Digital: Out of Print (2014)

December 12, 2014 | By

 OutOfPrint2014_sFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label: Level 33 Entertainment

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  2014

Genre:  Documentary / Film History

Synopsis: Personal documentary on Los Angeles’ iconic rep cinema, The New Beverly, and its staff & patrons who keep it alive.

Special Features:  Trailer / Outtakes (3:49) / 3 Deleted Scenes: “Dream Double-Feature (7:50) + “If Directors Were Starting Out Today” (3:15) +  “Shooting on Film” (6:53) / Photo Gallery.




Just as video stores are becoming a rarity in towns and cities, so are repertory cinemas, the independently owned theatres were in the pre-home video era one could catch films they’d missed at the major chains, or more importantly, see double-bills of classic, rare and foreign films available nowhere else.

Julie Marchese’s documentary is part homage and alert to the crisis in which rep cinemas are slowly losing the ability to deliver the product that makes them unique – 35mm film screenings – as their customer base is eroding to a small, devoted, loyal clientele while the masses stay home and watch films on Netlix, or venture out for big budget blockbusters.

The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles is the central focus because that’s where Marchese worked for many years, advancing from part-time to a managerial position as the cinema remained true to its mandate of delivering dynamic double-bills to audiences, and allowing directors and actors like Edgar Wright, Kevin Smith, Joe Dante, Tom Holland, Rian Johnson, Mark Romanek, Stuart Gordon, Fred Dekker, John Landis, Joe Carnahan, Clu Gulager, Seth Green, and Patton Oswalt to program a week or months-long series of films which influenced their work, or happen to be personal favourites unknown to the masses.

Marchese’s doc begins with a short history of the cinema before introducing its small, dedicated staff (including herself), and its loyal customers who reflect on the virtues of the new Beverly as well as their own personality quirks. Projectionists describe the uniqueness of 35mm film, the collegiate environment of a cinema, and the variety of eclectic films which bring film fans, geeks, cineastes, and filmmakers together in a classless environment where the singular purpose is to enjoy movies, and engage in dialogues with the staff or guests – some invited, some planned, and some completely spontaneous, such as David Lynch and Laura Dern popping in and out between a show of Wild at Heart (1990).

Each segment is bridged with vintage concession stand ads, and there’s plenty of footage showing the cinema innards and the human and physical mechanisms that make it come alive each day. A good chunk of the film’s midsection is devoted to the staff and patrons, and the material does delay Marchese’s message until the final third, but it’s also an accurate portrait of the details typical of any customer service environment, if not a little too genial. (There are lovable eccentrics, and there are demanding / annoying eccentrics in every service venue.)

Worked into the doc is the emergence of digital projection, which has become a key tool in the way major studios are slowly squeezing the indie cinemas dry: while a studio may offer some financial aide to offset the high cost of acquiring and installing a new digital projection system, it also mandates the complete removal of the rep house’s 35mm projection equipment, which ensures there’s one less place to watch a film print.

This is apparently a quirk unique to the U.S., but the increasing unavailability of film prints is not new. A good 10-15 years ago, certain studios were not making prints available, robbing rep cinemas of their product, and although home video restorations were subsequently used to re-circulate certain titles or catalogues, it’s become tough again to screen not only prints, but decent prints that aren’t mangled, faded, censored, or worse.

Rather than allow for film and digital projection to co-exist, it’s a strange either-or scenario that ultimately reduces the variety of unique works in circulation. (This topic was further explored in the excellent doc Side by Side.)

Dante makes a valid point: there’s a greater selection of films than ever before, but it’s being limited to the same group of classics (Casablanca, Citizen Kane, etc.), while the rare and the unique are once again forgotten, or left to decay. There’s no corporate interest in preserving small works and making them available because circulating and storing film prints costs more than digital copies, so where rep houses specifically in the U.S. are headed is unknown.

That’s essentially the plight of cinemas like the New Beverly, and what’s equally scary is that Marchese’s film may become a document to what many no longer exist even in an industry town. If not a non-profit cinematheque, then a rep house may require a patron saint in the form of a successful and financially able filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino, who injected cash over the past 7 years prior to taking over the cinema with his team.

Out of Print was completed prior to Tarantino’s acquisition, after which the digital projectors were reportedly yanked and the cinema was transformed into a film-only venue. Marchese has since left the cinema, but her film is a candid and affectionate snapshot of a rare screening venue, and the major changes and studio demands that benefit no one.

A studio’s most valuable asset is its back catalogue, which due to the extension of the copyright expiration deadlines in the U.S., run very long, and ensures studio control. When a film screens in film or digital form, it’s written about locally, which brings in film fans that result in business for local merchants. A film that impresses also pricks an interest in an actor, writer, director, or producer, which extends to its availability on home video – either to rent, or to own, available from the studios as standard or on-demand titles, or more often than not, from indie labels who often put extra care into the production and inclusion of special features that contextualize a work.

The existence, availability, or impression of a work also spawns written and visual posts, and these spotlights float around the digital ether and keep a film alive, and perhaps spark a repeat of this cycle in another city in another country.

Why kill all of that?

Out of Print made its debut on DVD in December, and among the extras is a great segment on dream double-bills, which is for anyone a head scratcher: What two films would you like to see double-billed? Marchese cites Heathers (1988), which has apparently vanished from circulation, and Dante would love to see Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962), a personal favourite which used to run on TV in beat-up prints and has also vanished. (The film stars Vincent Price and features a weird atmosphere that’s enhanced by one of Albert Glasser’s best scores.)

Also cited are Eye of the Needle (1981) and the CanCon classique The Silent Partner (1978). My personal choice would be a 70mm screening of Grand Prix (1966) and Duel in the Sun (1946) – the former is a great racing car film, and the latter a nutty operatic western.

A podcast interview with director Julia Marchese is also available on iTunes, Libsyn, and YouTube [to follow].



© 2014; revised 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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