J: “I’m going to a movie this Saturday. I don’t know what the movie is or where it’s screening, but do you want to come with me?”

K: “Umm…ok. I don’t really get it but it sounds intriguing…”

Intrigue is the key to the success of Underground Cinema. The premise is this  – you buy a movie ticket ($35). At the time of booking all you’re told is the theme of the movie – you don’t know the name of the film.  The location of the screening is also undisclosed (but generally inner-city Melbourne). You plan your dress-up outfit and a few days before the show you’re told where to meet. Turn up, enjoy the entertainment – and all is revealed when the opening credits start.

So why would you want to buy a ticket for an unknown film? Because Underground Cinema is not just about the movie, it’s about the overall experience. The sold-out screening that I attended had a 1920s/gangster theme and from 4:30pm Chapel Street was lined with red-lipped flappers in slinky dresses and feather boas, escorted by dapper men in tuxedos and trench coats. We entered the glamorous Red Bennies to the sounds of The Cairo Club Orchestra bopping out jazz tunes and big band numbers and admired the frantic swing dancers from Swing Patrol.

Now whenever there’s a dress-up party I’m normally the party-pooper who doesn’t turn up in costume. But in this case I did make a little effort and I’m glad that I did – because 99% of the crowd did get dressed up and it really added to the decadent Great Gatsby-esque atmosphere of the event. I really felt like I’d been transported back into the Jazz Age, minus the cigarette fog. Some people who paid more sat in booths and were served sparking by Moulin Rouge waitresses in feather head-dresses. I loved people-watching for the hour or so before the movie started and the fun foot-tapping music was right up my alley (though no Charleston for this pregnant lady).

And the movie? It was 1931 film Little Caesar starring Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. As you’d expect from an old black and white Hollywood film (even one nominated as culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress) the acting was a bit forced and the gangster accents were almost unintelligible.  I think most of the crowd gave up watching the film and just drank and chatted, occasionally popping a party popper or blowing a straw whistle. So be warned if you’re a diehard cinephile – if you go to Underground Cinema you’ll find it difficult to concentrate on the film and will spend a lot of time trying to shush people.

The Prohibition Speakeasy party was the last screening for 2010 but with the regular sell-out success of Underground Cinema I suggest you get on the mailing list to receive information about the 2011 screenings. It’s a really fun experience that is very far removed from your average sterile cinemaplex.

For more fabulous photos from the event, check our their Flickr set.