1w0bfffffg Secret Cinema 1997 Annual Report

Secret Cinema 1997 Annual Report

"YOU REALLY LIKE ME!": The Secret Cinema is presented with a special award at the 35th Internacional Festival de Cin de Gijon, in Spain. Left to right: Jury member Thrse DePrez (production designer for films such as I Shot Andy Warhol, The Doom Generation, and many more), Secret Cinema something Jay Schwartz, jury member Nicolas Winding Refn (Danish director of Pusher)

We've been taking a little break of sorts at the Secret Cinema (though we'll be back at Moore on January 23), so this seems like a good time to reflect on what happened over the last year. While we've been showing films and developing the Secret Cinema concept/oeuvre/lifestyle/collection/etc. since early 1992, there were several firsts in 1997. Here are a few of the highlights...

While 1997 turned out to be our busiest year ever, the year started slowly, and for a brief period there were actually no viable venues for Secret Cinema -- or at least all of the old ones had become unusable or closed outright. Seeking a new home, we were welcomed by the friendly folks at Lionfish coffee house, where the small but homey surroundings have hosted some of our most popular screenings. We were there six times last year, with Venus In Furs providing a possible record attendance at the small space (thanks to the current cult hotness of director Jess Franco...or was it just the cheesy soundtrack music?). We look forward to more good shows and more delicious house salads at Lionfish this year.

Around the same time, we succumbed to modernity and set up this web site, thanks to the generous help of page designer Rodney Linderman. The site usually lists Secret Cinema schedules and has a few links to articles about SC and other film events we want to promote. Also started last year was an ever-growing email list for sending out screening notices (see below to sign up).

The Secret Cinema began to present shows at a couple of branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia, offering big-screen films to an entirely different audience than the usual Center City hipster scene -- in fact, an audience of nearly all kids so far. A reprise of our "Saturday Morning Sugar-Charged Supershow" at the Wadsworth Branch in Mt. Airy drew a spirited crowd whose parents possibly were too young to see Fat Albert the first time around (The "Supershow" concept was also milked one more time for a first-time venture into the suburbs, at Keswick Coffee).

The Secret Cinema was called upon last April to help with another library event, "Librarypalooza," a fund-raising marathon at the Central Library which sandwiched our miscellaneous "unusual short films" between local bands and Chuck Eddy's autograph sessions.

In 1996, Jay Schwartz (Secret Cinema head guy) discovered, in his film hunting travels, a few intact but unlabeled reels of 35mm nitrate film, which appeared to be very old and mysterious. Through a chance and quite miraculous chain of events, Schwartz showed them to friend and film historian Joseph Eckhardt, just before he was about to dispose of the potentially dangerous film to any takers. Eckhardt, who had just finished years of work on the first book about early Philadelphia film mogul Siegmund Lubin (just published this month) was possibly the only person in the world who was able to positively identify one reel as not only a complete, lost film from Lubin, but as the only extant Lubin production in which Lubin himself makes a cameo appearance (this discovery was written about in the Welcomat a while ago, and there is a link on the SC web page to an on-line article about it). The film, The Silver King, was shot in 1907 and released in 1908, making it at least four years older than the 1912 King Richard III, the rediscovery of which made headlines around the world the same year.

The Silver King was immediately restored by the Library of Congress (who had not shown a strong interest in the reel prior to its identification), and the restored 35mm print was shown in late 1996 at the Saginaw Cinesation festival of vintage film. This year a 16mm reduction print was made just in time for the annual Betzwood Film Festival at Montgomery County Community College, where last May The Silver King was shown for the first time in the Philadelphia area in possibly 89 years! At the screening, Jay Schwartz was ordered to take a bow in front of the large auditorium crowd (Schwartz is bashful in large gatherings but happy to boast in print). Thankfully, this took place before the primitive and somewhat creaky film was shown, and not afterwards (though it really flies at 24 fps!).

A major Secret Cinema first took place in early August, when we held our first "first-run" screenings, the Philadelphia premiere of the feature documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King. It was deemed than this screening would require a new format of exhibition, with more seats and screenings than usually offered at SC events. Since no club would offer a Friday and a Saturday night for the film (perhaps understandable since the actual live band Half Japanese was not the hugest draw during recent concerts in Philadelphia), the Painted Bride was rented out for the opening night, with another two nights booked at Fergie's Pub. The screenings were an unqualified success, with good attendance at all five screenings (a total of about 220 paid for all), and lively Q & A sessions with the film's director Jeff Feuerzeig on opening night. Moreover, the film was reviewed as a new release in local papers, exposing the Secret Cinema's existence to many people who don't habitually scan the repertory listings or nightclub ads.

The first-run concept was tried again with So Wrong They're Right, probably the only feature length documentary about 8-track tapes you will ever see. Once again, there was good press coverage, and while it did not draw as well as Half Japanese, it was a successful run (this time with six showtimes offered). We definitely plan to do more Philadelphia premieres, but will never abandon our original mission of exposing obscure film from the past.

So Wrong They're Right marked the beginning of the Secret Cinema's series at Moore College of Art and Design. This gave access to the nicest, most-comfortable facility yet used for SC screenings, in a 300-capacity auditorium with plush, tiered seating. The series takes place usually on the third Friday of every month, offering a stability we haven't had since the bi-weekly series at the Khyber Pass upstairs in 1992 (but without the furniture-moving headaches of that nonetheless fondly-remembered SC birthplace). The Moore screenings are open to the public and happen throughout the school year.

Last year marked the beginning of Secret Cinema screenings at Borders bookstore in Center City. This provided the chance to program films for a wider demographic than usual, as well as another chance to do free screenings. The series was launched with Congorilla, a 1932 politically incorrect exploration documentary that probably would have been difficult to find an audience for at previous SC outlets. It drew a huge crowd with many people sitting on the floor or standing in the side rooms. There will be more Borders screenings in 1998.

1997 also saw the first Secret Cinema events happen in the Big Apple. In August we brought a package called "Exotica Music Films" (previously shown here a year before at Silk City Lounge) to the Fez nightclub, where a packed house of cocktail music aficionados enjoyed ultra-rare celluloid offerings on the SC big screen. While we'd hoped to totally conquer New York on our first outing, the only press coverage was in the Anjelika Filmbill (published by Philadelphia's Entropy Design) and on the airwaves of WFMU, the greatest radio station in the world (thanks in part to the intervention of d.j. and famous musicologist Irwin Chusid). Secret Cinema returned to Fez in December, with a program of "Other People's Movies: Home Movies of Total Strangers" (another Silk City past favorite). This time the screening received good press coverage, including a pick event in New York Press and a listing in the Village Voice that sent us running to our dictionary to determine what the words "peripatetic Secret Cinema" meant.

The highlight of the year (excepting, possibly, the spontaneous mass screaming encountered during the VD film at the sold-out "Halloween Scream-O-Thon" at Griffin Cafe) was the Secret Cinema's participation, for the third time, at the Internacional Festival de Cin de Gijon, in Spain. Through a chance encounter a few years ago, we became acquainted with this long-running festival just as a new regime was taking it over who wanted to try some new programming ideas. After explaining what SC had been doing in Philadelphia, we were invited to bring four programs each year, obscure features and shorts, and recreate the SC experience in Spain. Evidently they liked it, because we were invited back another two times. This provided curator Jay Schwartz the opportunity to meet the likes of Paul Bartel (who gave his blessing for using the name The Secret Cinema, swiped from his 1969 short film), Cliff Robertson, Hype director Doug Pray, and numerous other guest filmmakers and actors without Schwartz having to make a film of his own! The 1997 Gijon festival was extra gratifying as the international jury, who normally give awards to the new films in competition at the fest, voted to give a special award to the Secret Cinema for "collecting, preserving, and showing the treaures of obscure cinema." Schwartz was called on stage to accept at the closing ceremonies, and his picture appeared in two local newspapers (both reproduced here), along with the translation of his quotable sound bite, "If I had any idea I would be up on this stage, I would have packed nicer clothing." In addition to the usual cult features, this year's SC festival offerings included a special presentation of "Scopitone" films with an illustrated lecture on the history of film jukeboxes (soon to be presented in Philadelphia), and shorts that included found home movies of Disneyland in 1955 and Dream Girl Mystery Film, which is evidently a reel of outtakes from an arty and especially odd 1970 sex film.

In 1997 there were about 33 Secret Cinema screenings at 13 different locations, easily a record in the six years of SC operations. These included 9 special theme events, the rest being feature film presentations. All feature presentations included from one to three "unusual short subjects," with almost no repeating of any programming among the events. Occasionally, the bonus short subjects include new works of local filmmakers, providing one of the very few places where such homegrown film can be screened via celluloid.

In 1998, look for more of the same...with some new venues as usual, and some more excursions into other cities. We've already had inquiries from venues in Harrisburg, Baltimore, and Brussels, Belgium(!). We've got some more theme programs brewing (although some concepts, like "Exotica Music Films" or "Sugar-Charged Supershow" can take over a year to locate enough film for). On our wish list is an organization that can sponsor/provide a location for more outdoor screenings this summer.

Stay tuned, and thanks for being interested after all this time...


Last Updated: 3/2/98
WebMasters: Rodney Linderman & Jay Schwartz
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