Last Updated: 6/15/17
Friday, June 30, 2017
Fleisher Art Memorial
719 Catharine Street, Philadelphia
215-922-3456 ext. 300
On Friday, June 30, the Secret Cinema will return to the Fleisher Art Memorial to present another program theme from our past, in the continuing celebration of our 25th anniversary. However, this one will contain all-new content: Weird Cartoons 2017, like three earlier entries in the Weird Cartoons series, will highlight unusual and bizarre animation.
There will be one complete show at 8:00 pm. Admission is $9.00
The screening will be shown in the beautiful Sanctuary of the Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia's Bella Vista neighborhood (just South of Center City). Free parking is available in the Fleisher's parking lot, just across the street.
Most, but not all of what we'll include in Weird Cartoons 2017 was made for general audiences by major studios; some were made as educational films and some were sponsored films with subtle advertising messages. What these films (made from the early 1930s through the late 1960s) all share is a fearless aesthetic that is unafraid of the absurd; an often shocking sense of humor that is the polar opposite of today's sanitized, cross-marketed Pixar sensations. Besides the U.S.A., some cartoons were produced in Great Britain and Japan. None of the reels were used in our prior programs, and this may be their first big-screen showings since their original release.
Just a few highlights from Weird Cartoons 2017 include...
Buddy's Lost World (1935) - The Buddy character first appeared in 1933, as a replacement for the popular Bosko, the first character to "star" in Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes series. Animation historians generally consider the Buddy films to be a disappointment, but this entry certainly had a wild premise. It's essentially a short cartoon version of The Lost World, the 1925 silent feature adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's fantastic novel, about the discovery of a hidden jungle where dinosaurs still walk the earth. If that weren't enough to fill a seven-minute cartoon, Buddy also encounters a swishy caveman and a cameo by the Three Stooges! Shot in Cinecolor.
Korochan the Little Bear (1959) - The unique drawing style marks this as an early sample of Japanese animation. It tells the story of a family of bears who toil in the forest, except for little Korachan, who only wants to play, and manages to be both cute and campy. It was distributed to American schools by educational film giant Encyclopedia Brittanica Films.
To Your Health (1956, Dir: Phillip Stapp) - Made for the U.N.'s World Health Organization at the British Halas/Batchelor studio, this film attempts to answer the question, "What is alcohol, anyway?" Striking, beautiful Technicolor animation is used to depict the effects and problems of drunkenness. Director Stapp had a long career making cartoons for progressive political and social causes, including contributions to the work of Julien Bryan and to the 1953 animated feature version of George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Willoughby's Magic Hat (1943, Dir: Bob Wickersham) - The unusual story of a meek man who gains super powers when he dons a cap made from the hair of Samson. The stylized design is credited to Zack Schwartz, one of several Disney animators who left that studio after a 1941 labor strike. Schwartz would later join fellow strikers like John Hubley in their newly formed UPA studios, where they would further explore a more modern, minimal way of drawing cartoons. The real star of Willoughby's Magic Hat, however, may be the uncredited narrator, whose fussy, nervous voiceover underlines this peculiar film with extra weirdness.
The Wacky World of Numbers (1968, Dir: Steven Clark) - "Adapted by the book by Sheldon Wasserman." Bizarrely minimal short that is essentially a series of animated, silly puns and jokes based on the shapes of numerals, intercut with psychedelic, kaleidoscopic transitions and horn-based go-go music. The look was clearly inspired by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (but maybe without the laughs). We will openly label this one as "interestingly bad" -- but cannot comment on whether the book was better.
Plus To Bali and Under the Sea, Flying Fists (with Flip the Frog), Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly? (Fleischer sing-along), and much, 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