Off The Wall Cinema

15 Pearl Street,
Cambridge, MA 02139

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Showing 51 - 75 of 88 comments

tuxguys on February 11, 2010 at 4:35 am

Michael Nicholson! Weren’t you the voice of the “now showing” outgoing messages on the OTW phone machine?

“Next: early struggles until we found Betty Boop… ”

Don’t tease us, get on with it!

MaxAndDave on January 11, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Yes Michael, I DID notice that “Quasi at the Quackadero” was inducted! By the way, Ron Lynch (late of the Comedy Clubhouse) was asking about you just the other day.

michaelnicholson on January 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I hope everybody noticed that “Quasi at the Quackadero” was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Way to go Sally!

michaelnicholson on October 30, 2009 at 8:18 pm

OK, let me start at the beginning. Larry Silverman and I were roommates at 23 Cummings Rd. in Brighton in 1973. I was a Northeastern student and he worked for an agency making commercials. Somehow, Larry talked his bosses into lending him a 16mm projector and screen, and the use of a BPL card that allowed us to take out up to 90 minutes of 16mm films per week. We started showing films once a week, but soon had to show them twice to accomodate our friends' schedules. We would pass the hat for money to buy projection bulbs, which were expensive and not long lasting. I drew a little schedule poster that hung in our kitchen. After a while we wanted to use my bedroom as a projection booth. We approached the landlord for permission to cut a hole in the wall, and not only did he say yes, he lent us the tools to do it! The next step was to go public. I came up with the name because it was Larry’s favorite phrase that year. We convinced our downstairs neighbor, Jay Berman, to put up $5,000, and Larry located the space at 861 Main St. After a lot of work, including building the miniscule projection booth in our tiny kitchen (no more than 2 people could be in the booth), we opened on Friday, December 13, 1974. Yes, that’s right, Friday the 13th!
Next: early struggles until we found Betty Boop…

rausifer on October 20, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Michael – I also did not know about this site but am glad I found it! Don’t know if you remember me, but I did a little documentary segment for a video production class (1979!!) about Off the Wall. I would be glad to send you a copy. I am “friends” with Sally Cruickshank on Facebook and was going to send her a copy also since it mentions “Quasi at the Quackadero” (what a classic).

I wanted you and everyone to know what wonderful experiences I had at Off the Wall when I was at BU. It certainly shaped my tastes and my love for short films forever after. Thank you so much.

Rick Usifer
scrabbler (at)

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 4, 2009 at 6:18 am

Hi, Michael! Glad to see you here. Please correct any errors I’ve made in this post. I look forward to reading more comments by you and learning more about Off the Wall’s history.

michaelnicholson on August 28, 2009 at 8:31 pm

WOW! I never knew this site existed. My name is Michael Nicholson, co-founder (along with Larry Silverman) of Off the Wall. Thanks for all the wonderful comments and memories. Most of the information is accurate, but I’ll give you the inside view in subsequent postings. One thing no one has mentioned is our co-sponsorship of the New England Animation Festival. The first featured June Foray and Bill Scott and the second, Chuck Jones (both at New England Life Hall). If you go to You Tube (voices of bullwinkle and rocky) you can see a wonderful video of June and Bill made during their trip to Boston.

MaxAndDave on December 16, 2008 at 12:34 am

Thanks, Tuxguys and all! Always good to hear from someone else who remembers Off the Wall. I first went there during the same summer and for the same animation program that you did, Tuxguys, and I became very attached to the place later. Y'know, watching those eye-popping Fleisher cartoons in my own living room, even with coffee and cheesecake, just isn’t the same as watching them in a darkened theater full of animation fans. OK, so sometimes it was just three or four fans, but still… Whenever I’m in Central Square I still glance down Main Street expecting to see the Off the Wall banner and plate glass facade on the corner of Green Street.

tuxguys on December 12, 2008 at 4:29 am

A late night, a glass of wine, and, on a whim, I Google “Off the Wall” to see if anyone has ever even heard of my favorite movie theater of all time, and lo and behold… 1978 was my first full summer in Boston and I went to OTW at it’s original location on Main St. to see a Fleisher Bros. cartoon festival (Betty Boop, Popeye, Superman), and fell in love immediately with the scholarly program notes that were handed out with each admission, as well as with the coffee and cheesecake. Some years later, I wrote a monthly column for the BEACON (an extremely small-circulation periodical with a somewhat exclusive readership) called The MOVIE-CRAWL, and I believe a review of whatever I had seen at OTW made it in almost every column. God, how I miss that place…

Lastdaysofrain on January 7, 2008 at 8:38 pm

What is in the old location now?

wombatzone on May 24, 2007 at 4:29 pm

Never mind — it was yanked. “This video has been removed due to terms of use violation.”

wombatzone on May 24, 2007 at 4:15 pm


Where is the YouTube clip with the Off the Wall in it? Looked but couldn’t find it. Maybe its gone? Thanks.

Philcoman on March 4, 2007 at 2:30 am

All I can tell you about the DVDs is to do a whole lot of leg work. Film archives, libraries, even Netflix. If the titles are not on DVD, they might be on VHS. Start networking with film fanatics, talk to distributors and independent theater owners — the Brattle Theater in Cambridge MA apparently got Off the Wall’s library; maybe the folks there can even put you in touch with one of the Off the Wall owners. Eventually you’ll jog a few memories for titles or find sources, as well as some films you didn’t know about, and you’ll meet some interesting people. Best of luck, and keep us posted on the progress of the new “Off the Wall Family Cinema!”

wildsparrow on March 3, 2007 at 1:25 pm

Thanks a lot, Carl. That definitely gets me thinking. I can go the DVD route and keep it small, no problem. How hard would it be to find the same quality films on DVD, though? I’m sure I can get American films – Paul Bunyan in claymation, perhaps, or popular books like the Juggler of Notre Dame animated – but what about the foreign gems? I remember one about a boy and his zebra – another about an elephant in a small village. Those were probably pretty obscure. Thanks again for your good advice.

Philcoman on March 3, 2007 at 12:08 pm

NickOD — Thanks for pointing me to the YouTube clip. It was great seeing the theater again! For the record, the guy looking for a cheap date is Larry Silverman. He was one of the original owners, but had left to work as a producer at WSBK at the time he did this segment. The woman behind the counter is Ingrid, who really did work behind the counter at Off the Wall from time to time. The piano player is indeed Albert Lamb, who played piano for the silent films. So your memory is accurate.

Philcoman on March 3, 2007 at 11:36 am

Hi Stirling — A cinema for parents and kids is a terrific idea! I’m no expert, but I think your best bet would be to start the way the original Off the Wall started: as a casual get-together. Look into finding a business or organization that will loan you space on a regular basis — maybe your school? Solicit the support of your parents' association or arts group. they’ll help spread the word for you and lend some enthusiasm. Community newspapers love lsting family activities, so don’t forget to keep them in the loop. The hardest part may be the equipment and the films. If you don’t mind using DVDs rather than film, you can certainly rent or buy very good projection systems and the films might be easier to find that way. If you’re determined to go the old fashioned 16mm route, you’ll have to do some calling around to find a projector and get on the internet to find out who' still renting out movies. Note: if you want to turn this into a real, money-making business, it changes the rental picture considerably. You have to start paying a higher rental or a piece of your box office to the film distributor. Making money as a movie theater isn’t — and never has been — easy.

wildsparrow on March 2, 2007 at 9:37 pm

I had so many good memories of taking my son to Off the Wall every Saturday in 1974, I dream of opening one myself where I’m living in New Paltz, NY. I’m not sure how to go about it, but I’m a primary school teacher now and I’d like to recreate a room where parents and children can see wonderful claymation and animation, as well as the kind of obscure films from Cambodia, Norway and Thailand that I remember seeing at OTW. And of course, the hot cider and oatmeal cookies. I guess I need to write a proposal, raise some money, etc. There are a lot of good places in town where a small theater would work. Any advice appreciated.

nmodonell1975 on December 7, 2006 at 6:00 pm

I wasn’t there for the last show, but I distinctly recall going to a Charlie Chaplin festival at the Pearl St. location with either a piano or an organ playing along to the Gold Rush.
Those theatres are all great, agreed.
By the way, there is a clip on YouTube of Dana Hersey going into the Rat some time in the 80s, but in the middle of it there is a segue to a sequence at Off the Wall. It’s an absolute time warp.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 7, 2006 at 5:09 pm

Oops, if I’d read my own post from a few months earlier, I wouldn’t have written the first sentence above!

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 7, 2006 at 5:07 pm

Off the Wall ran silents with live accompaniment? I never knew that.

Even in today’s ‘Googleplex era’, you’ll see such showings from time to time in the Boston area, at venues like the Somerville Theatre, Coolidge Corner Theatre, Museum of Fine Arts, or Harvard Film Archive. The Alloy Orchestra, which puts on some of these performances, is based in Cambridge. (But they started years after Off the Wall had closed.)

nmodonell1975 on December 7, 2006 at 4:31 pm

What a great find this is! My memories of Off the Wall as a kid are among the fondest I have, a place where imagination stretched in all directions. The animation festivals were the best precisely because they were not stupid “children’s” movies, but everything else, including silent movies with live musical accompaniment, is hard to imagine in the Googleplex era. Gone but never forgotten.

Philcoman on October 17, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Thanks, Ron, for filling us in on the Brattle acquisition. I remember most of those films well, and wondered what had become of them. Now if we could only find out what ever happened to Albert Lamb! Hopefully he’s not in someone’s basement… :–)

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on August 19, 2006 at 2:40 am

Off The Wall’s last show, as a venue of its own, was on Saturday night, August 30, 1986. They showed “The Patchwork Girl of Oz,” a 1914 film made by L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz books. Albert Lamb provided piano accompaniment. [Source: Boston Globe article, August 23, 1986.]

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on August 19, 2006 at 1:58 am

From an invitation to a Brattle Theatre donor appreciation screening that I attended yesterday:

“The Brattle has recently acquired films from the famed Off-The-Wall
collection. Off-The-Wall Cinema screened rare footage from rock groups like
the Rolling Stones, silent films, short subjects and classic animated
shorts. From its inception in 1976 to finally closing ten years later,
Off-The-Wall Cinema primarily made its home in Central Square, Cambridge.
Many folks, including Brattle Creative Director Ned Hinkle, have fond
memories of these screenings.

The Brattle Film Foundation is thrilled to add these wonderful shorts and
rarities to our collection."

The entire collection is in 16mm, and had sat in various people’s basements for at least a decade before the Brattle acquired it.

At yesterday’s screening, the Brattle showed these films (and maybe a few others that I don’t remember):

  • A Datsun TV commercial starring Salvador Dali
  • An equally strange Levi’s commercial from the 1960s or early 70s
  • a Faith Hubley animated short. I think it was Windy Day, from 1967
  • a Louis Armstrong concert performance short subject
  • a Popeye vs. Sindbad cartoon
  • Three Pathé newsreels from 1964, featuring the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Dave Clark Five

At the back of the theatre, the Brattle displayed a few signs, advetisements, and newspaper articles from Off the Wall. I had forgotten that Off The Wall had one last run in 1994-95, showing films on Monday nights at the Middle East Upstairs in Central Square. A Boston Globe article from 1994, celebrating Off The Wall’s 20th anniversary, said that Off The Wall started on Friday, December 13, 1974.

As part of Harvard Square Oktoberfest, the Brattle will have a free screening of Off The Wall films on Sunday, October 8, from noon to 2:30 pm.