Off The Wall Cinema

15 Pearl Street,
Cambridge, MA 02139

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Functions: Senior Center

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Off the Wall Cinema

The Off The Wall Cinema described itself as a “Coffeehouse of the Arts”, but film is the art that they put most of their energy into. The more obscure the film, the better. On any given day you might see silents, short subjects, rock concert films, documentaries, or animation. Their annual “Magic Movies” animation festival was especially popular.

The atmosphere was relaxed, like being in someone’s living room with a hundred or so friends. Instead of popcorn and candy, they served coffee and excellent baked goods. Sometimes an art exhibit hung on the walls.

Off The Wall opened in 1974 at 861 Main Street in Cambridge’s Central Square. In 1979, they tried moving to a theatre across the river in Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace, but the audience didn’t follow them. In September 1980, they returned to a new Central Square location at 15 Pearl Street, which had formerly housed the left-wing 100 Flowers Bookstore.

Off The Wall closed as a venue in August, 1986, although they continued to occasionally present programs in other venues for a couple more years. 15 Pearl Street became a senior citizen center, which it remains today.

Contributed by Ron Newman

Recent comments (view all 109 comments)

DaleTheSmall on September 4, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Steve Burstein! Wow, I was just thinking about you last week…no joke! How’s by you, Groucho??

michaelnicholson on March 1, 2017 at 5:51 pm

Off th Wall is in the news again, at least in the Boston Globe. First, Names and Faces quoted Casey Affleck as saying that the first movie he saw (at age 6) was at the “dearly departed” OTW. Unfortunately, “The Harder They Come” played at the Orson Welles, not OTW. I sent the Globe an e-mail saying that perhaps he and Ben and Matt went to the Alternative Family Cinema. Mark Shanahan obviously read that Casey interview because today, in a front page story on the Affleck brothers he said that they grew up watching films at OTW. Did they? Most likely, but at least we can boast of actual Oscar winning Patrons! michaelnicholson

jonathan_o on April 7, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Thrilled to find Off the Wall here!!! Hands down my favorite venue, ever – a truly magical place. I moved to Boston in the early ‘70s and found it right away; I came for the Looney Tunes, stayed for the NFBC and experimental animation and so much more. Still have my lifetime membership card and programs from every show I went to (valuable for looking up titles from 40 years ago).

Endless thanks to Michael and his partners and to everyone who brought the magic to Boston. There’ll never be another place like it.

PS: Trivia – the Pearl Street location that had previously housed 100 Flowers Bookstore – that store was a coop where you swapped work for discounts on books. Wordsworth pretty much killed that model. It was co-owned by one of sf author Anne McCaffrey’s sons.

MaxAndDave on April 7, 2017 at 6:36 pm

jonathan_o, thanks for the memories! You’re probably right when you say there‚Äôll never be another place like it, but hold onto your Lifetime Membership, just in case! :–)

jonathan_o on April 10, 2017 at 12:21 pm

MaxandDave, you know I will! ;–) One other thing I want to say is that the programs prove OTW was every bit as great as we remember it was, if not even greater. I’m looking at “Jazz Women” and “Hot Jazz” (printed on two sides of the same sheet, but IIRC they were separate shows), and this was truly amazing stuff. There was obviously a lot of love involved in planning and bringing together all these short films, not to mention typing up the extensive notes, including full instrument credits for each film. So again, thanks from the bottom of my heart to everyone who did all the hard work.

da_Bunnyman on March 11, 2018 at 8:09 pm

Some random memories of Off The Wall. First time I went there at the original location was for a screening of Between Time And Timbuktu, a film in Boston, PBS production based on some Kurt Vonnegut stories. It seemed to become a fill in film for their schedule for awhile. The famous Betty Boop show was a fill in when a show did not draw well. It was supposed to be in for a week or so but became hugely popular and ended up running for a month or two.
They were also one of the first places to revive the film Head starring The Monkees.

MaxAndDave on April 24, 2019 at 5:34 pm

The former owners of Off the Wall are VERY sad to learn of the passing of David Kleiler, a man who was as much of a Boston institution as the Coolidge Corner Theater (, which he saved and maintained. He was a true friend of independent cinema and, we’re proud to say, a friend of ours.

michaelnicholson on December 17, 2023 at 1:30 pm

Hello all. December 13, 2024 will be the 50th anniversary of the opening of Off the Wall Cinema. We are starting to plan what we can do to mark this occasion. Lifetime Members, patrons, filmmakers, media and friends, if you wish to contribute or comment on this endeavor, please contact me at . Let’s make this memorable! !

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 17, 2023 at 2:30 pm

Will you hold this event at the Brattle?

michaelnicholson on February 22, 2024 at 1:21 pm

Yes, there will be a screening in December of Off the Wall films at the Brattle Theater. However we are trying to contact as many filmmakers, artists and anyone with a connection to Off the Wall to have a live event as well. You can contact me at . Larry, Jay, David, Mike and I are all involved, but as we are not getting any younger, this will be the last chance for celebration!

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