This morning between the hours of 2am and 4am, Woody Harrelson performed an unprecedented cinematic feat, shooting his new movie 'Lost in London' live on the streets of our capital and beaming it to cinemas around the world, including the Picturehouse Central on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Inspired by last year's one-take wonder 'Victoria', which was filmed in one night on the streets of Berlin, Woody wrote, directed and starred in this comic drama drawing on an incident in 2002 when the star threw a tantrum in a black cab and ended up in a police cell. I pitched up at Central in the wee hours to join a packed crowd, all with one question on their minds: can he possibly pull it off?
At first, there was some doubt. When a pre-show video montage popped up with no sound, there was a strong sense of doom. Woody had hauled in an impressive array of pre-recorded star guests, from Justin Timberlake to Emma Stone to old mucker Ted Danson, all of them queueing up to tell him how stupid the idea was, and pleading with him to call it off before someone got hurt. At least, that was the gist as I understood it – their actual words were inaudible.
But all these pre-transmission wobbles merely meant that when picture and sound did finally synch up, the room went wild. And when the film began to roll, the excitement was palpable. The technical achievement was astronomical – one camera, one shot, live sound, and at least 300 extras. But by contrast, the story was fairly simple: in London for a West End show, Woody is horrified to find that his extra-marital sexual exploits have been splashed all over the tabloids. And when his wife Laura gets wise, his night goes from bad to worse as he hurtles from a crowded club to a terrifying cab ride, all culminating in his arrest and imprisonment.
'Lost in London' started shakily: early scenes featuring an Arabian prince were weak, and a clearly nervous cast seemed to be overacting wildly to compensate. But once Woody's Hollywood buddy Owen Wilson entered the frame the film hit its groove, and stayed there for the next hour. It turned out to be a surprisingly emotional experience, as Woody confronts his own self-loathing and weakness, ending up on the floor of a prison cell moaning in anguish.
There was plenty of comedy, though: a running argument between Harrelson and Wilson on the merits of Wes Anderson movies was nerdily hilarious, and a self-mocking, voice-only cameo from a massive superstar brought the house down. And it was amazing to know it was all taking place just down the road: the majority of the locations seemed to be between Holborn station and New Oxford Street – in one scene, the cabbie pursued a fleeing Woody past the Natwest bank on High Holborn.
'Lost in London' is due to be streamed online next month, and it's definitely worth a look. It's hard to imagine how it'll play without the thrill of knowing it could all fall to bits at any minute, but there's wit and insight and joy here, and the live experience was totally unique.
At the post-screening Q&A Woody looked completely blasted, practically falling off his chair as he recalled all the hard work that had gone into pulling off this wild, weird, defiantly ludicrous feat. Woody, it was worth it. Now get some sleep.
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