Thursday, July 19, 2007

Memories of the New Beverly

Word began to filter around the internet on Thursday that Sherman Torgan, owner of the New Beverly Cinema, the last full-time revival cinema in Los Angeles, had died. One person who sent me an email on the subject stated that this was “actually an important event affecting all of world cinema…and I’m dead serious when I say that.” I think he may be right. For me, the New Beverly has been there since the beginning of my L.A. experience. Literally. Just a day or two after I moved here a friend took me to the place for a double bill of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and CAPE FEAR ’91. My first years here I went there numerous times and what I saw would be pretty easy to guess. Altman, Bertolucci, Cronenberg, Lynch, the Coen Brothers, John Woo. A packed Friday night double bill of SHAMPOO and THE GRADUATE. A showing of SWINGERS (the New Beverly calendar can clearly be seen on Jon Favreau’s fridge in that movie) where the 310 gag got one of the single biggest laughs I’ve ever heard in a movie theater. A Christmas Day double feature of WILLY WOMKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T. There’s a Justine Bateman story connected to that which I’ll tell sometime. Back then Lawrence Tierney was seen in the audience all the time. I never had the nerve to say anything to him. For several years in the mid-90s they showed RESERVOIR DOGS every Saturday night at midnight. I saw it there a lot.

Further into my twenties I began to get a little impatient with the whole rundown nature of the place. After all, there are some days when you want something with a little more, you know, comfort to it. Not to mention that there is a certain cyclical nature to revival house schedules that cause the same titles to turn up more than a few times. In May of 2001 I went there with a few friends to see MIDNIGHT and TROUBLE IN PARADISE…a great pair of films to watch if you ever get the chance. Afterwards we went for dinner down the street at El Coyote. It was a good day and it was the last time I entered the New Beverly until earlier this year for the Grindhouse festival. Quentin Tarantino has made no secret of his love for the place, not just holding the festival there, but also thanking Torgan and the theater in the closing credits of his last few films.

Entering the place again after several years, it really wasn’t so bad. It had been spruced up a little bit but it was still the New Beverly. And besides, it was just right for the Grindhouse festival. I love DVDs with a passion but there’s something undeniable about the joy of seeing a film in a place filled with other people who want to be there seeing that film. The sub-culture of the revival house has left us by now, but Sherman Torgan knew and appreciated how important it remains to the art form for something of that to survive.

It’s not known right now what will happen to the New Beverly. A friend and I had planned to go next week for the double bill of GREMLINS and HOWARD THE DUCK…yes, HOWARD THE DUCK. How often do you get to see that in a theater? So now we’ll have to wait and see what happens. But the New Beverly Cinema has earned a rightful place in the legacy of Los Angeles moviegoing. People come to the city and some of them actually want to expand on what they know about film. For a long time, the theater has been there to help out. And it’s thanks to Sherman Torgan that this happened. He will not be forgotten and the New Beverly, whatever happens with it, will not be forgotten.

No comments: