September 5, 2013 – It was Noah Baumbach double feature night at the New Beverly Cinema*. In a heartbeat, I was there. Alone. Because the two friends who were supposed to meet me there backed out last minute (something about being tired and/or sick). Their loss, because the night I was about to experience would be one of the most memorable and special cinema-related moments in my life.
* The New Beverly is a historic theater located around where Hollywood and West Hollywood meet. It is known for its unique programming—almost exclusively double features, projected in 35mm film. When it faced possible closure in 2007, Quentin Tarantino bought the theater and promised: “As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there showing double features in 35mm.”
I was second in line to enter and found a nice seat in the front row (my preferred seating for smaller screens). The theater filled behind me within the next several minutes and the film started. Sporadically, throughout the run of the first film (Frances Ha—which I’ll talk about in a bit), there was a piercing laughter coming from my left, a few rows behind. It sounded familiar but I didn’t think much of it because I was so engrossed in the movie (and in Greta Gerwig).
The film ended and I stretched a little during the intermission. I thought I saw Quentin Tarantino—the familiar laughter slowly started to make sense. I did a double-take and it was him, sitting two rows behind me. What the what?
While living in Los Angeles and working in Hollywood, I’ve mostly gotten used to running into celebrities (many of whom I admire—some, not so much) and am pretty cool about it. But this was different. Watching movies with Quentin Tarantino (a film geek if there ever was one), in the theater he owns, and laughing at the same jokes? Wow.
While he was having an intense conversation with his friend about a movie I’ve never heard of, I considered asking him for a picture. I usually don’t, but the situation seemed appropriate. Luckily, the ladies sitting next to him asked before I could make up my mind. He declined because “I don’t take photos in the cinema.” He wasn’t being aloof. It sounded like his reply came from a place of reverence for the sacred place he considers the cinema.
The lights dimmed and the projector starting rolling again. Before the second movie (Greenberg—which I’ll also talk about in a bit), there were trailers for the upcoming Elmore Leonard double feature. Of course, the first half of the double feature was Tarantino’s own Jackie Brown. And, of course, he started chortling at the sound of his own voice reading the intro, “Pam Grier is…” That was priceless.
His distinct laughter continued throughout Greenberg and it was kind of distracting because I knew it was him this time around. I didn’t mind too much though because it was so damn amusing and because, unlike Frances Ha, I had seen Greenberg before. (It was my favorite movie of 2010.)
I guess one reason I love Greenberg–and now Frances Ha–so much is because both lead characters are oddly people I might have become if my life took one or two different turns. And because of that, the two films are so heart wrenching in many ways. Not in the usual sad or depressing sense, though they are both. But they ache because how real and close to my personal reality they seem.
There’s a shot toward the end of Greenberg (image above) in which Ben Stiller’s character, the eponymous Greenberg, leaves the party behind him and wanders off into the darkness. It’s too beautiful to be a void, but too dark and uncertain to be hopeful. He’s stuck as the light and darkness take turns painting over him. This isn’t unsimilar to how I see life (not necessarily my own, but in general). And while Frances Ha sings a similar tune, it does so with a much more buoyant spirit.
That may all seem a little gloomy on my part, but I don’t think it is. It is, however, a reason Frances’s friend Sophie might call me “undateable.”