Los Angeles’ blend of midnight movies, cult screenings and historic theaters offer late-night scares and childhood nostalgia back in the theater. Join columnist Nina Young as she attends different cult screenings each week to find out why audiences stay out so late after dark.
Officer Jim Kurring, John C. Reilly’s character in “Magnolia,” first appeared on screen munching cereal. Immediately, the audience members at the Aero Theatre erupted in cheers.
This may or may not have been due to Reilly’s appearance only five minutes before the screening, as the actor introduced the film by cracking jokes to a sold-out crowd.
The Aero Theatre, run by the American Cinematheque, hosted a film series entitled “The Life of Reilly” over the weekend, showing classic films such as “Chicago” to honor Reilly’s past roles before screening his newest film, “The Sisters Brothers.” I attended the Aero’s screening of “Magnolia,” the 1999 film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, often referred to by fans as PTA. My only knowledge of “Magnolia” came from a family member describing it as “long and melodramatic,” so I truly did not know what to expect.
The Aero’s sunset-lit marquee and classic display posters immediately set the scene for a throwback movie experience. I anticipated that the Aero’s 78-year history and its small-scale 400-seat viewing room would make the screening and appearance by Reilly feel particularly personal. The many attendees waiting in single file along Montana Avenue were abuzz with excitement to see “Magnolia” in theaters once again, some carrying posters for Reilly to sign.
PTA’s “Magnolia” opened to strong critical reviews in 1999 but struggled at the box office. Nearly two decades later, the film’s complex plot, laden with interconnected characters, has helped build its cult status. The story showcases one day in the San Fernando Valley, seen from the perspectives of an ailing talk show host, a child prodigy and Reilly’s lovelorn Officer Jim, to name a few. The film’s portrayal of regret and family drama – culminating in a surrealist ending – resonated with viewers, something I learned interacting with people in line and in the theater. Which brings me to:
Unofficial cult movie rule #3: Speak to the film’s devotees.
If you’re unfamiliar with a certain cult movie – as I was – the best way to get a feel for its impact is to reach out to knowledgeable fans. Attendee Cody Downs said he recalls watching the film upon its 1999 release. Though he was initially put off by the film’s ending – which, without spoiling too much, unexpectedly features frogs – Downs said he came around to the tale of intersecting destinies. An actor’s presence at the screening reflects the film’s longevity and quality, he said.
“Well I think (having an actor introduce the film) shows that … they obviously had a very fond experience during the making of it,” Downs said. “The fact that we’re here almost 20 years later after (‘Magnolia’) was released shows a testament not just to the film itself but also to … the actors involved.”
Another audience member, Nick Sansone, said viewing “Magnolia” on the big screen would allow him a new perspective on the film’s visuals. His anticipation to see Reilly stemmed partly from the fact he is currently attending Reilly’s alma mater, DePaul University in Chicago, and he said he is a fan of the many collaborations between Reilly and PTA.
“I think it gives the room a certain electricity when you have an actor or filmmaker involved with the movie come to a screening of it,” Sansone said.
If by electricity he meant loud noises, then he was right, because when Reilly took the stage the crowd cheered him on endlessly. Reilly joked he had been fearful no one would come to the screening and gasps and giggles of disbelief went through the crowd. Sitting a just few rows from Reilly as he answered the moderator’s questions did feel like a down-to-earth conversation, and I scribbled down one more piece of screening advice in my old notebook.
Unofficial cult movie screening rule #4: Appreciate any inside looks into the making of the film you can get.
Though not a guarantee for every classic cult movie showing out there, you’re likely in for behind-the-scenes stories if a cast member attends the screening. Reilly explained his history with PTA, as they had also worked together on “Boogie Nights” and “Hard Eight.” He described the origins of his LAPD character, as he and PTA were both fans of the TV show “Cops” when conceptualizing the role.
Just before Reilly left the theater, he asked the audience if there were any “Magnolia” first-timers, to which myself and a few others nervously identified ourselves. An audience member next to me stared incredulously at my hand in air.
“You’ve never seen Magnolia?” they said, shocked.
As the lights dimmed, I quickly became sucked into “Magnolia’s” chaotic plot. While the film featured many stars – such as Tom Cruise and Julianne Moore – the excitement for Reilly in particular extended into watching the film, with his scenes adding a dose of levity to the drama. From awkwardly flirting with Melora Walters’ character to losing his gun in a panicked scene, Reilly brought laughs every time he appeared on screen. The whirlwind of stories made the 188 minutes fly by, until – after the absolutely bizarre ending – credits rolled to Aimee Mann’s soundtrack.
To my surprise, very few people left the theater. Most attendees were stuck in their seats, whistling not only at the names of actors, like Reilly, but also for specific crew members, such as cinematographer Robert Elswit. The love for “Magnolia” and its artisanship continued after the last shot ended, when the attendee who had earlier expressed their disbelief at my “Magnolia” ignorance turned and yelled to be heard over the cheering.
“Well what did you think? Wasn’t that movie great?” they said.