Secret Cinema's Greatest Hits
Just a few highlights of THE SECRET CINEMA'S GREATEST HITS are: THE STRANGER AT OUR DOOR (1940) - This dramatic two-reeler, made by a religious group to promote ethnic tolerance, shouldn't be funny -- but the outrageous overacting by Bowery Boys rejects and their non-specific European-born target make it surreally so. HOW QUIET HELPS AT SCHOOL (1953) - The answer should be obvious, but the level of quiet expected by the uptight narrator of this classic '50s social guidance film probably had kids holding their breath in class. PRO KLEEN commercial (1950s) - A mind-numbingly crass eight minute TV commercial in which an unappealing pitchman with a thick Baltimore accent extols the wonders of a new spot cleaner. THE STORY OF BUBBLEGUM (1952) - This beautiful Kodachrome film sets out to answer the question, "Can bubblegum be good food?" Made at the old Fleer bubblegum plant in Olney, showing its giant vats of pink rubber, plant cafeteria and garden, and their amazing R&D department. Quite possibly THE GREATEST FILM EVER MADE, SHORT OR LONG. INSIDE TEST CITY, U.S.A. (1959) Reader's Digest produced this promotional film publicizing the magazine's test-marketing service for consumer product manufacturers. "For the last two decades," the narrator explains, "American business has tested more of its products in Columbus [Ohio] than in any other major American community. Through the years, industry has discovered that what happens in Columbus today will be happening all over America tomorrow."
I started the Secret Cinema project in 1992 after sensing a need to expose new audiences to neglected films of all kinds. I'd been collecting film prints for 20 years, but previously had shared my collection with friends only at private gatherings. It was becoming apparent that there weren't enough repertory cinema outlets in my hometown of Philadelphia, and even the ones open then were ignoring a whole pantheon of "low-brow" yet fascinating genres: teen exploitation, rock 'n' roll, psychedelia, oddball black comedies, "golden turkeys," '70s nostalgia and a lot more.
I began a bi-weekly series of these films in the unused upstairs room of a local punk rock nightclub. After working out the logistics of hanging a large screen, lining up some chairs and sofas for seating, and carrying my own 16mm projectors to the club each week, a schedule was booked...and a new film venue, a "micro-cinema" with a capacity of around 55 people, was born. The local press was kind and by our fourth screening we had a sell-out, for The Touchables. I rounded out each program with "guaranteed unusual" short subjects, which included rare old theatrical shorts and campy educational reels.
The programming was expanded beyond obscure feature films, to include even harder-to-see celluloid treasures. Successful theme nights included "The Sugar-Charged Saturday Morning Supershow" (nostalgic early-'70s children's TV shows like The Banana Splits) and "Sitcom Rock" (a full night of television comedies from the 1960s featuring rock band guest stars or rock 'n' roll story lines).
Since then I have shown films in several locations around Philadelphia, ranging from a small living room to a 1000-capacity 19th-century burlesque theater. This summer I presented a night of the most secret cinema of all -- the home movies of total strangers, from the 1920s through the '70s. Currently I am programming monthly series at two different nightclubs with a third to be added soon.
The projected images of the past must be kept alive, and not just at select international festivals but in every city. Repertory cinemas continue to close and even universities with film departments are converting operations to video. As the media conglomerates abandon chemical-mechanical technologies in favor of direct electronic distribution schemes and "virtual" realities, it will be up to the cineastes and collectors to keep real movie screens lit, and to introduce new audiences to the joys of the collective film experience. That is the real mission of the Secret Cinema.
- Jay Schwartz
The living Room At 35 East (View)
35 East Lancaster Ave.
Ardmore, OR 19003
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