Last Updated: 5/19/17
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
4014 Walnut Street, Philadelphia
For our next screening at the Rotunda in University City -- on Tuesday, May 23 -- the Secret Cinema will present the forgotten "documentary" feature Young Americans. It has nothing to do with David Bowie or Sigma Sound Studios...
Instead, Young Americans follows the tour bus of another kind of musical talent: A group of good-natured, clean-cut, classically trained folk-singing teenagers, carefully assembled by their crew-cutted conductor to present another version of the Summer of Love to a middle America already weary of long-haired campus radicals and rioting inner cities. He named them the Young Americans, and in a perverse way they were as subversive as the Jefferson Airplane or Weather Underground. This scripted, contrived Technicolor fantasy (the excellent cinematography incidentally captures gorgeous views of 1960s New York, Boston and unnamed countrysides), nonetheless stands as a valid snapshot, from a different perspective, of America in the Age of Aquarius.
Young Americans will be shown from a beautiful dye-transfer 16mm film print on a giant screen, along with surprise patriotic short subjects.
There will be one complete show, starting at 8:00 pm. Admission is $8.00.
A complete description of the feature follows...
Young Americans (1967, Dir: Alexander Grasshoff)
In 1967 the world was heating up: 475,000 American troops were serving (and sometimes dying) in Vietnam. Race riots left many cities in flames. The Six-Day War escalated a conflict in the Middle East that has never ended. LSD and marijuana exploded in popularity, as did psychedelic music from the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Students reacted to all of this by dropping out of society, growing their hair long and joining radical protests on college campuses nationwide. And, a troupe of 36 fresh-faced, clean-cut teenagers toured the nation by bus and donned matching suits, to belt out earnest performances of "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?" and "Dixie" at state fairs and carnivals. Young Americans chronicles this last detail, while pretending the other stuff never happened.
After a career in television as a music supervisor, Milton C. Anderson formed the Young Americans, a "show choir" (meaning they both sing and dance), to demonstrate "what young America is today." The project began in 1962, when it was les obvious that there was a growing divide between old and young, right and left, hippies and "the Silent Majority." He nonetheless correctly intuited that there was a ripe market for a squeaky clean, if highly subjective depiction of American youth, and the Young Americans were soon frequent guests on TV variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan and Bing Crosby (in between commercials for Geritol and Polident). Anderson was a tough taskmaster, both in whipping his young charges' voices into shape, and in monitoring their leisure activities -- tense moments in the film are created when one girl smuggles her pet dog onto the tour bus, or a newly-formed couple dares to hold hands without the prescribed chaperone. And "created" seems the correct word for how the scenes of this feature-length film came to exist. The carefully composed camera shots, editing, and facial expressions suggest this "documentary" was definitely not part of the decade's cinema verite movement. Every narrative "surprise," from flat tires to the group helping out in the kitchen of a roadside diner, appear as carefully moderated as the group's stage costumes. Some members appear familiar from bit parts in movies, while Vicki Lawrence would soon achieve fame on television. Today the film could almost be considered a "mockumentary."
Young Americans, the singing group, was real, or at least a real showbiz act. In the 1960s they recorded four albums for the ABC label (the last, Time for Livin' brushed the bottom reaches of the Billboard charts). Their look and sound was imitated by other upbeat, patriotic acts, such as Up With People. And the concept has survived for over 50 years. Today it lives on as a charitable organization -- the Young Americans College of the Performing Arts -- which continues to recruit earnest young singers and send them out across the world with a relentlessly positive message. A new documentary on founder Milton C. Anderson (still alive at 88) is currently being prepared. However, Young Americans, the 1967 movie, is mostly remembered (if at all) for its unique status in Oscar history. It won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, but the prize was rescinded in 1969 over a technicality (the Academy realized the film had been exhibited in 1967). - Jay Schwartz
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