Quentin Tarantino saves L.A. theater

Fri Feb 19, 2010 12:00pm IST

Director Quentin Tarantino, nominee for best director for ''Inglourious Basterds'', arrives at the nominees luncheon for the 82nd annual Academy Awards in Beverly Hills, California February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Director Quentin Tarantino, nominee for best director for ''Inglourious Basterds'', arrives at the nominees luncheon for the 82nd annual Academy Awards in Beverly Hills, California February 15, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Of those rooting for Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" on Oscar night, the Torgan family might be cheering the loudest.

As the proprietors of the New Beverly Cinema, the Torgans operate one of Los Angeles' last havens for classic movies. And, as of recently, Tarantino is their landlord.

The New Beverly, built in 1929 as a first-run moviehouse, has been the Torgan family business since 1978. But if not for the intervention of the director with the encyclopedic knowledge of film, it would be just another chain franchise.

"It was going to be turned into a Super Cuts," Tarantino said. "I'd been coming to the New Beverly ever since I was old enough to drive there from the South Bay -- since about 1982. So, I couldn't let that happen."

One glance at a recent New Beverly schedule leaves no doubt about what attracted Tarantino to the place -- John Wayne's "True Grit" one night, Lars Von Trier's "Antichrist" later that week. The "New Bev" hosts animation events, celebrity-program fests and a bimonthly, exploitation-fueled Grindhouse.

The theater on Beverly a block west of La Brea hit hard times in the mid-2000s as the DVD market chewed into ticket sales. Family patriarch Sherman Torgan was facing serious financial troubles.

"Since I'm a print collector and I screen movies at my home, I heard from other collectors and projectionists that Sherman might have to close down," Tarantino recalled.

The director got in touch and asked Torgan how much money he needed a month to keep up the theater. The answer was about

$5,000.

"So, I just started paying him that per month," Tarantino said. "I considered it a contribution to cinema."

Then Torgan passed away unexpectedly in 2007, leaving his family and friends of the New Beverly in mourning -- and the future of the theater in doubt.

"Within a week of my father's death, the landlord had a buyer bidding for the theater space," said Michael Torgan, Sherman's son. "Fortunately, I found a copy of our original lease, and it said that the family had the right of first refusal if we could find another buyer."

Desperate to prevent the loss of the family business, the Torgans began considering all options. After his mother contacted Tarantino, he decided to buy the space outright.

"I always considered the New Beverly my charity -- an investment I never wanted back," he said. "I already had a good relationship with the family and the theater, so it was a natural step."

The purchase, though, was not a smooth process. According to Torgan, the original landlord and prospective buyer moved to block Tarantino's bid. The sides haggled for months, but eventually a deal paved the way for a buyout. (A nondisclosure agreement prevents the Torgans or Tarantino from revealing the purchase price or the identity of the former landlord.)

"Quentin couldn't be a better landlord," Torgan said. "He's involved with suggesting movies when he likes, but he lets us do most of the booking."

Tarantino recently organized an Angela Mao kung fu night featuring "Return of the Tiger" and "Stoner" as well as an "all blood" night with "Blood Spattered Bride" and "Asylum of Blood."

"It is cool to have a theater that I can use to show what I like," said Tarantino, who held his "Inglourious Bastards" DVD screening event there.

And he will welcome guest programer Jason Reitman, a pal from this year's awards circuit, to the theater Friday for six days of Reitman favorites, including "Shampoo," "Election" and "Boogie Nights."

Under Tarantino, the New Beverly has undertaken some badly needed renovations such as new light fixtures, seats and a digital projection system. But he doesn't want the place to change too much. The 35mm projector is still the preferred screening method, popcorn and sodas remain cheap.

"As long as I'm alive, and as long as I'm rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing double features in 35mm," Tarantino said.

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