Quentin Tarantino’s passion for the New Beverly Cinema began when he was just another kid showing up for the nightly double feature. It grew when he found success as a filmmaker and began to subsidize owner Sherman Torgan to the tune of $5,000 per month to keep the place open. Ultimately Tarantino bought the building and now he’s taking over the whole theater from Torgan’s son Michael. Tarantino has grand plans to curate a program of films he is confident will please fellow cinefiles and give him an excuse to showcase his voluminous collection of film prints and trailers.
His first move: Jettisoning the digital projector that Michael installed. When the L.A. institution reopens in October after three months of renovations and a thorough cleaning of the onetime porno palace, the New Beverly will have a unique mission: All 35mm prints, all the time. “The big thing about what’s going to change now that I’m taking the theater over is, from here on in the New Beverly is only showing film,” Tarantino told Deadline. “That’s it. No digital. If something’s playing at the New Beverly, if we’re showing it, it’s on film.”
That is critically important to the Pulp Fiction Oscar winner, who’ll shoot his next film, The Hateful Eight, in 65mm. He was among a small group of influential filmmakers who convinced Kodak to continue producing film stock as the movie business goes digital. The same month that Tarantino was at Cannes calling digital projection “the death of cinema,” Torgan was, like everybody else, installing a digital projector enabling him to program a wider variety of films, since the availability of 35mm prints has been drastically reduced by distributors. Tarantino delights in the fantasy of having one of his familiar character creations, Eli Roth’s Bear Jew from Inglourious Basterds, take a baseball bat to the digital equipment before the Halloween retrospective of Roth’s films slated to play that evening.
Why is film so important to him? “People don’t realize how close we came to losing film altogether last July,” said Tarantino. “We almost just lost it forever. Putting the last order in, the factories closing down, that’s it. All of a sudden it would be gone, and the price and the will and the energy of getting it all started up again would have been Herculean. Now we’re going to keep the factory open for another couple years. To me, digital projection is just television in public. People leaving their houses to watch a DVD with a bunch of strangers, in a room other than their house.”
He has vowed to preserve the spirit instilled by original owner Torgan, who bought the business in 1978 and transformed the onetime vaudeville theater, nightclub, and XXX cinema into a haven for movie-loving Angelenos like the young Tarantino. “I totally went to the New Beverly. I went to it all the time. There was a big revival thing out here in the late ’70s, early ’80s. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I frequented all the revival houses. There’s something really cool about the New Beverly hanging in there and being the last one.”
Like many independent cinemas, the New Beverly foundered during the DVD boom of the 2000s. That’s when Tarantino began cutting Torgan those $5,000 monthly checks. “I didn’t want the place to close down,” he said. “Sherman said: ‘At some point I’m going to stop doing the theater. Then I’m going to want my son to run it for a while, and after he’s done with it, I want you to have it.’”
Torgan pere died in 2007, and Michael took the helm. In 2010, Tarantino bought the 1920s-era building to prevent the New Beverly from turning into a Supercuts. “Michael’s had it for seven years, and now I think it’s time that I want to take it over,” Tarantino said. Terms of the takeover remain vague, and Tarantino says he and Torgan are still working out their deal. Torgan had been operating the theater as its manager and programmer and might stay on, as the New Beverly’s Julia Marchese and Brian Quinn step up as assistant managers. “I want [Torgan] to be involved,” said Tarantino.
Renovations and repairs are underway at the single-screen, 228-seater, which Tarantino will keep mostly the same while adding six-track stereo sound and 16mm projection. “One of the things I really like about the New Beverly is it’s far from a picture palace,” he said. “It used to be a pornography theater, then it became a revival house under Sherman, and that’s how it’s been for a long time. I actually liked the fact that it’s not a grindhouse, because we don’t just show grindhouse stuff there. We show all kinds — all the great movies have played at the New Beverly, but it has the aesthetics and the inside of a little grindhouse. And that’s the thing I’ve always liked. We fixed the seats and put in cup-holder seat arms, but by and large, we like it the way it is.”
The new New Beverly will keep the tradition of screening a double feature every night. As before, programming will span genres and decades, from classics to obscurities. Tarantino will reach into his own vaults for many of these prints along with vintage shorts and cartoons from his extensive personal 35mm collection. “I’ve never counted, but I’ve got enough for a bunch of cool double features that we can put together,” he said. “I do like the majority of it coming from my print collection because those are the prints that I buy. It’s like me curating them. Our pre-show will be done with all these really cool, vintage lobby commercials and the psychedelic tags for coming attractions, that’s our theme. We want to start each double feature with a short before the movie starts. Either a cartoon or a short film. We’ve got a bunch of Three Stooges shorts, a song sequence, or we get an omnibus movie, cut it up and show one of the stories as a short. Fun stuff like that. You’ll feel the hand-made quality or our projectionist putting this show together to reflect the theme of this night.”
Tarantino recalls seeing Rocky Horror Picture Show preceded by, among other things, a 20-minute scene from Phantom of the Paradise. He wants the New Beverly to offer the same kind of surprises to its patrons. “Those projectionists had their own collections they’d choose from, and I have a huge trailer collection myself,” Tarantino said. “So it will be easy to lay out those trailers for the projectionist, who’ll cut them together like a mix tape. If we’re having a George C. Scott double feature, maybe all the trailers we show that night will be from his movies.”
While 35mm prints can be hard to find now, Tarantino said that what he doesn’t already own he’ll find from collectors. His collection will already factor into his plans for opening night in October: His pristine 35mm print of the 1969 Paul Mazursky-directed Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, in a double feature with 1973’s Blume In Love. “The last time we showed it at the New Beverly, Paul Mazursky showed up, did a Q&A session and it was really, really groovy. He passed on so it will be nice to do that. When I made a deal with Columbia to do Django Unchained, I said, ‘I want a film from the Columbia library — and if the movie grosses over $100 million, I want two prints.’ So one of the movies I chose was a 35mm print of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. The print they struck for me, they had Paul Mazursky come down and had him color time it. It’s the most gorgeous print of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice that exists. It’s just amazing looking. I figured that would be a really good one to start off with on opening night.”
Related: R.I.P. Paul Mazursky
As for his own films, Tarantino won’t be bashful. “I’m going to show Pulp Fiction for a whole week during our first month, because it’s our 20th anniversary,” he said. “What I want to do is show it with Luc Besson’s The Professional, which also came out in 1994. I thought that would be a cool double feature on the 20th anniversary for both movies. I have no problem showing my own movies. We have a Friday, Saturday midnight show. For the most part, Friday midnight will be one of my movies. If you want to see one of my movies in 35mm, any week of the year, there is one place you can go to.”
It’s not going to be all grind house and R-rated movies. Tarantino also plans a Saturday kiddie matinee, to see if he can hook a new generation of cinefiles and keep a throwback tradition alive.”I have a lot of those 35mm prints too, like The Adventures Of The Wilderness Family, The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams,” he said.
L.A.’s repertory landscape is crowded, as movie buffs already split time among the Egyptian in Hollywood, the Aero in Santa Monica, Fairfax Avenue’s Cinefamily, and the New Beverly. The Alamo Drafthouse recently announced it is building a nine-screen theater in a snazzy new downtown space that will open next year. But even in the digital age, when most exhibitors worry about shrinking windows, home entertainment and VOD, Tarantino isn’t anxious about competitors.
“When it comes to world cities that should have tons of revival stuff playing, Los Angeles should be No. 1,” he said. “It’s not. Paris is far and away No. 1 when it comes to a revival culture. So as far as I’m concerned, if six other revival houses open, it would be a great thing. I’m rooting for all those guys, particularly Cinefamily. Our two theaters are good friends with each other, and we’d love to do more joint events together.”
Tarantino says that thanks to its distinctive programming, the New Beverly falls into a space between the art film set and the midnight movie crowd. “I don’t want people yelling at the screen,” he says. “They could also be just laughing too much. We don’t want that either. I think the New Beverly has found a really good balance. When stuff is funny, the audience laughs and they have a really good time, but they’re not going to make fun of the movies.”
Profitability is not a concern for Tarantino. Still, his 35mm campaign at the New Beverly could have a holistic effect while setting the theater apart from the competition. Purists at least will have a church where they can worship at the altar of film along with one of its most committed apostles. “I want people to show up, and we’re going to give them a good show,” Tarantino said. “But I also want some of these movies to just get another chance at a projector, to get the chance to be shown again. If people show up, great. If they don’t, too bad. They’ll be playing anyway.”