'On one level I'm frustrated. If [movie theaters] were serving my needs, I wouldn't have to do this," says Shane Flores, founder and facilitator of the Secret Cinema Salon. Flores has lived in San Diego for most of his life. What inspired him to start the salon? "I realized that there were a lot of movies that I got used to seeing when I lived in New York or San Francisco that were not coming here, were never going to come here, and had never come here." Flores defines his film-loving group on his Secret Cinema blog: "Secret Cinema is an act of desperation...a means to an unknown end." Secret Cinema Salon is "a time and place to see these films...and (this next part is very dear to our hearts) talk about them with others who think about and love cinema."
Every other Sunday the Secret Cinema Salon is held at the Media Arts Center of San Diego. The movie that will be screened for discussion on Sunday, October 9, will not be revealed until the audience has taken their seats. "Part of the reason it's secret is to try to create [the right] mental space. You're probably not coming unless you've made some sort of commitment to be open-minded," Flores says.
The salon gained noteriety for showing Battle Royale, which, according to Flores, "will probably never be shown again in the U.S., for a variety of reasons." According to one fan's synopsis, the controversial and violent movie takes place in Japan at some future date. In the film, Battle Royale is the name of the program wherein "classes of 14- and 15-year-olds are chosen at random and sent to a remote island where they are given weapons and three days to kill one another, until the sole survivor emerges as the winner."
At the other end of the film spectrum, Flores received groans from audience members one Sunday evening when he announced the movie of the night would be The Adventures of Milo & Otis, sans dubbing or subtitles. "The idea was to see how a film holds up when it's not meant to be a silent film. I'm surprised no one walked out of Milo & Otis, because we were doing something very difficult. As an adult film it has no credibility whatsoever; I apparently traumatized people for showing them this cute cat and dog movie. But still, nobody walked out."
The salon has drawn as few as three people in an evening and as many as twenty. "I'm more surprised at who
doesn't come than who does," says Flores. Congregants of the salon range from the mid-20s to 50s and are predominantly white and middle class. Though gender is balanced, Flores hopes to draw more minorities to the discussions. "Especially when I show films that would be better served with a mixed crowd. The conversations suffer for lack of diversity."
Flores looks for films that are "newer or completely off the map of the distribution system." He laments the fact that "we don't see any films from the largest film industry in the world [Hollywood]," and wonders, "How is it that in Southern California we get no Mexican cinema at all? I probably wouldn't be able to do this right now if it wasn't for the Internet."
Flores has made a rule for himself: He will not show two Asian films in a row. "All the interesting cinema in the world is happening in a few Asian countries right now. But people have told me, 'Stop showing Asian movies every time.' So every other week I get away from the entire continent to keep it mixed up."
The most recent film Flores shared with his group was The Valley Obscured By Clouds, a French film made by a German filmmaker in 1972. "It's most famous for having a Pink Floyd soundtrack, but the reason I showed it was I thought it had an interesting approach to sensuality and [posed] questions about what comprises cultural tourism and colonial exploitation."
Is there anything Flores won't show? "There is one film I know of that I'm debating whether or not I can show. Even by today's standards, I'm not sure it's legal for me to even own this film."
One of the few websites that sell this questionable movie, Emperor Tomato Ketchup, offers a synopsis: "Made in 1970 and directed by controversial Japanese filmmaker Shuji Terayama, Emperor Tomato Ketchup is a high-concept underground art film about a world where children rebel against their oppressive parents and create a new society made up of sex, role playing, and eventual violence...it has gained a cult following, due largely to the fact that Stereolab named their 1996 album after the film."
"I don't think I'm ready to show this film," says Flores. "There are places I think if people saw this film, I could easily get arrested -- according to our social laws now, it would fall within that [illegal] realm." -- Barbarella
Secret Cinema Salon
Sunday, October 9
Media Arts Center of San Diego
921 25th Street
Cost: Suggested donation of $5
Info: 619-230-1938, ext. 125; secretcinema.blogspot.com