This Saturday the last picture show takes place at the Bank of America Cinema, at 4901 West Irving Park Road in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood. At 8:00 pm Babes in Toyland starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy will screen. And I won’t be there! I am going to miss it because I’ll be celebrating a friend’s birthday.
I am going to miss the weekly screenings at the place I still catch myself calling the LaSalle Bank Cinema. I’ll miss the silent man in the downstairs lobby, who, if you arrived early enough for the movie, would hand you an 8.5 x 14 xerox copy of original reviews of the feature film (often by the late Bosley Crowther, the New York Times critic with a name as curmudgeonly as his tone). I’ll miss the not-so comfortable seating and the lousy sight lines of the seventies-era, second floor auditorium, where a tall or large-headed viewer could easily spoil your view. I’ll miss paying five bucks to get in and a buck or two for a bag of popcorn or box of candy.
I’ll miss the crowd! When the screening began, you could tell by the audible sighs and cheers who liked a serial (say The Shadow) and who liked a comedy short (more Laurel and Hardy) before their feature film. I will miss the folks who waited until the lights went down and the film started to roll before beginning their symphony of seat shifting, throat clearing, and candy wrapper removing. I will even miss the hard-of-hearing folks around me, muttering ‘what did s/he say?’ all the way through. I’ll miss the whole scene, including the regular handful of film fanatics with the magic powers that transport them to each and every rep house screening in the city. And I’ll miss observing what I often suspected was a seniors’ mixer. Who knows what late-life romances bloomed in that glowing orange room? ‘The Shadow knows!’
I will definitely miss the excellent programming by Michael Phillips and gang, though I’ve read they are starting a Wednesday night series at the Portage Theatre just around the way. I didn’t make it out to the BAC nearly enough but when I did I caught an amazing array of films, many of them available only on film. Lots of movie theaters have come and gone in this town. But Saturday nights on Irving Park Road will be a hard thing to do without.