Why We Watch: Theatrical Attendance, Archiving and Individualism

It has been a whirlwind last few weeks. Things have been moving so quickly that I haven’t slowed down enough to be able to put both feet on the ground! Either that or I’ve been so thrilled by all the fantastic things that have been happening that I am in a permanent state of 5 feet above the pavement. I’ll let you know which one it is when I know. Which may (fingers crossed) be never…

Exciting things? A life-changing AMIA Conference in Savannah, GA which included meeting Ian Mackaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi. Participating in a truly kick-ass small gauge workshop where I learned so much. Attending a fabulous Home Movie Day recently, and a new archiving/metadata project that I’ve been busting my ass on. I’m loving EVERY MINUTE. The latter of these things was yet another case of a colleague in the archiving community reaching out, too. I swear to reels and sprockets if it wasn’t for film preservation and the folks I know and have met in the last few years? I would be lost. L-O-S-T.

Admittedly, something has been bothering me. I have tried not to let it get to me too much because I have all these other things going on but… I can’t stop thinking about it. So here is me. Talking about some things. And I’m not going to bullshit. And I’m not going to beat around the bush. But I am also not here to trash-talk, get personal or nasty. This is not a gossip piece. With that said, let’s get the initial stuff out of the way so we can talk about the REAL issues.

By now many people have probably seen the blog written by Julia Marchese, former employee of the New Beverly Cinema. You may recognize the name of this theater as the one that I have written about several times . Without getting into details or reposting the blog (go ahead and find it yourself if you need to) her article discusses how she felt that she got the raw end of the deal in her recent “dismissal.” While I found her article problematic from a working professional’s standpoint, I think I found the public response even more disturbing. Much of the blind support and anti-theater sentiment came from people who had never met her and/or had never even visited the New Beverly. This felt weird to me.

Do I feel bad that someone, anyone lost their job? Absolutely. But did I think that it was news in the same time period that Home Movie Day was happening (a great film preservation event) or when such fascinating pieces are being written about Christopher Nolan and INTERSTELLAR‘s exhibition changes? Not really. So I was ready to just blow it off. But then it happened. Not once, not twice but over and over. Within the few articles that I read, Julia was referred to as the “heart and soul” and “public face” of the New Beverly Cinema, either by the author or within the comments. How an employee of 6 years could be either of those things for a theater that is 36 years old made me feel even more uneasy.

These phrases and this structure of characterization is what I REALLY wish to explore. I wish to center my discussion on what I see as a kind of posturing, and let me reiterate: it is not endemic to this situation nor to this person. I have seen it before in other situations. I’m sure we all have. But my issue is as follows: anytime someone is built up with their own personal importance emphasized before that of their institution’s or what their institution does, there is a major problem. Especially if that person is not considered to be a major figure within said institution. Not only can this cause unrest and poor work relations in a given work environment, it’s not a healthy way to present any company or team atmosphere. I can only speak from where I sit and this is why sharing credit and community recognition has always been one of the greatest assets to the moving image archiving community. It tends to prevent situations like this. But….not 100% of the time. As Billy Wilder wrote, “Nobody’s perfect.”

From my experience, it is antithetical to our primary goal as a film preservation community to peacock, especially if you have a significant attachment to a company- be it educational institution, regional archive, studio or movie theater. What I have seen within my own community (and yes, Virginia, there are politics in the most altruistic of film preservation worlds) is that those folks who see themselves as an archivist/preservationist first and then an individual are generally far more successful and usually become the central touchstones of this magical world I am part of. That has said worlds to me as I train to become the woman I want to become. Thus I get awfully suspicious when I begin to see any kind of cult of personality being built around someone who has stated that they are tirelessly working for the betterment of the film community on their own.

Now let’s get into wording and some basic reality. Here is a cold, hard fact: the heart and soul of a movie theater will always be the films it shows. It will never solely be a person. What a theater shows creates its personality, its individual culture, its ambience. A programmer is a good portion of that, which is why people like Michael and Sherman Torgan’s development and creation OF the New Beverly is SO VITAL TO BE RECOGNIZED. In addition, Phil Blankenship’s Saturday Midnight series at the New Beverly was a major part of its personality. Brian Quinn and Eric Caiden’s Grindhouse Series. The guest programmers. Hell, even my series added a little bit (I like to think). My point is: content creates character

When I go to the Heavy Midnights series at the Cinefamily, I’m not going specifically to hang with the programmer (sorry, Phil!). I go to see the incredible and rare off-beat movies shown. When I go to the American Cinematheque, I don’t attend the films because I want to chat with the folks I know that work there. It’s a nice perk, but I go to see the movies. There are some incredible programmers in this town. The film events going on are really unbeatable. But am I switching my schedule around and looking at bus plans so I can get to the Echo Park Film Center to be hip? Not even close. I’m doing it because that place is an amazing and dynamic part of LA Film Culture. I get to see cool shit. Really, isn’t it all about seeing cool shit?

Archives work in the same manner. What we collect, how we process and care for the collections, our rules and regulations and our interactions with other professional organizations (including locations of exhibition) help to define us. While we may all have our own individual identities as archivists, projectionists, exhibition specialists, I firmly believe that we are also part of larger systems. Not only are we part of the businesses or organizations that employ us, but we are also tied in through an umbilical-cord-like-network, an over-arching community called FILM. We answer to it as our primary boss. If Mama Film wasn’t there…neither would we be.

What we are not is regimes. If you’re curious, my stance on the New Beverly format issue has not changed. I’m not going to alter my researched and valid personal position that a theater should be equipped with everything from digital to 16mm. And I’m not going to change my opinion about the way in which the New Beverly transition was conducted. I don’t think it was professionally done nor was it respectful. But I highly object to the repeated use of the word REGIME, in reference to either the Torgan family or Tarantino.

Neither of them are tyrannical rulers or fascists. Let’s get real, people. This is a damn movie theater, not the Third Reich. Regime?? Just stop.

 

I would like very much for us to think about why we go to the movies at all. During the Depression, people went to get a sliver of happiness from the horrors of the world. As Hollywood legend Norman Lloyd notes, “They were a wonderful escape. People would go into the theater, in this darkened cavern, and it took them out of themselves. They could fantasize about what happened on the screen, about those beautiful stars that existed then.” I like to think that we still do that. I know that I do. It’s why I went into preservation work. So that the little babies that my friends are having right now can experience what I experience. Big screen magic of beautiful (or beautifully told) stories.

Yes, I returned to the NEW New Beverly last night. I went to go see the two George C. Scott pictures. And I had a great time.

I spent some time soul-searching this week. Clearly. I deeply explored ideas of self-promotion and individuality, love for the medium and exhibition landscape, ideas of preservation. I had major thoughts about the evolution of Los Angeles film spaces, too, since many of the theaters I attended as a little girl are now gone. Even the Egyptian Theater is itself a new iteration- it’s the American Cinematheque. At some point I got all Emma Goldman up in my head, angry at anyone who would try to personally claim ownership for a media environment when it should belong to us all…but that passed. I just put on some punk rock and remembered that DIY archiving is totally a thing and that calmed me down. I just started working on a database. It’s the Ariel Zen.

I had thought that boycotting the New Beverly was going to be my answer but it’s a really stupid answer. Here is where I stand. As someone who puts film above almost everything else in life (including many human relationships), I feel much more comfortable going back there now that I know that I will be able to be in a climate that is more film-centered than personality-centered. My biggest concern? What’re you playing, man? What’s on the marquee? Last night was pretty nice. I was able to breathe easy, enjoy the films, laugh too loud at the damn cartoon that no one else was laughing at (it’s a cartoon, guys!!), got to see some people who I genuinely adore, and watch some rarely screened pictures.

Also, as I was saying to someone in the lobby, one of my favorite things about being in the archiving/preservation field is that I get to learn about new media elements or historical facts on a regular basis. This also happens in exhibition. And that’s just a joy and a pleasure. I saw some trailers last night for films that I have NEVER heard of before. I must see MOVIE/MOVIE. That film looks awesome!!! 

The print for the first film, RAGE, was pretty gnarly, but as someone who’s familiar with 35mm, I know that watching them in this condition is important for me to do so I may learn more about analog and see what I can suss out myself. Is that discoloration due to film stock? Is that a base scratch? Is that due to bad printing? To be honest, this is great practice for me! RAGE does exist on Warner Archives and I’ll bet that their DVD is in better condition but….I’ll take big screen over DVD any day.  The audience reaction alone was worth the price of admission!!!!!!!!! And I’ve seen FAR worse prints. Definitely worth a watch so hey- there’s my plug for Warner Archives! Baby Martin Sheen! OMGZ!! The second print, THE SAVAGE IS LOOSE was simply gorgeous (and a much better film, I might add). I cannot stop thinking about it. Such an incredible, bizarre and eerie film. Absolutely loved it.

I can only speak for myself. But from what I have gleaned, I get the sense that the one thing that Michael Torgan and Quentin Tarantino share is the fact that they want films to keep playing at the New Beverly. They may have differing ideas on methodology, but I think that this mutual drive for exhibition and the strong desire for films to be seen is something that needs to be recognized in both men. This is something to be respected. I see this in my own field in the people who fight tooth and nail to keep their archives afloat. It’s not easy. And things are changing all the time. I don’t want to be prescriptive here. I’ve just come to some resolutions over the last week that may make me less than popular with friends but make me feel ethically better with my field of choice and with my self.

I’m not going to be an apologist for anyone or their actions. In fact, I’m staying wholly clear of that. But I also want to examine the idea that maybe we should be deciding for ourselves the ways in which we consume moving image media. And I do believe that it is important to support local theaters, and 35mm and 16mm exhibition. What I am absolutely sure of is that I would not go to a movie theater simply because it is owned by someone famous. I would not go there simply because it is run by a friend or one of the most amazing folks I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, although I admittedly did do that on more than one occasion so….yeah.  Point being, I WOULD go there because it has movies I want to see. I know my reason for attending the theaters I attend.

But at the end of the day, I guess it really is a personal question to be answered: why do you watch?

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Top 5 Films of 2008…

All right cats & kittens, here we are- end of the year- and I know that AT LEAST one of you would like to know what my top 5 films of 2008 (that I have SEEN) are.

Well, y’know what?
Not only am I going to tell you, but I’m going to SHOW you.

I will post a trailer for each one of my favorite films of this year, with a brief description of why I adore it and think it rocked my socks more than the, well, um, embarrassingly large amount of other films I have seen within the year. Although, that said, truth be told…the large amount of films wasn’t always recent films so I guess that doesn’t really count. BUT THESE DO!!

And these films are EXCELLENT. Seriously. Really really really good. This is the first year I have gone to see new films multiple times in the theater in a VERY long time (many many years…perhaps since Lost Highway or American Beauty) and it is with great passion and cinematic drive that I urge you to partake in these pieces of celluloid. It’s been a shitty shitty year for me in my personal life, but good GOD it’s been a great year for me with movies!

So here’s the way it’s gonna work. I’m gonna post my top 5, but they will NOT, I repeat NOT be in any kind of qualitative order. In other words, there’s just simply no way that I could like one of these over another over another. They are all so different and so amazing in their own ways, and I cannot put one above the other. So, think of ’em on the same scale of Cinema Love, and enjoy.

Lemme know whatcha think, k?

Celluloid kisses and Reel-y big hugs,

Ariel

I don’t play favorites very often, if at all, but if pressed…this was my very favorite film of 2008. The first 45 seconds left me thrilled, stunned, and shocked. This is not your average film. More than anything, this is absolutely nothing at ALL like Waking Life. Don’t even *think* about comparing the two. This film is brutal, gorgeous, and relentless. I think I probably cried through 70% of the film, half because of the sheer magnificence of the art and splendor of the cinematic story before me and half because of content. The animation and the process (of which Folman has several articles/interviews available) are beyond compare.
I can truly truly truly say that I have never seen anything like it.
This film is out now. You will be doing yourself a complete disservice if you do not SEE THIS FILM. The soundtrack, the visuals, the EVERYTHING…perfection. Waltz With Bashir. AMAZING.

If nothing else gets you, the performances ALONE are enough to warrant the ridiculous amount of money theaters are charging for admission these days. However, it’s not just that. This film virtually *drips* with quality. To me, it was like watching the most sensationally intense boxing match I had ever seen in my life. So much so, that at times, it even seemed to be photographed in slightly that manner. Alongside the obviously interesting historical issues and the simply fascinating discussion on the media (including media figures), this film also focuses on the viewer’s own emotional positionality, toying with it a bit, based on the magnificent performances and incredible story in tandem. I dug that part A LOT. Well played, Mr. Howard, one of the best you’ve done!

OK, so aside from my fascination with (read: massive crush on) Robert Downey Jr.for the last 20 years, my absolute adoration for Jeff Bridges and my newfound interest in Terrance Howard (after Hustle & Flow), this movie rocked me. It is a solid and striking film, and I say that not just because I’m a comic book geek, not just because it was fun and exciting, and not just because it was well-written and structured (although it was all of those things and more). What is truly arresting about Iron Man is Favreau’s choice to lay bare the multitude of issues surrounding war as a business and an economic industry, and what that really means, in such an updated, contemporary fashion. Anyone who says that comic book movies are just fluff pieces with no transitive value, needs to experience Iron Man in all its glory. Seriously.

Yeah, I’ve been raving about this left, right & center. FINE. See, I love wrestling. I do. I wouldn’t have written a 35-pg paper about wrestling (that I eventually presented at a international conference) if I didn’t love it. But that’s not the only reason I love this movie. I love this film because it’s accurate as HELL and grips your heart in a choke-hold, refusing to let go. The balls-out emotional intensity is matched only by the wrestling itself, which, I might add, was great. But you DON’T HAVE TO LOVE WRESTLING TO LOVE THE MOVIE. My only criticism was Evan Rachel Wood. She was not good. At all. But the rest of the film was graphic, brutal, and painful in all the right ways. I cried. A lot. Great performances, great characters, and WOW, um, Marisa Tomei? HOT!
On a more personal level, I *finally* feel like a film has been made that will help dispel the myth that wrestling is easy and “fake,” and without any real consequence, something I appreciated beyond measure.

At first, I was just ecstatic about the choice to replace Mrs. Scientologist herself, Katie Holmes, from the first film with…well, anyone. Little did I know it was only going to skyrocket in OMFG HOW AMAZING CAN THIS BE-ness from there. Suffice to say that 2008 was a damn fine year to be a comic book geek who also happens to spend many of her waking hours ‘neath the silvery screen. It’s incredibly difficult to enunciate (at least in a professional or eloquent sense) my feelings about Chris Nolan’s work on The Batman, other than…IT RULES. I kinda turn into a 14-year-old boy. My academic side would like to tell you, however, that this is probably one of the most (if not THE most) faithful comic-to-film adaptations that has been done thus far, both thematically and content-wise. Not only that, but the performances were startlingly good, and the skillful direction and the only-when-needed use of digital effects was gratefully noted and appreciated.