#56 - Dim The Lights
I had assumed that between going to Las Vegas for EMA last week and San Diego for Comic-Con this week, I would be too busy to see any new movies and that therefore, the Electric Theatre would remain closed. But life inevitably has other plans. When a friend called me in Vegas with the terrible news that Sherman Torgan, owner of LA’s much loved New Beverly Cinema, had unexpectedly passed away while riding his bike in Santa Monica, I knew a tribute was in order.
Repertory and arthouse cinemas used to be a staple of every major metropolitan area in the country. But thanks to home video, they’ve all but vanished. You might think that Los Angeles, movie capital of the world, would be an exception. You’d be wrong. The New Beverly is essentially the last of its kind with a calendar of amazingly well-chosen double features with an admission price of just seven dollars. At the New Beverly at least, movies are still your best entertainment value.
Sherman had been operating the New Beverly since the 1970s. Before opening its doors as a repertory house, it was a porn theater known simply as the Beverly. Sherman’s tenure began in 1978 and ever since, he was the Beverly. He picked the movies, he sold the tickets, he kept the place going when similar theaters were folding all around him.
I first met Sherman back when I was working at Troma. We had booked Terror Firmer at the Beverly and one of the zillion jobs I had was delivering prints to local theaters. Usually this took about sixty seconds. You go in, introduce yourself, hand off the print, and skedaddle. This time, it took about half an hour as Sherman and I got to talking about movies. It was clear that his love of movies ran deep and his knowledge was voluminous. No doubt we could have kept going for hours.
Over the years, I’d go back to the New Beverly and catch some movies, though not as often as I would have liked. For a movie lover, it would be easy to only go to the Beverly and never bother seeing a first-run picture for the rest of your life. The first one I saw was a double feature of Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God and his Kinski documentary My Best Fiend. Every time a new bi-monthly calendar would be released, there would be something equally exciting, a diverse schedule of movies like Takashi Miike’s Audition, The Conformist, Sergio Leone double features and the blaxploitation classic The Mack. And every time I went, there was Sherman, manning the ticket booth.
Recently, Sherman had teamed up with Eric Caidin and Brian Quinn for a monthly series called the Grindhouse Film Festival. For the two months surrounding the release of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, the New Beverly’s calendar was devoted exclusively to the festival. Judging from the crowds at the screenings I attended, it was a tremendous success and no wonder. Where else would you get the chance to see movies like Rolling Thunder and The Town That Dreaded Sundown in an authentic grindhouse environment? Those two months were by far the best thing to come out of the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse experiment. I may see better movies this year, but I doubt I’ll have a movie-going experience more fun than when I saw Autopsy and Eyeball.
Sherman’s passing leaves a tremendous void in the Los Angeles film community. All of us here who love movies owe him a debt of gratitude. Fortunately, the New Beverly will continue under the guiding hand of Sherman’s son, Michael. Visit their website at www.newbevcinema.com for updates and if you’re in the LA area, support the New Beverly as much as you possibly can. Honestly, if you don’t find something on their calendar that appeals to you, you really just don’t like movies as much as you think you do.
My deepest condolences to Sherman’s family and friends and I hope that knowing how much Sherman meant to so many of us helps them during what must be an extraordinarily painful time. Sherman Torgan was a movie lover’s best friend and he will be sorely missed. Sherman, I hope that when I get where you are now, they’ve given you a movie theater to program throughout eternity. Save me a seat.