I watch movies with dead people
With summer arriving in Los Angeles, lovers and buffs of canonical cinema congregate at the historic Hollywood Forever Cemetery for Cinespia's 10th season of open-air, under-the-stars film screenings.
Founded by John Wyatt, Cinespia has for the past 10 years brought Angelenos together for one of the most idiosyncratic movie watching experiences the city has to offer. Located in the Hollywood Memorial Park next to the haunting classical revivalist Hollywood Forever Cemetery, followers and visitors of Cinespia make their way past the occasionally ostentatious tombstones and plots of some of the city's most famed (and infamous) permanent residents.
"I love it," said Libe Barer, who attended last Saturday evening's screening of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. "It reminds you of L.A.'s weird, dark, morbid, and bizarre roots; tainted roots."
After waiting outside the cemetery gates in a long line on Santa Monica Boulevard, the paths leading to the park where the screenings are held conjures a distinct feeling that one is suddenly in a scene of Roman Polanski's Chinatown, albeit with thousands of hipsters and pilgrims armed with picnic baskets and blankets.
As the sun sets behind the park's high walled horizon, palm trees lining the main drag just outside become towering silhouettes punctuating the crepuscular sky. Before and after every screening, a guest DJ spins a set (last Saturday was David Holmes), creating a haunting soundtrack that lends a certain mystique to the park's shadowy paths.
"It's something nice to do—it gives you a sense of community in this crazy city," said Whitney Davis. "I just love the aesthetic of it. It's so L.A."
Indeed, among the dwindling numbers of American drive-in movie venues, Cinespia is arguably one of the most unique. The entire vibe is like some kind of blithe and yet subdued modern day Woodstock for lovers of classic cinema. Walking through the large audience sitting on the grass, the wafting aromas of wine, cheese, and cannabis are invariably present throughout the screening.
And as for the choice of films that show at Cinespia, one would be hard pressed to find better films. From classics such as W.S. Van Dyke's The Thin Man to canonical cult classics like Tim Burton's Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Cinespia's choices of film are cultural gems, which rarely, if ever, disappoint.
Enau "Red" Solis, a security guard hired by the event organizers, has worked at Cinespia for the past 3 years. "Working here is great. It's very beautiful and spiritual, almost. Being here makes me think of how to live, how to seek the truth," he said while directing patrons to areas where they can find a spot with a good view away from the tombstones. "It's a blessing for me to have a job here—the trees, fresh air, the people—it's a ‘Cali' thing."
Cinespia runs from May through August every Saturday (with occasional Sundays —Young Frankenstein played the night after Vertigo). The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is located on the 6000 block of Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.