The Lost Cinemas of My Youth, Pt. 3

GOLF GLEN THEATERS (Niles, IL)

Much like the aforementioned Evanston Five or the multiplexed General Cinema – Deerbrook Mall, the Golf Glen Theaters, located on Golf Road, was a theater of last resort, the one you went to when Point Break wasn’t playing at one of your go-to theaters. I mention Point Break because that gives you an idea of the kinds of movies shown at this theater, the majority flirting with B-movie status. Auditoriums were small, as I recall, but, because this wasn’t some half-assed conversion of an existing complex, pretty well appointed and featuring decent enough screens and sound. According to cinematreasures the theater, which opened in 1984, went through multiple owners until finally being taken over in July 2014 by MovieMax Cinemas, a chain specializing in the distribution of Indian movies, and renamed “BIG Cinemas.” (Indian as in from India, not the Wild West.)

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Among the lowlights and unexpected treasures:

Enemy Mine (1985) – As a huge fan of director Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot, I was looking forward to his first foray into science fiction, in no small part because I’d only experienced his anti-war U-boat classic on a 19” color TV.

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Here, then, was my chance to see a master of claustrophobic composition and nerve-jangling sound design painting on a visually and aurally huge canvas. Emerging from Enemy Mine, completely drained from the experience, I could only shake my head in wonder that the auteur behind The Boat could create such an execrable piece of shit, further evidence that, no matter the technical prowess of the production team, the quality of the actors (Dennis Quaid and Lou “I want your DOR!” Gossett Jr.)…

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…and the director’s reputation, if the script sucks, the movie is dead in the water (oof!) Twenty-nine years later and I still cringe at the memory of the marooned Quaid teaching the game of baseball to the lizard-child of the marooned lizard-man Gossett, Jr., who, it should be noted, was dead by this point in the movie, his final sacrifice involving asexual birth. (Don’t ask.) Truly a low point in modern cinema. On the positive side, a trailer for Ridley Scott’s greatly anticipated take on fairy tales, Legend, was shown before Dennis, Lou and Wolfgang unpinned the grenade and rolled it under their collective careers.

Legend (1986) – Here, surely, was the film that finally and forever would wash the bile-tasting residue that was Enemy Mine from my mouth. After all, Ridley Scott was on a roll, having delivered three classics (The Duellists, Alien and Blade Runner) in the space of six years. He could do no wrong, Mr. Scott, each successive film expanding the boundaries of what strange, foreign worlds could be depicted on-screen. Who better, then, to tackle the oral tradition of fairy tales? The result? A film so bad it made Enemy Mine look like Renoir’s La Grande Illusion. Every night before he goes to bed, Tom Cruise prays to L. Ron Hubbard that the powers that be in the Church of Scientology never stumble across this travesty on late-night cable. Because, if they did, Cruise would be excommunicated before he could achieve Operating Thetan Level 8 (OT VIII), the church’s highest spiritual designation.

The Fly (1986) – Who would’ve guessed that the movie that finally rid me of my chronic and acute Enemy Mine/Legend nausea would itself be totally nauseating. In a good way, though. I’d never seen a David Cronenberg movie before this, nor had I wanted to, his fascination with organic horror, which, according to people much smarter than me, is “horror derived from the graphic destruction of the human body,” not my cup of tea at all. But when Ebert and Siskel powdered The Fly’s bottom with one of their patented “Two thumbs up…way up!”, I was intrigued.

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Thankfully, unlike the other garbage I’d seen at the Golf Glen throughout the fall ‘85/spring ’86, this one turned out to be a classic: great performances by Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, one of Howard Shore’s finest scores…

…and a knockout final shot. Not that I’ve dabbled much in the genre, but I’d easily rank this with John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Alien as one of my favorite horror films. What so easily could’ve been an excuse for puerile gross-out takes on much deeper, metaphorical meaning in Cronenberg’s capable hands, specifically the heartbreaking struggle to stand by someone you love as their body deteriorates from disease. Too bad the trailer has such cruddy music playing in the background, which somehow cheapens the whole endeavor.

Manhunter (1986) – When people think of Hannibal Lecktor they invariably recall Anthony Hopkins in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs.

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Which is too bad because the best Lecktor put on film was, in fact, Brian Cox, in this mostly forgotten Michael Mann flick. I’d be surprised if one out of 10 could summon a mental picture of Cox at the mention of his name. They’d certainly recognize him, though; subsequent to Manhunter, Cox became a very successful character actor. (see Rob Roy, Braveheart, Rushmore, X2, Bourne 1 & 2, etc.) But I can’t help thinking he got kind of screwed by being replaced by Hopkins for Demme’s higher-profile Lecktor flick. After all, Hopkins earned the Oscar for Best Actor, which easily could’ve been Cox’ considering the latter’s earlier portrayal is about a hundred times more creepily off kilter, the product of interesting line readings and a face that only a mother could love.

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Another reason Cox would’ve been better is that, unlike Hopkins, he was relatively unknown at the time and, therefore, didn’t fall into that famous-actor trap, which unwittingly takes the viewer out of the moment because of the actor’s previous performance baggage, as in: How can I take Tom Cruise seriously as a civil war veteran when all I can do is picture him dancing around in his underwear?

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While somewhat dated in terms of costumes, music-based stanzas and lighting schemes—no doubt Mann was heavily influenced by his years producing Miami Vice—the movie has enough great performances (William Petersen, the late, great Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan and, of course, Cox)…

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…and tension throughout to make it another pleasant (if gruesome) surprise from 1986.

Bad Influence (1989) – Seven years before his magnum opus L.A. Confidential, director Curtis Hanson delivered this nasty little Hitchcockian thriller. Who knew Rob Lowe could act?

Others of note: Roxanne, Predator, The Lost Boys, Bull Durham, Colors, Do the Right Thing, Edward Scissorhands, Jacob’s Ladder, Cape Fear, Point Break, The Last Boy Scout, A Perfect World

Theater-o-Meter (10-point scale)

  • Status: Open, but exclusive to Indian cinema
  • Nostalgia Quotient: 6
  • Screen/Picture: 6
  • Sound: 6

OLD ORCHARD THEATER (Skokie, IL)

Along with Golf Mill and Edens, this completed the triumvirate of premier movie theaters on Chicago’s North Shore in terms of projection and sound. According to cinematreasures this complex, located on Skokie Boulevard, opened back in 1960 with only one auditorium, a 1,700-seat monster with an equally impressive 60’ x 25’ screen.

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By the time I began to frequent it there were four auditoriums, all of them perfectly acceptable, although the main auditorium, seating 950, had by far the biggest screen and best sound. Alas, a wrecking ball took it all down in 2003.

Among the highlights:

E.T. (1982) – I saw this movie three times at Old Orchard. The second time, with my family, there occurred an incident just before the movie started that I’m not sure I’m fully over. The deal was, my mother came back to our seats after loading up on snacks and very reasonably asked me to head out to the lobby to carry what she hadn’t been able to manage. Me being a 13-year-old prick and loathe to miss any of the movie (a very strange hang-up of mine that has followed me into adulthood) I stormed from my seat, stormed into the lobby, got the food and stormed back again, my aggressive return causing the seats up and down our row to jostle. It was then that a woman seated in the row in ahead turned around and, loudly enough for half the theater to hear, said, “What a little brat!”

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It wasn’t until like the last five minutes of the movie that my face stopped burning red. A little brat, indeed.

The Emerald Forest (1985) – Out with a bunch of friends one weekend, bored out of our collective minds…

Friend #1: “So what do you idiots want to do tonight?

Friend #2: “I don’t know.”

Friend #3: [shrugs]

Friend #4: “Fuck if I know. What about you?”

Friend #1: [shrugs]

…we decided to check out a flick at Old Orchard. Whereas most of the crew wanted to see St. Elmo’s Fire, a poorly reviewed coming-of-age eye roller staring various and sundry “Brat Packers” in hopes of seeing Demi Moore naked, I, being a fledgling conflicted movie snob, threw in my lot for the newest flick from John Boorman, the director of Deliverance and Excaliber. Except for my loyal friend John (another fledgeling movie snob), I was told by the larger group pound sand. So we split, the majority going to see Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez navigate turbulent post-collegiate waters…

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…the Jim-and-John contingent spending the next 110 minutes slogging through a plot involving kidnapped children, magical-realism, the destruction of the rainforest and mistreated indigenous peoples. No offense to Boorman but, as I walked out of the theater, it occurred to me that a much better time would’ve been had watching Demi Moore struggle with credit-card debt and Rob Lowe fake-play the sax.

The Mission (1986) – The truth is, despite the movie featuring lush rainforest cinematography by the great Chris Menges; solid performances from Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro; and a classic score by Ennio Morricone, I never would’ve chosen to see this in the theater had it not been for my high school Ethics teacher offering up extra credit to anyone who could prove with a ticket stub that he’d checked it out.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) – A nasty little art film from British director Peter Greenaway starring Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon, the latter a favorite of mine from catching him in Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, which had run on Chicago’s local PBS affiliate, WTTW, sometime in 1987.

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I’d be lying to say that Gambon was the only reason I wanted to see this movie. Another huge selling point: the film was released with no rating, a clear indication that it contained loads of objectionable material, catnip for your average 20-year-old male.

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The story goes that the MPAA initially threatened the movie with an X-rating unless significant cuts were made. Miramax, the film’s distributor, said “screw you” and released it without a formal rating, a pretty bold move considering that many theater chains in the prudish U.S. wouldn’t book such controversial content, thus affecting potential box office. Thankfully the folks at Old Orchard had some cojones. That the movie contained objectionable material was the understatement of the year. Brimming with graphic sex and violence, male and female full-frontal nudity, cannibalism, torture, rotting meat, disturbing scatology, child torture, gourmet French food, beautiful cinematography, Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes and a memorable Michael Nyman score, the movie was at once unwatchable and fascinating. A truly disturbing experience.

The Commitments (1991) – The movie where I learned that “shite” is how the Irish say “shit.”

Other of note: Close Encounter of the Third Kind, Breaking Away, Airplane II: The Sequel, Octopussy, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Back to the Future, Witness, Young Sherlock Holmes, Top Gun, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Pretty in Pink, About Last Night, The Untouchables, Full Metal Jacket, Angel Heart, Black Widow, The Last Emperor, No Way Out, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Scrooged, Rain Man, Mississippi Burning, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Abyss, Casualties of War, Roger and Me, We’re No Angels, When Harry Met Sally, The Russia House, The Two Jakes, Dances with Wolves, Arachnophobia, The Godfather Part III, Wild at Heart, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, What About Bob?, JFK, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Thelma and Louise, Patriot Games

Theater-o-Meter (10-point scale)

  • Status: Razed for an old-folk home and Chipotle
  • Nostalgia Quotient: 8
  • Screen/Picture: 8
  • Sound: 8

FINE ARTS THEATER (Chicago, IL)

The Fine Arts Theater, located at 410 South Michigan Avenue, has quite the history. The building itself, an impressive example of Romanesque architecture designed by famed architect Solon S. Beman for the Studebaker Company, first opened its doors back in 1885.

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By 1897, however, the Studebaker Company had moved to another location and the building’s new management decided to repurpose the space for the pursuit and exhibition of the arts. Rechristened the Fine Arts Building, in addition to offices and studio space for musicians, artists, publishers and architects, the renovations included two new music halls—the Studebaker, with a capacity of 1,500, and the University, seating 700, both among the oldest surviving theaters in Chicago according to the good folks at cinematreasures. Throughout much of the 20th century both theaters hosted a variety of programming—recitals, musicals, plays, movies, radio programs—until, in 1982, an entertainment company, M&R Amusement, converted the theaters into a movie complex, eventually dicing and chopping the two spaces into four. Luckily, Theater One (the old Studebaker) retained most of its seats and pretty much all of its Art Nouveau charm.

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The other three, as I recall, were like watching a flick in a Roach Motel. The Fine Arts closed its doors in 2000.

Among the highlights:

Henry V (1989) – Back in the fall of ’89 word started trickling across the pond that some classically trained upstart named Kenneth Branagh had taken England by storm with his directorial debut, an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most popular history plays, the very one that Olivier tackled, with classic results, back in 1944.

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A pretty ballsy endeavor, especially considering, like Olivier, he also starred and wrote the screenplay. So when I returned to the Chicago area for winter break, naturally I had to check it out. The problem: the only place showing it was the Fine Arts, a good hour by car from where I lived in the northern ‘burbs. I went anyway, with my sister if I recall correctly, my first taste of what movie theaters were like back in the day, all balconies and boxes and gold leaf and Art Nouveau flourishes, a million miles from the functional crap up in the ‘burbs. Oh, and the movie was good, too.

Barton Fink (1991) – Although I’d been a fan of the Coen brothers’ first three flicks—Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing—I’d regretted only seeing them on VHS, which did nothing for the brothers’ flair for interesting visuals. So there was no question that I’d check out their new one, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 44th Cannes Film Festival, in a proper movie theater. My only regret was that I brought a friend who wasn’t much of a movie guy, the last thing he’d seen in the theater being Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. No surprisingly, ambiguous endings turned out to not be his thing…

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…and so he felt compelled to bitch about it the entire ride home. “Why the fuck can’t we see what’s in the box? That’s just stupid.”

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) – This one really seals my credentials as a movie dork. Years before it came out I was flipping through a movie magazine (Film Comment? Sight & Sound? Film Quarterly? Cahiers du Cinéma?—what snob I was) in my college library when I stumbled across an item noting that two young filmmakers—George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr—had secured the raw footage that Eleanor Coppola shot while on-set during her husband’s production of Apocalypse Now and planned to fashion it into a documentary. For anyone even vaguely interested in the tortured, interminable production of Coppola’s Vietnam classic—years spent in postproduction, Martin Sheen’s heart attack, the typhoon, the controversy over the end credits, the excised French plantation scene, etc.—this, of course, was the Holy Grail. A year or so later and there it was, again exclusive to the Fine Arts.

Other notables: Remains of the Day, The Piano, Branagh’s Hamlet

Theater-o-Meter (10-point scale)

  • Status: Standing, but shuttered
  • Nostalgia Quotient: 8
  • Screen/Picture: 6
  • Sound: 5

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