Los Angeles’ blend of midnight movies, cult screenings and historic theaters offers 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.
Audience members knocked over a giant Jenga tower on a Los Angeles rooftop while waiting for the coming-of-age comedy, “The Sandlot,” to begin.
The Rooftop Cinema Club recently presented the 1993 cult film at their downtown venue, inviting fans to celebrate the movie’s 25th anniversary outdoors. The company, which also operates locations in Houston, San Diego and New York City, screens classic movies on top of high-rise buildings, with attendees sprawled out on lounge chairs. I showed up to the screening with my sweatshirt and snacks, hoping to be warmed up by the film’s summer ambiance in spite of the harsh rooftop wind.
Making a special effort to watch a corny flick like the “The Sandlot” – outdoors in October no less – may seem strange. But the cult film offers more than just cheesy laughs: “The Sandlot” overwhelms attendees with nostalgia, especially for those who watched the movie as children. The film is set in 1962, telling the story a group of boys who play summer baseball, run into mischief and battle a mysterious dog, nicknamed “The Beast,” for a prized ball signed by Babe Ruth.
I felt the youthful atmosphere immediately upon arrival. While picking up my tickets at the box office, a light-up sign behind the popcorn machine glowed, “You’re Killing Me Smalls” in block letters – referencing the catchphrase of comic-relief character, Hamilton “Ham” Porter. Around me, audience members played enlarged versions of adolescent games, like Connect Four, before settling into their lounge seats.
At a glance, it appeared many of the attendees were young adults or in their early 30s. According to screening’s venue manager, who introduced the film, many of their showings are aimed toward millennials. The night I attended was their second screening of “The Sandlot” at the downtown venue in the past few months, due to popular demand, he said. While it had been years since he’d watched “The Sandlot,” he said the film still resonates with young viewers and appeals to a childlike sense of humor.
“I would say it’s very nostalgic,” the venue manager said. “I heard the famous quote, ‘You play ball like a girl’, (which is) super sexist but also so reminiscent of my childhood, and I remember obviously laughing at that.”
For him, “The Sandlot” also serves an important function of representation for younger viewers. One of the film’s protagonists, Benjamin “the Jet” Rodriguez, is a heroic character Latino and Latina kids might look up to. His childhood memories of the film revolve around Rodriguez, played by actor Mike Vitar, in particular, the venue manager said.
“I’m Latino and seeing a young guy in a movie that is this popular being ethnically Latino, … I connect with it on that basis. I really do,” he said.
Audience member Robert Carrillo said, as a child, he always wanted to be Benny “the Jet,” and the film’s sports-centric plot reminded him of personal experiences, like playing pick-up ball with his friends. Carrillo said he has seen “The Sandlot” at least 10 times and has now passed on his sense of nostalgia for the film to his son.
I noticed baseball caps were aplenty at the screening, peeking over the deck chairs and resting atop of each person’s individualized headphones. Wrapping myself in a blanket and glancing at the planes flying low over urban Los Angeles, I realized another unofficial screening rule:
Unofficial cult movie screening rule No. 5: Don’t always expect a run-of-the-mill theater experience.
Attendees of cult film screenings may want an alternative setting to complement the wackiness of their favorite movie. Rather than screening “The Sandlot” in a crowded theater, Rooftop Cinema Club provided a whimsical experience that matched the coming-of-age story, with grown adults laying out under the stars, eating hot dogs and cheesy fries. Audience member Ingrid Gomez said she felt the pseudo-natural rooftop environment created an enjoyable backdrop to the movie. For Gomez, “The Sandlot” brings back memories of her family and a time when kids would play outside together.
“I’ve always loved ‘The Sandlot,’ that’s never going to change,” Gomez said. “(It reminds me of) when I was younger. All my cousins and I would hang out together and nowadays, you don’t see that.”
By speaking to attendees, I gathered most people felt a specific childhood connection to “The Sandlot.” But it was hard to appreciate the supposed camaraderie at first due to the headphones provided by Rooftop Cinema Club. To connect to the crowd’s shared nostalgia, I removed one side of my headphones during one of the film’s memorable moments: the sandlot crew chewing tobacco at the Fourth of July carnival and outrageously vomiting throughout the ride, perfectly set to the tune of The Champs’ “Tequila”.
Without the headphones, I witnessed attendees laughing at the tobacco gross-out scene, absorbing that light-hearted enthusiasm helped dig up my own childhood memories of laughing at “The Sandlot.” As the film ended and the crowd untangled themselves from the lawn chairs, I sat still, reminiscing about when my grandfather introduced me to the film as a means of escaping the blistering, Californian summer heat over 10 years ago.
The ghost of Babe Ruth dramatically says to Benny at one point in the film: “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” While the screening only lasted for around two hours, the wholesome feeling of the “The Sandlot” lasted throughout being confronted with the boring, adult problem of how to navigate the metro home.