Of Silver Screens and Family Dreams: Michael Torgan and the New Beverly Cinema

In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.

-Walter Cronkite

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There has been a bit of a shake-up in the Los Angeles repertory cinema scene recently. As detailed in a previous article on this blog, the beloved New Beverly Cinema, a LA institution and a treasured touchstone for cinephiles everywhere, has had a rather surprising change of management. According to reports from Deadline, the LA Weekly and others, the Torgan Family, owners of the New Beverly Cinema since 1978, will no longer be running the show. In their place, Quentin Tarantino, landlord since 2007, will be taking control of the theater as his own.

In looking at all of the press surrounding this, the one thing that has been conspicuously absent is the voice and perspective of the owner of the New Beverly Cinema: Michael Torgan. While the more eagle-eyed readers of these articles may have noticed that Michael reached out in order to correct comment inaccuracies, he was previously hesitant to speak to anyone or discuss some of the major issues that the film community seems to be most concerned about in this transitory time.

As readers of my blog may know, the New Beverly has been a significant feature in my film education and career path. Without this theater, it is unlikely that I would be so passionate about the two things I work the most with: 35mm film and classic cinema.  As a result, I tracked Michael Torgan down and begged him to sit with me and discuss some of the issues that are being confused in the press and get a handle on what being the owner of the New Beverly Cinema has really been about for him.

If you have ever been to the New Beverly, you will know that Michael may not be the most outspoken person but he is unquestionably knowledgable and above all, kind and inviting. What Michael and I agreed upon for this article was that it would consist of two things: written statement and approved transcribed interview. When you see the italicized words, those are from the written statement that I received from him. It summarized many of his thoughts on the theater’s changeover in a way that he preferred. I will actively say that the difference between the words that I took on my recorder in answer to each question and those which he sent me were minimally different if at all.  So with that, I would like to state once again, this article was my idea and any words written by me are mine and do not reflect my employer’s or any organization that I happen to be involved with.

Thank you for reading.



So, Michael. There seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding about the way in which the New Beverly Cinema works as a business entity in relation to Quentin Tarantino as a landlord. I think many people may think that owning the building means owning the business as well. Could you explain this a little bit?

 

Well, it’s a concept that gets confused often. And it gets frustrating for me because I can’t go out there and yell, “No! That’s not how it is!” because it is more complicated than a simple landlord/tenant relationship. But basically just like your apartment, you don’t actually own the building that you are renting your apartment from but you do own your apartment. In a sense, you are the tenant of your apartment and that’s the way it was with the theater. There was no co-mingling of our funds; there was no sale of the business at all. The ownership of the theater didn’t change at all; the only change was that the president of the corporation who ran it passed away [referring to his father, Sherman Torgan, who passed away in 2007] and his son assumed that position as the president. But nothing changed. We always had a landlord. We had a landlord in 1978 and that landlord changed in 2007 but the business didn’t change hands.

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There has been discussion about how the entrance of Tarantino as the new landlord in 2007 may have had an effect on the financials of the New Beverly and your ability to support yourself as an independent repertory house. Can you discuss this a bit?

Sometime in 2006, maybe 10 months before my dad died, Quentin got word that the New Beverly was struggling.  Business really had dropped considerably around 2002 as DVDs and home theaters became more and more common.  Back in the mid 90s, business was actually very good. Attendance typically hovered in the 85 to 200 people-a-night range, and it was pretty easy to get over a 100 people a night.  By 2006, we could still pack the theater with the right film, but so many other films that used to be sure things were suddenly getting audiences of under 50 people, often dipping into the very troubling 25 range.  It seemed that audience tastes and viewing habits had definitely changed, seemingly overnight.  This was the same time that record stores and book stores saw precipitous dips in their business and started closing in record numbers.  The digital age had changed things. 

Quentin didn’t want the New Beverly to close, so he approached my dad with an offer to help us meet the shortfall.  My dad determined that the theater was potentially losing around $5,000 a month under the current circumstances, and Quentin very heroically and generously offered to make up this difference behind the scenes.  This is not to say my dad was by any means broke.  The theater had provided him a nice living for over 20 years, my mom worked full-time all those years, and my parents had a house, and savings in the bank. Quentin gave the theater a new lease on life, and his $5,000 monthly contribution was enough for us to pay the theater’s rent and a little bit of its additional expenses, say, the electric bill, which averages $1,000 a month.

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When my dad died suddenly, I quit my job and decided to keep the theater going.  Within a few weeks of my dad’s death, our landlord of 29 years received an offer from a real estate investor to purchase the building.  By the time my landlord informed me of this, the building was already in escrow.  Sensing that the new buyer had eyes to redevelop the property into retail space once my lease was up, my mom and I informed Quentin’s office of what was happening, and, without going into specifics, Quentin was willing and able to buy the building to save both my business and the building’s use as a movie theater.

I inherited my dad’s arrangement with Quentin, and Quentin continued to supplement the business with $5,000 checks every month.  I essentially used that money in the same way as it was being used before, except now the rent money was going to Quentin, so basically he was letting us occupy his building rent free, which of course took a huge load off of the business and allowed it to operate without losing large sums of money.  We were extremely lucky.

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Without in any way trivializing Quentin’s very substantial financial contribution to the theater ($5,000 a month over the course of 7 or 8 years is a HUGE amount of money for a single person to donate to any cause, and I actually felt very guilty and funny accepting it), I do want to make clear that the theater was still substantially surviving on its own.  It costs at least $30,000 to keep the theater open, probably closer to $35,000 or more (film rental fees, film shipping, employee payroll, taxes and fees, permits, costs of goods, and all kinds of miscellaneous expenses), and, short of Quentin’s considerable donation, I was footing that monthly expense entirely on my own as the business owner.  I was not relying on any other funding like membership fees, membership donations, corporate or government grants or anything else.  The theater still very much was an independent family business, very much reliant on its nightly box office grosses.

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And the box office prices have pretty much stayed consistent over the years, right?

 

Yes. I raised the prices maybe once in the last seven years but they’ve stayed the same: $8 for a double feature, which is kind of crazy. It’s unheard of really. What people may not understand is that the cost to rent repertory titles has gone up so tremendously in the last 7 years. So a double feature can cost, at the low-end, $250, but more likely is that the double-feature that you’re seeing costs somewhere between $5-900 and that doesn’t include shipping. It’s a very expensive proposition. Having the subsidy from Quentin Tarantino probably partially allowed me to keep the prices low, but not by much.

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So let’s talk a little bit about what seems to be ruffling some feathers. The idea that since there had been digital equipment bought, the New Beverly Cinema was going digital as a preferred method of projection. First of all, how was the digital equipment financed? It’s not cheap to buy that kind of stuff.

 

I paid for it myself. I basically had cleared a very huge portion of my personal savings and I bought it. I didn’t have the energy to go through Kickstarter like a lot of theaters have…similar theaters in our same position have raised large sums of money through Kickstarter but I didn’t have the energy and I just felt funny about doing it so I just did it. I just bit the bullet. I figured that over 5 years it would pay for itself through rentals. A lot of people want to rent the theater for private screenings of their independent films so that combined with what it opened up the theater for just in terms of general programming? I figured that it would make sense over the long-term. It was a very substantial amount of money to spend at once.

Can you expand a little bit on what your intentions were in regards to bringing it in for general programming needs? I think there has been some confusion about that.

 

In April of this year, I came to the conclusion that to in order to survive I had to add a digital projector to my booth alongside the 35mm projectors.  More and more, I was finding that the kinds of newer films the New Beverly always played alongside the usual mix of repertory titles simply were no longer being released in 35mm.  Distributors like Magnolia, IFC, Rialto, etc., etc., stopped making 35mm prints for their new releases last year.  Magnolia told me that TO THE WONDER would be their final 35mm release; IFC told me that FRANCES HA would be theirs; the restoration of ALPHAVILLE was digital-only; Paramount was the first major studio to announce it had stopped making 35mm prints for major new releases; and so on and so on.  I was also constantly getting requests from filmmakers and film festivals to rent the theater, and I was having to rent a digital projector at $500 a night to accommodate these rentals, and repeatedly having to help lug a very heavy piece of equipment up and down those booth stairs. 

I was tired of doing that, and I determined that it would just make sense to finally bite the bullet and purchase a digital projector of my own.  Every single repertory venue in the entire country had already done it, and I didn’t see why the New Beverly should be any different.  So I made the tough decision to take a major portion of my life savings out of the bank, and I purchased a Christie 4K digital projector, server, and the required digital cinema sound processor.  The projector was installed on May 5th, coincidently the theater’s 36th birthday.  The cost of the projector was a huge sum of money, way more than I’ve ever spent on anything in my life.

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In no way was this digital projector meant to replace 35mm exhibition at the New Beverly.  I love and prefer 35mm, most of the repertory titles we screen only exist in 35mm and probably never will exist in DCPs, and I was going to continue to run primarily 35mm for as long as it was possible to do so.  Without 35mm, in fact, the New Beverly wouldn’t be able to exist and would really have no reason to exist.  Why and how would a repertory cinema exist without 35mm?

It just couldn’t and I’d say shouldn’t exist without 35mm.  The price to rent 35mm prints has gone through the roof in recent years (in the case of one studio, the minimum cost to run a double feature suddenly went from $400 to $900, a just-about-impossible-amount-of-money to contend with for a 2-day run), but thankfully most of the studios were not taking any of their prints away as has often been misreported in the press.  With the exception of one studio, the same 35mm prints that were available to rent in 2009, when most theaters were still 35mm, are still available to rent to this day.  In fact, a couple of the major studios are even occasionally striking new 35mm prints of select repertory titles even though I believe there is only one lab left in the entire U.S.

 

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The New Beverly Projection Booth, credit: Robyn Von Swank

So Michael- can you address the rumors that the theater is in a somewhat rundown state or that the prints that are shown are in a less-than-decent condition?

 

Well, as for the state of the theater it is certainly not rundown. We have spent a great deal of time and energy keeping it together. It’s been a combination of Quentin and myself. He spent a good amount of money to give us a new marquee and resurfaced the ceiling. On my end, as a tenant, I put a new screen in, put new speakers behind the screen, upgraded to Dolby sound, bought new projector heads (different newer ones), and put in newer seats. In 2009, we were able to get new seats from the Mann Festival in Westwood, which was shutting down. They weren’t new seats but they were newer than the ones we had. They were being offered free of charge, I just had to pay $5000 to install them in our theater.

Quentin probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars improving the building when he bought it, but I do want to make it known that all the technical, equipment-type improvements made to the theater over the past 7 years were paid for by me as the tenant (as it should be, as those are definitely the tenant’s responsibility).  I purchased the new screen, the new stage drapes, the new carpet, the upgraded Dolby Digital sound, the new speakers behind the screen, the newer seats, brand new, top-of-the-line lenses., etc., etc.  Before the digital projector, I put tens of thousands of dollars into the place on my own. 

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And print quality at the New Beverly?

Well, we are on the trusted list; we’re a reel-to-reel venue. We run everything on 2000-ft reel changeovers, we don’t ever platter prints or build them up in any way, so we’re generally able to get the very best prints from the studios. Some of the studios (not all of them, but some) have a separate set of prints. These are prints that go to platter theaters and the other set go to theaters that will not be plattering them- the museums, the archives, and most of the repertory theaters. So we get the set of prints that run at most of the top venues in the country. I mean, I see those prints, I see the labels, and they’re the same prints. Actually, in the last 15 years, the prints have been better than ever, which is a great irony considering. You know, there’s hundreds of thousands of titles that are not available on 35mm, which has nothing to do with digital, they’re just not available anymore. But it seemed like the studios were refreshing their inventories just within the last 15 years so suddenly titles that used to only be available in faded, scratched prints were suddenly available in beautiful prints so…

What were your responsibilities as the owner of the New Beverly Cinema? Besides the obvious things people may have seen you do, like working the box office or the concession stand?

 

*Laughs a bit* Short of projecting? I guess a bit of everything really. Picking up prints. I put a lot of miles on my car picking up prints. It’s one of the ways we were able to survive is because we didn’t use a courier service. I just did a lot of things myself. So buying supplies for the concession stand, programming the calendar, payroll, changing the marquee, bills and paperwork…so it was a full-time job. I was probably there or spent about 60 hours a week at the theater.

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Thank you so much for speaking with me, Michael. The New Beverly Cinema has been a very special place for so many of us, and it wouldn’t have been without you!



There were some things that we couldn’t discuss and I didn’t press him on them. That’s the way it goes, right?

But the last thing that I want to say about Michael Torgan is that he is one of my Film Heroes. Let me tell you why.

I programmed a fundraiser film series at the New Bev during grad school that celebrated 35mm film, specifically. Michael was kind enough to make sure that my Student Film Archivist group raised a good amount of money. By allowing me to have this series and guiding me,  I was trained as a film programmer, event planner and social media “person.” I have always been very outgoing but in doing this and engaging with Michael, I learned about print availability, pricing and many other critical exhibition details.

While most people in my Archival Studies Program had internships at film and audio labs, I would argue that I interned at one of the best places in town: the New Beverly Cinema. Did I get credit in my program for it? No. I didn’t think about submitting my experience for credit. That seemed so inconsequential when I thought about how much Michael Torgan taught me about exhibition. It’s the one thing I can babble about in the morning before COFFEE and that’s saying something!

I knew Michael on a training level. While I was looking to learn about exhibition, he would instruct me. He would shake his head and smile gently, “No, Ariel, I don’t think we can get that, but that might be possible.” This was a whole different level than the movie pal that I had known up to this point and now afterwards. And yet, he was really good at counseling me in my choices and discussing the ins and outs of what it takes to run an independent movie house and why certain things were not doable.

This was one of the most valuable experiences of my life aside from actually seeing films there. Michael Torgan, once again, thank you and thank you for my New Beverly Cinema experiences. I will miss them most of all.

What Price Hollywood?: The Finale of a Family-Run Movie House

***PLEASE NOTE: ALL OPINIONS IN THIS PIECE ARE MY OWN & NOT THOSE OF MY EMPLOYER OR ANY ORGANIZATIONS WITH WHICH I AM AFFILIATED***

I remember the first time I went to the New Beverly Cinema. I was 15 years old, I was a few months off from leaving the country to go to high school in Israel, and I was smack-dab in the middle of a “party-all-the-time” summer with my best friend Nanette and her two older sisters.

I felt nervous because we were sneaking snacks in and…YOU DIDN’T DO THATNOT EVEN CARROT STICKS. Which, by the way, is exactly what we snuck in.

We were watching Reservoir Dogs at midnight.  I remember bits and pieces of the experience: where we sat, that there were guys in the theater, that they were…”t-shirt guys.” You know, the kind of sloppy dudes who were older than me but might listen to the kind of music that I had been slowly getting into, now that my hair metal and grunge days were petering out- The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Mary’s Danish….T-SHIRT GUYS. I remember the dimly lit lobby. The sticky floor of the theater. The film itself.

That was 21 years ago.

In that 2 decades of my life, I have gotten 3 degrees & 1 special certificate in cinema studies from 4 different Universities. I have studied critical theory, feminist film theory, US film history and all different kind of film preservation and moving image archive studies. I am currently the Nancy Mysel Legacy Project recipient for the Film Noir Foundation in training (hopefully) to be their official preservationist when the time comes. I work almost exclusively with 35mm film. Digital was not very popular in the 1940s, I’m afraid.

Movies are my boyfriend.

I love film more than almost anything on earth. I have spent most of my adult life studying it, sitting in dark theaters, orgasmically grinning at that dark screen, feeling goddamn lucky that I, Ariel Schudson, get to see moving images on a big screen!!!!

But if it was not for the New Beverly Cinema I would not have had the inkling of a desire to become a film archivist. The fact that I have assisted on two restorations this year makes my toes curl with joy. These films are saved for the future. I owe this to the HOURS I have spent with the beautiful people in the dark on Beverly Blvd.

I knew Sherman Torgan.  He was the man who took the New Beverly Cinema and made it the welcoming cozy movie house that I fell in love with. I grew so attached to the theater that I got into a GIANT screaming match with my step-dad about why I thought Blade Runner was totally appropriate for my 9-yr-old brother. That argument was NUTS. Sherman was the greatest guy. I got to the theater after that fight, my face puffy with tears. Sherman just let the sniffling teen girl in.

Sherman Torgan, relaxing on the New Bev stairs

Sherman Torgan, relaxing on the New Bev stairs

I wish I had a picture to show you of what he looked like during the time that I knew him, but he was really the first guy that I remember understanding the idea of film community. When I moved into the New Bev area after college, he only charged me student prices (I was no student). One night we had a blissfully wonderful discussion about the audience that came for his Billy Wilder double feature.

“Sherman,” I told him, “I came alone to this double. Like I do to most films here.” I was probably 23 at the time.

He nodded, ok, so?

“I felt like I was FAMILY  with every single person IN there. Wall to wall people! That was genuinely the best movie experience I have ever had!” (I was overemphatic and excited as I still am about everything)

Sherman was a man of few words. But he said something to the effect of, “Well, they’re good movies. They’ll do that!”

I was so high off cinema that I practically flew home.

When Sherman died, it was crushing. But I watched Michael build the theater into something special. He worked hard. EVERY DAY. He never took vacations. The New Beverly was his life. Except for occasional post-screening dinners with regulars. Those were always fun. His cat passed away which (as many pet-owners know) is devastating but Michael took very little time off and dove right back into the New Beverly. He is his father’s son. Being a New Beverly Regular meant I got to see that Michael Torgan’s blood, sweat and tears were the things that drove the very organs of the New Beverly Cinema.

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Old School New Bev Regulars from 2009, RIP Jen Roach

That cinema could not run without him.

He slept there to wait for prints. He stayed until 2am to change the marquee. All the things that you do as a theater owner. Except…he didn’t own the theater. Quentin Tarantino does. So fast-forward to now. Houston, we have a problem. Houston, we have a lot of problems.

OK. One quick step back and some background- when Sherman died, the theater was in danger of closing. Tarantino stepped in and bought the land, becoming, in effect, the landlord. This was FANTASTIC!! Let’s be 100% clear about this: in no way, shape or form was this a bad thing. In fact, this was wonderful. Without Tarantino’s immense generosity, we would have lost our brilliant New Beverly Cinema 7 years ago and countless screenings, historical Q&As, and nights of 35mm brilliance. Thanks to him we have had Edgar Wright’s festivals, Patton Oswalt’s programming, festivals by Diablo Cody, Eli Roth, and Joe Dante,in addition to a film series I programmed that raised $3000 for Moving Image Archiving Students. Make no mistake about it, Quentin Tarantino’s purchase of this land was, as they say in the Fairfax ‘hood, a mitzvah!

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So skip forward to the official news that was made known today through the LA Weekly. Mr. Tarantino has decided to rescind the terms of the contract with the Torgan family. His statement, as published in the LA Weekly reads as follows:

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. (italics & bold mine) – LA Weekly

The Torgans have run the New Beverly for 36 years. In a highly corporate economy and city like Los Angeles, the New Bev is a well-loved family-run-business. And Quentin has had a great deal of control up to now. Basically anything he wanted to do or have, he could do or have. It was his theater. He could program anything he wanted, and have the theater anytime he asked. Any of this talk about trying to make it his is bizarre to me. I have been to several of his 2-3 month-long programming residencies and they were wonderful! The man has good taste. So what is he actually doing?

To quote Michael Torgan himself, in response to Quentin’s article (in the comments section), he states:

An important clarification to this article: like most business owners, my family did not own the physical property from which we ran our business.  We leased it since 1978, so we did not literally own the physical theater.  However, we did own the business known as the New Beverly Cinema 100%.  In addition to being the manager/chief programmer, I was also the owner of the business entirely.  This point has often been misunderstood, so I felt a need to make this statement even if I chose not to be interviewed for this piece.

So, this means that what QT is doing is relieving the Torgan Family of the New Beverly Cinema, of which they have owned for 36 years. Does this seem right to you? I can’t swallow that. Not even a little bit. There are far more decent ways that this could have gone. Destroying a family business not being first on the list. As I’ve read the comments today, people have talked all about the programming. “We’ll see what happens to the New Bev,” they’ve said, “Maybe it’ll be fine! We have to see what the programming is like.” WAIT. GUYS. Have you been living in a bubble for the last seven years?? Where have you been when QT took the entire month of March 2011 to program his birthday month? Or in 2007 when he programmed 1-2 months up until the release of Grindhouse? *insert puzzled expression here*

In the Weekly article, Quentin continues and says, “I want the New Beverly to be a bastion for 35 millimeter 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 35 millimeter. You know it’s playing in 35 because it’s the New Beverly.” The New Beverly already DOES stand for something. This is also what makes me uneasy about QT wanting to toss out the people who have been running the theater for 36 years and “make it his own.”

I realize that many people are getting incredibly excited about the idea of a filmhouse that will be all-35mm-all-the-time, but my question is at what costWe have been talking about the loss of projectionists and 35mm theaters due to digital, but are we going to turn around and do the same exact thing to one of our own?? Does taking out a Digital Projector that is only used when it is absolutely necessary somehow diminish what the New Beverly Cinema has stood for all these years?

To this film preservationist, this decision is not in anyone’s best interest. I realize that there are a lot of emotions around this, but within my profession, I try my best to look at things critically, not emotionally, and from that perspective (shifting gears a bit) I don’t think this is a good idea. Not for the New Beverly, not for Los Angeles cinephiles, not for the continued discussion of why 35mm film is important.  886965_10200439778213465_146334779_o

Of course, we all know what this situation is really about don’t we? Sure we do. Let’s just come out and say it: digital. Everyone has been beating about the bush and mentioning the silly Wrap article as the cause of this. Let’s stop blaming The Wrap. It’s not their fault. The facts: Quentin had already made his thoughts on 35mm known. The problem is that there is no happy medium here. And there is a high level of format fetishization over film appreciation.  Ask yourself a question: would you rather watch a 35mm print for its last time ever before it falls apart forever or be able to watch a DCP of the same film? Some people will say 35mm. Simply due to the format. This is the unhealthy landscape that we have created for 35mm appreciation. A place where people aren’t aware of why Michael Torgan bought the digital system for the New Bev and how it was being used.

So let’s clear this up. I was able to get a statement from Michael about the addition of digital to the New Beverly and I think going to the source is healthier than conjecture. Provenance, y’all.

Michael states,

I installed the digital projector on May 5 of this year, so I imagine [most people] would have seen 35mm on [their] visits. The majority of our programs remained 35mm even with the new projector, and 35mm would have remained the preferred format always….I just have to say that was NEVER my intention when I made the decision to add a digital projector to my booth. 35mm would have always been the preferred format, with the digital projector there to allow us to continue the newer films we’ve always screened (but suddenly were no longer able to) as well as the occasional digital-only restoration. As a theater that runs all 35mm prints on 2,000 ft reels via reel-to-reel projection, the New Beverly thankfully still had access to lots of repertory 35mm titles from the studios, and I intended to book those prints as long as possible.

The comments that are turning up on the QT article are not unexpected but they are sad-making. Much like the digital technology changeover, these comments are favoring 35mm over human experience and that weirds me out since it is analogue we are choosing in this circumstance. Are we doing this because it’s Quentin and it’s his star power? Is it really a kind of format fetishization and intense nostalgia that will relieve us of the ability to see the time and energy that a family has spent a lifetime building? What does it REALLY  mean when a fancy filmmaker says, “After 7 years as owner, I wanted to make it mine,” and yet does not know that the New Bev already stands for film community, film devotion and film education? If it wasn’t for the Grindhouse Festival that he programmed in 2007, I wouldn’t have gotten into that genre! And the IB Tech films that he programmed were truly spectacular! I was in heaven!473764_4108270061541_2000490191_o

We are headed on the wrong track here if we allow things like this to continue. There is a necessity for both 35mm and digital in the film community. Not one nor the other but both. A friend said that he believed that 35mm theaters should show only 35mm film. Well, in my experience, those theaters may end up suffering great financial loss. Unless (as Tarantino noted) they have large collections like he does. It is extremely exciting to me that he is installing a 16mm projector. I LOVE THAT. That (again) showcases the necessity for these formats and the materials that exist (possibly) ONLY in that format!! There are films that may not have been able to be saved without a 35mm blow-up of a 16mm. My Film Saying is: never say never. But looking at this situation critically, I would never choose a format over a human. It defeats the purpose of what I do as an archivist and preservationist.

The Torgan Family is what the New Beverly Cinema stands for. And I stand behind that statement.

The Lack of Obsolescence: The FOUND FOOTAGE FESTIVAL, 10th Anniversary Tour

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As a moving image archivist and profound fan of VHS tapes, when I heard about the Found Footage Festival I grew very excited.

For many, I think the comic factor is attractive. And that is understandable. But that’s not why I was thrilled. I didn’t get excited because the on-coming works to be shown seemed cheesy or ironically “awesome, dude.”

I wasn’t ready to support this show simply because it featured thousands of work-out tapes of the 80s that had been rediscovered in thrift-shops all over the United States, or because it was ready to seemingly exploit weird and wild home-made after-hours “Buy this! It’s only $99.99!” Mr. Popeil-style programs.

The Found Footage Festival, founded and curated by Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher got me because it was a film festival generated by the same confidence and love for visual media that San Francisco Guardian critic and Castro programmer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks has discussed at length when he has railed against the modern viewer’s concept of “neo-sincerity” and the damage that this has done to pure enjoyment of the visual text. It is what I mentioned when I talked about the uniquely new concept of non-ironically loving what others seem to consider “Bad” media. When I was asked to do a list for Rupert Pupkin Speaks on Bad Movies We Love, this is what I wrote:

 

 

I believe that the term “bad movie” requires a great deal of unpacking. Tragically, when I was first in film school, * mumblemumble * years ago, it did not. “Bad” simply meant the opposite of good. It meant that you did not like the film. It was a poor choice at the video store or the box office, you wouldn’t do it again, you had to go off and knock back a bunch of beers with pals to wash out that “bad movie taste” and that was that. No recommendations for that cinematic failure. The movie sucked.
Somehow, in the last 15 or so years, “bad” has taken on all sorts of different meanings to people. Now we all remember what Michael Jackson meant when he asked, “Who’s bad?” but that’s not exactly what I mean. Although, in a way, it is. When we go around to look at people’s collections at their houses and we agonize that they have the most “amazing VHS collection evAr” because it has a few dozen films starring your favorite wrestling stars, what does that mean? Does it mean those are good films or does it mean those are good films to you? Please note that I do not use the term “bad” here. I do not believe that it comes into play. I absolutely hate when people use the “so bad its good” descriptor. That, to me, is like saying “but he only hits me because he loves me.” IT MAKES NO SENSE ON A LOGICAL LEVEL. 
 So let’s get a few things clear right now:
1)    There is no such thing as SO BAD IT’S GOOD.
2)    Very few films are ever perfect. Sometimes, it is in their imperfections and in their relentless references to time, place and cultural objects that you can find absolute glory.
3)    Polarizing terms applied to art (which, by its nature, exists in a gray area) are likely to change in time. How many films can you think of that were once completely shunned and are now considered “masterpieces”? Be careful of hyperbole. It’ll bite you in the ass.
All that said, when Jesse Hawthorne Ficks (of the MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS film series at the Castro Theater in San Francisco) came down to L.A. one night to present ROCKULA, he spoke about a thing called neo-sincerity, and that hit home. He said that we don’t watch these movies because we want to make fun of them, or because we think that they are stupid or so that we can, somehow, feel more superior by knowing that we dress “better” or some such. We watch these films because something in them actually appeals to us and we do actually dig them. So, with that, I give you a few films that other people may index underneath the genre of “bad movie” but I love the HELL out of.

As an archivist, I have learned that all media has a certain importance and this festival seemed like one that would not only be entertaining (being fronted by comedians and men who genuinely love both the VHS format and the comic craft) but also fascinating to my own work as a preservationist. It spoke to me on many levels since their approach mirrors the work of Rick Prelinger and Dan Streible in certain respects. Perhaps not the same tone, but like those respected archivists, these young men have taken the Home Movie Day approach with collections of old VHS works and they have most certainly become not only connoisseurs of the craft but experts in their field. To be frank, these men can reasonably do what any archivist does with a given set of elements: assess the collection, catalog the works, then provide access.  In my eyes, the Found Footage Festival is a unique and new kind of traveling archive. Yes, they give humor alongside the visuals. But these works are also reflections of an era that (most likely) many audience members now were not alive for.

Most people in the audience never owned a VCR. I OWN THREE. YES, STILL. Also, these clips, much like home movies, are like time capsules and windows into another region or era that none of us ever were part of. I will argue that this Festival is an important one. And these guys can make you laugh while you ingest important things that you didn’t even realize were important. Because it just looks like a crazy lady with an unfortunately feathered hairstyle doing yoga.

I highly recommend that you attend one, two or all of their events, as listed here. The link to where you can ACTUALLY BUY the tickets is HERE

I WILL BE AT BOTH OF THE NEW BEVERLY SHOWS. LET’S DO THIS THING!!!!!!!!!

Wed, May 7, 2014 @ 8:30pm Meltdown The Meltdown
Thu, May 8, 2014 @ 9:00pm New Beverly Vol. 7 in Los Angeles, CA
Fri, May 9, 2014 @ 9:00pm New Beverly Vol. 7 in Los Angeles, CA
Sat, May 10, 2014 @ 7:00pm The Loft Cinema Vol. 7 in Tucson, AZ
Tue, May 20, 2014 @ 8:00pm Spegeln FFF in Malmö, Sweden
Wed, May 21, 2014 @ 7:30pm Cinema Neuf FFF in Oslo, Norway
Thu, May 22, 2014 @ 8:30pm Bio Rio Vol. 7 in Stockholm, Sweden
Thu, Jun 5, 2014 @ 8:00pm E Street Cinema Vol. 7 in Washington, DC
Thu, Jun 19, 2014 @ 7:30pm Colonial Theatre Vol. 7 in Bethlehem, NH
Tue, Jun 24, 2014 @ 8:00pm Regent Square Vol. 7 in Pittsburgh, PA
Fri, Aug 1, 2014 @ 10:00pm Leicester Square Theatre Vol. 7 in London
Sat, Aug 2, 2014 @ 10:00pm Leicester Square Theatre Vol. 7 in London
Tue, Aug 12, 2014 @ 8:00pm Fine Line Music Cafe Vol. 7 in Minneapolis, MN
Thu, Aug 14, 2014 @ 8:00pm The Bishop Vol. 7 in Bloomington, IN
Thu, Sep 11, 2014 @ 8:00pm Lesley University Lesley University
Sat, Sep 20, 2014 @ 9:00pm University of New Hampshire University of New Hampshire

 

There’s Nothing Like It: Ursula Liang’s 9-MAN

9-Man (Ursula Liang, 2014)

To a native Californian and Angeleno like myself, volleyball has always meant white guys and the beach. While I know that it is played professionally, and there are women’s teams, the concept of anything volleyball-esque brings up a Pavlovian response in me. Visions of blonde men with their tanned caucasian bodies appear in my imagination and I see these perfectly formed specimens, glistening with sunscreen, throwing themselves around in the sun and sand, as their bikini-clad-companions watch. While that may seem romantic and sexy, it’s always been an extreme turn-off to me.

These are precisely the kind of guys and just the kind of culture that I want nothing to do with. In fact, it is the kind of world that I spend an alarming amount of time railing against. They represent the worst of the worst to me. They are the frat-boy types who eat, sleep and breathe white privilege and couldn’t see the world any other way than monied and upper and of the higher-classes. They are blind to what is really going on and that pisses me off. I feel a little bad for the sport of volleyball, since it has suffered my associations, but I will recognize here and now that is my prejudice.  Too many summers near Santa Monica watching people play, I guess.

With this in mind, I can only describe myself as insanely curious and awkwardly starving for Ursula Liang’s documentary, 9-MAN (Ursula Liang, 2014), which played at the Director’s Guild of America as part of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival on Friday night, May 2nd. Co-presented by the Asian Youth Center in the San Gabriel Valley and the Chinese American Museum in Downtown LA (they’re currently running a whole exhibit on hot sauces called “LA HEAT”- it’s totally great! Check them out!), and introduced by the popular and highly entertaining Phil Yu, also known as Angry Asian Man, this documentary blew my mind. Completely unseen, Yu told the audience that he was putting 9-MAN on a list of films he would consider to be in his “Angry Asian Film Club.” “Unless it sucks.” he joked,  “But I know it won’t suck!” And boy was he right. This belongs on that Film Club List with honors!

For what it’s worth, 9-MAN is a sports documentary. Technically, 9-man is a volley-ball-style sport that began in Chinatown communities in the 1930s but it is quite definitely not volleyball.  In fact, that may be why I liked it. The terms “jungle ball” and “streetball” were thrown around quite a bit. Yeah, my ears perked up for sure. As a huge fan of brutal and hyper-masculine sports activities, the minute one of the athletes described 9-man as a game that commits itself fully to a “warrior mentality” I was IN. But it’s not simply a game. 9-man developed historically and has played a significant part in the way that Chinese men have been able to keep their culture alive and dynamic, especially between fathers and sons. As Liang documents so eloquently, this was one of the only outlets that many Chinese men had to express their masculinity during the 1930s/40s and onwards. The Chinese Immigration Acts that started in the late 1880s had seriously diminished roles for Chinese men to play in American culture, and the places that they were allowed to inhabit were exhaustively feminized at that time: laundry work, food service, etc. In order to regain a sense of masculinity and as a way to bond as a community, this game was created. It gave them a sense of dignity, fun and released the stress from these daily horrors.

Picture of 9-man team, 1946

Picture of 9-man team, 1946

But, as Liang stated in the Q&A after the film, she wanted to give a sense of this historical background while still keeping the modern storyline. And that is what she most certainly did. The core of the film and the “meat” focused on today’s teams and the journey towards the 2010 Boston Labor Day finals for several regional teams, and, like a truly great sports film, she makes you truly love and care for all the characters. If I thought that I cried in fictional films like Warrior or He Got Game, this film gutted me. I was at the edge of my seat, really WITH every character. Loving them, routing for them, on their journey. But what made it more interesting was each person’s discussion of the cultural ties and the fact that this was not just a game to them. This was part of their life. While Liang did pointedly say afterwards that her goal was to reimagine Asian men in the sports world and do some stereotype-busting through diverse portrayals (which was quite well-done, I might add) the sports/culture/ethnic connection was what really stood out. The media does not often investigate these issues for Asian men. The discussion of these 9-men player’s masculinity stories, whether done through tales of family connections, cultural struggles or sports dedication was really singular and revealing.

Credit: A player dunks over the net at a 9-man game in Philadelphia. (Andrew Huynh), published in LatitudeNews.com

The film does an excellent job in explaining the rules of the game with animated visuals- there is a difference between 6-man and 9-man games, for instance, and no women are allowed to play. There were wonderful illustrations to explain these things and the placement of the players as well. The intertitles were also quite helpful, as far as technical info was concerned. As of 1991, there was an “ethnic rule” that became part of the rule book- at least 6 men on the court had to be Chinese. The other 3 could be mixed. When asked about this in the Q&A afterwards, the responses were fascinating and reflected a very different 9-man than what had started so many years ago. Ursula was joined on-stage by two 9-man players, and each answered this question differently but with the same basic result. Both agreed (as did Ursula) that at this point it is really up to how good the player is. Many times, it comes down to that and not ethnicity. They will have the “how Chinese is he” arguments, but it will really boil down to “how good of a player is he.” They added that there are many mixed players now, and that will probably increase with time.

Credit: Andrew Choy, Flickr

Credit: Andrew Choy, Flickr

I wondered if this was losing the spirit that been expressed by so many of the older interviewees in the film, especially certain men who had discussed playing 9-man in the 1970s, who had learned to have Chinese community and brotherhood through this activity, and had passed the tradition on to their children. It also made me think about something more serious. As someone who has studied sports that are familial and passed on in that manner (ie wrestling), this “more sports than culture” view being expressed might end up deteriorating the 9-man community and a cultural history and important activity that goes beyond “sports.” But as the final interviewee in the film said about the game, sports or cultural expression, “There’s nothing like it and I’d never give it up.”

Producer Theresa Navarro, director Ursula Liang, and producer Bing Wang of 9-MAN, at Boston premiere

Producer Theresa Navarro, director Ursula Liang, and producer Bing Wang of 9-MAN, at Boston premiere

Ursula Liang has created a documentary that has inspired tears of triumph and heartbreak, nail-biting suspense and loud cheers of joy. This primarily female-produced film (as Liang discussed during the Q&A, most of the crew were women as well, something “you don’t see very often these days!”) combines historical fact with tough sportsmanship and really intelligent discussion about a highly marginalized and underrepresented community.

One of the most beautiful things about the screening was when Phil Yu asked the athletes during the Q&A what it was like to watch the film, and Lawrence, one of the athletes, replied, “I got to see people I know for once.” While it was clear that this referred to 9-man players he was pals with, it had a double-meaning: he got on-screen representation for once. Which is really what the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is about, and I am glad for it.

 

CS_9Man

FILM ARCHIVIST’S PLEA:  One final note that I would have to make and this is more of a plea. I spoke to Ursula after the screening because, as a moving image archivist I was SINGULARLY IMPRESSED by the footage in the film. Not only is the subject INCREDIBLY unique and rare (she told me very few people she encountered had even heard of 9-man) but the stills and visual elements that are used have come almost entirely from personal collections. Museums and archives that specialized in Asian or Chinese historical works didn’t have anything on this, regional archives were empty, barely anything. I know that Prelinger Archives was on there, but they are amazing like that. Here’s the thing-  THIS WAS ALOT OF HOME MOVIE STUFF, GUYS.  This is not a surprise to mePLEASE see this movie. I will tell you why:

1) It is THAT good. I’ll say it again. IT IS THAT DAMN GOOD.

2) The archival footage will show you that you need to go looking in your Nana’s house for all the cultural 16mm/8mm/etc stuff. It can be really important. LIKE NOW. GO.

3) If you are a POC, your works are EXTRA important and MUST BE SEEN. This film is a FABULOUS WATERSHED EXAMPLE of what can be done if you have a good subject and are a great researcher & can get some help. Liang went the extra mile on this because she taught herself how to be a filmmaker as she was making this film.

4) If you know of anyone who might have any other footage like this, let’s make sure it’s all out there. Seeing this was so great. As an archivist & as someone in preservation, this is *exactly* what we strive to do- restore history to its rightful viewers: us and everyone in the future. Make goodness happen with film. It can be magic. I BELIEVE THIS.

5) Female filmmaker. Need another reason?????

 

DID YOU MISS 9-MAN LAST NIGHT? NO WORRIES. IT’S PLAYING AGAIN! HERE’S THE INFO!

9-MAN – LOS ANGELES ASIAN PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL

MONDAY, MAY 05, 2014 – 4:30

Tateuchi Democracy Forum, National Center for the Preservation of Democracy
111 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012

BUY TICKETS HERE!

Common Careers #3, Special TCM Film Fest Edition: Fannie Hurst

Welcome back to Common Careers! I know that it’s been a minute since we visited with Bryher and Lois, but…Film noir festivals must be attended and attended to. And what fun they are! Now, after exploring the dark streets of desperation and criminality, I am back to showcase the lives and work of the unique and creative women in film history. My hope is to try to post this column on a more regular basis than I have been primarily since locating these women’s stories and their critical influence on the world and film industry can be somewhat difficult. This is a necessary task and I am more than willing to take on some of the responsibility, so let’s get back to business.

Unlike previous profiles, this entry is geared specifically to an upcoming event. I am an annual participant in the TCM Film Festival and have been so for five years: the entirety of its existence. Due to this fact, I thought it might be nice to write-up one of the women who has made a contribution to one of this year’s films. Since I always find it more exciting to look into the slightly more obscure characters in film history, I thought this would be a great opportunity to shed some light on another fascinating female figure in film and allow folks at the festival to watch her creative work a bit differently. So here we go, down the way of cinema’s path, to find one of the women who helped forge some of the more beloved roles and stories in Hollywood: Fannie Hurst.Fannie-Hurst1

Fannie Hurst was born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1889 to an immigrant Jewish family. Her parents, Rose Koppel Hurst and Samuel Hurst, were never the kind of parents to support their daughter in her writing ambitions or any kind of creative intent. Raised in St Louis, Missouri, Fannie discovered her love for the written word early and submitted short stories and articles to magazines all during high school but didn’t get anything published until college.  Indeed, her intense passion for writing got her into some trouble before she was even able to make it to higher education. In high school, Fannie had no qualms about writing term papers in exchange for math answers from high school classmates. This little “swap” almost caused Fannie’s expulsion!

Hurst had many jobs in her lifetime aside from her most famous one as a writer- salesgirl, waitress, actress, night court attendee, factory worker (to study coworkers, of course!) and television talk show/public affairs program host. Fannie Hurst was no regular gal. Aside from being a woman who knew how to make ends meet, by 1925, she and Booth Tarkington were the highest paid writers in the United States.

Of course, Fannie Hurst’s writing was not everyone’s cuppa. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Other Side of Paradise, one of his characters makes a statement that lists various authors (naming our heroine as one) as “not producing among ‘em one story or novel that will last 10 years.” People felt her literature was too “corny” and she was referred to as the Queen of the Sob Sisters (although not in an altogether unfriendly way). Almost to disprove Fitzgerald’s theory of course, here we are, 100 years later and although almost all of Hurst’s books are tragically out of print, we are indeed still discussing her work. And to add to this, the films that were borne from her writing have most certainly not been forgotten. In fact, they play remarkably well and some are treasured cinematic classics. What a curious point about adaptation and media. It does strike a peculiar point about Fannie Hurst’s gift for the dramatic: did Hurst’s ability to comprehend pure emotional resonance in characters work better for visual media than for the written word? It is a conundrum and perhaps we will never know, but we might consider the possibility.

back street

Fannie Hurst was heavily critiqued for her prose, grammar and style. Yet she was also immensely popular. Over a career that spanned more than fifty years, she wrote seventeen novels, nine volumes of short stories, three plays, numerous articles, and had 33 filmic adaptations of her written works. Everyone from Doris Day and Frank Sinatra to John Garfield and Joan Crawford starred in those films, and a few of them did more than just entertain, much like Fannie Hurst herself.

 

 

The work that has been made and remade the most is her novel Imitation of Life, originally published in 1933. The first film version made in 1934, due to show at the TCM Film Festival this upcoming week, features the lustrous Claudette Colbert and the deeply talented Louise Beavers. The two actresses play single mothers raising their children together, learning how to become entrepreneurs and end up facing the ugly and distasteful world of racism. The film also confronts rare issues of skin color and topics like “passing” at a time when absolutely no film script was.

Before this film, Louise Beavers was a well-known African American actress in Hollywood, but generally known for playing the “mammy” stereotype. In Imitation of Life, Beavers became the first African American actress to give a “non-Mammy” role. By playing the part of Delilah alongside Colbert’s Bea, they created an interracial female team of womanly strength in this film, unlike anything that had been seen before. One of the more potent assets of this film directed by John M. Stahl is Louise Beavers’ portrayal of Delilah. In 1934, just the concept of giving an African American woman a part this dynamic and rich that was on par to a Hollywood starlet such as Colbert was unheard of.lrgpic21

Imitation of Life deals with several topics that were not considered “Hollywood safe” at the time- racial relations, single women, and the idea of racial “passing.” Chief of the Production Code Administration Joseph Breen was extremely suspicious of this film, rejecting the original script and calling out “miscegenation.”  However, at the end of the day, what was released did contain more of the original story. While both films are based on the same novel, more original Hurst-written Imitation is contained in the 1934 version than in the later 1959 version (starring Lana Turner and Juanita Moore).

The film has been remade several times over, turned into a television series and remained popular the world over. It is the one Hurst work that has genuinely changed the landscape of cinema. The National Film Registry selected the 1934 version for preservation in 2005 and it continues to be a valuable piece of moving image history when it comes to African American representation and strong examples of rich female characters in film. This is not the only thing that has established Fannie Hurst in the halls of greatness but if this had been the only thing she had done, it would have been enough.imitation_of_life_1934-2

Hurst did not write this “just because.” Imitation was apparently inspired by a trip to Canada taken with close friend and confidente Zora Neale Hurston. One can only assume that what occurred during the voyage was less that satisfactory at times and struck Hurst in such a fashion that she felt inspired to write a tale involving race, passing and the ins and outs of what is involved in an interracial friendship. But this seemed to be par for the course in Hurst’s personal affairs.

Fannie Hurst’s life was as unusual as her writing was prolific. Convincing her parents that she was going to go to graduate school in New York after graduating from Washington University in 1909, she moved there and never attended Columbia as promised.  Although she never made it to graduate school, her work in politics and feminism more than made up for any advanced degree. Marrying Russian pianist Jacques Danielson in 1915, the couple maintained separate dwellings, told no one of the wedding until 1920, and had an arrangement with one another to renew their vows every five years…but only if both parties agreed.

Fannie Hurst was one of the original members of what was called the Lucy Stone League. Founded in 1921, it was a women’s rights organization that primarily encouraged women to keep their maiden names upon marriage. This group began with the advocation of keeping surnames post-marriage and expanded, essentially challenging “state and federal laws that allowed a woman to be seen as a commodity belonging to her husband, laws that allowed her to be beaten and denied her property or inheritance.”

Although it has been well documented that she had at least one affair with Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Hurst was most dedicated to her husband. Married for 37 years, Danielson passed away in 1952. Upon Hurst’s death in 1968, 16 years worth of letters were discovered in her house, all of which were written to her long-gone life partner after his death. There’s something sadly romantic about that. It certainly matches the tone of her fiction.

But Fannie Hurst was more than the Lucy Stone League. She became great friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, supporting the New Deal and chairing a national housing committee from 1936-1937.  She raised funds for WWII refugees and was a member on the board of the New York Urban League. A delegate to the World Health Organization in 1952, she was also part of a group called the Friendly Visitors, women who regularly volunteered in a New York women’s prison. When Fannie became entangled with Justice Arthur Goldberg in 1962 and he stated, “that it is time that we evaluated Women on merit and fitness for a job,” her quick response was, “Time sir! You are a half century too late.”

Eleanor Roosevelt and Fannie Hurst

Eleanor Roosevelt and Fannie Hurst: fast friends!

Her contribution to the moving image media world was not solely made through the adaptation of literary works. Beginning in 1958, Hurst hosted a talk show called Showcase that featured public affairs panels and social issue-based interviews. Showcase was one of the first television forums in which the gay and lesbian community was invited to speak on their own behalf instead of being given the third degree or being treated as though they were a science project. Most previous television appearances of homosexual men or women featured them being studied or questioned as though they existed within a fishbowl or were a group to be “dealt with” by a panel of specialists.

Hurst’s breakthrough show was not as popular as one might have hoped. While Fannie Hurst’s support of the gay and lesbian community was unfailing (and had been so for years), the television stations were not all game for this content. While her fame certainly had some cache, it didn’t outweigh rampant homophobia. Showcase was cancelled several times by more than one station, finally ending for good after a year.  As Steven Capsuto writes, “Hurst had contentious disagreements with station managers over her insistence on presenting panel discussions about homosexuality, and these broadcasts may have contributed to the cancellations.  When the second station, New York’s Channel 13, axed the show definitively in 1959, Hurst had begun devoting one show a week to the subject of homosexuality.  The final Showcase broadcast focused on same-sex desire among teenagers.”

While Fannie Hurst may have been called Queen of the Sob Sisters and criticized for her writerly techniques, her success is undeniable. Films like Young at Heart (Gordon Douglas, 1954), Humoresque (Jean Negulesco, 1946), and both versions of Imitation of Life (John M. Stahl, 1934, Douglas Sirk, 1959) show the way in which her written word had the ability to be converted to graceful, touching and enjoyable film work. Although modern temperance for melodrama may have lessened in the last 75 years, Hurst’s ability to catalyze real emotion and make an audience feel for a character remain altogether genuine. And in an environment where the vast majority of filmic content produced has a certain level of smarminess or “ironic nudging” there is something very fresh and real about a woman who just wanted to tell a good old-fashioned tearjerker tale.

Fannie Hurst’s life and everything she managed to do with it makes her a marvel. What a treasure it is that we can say that she is part of our history of women in film.

 

Fannie Hurst with her Yorkshire Terrier, Orphan Annie.

Fannie Hurst with her Yorkshire Terrier, Orphan Annie.

The City of Dreadful Joy: NOIR CITY 16, Los Angeles – March 21st to April 6th, 2014

NCLA16_x304

Los Angeles, California: the landscape for a criminally high number of films noir and the premiere setting for an unwieldy number of hardboiled novels and crime fiction. Of this urban environment, Aldous Huxley once remarked, “Thought is barred in this City of Dreadful Joy, and conversation is unknown.”

As a native Angelena, I quite like that my home has been labeled a “City of Dreadful Joy” and that any kind of exchange of words is somewhat mysterious. These elements (and other similarly toned descriptors) have always deeply connected me to crime fiction and its cinematic equivalent. Los Angeles has a long history with noir cinema. This film-based city and its highly urban-centered film genre/film cycle practically share genetic material. In other words, one thing would not be the same without the other.

Thusly, for a local such as me, it makes it even more exciting and appropriate when, once a year, Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation bring NOIR CITY to the City of the Angels and spend some time with us at the American Cinémathèque!

I’ve been going to this festival for YEARS. Some of my dearest and greatest film memories were created here. It was here where I decided that I wanted to be a film archivist. NOIR CITY Los Angeles is the location where I have seen the vast majority of the films that knocked me out to the point of me chatting about them for the remainder of the year, until the next fest came along! My genuine joy with the quality of the prints, the acting and the stories just overflows every year. And it has been a social/film community thing, too- NOIR CITY allows me to spend a healthy amount of time in one of my favorite LA theaters, getting to see people that only come out for this festival. The Film Noir Foundation has provided quite a bit up until this point in this manner- for me and all my friends and colleagues.

I’m also in a unique position this year. As many of you may be aware, I was honored by the Film Noir Foundation in January with an award that really only happens in a noir fan’s (and recently graduated archivist’s), greatest dreams: I became the first participant in the Nancy Mysel Legacy Project, meaning that I will be working with the FNF on their next restoration project. I don’t think I have to tell you how thrilled I am. It’s all I’ve ever wanted and more.

This brings a new layer to attending this year’s NOIR CITY Los Angeles for me. It’s my home festival! For those of you in Los Angeles who may have not had the chance to go to NOIR CITY before, or may not have considered it, I would ask you to join me. Not just because it truly is one of the best film festivals, but also so that you may see what it is that I am completely and totally head-over-heels in love with, and have dedicated my life to preserving. These are incredibly special and wonderful pieces of cinema. I would love to spend some time with you experiencing these films and reveling in the dark. Shall we do so?

Last thing I will say before I go into the films themselves: since I have been to the festival quite a bit before- I have to say that this year in particular is pretty spectacular. GREAT 35mm prints, wonderful international work, exquisite restorations. And these are all things that I would say even if I were not involved somehow with the FNF.  Seriously, the line-up is truly mind-blowing, and I am so excited! Hope to see you there! Oh and one last thing- I would highly suggest buying tickets for the shows ahead of time. They have been known to sell out. Your link to buy said tickets to get you into the marvelous dark mayhem of NOIR CITY can be found right here and if you want other info about the Egyptian theater itself (parking, etc), that may be found here.

NOW, AS THEY SAY, ON WITH THE SHOW!!!!

 

Friday – March 21, 7:30 pm

Introductions by Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation!

Too Late For Tears

Too Late For Tears

 

TOO LATE FOR TEARS - 1949, 99 min, USA, Dir: Byron Haskin – 35mm

Restored by the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film & Television Archive, featuring Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea, this film is the film noir you didn’t know you were missing and the restoration you didn’t know could look this great! Unbelievably thrilling LA-footage and unforgettable characters!

LARCENY – 1948, Universal, 89 min, USA, Dir: George Sherman – 35mm

More Dan Duryea, and there’s nothing wrong with that! A rare one with Shelley Winters and the first film work of John Payne, the title may seem dishonest but the quality is straightforward good stuff!

Larceny

Larceny

Saturday – March 22, 7:30pm

Introduction by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation

Born to Be Bad

Born to Be Bad

BORN TO BE BAD – 1950, Warner Bros., 94 min, USA, Dir: Nicholas Ray – 35mm (print from the George Eastman House collection)

Two words: Nicholas Ray. Two more words: Joan Fontaine.  If those things mixed with a healthy slap of Robert Ryan doesn’t throw ya, I couldn’t imagine what would. This one’s going to be a doozie!

IVY- 1947, Universal, 99 min, USA, Dir: Sam Wood- 35mm

The second in this “Joan Fontaine double feature,” this film is not available on DVD so this is definitely not to be missed. Additional factoid: the role that Fontaine plays in this was originally supposed to go to her sister Olivia de Havilland! Oops!

Ivy

Ivy

Sunday – March 23, 7:30pm

Introduction by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation

Two Men In Manhattan

Two Men In Manhattan

TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN (DEUX HOMMES DANS MANHATTAN) - 1959, Cohen Film, 84 min, France, Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville – DCP

Part of the monthly Cohen Film collection series, this Melville film is also part of NOIR CITY’s new focus this year on international noir works. This film is in French and English with English subtitles, and promises to be a real treasure!

RIFIFI – 1955, Rialto Pictures, 122 min, France, Dir: Jules Dassin – 35mm

A French heist picture directed by an American noir professional, this is globally considered to be one of the classics in crime cinema. French with English subtitles.

rififi

Rififi

Wednesday – March 26, 7:30pm

It Always Rains on Sunday

It Always Rains on Sunday

IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY – 1947, Rialto, 92 min, UK, Dir: Robert Hamer – 35mm

Somewhere between kitchen sink drama and noir is this film. Googie Withers really brings it in this exciting British entry to NOIR CITY!

BRIGHTON ROCK – 1947, Rialto, 92 min, UK, Dir: John Boulting – 35mm

The baby-faced and ultra-young Richard Attenborough plays one of the most sinister and blood-curdling characters in all of film noir in this film: Pinkie. Every bit of this film is fulfilling in a way that is, once again, wholly British, reminding us of this year’s international theme.

Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock

Thursday – March 27, 7:30pm

Caged

Caged

 CAGED – 1950, Warner Bros., 96 min, USA, Dir: John Cromwell – 35mm

If ever there was a film that depicted women in prison, CAGED is one of the most star-studded and powerful. The first entry in the Eleanor Parker double feature, this film also showcases Agnes Moorehead, Jan Sterling and many others. Will not disappoint!

DETECTIVE STORY - 1951, Paramount, 103 min, USA, Dir: William Wyler- DCP

Another great performance from Eleanor Parker, matched only by the presence of one, Kirk Douglas, and directed by William Wyler. This film was nominated for several awards. Come and see why!

Detective Story

Detective Story

Friday – March 28, 7:30pm

Introduced by Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation

Jenny LaMour

Jenny LaMour

JENNY LAMOUR (QUAI DES ORFÈVRES) – 1947, Rialto Pictures, 102 min, France, Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot- 35mm

A fantastic police procedural by the director of such gems as Diabolique and The Wages of Fear, this film is another look into how film noir was explored in the country of the term’s birth. In French with English subtitles.

ANGELS OVER BROADWAY - 1940, Sony Repertory, 79 min, USA, Dir: Ben Hecht, Lee Garmes- 35mm

This incomparable Ben Hecht-penned & directed film features Rita Hayworth & Douglas Fairbanks, Jr in a film about cons, gambling and moral devastation. You know- noir standards! Hecht was nominated for this screenplay- come and see why!

Angels Over Broadway

Angels Over Broadway

Saturday- March 29, panel at 6:30pm, film at 7:30pm

6:30pm – Southern CA Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America meet for a discussion on Los Angeles in noir and literature. Featured panelists: novelists Eric Beetner (Dig Two Graves), P.G. Sturges (the Shortcut Man series), and Steph Cha (Follow Her Home). Book signing will occur in lobby, shortly after the panel.

Introduced by Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation

Southside 1-1000

Southside 1-1000

 SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 – 1950, Warner Bros., 73 min, USA, Dir: Boris Ingster- 35mm

Watch a brand-new 35mm print that highlights the dangers of counterfeiting and criminality within many fantastic Los Angeles locations, from downtown to Hollywood itself! Exciting!

ROADBLOCK - 1951, Warner Bros., 73 min, USA, Dir: Harold Daniels- 35mm

In the world of noir tough guys, there is only one Charles McGraw and this film says that with a vengeance. Come see McGraw in a rare leading role, playing an insurance investigator, doing what he does best- steal that screen!

Roadblock

Roadblock

Sunday – March 30, 7:30pm

Introduced by Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation

 

Tension

Tension

TENSION - 1949, Warner Bros., 95 min, USA, Dir: John Berry- 35mm

We lost a real gem when we lost Audrey Totter last year. This first film in the Audrey Totter double feature shows how smoldering hot and delicious this woman could be and just what an incredible medium noir could be for women and the expression of female sexuality at the time, regardless of the…outcome.

ALIAS NICK BEAL - 1949, Universal, 93 min, USA, Dir: John Farrow- 35mm

More Audrey Totter. That should just be a slogan in life. And in a Faustian work with Ray Milland in tow? HOW can you go wrong?? You just can’t. DO NOT miss this on the big screen. You will truly regret it. This is a great film with everything in its right place and everyONE in their right role.

Alias Nick Beal

Alias Nick Beal

Wednesday- April 2, 7:30pm

Ossessione

Ossessione

OSSESSIONE – 1943, 131 min, Italy, Dir: Luchino Visconti

The Italian version of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Need any further coaxing? If so, let’s put it this way- this is a VERY hot film. So hot that it was banned by Italy’s fascist government and MGM confiscated and destroyed all the prints it could possibly find. This is a must-see. Italian with English subtitles.

Thursday- April 3, 7:30pm

Hardly A Criminal

Hardly A Criminal

HARDLY A CRIMINAL (APENAS UN DELINCUENTE) - 1949, Film Noir Foundation, 88 min, Argentina, Dir: Hugo Fregonese

Returning to our international theme, this is the first in our Hugo Fregonese double feature. A film that investigates Buenos Aires criminality, this Argentinian noir looks at prisons and “perfect crimes” in a very familiar manner, illustrating how film language may not change when it comes to noir- the darkness is universal.

ONE WAY STREET – 1950, Universal, 79 min, USA, Dir: Hugo Fregonese

More Fregonese. This time featuring the likes of James Mason and the illustrious Dan Duryea! See what these American noir figures are like in the hands of Argentinian direction.

One Way Street

One Way Street

Friday-April 4, 6:30pm for book signing, 7:30 for film

Philippe Garnier will sign copies of his NEWEST RELEASE, Goodis: A Life in Black and White*, at 6:30PM in the lobby.

* First American publication by Eddie Muller’s Black Pool Productions

Introduction by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation

Nightfall

Nightfall

NIGHTFALL - 1957, Sony Repertory, 79 min, USA, Dir: Jacques Tourneur

Rarely played and underappreciated, this Tourneur gem features the lovely Anne Bancroft and Aldo Ray gritting out every bit of the darkness of this Goodis-penned work. Considering the cinematography on this, you will definitely want to see this on a big screen!

AND HOPE TO DIE (LA COURSE DU LIÈVRE À TRAVERS LES CHAMPS) – 1972, CCFC, 99 min, France, Dir: René Clement

1970s France, direction by Rene Clement, Robert Ryan and a French-speaking Aldo Ray and a David Goodis story to boot? Just say YES. Master heists and criminal undercurrents at every turn, this film promises nothing but satisfaction. It is a NOIR CITY essential. In French with English subtitles.

And Hope to Die

And Hope to Die

Saturday – April 5, 7:00 intro and screening, 9:00 dinner and party!

This is the BIG NIGHT!!!! There is dinner (provided by The Kitchen for Exploring Foods) and dancing and a bar and all sorts of exciting entertainment after the show! So get those tickets now and get those fancy outfits together! It’s going to be a BLAST!  Advance tix are highly recommended. This is going to be so much fun!

 

Detour

Detour

DETOUR – 1946, Wade Williams, 70 min, USA, Dir: Edgar G. Ulmer

If you are unfamiliar with this film, it is a MUST SEE, even more so in a theater and with an audience. It is the classic B-noir and illustrates the brilliance of cinematic economy and perfect storytelling, visually and otherwise. This is a tight picture on a tight budget and one that Hollywood could still learn a great deal from!

For complete details about the party and the ticket arrangements, please go here. It’s an event that, much like DETOUR, you will not want to miss!

Sunday – April 6, 7:30

Introduction by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation. Discussion between films with author Mary Ann Anderson (‘Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera‘ and ‘The Making of The Hitch-Hiker‘) and Alan K. Rode.

M

M

M - 1951, Superior Pictures, 91 min, USA, Dir: Joseph Losey – 35mm

If the excitement of viewing a restored 35mm print wasn’t enough, the cast for this American version of Fritz Lang’s classic should make your hair stand on end. Norman Lloyd, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus, Howard DaSilva and more keep this piece loaded with brilliance, not to mention it’s done by one, Joseph Losey. Support restoration and great works! Check this piece out! Not on DVD!

THE HITCH-HIKER – 1953, RKO, 71 min, USA, Dir: Ida Lupino – 35mm

This breathtaking restoration by the Library of Congress will have you thinking that the film was printed yesterday. But that also could be due to the content, as well. Actress and filmmaker Ida Lupino was a stellar woman in filmmaking history and this is one of the most striking pieces in her oeuvre. Come see Mary Ann Anderson discuss her work and then see it large and in charge…and restored, care of NOIR CITY, and for the final film of NOIR CITY Los Angeles 2014!hitchhiker

Everything is Bitter in Texas: NOIR CITY Comes to Austin!

Alright, ladies and gents, here’s the rumble: after the yearly successful spin on the silver screen in Seattle, NOIR CITY thought it was high time to take it on the heel and toe and make it down to Austin, Texas for the first time and the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. So from February 28 to March 2, if you happen to be around that joint, I highly recommend you take a look-see. This is going to be a tremendous event!

NoirCityAustin

As documented in my earlier pieces, the experience of attending NOIR CITY is like no other. Carefully curated and meticulously planned, this festival presents collections of films, some of which have not been played in a theatrical context in years. These remarkable cinematic works are not only receiving a new life by the onslaught of fans attending NOIR CITY but they are also receiving new treatment in many cases, as a portion of the funds collected by the Film Noir Foundation (the non-profit organization behind NOIR CITY) go to future film preservation/restoration projects.

All attendees of NOIR CITY assist in the preservation of the films no matter where it is- San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Portland, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and now, Austin! Becoming part of this “bitter little world,” whether it is through buying a ticket or a t-shirt, assures the future survival of these films that are being shown. As someone who works in the world of preservation and restoration, just getting the chance to see excited audiences enter the theater and hear their remarks about recent restorations being shown is enough to make me know that I chose the right occupation. Some people like the rewards of teaching, other people enjoy the satisfaction received from selling a house- I enjoy the knowledge that someone has gotten intense joy out of watching a motion picture that has been worked on and “saved” from its own kind of death.

Bringing NOIR CITY to Austin and the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is something that everyone involved is very pleased to see finally come to fruition. Eddie Muller, founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, notes, “I couldn’t be more thrilled that Austin is the latest addition to the NOIR CITY roadshow. I love the Alamo Drafthouse and am excited to be part of its mission: keeping creative and communal rep programming thriving. Since this is the first NOIR CITY at the Drafthouse, it’s a virtual ‘greatest hits’ of all the titles the Film Noir Foundation has restored or recovered from obscurity. It’ll be a fantastic weekend.”

With that, please enjoy the following posters and small bits of information about the films that will be shown over the next few days!

Friday, February 28

Too Late For Tears

Too Late For Tears (Byron Haskin, 1949)

Too Late For Tears (Byron Haskin,1949) Restored by the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film & Television Archive, featuring Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea.

Try and Get Me

Try and Get Me (Cy Endfield, 1951)

Try and Get Me aka The Sound of Fury (Cy Endfield, 1951) Rare film by a blacklisted director & recent Film Noir Foundation restoration, featuring Lloyd Bridges and Frank Lovejoy.

Saturday, March 1

Larceny

Larceny (George Sherman, 1948)

Larceny (George Sherman, 1948) rare not-on-DVD film featuring the great John Payne & Shelley Winters!

Crashout

Crashout (Lewis R. Foster, 1955)

Crashout (Lewis R. Foster, 1955) Fantastically exciting prison escape film featuring some of the best of the best: William Bendix, Gene Evans, William Talman and more!

Cry Danger

Cry Danger (Robert Parrish, 1951)

Cry Danger (Robert Parrish, 1951) breathtakingly beautiful restoration done by the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive that makes you think this film came out or was shot YESTERDAY. Dick Powell just rips that screen apart.

The Breaking Point

The Breaking Point (Michael Curtiz, 1950)

The Breaking Point (Michael Curtiz, 1950) This picture has the swoon-worthy John Garfield alongside the truly great Patricia Neal in what is really one of the best Hemingway adaptations ever put to screen.

Sunday, March 2

Repeat Performance

Repeat Performance

rp2

Repeat Performance (Alfred Werker, 1947)

Repeat Performance – (Alfred Werker, 1947) This 2012 35mm restoration, funded by the Film Noir Foundation and the Packard Humanities Institute, is not to be missed! ATwilight Zone-esque tale with dynamic performances from Richard Basehart and Joan Leslie, this film will knock your socks off, leaving you hungry for more.

Three Strangers

Three Strangers (Jean Negulesco, 1946)

Three Strangers – (Jean Negulesco, 1946) – Co-written by John Huston, this film stars three of the more persuasive figures in the film noir acting canon: Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Geraldine Fitzgerald. While the plot may seem simple at first, the actuality is that this film is one of the darker and more unique pieces of noir cinema produced.

contact-man_ger_49_a

Alias Nick Beal (John Farrow, 1949)

Alias Nick Beal (John Farrow, 1949) – The chance to see this not-on-DVD film on a big screen is now yours! Experience the vibrant Audrey Totter and the oh-so-persuasive Ray Milland in a film noir that is like no other. Not to be missed!

The Chase

The Chase (Arthur Ripley, 1946)

The Chase (Arthur Ripley, 1946) – End your visit to NOIR CITY Austin with one of the more unusual pieces put on film. Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, this film has been called everything from “dreamy” to “expressionistic” and showcases Robert Cummings, Michele Morgan and Peter Lorre. The Chase is a great way to end a great weekend! Hope you enjoy!

For more info and to buy tix, go here:

http://drafthouse.com/packages/noir-city-austin

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