The theater has been run as a double-bill movie house since 1978: two films for the price of one, and programmed along the lines of a cineaste's preferences. Their first showing consisted of A Streetcar Named Desire and Last Tango In Paris, setting the precedent that the two films should have at least one connective tissue. In the days before home video really took off, revival theaters were doing sacred work making films like these available to be seen. In the days before DVD, let alone the niche market of laserdisc, revival theaters were the only place you could see countless films in their proper aspect ratios, rather than the mutilated pan-and-scan abominations to which most home video viewers didn't even know they were being subjected.
The New Beverly Cinema, moreover, was not as preoccupied with the genteel xenocentrism that tends to plague independent theaters in cities like New York - apparently they premiered for the first time anywhere Richard Elfman's 1980 mondo musical masterpiece Forbidden Zone. This was a prophecy of things to come, as the theater is in something of a renaissance for lovers of the cinema du weirdo. In 2010, Quentin Tarantino bought out the place and under his patronage, the New Bev became the go-to place for lovers of cult films. Their attention to retro cult films of previous decades, foreign cult films and out-of-print gems no one's ever heard of has been particularly admirable; when Nobuhiko Ohbayashi's strange work of genius Hausu (House) was discovered and lauded by American audiences for the first time a few short years ago, several continuous weeks of screenings at the New Bev played a large part in getting the word out across the West coast.
At this point, any LA denizens reading this words are probably saying, "Oh yeah?? Well the Cinefamily shows way more weird movies, they serves barbecue and beer sometimes, they have just as many directors and actors show up at screenings, and they have posters drawn by Johnny Ryan! Plus they've got all the old black and white movies and foreign films you'd ever want! What makes the New Beverly so much better, huh?!" To that, I'd say this: while the Silent Movie Theater / Cinefamily group does show as commendable a variety of cult/retro/classic/foreign programming, offers some amenities that the New Bev doesn't have and probably hosts just as many if not more special guests...their clientele are hipsters.
One of the hazards of going to see a bad movie on purpose is that every jacko in the crowd who thinks they're funny wants to get attention by shouting their would-be witticisms at the screen. Most of these guys aren't even genuine bad movie masochists, they're jerks who'll go to one bad movie on purpose in their entire lives, and aren't capable of simply laughing along with everyone else at what's already bad enough to be funny without external commentary. So at Cinefamily, deep in the heart of hipsterrific West Hollywood, you get a lot of future failed actors and comics honing their craft at the expense of your own viewing pleasure. My run-ins with assholes like these have been the exception at the New Bev but at Cinefamily, it's been the rule.
I'm not saying there's a Sharks/Jets rivalry between patrons of these two fine theaters, but there ought to be, as I've already chosen my side. Anyhow.
The subject of this month's Cinemachine post is my gallery of promotional postcards from the New Bev: these were printed up and available for free in the lobby around 2009/10 to promote the new regime's direction. They were briefly concurrently produced with promotional pins for midnight shows, although after not too long they were both phased out. This is a pity, as both items were fun to collect and encouraged repeat visits by newcomers, but I suppose the cost wasn't worth it. One of the New Bev's advantages (over Cinefamily especially) is their extreme affordability: double features for $8, midnight shows for $7.
The choices of imagery for these cards, and of course the programming choices advertised on the backs of the cards themselves, do more to explain why I love this place so much than words could - but in the next day or two I'll be adding captions regarding which films I saw, which films I wanted to see, which films I regret having missed, and miscellaneous recollections on what happened when I was there. So for now, just enjoy these works of art and don't envy me for possessing them, envy the fact I got to see so many of these films with crowds of fellow dorks.
And oh yeah, Burt Wilson himself, Clu Gulager, is a regular patron. So no matter what happens...don't name it after him.
Looking back through these, I'm really struck by the knowledge of how lucky I am as a movie fan to have always lived a short driving distance from this theater since living in Los Angeles. Most people are lucky to live anywhere near a theater that will play a midnight show of Army of Darkness every once in a while, and here I have the New Bev spoiling me rotten. The more important thing than just being able to see cult fave obscurities on the big screen, though, is being introduced to new (old) titles like House, Joy Sticks and The Movie Orgy; the hard to find, the impossible to find, the secret knowledge that cult movie fans are striving for. The days of discovery, the video store browsing - it's all gone, and today a cult film gets mileage basically from word of mouth amongst Internet nerds, which tends to favor the so-bad-it-might-be-good school of exploitation appreciation more than quality exploitation, ie. the cults which arose around The Room and Troll 2. Yes, we're actually at the point where the Rocky Horror Picture Show cult and attendees of Robot Monster in the pre-video era are socially well-adjusted by comparison to today's midnite moviegoers.
The power of independent theater owners in discovering films for their audiences on personal diminished just as much at the grindhouse as in family movie palaces when Ronald Reagan re-deregulated Hollywood's ownership of the theaters. That's why experiencing a great old film for the first time in 35mm is an incomparable experience, and I'm glad the New Beverly Cinema is keeping alive the feeling of finding nearly-lost film treasure. A lot of reviews on Cinemachine wouldn't have been possible without a lot of trips there, and I plan on going on a lot more yet.
www.New Beverly Cinema.com