The first time I went to New Beverly Cinema was about 4 or 5 years ago when I was a student at the writing conservatory of Second City in Los Angeles. Some of the students in the program invited me to go with them to check out a double feature of “Evil Dead 2” and “Bubba Ho Tep,” both which starred the always entertaining Bruce Campbell. I had heard a little about this theater before, and I figured it was some sort of rundown theater with crappy sound and loaded with seats so uncomfortable that you were afraid a metal spring would pop out from underneath you. But knowing that this theater was in operation brought back memories of when I went to another just like it right near UC Berkeley and it too was a revival house showing movies from years past that many of us never got to see on the big screen. I went to that one as much as possible before it disappeared without any real explanation.
After witnessing the “groovy” Bruce Campbell double feature (and he gave a truly great performance as Elvis in “Bubba Ho Tep”), my interest in this theater began to grow and grow over time, and I consider it my favorite independent theater in all of the Los Angeles area. There were many others like it, but they have since disappeared as the market for videos and DVD’s continued to grow exponentially. The fact that this particular revival house is still standing despite its struggles is a testament to the film fanatics who come more and more to certain screenings as well as the big name movie stars and directors who can be seen here from time to time.
One thing you should be aware of about New Beverly Cinema is that it is not the equivalent of Arclight Cinemas in terms of quality and comfort. When I first went there, the seats were not entirely stable and some were blocked off with that yellow caution tape because they were broken. There are drink holders in the arms of the chairs, but with no bottoms which can be especially embarrassing if you bought one of those small spring water bottles from the concession stand and tried to put it in there. People love laughing and applauding at those who spill food and drinks all and that’s mainly because they’re just glad it didn’t happen to them.
Over the years though, renovations have been made to improve upon the theater’s rather battered condition. The bathrooms are still small, but at least there aren’t any creepy bugs crawling around the ceiling (I saw one once, and for the record it was not a roach). But even better, air conditioning is now a prominent feature at the New Beverly, and the ceiling has been completely redone. This was a sticking point for me for a while as I nearly passed out front heat exhaustion while inside the theater during a double feature of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blowup” and Brian DePalma’s “Blow Out.” It took a while for me to go back there as a result. But even if those changes were not made, I might have still found an excuse to go over there. They even got a surround sound system donated to them which makes all the difference in the world for those who said that the audio previously sounded like it was coming out of a “boom box.”
The New Beverly has also been a film school of sorts for me and many others. Frankly, I’m not sure I would have taken the time to see the works of Fellini like I promised myself after watching “8 ½” were it not for that double feature of “Amarcord” and “La Strada” (the latter was a real heartbreaker). It has also allowed me to discover such movies as “Mean Creek” with Rory Culkin, “In Cold Blood” which has taken on a whole meaning since the murder trial of star Robert Blake, and the highly controversial “Last Tango In Paris” which starred Marlon Brando in one of his bravest performances. Yes, I could have rented all of them on video or thru Netflix, but I guess seeing them on the small screen didn’t have quite the same appeal. Heck, I’m not sure I would have seen these movies otherwise. Even the director of “Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” Tom McLoughlin admitted that he got all of his film education here.
Furthermore, you have various programs running throughout the year at the theater. One of my favorites is New Beverly Midnights hosted by Phil Blankenship of Amoeba Music. Each Saturday at midnight, he gets the faithful fans to come check out classics from the 80’s like “Footloose” and “The Delta Force” among others. On occasion, he would show some movies that are considered so bad that they are good. Would you have any other reason to check out such flicks as “10 To Midnight,” one of the Charles Bronson/Cannon Pictures’ epics? How about “Heavenly Bodies”? That one has had multiple showings at the New Bev over the past few years, and the plot of it was all but stolen by the makers of “Dodgeball.” Leonard Maltin’s review of “Heavenly Bodies” has always stayed with me.
“The first aerobics dancing musical in film history, and with any luck the last.”
Next you have the Grindhouse Film Festival which is dedicated to showing various cult and exploitation films from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Looking at that description, it is now clear that there is one aspect of the theater I have really been missing out on. As put together by Eric Caidin and Brian Quinn with Grindhouse Releasing, they show movies that have not been seen publicly since the days of drive-in’s and inner city theaters, all which have long since faded away. Among the classics shown in this festival are “Infra-Man,” “Satan’s Mistress,” “Black Christmas” (the original, not the watered down crappy remake), and “Switchblade Sisters.” Those titles by themselves should make you want to warp speed over to where the theater is at the corner of Beverly and La Brea!
I really wish I had gotten to know Sherman Torgan personally. Before Sherman came along, the building had gone from being a vaudeville theater to a nightclub and then it was turned into a Grindhouse theater with nude pole dancers (that would have been something to see). When he took over the theater, it became what we know it as today; dedicated to showing double features of movies past and present. With his ascension as owner, Sherman changed the name of the Beverly Theater to the “New” Beverly Cinema (and now you know why the word “new” is still there). On the change of venue and programming, Sherman said:
“I’ve always felt that this neighborhood, which is middle class and predominantly Jewish, should have a theater that is responsive to the community. It wasn’t right that a porno theater was here. People in the area have come by and written letters offering congratulations on the changeover.”
From what I have been told, Sherman was very personable with a lot of the regular patrons, and many considered his eagerness to get to know people as a great introduction to their move into the city of Los Angeles. I saw Sherman manning the box office from time to time, but I never got around to saying hi to him. On July 18, 2007, he died of a heart attack while bicycling in Santa Monica. The New Beverly Cinema closed for a week in respect of his passing. Since then, his son Michael has taken over the operational duties of the theater, but the future of it was for a time in question.
The New Beverly certainly has a lot of history behind it, but what I love about coming here is how it reminds me of how much fun it is to go to the movies. There is something pure about experiencing any film shown here. Just about every other movie theater in the Los Angeles area (with the exception of Arclight Cinemas) is too busy throwing one commercial at us after another. Before the trailers come up, we have already seen numerous Coca-Cola commercials reminding us to get something from the concession stand since that’s where the theaters make their profit. Then there are ads shown for these new television shows on TBS, Disney Channel and ABC Family which I have absolutely no interest in watching. By the time the movie starts, I feel more like I am watching an advertisement, not a movie. If I wanted to watch TV, then I would watch it on my Sony Bravia. I don’t go to the movies to watch television!!
With New Beverly Cinema, you don’t get any commercials unless they have some significance to the movie being shown. All the retro trailers of movies being shown there soon get me excited even when we have no idea what shape the print will be in (by the way, its condition is the studio’s responsibility, not the theater’s). But moreover, you get reminded of what a joyous experience it can be sharing the entertainment of what’s being displayed in front of us on the silver screen. This was especially the case when Jason Reitman showed “Breaking Away” as part of his movie programming at the theater a few months ago. With everybody cheering loudly at the film’s triumphant climax, Jason had to admit that it was one thing watching it on VHS or laserdisc, but it was really something else watching it in a movie theater that was practically sold out.
I look forward to any chance I have to go to the New Beverly Cinema. I look forward to seeing Michael Torgan running the box office or selling popcorn at the concession stand. I also look forward to seeing the perky Julie Marchesse there as well as Phil Blankenship with his sly grin at those midnight showings which are a blast no matter how atrocious the movie is. I also hope to attend any showing where special guests attend as my interest in what goes on behind the scenes remains unabated. New Beverly Cinema is indeed one of the last of its kind, making it unique among the vast number of multiplexes that dominate the Southern California area.
A big thank you is also in order for Quentin Tarantino who recently saved this theater from being turned into a Supercuts haircut store (as if there weren’t enough of those already in Los Angeles). Having been a patron of the New Beverly Cinema since he was a young man living in Torrance, he had already been helping Sherman when the theater was really bleeding cash. His own “Reservoir Dogs” has been a staple of the theater on Friday nights. On February 18, 2010, Tarantino bought the theater and said he will continue to let the Torgan family handle the daily operations, but that he himself will be making programming selections here and there. What he said in regards to this should put all supporters and fans of the New Beverly at ease:
“As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing double features in 35mm.”
Hallelujah! The New Beverly is here to stay! Thank you Tarantino!
Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1963.
Sakamoto, Ed (1978-05-05). “Theater Returns to Respectability”. Los Angeles Times: p. IV-18.
Rourke, Mary (2007-07-21). “Sherman Torgan, 63; turned an L.A. adult movie house into a haven for classic and indie films”. Los Angeles Times.
Lewinski, John Scott (2010-02-18). “Quentin Tarantino saves L.A. theater”. The Hollywood Reporter.
Here are some other articles documenting the great times I have had at the New Beverly:
Director Edgar Wright Introduces His Movies at New Beverly Cinema
Footloose: 25 Years Later
Director Tom McLoughlin Talks About Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Jason Reitman Talks with Jennifer Grey About Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Jason Reitman Talks with Actor Chris Klein About Election
Director Jason Reitman Screens “Shampoo” at New Beverly Cinema
Luke Wilson Talks About Bottle Rocket with Jason Reitman
Jason Reitman Brings Out Special Guests for Breaking Away Screening
Peter Weller Introduces “Buckaroo Banzai” Screening at New Beverly Cinema
Stars Come Out for Repo Man Screening at New Beverly Cinema
Stars Drop by Screening of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark”