Posted on Friday, September 5th, 2014 by Russ Fischer
Quentin Tarantino has programed small film events before, but the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles is about to become the filmmaker’s full-time, ongoing movie program. Unfortunately, the transition isn’t a seamless one, and is also not without some controversy.
There’s a lot of history to the New Bev. To summarize, founder and original operator Sherman Torgan passed away in 2007, after which his son Michael took over running and programming the theater. Earlier this year, Michael Torgan paid for and installed a digital projector in the formerly film-only New Bev. Such a move is all but essential for even small theaters now. New films and most catalog titles are being distributed only via DCP.
Here’s where things get tricky. Tarantino owns the theater, having helped out financially prior to Sherman’s death when the family faced financial trouble in the mid-2000s, and then buying the theater outright when Michael took over. And Tarantino is famously anti-digital. As Tarantino told the LA Weekly,
Michael’s been running the theater ever since. I could say, ‘Hey, Michael, can we do this, can we show that?’ but basically it’s been Michael’s baby. He’s really done a Herculean job. But after seven years as owner, I wanted to make it mine.
Now the writer/director is taking over as programmer and ditching the digital projector. There will likely be new management, too, as Michael Torgan declined to stay on as manager when QT took over programming. (“We’re still figuring that out,” explained the director.)
Tarantino will get around the dearth of film prints in distribution by showing his own collection. He explained,
I want the New Beverly to be a bastion for 35 millimeter films. I want it to stand for something. When you see a film on the New Beverly calendar, you don’t have to ask whether it’s going to be shown in DCP [Digital Cinema Projection] or in 35 millimeter. You know it’s playing in 35 because it’s the New Beverly.
That double-feature format that Sherman came up with, we’re keeping. We’ll be doing the thing the New Beverly does so well—we’ll have Fassbinder double-features, Truffaut double-features, The Thin Man movies, all that. But I have a really, really huge film print collection that I’ve been curating for almost 20 years now. And I want to show my prints! [Laughs.] We’ll still be borrowing prints from the studios and other collectors, but I like the idea that the base of what we’re doing will be my print collection. Some of them are absolutely amazing, and I want people to see them, to enjoy them.
I’m very conflicted here. On one hand, the notion of a Tarantino-programmed theater has very obvious appeal. He’ll be programming his own directorial efforts on Friday midnights. He’s adding a 16mm projector to show weird, more ephemeral stuff, and also adding a 6-track stereo system that will be ideal for some prints. In theory, that’s all good.
But the Torgan family has been running things diligently for decades. To have Michael Torgan all but cast aside seems like a huge insult. While Tarantino’s dedication to 35mm is great, part of the New Bev’s survival has been based on acting as a second-run art house. That’s why the digital projector was essential. Tarantino seems to have an unrealistic expectation when it comes to that point.
My feeling is, ‘Fuck those guys.’ I want young filmmakers to want their movie to screen at the New Beverly so badly that they demand a print as part of the deal they make with Magnolia or Roadside Attractions or whoever. ‘You have to strike a 35 millimeter print so we can show it at the New Beverly! You’re not paying me jack-shit, you’re ripping me off, but that’s one thing you can do!’ [Laughs. Heartily.]
That’s great, but probably not going to happen. Many films can only be exhibited digitally, and that’s unlikely to change. A few filmmakers might be able to hold out for a film print just for a few houses like the New Bev, but that won’t be common.
Tarantino’s programming starts in October and he’ll be the solo programmer for the rest of 2014. After that we’ll see what happens. For many people the takeaway will simply be that there’s now a theater fully programmed by the guy famous for a deep and sometimes esoteric knowledge of film. But for those who’ve supported the New Bev for years, there’s a lot of justified unease, and a sense that this isn’t the way things should have happened.
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