The first time I decided to go to Spectacle, a small cinema – if you could call it that – in Williamsburg, I walked around the block for about twenty minutes trying to find it. Only after accidentally buzzing into an adjacent apartment and asking in the bodega across the street, did I finally manage to get inside. This second time, I know where I’m going, and I manage to grab the last couple of seats in the thirty-person theater (except this night, the capacity is even smaller because a huge 16mm projector is balancing on some seats in the back row). The ceiling at Spectacle is low, and with all the people packed into the small room, it feels even more cramped than it is. It’s crowded.
Spectacle is a weird and lovely hole-in-the-wall theater, and I was lucky to hear about it from my friends over at Cinefamily in Los Angeles, who recommended it. And, just as I was beginning to feel the homesickness that every first-year feels within their first month away from home, Cinefamily sent Spectacle a night of screenings courtesy of the Lost and Found Film Club, Zena Grey and Brendt Rioux’s monthly late night project that seeks to bring you rare compilations of themed “ephemeral, industrial, educational, and sponsored films of the 20th century.” For one night only, Zena and Brendt spliced together a “Best of…” selection for New York. Past and future themes for the Lost and Found Film Club include “Our Disgusting Bodies,” “Naughty Bits,” “Clowns, Mimes & Puppetry Crimes,” and the “Computer Love Edition.” After starting at Cinefamily as an after hours staff only exercise, Zena and Brendt now tour around with their 16mm reels, sharing the love.
Standing among the fifteen or so people lining the wall at Spectacle, Zena and Brendt begin to describe what is in store for us: a ‘50s stag film featuring a very lovely, awkward lady with the most strangely shaped pasties they’ve ever seen, a Pasadena police station training video from the ‘70s on when to use a shotgun or a sidearm, their favorite sci-fi film based on a story by Arthur C Clarke featuring some very out-of-this-world aliens, and much, much more. As the reel begins to run, starting the 90-minute show, and as their fuzzed-out, introductory short, filmed on Cinefamily’s patio, begins to play, the two, in person, project loudly over the footage, explaining that they’ve supplemented the evening with some bonus films, which is evident when they are cut off by a loud advertisement for a Marx tricycle from the ‘70s.
The secret addition hinted at on Spectacle’s website is a pseudo-documentary by the father of Matt Groening (of The Simpsons and Futurama fame), Homer Groening, called “A Study in Wet.” In everything one would expect from a short film of that name, everything in it was wet. Titles even appear in the beginning, telling the audience, “Everything you see in this film is wet.” The only sounds are those of a faucet dripping. The short starts out with water rippling on screen for several minutes before a montage of various reflections, drips, and beaches begins to play. Then, surprisingly, the film devolves into a compilation of surfing videos, all while a Chinese water torture-esque track plays. It was insufferable. I can’t dispute that it wasn’t entertaining.
Perhaps it’s the theater’s size or perhaps it’s the casual way Zena and Brendt introduce whatever is next – shouting above the crackle of the reel trying to get in everything they can before the next short plays – that makes the whole experience feel like a communal subjugation to ridiculous footage we were never supposed to see in a cinema or, at the very least, with thirty other people in the same room. There’s a secrecy to what we’re seeing, and we’re all beingindoctrinated into the Club.
Zena and Brendt encourage people to shout out if they recognize anything in the films they show – any people, any locations, any names. No one does, but everyone laughs and talks to each other between the films. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere, and it’s one that can only be achieved at such a small and intimate venue. Going to Spectacle for any show is going to be an adventure, and whether it’s packed with people standing at the walls and craning their heads in through the inconspicuous door or you’re the only person in the place, Spectacle is sure to deliver. And if it doesn’t, you only paid five dollars to get in.