INTERVIEW: Julia Marchese and the Raiders of the Lost Art
"Movies. Movies are what brings us together today. Movies, that blessed entertainment, that dream within a dream..."
I have of course, with all due respect to William Goldman, lifted and rearranged that line from the perennial classic 'The Princess Bride.' Incidentally, it's a film I was able to revisit at a local repertory theatre. Classic! It's fair to say that just about everyone on this planet has seen a movie in some fashion. In the theatre, on television, on a laptop, on an iPhone or, gasp, on a bootleg...shame! Movies have been around for more than a century and they were presented on film and in a theatre on the big screen. It was only thirty plus years ago when you would have to go to your local multiplex, if there even was one, to see the latest Empire Pictures or New World Pictures release. Nowadays those films would go directly to On Demand. Now what if someone wanted to see an older film in the theatre? Well, that's where repertory theatres come in.
Repertory cinema is nothing new, the New Beverly Cinema has been around since the '70s. A repertory theatre screens films that are no longer in circulation. They will either show them on digital or on film and in some cases exclusively on film. Repertory theatres provide moviegoers the opportunity to see an older film as it was intended; with an audience and in the same setting as the film was first exhibited. Seeing a film you've never seen before in a theatre can enhance the experience. Seeing 'Lawrence of Arabia' in 70mm fueled my love of movies. Experiencing a familiar film on the big screen for the time is very much like seeing it for the very first time. I've seen Tobe Hooper's 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' many times but when I saw it for the first time in a theatre with an audience I was on edge and I already knew what was coming.
As Bob Dylan once told us, 'For the times they are a-changin'.' We are in the digital age and film has made the transition from physical prints, 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, to digital cinema packages or DCP. As the software changes the hardware must change as well. As a result, many theatres were forced to make the changeover from film projectors to digital projectors which in turn brought about the unfortunate demise of many independently run theatres both first-run and repertory. Bummer.
Director Julia Marchese puts the focus on film itself in her documentary 'Out of Print.'
With her documentary 'Out of Print,' now available On Demand, filmmaker Julia Marchese addresses that issue while providing insight into repertory cinema, cinema culture and the relevance of the film format itself. If you love films like I do than her documentary is a must see. I've included a link to my review of the film below. I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Marchese about her film, movies and her advocacy for film preservation and independent cinema itself. Enjoy!
ERNIE TRINIDAD (ET): What was the first thought to run thru your head when you learned ‘Out of Print’ has been green lit thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign?
JULIA MARCHESE (JM): Relief mixed with excitement. If you've run a crowd funding campaign, you know how much hard work it is. You have to hustle every day and when you're close to the end of your campaign and still not sure if you will make your budget, it is super stressful. When I found out that Out of Print reached its goal, I was so relieved that all of the hard work of crowd funding paid off, plus crazy stoked that I was actually going to get the opportunity to make a film!
ET: When you started filming ‘Out of Print,’ only four years ago, there was an ominous cloud floating over print exhibition; essentially its days were numbered. Many major studios were prepared to cease print production in favor of digital cinema packages. What was it about the medium that spurred you on to become a champion for the format?
JM: I have always been far more interested in the past than in the future – which is pretty much the opposite of most of humanity. I understand the need for technological advancement, but when a huge change is made – in this case 35mm to digital – solely for financial reasons, it scares me. There was absolutely no reason to make the changeover now, especially when digital hasn't reached the resolution that 35mm has. You're basically switching to an inferior format. The fact that this decision was made by corporations without consulting filmmakers, film goers or movie theaters, and with no regard for preservation is proof in itself that most film studios can't see past finances. I love watching old films and the thought that films made today may not be archived for future viewing is terrifying.
ET: Having worked as a projectionist, I felt a tactile connection to the format as it was my eyes, hands and fingers that spliced that film together. I’ve bled for my work when I cut myself on a splicer. In January 2014, Paramount was the first major studio to announce that they would cease print production. Since than just about every major studio and theatre chain has gone digital. The projectionist’s job has changed dramatically. Would you agree that in the broadest sense that modern movie watching is merely watching a blu-ray on a bigger screen? After all, now it’s just a matter of uploading a file and pressing a button.
JM: I have the utmost respect for projectionists. They work so hard, but get absolutely no recognition – because they aren't visible to film goers. They inspect the print when it comes in – something that can take hours – plus they have to be meticulously paying attention during the screening to make sure everything is going right. If something breaks, they fix it.
With DCP's the projectionists job is essentially obsolete. They ingest the file into the projector and push play. That's it. And if something goes wrong, 9 times out of 10, the projectionist won't be able to fix it on their own.
The human element has been taken out. Maybe people are into that these days, but for me it's heart breaking because projectionists are skilled workmen and probably love film more than anyone else working at a theater, but are easily dismissed because they are locked away in a booth and not seen.
ET: A few years ago I had the opportunity to see ‘Doctor Zhivago’ for the first time and on the big screen. Unfortunately it wasn’t on film. However, I did get to see it again but this time on 70mm and was blown away by the dramatic difference in presentation. Do you feel that today’s viewing audience is missing out on seeing a film on print and not as projected ones and zeroes? I’m sure many wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. However, for avid film goers like ourselves it’s like night and day. I often found myself holding my breath when I knew a reel change was coming and was wondering if the reels were spliced properly.
JM: Recently, Out of Print played at the Alamo Drafthouse in Omaha in 35mm, then at the Historic Park Theatre in Estes Park a few days later on blu ray. I attended both screenings and – back to back like that – the differences are astounding. 35Mm has such a richness and depth that digital lacks.
What I have cherished most about Out of Print is talking to audiences afterwards who knew nothing about film formats, but now are eager to explore more 35mm film presentations, and now are interested in visiting the independent cinema near them. Sparking curiosity about 35mm and independent cinemas was always the goal for the film, and I am very proud when audiences respond with excitement to explore further.
ET: In July 2014, a consortium of directors, including Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow and J.J. Abrams, joined together to keep film relevant and thanks to them movies are still being shot on film. However, those films end up being transferred to digital for exhibition. Both formats have their pros and cons. Having filmed ‘Out on Print’ on film and digital, which do you prefer?
Director Julia Marchese setting up a shot to be filmed on 35mm film.
JM: I am so happy that so many filmmakers spoke up about the importance of film – the ones who have been in the industry long enough to throw their weight around and stand up for what they believe in – and forced the studios to really look at what they're doing. In doing that, they not only secured film for themselves, but also for future generations of filmmakers.
I think shooting on digital has opened the doors for millions of filmmakers who previously were hindered by the expense of 35mm, 16mm or 8mm. We are seeing films from a much wider cross section of filmmakers, and I think that's fantastic. But I also think you lose a bit of the importance of the film making process when everything is done on your computer. Like watching a film on film, filming a film on film gives it a permanence.
ET: Did you have the opportunity to see either ‘Interstellar’ or ‘The Hateful Eight’ on film? A big deal was being made about how they had to bring in professionals to run the films. I was able to see both at the Egyptian Theatre, in Hollywood, in 70mm and they looked great. However, seeing them in wide release on 70mm proved to be an entirely different viewing experience. They simply didn’t look as good. It felt like film exhibition slipped several notches since the transition to digital. Outside of repertoire theaters, does the format even have a chance if no one even remembers how to thread a projector or how to do a manual changeover?
JM: I saw both on film. I watched The Hateful Eight on Christmas Day in the only theater in Las Vegas that was playing it on 70mm. It was a packed house, and the excitement was palpable. However, the center of the frame was out of focus, and even though I alerted the management about it twice, it was never fixed.
I applaud Tarantino and Nolan for standing up for what they believe in, and wanting to prove film's beauty to film goers, but even they have no control on the daily projection at theaters playing their films. Even so, for me, I was glad I saw Hateful Eight on 70mm, even it was a little soft. Nolan and Tarantino got average movie goers interested in format. That's huge.
ET: One of the sad side effects of the transition to digital is the loss of numerous independent and repertory cinemas around the world. Over the last several years, major theatre chains have been screening classic, albeit more popular ones, films on the big screen. In rare instances they are presented in 35mm. It’s great that general audiences can experience these films on the big screen. However, in many cases they can’t see them as they were originally shown. For Julia the film lover, is it more important to see the film as original intended or is simply seeing it in a theatre with an audience good enough?
JM: If you have a choice between seeing a film on digital or not seeing it at all, see the film in digital. If you have a choice between watching a film alone at your house or seeing it in a theater with an audience, see it in the theater.
I think it's cool that mainstream theaters are jumping on the repertory bandwagon, but they are making it harder for the little guys by taking away some of their audience.
The death of repertory and independent cinemas due to digital kills me. The flippancy of the conversion is what hurts me the most. These places matter so much. When I was at the Historic Park Theatre screening, I learned that it recently earned the title of oldest single screen theater in the USA. Know why? Because the two previous holders of the titles closed. Let me repeat that. Because of the digital conversion the two OLDEST MOVIE THEATERS IN THE UNITED STATES CLOSED.
ET: ‘Out of Print’ is not only a rallying cry to preserve and present film as it was shown at the time of first exhibition but also an ode to repertory cinema the world over. The New Beverly Cinema is just one of many repertory theaters in Los Angeles. To this day, it’s the only theatre I go to where the staff knows me on a first name basis. Your film touches upon the sense of community which I can whole-heartedly attest to. Current history notwithstanding, in your personal and professional opinion what was it that made that place so damn special?
The New Beverly Cinema is one of many repertory theatres in Los Angeles.
JM: The thing that I loved about the New Beverly is that it was never about money. It was about the art of cinema. The people who attended were people who lived and breathed film, and when you have a group of people with such a pure passion for something all together in one room, it's kind of magical.
I loved that it was small and intimate - new movie theaters are so cavernous and impersonal – you would really have to go out of your way to talk to anyone. I loved that The New Bev seemed to have frozen in 1978, and never really changed. That there were people who had gone every week for 30 years.
I'm glad that I was able to capture the uniqueness of the New Bev at a specific point in time, but I am sad that the New Beverly showcased in Out of Print doesn't exist anymore. And that I will never be able to go back to the place I loved so much.
ET: For the film, was there anyone you wanted to interview that you couldn’t get? Any stories you wished to recount that remain untold?
JM: John Waters, Alex Winter and Quentin Tarantino all agreed to be interviewed, but location or time prevented it. People kept telling me: “Interview Nolan!” “Interview Scorsese!” “Interview Spielberg!” and I'd tell them, “I'd love to. Can you get me in contact with them?” And of course, no one could.
I wish that I had been able to document more theaters, but I did what I could on the budget I had and made the film I wanted to make at that time. But in my head, Out of Print is just the beginning of a whole lifetime of documenting independent cinemas. I am so very passionate about them and I want to capture how essential every single cinema is to the community that surrounds it, and how every one is completely unique and necessary.
ET: The film was recently picked up for distribution and is now readily available On Demand. Now that audiences can see your film, what do you hope that they will take away from it?
JM: If you watch Out of Print and it persuades you to check out that little cinema near you that you’ve never been to, I have done my job.
ET: In the film you went to the United Kingdom to visit the Prince Charles Cinema which I believe screened ‘Out of Print’ on 35mm. Did it not? The film is playing some engagements in the U.S. but is now being prepared to go on tour in the UK. Please tell us about the UK tour and what you yourself are doing to be able to participate in that tour.
JM: Out of Print will have it's UK premiere at the Prince Charles Cinema on September 1st – in 35mm, of course. It hasn't played there before, but when I filmed there in 2012, Paul Vickery – the repertory programmer – invited me to program a double bill. I chose two very American films on purpose – Fast Times at Ridgemont High & Night of the Comet.
Out of Print has been selected to play five dates for Scalarama, an annual celebration of film in the UK, in which cinemas across the country share programming.
I would love to attend the screenings, of course, but more importantly, I want to use this opportunity to continue documenting independent cinemas. I want to create a series of mini-docs, each one focusing on a single cinema and the community that supports it - to create a snapshot of British cinema in 2016.
Although having your film distributed is wonderful, it doesn't necessarily come with the money people might expect so I started a GoFundMe to help me attend the screenings and start my new project.
ET: What is it about the movie going theatrical experience that you love the most? The least? Absolutely despise?
JM: I love the moment right before the film starts, when you are excited and are anticipating the next two hours and what they will contain. You get to forget about your life for a small time and get caught up in someone else's life.
I hate people using their cell phones. So hard. When I saw The Purge, someone brought out their phone during the film and I yelled: “Put your phone away or I'm gonna come down there and purge your ass!”
I would have done. DON'T fuck with my movie going experience.
ET: Hypothetical. There’s a fire and you can only save one. An ultra-rare 35mm print of ‘Citizen Kane’ or the ONLY existing DCP of Jerry Lewis’ ‘The Day the Clown Cried.’
JM: Fuck Jerry Lewis.
ET: What’s next?
JM: Hoping to continue my documentation of independent cinemas.
Also, I have a Russ Meyer inspired 60's sexploitation script that I am dying to make. I think it's high time that boys and girls were exploited equally, don't you? If there are any producers out there that love movies with lots of sex, drugs and general psychedelia, hit me up. If Out of Print proved anything, it's that I – like Elvis – take care of business in a flash.
If you would like to help Julia continue her work in film preservation and championing independent cinema around the world you may donate at the link below:
Independent Cinema in the UK - 2016
My review of the film for filmpulse.net:
The 'Out of Print" Official Trailer