think we all need at least one really nice positive thing about the
entertainment business every single day of the year, including
weekends. Sometimes it may be something simple, like a video that
showcases something fun and sometimes it may be a movie poster that
embraces the aesthetic we all want Hollywood to aspire to. Sometimes it
may be a long-winded diatribe. Sometimes it’ll be from the staff and
extended family of CHUD.com. Maybe even you readers can get in on it.
So, take this to the bank. Every day, you will get a little bit of
positivity from one column a day here. Take it with you. Maybe it’ll
help you through a bad day or give folks some fun things to hunt down in
their busy celluloid digesting day.
By Joshua Miller (Facebook)
What I’m Thankful For:
The Triumvirate of Los Angeles Revival Theaters
When I arrived in Los Angeles from my tropical Viking homeland of Minnesota I had a lot of expectations. Largely these expectations were met with disappointment – my apartment complex was filled with sketchy weirdoes and old Mexican women, not groovy artists and young bohemians, LA’s radio stations are complete garbage, some of the worst I’ve heard in the nation, and LA’s nightlife isn’t an all-night party; some bars drop the last call at 1:15am. But the one area where LA exceeded my wildest, drooliest dreams was its revival cinema experience.
In Minneapolis we had two theaters that showed older movies. The Uptown Theater would have midnight screenings once a week, and the Oak Street Cinema on the University of Minnesota campus would have sporadic screenings here and there. I have great memories of both theaters, and they didn’t just show the obvious stuff like The Goonies and Evil Dead II, I saw Tom Waits’ Big Time at the Oak Street, which I’ve yet to see screened in LA in the many years I’ve now been here. Nonetheless, I was trained to view revivals as a special occasion. This was an event. Something to plan ahead for. Not a “Hey, what’s playing tonight?” scenario. LA exploded that mind-set.
There are a lot of revival film experiences to be had in LA – some one-offs, some short-run, some seasonal, some yearlong – but there are three theaters that fully round out the experience for me… The Triumvirate (to borrow from Roman history): the Egyptian, the New Beverly Cinema, and the Silent Movie Theater.
Located in the seedy heart of Hollywood, the Egyptian is one of the three movie palaces built in the early 20th-century by Sid Grauman, and it is mere blocks away from its significantly more famous Grauman sibling, the Chinese Theater (the one with the hand prints in cement). Not as gigantic as the Chinese, I like the Egyptian significantly more, and not just cause it isn’t clogged day-and-night with gawking tourists (though that helps) – it has a balcony, and I’m a sucker for balconies. The theater is now run by the American Cinematheque, who also program the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, but the Egyptian is the papa bear. The Egyptian is the sexy silver fox of the Triumvirate, regal and proper. They tend to skew towards classier fair, classic film retrospectives and Q&A’s with older Hollywood legends, but they also have fun too. I saw a collection of “banned” racist Looney Tunes shorts here last year, and they’ll dip into genre stuff if its an excuse to show off a 70mm print (I caught Lifeforce at this theater of all places). In general though this is where you go to soak up the old Hollywood vibe. This is where you go see Lawrence of Arabia.
The New Beverly Cinema
Anyone who reads CHUD is likely aware of the New Bev, as it is affectionately known. Only Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse is mentioned around these parts more. Tucked away in a giant-furry-hat-seriously-Jewish section of LA, the New Bev used to feel like a well-kept secret that no one was actually trying to keep secret, but in the past few years as management has shifted around after the original owner died, and Quentin Tarantino quietly purchased the theater, things have been picking up – their celebrity-guest programmed weeks have been a real treat, for example. The New Bev is the place to come for no-frills, straight-up movie watching. Unlike the American Cinematheque and the about to be mentioned Cinefamily, the New Bev is a for-profit theater. It’s cramped, it’s dirty, it generally smells a little funky… and you love every minute of it. If the Egyptian feels like you’re stepping into the Golden Age of Hollywood, the New Bev feels like you’re sneaking into the mid-70’s. You see a lot of people flying solo at the New Bev, which is great, because it means you don’t have to feel weird about deciding to fly solo yourself, if you, say, can’t rope any of your friends into a five-film-all-day Dolph Lundgren marathon (ah, my marijuana smoking days). If the Egyptian is the classy silver fox, the New Bev is the chubby, bearded guy on your dorm floor who becomes horrified when he learns that you’ve never seen a Mario Bava film, then goes back to his room and grabs his box-set. That may have sounded negative, but it was meant to be positive. I love that guy.
The Silent Movie Theater
When I first moved to LA the Silent Movie Theater never seemed to be open. I mean, even in LA there isn’t a large enough demand for silent cinema to necessitate a theater dedicated solely to art form. Then a few years ago Cinefamily took over the place and completely changed the game. Cinefamily unfortunately has its haters, especially from some New Bev diehards who see Cinefamily horning in on their territory. This is largely just cause Cinefamily is still the new kid in school. A lot of the ire I’ve heard is directed towards the “hipster” crowd the theater draws, but such generalizing is uncool – why not just say that the Egyptian is all old people, or the New Bev ugly loners? These are revival theaters, and the customers are movie fans pure and simple, regardless what social sect they fit into. If the New Bev is the pure cinema, dorm-buddy showing you his collection, then Cinefamily is the guy in your dorm who throws a big party along with the movie. Known for their found-footage nights and their amazing 5 Minute Game (in which they show the first five minutes of 15 films, none of which you’ve likely ever heard of, then the audience votes on which they want to see the rest of), Cinefamily has a back patio that will often BBQ and serve beer. Yes, this can draw a crowd who is maybe less interested in the films than the scene, but these are just special events. Cinefamily does fantastic month-to-month themes. Last year they did a phenomenal Jim Henson month; this month they’ve been doing a Chaplin retrospective. Though, undeniably, standing next to the silver fox and the chubby, bearded guy, is a guy wearing thick-rimmed-glasses and skinny jeans.
For me none of these theaters are better or worse than the others, because they each offer something unique. I have secret fantasies about earning enough money that I can someday move back to Minnesota without fucking up my work, but honestly, it will be hard to give these guys up. Like Brooks in Shawshank, I’ve become institutionalized. I don’t think I can go back to the real world. But goddamn, I’ve never been so thankful for being so thoroughly malformed.
I was previously thankful for:
Video Store Memories
Southdale Public Library
New Bev addendum: Since
the New Bev was my beloved sole revival home for many, many years when I first
moved to LA, I want to make something very clear… I was not saying
that ALL New Beverly Cinema regulars think ill of Cinefamily. I’m sorry
that implication was apparently there. But to say that NO ONE thinks that is equally off base. I know several people who have unfairly tossed Cinefamily onto their hipster-backlask pyre. What
prompted me to even mention the “haters” in my piece was a girl I
talked with two weeks ago who had never even been to Cinefamily because
she’d “heard it was all hipstery.” I wanted to make sure to dispel any such rumors other
locals may have heard. Did not mean to disparage the New Bev or the
New Bev crowd… which I’d like to point out I am part of.