Last Updated: 10/9/17
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Woodmere Art Museum
9201 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia
On Tuesday, October 17, the Secret Cinema will present The Story of a Three-Day Pass at the Woodmere Art Museum, as part of their ongoing Chestnut Hill Film Group series. The first feature by pioneering black director Melvin Van Peebles (Watermelon Man, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song), the film chronicles a bittersweet romance between a black American soldier stationed in France and a white French girl he meets in Paris. This charming independent production combines the freewheeling spirit of the French new wave with the unique perspective of Van Peebles, who was, like the lead character, a black American living in Europe.
Before the feature, there will be a surprise short film from the Secret Cinema archive.
There will be one complete screening, starting at 7:30 pm (Doors open 6.30 pm). Admission is free.
The Chestnut Hill Film Group is Philadelphia's longest-running repertory cinema series.
The Story of a Three-Day Pass (aka The History of a Three-Day Pass, La Permission)
(1968, Dir: Melvin Van Peebles)
The multi-talented (author, musician, filmmaker, playwright) Melvin Van Peebles began his directing career making self-produced shorts like Three Pickup Men for Herrick. This led to an offer from the French Cinematheque to direct this, his own feature. It tells the story of Turner (played by Harry Baird, of The Touchables), a black American soldier stationed in France whose commanding officer considers him to be an obedient, good Negro. Rewarded with a three-day pass, Turner meets a white girl in a Paris nightclub, and they begin an awkward romance. But even miles from home, Turner cannot escape the American mores ingrained in his peers, and in himself.
A remarkably assured first feature with beautiful black-and-white photography and a quirky editing style, The Story of a Three-Day Pass combines the improvisational freedom of the nouvelle vague with an urban American grit and a unique perspective on race previously unvoiced in cinema. Van Peebles' uncompromising style would next be seen in Watermelon Man and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, effectively inventing modern black cinema in the process (the guerilla production of Sweet Sweetback was effectively dramatized in the 2002 film Baadassss!, directed by and starring Van Peebles' son Mario)
Worthy of special note is the soundtrack, co-written by Mickey Baker and Van Peebles. It handily covers a range of styles, form John Barry-esque orchestral moods to wild horn/organ funk grooves that fuel the dance club scenes, and a vocal performance, "When My Number Gonna Hit?", credited to the "Head Nitwit in Charge" (Van Peebles). The unknown French beat group that appears briefly helps add "great lost French sixties pop movie" to the myriad accomplishments of this underseen gem.
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