About ten days ago, or dead smack in the middle of the Toronto Film Festival, New Beverly Cinema owner Quentin Tarantino announced that he’s not only renovating the famously grimy, down-at-the-heels repertory theatre (it’s due to re-open sometime next month) but is totally committed to an all-35mm, all-the-time policy. The retro-minded director is not that worried about profitability. What matters to Tarantino (and I totally respect this) is standing by celluloid to the bitter end. “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‘s Jen Yamato. “That’s it. No digital. If something’s playing at the New Beverly, if we’re showing it, it’s on film.”
That means getting rid of the digital projector that theatre manager Michael Torgan (son of the late honcho/founder of the New Beverly) had installed. That also means Tarantino is taking over the New Beverly programming for the first three months of the new incarnation and showing many of his own 35mm prints, most of which are presumably in pretty good condition, along with pre-show shorts and cartoons and whatnot. (He basically wants the place to simulate a ’70s grindhouse vibe with a mixture of exploitation and art fare.) This also means that Torgan’s involvement in the new operation is…uhm, uncertain. Yamato wrote that while “terms of the takeover remain vague,” Torgan “might stay on as the New Beverly’s Julia Marchese and Brian Quinn step up as assistant managers.” Tarantino’s actual quote: “I want him to be involved”…hah!
I’ve always hated the New Beverly, particularly the too-small screen and the shitty illumination levels and the bowling-alley feeling of the theatre itself, but I’ll check the place out when it re-opens. I admire Tarantino’s sand in sticking to the scratchy, sound-poppy, worn-down aesthetics of 35mm (I’m saying this as a former projectionist), but my experience with a brownish, softly-focused, incorrectly-projected print of Mutiny on the Bounty at the New Beverly two months ago just broke my soul. It wasn’t just regrettable or underwhelming to watch this 1962 epic, shot in glorious Ultra Panavision 70, in such a washed out and dogshit-smeared state — it was a fucking desecration. “This is flat-out dreadful,” I said to myself 30 seconds after it began. Three or four minutes later I was out the door. I resolved never to watch another 35mm film in that shitbucket of a theatre ever again.
I realize, of course, that there are such things as mint-condition 35mm prints and that they can theoretically look good if properly projected with decent sound. I recognize that Tarantino’s renovation may address some or all of the problems I’ve had there. I’m willing to wash off the past and give it another try. But I’ve never seen a film look really superb at the New Beverly. Ever. You know what looks superb? When a classic film has been digitally restored and shown at the TCL Chinese (like when the restored Shane showed there in April 2013…tres magnifique!). Or when a digital restoration of a classic is shown at MOMA or the Walter Reade on 65th Street or at the Salle Bunuel in Cannes or at the Castro in San Francisco or the Cinematheque in Paris or the storied Zoo Palast in Berlin. Anyplace but the New Beverly. The New Beverly is the absolute bottom of the barrel.
You know what’s cool? Cinefamily. The screen is too small but it has those nice cushy seats in the first two rows. I saw a digitally-projected version of Los Angeles Plays Itself from the front row a few weeks ago. My ass was happy and it looked and sounded just fine.
And honestly? 35mm is highly valuable — essential — for archive purposes, but I don’t care if I ever see another film projected at 35mm again. It just doesn’t look or sound that good. I’m not a celluloid sentimentalist. A theatrical experience has to be a super-sized version of the quality that I get from my Blurays and HDX Vudu downloads or forget it.