Cinespia

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Cinespia is an organization that hosts on-site screenings of classic films in and around Los Angeles, California. Launched in 2002, Cinespia shows films from the 1930s through the 1990s mostly in open-air settings at historic locations. Its most popular series runs weekly between May and August on Saturday (and occasionally Sunday) nights at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. In addition, it screens films, both contemporary and canonical, at other locations throughout the year.

The series was the brainchild of John Wyatt, a set designer then in his mid-twenties. A student of influential film lecturer Jim Hosney at the Crossroads School in Santa Monica, Wyatt initially formed an Italian cinema club with friend Richard Petit, which evolved into Cinespia. The name is a portmanteau of the Italian word for film, ‘cine,’ and the third person singular conjugation of the verb ‘spiare,’ meaning ‘to observe,’ or more commonly, ‘to spy.’ Conjoined, cinespia was intended to suggest a film enthusiast or ‘watcher of films,’ although the actual term for film buff in Italian is ‘cinofilo.’ Cinespia, by contrast, means literally ‘he spies in the movie theater’ or ‘cinema spy.’

After attending a Valentino birthday celebration at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in 2002, Wyatt approached the owners through a friend who worked there and arranged a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ using two 35mm projectors with a changeover mechanism on the back of a pickup truck. Eighty people showed up for the initial screening, and a follow-up screening of Sam Fuller’s ‘Pickup’ on South Street brought out an audience of a thousand. They showed four films the first season, favoring mid-century classics that might be rediscovered by a younger audience, and roughly 25 films every summer thereafter.

Hollywood Cemetery, formerly Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, paralleled the rise of the film industry with its founding in 1899, but was in significant disrepair by the time it was purchased by Tyler Cassity in 1998. According to Wyatt, the cemetery was ‘dilapidated, overgrown, totally closed when the current owners took over,’ and money from the screenings helped to restore it to its original beauty. The cemetery shares a common wall with Paramount Studios, the last of the classical studios still to be located in Hollywood. The concentration of Hollywood talent interred there made it a natural setting for the hallmarks of a century of cinematic achievement. Famous residents include Jayne Mansfield, John Huston, Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone, Victor Fleming, Peter Lorre, Fay Wray, and Bugsy Siegel.

Numerous celebrities and filmmakers have shown up to introduce screenings: Tatum O’Neal for ‘Paper Moon’; Paul Reubens for ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’; Amy Heckerling and Drew Barrymore for ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’; Karen Black for ‘Easy Rider’; Charlie Ahearn, Fab Five Freddy and Patti Astor for ‘Wild Style’; and the real Henry Hill for ‘Goodfellas.’

In recent years, Cinespia has expanded its screenings to include other venues. A semi-regular series was launched in 2008 at the open-air pool of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in conjunction with the Masses, an arts collective and directors agency. A screening of the Werner Herzog 3-D documentary ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ was held at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in 2011 as part of the MOCA retrospective ‘Art in the Streets.’ (The implicit connection was that the 30,000-year-old Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave paintings depicted in the film were ostensibly the first recorded example of street graffiti.)

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