For L.A. movie lovers, the New Beverly Cinema revival house is sacred territory. Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained) owns the theater, but it’s always been managed and programmed by Michael Torgan, son of the theater’s founder, the late Sherman Torgan. When rumors reached us that Tarantino would be taking over as full-time programmer, we reached out to him for clarification, and were delighted when he returned our call. For the record, we also reached out to Michael Torgan but were unable to connect with him. (We hope he’s taking a well-deserved vacation.)
L.A. WEEKLY: How did you come to be involved with the New Beverly as an owner?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Sherman Torgan opened the New Beverly [in 1978] and had been running it for decades. I had been going there forever. And somewhere in the last four years of Sherman running the theater, word got to me that it might close. So I started supplementing him, started giving him about $5,000 a month, to pay his bills and meet his expenses. He never had to pay it back. I love Los Angeles, and I love the New Beverly, and I didn’t want to see it go. But then, unfortunately, Sherman died [in June 2007]. And the people who owned the property wanted to turn it into a Super Cuts. So, working through Michael, I was able to buy the property. And 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.
Is it true that you offered Michael the chance to stay on as manager but not as programmer, and he declined?
We’re still figuring that out. I want him to be involved as much as possible.
You’re passionate about the survival of 35mm film. Is that what this is about?
That was the thing that pushed me over to say, "Now’s the time to do it." I want the New Beverly to be a bastion for 35mm 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 35mm. You know it’s playing in 35 because it’s the New Beverly.
Was there pressure on Michael, and on you, to bring digital projection to the New Beverly?
Michael brought in digital for the simple fact that, besides being a revival house, the New Beverly is an art film second-run house. So, if Frances Ha does well in general release, a month or two later, it plays at the New Beverly, along with something similar. But the companies that release those kinds of movies don’t even make prints anymore. 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 35mm 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.]
There’s a notion out there that Quentin Tarantino is going to turn the New Beverly into a B-movie, grindhouse theater.
No, no, no, not at all. 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.
What are the prints you prize most?
I have all three Sergio Leone Clint Eastwood movies in I.B. Technicolor. Magnificent-looking. I just saw the DCP restoration of A Fistful of Dollars at Cannes. I introduced it. I felt like I was watching a DVD. I said, "Why didn’t you ask me to bring my fucking print?" They said, ‘Well, there was three extra minutes in this." I said, "I’ve seen that movie a million times and I didn’t notice those extra minutes. I just noticed that it looked like a fucking DVD."
We’re adding six-track stereo sound to the theater, because I have quite a few prints that are six-track mag [magnetic] sound. They’ll sound amazing. And we’ll be adding a 16mm projector too because I have a big 16 collection, too, and sometimes, especially for that second movie, a 16 is just perfect. And there’s my big, huge trailer collection, and there’s all the cartoons and shorts that I have. Concession stand bumpers, too. Vintage ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s. Some really groovy stuff.
On Saturday, we’ll keep the weird midnight movie thing. It’s a tradition. But the Friday midnight will always be one of my movies. One month it’ll be Reservoir Dogs, another month it’ll be Death Proof, another month Django. The idea being that if you actually want to see one of my movies on 35mm film, you’ll have a place to do so.
It’s your theater, after all.
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Well, I don’t feel so bad about it because Sherman played Reservoir Dogs at midnight on Friday and Saturday for three years!
It’s been said that you, the busy filmmaker who’s about to make a new movie [The Hateful Eight], will be programming each day of every month, all year long. Is that true?
Listen, I’ve had a million ideas for double features and such, for a long, long time. I’ve been holding off, waiting for this moment. I’m going to program the first three months. But then the other people working in the theater can put together the schedule. I’ll always have lots of ideas, but they’re creative, they’re excited, they want to come up with their own thing. But yeah, these first three months will be my perspective entirely.