It feels slightly ‘off piste’ to be reviewing an outdoor film screening, rather than the film itself. I’ve already seen Elvis, which impressed in no small part thanks to Austin Butler’s embodiment of the title character, and the way Tom Hanks channels his more usual sheer likability into the warped charisma of the dyed-int-the-wool con-man that is manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker, whose name is as fake as his self-awarded rank.
As biopics go, it’s darker than most, showing us Elvis not as a near-mythological icon, but as a force of nature who has music in his bones, and a defiant talent fighting against forces seemingly destined to destroy him, not least his own controlling manager.
The practicalities of the evening’s entertainment impressed even before the film started, with Claremont Farm having ample parking, and the efforts of the efficient and friendly staff meaning there was very little by way of queueing. If you want an entirely free choice of where to sit, I’d suggest getting there earlier than we did, at about twenty minutes before curtain; though even then, we had no problem finding a decent spot in which to pitch our deckchairs, with unobstructed views of the large inflatable screen.
It was a bright evening, so initially the ambient light meant the picture intensity didn’t quite match that of a dedicated cinema auditorium. On the other hand, there’s something special about watching a film with birds (and later bats) flying about, and the outdoor setting also added resonance to the early scenes of the young Elvis travelling with an itinerant outdoor show.
In any case, it wasn’t long before it was dark enough for the spectacle of Elvis’s increasingly glitzy shows to have a presence and visual impact comparable to a standard cinema experience. I guess the level of the remaining electric lighting reflected an essential regard for health and safety; though – given where we’d chosen to pitch our deckchairs – there was a last, very slight, but noticeable improvement when the outdoor bar closed.
An even bigger plus was the quality of the sound, which was pretty much flawless. The wireless headphones gave a depth to the audio that was pleasingly immersive and totally involving – perfect for a music-based biopic, though it did also emphasise just how much narration there is in the film, which I hadn’t particularly noticed when I’d previously seen it at the cinema. Not a problem as such; just a feature emphasised by the nature of the audio delivery.
I did wonder if the inflatable screen would bring with it the potential irritant of the sound of air compressors, even if only intermittently; but either they were so quiet as to be unnoticeable, or the headphones were effective enough to block out any unwanted noise.
So, overall, an outdoor cinema experience I’d heartily recommend. I’d hazard a guess that many people sampling Moonlight Flicks at Claremont Farm for the first time might have been there for the novelty value; but – like me – I bet it won’t be long before they’re back.