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Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Beloved New Beverly Cinema

Last night I attended a showing of Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Trick 'R Treat at the beloved New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles. I'm sure my money and time were better spent going to see this double feature than the latest Saw installment or—ugh—Paranormal Activity 2. And it's none other than director Quentin Tarantino who keeps this theater going.

The New Beverly was a porno theater when Sherman Torgan took over in 1978 and began running eclectic double features. Tarantino was a fan, and when the theater was in danger of closing in the mid-oughts, he quietly began paying its bills. Torgan died suddenly of a heart attack in 2007, and Tarantino shortly thereafter bought the property outright to prevent it from "becoming a Super Cuts," as he says.

He programs many of the theater's "Grindhouse" movie nights, but Torgan's son Michael still manages the day-to-day operations. Far from being a grindhouse itself, it attracts a diverse Hollywood crowd (Kate Mara and Max Minghella were at last night's screening) and the filmmakers often appear in person to speak about their work.

When I moved to L.A., home video was still a novelty, and pay channels like HBO were only interested in new releases, so there were a bunch of "revival theaters" flourishing in town: the Nuart, the Fox Venice, the Tiffany, the Vista, the Rialto in South Pasadena and —of course—the New Beverly. They'd run double or triple bills of classics, recent releases or foreign films with the occasional first-run independent film thrown in. The programs changed either daily or every couple of days, so there was always a variety of films to choose from.

I first saw Pink Flamingos during one of its infamous Friday midnight showings at the Nuart, and my mind was expanded by a Pasolini triple feature at the Tiffany. At the Rialto—a double-feature of Eraserhead and Night of the Living Dead. When the Fox Venice screened a program of Cronenberg films, Joe Blasco's infamous slugs from They Came from Within (aka Shivers) were on display in the lobby, and the actor who played the guy who starts the contagion made an in-person appearance, much to the audience's delight. My first connection with the New Beverly was to see Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris and Luna. Like Tarantino, I got a great education in world cinema from these theaters.

Last year I saw The Decameron and Arabian Nights at the New Beverly. Even though I've owned these films in various formats (Beta, laserdisc, VHS and DVD) over the years, there's just no substitute for enjoying them with movie lovers of the same stripe on the big screen. And sharing the same experience when the film is a clinker can be even more fun. I've actually stomped my feet laughing so hard during communal viewings with like-minded audiences howling over classics like Fulci's City of the Living Dead, part of the aforementioned "Grindhouse" festival.

Some of that magic was captured last night with Halloween III. We all chortled over the repeated use of the obnoxious "Happy, Happy Halloween" jingle, and Stacy Nelkin's eagerness to hop into bed with doughy Tom Atkins was also greeted with laughter.

I didn't see H3 during its original theatrical release. I thought that Halloween II was pretty lame, (except for the kid going into the hospital with a razor blade wedged in his mouth—eww), and I wasn't interested in seeing a third installment that didn't have Michael Myers in it. But I watched it on video a couple of years later, and I must say it's one of my favorites in the franchise.

Don't get me wrong—it's not a classic by any means. The story is ridiculous and the acting is terrible, but it has a strange '50s sci-fi charm and the gore effects are still pretty good. Director Tommy Lee Wallace was scheduled to appear for a Q&A after the final show, but I caught the earlier one, unfortunately.

Home video quickly shuttered the revival houses. The Rialto became a foreign/art theater in the 80s but eventually had to close its doors. The Tiffany became a legitimate theater before becoming an "actors' studio." The Fox Venice became a swap meet. The Vista and Nuart are still going strong as specialty houses (and the Nuart still has its midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday night), but only the New Beverly survives as the true revival showcase.

Thanks, Quentin!

1 comment:

366weirdmovies said...

I envy you. New Beverly is a historic venue, a Mecca for midnight movie fans. Those are some great memories of some great showings.

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