Off The Wall Cinema

15 Pearl Street,
Cambridge, MA 02139

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Showing 76 - 100 of 106 comments

MaxAndDave on December 16, 2008 at 12:34 am

Thanks, Tuxguys and all! Always good to hear from someone else who remembers Off the Wall. I first went there during the same summer and for the same animation program that you did, Tuxguys, and I became very attached to the place later. Y'know, watching those eye-popping Fleisher cartoons in my own living room, even with coffee and cheesecake, just isn’t the same as watching them in a darkened theater full of animation fans. OK, so sometimes it was just three or four fans, but still… Whenever I’m in Central Square I still glance down Main Street expecting to see the Off the Wall banner and plate glass facade on the corner of Green Street.

tuxguys on December 12, 2008 at 4:29 am

A late night, a glass of wine, and, on a whim, I Google “Off the Wall” to see if anyone has ever even heard of my favorite movie theater of all time, and lo and behold… 1978 was my first full summer in Boston and I went to OTW at it’s original location on Main St. to see a Fleisher Bros. cartoon festival (Betty Boop, Popeye, Superman), and fell in love immediately with the scholarly program notes that were handed out with each admission, as well as with the coffee and cheesecake. Some years later, I wrote a monthly column for the BEACON (an extremely small-circulation periodical with a somewhat exclusive readership) called The MOVIE-CRAWL, and I believe a review of whatever I had seen at OTW made it in almost every column. God, how I miss that place…

Lastdaysofrain on January 7, 2008 at 8:38 pm

What is in the old location now?

wombatzone on May 24, 2007 at 4:29 pm

Never mind — it was yanked. “This video has been removed due to terms of use violation.”

wombatzone on May 24, 2007 at 4:15 pm


Where is the YouTube clip with the Off the Wall in it? Looked but couldn’t find it. Maybe its gone? Thanks.

Philcoman on March 4, 2007 at 2:30 am

All I can tell you about the DVDs is to do a whole lot of leg work. Film archives, libraries, even Netflix. If the titles are not on DVD, they might be on VHS. Start networking with film fanatics, talk to distributors and independent theater owners — the Brattle Theater in Cambridge MA apparently got Off the Wall’s library; maybe the folks there can even put you in touch with one of the Off the Wall owners. Eventually you’ll jog a few memories for titles or find sources, as well as some films you didn’t know about, and you’ll meet some interesting people. Best of luck, and keep us posted on the progress of the new “Off the Wall Family Cinema!”

wildsparrow on March 3, 2007 at 1:25 pm

Thanks a lot, Carl. That definitely gets me thinking. I can go the DVD route and keep it small, no problem. How hard would it be to find the same quality films on DVD, though? I’m sure I can get American films – Paul Bunyan in claymation, perhaps, or popular books like the Juggler of Notre Dame animated – but what about the foreign gems? I remember one about a boy and his zebra – another about an elephant in a small village. Those were probably pretty obscure. Thanks again for your good advice.

Philcoman on March 3, 2007 at 12:08 pm

NickOD — Thanks for pointing me to the YouTube clip. It was great seeing the theater again! For the record, the guy looking for a cheap date is Larry Silverman. He was one of the original owners, but had left to work as a producer at WSBK at the time he did this segment. The woman behind the counter is Ingrid, who really did work behind the counter at Off the Wall from time to time. The piano player is indeed Albert Lamb, who played piano for the silent films. So your memory is accurate.

Philcoman on March 3, 2007 at 11:36 am

Hi Stirling — A cinema for parents and kids is a terrific idea! I’m no expert, but I think your best bet would be to start the way the original Off the Wall started: as a casual get-together. Look into finding a business or organization that will loan you space on a regular basis — maybe your school? Solicit the support of your parents' association or arts group. they’ll help spread the word for you and lend some enthusiasm. Community newspapers love lsting family activities, so don’t forget to keep them in the loop. The hardest part may be the equipment and the films. If you don’t mind using DVDs rather than film, you can certainly rent or buy very good projection systems and the films might be easier to find that way. If you’re determined to go the old fashioned 16mm route, you’ll have to do some calling around to find a projector and get on the internet to find out who' still renting out movies. Note: if you want to turn this into a real, money-making business, it changes the rental picture considerably. You have to start paying a higher rental or a piece of your box office to the film distributor. Making money as a movie theater isn’t — and never has been — easy.

wildsparrow on March 2, 2007 at 9:37 pm

I had so many good memories of taking my son to Off the Wall every Saturday in 1974, I dream of opening one myself where I’m living in New Paltz, NY. I’m not sure how to go about it, but I’m a primary school teacher now and I’d like to recreate a room where parents and children can see wonderful claymation and animation, as well as the kind of obscure films from Cambodia, Norway and Thailand that I remember seeing at OTW. And of course, the hot cider and oatmeal cookies. I guess I need to write a proposal, raise some money, etc. There are a lot of good places in town where a small theater would work. Any advice appreciated.

nmodonell1975 on December 7, 2006 at 6:00 pm

I wasn’t there for the last show, but I distinctly recall going to a Charlie Chaplin festival at the Pearl St. location with either a piano or an organ playing along to the Gold Rush.
Those theatres are all great, agreed.
By the way, there is a clip on YouTube of Dana Hersey going into the Rat some time in the 80s, but in the middle of it there is a segue to a sequence at Off the Wall. It’s an absolute time warp.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 7, 2006 at 5:09 pm

Oops, if I’d read my own post from a few months earlier, I wouldn’t have written the first sentence above!

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 7, 2006 at 5:07 pm

Off the Wall ran silents with live accompaniment? I never knew that.

Even in today’s ‘Googleplex era’, you’ll see such showings from time to time in the Boston area, at venues like the Somerville Theatre, Coolidge Corner Theatre, Museum of Fine Arts, or Harvard Film Archive. The Alloy Orchestra, which puts on some of these performances, is based in Cambridge. (But they started years after Off the Wall had closed.)

nmodonell1975 on December 7, 2006 at 4:31 pm

What a great find this is! My memories of Off the Wall as a kid are among the fondest I have, a place where imagination stretched in all directions. The animation festivals were the best precisely because they were not stupid “children’s” movies, but everything else, including silent movies with live musical accompaniment, is hard to imagine in the Googleplex era. Gone but never forgotten.

Philcoman on October 17, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Thanks, Ron, for filling us in on the Brattle acquisition. I remember most of those films well, and wondered what had become of them. Now if we could only find out what ever happened to Albert Lamb! Hopefully he’s not in someone’s basement… :–)

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on August 19, 2006 at 2:40 am

Off The Wall’s last show, as a venue of its own, was on Saturday night, August 30, 1986. They showed “The Patchwork Girl of Oz,” a 1914 film made by L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz books. Albert Lamb provided piano accompaniment. [Source: Boston Globe article, August 23, 1986.]

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on August 19, 2006 at 1:58 am

From an invitation to a Brattle Theatre donor appreciation screening that I attended yesterday:

“The Brattle has recently acquired films from the famed Off-The-Wall
collection. Off-The-Wall Cinema screened rare footage from rock groups like
the Rolling Stones, silent films, short subjects and classic animated
shorts. From its inception in 1976 to finally closing ten years later,
Off-The-Wall Cinema primarily made its home in Central Square, Cambridge.
Many folks, including Brattle Creative Director Ned Hinkle, have fond
memories of these screenings.

The Brattle Film Foundation is thrilled to add these wonderful shorts and
rarities to our collection."

The entire collection is in 16mm, and had sat in various people’s basements for at least a decade before the Brattle acquired it.

At yesterday’s screening, the Brattle showed these films (and maybe a few others that I don’t remember):

  • A Datsun TV commercial starring Salvador Dali
  • An equally strange Levi’s commercial from the 1960s or early 70s
  • a Faith Hubley animated short. I think it was Windy Day, from 1967
  • a Louis Armstrong concert performance short subject
  • a Popeye vs. Sindbad cartoon
  • Three Pathé newsreels from 1964, featuring the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Dave Clark Five

At the back of the theatre, the Brattle displayed a few signs, advetisements, and newspaper articles from Off the Wall. I had forgotten that Off The Wall had one last run in 1994-95, showing films on Monday nights at the Middle East Upstairs in Central Square. A Boston Globe article from 1994, celebrating Off The Wall’s 20th anniversary, said that Off The Wall started on Friday, December 13, 1974.

As part of Harvard Square Oktoberfest, the Brattle will have a free screening of Off The Wall films on Sunday, October 8, from noon to 2:30 pm.

Philcoman on July 17, 2006 at 6:14 pm

jquynn, thanks for sharing your memories!

The OTW boys certainly tried to maintain the atmosphere at Pearl Street — the tea and chocolate chip cookies were certainly the same, as was the spirit that drove the programming. The space was twice as large, and while that’s not saying much (it seated 84 as opposed to about 40), it did change the atmosphere a bit. But I still happily associate the smell of hot cider and baking oatmeal cookies with Off the Wall.

For the record — the ice cream parlor was actually next door to the original site. The original site became an extension of the Italian restaurant that held the lease.

jquynn on May 3, 2006 at 8:40 pm

My mother took me to the Off the Wall when it was in its original
location in the mid 70s. I still remember the vivid images I saw
there, “From Time to Timbuktu”, “Wizard of Speed and Time”, “The
Dove”, “The Slaughterhouse” and various animated shorts. There was
also the unique flavor of their tea and chocolate chip cookies. Very
fond memories. I returned to BU in 1984 and went to their Pearl St.
location to see some Wil Vinton shorts. It didn’t feel quite the
same, and the original site had become an ice cream parlor. (My
parents also took me to see “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Orson
Welles, down the street…)

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on August 10, 2005 at 1:44 am

The Harvard Crimson ran a short article about this “new movie place” on February 13, 1975.

Philcoman on April 5, 2005 at 7:53 pm

Yikes! Maybe it’s time to clean out that wallet, BJY! Anyway, remember that OTW started as film nights in someone’s home. If you want to recreate the atmosphere, that might be a good way to start.

bunnyman on April 5, 2005 at 6:27 pm

Oh I would never part with it Mr LaFong.
Membership card #1763.
More nostalgia for me, the same old wallet also held my projectionist license, expired in 1984.

Philcoman on April 1, 2005 at 5:03 pm

I was really pleased to see so much interesting information and affectionate words about Off the Wall. I thought I might be the only person left who remembered it! A few footnotes:
“Vincent” was an early short film by Tim Burton. It definitely set the stage for his career path!
The effort to move Off the Wall to the old Sears building in Porter Square was a cynical maneuver on the part of the developer to get some buy-in from the local residents. Even the owners of Off the Wall were divided about whether to pursue it or not. To be honest, it’s likely that the theatre’s unique atmosphere would have been lost as part of a multiplex.
The opening date of Off the Wall depends on what you consider the genesis. It developed out of casual film nights in someone’s living room (in the years before home video, this was a much bigger deal than it would be today). At what point it became a “theatre” is hard to pinpoint.
Deeberg, you were right; it WAS one of the coolest places in the world. BJY, hold onto that lifetime membership card! Because you never know… ;–)

bunnyman on March 16, 2005 at 6:44 pm

Got to agree with you, Off The Wall was a really unique place and the short films shown there were almost impossible to see anywhere else. I remember being totally amazed by ‘The Wizard of Speed and Time’ short by Mike Jitlov and a collection of parody shorts that was hysterical. Seeing such hilarious shorts as Hardware Wars, Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind and Porklips Now all done with little cash and just a desire to have some fun. I actually just found my Off The Wall membership card that I bought the last year they existed.
Off the Wall and the Orson Welles Cinema were special places, I doubt you could recreate them again today, but I do wish someone would try.