Underground Cinema 12: Origin & August-September 1970
Beginning in the early 1960s, one of the main venues where audiences could watch underground films outside of New York City was the midnight movie screening series called Underground Cinema 12.
The origins of Underground Cinema 12 were related by one of its founders, Mike Getz, to the Alternative Projections historical project. Getz was the manager of the Cinema Theater in Hollywood, California when he was approached by John Fles, who had been holding alternative cinema screenings around Los Angeles, such as in the Jewish and Ukrainian cultural centers.
Fles had the idea to run a regular midnight movie screening series in an actual movie theater, which Getz quickly agreed to host. The Cinema Theater typically ran foreign films and independent cinema, so screening underground films at midnight seemed like a good match. Initially, the series was called Movies ‘Round Midnight and it premiered on Columbus Day 1963 with a screening of Jack Smith‘s Flaming Creatures, Gregory Markopoulos‘s Twice a Man, and a chapter of Stan Brakhage‘s Dog Star Man.
According to Getz, Movies ‘Round Midnight was about an immediate success in L.A., so after a few years the idea popped up that perhaps the series could screen in other theaters across the country. The Cinema Theater was owned by Getz’s uncle, Louis Sher, who owned a national chain of theaters called the Art Theater Guild, Inc.
Also at this time, Fles quit Movies ‘Round Midnight and Getz re-branded the series as Underground Cinema 12. The series first moved to the Presidio Theater in San Francisco, then expanded to others. In his interview with Alternative Projections, Getz says the series screened at all of Sher’s theaters, which were located in cities such as Memphis, Seattle, New Orleans, Louisville and many more.
Two theaters that Sher owned were in Ohio: The Westwood Theatre at 16200 Hilliard Road in Lakewood and the Art Theatre at 1924 Wayne Avenue in Dayton. The Underground Film Journal has acquired a collection of poster-sized programs from the Underground Cinema 12 events at these two theaters.
One poster, which you can click to embiggen either above or below, is from the Westwood Theatre and lists the Saturday midnight screenings held in August and September 1970.
The rest of the posters, which will be featured in upcoming Journal articles, are all from the Art Theatre from the years 1971-72.
Both theaters have since closed down and have been demolished. But, while in operation, both theaters also changed from showing “art films” to showing hardcore pornography. Through the Underground Cinema 12 posters, it’s clear that Getz focused on the more salacious aspects of underground film in his selections. Nudity, drug use, hippies and other counter-cultural references abound in these posters, especially in the later ones. What’s not clear is if the Westwood and the Art were showing pornography in 1970-72 at the time of these posters.
Below is the schedule of the 1970 Westwood poster that the Journal owns; and below that is a scan of the actual poster. We have not transcribed the descriptions of each film, so you can find a lot more information in the scan.
A fresh collection of cinematic styles by a new generation of young filmmakers
The Matchseller, dir. Lawrence Lewis
Untitled, dir. Chris Munger
Now That the Buffalo’s Gone, dir. Bert Gershfield
Behind Every Good Man, dir. Nikolai Ursin
Son of Heatwave, dir. John Fizdale
Reliquary, dir. Judith Reidel
Anselmo, dir. Chick Strand
Orange, dir. Karen Johnson
Numbers, dir. James Hill
Sound of Flesh, dir. John Stewart
7362, dir. Pat O’Neill
Breakfast Dance, dir. David Wilson
Opus, dir. Colin Higgins
No More Excuses, dir. Robert Downey, Sr.
Mate Game, dir. Paul Kagan
Life Game, dir. Tom Valens
“The Guna Reals”
A variety of visions from the midwest’s most mature underground filmmaker: Ron Nameth
Jean-Luc God Interview & The Family
Arts Reel #2
Chafed Elbows, dir. Robert Downey, Sr.
Soc. Sci. 127, dir. Danny Lyon
Interview With Spencer Lynch, dir. Andrew Harmon
“3 Unusual Chicks Try To Get What They Really Need”
Song for My Sister, dir. John Klein
Telescenic, dir. David Batterson
Window Panes, dir. Peter Conn
The Human Race, dir. Jeff Dell
Mother of Five, dir. David McLaughlin
Quick Rise, dir. Norman Gerard
The Veins in Jane Flow Mainly With Cocaine, dir. Bob Giorgio
“Underwear and Astronauts, Nude Milk Orgies & Chicken Soup”
Eagle Spirit, dir. Glenn Johnson
Chicken Soup, dir. Kenny Schneider
No Dominion, dir. Larry Booth
Lord of the Pigs, dir. Don Pietro
Integration, dir. Georgie Klauber
Your Astronauts, dir. Tom Palazzolo
Then, dir. David-Oliver Pfeil
Underwear, dir. Paul Marshall
Oh Dem Bananas, dir. David Beuhler
I Am Curious (F.O.), dir. Fred Sternkopf
The Aquarium, dir. Victorr Erma
Runaway, dir. Standish Lawder
“New Highlights From the More Recent Past”
Within the past 6 months these have turned most of you on the most
Project One, dir. David Lourie
President Nixon’s Inaugural Address, dir. Kevin Rafferty
The National Flower of Brooklyn, dir. Tom McDonough
Face Junk, dir. Richard Bartlett
A Day in the Park, dir. Ted Santos
Demonstration Movie I, dir. Ron Finne
Sean, dir. Ralph Arlyck
The Rose, dir. Larry Booth