Last Updated: 11/11/17
Friday, November 24, 2017
West Fairmount Park
North Horticultural Drive & Montgomery Avenue, Philadelphia
On Friday, November 24, 2017, the Secret Cinema will present the latest chapter in its ongoing series From Philadelphia with Love: Industrial, Educational and other Lost Local Films (2017 Edition). Once again, it will contain 100% new programming, and this time it will be shown at Fairmount Park's beautiful and verdant Horticulture Center. This exhibition hall and glass-walled greenhouse is filled inside and out with rare plants and historic statuary. It sits on the site of the former Horticultural Hall, an 1876 Centennial Exposition building (and is kept comfortably warm inside, regardless of outdoor conditions).
From Philadelphia with Love... showcases rare 16mm prints from the Secret Cinema archive about different aspects of life in the Philadelphia region. Some were made as sponsored films promoting goods or institutions, and others are educational, documentary or dramatic in nature. Most are virtually impossible to see elsewhere.
The Secret Cinema began showcasing these ephemeral scenes of lost local history back in 1999, and our last such presentation was two years ago. We've now projected over 60 of these films -- and none of them will be repeated for our November program. In fact, few have been seen by anyone since they were originally made.
There will be one complete show at 8:00 pm. Admission is $9.00.
The Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, minutes off of the Schuylkill Expressway, features a large, free parking lot. It is near Memorial Hall (Please Touch Museum) and is a short walk from Septa Routes 38, 40, 43, and 64 (Route 38 comes closest, with a stop at Belmont Avenue and Montgomery Drive).
Just a few highlights of this 2017 edition of From Philadelphia with Love... are:
20 to the 3rd Power (1967, Dir: Edward J. Bergman, Alan Soffin) - This somewhat experimental student work was produced by the Documentary Film Laboratory of Penn's Annenberg School, under the supervision of Sol Worth. The film, mostly without dialogue, depicts a fashionable, attractive group of young people (perhaps all age 20?) in cocktail parties, nightspots and office buildings -- assumedly adding up to a statement on the lives and lifestyles of modern, well-off undergrads. It's set in a lively Philadelphia of new architecture and expressways, though foreboding radio reports of the Vietnam War are never too far off.
"Mister Rivets" footage (1954) - In the early days of television, Let Skinner Do It on WPTZ-TV (today's KYW) was one of the success stories of local daytime programming. When veteran radio personality Alan Scott took over for host George Skinner, the renamed Let Scott Do It was touted in the trades as the "top rated kitchen show" in the nation, offering light conversation, music...and a beloved mechanical man named "Mister Rivets." In reality this was actor Joe Earley, in a comical robot suit, playing gentle pranks on the genial host. The show was usually broadcast live and thus not recorded for posterity, but occasionally outdoor segments were shot on 16mm film, for use when one of the personalities was on vacation. This ultra-rare surviving reel (we know of only one other) shows some of Mister Rivets' typical antics: hanging laundry behind a house, feeding zoo animals, and hunting groundhogs(!), as well as scenes of the gigantic crowds that turned out to meet the friendly robot at a personal appearance.
Mystery Atlantic City film (197?, Dir: Unknown) - It's unclear why this short was made, and though seemingly uncut, it bears no title and no credits. It begins as a spoof of television's Mission Impossible, with a special agent flying to an early-70s Atlantic City, well after its heyday as America's Playground and some years before casino gambling. There are views of the skyline and boardwalk, and even a car chase through narrow streets. We welcome any information on this film!
Werner - Hunger Project (1976, Dir: Unknown) - Though not likely shot in this area, we included this film because it stars one of Philadelphia's most controversial native sons, Werner Erhard. The former car salesman born as John Rosenberg changed his name after leaving the city (and abandoning his wife and four children), eventually founding the notorious self-help enterprise Erhard Seminar Training (or EST). Widely criticized as a kind of brainwashing cult, EST nonetheless attracted hundreds of thousands to its seminars, in the "Me Decade" of the 1970s. This in-house promotional film features Erhard speaking directly to his followers about a then-new scheme labeled the Hunger Project, which aimed to end world hunger -- not by sending food to hungry people, but by spreading the idea that ending hunger was possible (via a large fundraising program). This rare glimpse of Erhard offers a close-up view of his persuasive powers (with a subtle Philadelphia accent occasionally slipping through), urging followers across the nation to attend a "talk at your center next month."
Plus Rites of Women, Where it All Began: Philadelphia, and much more!
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