Sunday Night at the Cemetery

Foreword by Stan Lerner: I’ve heard people are dying to get into this place. Thanks for checking it out Sumner!

It took a while to convince her that relics of the underworld would not haunt her for the next week, but my girlfriend finally agreed to accompany me to a Sunday night movie showing at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  The idea had come up more than a few times once summer arrived and the days got longer, but at no point did she show any signs of relenting, instead insisting, especially since the defection of her roommate to San Francisco three weeks ago, that three hours of lying between the headstones of Los Angeles’ most prominent luminaries would send her into a deep, dark, schizophrenic abyss.

Luckily I don’t succumb easily to girlie hyperbole, so I lobbied for last weekend’s showing of “Dazed and Confused” as much as possible and even managed to excite her a bit about the adventure.  We asked a few friends that had already seen screenings there what to expect, and they provided rave reviews as well as a fairly detailed recommended packing list: blankets, sweaters/sweatshirts, lawn chairs, $10 per person for entrance, food, coolers and however much booze we desired.  For such a morbid setting, it certainly seemed as though the event coordinators knew how to lighten up the mood.

We got to the corner of Santa Monica and Gower at 6:30 – an unheard-of thirty minutes before the gates opened – and found a line of pedestrians curled around the block with an auto queue just as long.  Those on foot stood guarded their duffels of blankets, wheeled Igloos and Trader Joe’s bags seemingly without worry of a sellout or refusal of entrance – seldom is there too little space to accommodate all the patrons (Unfortunately, on this night, a handful of moviegoers actually were left on the street.)  I can’t say the crowd was especially heterogeneous, with the hipster movement making its presence felt, but there certainly was no shortage of excitement for the feature presentation, a movie that depicts a time and place that few there could say they had actually witnessed, but that many of whom would likely claim as their personal inspiration or desired time-travel destination.

We drove onto the cemetery grounds just after 7:15, parked just past the viewing area and found an open patch of grass about 100 yards back and just to the right of the projection façade, all in ten or fifteen minutes.  Three friends met us there and we spent the next hour and a half grubbing sandwiches, sipping wine and beer and listening to a team of DJs spin Zeppelin, ZZ Top and CCR while the setting sun lit the sky up like a simmering campfire.  It is likely no coincidence that, given the night’s movie, the ambience could have been mistaken for thirty years past its due date – a peaceful, pleasurable gathering with legendary musical accompaniment accented occasionally by wafts of marijuana and attended mostly by über-hip twenty-somethings.

Once the projector’s beams were visible, nearly an hour after the sun had set, an emcee took the mic and welcomed everyone to an event that was now in the midst of its eighth season, and clearly increasing in popularity.  The movie began and cheers erupted from different sectors of the audience and continued with the appearance of each notable character on screen.  Fanatics quoted the first few lines while the entire audience sat cross-legged and alert until about the twenty-minute mark, when nearly everyone slumped into the most comfortable position manageable, snuggling beneath blankets and propping their heads up on backpacks, purses or whatever else the could get their hands on for the remainder of the movie.  Surprisingly, the picture quality of the projection on the side of the building – what looked like a cemetery administration building – was terrific, and the sound just as strong.  Perhaps if the building had been more than two stories, the people getting up to use the bathroom would have been less of a viewing interference, but it really made no difference: you just can’t beat watching Matthew McConaughey yammer, “Alright, alright, alright” at unsuspecting high school girls while you’re lying beneath gigantic palms, under the stars in the middle of Hollywood.

Once the final credits rolled, the DJs started up again and we hit the road.  The movie had entertained us, as always, and there couldn’t have been a better setting to review an underappreciated classic.  I just hope my girlfriend got over her necrophobia so we can check out another screening this summer.   They are only booked through June 20, when they are showing The Graduate, so I may not have too many more chances left.

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