This hidden lair is where we dare to dream while wide awake. We light the box and no one talks– a rule you mustn’t break. Pale shadows sprawl upon the wall, poured out from bottled flame. They frighten us, they brighten us– we love them all the same. But can a cave so jagged save your ragged, restless heart? Oh yes–the clash of fire and ash turns darkness into art...
A little theatre known as the Vista has been inhabited by Secret Movie Club. This society for film lovers has sprouted in Downtown LA and is cultivating a totally engaged, thrillingly responsive audience with their screenings of rare films, classics, and movies that are just plain awesome. How and when did this all come to be? What is Secret Movie Club’s secret? I talked with the club’s programmer and founder, Craig Hammill, to find out.
“The idea,” says Hammill, “was to do it just once a month and go from there.” After studying film at USC, Hammill discovered the necessity of learning the ‘rules of the trade’. He founded Secret Movie Club to practice advertisement and the art of attracting an audience. It was to be an occasional treat get together, for film people to watch and discuss the objects of their love.
Today, the club screens several movies a week and just about everyone is involved. Revelers gather at midnight (or 10:30 in the morning, depending) to watch great films on the big screen, do a bit of trivia, and talk future screenings. And they all magically confer within the gilded, antique Vista Theatre in Los Feliz. Hammill compares it to the cinematic hotbed that was Paris in the 1950s and ’60s – filled to the brim with people who adore the art of film. “I look at the audience and I think, ‘This is the real deal.'”
Hammill compares it to the cinematic hotbed that was Paris in the 1950s and ’60s – filled to the brim with people who adore the art of film.
Don’t mistake the passion and the stellar company for that of a society d’élite. 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 are each allowed to screen a favorite film. Even guests have a say in the line up! Secret Movie Club asks for screening suggestions in the lobby and, quite amazingly, polls audiences based on their applause. When it comes to its community, Secret Movie Club is all smiles and open arms.
The club’s willingness to screen secret faves does have its risks. But, as Hammill says, “If you don’t take chances and put the spotlight on something cool, there’s almost a lack of integrity to it.” Hammill has adopted what he calls a zen-like approach to Secret Movie Club. “I believe that, if you listen, the universe tells you stuff.” So, if you and the universe alike want to see a classic movie musical, or a modern Japanese musical, or a documentary made in the Ukraine, this club will likely take the challenge. Then again, “When films don’t hit, you get a real hit.” Still, for the love of film, they’re willing to risk it. And – judging by the numerous screenings, the increased number of volunteers, and the lines of people outside the Vista – taking the risk is worth it.
It’s a current. It’s multiplied. For people who don’t go to temple or mosque or church, the movie theatre is a gathering place.
But, wait! Readers, and potential Secret Movie Clubbers, the adventure is just beginning. Starting this fall, Secret Movie Club will be hosting its first pop-up events! You’ll have the opportunity to see and discuss film in new locations like Hollywood’s Regent Theatre, chosen specially to enhance the ambience of each event. The club is building its community and inviting you to participate in truly meaningful movie experiences.
When the lights are down and the film is rolling, you aren’t just staring at a screen. You have an enlarged picture, chilling sound and music. An old-fashioned aura surrounds your seat, and you sense the heartbeats of your neighbors. With Secret Movie Club, film is a feast for the spirit. “When you’re with an audience,” Hammill says, “the emotion gets multiplied. An emotion you have is probably felt by several others, and you feel that emotion bigger than you could have felt it on your own. It’s a current. It’s multiplied. For people who don’t go to temple or mosque or church, the movie theatre is a gathering place.”
Anyone can screen a movie. But not everyone will screen that film you love and no one knows, the one you never thought you’d see on the big screen. Not everyone holds film and the people who love it in such regard. Not everyone sees potential for communion and community in an old movie theatre. For that, you need the secrets of Craig Hammill and his team. You need Secret Movie Club.
What’s the secret to a great life? I think Craig’s advice says it all: “See as many movies as you can and with as many people as you can.” Because a world that loves movies is a world united.
What’s the secret of Secret Movie Club? Embrace the audience. Engage the community. “People from different backgrounds can all get into a theatre together and share a common experience,” Craig Hammill says – a reflective, transcendent conclusion. “I get in a theatre and I think, ‘We’re okay.'”
…Then time grows old, and tales are told, and movies cease to burn. To leave we’re loath, so swear the oath– to shadows you’ll return!
If you want to enter “the shadows” of Secret Movie Club… If you’re interested in film, fun, and a fantasticcommunity, check out Secret Movie Club on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter! To purchase tickets to upcoming screenings, click here! And be sure to watch out for SMC’s pop-up events, starting with ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, on August 27th at the Regent Theater!
For more beautiful poetry by Scott Fogdall, click here!