Off The Wall Cinema

15 Pearl Street,
Cambridge, MA 02139

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Off the Wall Cinema

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Off The Wall Cinema described itself as a “Coffeehouse of the Arts”, but film is the art that they put most of their energy into. The more obscure the film, the better. On any given day you might see silents, short subjects, rock concert films, documentaries, or animation. Their annual “Magic Movies” animation festival was especially popular.

The atmosphere was relaxed, like being in someone’s living room with a hundred or so friends. Instead of popcorn and candy, they served coffee and excellent baked goods. Sometimes an art exhibit hung on the walls.

Off The Wall opened in 1974 at 861 Main Street in Cambridge’s Central Square. In 1979, they tried moving to a theatre across the river in Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace, but the audience didn’t follow them. In September 1980, they returned to a new Central Square location at 15 Pearl Street, which had formerly housed the left-wing 100 Flowers Bookstore.

Off The Wall closed as a venue in August, 1986, although they continued to occasionally present programs in other venues for a couple more years. 15 Pearl Street became a senior citizen center, which it remains today.

Contributed by Ron Newman

Recent comments (view all 78 comments)

DaleTheSmall on May 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Great idea, Mel! It’s never too late to make your dream happen. Keep us posted. (I have performer friends in Perth — not close to you — but you never know who knows whom here!)

michaelnicholson on May 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm

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. michael nicholson

MaxAndDave on June 14, 2013 at 10:46 am

Louis C.K. credits Off the Wall with giving him his start — or at least giving him the confidence to become a comedian. Ron Lynch, i hope you see this:

rausifer on January 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm

UPDATE: I have found my DVD with the interview with Mike Nicholson. I am now in the process of figuring out how to convert and upload this to YouTube. It has some interesting footage, including my little news story (about 7 minutes) and about 7 minutes raw footage with Mike. Please don’t get your hopes too high, because this was done in 1979 with ½" B&W tape. The edited stuff is very glitchy, but the raw stuff is pretty decent quality. I hope to post it tomorrow…

MaxAndDave on January 13, 2014 at 8:28 pm

YOW! Really looking forward, rausifer!

zanelumelsky on March 27, 2014 at 6:48 am

A question for Michael Nicholson: I saw a short claymation film at OTW in the 1970s that I’m trying to get the name of. The subject was a grunting, ogre-like character with only a head and torso on a table who mistakenly cuts off his own head, squeezes his shoulders, then pops out a new, but smaller head. Does that film ring a bell with you? Zane Lumelsky

michaelnicholson on March 28, 2014 at 4:29 am

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. michaelnicholson

zanelumelsky on April 8, 2014 at 9:04 am

Have been searching for “I Need a Head” but to no avail. Researcher at Library of Congress is currently trying for me. Also, there were more great films that I saw at OTW that I’d like to know about a view again. Can I talk with you directly. How?

michaelnicholson on April 9, 2014 at 4:31 am

You can reach me at .

DaleTheSmall on April 9, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Cool! Thanks! Heh heh.

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