Our Love Letter to LA’s Indie Cinemas: Introducing ‘Revival House’
I remember the first time I went to Nuart Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard.
I didn’t go out much as a teenager. My high school years were marked by a strong focus on grades and, for high school, I went to a boarding school on the outskirts of Los Angeles County.
Most weekends, several teachers would offer to drive student vans into downtown Claremont or Upland to go to the multiplex near an In-n-Out. Your options were limited to show times that fit into your travel and dorm check-in times that night. It was still the closest we got to being out on the town when we were kids—without risking suspension—and we felt the thrill of running to grab a burger after the movie before the teachers showed up to send us off to school.
I admit, I was a little sheltered.
The shock of a ‘midnight movie’
When I moved back home to the Inland Empire the summer after graduation, and the invitation from a friend came to see an old movie … at midnight … in LA, it was a “Yes!”
I expected to get a firm “no” from my parents when I asked permission to go out on the town with my musical theater friends, but after many assurances that “they’ll take me out, I promise!”, three of my friends and I piled them into a car and headed to a show of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Nuart Theatre.
I watched movies with my parents all the time growing up, but we weren’t interested in going to the movies. Always a little too expensive, a little too uncomfortable, and the showtimes were never quite right. And with the rise of video on demand in the 2000s? It just became easier to throw things at home and save the theaters for a special occasion.
Going to Nuart that first time was a transformative experience for me. Packed into a screening room with other theater nerds, we saw the film as one cast a shadow in full costume performed “Rocky Horror” live on stage in sync with the film. Tim Curry never looked so good.
The Sins o The Flesh cast performing as shadows during The Nuart Theater’s midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Courtesy of Sins o The Flesh
Audience members watch and participate in the interactive production of “The Rocky Horror Show” at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles. The V’s on the forehead indicate that they are “virgins”, seeing the film for the first time.
Courtesy of Sins o The Flesh
After joining the audience in singing and dancing, throwing rice and howling with laughter, I returned home at 4 a.m., desperately rubbing red lipstick Vs off my cheeks that marked me as a first-time attendee of a midnight showing of Rocky Horror (V , in case you’re wondering, it’s for virgins). i was happy It was so exciting to be in this old theater that had so much history and to have this collective experience with all these other movie fans. Except for my three friends, we were all strangers. However, there was a connection.
I was about to leave LA for four years to go to college, but I knew the city and its theaters would draw me back.
Finding love at the movies
AI: Ethan Hawke is my favorite actor.
ME: I haven’t actually seen it much!
It’s March 2020, and I’ve been living in LA after college, and the COVID pandemic is about to go into full swing. I’m trying to keep a texting conversation alive with a guy I met on March 4th since my graduate arts journalism program “goes online in just two weeks.”
Our second date has been cancelled. The gates around the city are closed. But we stay in touch.
He tells me that I would probably like the movie a lot Before sunrise. So as I settle into quarantine life, with two hours to kill and nowhere to go, I spend the $3 on a rental. I was curious – What is so special about Ethan Hawke in this movie? What can I learn about this guy I just met from his love for this?
And it struck a chord. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a movie about two twenty-something artists who hit it off, wander a city on an extended date of several hours, and break up with no guarantee that they’ll ever meet again.
HE: Did you watch it?
ME: Of course! You said it was your favorite.
We watch sequels, Before sunset AND Before midnight, together on FaceTime — propping up our phones and hitting the game at the same time so we can watch each other watching the movie. That’s how our relationship evolved – each of us sharing a movie we love with the other. Eventually we were quarantined together so we could watch movies, side by side, in person.
A ‘collective experience’
Two years later, in the summer of 2022, we leave our apartment and travel to the Academy Museum – there is a display of Before sunrise on film at the Geffen Theatre. We hadn’t technically seen it together. Certainly not with an audience.
The show was complete. By scanning the crowd during particularly romantic moments, you can spot couples; heads bowed to each other, hands touching. There is visible dust, scratches and grain in the film print and it got me thinking: people must have fallen in love with this specific roll of film countless times.
“I know so many people who have met their husband, wife, partner here, you know, friendship just because they came to the New Beverly,” says Jules McClean, programmer for another of LA’s biggest independent theaters, The. New Beverly Cinema. “I think you get something emotionally and even though you might not know the 200 people you’re sitting with, you’ve just had a collective experience.”
Whether you’re alone or watching with friends, these theaters are a kind of sacred space – to laugh, to cry, to feel something.
In 2020, sitting in my boyfriend’s apartment after the requisite quarantine period, watching our weekend-at-home-double, I wondered if I would ever return to my neighborhood theater, Los Feliz 3 ( only one block!). Or take to see a movie in New Beverly, or VistaOR VIDEOS – spaces that hadn’t been on my radar growing up in the Inland Empire.
How exciting that they are all open – some with brand new remodels — and that we can once again sit among strangers and the people we love, and have an experience together in the dark in front of the big screen, whether we’re visiting an old favorite or discovering something new.
There are so many of these places to discover in LA – and each of these theaters can provide a life-changing experience for each of us.
Join in Like in LA for the next 10 weeks as we visit these theaters and learn about their stories and how they continue to add to the fabric that helps create LA arts and culture
It’s a series we call “Revival House” and you can listen to part 1 here.
What questions do you have about Southern California?