Home sweet home, or so it appears that way upon entrance to this large structure. Beneath the main floor sits a rather awkwardly placed theatre, serving an audience of none. I say that this was awkwardly placed due to what took up 90 percent of the floor space. After navigation through a near maze of halls beneath the depths of this rotting structure, we find ourselves tucked into the darkness of a comforting, yet very strange home. Normally, finding abandoned homes is just part of your average explores, but when they reside beneath a large body of numerous classrooms, it can begin to toggle your mind’s confusion level from none to a ton. As I crossed the living room, I found myself staring down a small walkway, containing a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, though I still wasn’t quite sure why this would be hidden below a school, the more I surveyed my surroundings, it soon all began to come together when suddenly, a note caught my eye hanging near one of many holes cut from the ceiling.
“Welcome to your set from the art dept. Good luck and enjoy yourself!” It all suddenly made sense, the holes in the ceiling, an entire living space room for room left to rot in the depths of a school…’a set for the theatre group!’ I thought to myself, and I was rather close…however, while that might be quite a considerable guess, still not fully correct to the big picture, and true reality of it all.
While navigating through the darkness just outside of this set, I had begun to notice a series of familiar names, stashed into box after box, littered across the cracking tile floors. Kodak, Olympus, Fuji…I was sifting through old lighting and camera equipment, sprawled randomly throughout this auditorium. Finding things like this would be any true photographer’s dream, as well as that of those with heavy interest in film, and while I thought I had hit the jackpot for explore of the year, I was immediately proven wrong, one room after another, while the grandeur of the entire explore continued to grow the more I scavenged these halls.
The very next thing I would come to find sat beside this decaying set, buried below the theatre’s original stage, a gold mine for hipsters and explorers alike…Okay, who am I kidding? This would be a gold mine for anybody in search of the mysterious, unknown and hidden places of this Earth. Below this stage, which used to provide as a platform for the arts, sits a vast, massive collection of history, spun onto wheels in the form of moving pictures, slapped between rusted canisters. If this was not truly what you would call “true underground cinema” I am not sure what else would classify. Within this underground room, boxes remain, stacked atop more boxes beside rows of reels and crates full of forgotten independent cinema, seen by only a handful, now left to be forever faded by the passing of time, forgotten as the rust continues to eat away from the outside in.
From the 1970s through days of the 1980s, this room holds numerous forgotten images into past lives, having sat collecting nearly no views since their creation. The thought that someone could simply leave so much behind is baffling enough, but as I expand my wonder, I come to think of how many cinematic masterpieces might be lying beneath the dirt and dust, never to be recovered, reviewed or cared for. The amount of work put into truly creating these to just forget blows my mind. I climbed back to the hallway from an adjacent hole within this room, finding myself staring towards my next destination, being a room at the far end of where I stood.
A viewing room, where students of the 1970s through the 1990s would study visions of their colleagues minds, expressed through the medium of film. Independent pieces that graced the screens within this room may have been perfect enough to win motion picture of the year in grand theaters all across the world, but have since been stored away, cast into darkness, never to be viewed again. The most influential, beautiful film to be created could be sitting buried in dust, rotting away until nothing remains and we will never know.
As I had previously stated, with the discovery of each new room, my exploration had only escalated in excitement, building rapidly with each room as I crossed from one end of the hallway to the other.
The first forgotten chamber that I had stepped foot into was a final deciding factor on what the sole purpose of this school was, and as I had the slightest inclination after finding the lost films, I now realized I was entirely correct. The crumbling halls I have been trudging my way through were indeed the rotting remains of a former film school, pushed aside and left to decay. The stale air was brushed gently every now and then by the momentary sweeping of fresh wind from outside through its open windows, and as I peered across the room from my current position, it all came further to light. Chemicals used to develop film, some bottles partially full, others laying empty scattered across table tops, the dusty surface of editing and splicing stations, all surrounded by outdated film gear in every way I turned my head…yes, I had found more than a simple “jackpot” for exploration.
Residing among massive rigs of equipment left behind, sat hundreds of various sound samples, stored in a format now lost in time. When you try to imagine that these samples could consume quite a large portion of your modern day hard drive, given that they were converted to a digital format, it really puts into perspective how much was truly just left, tossed aside. These sound banks were used in the creation of numerous films, collected and compiled over many, many years.
Two floors directly above, I later found myself in what appeared to be a break room for staff and students alike, only the fridge held no food, but the remains of an attempted preservation of 1992 films, alongside a couple of salad dressings. Miracle whip resided in the door, where it has for years, now turned a deep brown color, one could only imagine the smell…
The curiosity was peaking in my mind, now nearly bursting with intrigue, wondering how or why someone could leave so much behind, and as I sit here writing this, my mind still wanders thoughts of what could reside captured inside these canisters. For all we know, an original work completed with the help of Tarkovski could be buried in the depths, though nobody may ever know.
I have never in my life thought that I would feel such a level of curiosity and wonder for a single location, but there it was now directly in front of me, staring me in the face as I stared back at it, across numerous decades of film now collecting dust and mold, lost in the underground. The equipment, more than likely to never be used again serves as a beautiful, rusted reminder of a time that once was vibrant and full of life.
I wouldn’t mind taking a seat for one last showing in the musty theatre.
- Johnny Joo Photography