By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
The theater has served as a de facto film education for generations of young Hollywood. Nicolas Cage mentioned it as a primary source of film knowledge when accepting a film award. Alicia Silverstone once reportedly rushed out two minutes before the end of The Misfits, horrified at the treatment of the horses (moments before Clark Gable sets them free), thus unconsciously emulating Marilyn Monroe’s character. Torgan recalls some mysterious graffiti that appeared in the women’s bathroom in the early ’80s, praising Wim Wenders in robust terms. Only years later, when filmmaker Allison Anders, speaking after Gas, Food, Lodging, confessed to the ongoing vandalism, did he learn its source.
“I wrote some gushing thing, like you would about the Beatles, for Wim Wenders,” remembers Anders. “‘He’s a genius’ — very schoolgirlish, even though I was already a mother of two by then. And [Torgan] did leave it up, because I continued to be able to add to it every time I went there. Of course, I was writing Wim a letter a week at this point . . . I went to the New Beverly all the time. It was like my film school before film school.”
On its recent 25th anniversary, the theater held no celebration, no fete or revival of past glories — merely a screening of Rosemary’s Baby. Even its calendar barely registered what would seem like a monumental achievement — a tiny notice in 6-point type proclaiming, “Hooray! The Beverly Cinema has reached a milestone. This month marks 25 years of continuous repertory programming . . . The struggle goes on.”
“I think anyone who tries to run a revival house will tell you that theaters saw the writing on the wall years ago,” Torgan says, trying to take the long view. “The last five or six months have been very hard. I’m just hoping that things turn around. I have another option period for quite a few years into the future. But anything can happen. I’m getting older; it just becomes exhausting, and kind of disheartening. I feel unappreciated. In a way, I am supporting the theater, just in the labor that I don’t pay myself for. I try to do everything I can myself: I book the theater, I put together the calendar, I distribute the calendar, I buy supplies. I do pretty much everything except run the projectors. My son has helped out since college — he works a day or two a week — but he works full time elsewhere.”
A host of forces seems to have converged recently to make the theater’s continued existence more tenuous. Although it managed to weather two decades of the video revolution, the recent proliferation of DVDs seems to be taking its toll — perhaps because the revival-theater demographic feels like it is finally being marketed to. The New Beverly is the only revival theater in Southern California — and possibly one of the last in the world — that is neither a nonprofit nor tax-subsidized, meaning that unlike UCLA and the L.A. County Museum of Art, every dollar that goes toward bills ‰ comes from either the box office or concessions. As for American Cinematheque, which has aggressively carved a niche out of the U.S. archival market that is the New Beverly’s bread and butter, Torgan says, “They’ll do their noir festival, and then I can’t play film noir for a year.” Typically, he thinks about this less as a rival than as a fan. “As a moviegoer, I would be there all the time. I tell people in other cities about the American Cinematheque, and they can’t believe we have that kind of a venue.”
In addition, Technicolor struck a deal in the ’90s with the studios to provide storage for their 35mm prints in giant vaults in Wilmington, Ohio, and Ontario, California, in exchange for an exclusive contract to ship the prints and related promotional material. Although the shipping cost is roughly $35 a print, less than any commercial shipping service would charge, multiply that by six prints, 52 weeks a year, and suddenly theaters like Torgan’s are facing up to an $11,000 annual delivery charge. (Torgan used to drive to the studios and load the prints in his trunk.) Between that, increases in insurance and workers’ comp, and the onslaught of permit-only parking on residential streets surrounding the theater (in front of houses that have both garages and driveways), a wafer-thin profit margin suddenly vanishes.
“People think, ‘Well, gee, they’re not doing any cosmetic changes,’” Torgan says. “It’s just that we can’t afford it. And if we did, we’d certainly have to raise the ticket prices. People have come in over the years, from the industry or wherever, and said, ‘Gee, we’d really like to help you out.’ And I was always too proud at the time; I felt like it was charity. But certainly I am open to that today. I’ve heard of nonprofits in other cities — San Francisco, say — where people felt like they provided a community service and have held benefits or whatever. I just wonder how many people really even know this place still exists.”