Our favorite repertory movie theater is Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema, on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. For $8, you can see a carefully selected double feature, complete with vintage trailers and shorts. The popcorn is fresh and hot, without the Styrofoam-like texture of multiplex fare. The fairly priced fountain Coke is fizzy.
The 228-seat house has been in operation since 1978, when film enthusiast Sherman Torgan transformed it from a porn theater into what it is today. Toward the end of the last decade, it fell on hard times, having suffered the one-two punch of the DVD and streaming revolutions. In 2007, one of its regulars—director and film geek Quentin Tarantino—started kicking in $5,000 a month to defray the costs of making ends meet in a dying business.
Not long afterward, Torgan died of a heart attack, and the running of the theater fell to his son, Michael Torgan. In 2010, Tarantino purchased the building that houses the New Beverly, saving it from a miserable fate (there was talk of it becoming a Supercuts). In recent months, he has refurbished the theater and taken over the job of programming the films himself.
Although he sometimes relies on studios and private collectors, Tarantino usually screens his own prints of whatever movies are on the bill. And on his watch the New Beverly will show only film, either 35 or 16 millimeter, as part of his noble (but perhaps quixotic) effort to combat the digitization of the movie industry. “To me,” Tarantino told Deadline Hollywood earlier this year, “digital projection is just television in public.”
On a recent night, I handed $8 to the New Beverly ticket taker to see a pair of 1972 films directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Steve McQueen. One was already a favorite of mine, The Getaway, a beautiful, somewhat melancholy action picture based on the novel of the same title by pulp writer Jim Thompson. The other was a nearly forgotten contemporary western, Junior Bonner, that has McQueen in the role of a traveling rodeo performer who is not quite ready to hang up his spurs. This one was a revelation—a sad, funny, perceptive character study that had room enough to chronicle a specific cultural moment in the American West, when latter-day cowboys were giving way to real estate developers.
All of the nearly 200 people seated in the New Beverly that night had a bit of Junior Bonner in them. There we were, watching a scratched and faded print of a 42-year-old movie that we could have ordered for next-day delivery from Amazon. But why contribute to the killing of something you love?