear that the 360 boys have watched this film as closely as the Chief did McMurphy, spending months carefully planning their representation of it before setting that vision free in their own, truly lovingly way.
Click here for more photos from 360 Screenings’ presentation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.