Last Updated: 3/29/15
Friday, April 10, 2015
The Maas Building
1325 N. Randolph Street, Philadelphia, PA
On Friday, April 10, The Secret Cinema will present its first program in eight months, with a hand-picked program of nearly-lost treasures from the deepest depths of the Secret Cinema film vaults. Curator's* Choice 2015: Unseen Corners of the Secret Cinema Archives will include just that -- films never shown before by us, and probably not by anybody else either since their original release.
This will be the first full-fledged Secret Cinema event since SC founder Jay Schwartz was injured in a bicycle accident last September. This unfortunate event (and subsequent hospital stay and recuperation period) forced the cancellation of several Secret Cinema events last fall. We'll celebrate the return of our series by showing unseen films in a brand new venue, the Maas Building. A former brewery and trolley repair shop, this beautifully restored 1859 brick and timber workshop today serves as a multipurpose art event and catering space.
There will be one complete program, starting at 8:00 pm. Admission is $8.00.
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 one million feet of often rare celluloid, with several prints thought to be the only extant copies in the world.
Since 1992, the Secret Cinema has created programming that exposes every category of such films, by showing these fascinating, historical, and often hilarious shorts before features or in themed groupings. Yet, despite exposing hundreds of rare works this way, there are still many choice reels that we've never got around to screening publicly, often unclassifiable films that had inconvenient running times or could fit into no common theme.
Some of the best of these rare prints will at last see the light of a projector bulb in Curator's Choice 2015. This previously ungroupable group of shorts 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 them now seem campy, others still have valid lessons to teach, but all are fascinating, and extremely unlikely to be seen anywhere else, including on video.
The program is still being assembled, but just a few highlights are:
Camp Meetin' (1936, Dir: Leslie Goodwins) – Staged one-reel musical short subjects were a bread and butter studio product in the first decades of talkies, but this one from Radio Pictures feels different than most. Evidently shot on location, with a documentary-like realism, it captures an open-air tent-and-camp meeting of the Hall Johnson Negro Choir, somewhere in the deep South. Johnson, who helped train Marian Anderson, lent the sound of true spiritual music to many Hollywood films, from The Green Pastures to Song of the South. The film manages to include some humor, with help from cast member Stymie (Our Gang) Beard.
Wringo (1940s? Dir: Unknown) – This comic yet x-rated novelty item was made to be shown at men's "smoker" parties, and is quite unusual among its made-on-a-shoestring "stag movie" peers in that it has a soundtrack, with synchronous dialog. The setting is a carnival sideshow and the action centers on a most unusual attraction therein…but to say more would be a terrible spoiler. This film was a sensation at the first "Bastard Film Encounter," an academic symposium held in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Herman's Hermits (1968) – A common form of movie promotion in the 1960s and '70s was the "production reel," short "making of" documentaries that were usually provided to television stations to fill out extra minutes after the broadcasting of feature films. This one takes us behind the scenes of Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter, the second musical feature to star Peter Noone and his titular British invasion rock band.
The Renunciation (1909, Dir: D.W.Griffith) – A.K.A. Divided Love. One of many short dramas D.W. Griffith shot at the Biograph studio, where he perfected the art that would fully blossom in The Birth of a Nation and several other classic silent features. Mary Pickford (who would similarly go on to greater things in longer films) stars as the shared object of affection for two miners whose friendship turns to violence, but the surprise climax shows that the melodrama was tongue in cheek.
Today's Teens (1964) – An uncredited Boris Karloff narrates this mini "mondo" documentary with eyebrows raised, as we take a tour of the wild doings of teenagers around the globe – in nightclubs, record stores, and on beaches, often in bikinis and always to the pounding beat of a non-stop instrumental rock soundtrack.
Plus: How to Undress (1937), White Treasure (1945) and much more!
*It should be noted that we object to the expanding, and now quite cliched usage of the word "curated" to describe what was called "programming" in less pretentious times. However, we stubbornly label this program "Curator's Choice" because: A) It's a title we've used for this ongoing, if sporadic program concept since 2004, and B) As caretaker of the Secret Cinema film archive, programmer Jay Schwartz really is a curator (too).
I want to apologize for not sending this (or any) email message earlier, and similarly for not updating our website since last August. Probably many of you assumed Secret Cinema had finally gone out of business. Not so. Rather, we had an unexpected, and unwanted "vacation" from our usual activities.
I -- meaning me, Jay Schwartz (I'll drop the usual, royal "we" for now) -- had no choice but to suspend all Secret Cinema duties and events when I was involved in an accident in early September. I was riding my bicycle home, when I was hit by a truck, resulting in a badly broken leg and some other broken bones. I was in the hospital for a week, then in a rehabilitation hospital for another two weeks, and could not put any weight on my leg for over two months.
Three previously announced Secret Cinema events were unfortunately cancelled, although the Chestnut Hill Film Group did manage to provide a digital screening of our planned film presentation of The Unholy Three, with a Don Kinnier musical accompaniment that I regret missing. Meanwhile, I rested and rehabilitated at home, and began physical therapy treatment.
My accident was serious, but could have been much worse, and the good news is that I've made a lot of progress, and expect to be projecting film this month (again, for the Chestnut Hill Film Group; you'll receive email details soon). I'm not walking perfectly yet, and likely will not for a while, but I'm getting around.
Initially I only told those who needed to know about my accident. And then, I continued to put off writing this email until now, for no particularly good reason. The Secret Cinema audience has been very loyal over the years (and I'm soon to start my 24th year doing this!). I regret not keeping you all posted on this sooner, but now you have the facts.
I plan to get things going again as soon as possible, but aside from this month's CHFG event, there is currently nothing booked. So, it will likely take another month or two, at least, to make any events happen.
There are a few screenings I have in mind already, but it is not getting easier to do Secret Cinema. Losing our flagship venue at Moore College of Art a few years ago cost us a lot of momentum, and some other venue partners have cut back their programming recently -- leaving less room on their calendars for Secret Cinema. If you've been following our activities for a while, you've probably noticed that even before my accident, there had been less events than we used to manage to present in past years. That means less funding from ticket sales, yet the ongoing overhead of maintaining our large, ever-growing private film archive (rent, climate control) only gets more expensive. Meanwhile, showing films that can't be seen anywhere else gets harder and harder.
On the other hand, showing films like almost nowhere else became easier. Practically the whole world has turned to digital presentation nearly overnight, to my great disappointment -- and to my continued concerns about keeping the aging Secret Cinema projection gear in repair. Rest assured I plan to keep showing film, and only film, until I finally do stop Secret Cinema, and I hope that isn't anytime soon.
Don't worry, this isn't leading to a Kickstarter campaign where I ask you to pay for my hobby/enterprise. That doesn't make any sense to me. But if any of you have leads on grants we can get, or suitable new Secret Cinema venues, do please get in touch! (Note that suitable venues should have seating for at least 50 people, the ability to be made completely dark, and hopefully not too low of a ceiling). Oh, and if someone can volunteer to make a new and improved website design for us, they'll earn lots of free tickets.
I would also ask all of you to help spread the word of our activities. The press we used to rely on to publicize our events has had a hard time lately also, and I fear that younger generations that might be interested in Secret Cinema screenings are less likely than ever to learn about them (or worse, to confuse us with various other "Secret Cinema"s that adopted the name long after we established it in 1992).
Here are just a few Secret Cinema things to look forward to in 2015: A continuation of the Thomas Jefferson-themed film showings for the APS Museum; what will probably be the most exciting of our many screenings at Eastern State Penitentiary; and yet more programs built around rarely-seen cinematic odds and ends made in Philadelphia long ago. We need to continue doing research to create a full presentation about one fascinating short film that vividly captures long-lost mid-century Center City nightlife. And, we anticipate garnering actual headlines when we announce our recent discovery of some historically significant nitrate film reels that we donated to the Library of Congress for preservation. We have a lot of work to do -- stay tuned!
Secret Cinema will be back soon, and I'd like to thank my doctors, nurses and therapists for making that possible. I'd especially like to thank my number-one caregiver, which is my wife Silvia (whom you may know as the primary Secret Cinema box office staffer!). She selflessly waited on me hand and foot throughout my non-weight-bearing status.
And, I thank all of you for your amazing support through the years.
See you soon!
The Secret Cinema
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