Out of print, out of mind: Director screens documentary about revival theater still projecting celluloid

by Cathleen Cusachs / Beacon Staff • February 5, 2015

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Getting rid of celluloid film to only watch movies digitally would be similar to only viewing the “Mona Lisa” online, the 2014 documentary Out of Print argues. 

Julia Marchese, the director of Out of Print,joined Emerson professor Peter Flynn, Boston local Garen Daly, and projectionist Herb Nipson for a panel discussion on Jan. 29 after a screening of the documentary, which is about the revival theater The New Beverly Cinema and 35 mm film. Revival theaters show predominantly older movies that are long out of circulation at a typical multiplex.

Marchese, 35, interviewed The New Beverly Cinema staff members, regulars, and herself for the documentary. She said she wanted to capture the family atmosphere of the Los Angeles theater she loves—she said she worked there for eight years—while showing the advantages of watching and screening film. Filmmaking is an art, she said, and when the original movie is made on film, it should be seen on film.

“I wanted to make a movie about The New Beverly for so long anyway, because there’s just a crazy cast of characters who work there and come there,” Marchese said. “Then the digital conversion kind of snowballed into that.” 

The New Beverly has an eclectic history, evolving from vaudeville stage to nightclub to movie theater. In the ’70s, it was a venue for adult films before Sherman Torgan bought it and transformed it into the revival house it is today, building it into a beloved institution frequented by Hollywood stars. When Torgon died in 2007, director Quentin Tarantino bought the establishment and still owns it today.

Marchese was fired after the creation of the film, because of her negative attitude towards unspecified changes being made at the theater. However, she said she still feels fondly toward the theater and the friends she has made there.

Marchese said she has recently discovered many studios have stopped distributing their 35 mm film reels to cinemas, and are trying to phase into solely digital distribution. To revival theater enthusiasts like her, film should be preserved, and venues like The New Beverly are the only ones dedicated to keeping the history of cinema alive. 

Marchese also created an online petition in 2012 for cinephiles to show their support for 35 mm film that garnered over 10,000 signatures. Out of Print was projected at Emerson using film in the Bright Family Screening Room as part of the visual and media arts department’s Bright Lights series.

“There’s a reason it’s called revival,” Daly said. “We were literally reviving American film that had not been seen by the public, and what happened was the public decided that this was not only vital, but great. It was a lot of fun because we’re now seeing part of our history.” 

Flynn, a visual and media arts professor at Emerson, directed another documentary on 35 mm film, titled The Dying of the Light, which focuses on the history of theaters and projections. The trailer for his film was also shown at the Bright Lights event.

Flynn, 42, said he believes film is important to remember, but digital is not taking away from the art. Although his 2014 documentary highlights film, he was quick to say digital is just as good. 

“There is a wonderful romance element to projection booths, and to the light coming from the booth and to shadows on the screen,” Flynn said. “But here’s something that’s far more romantic and that you as filmmakers will come of age as this technology itself, digital, comes to age. You will be the generation that predicts the future.”

Jack Siberine, a junior visual and media arts major, said he agrees with Flynn. He said that after watching the screening and the panel, he thinks film is important, but just not for him to worry about. At Emerson, Siberine has a focus in production, and said he believes he should be looking towards the future of movies, not the past.

“We’re trying to get into the business and not trying to preserve the old business that is dying,” Siberine said in an interview with the Beacon. “It’s great for [Marchese], because I think she has a different perspective than us as film students, but when you bring it to a college like Emerson, where we’re trying to find out what’s next, I don’t think that’s what’s next.”

Marchese, Nipson, and Anna Feder, the event host and Bright Lights curator, all said they believe film and digital should coexist and offered options for the audience.

Daly argued it’s the audience, though, that’s throwing film away. By and large, patrons are choosing digital blockbusters over classic, thoughtful film movies, he said. 

“[The audience doesn’t] want to go to the movie theater to learn,” Daly said. “They don’t want to be challenged, they want to be comforted. They want to know that in the next two hours they’ll see X number of crashes, X number of romances, and X number of people doing whatever they want to do on screen.” 

Feder urged the panel’s audience to encourage productions shot on film and digitally. She said simply attending revival or film-only theaters nearby like the Brattle Theatre and the Coolidge Corner Theater will help the cause.

In the end, panel members agreed that it’s up to the current generation to decide whether revival houses will survive or theaters will convert to solely digital.

“It’s all very good and well to listen to people who—Julia being the exception—are minimum twice your age,” Flynn said. “But, forge your own way. You are the digital age, you are the era of filmmaking. And you will define how that proceeds.”