Sunday, September 19, 2010

A JEWEL IN THE CROWN: THE NEW BEVERLY SHINES BRIGHT AGAIN



Patrons of the New Beverly Cinema have enjoyed several upgrades to the theater that have been initiated over the last few years. The screen, projection and sound have all been subject to significant and noticeable improvements over the last five years or so, and two summers ago plush seats purchased from a theater in Westwood that had recently closed were installed to the delight of film fans who for decades had been at the mercy of the theater’s most uncomfortable feature. And now even those who are just passing by and perhaps considering a night in with a classic double bill, or an evening’s programming of independent film, or a cult-oriented midnight movie will find the lure of the New Beverly shining out through the darkness of the La Brea-Beverly neighborhood with renewed intensity. Yes, the new marquee is up and blazing into the night, a visual reminder of the theater’s renewed commitment to the future of revival independent, calendar-based revival programming for Los Angeles film buffs, even the ones who no longer live here but well remember the theater’s glory days under the guidance of the late Sherman Torgan.

Sherman’s son Michael, owner and curator of the theater’s programming (along with Phil Blankenship and Brian Quinn), has shepherded the theater through these much-more-than-cosmetic changes, with an awareness that making for a comfortable and attractive environment in which to experience classic and contemporary cinema is almost as important as marshalling a well-balanced and challenging schedule of films to occupy the screen. The upcoming October schedule, which will be highlighted here in a week or so, is the best testament to Michael’s programming acumen, a brilliantly selected lineup that of course leans toward horror for Halloween but leaves room for lots of variation, within that theme and without, as well as for an appearance by one of his dad’s old favorites, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. And now the New Beverly looks, outside and inside, more like a little movie palace worthy of the jewels it shows on a daily basis because of that beautiful new fa├žade.
While we wait for that October schedule to kick into gear, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the upgrading of the New Beverly marquee stage by stage. There’s still some work around the edges to be done, but knowing that won’t prevent you from getting a little chill of excitement at seeing the old girl looking more beautiful than ever.


This is the way she looked into the fall of 2008. There was still plenty of light behind the board, though inconsistently distributed, but the corona of lights around the cinema logo sign had long since ceased to make their glittering run around the edges of the oval track.


March 2010. The logo sign removed, the board still looked good in the daylight as work began in earnest restoring and retrofitting the frame around the marquee itself.



April 2010. Still waiting for the crown to be replaced, you can see much more clearly as the sun sets just how the lighting behind the board had become a mere formality, a pockmarked gesture toward the brilliant glory of the marquee’s past and the promise of its immediate future.


July 2010. The crown is restored, more beautiful than ever, its running lights tracing the edges of the oval-shaped logo in a way that they hadn’t for a long time. Just seeing how bright the sign shone out of the dark was inspiration enough to keep Michael and everyone following the progress of the New Beverly’s facial hope for the best during the long summer months.



The lid gets lifted, and for much longer than anyone expected the New Beverly went without a marquee, likely causing some passers-by to wonder if the theater had in fact been closed like so many other businesses of late. Michael and the faithful battled the perception by making sure there were lines for the programs all summer long, knowing that soon there would again be a worthy construct out front from which to trumpet the theater’s pulse and excitement.



August 2010. Still some work to be done around the edges—you can compare where the marquee attaches to the front of the building in the first four shots above to this photo to observe where the details still aren’t quite there. But just seeing the bright new board, still sans the all-important letter racks, was enough to make the spirits soar.


September 17, 2010. I drove up to the theater early for a Barbara Stanwyck double bill and got my first glance at the new marquee complete with brand-new letters and the racks to hold them. Unlike a couple of years ago, the New Beverly’s marquee now fairly jumps out into the night, visible even through the small, short trees adorning the sidewalk in front of the building, which often could obstruct the marquee when its illumination was weakened. Roll over, cinephiles, and tell Tartovsky, not to mention Hitchcock, Fellini and Peckinpah the news—the New Beverly is now looking better than ever inside and out. There may be other theaters that can boast better technical presentations or more comparatively luxurious surroundings, but none can equal the good vibes of walking into the lobby, underneath this beautiful new construct, greeting and being greeted by old friends and perhaps new, and enjoying a great classic film or a soon-to-be classic in the company of fans who are there to have fun but who also tend to be more respectful of the experience of others than any other revival cinema where young hipsters mix it up with the old(er) faithful. If you haven’t been in a while, make plans to visit the New Beverly Cinema soon, enjoy all the wonderful face lifts, take in a great double bill, and make sure to stop and let Michael or someone else on the staff know just how much you appreciate it. The New Beverly, a true Los Angeles jewel, just got brighter and shinier, and we should never take her for granted.

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8 comments:

Robert Fiore said...

I always thought the title THE REVENGE OF THE SITH was proof positive that no movie theater uses those movable letters on the marquee anymore, because if they did who would dare call a movie that? Three cheers to the New Beverly for maintaining this tradition.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Robert, we country boys back in the '70s, on breaks between cow-tipping sessions, would have had a great time with REVENGE OF THE SITH on our old drive-in marquee, which was only about seven feet off the ground and well vulnerable to a high school kid's uncontrollable bursts of wit!

Anonymous said...

What about the word "NEW" in the marquee? After all, the name is New Beverly...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Anonymous, according to Paul Cullum's 2003 piece (which was linked in the post):

"In 1968, the property was bought by Howard Ziehm, the soon-to-be co-director of Flesh Gordon and Mona, the Virgin Nymph, widely credited as the first domestic porn feature with artistic ambitions. Ziehm changed the name to the Beverly and his new tenants added live erotic stage shows. In 1977, the Los Angeles Times suddenly stopped accepting ads for adult films, and the business became a liability.

Torgan opened the doors of the rechristened New Beverly (so he wouldn’t have to replace the sign entirely) on May 5, 1978, with a Brando double bill — A Streetcar Named Desire and Last Tango in Paris."

I suppose the sign could have been replaced entirely or the word "New" incorporated somehow. But I like the fact that the theater has kept its connection to the past and the reason for the sign existing the way it has for 32 years. I also suspect that for Michael it's a part of the identity of the theater that, in memory of his beloved dad, he wouldn't want to change. Even in a renovation such as this, it's good that someone has kept in mind the old dictum, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Anonymous said...

All good upgrades: seats, projection, & now marquee.
Now Michael & owner Tarantino should do something about the tiny restrooms. They can't expand into the lobby space, that area is already waaaaay too small.
My 2¢: buy/lease some of the next door storefront area. Knock out a doorway to it. Build 2 larger restrooms there (incl a handicap accessible). The rest of the area space can be where filmmaker guests and crowds can stand and chat and mill about, out of the tiny lobby area. Could even move concessions over there to expand that operation (similar to the concession stand configuration at the Fine Arts Theatre on Wilshire Blvd if you were ever there.
Maybe next year :)

bp said...

god bless the new beverly. makes me miss los angeles. no small feat

wwolfe said...

This made my heart glad. I haven't been for a few years, because the last time I went I got that melancholy feeling a business on its last legs always has. So to see these pictures of the bright new marquee is a happy thing. I'm going to see "Chinatown," for sure - what better way to celebrate the comeback of a Los Angeles institution?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"I'm going to see Chinatown for sure - what better way to celebrate the comeback of a Los Angeles institution?"

Beautifully said, wwolfe. The marquee did for you just what it did for me and everyone else who loves the New Beverly-- it's like a beacon that illuminates a much brighter future than the one you (perhaps correctly) sensed several years ago. I hope to see you there for Chinatown!