This hidden lair is where we dare
We turn on the box and no one speaks–
a rule not to be broken.
Pale shadows stretch across the wall, shooting from bottled flame.
They scare us, they enlighten us –
we love them all the same.
But can such a jagged cave save your tattered and restless heart?
Oh yes, the clash of fire and ashes
turns darkness into art...
A small theater known as Vista was inhabited by Secret Movie Club. This society for movie buffs sprouted in Downtown LA and cultivates a totally engaged and thrilling audience with its screenings of rare films, classics and just plain great films. How and when did all this happen? What is the secret of the Secret Movie Club? I spoke with programmer and club founder Craig Hammill to find out.
“The idea,” Hammill says, “was to just do it once a month and go from there.” After studying film at USC, Hammill discovered the need to learn the “rules of the trade.” He founded Secret Movie Club to practice advertising and the art of attracting an audience. It was to be a casual get-together of fun, for the filmmakers to watch and discuss the objects of their love.
Today, the club shows several films a week and just about everyone is involved. Partygoers gather at midnight (or 10:30 a.m., depending) to watch great movies on the big screen, do a few trivia, and talk about future showings. And they all converse magically in the former gilded Vista Theater in Los Feliz. Hammill compares it to the cinematic hotbed that was Paris in the 1950s and 1960s – filled to the brim with people who adored the art of cinema. “I look at the audience and think, ‘This is the real deal. “”
Hammill compares it to the cinematic hotbed that was Paris in the 1950s and 1960s – filled to the brim with people who adored the art of cinema.
Do not confuse passion and stellar enterprise with that of a company elite. Secret Movie Club is, to quote Hammill, “open – not rigid.” A democratic club is extremely important to him and is perhaps the club’s best kept secret. The team is formed naturally, organically by enthusiastic volunteers, who each have the right to screen a favorite film. Even the guests have their say in the programming! Secret Movie Club asks for lobby screening suggestions and, surprisingly enough, polls the audience based on their applause. When it comes to its community, Secret Movie Club is all smiles and open arms.
The club’s desire to filter out secret favorites comes with risks. But, as Hammill says, “If you don’t take risks and emphasize something cool, there’s almost a lack of integrity.” Hammill took what he calls a Zen approach to the Secret Movie Club. “I believe that if you listen, the universe tells you things.” So if you and the universe want to see a classic musical, a modern Japanese musical, or a documentary made in Ukraine, this club is likely up for the challenge. Then again, “When movies don’t hit, you get real hits.” Yet, for the love of cinema, they are willing to risk it. And – judging by the many screenings, the increased number of volunteers and the lines of people outside the Vista – taking the risk is worth it.
It is a current. It is multiplied. For people who don’t go to the temple, the mosque or the church, the cinema is a gathering place.
But wait! Readers and potential Secret Movie Clubbers, the adventure has only just begun. Starting this fall, Secret Movie Club will host its first pop-up events! You will have the opportunity to see and discuss films in new venues like the Regent Theater in Hollywood, chosen especially to enhance the atmosphere of each event. The club builds its community and inviting you to participate in truly meaningful cinematic experiences.
When the lights are out and the movie is rolling, you don’t just stare at a screen. You have a magnified image, scary sound and music. An old-fashioned aura surrounds your seat and you feel the heartbeats of your neighbors. With Secret Movie Club, cinema is a feast for the mind. “When you’re with an audience,” Hammill says, “the emotion multiplies. An emotion you have is probably felt by many others, and you feel that emotion greater than you could have felt on your own. “It’s a current. It’s multiplied. For people who don’t go to the temple, the mosque or the church, the cinema is a gathering place.
Anyone can show a movie. But not everyone will screen that movie you love and nobody knows, the one you never thought you’d see on the big screen. Not everyone holds the cinema and the people who love it in this respect. Not everyone sees the potential for fellowship and community in an old movie theater. For that, you need the secrets of Craig Hammill and his team. You need the Secret Movie Club.
What is the secret of a good life? I think Craig’s advice says it all: “Watch as many movies as you can and with as many people as you can.” Because a world that loves cinema is a united world.
What is the secret of the Secret Movie Club? Embrace the audience. Engage the community. “People from different backgrounds can all walk into a theater together and share a common experience,” says Craig Hammill – a thoughtful and transcendent conclusion. “I walk into a theater and I think, ‘It’s okay.'”
…Then time grows old and tales are told,
and the films stop burning.
To leave we are reluctant, so swear-
in the shadows you will return!