#787: A Movie House

May 8th, 2017

By rights, it should be a chain restaurant.

That’s what the area’s best for. State Street, that great street where the only groups that can afford the ground-floor rents are multinational corporations shilling either cheap Chinese-made clothing or the finest of mass-produced sandwich meats.

There’s a Potbelly, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ on the same block. Across the street, there’s a Chick-fil-A, finely crafting homespun charm, chicken sandwiches and casual homophobia.

The famous Chicago Theater sign is there too, yes. But how much more indicative of this region is the Old Navy across the way? If we’re being truly honest about State Street, what gets more business? What’s used more often by more people on that stretch of retail road: the Joffrey Ballet training area or the Walgreen’s drug store below it?

But amid the Potbellys and AT&T stores, amid the chintz of retail and cheap sandwiches, is a little breather of a blink-and-miss-it movie theater. No, not a movie theater. A cinema.

It’s the Gene Siskel Film Center, named after the late Chicago Tribune film critic. It’s an offshoot of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a little movie house showing revivals and first-run foreign and independent films.

It’s a place to catch a new documentary about Guatemalan genocide or a 2004 Belgian/French art film by a director with two diacritical marks in her name.

On the stairway up from street level, in an all-white room leading to another all-white room, the front of one step promises you’re only a few more stairs to great movies. It lives up to it.

A turn, a twist, a reception area with modern art and a booth where you can buy a box of popcorn, then around a corner into darkness.

The chairs in the theater are old and wobbly in a way that’s comforting. You’ve passed through two rooms that in walls and clientele resemble a modern art museum. They’re places for cocktail receptions and insufferable people who make you re-pronounce their names until you get them right.

Here, in a wobbly, shaky chair on a street dedicated to chain restaurants and shopping, is a place to watch a movie.

So that’s Siskel. What about Ebert?

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