There can be a very fine line between documentary and advertising when it comes to observation of a singular product or business entity through a cinematic lens. The purpose of any documentary is to present footage and facts in a format that will manipulate the audience emotionally in whatever way the documentarian chooses—so while any documentary could be said to be advertising a point of view, the best ones tend to demonstrate their material in such a way that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions. Out of Print can’t seem to resist the temptation to spoon-feed emotion to its audience, and thus feels more like a feature-length advertisement than a documentary, but there’s an honesty and passion behind the project that lends this film at least some small charm.
Freshman director Julia Marchese focuses her camera on her own employer—the New Beverly Cinema of Los Angeles—a repertory theater that specializes in showing classic films as double features projected on 35mm film. Through her camera’s gaze we become familiar with the theater’s history, its mission statement, the employees who love working there, the patrons who frequent the establishment, and the celebrities who grew up with and still patronize the theater as one of the last vestiges of communal film watching. Marchese enlists an impressive number of famous personalities to speak well of the theater, including Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, Kevin Smith, Edgar Wright, and Rian Johnson, just to name a few.
Out of Print is by no means an objective look at the New Beverly, and it thankfully doesn’t pretend to be one. Marchese is upfront and honest about her role in the theater’s continued existence, and though she doesn’t come right out and say that the film exists as her plea for the world not to forget repertory theaters, her perpetual insistence that the New Beverly is a hidden gem of Hollywood culture means that she wears her bias on her sleeve. The film really comes alive as an informative work in the latter half, when Marchese briefly shifts her focus on the film industry’s conversion to digital formats having potentially catastrophic effects on the preservation of newer films. She does a good job of demonstrating that the preservation of 35mm film isn’t just an act of nostalgia, but is an important function in keeping an art form alive.
However, that informative segment is a relatively tiny portion of what is ultimately an exercise in tedious self-congratulation. For approximately 75 percent of the documentary’s runtime, the film’s focus is on how great the New Beverly is as an establishment, with talking heads singing the theater’s praises but not offering much by way of history or even solid facts. The conversations aren’t completely without informative merit, but the majority of the film feels like it could be an overlong and elaborate employee training video for starting a job at the New Beverly. I have no doubt that everyone involved is passionate about the New Beverly and its continued existence, but they don’t so much make an argument in favor of its cultural significance as they do continually re-emphasize the theater’s inherent greatness, which comes across as shallowly propagandic.
I’m willing to be a bit generous in scoring Out of Print because it is clearly a labor of love for those involved, and if the goal was to make me want to visit the New Beverly, they succeeded. However, as a documentary, the film is a plea for attention thinly disguised as informative entertainment, and while the earnest patrons of the New Beverly may have been somewhat entertaining, I don’t feel all that well-informed.