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.