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Hard to believe, but this Saturday, December 13, is the 40th anniversary of our opening opening night. International Animation if I remember correctly. The following morning saw the first of our Alternative Family Cinema shows.
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Funny, but I was thinking about that one recently. It’s called “I Need a Head” (I think). I’ll check program notes for the exact title and film maker. It certainly was an audience and staff favorite.
Mel, very gratifying to hear your story. Hey, just remembering us is pretty good to me. The Alternative Family Cinema was always central to OTW. We opened on a Friday night and started the AFC the next afternoon. If you were on the floor, it must have been at the original Main St location. Tickets were only 50 cents and we had only 63 seats. We didn’t plan on selling seats on the floor but it was hard to turn parents and kids away. We didn’t have a carpet, though, but I’ll bet it was a chocolate chip cookie. Best of luck to you and please keep us up to date on your progress.
Sad to say that Les Blank has passed away. Les, of course, made a memorable appearance at OTW during our Les Blank film fest. I have very fond memories of introducing the films and telling the audience about our special food offerings, culminating with wipping out from behind my back and consuming a chocolate covered garlic. I still have my “Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers” t-shirt, and both David and I have many of his films on dvd. The world has lost a very special film maker.
On another note, Rick, I don’t recall your interview, but I’m sure I’ll remember when I see it again.
As I write this on 12/13/12, this is the 38th anniversary of OTW’s opening. How time flies. Just discovered my old concert reviews and interviews on the Boston Globe website. Search the archives (1970-75, enter Michael Nicholson as author: there are 54 entries) if you’re interested. Yes, I will post some more history very soon.
French filmmaker Chris Marker (91) has passed away. “La Jetee,” which we screened many times at Off the Wall, is one of the most perfect films of any sort. I first saw this in a film series on PBS, which gave Larry and I a film education that was a crucial inspiration for OTW.
I’ve been negligent in posting, I know. I’ll put out a new installment soon.
Sunday, July 10, there was a moving memorial service (at the Armory in Somerville) for animator Karen Aqua. Karen, among many, many things was a frequent contributor to Off the Wall and Magic Movies in particular. She also worked for a time at our original location, which is where we met her. I have fond memories of coming down out of the booth while the films were on and seeing her, her kitchen work done, sitting on a chair, working on drawings for her current film, on that would later be shown at OTW. The service featured remembrances, music, and of course , films. The attendees (seemed like about 200) marched to New Orleans music down the street to the Growing Center after the service. A wonderful sendoff for a wonderfull person.
Thanks Ub (and also Georgi). I hope others of you tuned in and enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed doing it.
One of the big challenges of OTW was coming up not only with entertaining shows but coming up with a good title to entice people to come. However loyal, people rarely came just to OTW, but to see a particular show. “International Animation” (our first show) and “Science Fiction” are descriptive, but hardly exciting. “Fantasy & the Fantastic” and “Roots” (early shorts by well known directors) were probably the two best from our first year, but hardly went through the roof. I was the one who came up with most of the titles, and my first, and most successful inspiration was “Magic Movies” (the first show opened 1/28/76). Quite a bit better than “International Animation.” Another good one from 1976 was “Slightly Bent-Centennial,” funny and satirical shorts we put together to celebrate the Bicentennial. “Heart Throbs” was the other good one from 1976. “Hubley Bubbly,” the animation of John & Faith Hubley, was a good one from 1978, as was the comedy show “Laughing Gas.” “Feats of Feet,” a show of dance shorts, was a good one from our last days at Main St. I don’t have many records from our State St. days, so next time I’ll review some of the best show names from Pearl St, including the story behind “Bigfoot…..”
The date for the radio show mentioned above has been changed to Thursday, June 10 from 12-2pm.
At Pearl St, I made the theme music tapes that played at intermision and after the shows, since I had a large (2500) record collection and enjoyed the challenge. On Thursday, June 3 from 12-2pm, I will be a guest DJ on the Lost & Found show on WMBR (88.1 FM), featuring music from the 60s and early 70s. I did the show last year and by all accounts it was a success. If you can’t hear it live on the radio or at wmbr.org, the show will be archived and available for the following 2 weeks. Hope you can listen in.
Before I continue the story, let me clear up a few points. Instead of winging it, I decided to go through some old stuff. I kept track of each day’s box office when we were on Main St. in a series of notebooks. We were shut for showing Heart Throbs after the 5:00 show on 9/14/76. We reopened (after assuring the authorities we wouldn’t show HT) on Friday, 9/24/76. We did show “Heart Throbs ‘77” for six weeks beginning March 23 of that year. The Jazz on Film series actually ran 8 weeks (totaling $9201, not great, but better than I remembered). Fleischer ran for 4 weeks and totaled $10,675. The first week we had 27 shows, 21 of them sellouts.
The woman who serves Larry in the clip is of course the lovely Ingrid, close friend to our partner Mike Peck (more about him when we get to State St and Pearl St.
The reason I don’t post more is that I do not have a computer, and have to use the one at work. I’ll try to speed it up, since I can’t wait to find out how it comes out.
Yes, that is Pearl St. Larry was of course still with OTW when we were on Main St. He was at Ch. 38 when we were at Pearl St. Speaking of Main St., I promised the story of “Heart Throbs.” I might have come up with the title and the concept- films of sensuality & sexuality -but I don’t really remember. Anyway, sex sells, right? So we splurged on multi-color posters with the logo, the butt cheeks in the heart shape, and put them up around town. Well some Cambridge City Councilor got offended and the next thing we know, we were “investigated” by a couple of plain clothes police. At that time, especially at early shows, we would push the lock button on the front door (locking from the outside, but not the inside), so of course that was suspicious. Someone brought up films being flammable. Well nitrate films went out 50 years ago, just ask any of the other ½ dozen movie theaters in Cambridge. One film we showed was a 5 minute film called “Ass.” As it opens, you see an attractive woman in short shorts and a top tied beneath her breasts. She’s in a barn, pitchforking some hay. As she works, she appears to get turned on, drops the pitchfork and leans back on the hay, rubbing her hands over her body. The only sound so far has been the noise of a running projector. The camera pulls back to reveal that this film has been screening on a movie screen set up in a barn with an audience of…donkeys! This was described by one of the officers as a film about bestiality. That still blows my mind today. My favorite film was “The Club” by George Griffiths. It was an animation showing one of those “old boy” clubs where all the members were literally male members. Any way, we got shut down and it was big news. So much bigger news than when we reopened about two weeks later that it took us months to recover. “Off the Wall? Aren’t you the ones got closed down?"
Next: How’d we come up with those programs, anyway?
Guess what? Larry Silverman has seen this site and got in touch with me over the weekend! I haven’t talked with him in about 20 years. So now I’ll get off my butt and continue the story. We struggled early. Larry was convinced early that to be credible, we couldn’t just show, say, a program of Yugoslavian animation, we’d have to do one specific animator. We learned fast, but could never get that big hit show. One brainstorm we had was a Jazz on Film Festival. In six parts. Box office gold, right? Wrong, but we had left open three weeks in case we wanted to hold over some of the jazz shows. We needed a show fast, and consulted our friend in the animation distribution field, Charles Samu. He suggested a program of Max Fleischer cartoons. Hey, we did ‘animation,’ not Hollywood cartoons, but we were desperate. Superman, Popeye, and especially Betty Boop. We got rave reviews in all the press. People told me the line to get in to some weekend shows went to Mass Av., but we were too busy to check it out. Betty became a staple and Hollywood cartoons became a staple at OTW.
Next: Heart Throbs (You guys are still shut down, right?0
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!
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…
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.