Last Updated: 7/18/17
Saturday, July 22, 2017
The Maas Building
1325 N. Randolph Street, Philadelphia, PA
On Saturday, July 22, The Secret Cinema will return to the historic Maas Building with an all-new program called Archive Discoveries: Unseen Curiosities from the Secret Cinema Collection. It features a mélange of fascinating short films from the past, representing a variety of genres and subject matter. None have been shown in previous Secret Cinema programs; indeed, few of these films are likely to have been seen anywhere in recent years.
There will be one complete show at 8:00 pm. Admission is $9.00.
The Secret Cinema's private archive contains literally thousands of reels of 16mm (and 35mm, and 8mm) features, theatrical shorts, cartoons, newsreels, television shows, educational films, travel films, industrial films, and home movies. Together, they add up to well over three million feet of often rare celluloid, with several prints thought to be the only extant copies in the world.
Some of the more interesting of these amazing films will again see the light of a projector bulb in Archive Discoveries… This previously ungroupable group of short films will include films that were made to entertain, to teach, to encourage commerce and to alter opinion. Spanning many decades, they show wondrous places, styles and things that have long-since vanished. Some of them now seem campy, others still have valid lessons to teach, but all are fascinating, and extremely unlikely to be seen anywhere else.
A few highlights from this new edition of Archive Discoveries… include:
Wide Open Spaces (1932, Dir: Arthur Rossen) - The Masquers Club of Hollywood was officially an actors fraternity, though it also included directors, theater owners, and studio executives in its all-male membership. Like other acting fraternities in Hollywood, they eventually began to producing their own short films, as an activity for their sometimes out-of-work members, and to raise funds for the clubhouse. The Masquers' films were distributed by RKO Radio Pictures, and were all professionally filmed. Wide Open Spaces is a good example of their house style, being a wild spoof of the Western -- with every line of dialogue being a hilariously well-worn genre cliche, and comically out-of-place sound effects. The cast includes dozens of character actors whose faces would mostly have been familiar to contemporary audiences, (but are largely forgotten now). The most notable of these include Antonio Moreno, William Farnum, Frank McHugh, Mack Swain, and in the lead role of "Sheriff Jack Rancid," deadpan comic genius Ned Sparks.
Andy (1968, Dir: Peter Bryant) - Short, stark drama of a tomboyish farm girl who lives a seemingly idyllic life taking care of herself and her animals. And then there is a startling interruption. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
Rochester's Railroad (1957) - This fascinating film clip was found in the middle of a reel containing unrelated footage. It probably originated on a television program showing celebrities in their home life. In this clip we meet Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, beloved sidekick to comedian Jack Benny. Anderson shows off the elaborate model railroad layout he designed and built in his home, complete with custom-built control board. In his lifetime, Anderson also built model airplanes and a working sports car, piloted a boat, and owned racehorses, besides being a star of radio, TV, and over 60 movies.
The Gooney Bird (1950s) - For some reason now lost to history, the Evinrude Motors company sponsored this documentary about the peculiar habits of the albatross, or "gooney bird." The film was shot entirely on the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, shortly after the Navy decommissioned their Naval Air Station there, leaving the island to the birds. The Goonies are seen in their comical mating dance, and in awkward take-offs and landings. Made in Anscochrome.
The Code: The U.S. Fighting Man's Code of Conduct (1959) - In 1955, President Eisenhower signed an executive order outlining how members of the U.S. armed forces should act if captured in battle (in short, not to surrender, accept any favors form the enemy, nor reveal anything besides minimal personal identification). This film, hosted by stone-faced actor Jack Webb (of Dragnet) was made to explain the importance of the code to new servicemen -- using dramatic recreations of captured Americans standing up to psychological torture during the then-recent Korean conflict.
Shopping Around (1954) - "Successful selling is largely a matter of point of view." This Chevrolet sales training film shows the point of view of a rather choosy automobile customer -- as portrayed by William Frawley (better known as "Fred Mertz" from I Love Lucy). He explains, in his trademark, growly voice, that he now runs from rude salesmen, because, "Today, I can shop around!"
Plus much, much more!
The Maas Building was previously a brewery and a trolley repair shop. This beautifully restored 1859 brick and timber workshop today serves as a multipurpose art event and catering space. Free parking is available on the street and in the adjacent lot of the James R. Ludlow Elementary School.
On March 9, 1992, a new idea in repertory cinema began in Philadelphia. That was the day of the very first screening of the Secret Cinema, at the Khyber Pass Pub in Old City. The series was created by Jay Schwartz, almost on a dare.
He had been a collector of 16mm film prints for several years, and he had brought his near-antique Devry projector into local music venues just a few times before, showing vintage musical shorts and cartoons before sets by friends' bands. The Khyber's newly appointed booking agent challenged Schwartz to program a regular series in the club's underused upstairs space. He went for it, and started a bi-weekly series on alternating Monday nights, which lasted for most of 1992.
This was a transitional time for repertory film screenings in Philadelphia. Classic and foreign films were still offered at the Roxy Screening Room, Temple Cinematheque, International House, Villanova University, Chestnut Hill Film Group and David Grossman's Film Forum, but repertory powerhouse TLA Cinema/Theater of the Living Arts had stopped showing film entirely, selling their South Street theater to concentrate on the exploding home video business. And some smaller presenters were basing their "film series" around programming shown entirely from VHS tapes. The Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema did not yet exist (though it would launch later that same year).
Schwartz intended to do things differently. He wanted to have quality film presentations using portable 16mm film equipment, but also wanted to program films that were outside of the scope of traditional repertory cinema. The first year of Secret Cinema relied, like other series, on feature films, but mostly cultish films no longer shown in theaters. As the first printed program calendar for the Khyber series put it, Secret Cinema categories might include "teen exploitation, rock 'n' roll, oddball black comedies, psychedelia, "golden turkeys," "psychotronic," '70s nostalgia and much more. All screenings will also include short films -- guaranteed-unusual fare that will draw on bizarre industrial and educational shorts, as well as rare theatrical shorts and cartoons."
After 1992, the Secret Cinema began to expand its screenings to more venues around the city, including other bars, music nightclubs and coffee houses. Eventually the venue categories grew to include art galleries, college campuses, theaters, libraries, bookstores, museums, and outdoor fields and parks. Secret Cinema programs were added to local film festivals, and Schwartz was soon invited to bring films to places beyond the Philadelphia region. To date, the Secret Cinema has presented films in 112 different venues or festivals, in ten cities and three countries.
Many Secret Cinema screenings after that first season consisted of themed groupings of short films, in every possible category. To make these unique programs possible, the Secret Cinema's private film archive grew exponentially. Initially, the collection fit easily in a small closet. Today, it resides in a large, climate controlled workshop/warehouse, and comprises thousands of reels of 16mm and 35mm film, totaling a few million feet of film (an exact count is not known, though a master inventory is in the works).
Today, the Secret Cinema continues to show a variety of film programs in an assortment of venues, year round. Much has changed in the world of filmgoing, and indeed the world, since we began this project. The internet has reduced or eliminated much of the traditional press upon which we relied, for most of our existence, to reach new audiences. It has also replaced movie theaters and video stores for many movie fans, and all remaining movie theaters have needed to convert either wholly or partially to digital projection. Nearly all of the past presenters of old films noted earlier have ceased operations.
However, the Secret Cinema's mission is unchanged. We still aim to showcase films that audiences would not see if we did not show them, and we still show all of them by showing celluloid film prints. Our records are not complete enough to provide an exact count, but we have probably presented in the neighborhood of 1000 different screenings, each one containing from two to 45 separate films -- and not one of these were shown using video or digital cinema systems.
To celebrate our 25th birthday, through the rest of 2017 we will revive several of our most popular programs, as well as continue presenting brand new programs. Our first anniversary program will happen on Friday, March 10, when we return to the Maas Building to show The Best of Secret Cinema Short Films: The Early Years. This collection of miscellaneous audience favorites will include only films that we presented in our first five years. Other anniversary programs will be announced soon.
Jay Schwartz and the Secret Cinema would like to thank everyone who helped us make it this far: Thanks to everyone in the press who gave us free publicity many hundreds of times (special shout-out to Steven Rea, who gave us our very first press notice, and who just left the Inquirer after 34 years of service to movie fans, as well as the various writers and editors of the City Paper, the 2015 cessation of which dealt a terrible blow to all of the city's arts providers). Thanks to everyone who let us take over their venue for one or more nights, often turning their establishment upside-down for our own purposes (we tried to put things back in place at the end of the night, though!). Thanks to everyone who worked the box office or helped us pack up our considerable amount of equipment (especially my beautiful wife Silvia, who regularly does both). And thanks most of all to every member of our audience, whether they attended once or came back faithfully year after year. We couldn't have done it without you.
Channel 29 news piece on Secret Cinema from 1999!
Joey Ramone, R.I.P.
Secret Cinema 1999 Annual Report
Secret Cinema 1998 Annual Report
Secret Cinema 1997 Annual Report
Information about the 1998 Secret Cinema "Class Trip" to the Syracuse Cinefest