The entrance to the screening room of Suicide City Secret Cinema is in an alley somewhere in Seattle. I can't tell you which alley, but it's probably not far from where you're standing right now. You knock on the unmarked door and a voice asks for the password. "Take me to onion city," you say--at least you did that week--and the door opens; you pay your two bucks and gain entry to one of the only genuinely clandestine film exhibition projects in town.
FBI warnings notwithstanding, I've always had a romantic attachment to people showing movies in their apartments. It's the closest analogue to tape trading that film fandom has to offer. The problem is that once you're in someone's living room, you're pretty much in someone's living room. If you don't like the film, or (dare I say) the people showing it, you're kind of screwed. My favorite theaters have always been the ones that import a bit of the literal homeyness of apartment cinema without losing the crucial sense of darkened public anonymity that makes moviegoing enjoyable.
The Grand Illusion and Little Theatre strike that balance to a degree, but the unquestionable gold standard was set by the Pike Street Cinema, where you rarely knew what you were going to see until 15 minutes after showtime. Until its demise in 1995, the Pike Street was the best clubhouse in Seattle. Meanwhile, in Olympia, the Capitol Theater (a much bigger clubhouse) plays host every year to the ultimate explosion of apartment cinema: the Olympia Film Festival, which opens with All Freakin' Night, a midnight-to-sunrise slumber party that might feature anything from Dario Argento to Mario Bava (and everything in between).
For the past year or so, Suicide City Secret Cinema has been narrowcasting its own brand of collectivist fetishism on or around the first and third Sundays of every month. Though I'd been hearing about the screenings for months, I'd never managed to make it to one until a few weeks ago. Here's what I saw: up the stairs into a gorgeously rundown loft, outfitted with theater seats, couches, film and video projectors, and a huge screen covering the windows. Sonic Youth's Sister (yes!) played as a small crowd slowly filled the place up. Did I mention the absinthe bar? Did I mention that you could smoke? Did I mention the hilarious and insightful pre-show disquisition/interview, conducted by a bemustached man in silk pajamas who goes by the name The Diabolical Dr. Klaw? Did I further mention that the film was a NORTH Korean anti-industrialization tract/Godzilla knockoff called Pulgasari, made in 1985 with the direct involvement of a tender young fascist dictator? No? Well, let me mention those things now.
I can't tell you this week's password, and I can't tell you where the screening room is or who lives there. All I can tell you is that they're showing a collection of found porn this Sunday at around 9 pm for two bucks, and even though I haven't seen a frame, I can't recommend it highly enough.