It’s a quiet, chilly Wednesday night in Santa Monica, and the storefronts on Montana Avenue are dark, save for the glowing marquee of the Aero.
A long line has formed down the street in front of the historic theater packed with movie geeks and cinema lovers. This crowd is particularly excited, as they’re waiting to see a sold-out screening of David Cronenberg’s controversial 1996 erotic thriller, Crash. I’ve come to take tickets.
When I arrive, I walk past the line through the double doors to get the little yellow
volunteer lanyard. I’ve done unpaid work for American Cinematheque, the non-profit organization responsible for the Aero and another small theater in Los Feliz, for about a year. This is my first shift at the Aero, and it promises to be an interesting one.
We begin to let moviegoers into the theater, and I rip the novelty paper tickets they’ve
been given in the outside line. They’re so eager to grab seats, some nearly fanatic, that they often try to ignore me entirely and blow right past. A few even begged me not to tear their stub so that they may have a more pristine souvenir from the night’s showing.
When the last of them have trickled in, leaving the unlucky hopefuls in the standby line to find another plan for the evening, I am allowed to scrounge for an open seat (if there are any). I find the last one available at the very end of the very back row as Karina Longworth introduces the film.
Longworth, a film historian known for her acclaimed Hollywood tell-all podcast You Must
Remember This has helped program the screening as part of her “Erotic Tuesday” series. Crash is one of the last films to be shown with the end of the podcast’s newest season on erotic thrillers of the 1980s and 1990s.
Longworth pointedly reminds the audience that the NC-17 cut of the film being shown is a rare one, nearly wiped from circulation to make the film palatable to moviegoers, video stores, and streamers. But tonight, she explains, Warner Brothers has made a rare exception to its unofficial rule not to show the film.
The audience is elated.
The opening credits roll, and the packed theater sits in pin-drop silence for the duration of the controversial drama about a group of Canadian car crash fetishists. From my seat, I can’t help but be grateful for a place like American Cinematheque on a night like this.
When I moved to Los Angeles about two years ago, I knew no one. I felt isolated by the
city’s sprawling vastness and by the lingering effects of COVID-19 on my college campus and my ability to socialize. Plus, I was broke. All I could think to do was go to the movies.
This soon became a significant ritual in my life. The theater becomes a cathedral where anyone can sit in rapt silence. At the Aero, Los Feliz 3, the New Beverly, Brain Dead Studios, Cinespia, Secret Movie Club, Whammy!, Digital Debris, Westwood Regency Village, and many more, Los Angeles’ movie lovers converge. They sell out the most obscure showings and band together to program events all over the city.
In these places, I have found friends, work, and purpose. Funnily, I feel a deep
kinship with the freaks and geeks clutching their untorn tickets to their chests.
American Cinematheque screens films year-round, often with special guest introductions and Q&As.
Come see for yourself the special pocket of the world of cinema has to offer. I know I’ll be there, taking tickets just beyond the double doors.