Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The best of times and worst of times for Chicago moviegoing

Posted By on 05.28.13 at 04:30 PM

Barbara Stanwyck (left) in All I Desire
  • Barbara Stanwyck (left) in All I Desire
Last night nearly 150 people came out to the Patio Theater to see Douglas Sirk's All I Desire—an impressive figure considering the screening had been booked at the Portage until two days before. As you may have read, building owner Eddie Carranza shuttered the historic movie palace late Friday night, announcing that it would be closed for the foreseeable future. Almost immediately the Patio offered to host the Northwest Chicago Film Society's revival of Desire, and the Music Box offered to host the group's presentation of Portrait of Jason on Wednesday. These displays of support, along with last night's strong attendance, confirm that repertory cinema is alive and well in Chicago. That several hundred people were at the Music Box on Saturday night to see the Harold Lloyd comedy Safety Last (which the theater presented vaudeville style, with live music and comedy acts before the film) is another reassuring sign.

Repertory programming is the lifeblood of cinephilia in any city. Seeing older films projected reminds us that cinema isn't just entertainment—or just art, for that matter—but a world unto itself, with its own history. When you watch Safety Last on a big screen knowing that something like The Hangover Part III is playing in the same format a couple miles away, you start to make connections between film comedy in the 1920s and today. You consider what's special about the medium that allows filmmakers to join humor and suspense so effectively—rather than whether either film lives up to any short-lived hype.

Thoughts like these come naturally at a venue like the Portage (established 1920) or the Patio (established 1927), where much of the interior is the same as it was generations ago. These theaters encourage you to imagine how a film from studio-era Hollywood might have appeared to its first spectators—they also have the effect of making recent movies seem less encumbered by the present.

So I'm disappointed that no one will be able to project movies at either the Portage or the Patio, which also will be closed for the foreseeable future starting Friday. The Patio management announced last week that they do not have the funds to repair its air conditioning and will be closed until September at the earliest. Still, I'm optimistic that NCFS and the other programming groups who use those theaters—Chicago Cinema Society, Terror in the Aisles, the Silent Film Society of Chicago—will persevere. The community spirit I've witnessed in the past few days has made me hopeful (as did a statement that NCFS issued on Sunday, stating the group feels confident they'll be able to proceed with all their scheduled screenings) in spite of the feeling that we're losing some of our most important physical connections to film history.

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