What makes your favourite indie cinema different to the multiplex? Sure it’s the programming, and the prices. And a lot of other ‘stuff’. But the main thing, the big thing, is the people. Whether it’s a rep house or an art house, it’s different because the people who run it and the people who populate it are different. Some call them weirdos, nerds and eccentrics. As both an employee and an attendee of such places, I’d call us optimists, and romantics.
Despite the many reasons I think we all go to the cinema, the truth is that it’s different for all of us. Some of us just love movies. Others like the social experience. Some people happen to live nearby and others come in because it’s raining. But I still think that most of us want to feel something that the multiplex can’t and won’t abide. It might be a sense of belonging, of community. It might also just be anything other than alienated and unwanted by the world.
How we feel and who we share our experiences with is important. In the ’90s I used to go to the Lumiere with friends, but I’d visit the Trak on my own and the Astor was an experience I always shared with loved ones. My first cinema job, at the tender age of eighteen, was at the Kino (back in the Dendy days). It was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere. Sure the manager used to ask me to please not to dance on the candy bar, but a little groovin’ while ripping tickets was fine. Being honest about which films to see was encouraged and no one was admitted into the auditorium after the first fifteen minutes of photochemical film had rolled. I learnt everything I know about Pedro Almodovar over conversation and cigarettes in the foyer.
Fast forward to today and even if smoking in foyers has well and truly become a thing of the past, my favourite conversations and my film education is still taking place one or two steps away from an auditorium. Every cinema that fosters an environment that film lovers can feel is their own, and can really feel at home in, is special. And it’s something worth holding on to.
Recently the New Beverly Cinema underwent some management changes. You may have read about it on the LA Weekly blog.
Well, today things are looking less than optimistic. Today, Julia Marchese, the former face of the New Bev (and a lovely, passionate cinephile), put this up on her own blog.
She has also shared her film Out of Print on vimeo. We had hoped to screen a 35mm film print at the theatre, once it had finished its anticipated festival run. But, given how things have turned out so far, that looks doubtful.
I don’t mind saying that watching this documentary – the first thing I did when I woke up this morning – brought tears to my eyes. And not just because I’m a romantic. But because I know the stories Marchese tells intimately. They are the stories we share here at the Astor. They are the stories that impassioned, optimistic film nerds know all too well: love, hope and disappointment.
Pleading with the studios not to junk prints, to let you book existing prints, to stop mastering crappy DCPs – and to please for the love of God stop blaming everything on online piracy – all the while trying desperately to ensure the longevity of what you love – hopeful that a white knight landlord will share your vision without making commercially minded changes to the operation of the place – oh, these are battles we know all too well.
No one in a rep house has ever done what they do for the money, to exploit patrons. Let’s be clear: the only kind of exploitation a rep house is interested in is the kind that was once printed onto photochemical film.
But the saddest thing for me, watching Out of Print, was the painful knowledge that even when Joe Dante says film prints are important, the studios won’t listen. When it comes down to it, corporate studios and landlords aren’t romantics – they’re capitalists.
While I don’t want a cinematic life that excludes the option to see a double bill of Gremlins and Gremlins 2 on 35mm and 70mm blow-up at Christmas time, my best ideas are anti-multiplex anarchy stolen from Cecil B. Demented. Perhaps I ought to write to John Waters for more ideas…
In the interim, if you love rep, watch Out of Print and, if you live near a rep house, go see what you can while you can. We eccentrics try to stay optimistic but even the most romantic among us get downtrodden at times.
Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre, with love and appreciation of The New Beverly Cinema, and sisterly respect for the passion Julia Marchese and her colleagues have brought to the city of LA.