What do early Hollywood dramas, grindhouse movies and silent films scored by live bands have in common? Spectacle Theater in Williamsburg. “We’re 27 seats and a high-end projection and sound system,” says Akiva Saunders, a member of the collective behind the theater. “We’re really a blank canvas.” Now in its fifth month as a venue for any and all cinematic and performance projects, the Spectacle Theater is a collective of film enthusiasts who focus on procuring movies not available on DVD, then screening them for $5 a pop. “We’re always experimenting and seeking out what are essentially lost films,” says Saunders. “You can’t get these on Netflix, you can’t get them at your local video store.”
Located in what Saunders calls a “ruined heap” on South 3rd Street, the theater’s nondescript home lacks any signage (except a small printout of the month’s events and a hand-drawn, illustrated poster bearing the name “Spectakill Theatre”), and is as hard to find as the films shown inside its walls. This week, the theatre is showing a heady combination of pre-code films–Hollywood gems from before the motion picture production code outlawed the titillating content that typified movies in the late 1920s–as well as science fiction selections from around the world. Oh, and a Pam Grier movie from 1971 called The Big Doll House about a women’s prison just for cult-y fun.
Along with revivals of classic and obscure films, the theater screens original work, like a recent, remixed version of 1982’s Tron that had been condensed into 40 minutes. “Part of our ongoing vision includes people whose creative process is to take what we have and put it into a digestible format,” says Saunders. Spectacle hopes to collaborate with local bands interested in writing and performing scores for silent films or remixing audio from films with existent scores, as well as editors who want to create film trailers or condense found footage in a way that tells a story.
Spectacle Theater also hosts lectures and film discussions. “There are all these filmmakers who made amazing movies in the 70’s who are now sitting in their apartments, sort of forgotten about,” says Saunders. “We want to pay tribute to them.” The work of English filmmaker and director Peter Whitehead and American producer Frederick Wiseman, of Titicut Follies fame, will both serve as fodder for upcoming lectures at Spectacle.
A new series at Spectacle, called WWWorld, combines news , documentary and archival footage to present a holistic vision of a place. Next Tuesday, March 8, WWWorld of Mardi Gras will transport viewers to New Orleans. Footage of the Egyptian revolution will be screened to the accompaniment of an Arabic band at WWWorld of Arabian Revolt. All proceeds from the event, which takes place March 14 from 7pm to midnight, will benefit the fight for human rights in Egypt. The sea, Mongolia and outer space are also upcoming WWWorld topics.
As they grow, the collective hopes to develop a community of like-minded people, including web designers, journalists, collectors, film editors and artists, to further the experimental forum they’ve created. “We like to see how high brow and low brow can merge,” says Saunders. “We’re improvising everything as we go along and finding new ways of presenting things. This adds a personal dimension to what you’re watching.”
Spectacle Theatre, 124 S. 3rd Street, between Bedford and Berry.