For film fanatics, it boggles the mind that a generation of movie-watchers have no idea what seeing cinema on 35mm film is like. The phasing out of this grand format, along with the slow death of the repertory movie house, is the focus of Julia Marchese’s documentary Out Of Print, which screens Wednesday at the Sie FilmCenter, one of our city’s last bastions for 35mm revival cinema. Through dozens of interviews with filmmakers, critics and fans, the film tells the history of Los Angeles’s fabled New Beverly Cinema, which has been showing 35mm revival double and triple features every day since 1978; after she got a job there, Marchese started fighting to save celluloid. “Thirty-five millimeter has been around for over 100 years and stayed pretty much the same,” she says. “You could put a print from 1943 on a modern projector and it will run fine. Do you think we’ll be able to say the same for the films on 4K DCP hard drives 100 years from now?”
In advance of her visit to Denver this week to present her documentary – on 35mm, natch – we asked Marchese a few questions about movies, film and the future of the format.
Westword: What was the very first film that you remember seeing on 35mm? Does that film still hold dear to you?
Julia Marchese: I can't recall the first film I saw, knowing specifically that it was on film, but the first film I saw in the theater was Clash of the Titans. I was just a toddler and apparently it freaked me out so bad they had to take me out of the theater screaming. But I've been on board ever since...
What is your favorite film to watch on 35mm? Which one really nailed everything special about the format to you?
Watching a '70s slasher flick — like Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Last House on the Left — and the print is old and a little battered. Just makes the films seem even more low-budget and scary. Love it.
Describe the feeling you had experiencing the New Beverly for the first time and discovering a community in the repertory world.
I felt as if I had found the magical place I had wanted to be a part of my whole life. Growing up in Las Vegas, there was no such thing as revival cinema, so I was absolutely floored when I saw the New Bev calendar for the first time and saw their programming! The first double feature I saw there was in 2001 and it was with my best friend, Marion (who also worked at the Bev and appears in the documentary). It was Goonies & Gremlins back to back, and there were some very vocal Corey Feldman fans in the house, and I just thought, "I'm home."
When did you know that you had to tell the story of the New Beverly and, with it, the story of 35mm and repertory cinema?
I had always had it somewhere in my mind that a New Bev doc needed to be made, but it wasn't until the threat of the digital changeover started to force small cinemas to close that I said, "This needs to be made now."
What's so important about 35mm film? How do you try to sway people who say, "Eh, who cares? Digital is so much better."
Of course there's the aesthetic side of it — digital just doesn't look as rich as 35mm yet. I am sure we will get to a point where that happens, but until then you're watching an inferior version of a film.
What was the biggest lesson you learned putting this film together, either in filmmaking or from talking to so many great film luminaries?
I learned how important it is to listen — especially as a first-time director. I made sure to involve my crew as much as possible, and ask their advice on what they thought the best light or camera set-up would be, then work together on that. No one wins when a director pretends to know what they're doing and they really are floundering. Listen, and ask questions.
What can one person do to keep 35mm film alive?
Find out which of your local theaters still run 35mm and attend those screenings. There are some great cinemas in the Denver area — support them!
Your falling out with the new team at the New Beverly was made public last year. [You can read Julia’s blog for details on the whole bloody affair with new theater owner Quentin Tarantino’s management team.] Can you touch on that situation a bit and where are things now?
It was like having the love of your life breaking you heart. I haven't been back since the day I was fired, and I guess I won't ever be back.
How does it feel not working with the theatre that you loved so much and that inspired you so much?
It changes the way people watch the film now, which I think is interesting. If the audience doesn't know beforehand that I was fired, it has a celebratory feeling. If they do know, it becomes much more somber and melancholy — because THAT New Bev doesn't exist anymore.
What are you up to next, professionally?
I'm just now poking my head out of the fog I have been in the last few months, so I don't know exactly. But I have a few screenplays and a novel I am working on, so we will see!
In ten years, how do you think we will be talking about 35mm film?
Hopefully through awesome futuristic robot voice boxes.
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Out of Print screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 17 at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Tickets are $15, or $12 for Denver Film Society members, and include a pre-film reception with the director. Get tickets at denverfilm.org.
The poster for Out Of Print, which mimics one of the beloved monthly programming fliers for the New Beverly Theater.