Chain theaters just can’t compare to the experience of watching a film in a revival house — sitting down in a theater that oozes history and being surrounded by fellow classic film lovers. From the welcoming theater size to the friendly staff, taking a seat and watching a movie made by Godard, Tarkovsky or Hitchcock in a setting like this is priceless.
Compare that to sitting in a small room, watching a film by one of those directors on a 40-inch television screen while family members are making their way in and out of the room. That experience can never be duplicated.
A revival house or repertory cinema is a theater that shows classic or older films. These theaters don’t show films during their initial first run. The one true revival house in Los Angeles is the New Beverly Cinema on Beverly Boulevard, which first opened in the 1920s.
Scheduled films on a nightly basis, mostly double features, allow patrons of the theater to see two films for $8. In comparison to the the prices of tickets at theater chains during peak hours, the savings are huge.
Not only does the New Beverly provide audiences with a chance to view classic films, but it also presents viewers with an affordable alternative to having to go and rent a film.
Michael Torgan, proprietor of the New Beverly said, “We get to know many of customers by name, and we’ve always kept our prices, both at the box office and the concession stand, at reasonable, fair levels.”
On top of that, repertory theaters possess a feature that most, if not all, regular cinemas don’t have: a community.
“We have a core of very loyal regulars, some of whom have been coming to the theater for more than 30 years, and a community certainly exists among some of the regulars who have come to know each other by face and name,” Torgan said.
While a community helps add a certain flavor to the theater, it’s not all easy. Torgan has seen the theater change since the days when his father re-opened the New Beverly in 1978, after being closed for eight months and changing management.
“When I was a kid and teenager, the theater attracted large audiences almost every night. Starting around 2002, and really coinciding with the digital revolution and the proliferation of home theaters and DVDs, business dropped off significantly,” Torgan said.
In 2010, not even a month after renowned Japanese anime director Satoshi Kon died at the age of 46, the New Beverly screened two of his films, “Millennium Actress” (2001) and “Paprika” (2006) in a tribute double feature. Screenings of these films are rare in the Los Angeles area, and to have the theater honor the brilliant director was a treat.
While not necessarily a revival house in the purest sense, the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater, located on Fairfax Avenue, provides many of the same positives that are present at the New Beverly. The Cinefamily has a wide variety of programming, not just focusing on older films although they are consistently present.
Sometimes fans of a theater can even be talented directors.
Filmmaker Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” 2004) has programmed the New Beverly three times in the past few years. The most recent was in December of last year, where he took over the theater for eight days, screening films he’d never seen before.
His thinking was that he had waited to see these films so he could view them in a theater and with an audience. Included in his program was a triple feature of silent films starring three of the most prominent actors of that era: Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields. The films were “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (1928), “Modern Times” (1936) and “The Bank Dick” (1940).
While Wright’s presence at the theater was both informative and fun, special guests aren’t necessarily an anomaly at any of these cinemas. Filmmakers tend to make a habit of attending screenings of their movies at these theaters whenever possible.
Examples of this include a recent appearance at the Egyptian by Werner Herzog at a screening of his documentary “Death Row” (2012) and director Ti West and actor Pat Healy at a showing of their brilliant horror film “The Innkeepers” (2011) last year at the Cinefamily.
The Laemmle Theaters which occupy various locations around Los Angeles offer a nice alternative for people who want to see foreign and independent films during their initial runs.
In the past few months the topic of studios and directors making the switch to shoot their movies in digital rather than sticking with film has been on the tongues of numerous outspoken individuals. Some theaters are affected by this more than others, including the New Beverly, which only screens films in 35mm.
“I really don’t know for sure what the future of 35mm is — and there are thousands of titles that will likely never be available on 35mm — but as far as I can tell, it will continue to live on at repertory and specialty screenings around the country. With maybe one exception, I’ve gotten no sign that the studios will entirely cease their distribution of repertory titles on 35mm, and several of the studios have outstanding repertory branches,” Torgan said.
While some films are ripe for the picking in 35mm, others that are from accomplished directors and that are only a decade old are even difficult to get ahold of, “I just tried to book ‘Lost Highway’ (1997) and was told a print is no longer available,” Torgan said.
Seeing a film in 35mm is unmatched, and in a way this makes the New Beverly even more charming. Viewing “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” (1984) at midnight with a sold- out crowd with Edgar Wright is an unforgettable experience for for only $8.
Torgan and the New Beverly even open themselves up to suggestions from fans.
“An old New Beverly tradition has been to have a suggestion book in the library where customers can add requests or suggestions. Of course, many of the titles people write down are not feasible or available, but we’ve definitely gotten ideas from those books. I have stacks of them going back many years,” he said.
Technology has come a long way in the past few years. Watching a film on Blu-ray is the next best thing to seeing it in theater. But that’s just it: it’s the next best thing. The best is still going out to a theater and viewing it with an audience.
Going to these theaters allows audiences to experience films in a setting that’s sadly limited in availability. However, theaters like the New Beverly Cinema are offering film fans an opportunity to see their favorite movies on the big screen and in the best way possible.