Secret Cinema 1999 Annual Report

Our third annual report comes later than planned. Perhaps we were clinging to our last chance to type "19__" on a new document. Most of what we do is concerned with the past, and for the foreseeable future we will continue to celebrate the film and culture of the twentieth century. Whether coming generations, raised on the questionable glories of "e-commerce" and Rite Aid architecture, will share our enthusiasm for the beauty of the non-virtual age, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, we'll keep rolling along as long as we can continue to find projector lamps.

1999 was an interesting year for The Secret Cinema. In some ways it might have appeared to our long-time followers that there was less activity or more repetition than before. In fact, there were more screenings than ever before -- by far -- but several were not announced to the general public or were out of town. There were also some real "firsts" made, new kinds of Secret Cinema events that were for the most part successful.

The year started off with a nice profile of SC in the Philadelphia Weekly by writer Collin Keefe, who conducted the lengthiest interviews with Jay Schwartz ever done. If a full-length biography ever needs to be done, he can now write it. On a less happy note, the year began with the loss of longtime venue the Lionfish coffee house. The site of our most crowded screenings, (with a maximum capacity of 41...42 would just not fit), we'll miss owner Rich Frizell's skill for simultaneously cooking delicious food and collecting admissions from across the room.

The most consistent SC showcase was once again our monthly series at Moore College of Art & Design, now firmly established as our home base for larger special events and multiple-screening premiere presentations. There were but two of the latter in 1999. First was Fetishes, a funny and revealing (quite!) look at the world of dominatrixes, from controversial documentarian Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney). The popular response to this film, as with the same for a pair of Radley Metzger films and some other spicy screenings, proved once again that, well, sex sells. The other premiere, Andrew Repasky McElhinney's Magdalen, was our first for a non-documentary, and also our first new feature film from a local director.

Fetishes was presented as part of a companion film series to an art exhibit in the Moore gallery called Fabulists (along with the Maria Montez classic Cobra Woman and, across town at Silk City, Exotica Films 2: Music and More!). The art/film synergy thing was tried again in the fall, with a series of four rare vampire films related (in theory, anyway) to David Reed's gallery paintings.

Moore screenings often included guest speakers: The latest in our examinations of the original 60s films of Andy Warhol featured not only the little seen Kitchen, but an unforgettable talk from author and Warhol/Velvet Underground authority Victor Bockris. Similarly, our tribute to Philadelphia silent film pioneer Siegmund Lubin featured not only rare films with live accompaniment from Don Kinnier (including The Silver King, a lost film discovered by Jay Schwartz), but a fascinating slide talk from Lubin biographer Joe Eckhardt.

Over the summer, workers labored over a total renovation of the Moore auditorium, with refinished floors, walls, ceilings and seats, completed just in time (almost -- it took several months to get all the armrests back in place) for the start of the third Secret Cinema season there. Our opening special event, From Philadelphia With Love: Industrial, Educational and other Lost Local Films, wound up being our most popular Moore event for the year, a gratifying response to a program that had been over a year in the planning.

Earlier in the year there were some trips out of town to show films. The night after the afore-mentioned Exotica Films 2 played to a packed Silk City, the same program played to a nearly-packed Fez nightclub in New York. A few months later, the Secret Cinema minivan brought the ever-popular Stag Movie Night to an art center in Baltimore.

Last year brought an end to another now-missed SC venue, the comfortable George's 5th Street Cafe. Before it closed, we got in three popular 1999 screenings there, one of which served as backdrop for the first coverage of Secret Cinema on TV. Fox 29 news cameraman Wayne Wright made us the subject of his first feature story, skillfully capturing the Secret Cinema experience in a narration-less two and a half minutes, which aired on their morning newscast last June (evidently to few viewers, based on lack of feedback). If we showed video tape, we would present it at a screening, but of course we won't do that. Around the same time that the Channel 29 piece was happening, SC foreman Jay Schwartz was interviewed by a WHYY-FM arts reporter for the local portion of Morning Edition.

In earlier Secret Cinema annual reports, we expressed our wish to mount an outdoor screening series. In 1999 we got our wish when the University of Pennsylvania booked us to present an 11-film weekly series for the entertainment of summer session students and anybody else in the community who stumbled onto the screening site -- a large field next to their high-rise dormitories at 40th & Walnut. The first several screenings were only advertised on campus, but eventually Penn consented to our announcing the series to our email list. This project was not only the most intensive burst of SC activity in our eight year history (precluding us from booking much else for over two months), but also presented a multitude of logistical problems which had to be solved nearly overnight, due to the last-minute booking of the whole project. Procured just for this series were an entire P.A. system, a canopy tent, countless cables and accessories, work lights, a hand truck, mosquito repellent coils (!), and a huge portable movie screen which ultimately proved unusable -- there was just no way to brace it against the wind, despite a complicated plan involving tent stakes and sandbags, all for naught. In the end, we used aimed the projectors at the nearly clean wall of the public library (a beautiful building that Penn hopes to knock down soon). The first few shows played to maybe two dozen people, but the series soon grew to a sizable crowd of lawn-chair toting regulars. The programming necessarily kept a balance between interesting, i.e., not-overshown choices, and films that a non-cult audience would come to. The most popular shows were the film noir classic Detour and the silent Buster Keaton comedy (again, with live music from the always wonderful Don Kinnier, who's even more wonderful to hear under the stars).

The Secret Cinema presented a back-to-back pair of multi-media events at the Trocadero. First was a reprise/update of our Sitcom Rock program of five years earlier, this time co-billed with live bands (Nixon's Head and The Vipers) playing between reels.

That was followed by the most ambitious and most back-breaking night ever in our history, A Whole Scene Going On. Excited by the burgeoning local interest in 60s mod music, a genre that has long been dear to the heart of the Secret Cinema, and seeing a mini-explosion of mod dance nights both good (Uptight/Turnaround) and lame (we won't name names), we took it upon ourselves to create the biggest and best mod dance party ever. Arriving early in the afternoon at the Trocadero to set up screens and other projection surfaces, not to mention nine 16mm movie projectors and two slide projectors, the full force of the Secret Cinema equipment and film collections were employed to create the ultimate pop-art environment. The event was a total Secret Cinema production, and the largest one ever -- we called on three of our favorite record collector friends to spin the sounds, designed one of our nicest flyers ever, shot slides of rare picture sleeves and magazines, boxed up about fifty reels of film depicting Swinging London, cartoons, and old musicals, and hoped that the fuses wouldn't blow when everything was turned on. Now we know how those plate-spinners on Ed Sullivan must have felt -- it was miraculous that there were a few moments when all the projectors were showing film. If only we had thought to have somebody videotape the event. If only we had a chance to stand back for ten minutes and enjoy it ourselves. In all, people say it was pretty good, and it was a real challenge to produce a large event that was outside of the realm of traditional film screenings. The only things that really went wrong were the total non-appearance of the promised Philly soul singer who was to sing live to old backing tracks of his rare 60s sides -- and the fact that at 6:00 am the next morning we were still loading out the equipment set up the previous afternoon, which in turn was done on two hours sleep after a long previous night of packing up equipment and short, if this sounds like a fun event to you, then I hope you were there, because we will probably never be so foolish to do it on this scale ever again! There may be more modest Secret Cinema-produced music nights in the future, however.

In August we ventured boldly into another new venue, The Print Center, an 85-year-old art gallery housed in a lovely 19th-century carriage house on Latimer Street. The first SC show there was the appropriately art-themed 40's comedy No Minor Vices. The second presentation there was one of the true highlights of the Secret Cinema year: Other People's Movies In Concert. There had been previous OPM showings of the "home movies of total strangers," but this time these silent wonders were enhanced with an original musical score, performed live by five talented area rock musicians (billed as "The Secret Cinema Symposium," and no, this name was not suggested by us). Another labor-intensive effort, the writing, matching and timing of all the music required numerous viewing and rehearsal sessions. Watching the fascinating, anonymous private reels (dating from the 1920s through the 1960s), accompanied by the evocative, beautiful music of Messrs. Chalfen, Genaro and friends, the capacity audience all agreed that the effort had been worth it (as did the even larger audience when the show was repeated at Moore last month).

The fall season brought more travel plans for The Secret Cinema. First was a short trip to Hoboken, to show Skaterdater at Maxwell's before a concert with Davie Allan and the Arrows, who had provided the surf-rock soundtrack to the short film over thirty years earlier. We made sure to get the Skaterdater film can autographed by Allan.

In October, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco programmed "Three Nights With The Secret Cinema." Curator Jay Schwartz was flown out to present three SC special programs, which were timed to be co-promoted with a large-scale exotica music concert/dance party presented by Tiki News publisher Otto Von Stroheim. The film series got feature coverage in daily (SF Examiner) and weekly (SF Weekly) newspapers. Exotica Music Films 1 & 2 both sold-out (with many turned away for the Friday show), and Sitcom Rock nearly sold out (the biggest audience yet for this oft-presented program).

In all, a wonderful trip, followed the next month by the now-traditional visit of the Secret Cinema to the Internacional Festival de Cine de Gijon, in Spain. This marked our fifth journey to the wonderful town of Gijon (and the sixth Secret Cinema trip to Spain in five years). Once again a Secret Cinema "cycle" was part of the full and varied schedule of this adventurous festival. Among the many nice people Jay Schwartz met this time were Scorpio Rising director/Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger (who, like Schwartz, attended a private Thanksgiving dinner at the home of former Philadelphia resident Luis Mayo), Tom DiCillo, Michael Galinsky & Suki Hawley (directors of Half-Cocked and Radiation), and Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Pierce.

Pierce had to leave before the week was finished, and when Boys Don't Cry star Hillary Swank (who was not in Gijon) won the jury's award for best actress, the festival needed someone else to accept the award on stage at the closing ceremony. They asked Jay Schwartz to do this, and when the moment came to honor Swank's remarkable performance as the ill-fated girl who dressed and acted as a boy, Schwartz was introduced, climbed the stage, announced to the 1000-plus audience, "But there's been a mistake; I am Hillary Swank..." and pulled a sock out of his pants. "For those in the audience who haven't yet seen Boys Don't Cry, " he continued, "I'd like to apologize for that." And so we make the same apology here. The whole embarrassing episode was shown on Spain's national Canal Plus cable channel the next day.

The last Secret Cinema screening of the year, century, and millennium (if you choose to count it that way) was four days before New Year's, at yet another new SC space -- David Carroll's cozy new Rittenhouse Square nightspot Bar Noir. This was a fitting close for us, as Jay Schwartz had begun working for Carroll as a publicist at The Hot Club (Philly's first punk/new wave club) some 21 years earlier, almost to the date.

In addition to all of the above, there were Secret Cinema screenings once again at The Griffin Cafe, Borders, and Eastern State Penitentiary.

In total, there were 50 Secret Cinema screenings in 1999, which is 13 more than the previous record. These were shown at 15 different locations, 5 of these being first-time SC venues. The shows consisted of 14 unique theme programs (some not yet mentioned include TV Relics and Old Films About Old Films About... ), with the rest being feature film presentations. These feature presentations included more than fifty "unusual short films."


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