Cerdà is the self-appointed “showman” of Phenomena, “The Ultimate Cinematic Experience.” He is ever-present at the versión original cinema. Obsessive or just hard-working, he seems to do it all, from programming the mix of old and new titles and finding the highest quality copies of classic films, to worrying about concessions and the ticket takers. During the closing credits, exiting moviegoers can even see him cleaning up the theater he and his crew refurbished last year after taking over the old Cine Nápoles on carrer Sant Antoni Maria Claret. “You can find me here every day, this is like my home,” Cerdà said. “You wouldn’t imagine what kinds of things I find, especially in the front rows.”
Cerdà was addressing a select group of his cinema’s most faithful followers who had gathered on a Wednesday night in mid-December to celebrate its one-year anniversary. In essence, this is Cerdà’s very own filmoteca dedicated primarily to action, sci-fi and suspense films from the 1970s and ‘80s. But instead of quiet, popcorn-free contemplation of the seventh art, Phenomena encourages outbursts of all kinds: catcalls for Harrison Ford, over-the-top applause for a villain’s violent demise, and ironic cheers for the gung-ho troop-rallying speeches reserved for Hollywood blockbusters. The night was also meant to mark the fifth year since Cerdà started his crusade to revive movie going in Barcelona by showing double features at rented theaters. His mission: counterattack the closing of the city’s classic cinemas. It goes without saying Phenomena’s films are always shown with subtitles; dubbing is verboten.
The lure Cerdà set to hook enough fans to almost fill the seats: the mystery of attending a “surprise session” of an unannounced film. The spectators laid their bets beforehand. A rare female voice hopefully said “The Neverending Story,” but otherwise predictions ranged from “Superman” to “I haven’t got a clue, Die Hard II!?!” With the new Star Wars just about to be released, fever for the space saga was rampant. “Maybe since the new Star Wars premiers in two days they will show ‘The Return of the Jedi’,” said one young man. Facebook, not surprisingly, spawned pipedreams that Cerdà would flaunt the law by showing “The Forces Awakens” or Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight,” both still under wraps.
Cerdà was greeted with applause and a shout of “¡Bravo!” when he stepped under a spotlight illuminating the theater’s enormous blood-red curtain. He nixed the Facebook rumors. “It’s not Hateful Eight!” were his very first words, soon followed by, “If I show ‘The Force Awakens’ they’ll slit my throat, but I could do it. They give us the films two days before.” That earned him a salvo of “¡Venga!” from the crowd.
Cerdà then launched into his practiced speech on how he started Phenomena to honor the way he says his generation grew up watching films: the double feature format and the anticipation caused by not knowing what you were going to see. He criticized the “excess of information” and choice viewers have today, and yet insisted “Phenomena is not nostalgia, it is a look toward the future.” Without using the word, it seemed Cerdà was pointing toward authenticity with his cinema’s motto “ultimate.” Ultimate as in rediscovering the paradigm. When he finished, two regulars shouted “Long Live Phenomena!” and “¡Viva Nacho!”
After all the guesswork and wishful thinking about breaking international copyrights, the surprise film was inevitably a bit of a letdown. The 1996 Will Smith-vs.-aliens Independence Day was greeted with muted applause. But Cerdà’s choice was on target with Phenomena’s core demographic of 30-to-40 something males. Darth Vader was soon forgotten thanks to the gratuitous incinerations of New York, Los Angeles and the White House, while Smith in his prime American Adonis mode, which peaks with him knocking out a tentacled monster with a single punch, soon had the boys locked in and responding on cue. Cerdà had warned that “maybe half of you will leave when you see what film it is.” None did.
Once the mother ship had been blown to bits and the U.S.A. had established its claim to a New World Order, everyone poured into the concession area and toasted the night with a glass of cava. Real glass, not the expected plastic, made for real clinking of the flutes.