The Last Picture Show | Bleader

The Last Picture Show


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Babes in Toyland
  • Babes in Toyland

Saturday night marks the end of an era in Chicago moviegoing: the Classic Film Series, founded in 1972 by old-time radio guru Chuck Schaden, will present its last screening, Laurel and Hardy's 1934 fantasy Babes in Toyland. For decades the series was funded and hosted by LaSalle Bank, whose branch at Irving Park and Cicero had a nice little 298-seat theater on its second floor; a community goodwill project on the bank's part, the series continued after LaSalle was swallowed up by Bank of America in October 2007, but now that Bank of America has sold the building, time has finally run out for the Classic Film Series. Schaden will introduce the 8 PM screening, which takes place at 4901 W. Irving Park.

This is a serious bummer for me personally, because my wife and I have been fans of the series for years. The $5 admission made for a cheap date, the 8 PM start time was perfectly positioned between the 7:15 and 9:45 multiplex shows that always seemed to be too early or too late, and more often than not, the bank's oldie was more promising than the current crop of releases. I can say with great certainty that I was never happier to walk into a bank building.

When I started editing the Reader's movie section, I got to know some of the programmers, profiling the larger-than-life Scott Marks (who decamped for San Diego in 2001; check out his jaw-dropping web page Emulsion Compulsion) and his intrepid, noir-obsessed successor, Matthew Hoffman (now presenting films at the Park Ridge Public Library). Michael Phillips (not the critic) and Julian Antos took over for Hoffman; both are engaging, ardent film buffs, and the city owes them a debt of thanks.

The good news is that Phillips, Antos, and projectionist/designer Becca Hall have banded together to launch a nonprofit, the Northwest Chicago Film Society, and a Wednesday night series at the cavernous, 1,938-seat Portage, around the corner from the bank building at 4050 N. Milwaukee. When I asked Phillips where the money would come from now that the bank had pulled the plug, he replied, "That's a darn good question." According to Phillips, Portage manager Dennis Wolkowicz (dean of the Silent Film Society of Chicago) has been "very supportive" of the new project, and some of the neighborhood old-timers who frequented the CFS have donated money. But Phillips has no idea if the new arrangement will fly, and the first series—which begins February 16 with a tentative booking of Douglas Sirk's classic melodrama Written on the Wind (1957)—is on a conservative three-month schedule. For more information and updates, check out the Facebook page for the Classic Film Series.

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