F r o m H a r d B o i l e d t o H u m a n ?
Memoirs of the first 6 months at The Cube.
Nov/December 98 - Jan 1999:
Ben Slater arrives at Cube. It isn't his first visit.
remembers going to their Portland Street office when the project
was being finalised, and then he helped clean-up and paint the
Arts Cinema building (the dust made him feel ill for a week).
When it opened he ushered quite a bit, and got to like it when there
were only 4 people in the audience. However, this time he's promised to
spend at least 3 days a week there, and is asked if he wants to programme.
He says Yes, he's not sure what this entails. The office is a total mess,
just a big table in the centre of the backroom piled with stuff, and Hogge's
laptop somewhere around. Julian is ensconced in the back office.
Slater's got nothing to lose! why not?
Until I get the keys I have to ring Hogge at 9.30 in
order to wake him up so he can let me in. He's usually groggy but in
good humour. Jack arrives at 11.00 with loads of grub (bread,
tomatoes and salami). Julian comes in for lunch from his temp
job, and Kev arrives around 4.00. Will Pugh and Chloe work
away busily at the back of the main office. I'm not sure what the
others think of my involvement. Morale is very low.
Hogge teaches me to programme. I don't make a move without
consulting him. I piece it together with pen and paper, then type
it all up on the laptop when it's finally put to bed. I programme
January - and fit in John Sergeant's Blue Summer, Trey Parkers
Cannibal Musical in an ill-advised double with a British z-budget
horror called I, Zombie; we do Shocking Asia (the Cube's print)
with DJs (the first event of its kind), and John Woo?s
Hardboiled. We bung in a Spanish film called Caresses for good
measure, and Roger Corman's Wild Angels because we ain't
seen it. Plus Hogge puts together a 3-day Rombus b-day
festival with Oil Experts, Angel Tech and the Noise Jam vs
Caligari, Metropolis and Man With A Movie Camera. This
programme gets a mixed response from the other founders,
suspicion of my efforts mixed with light praise or silence. Mad
Spanish designer Txus gets to work as I wait with baited breath.
J a n - F e b 1 9 9 9
I realise too late that programming is a thankless task.
If it goes
wrong and nobody comes you feel awful. If it goes right and a
crowd turn up, someone else will say it was their idea. Because
of the sense of impending dread I start going to the Cube in the
evenings less than I did before I was properly working there.
Hardboiled gets a solid fanboy crowd in and lots of interest,
which perks us up. Then the almost forgotten teen suicide
comedy Dead Mans Curve is packing in 50-70 a night. For a
few days I think I've cracked it. Little do I realise that like the
Warp Videos event sell-out in the Cube's first month, we'll be
trying to analyse why only it succeeded for months afterwards.
Most of the films get only a handful. The Cannibal/Zombie
double is a disaster. Blue Summer inspires a few. On the last
night of it, Jack invites loads of mates to come to it - one of
them is an intense bloke called Morgan.
I discover that one great thing about the Cube is that even if no
one comes, the guests mostly don't mind cos they love the
space, and all want to come back. The Rombus event is a
triumph, and shows us briefly what is possible even though the
Angel Tech set gets a noise complaint. The backroom is used as
an 'private' bar, and the place starts to feel like somewhere
where something good is happening. Meanwhile I start
programming February, although this is curtailed by going off for
two weeks to do a show at the Arnolfini. Trying to do deals with
Twentieth Century Fox when I?m fairly clueless leads to a 2-
week booking on James Toback-flop 2 Girls And A Guy, my
attempts to get out of it lead to the first really unpleasant phone
call with a distributor. The month is beefed up with some stuff
Manga off-load on us. We get a call from a film-maker with a
hiphop doc called Cools Running. I?m reluctant to do it but she
insists and its gets booked in by Hogge. January?s programme
goes increasingly down the pan audience-wise. Notable
exception is Julian?s first Screentime which proves immensely
popular thus vindicating all the work he?d put into the Bristol film-
makers festival. Txus visits his dealer and its time to design again.
At around this juncture the token wages for the founders
officially stop. This is a relief for me, because I had felt awkward
about working voluntarily just as hard as them and getting
absolutely nowt. However, none of them let me forget how
intensively they'd been working 6 months prior to my arrival -
so I well and truly knew my place. Whilst I try and organise the
programme which will keep the doors open, they organise
'directors' meetings to discuss things I'm not aloud to hear
(what to do if the Cube collapses) - I quietly find the irony of the
F e b- M a r ch
I get my own set of keys and can start arriving without
wait for Hogge or Jack to wake up. I get sick of staring at the
same scraps of paper which list upcoming films. Programming
seems to involve spending vast amounts of time flicking through
the last 3 back issues of Sight And Sound and Empire. I know
that this ain't right. Long lunch breaks in town become a salvation.
A lot of general open meetings are held during this period
discuss where we can go with the Cube cos it obviously isn't
working. A lot of people show up for the first one, and then it
dwindles to a few. We are left with a club promoter who tries
one project with us and when it fails we never see him again.
Various key issues are flagged up in these discussions about co-
operatives and membership. I feel frustrated about the lack of
collective will to find out about and apply for proper
organisational funding. The main problem is that no one can
really agree as to who, why and what The Cube is for. As the
last person to join the team I don't feel able to pin this down for
the rest. But its an issue that will continue to bug me for a long
There are some highlights in the month - the promise
Red Stripe pulls the 'hip hop' crowd out for Cools Running and
its amazing to see the building busy, we giggle with joy and drink
the beer. Hogge's 1000 Years Of Cinema event has limited
audience but is a cracker - the bar in the foyer is built for this
occasion by a team that includes Morgan.
March is a squeeze, Chasing Amy (which is already out
by then) is a minor success and 'film jam', a visuals and music
session goes a blinder on its inaugural night (which debuted a
certain Mr Smithee). The sleek black and white cover featuring
a reclining Rose McGowan from Doom Generation is to this day
the most popular Cube programme - they change hands today
for 50 quid each in Fishponds.
Programming becomes more of a robotic chore as we know
regular films just aren't pulling the punters. I'm being tugged in
two directions - some people are saying that we programme
cool stuff because it don't make any difference versus other
voices instructing me to programme commercial films because
we can win back the Arts Centre crowd. Either way, it's a
gamble. I try to do both and a little bit in-between. My instincts
tell me to not go commercial, but I'm suddenly feeling
responsible for the whole show. Because the process is getting
painful I start doing it quicker. Do April in a week, stuff it with
middle-brow nonsense like Shakespeare In Love and Hilary
And Jacky and then go off to Singapore for 3 weeks.
A p r i l - M a y
Come back to UK at the end of April to find my programme
bombed - the final confirmation that we cannot get back the
near-mythical Arts Centre audience. All bets are off about what
works and what doesn't. We don't have a bleedin' clue.
Morgan is now designing the programme and the 16mm fanatic
Mark 'Smithee' Berry is seriously lightening the load on the
projection front and wants to start a film club - all are good
things. We pull May together rapidly, its highlight being an event
on Banned film with the help of Exploited films, who?ve been
passed our way after the Watershed nixed them. Julian gets Tim
McMillan to present his Timeslice films and organises a hotly
anticipated Screentime. In a way this feels like the beginning of a
I come in one day to find a strange bloke doing typing
for Julian on my computer. I?m pissed off. Julian introduces us.
His names Chiz.
The May programme shapes up nicely, since we're free to
more or less what we want. We decide to go 100%
membership, cut down the week days, and relaunch the whole
shebang. May kicks off with a good load of punters for a less-
than-legal live gig with Pram/Movietone, and it feels like there's
some energy in the place. There's another noise complaint and
probably around this time Jack announces that he's moving to
London when he gets the chance and stops going to meetings.
Kevin announces a more formal resignation a while afterwards.
This inspires Julian's legal moves towards becoming a limited
company, and one early morning Jules, Hogge, Mark, Morgan
and me stumble into the solicitors office and sign our names
away for the love of the Cube.
M a y - J u n e - J u l y
The May programme is not an instant hit, but the audience
consistent and it feels right. The Exploited night attracts only 20
hardened video-heads, but the proverbial goodtime is had.
We'd made great efforts to score an exclusive first run of
Perfect Blue, a Manga feature, and its terrible opening is painful
to report, although it inexplicably picks up on its final night. June
is even more ambitious with the starting of a worthy
documentary slot Eye To Eye, which sets a brilliant precedent
for political and socially aware films in the Cube, but is difficult
to get an audience for. We also stage the Warriors vs DJs event,
which although not that popular becomes a moment imprinted in
Cube legend. Jazz-Punk Nite marks the start of proper and
fruitful collaborations with local music-man Fat Paul, and is
reviewed in the Independent, thus massively upping our press
credibility. Chiz, now our fully fledged PR/Marketing gonzo has
started to make great leaps on the publicity front, but finds he's
got a fucking marathon on his hands.
But all is not joy, a lot of films and events flop, and
as the sun
gets hotter it's getting harder to programme again - too much
freedom and not enough inspiration. I'm juggling too many
peoples ideas, opinions and obsessions. Jack gets on board to
help me for July despite his always imminent departure, and is a
useful adversary. He also dangles the possibility of having a
contact for Justin Kerrigan director of upcoming and probably
crap Brit rave film Human Traffic. When Human Traffic opens to
strong reviews and proves a multiplex hit, I book it for a week
on the basis that we're going to make the first night into some
kind of event. Messages are left with Kerrigan. Chiz starts work
on booze sponsorship and we plan a party - Kerrigan or no
When he comes thru (Chiz picks up the phone) he can't
(he's about to go to Ibiza) - but promises us one of the lead
actors instead. The subsequent event, the Human Traffic
Opening Night Party, proves to the first complete sell-out that I
witness in the Cube, and thankfully it definitely ain't the last.
It's reserved-out 2 days beforehand and the phone doesn't stop
ringing right up to the last minute. What happened that night, with
the exploding Xenon bulb, the stoned movie star, the deranged
props man and the vast quantity of Tiger beer can only be retold
in the Cube bar at 3.am once a year, and it is definitely a tale
For a lot of reasons it seemed that night was a kind of
turning point in the fortunes of the Cube. It certainly wasn't suddenly all fun and
games after that, in fact there were plenty of bleak days to come, but it
seemed that around that event, and others that month, the sense of team-
work and pride in the Cube really took off.
It had transformed immensely in the months since I'd first
Almost without me noticing those changes. I realised quite late in the
day just how loyal and how damned nice the regular gang of volunteer
ushers and bar-staff was, and the cameraderie between them and the core
team was a real pleasure. After that and other nights a momentum started
to build in the place and the people, and we regained confidence in what
could be achieved on such limited resources which I think has endured
and deepened. Despite the unrelenting level of hard-work that the place
needs to open its doors every night.
I've left now physically but not quite spiritually, and
changing and moving on in new and varied directions. Unlike those who are still
there plugging away, I've had the space to easily get sentimental about
my time behind the Chinese Restaurant.But it's is good to know that despite
everything, the thing is still happening, down the end of that corridor.
As I wrote in a press release once - The Cube Abides.
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