|Short story first- I heart movie palaces.|
Now for the long story- I moved to Chicago in 1979 right after high school to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For a film lover, it was perfect time and place. I got to relish the last days of the cavernous decaying grindhouses where you could just lose the day watching action and horror schlock, and catch the evening screenings of the classic and cult at the revival theaters such as The Parkway, Varsity and Sandburg (among others). I'd have my first time exposure to so many great films as they should be seen, on the big screen with an appreciative audience. Double features of Hitchcock to Marx Brothers, to John Waters and David Lynch.
This is a story about one of the former, the majestic rat ridden wonderful centers of entertainment that weren't long for this earth. In it's heyday, downtown Chicago was the place to catch a flick with dozens and dozens of downtown movie palaces projecting away day and night, but by 1989 only the Woods was left standing as the last surviving operating Loop movie theatre. Opened in 1940 with a year long showing of Gone With the Wind, for it went out with "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka" and "Hellraiser Hellbound 2" (not a pithy judgement call, I like 'em all!). I went there for the first time when visiting my dad and happily stood in a line around the block to watch the James Bond flick "Diamonds Are Forever."
Back then I was doing weekly drawings for a Chicago Tribune column titled "Around Town" where I'd illustrate whatever reporter Rick Kogan wanted to write about. I was also researching the history of Chicago theaters for a never realized graphic novel (which, 34 years later, will finally turn into blog postings). This time I thought I'd slightly fudge the facts and let the tail wag the dog using the press phrase "I'm from the Chicago Tribune" to get an all access pass to the Woods last day. The manager, who was around my age, lets me, my camera and note taking yellow legal pad right in.
Morton Krugman, projectionist for the Wood's Theatre since 1953, let's me in. As soon as I get off my "I'm from the Tribune" greetings, a buzzer goes off warning that it's one minute before the cue appears in the upper right hand corner of the screen to signal the reel change. When that shows, he has another 2 minutes before the next reel starts. Morton starts to rewind the wheel on the table which quickly spins until the last bit of celluloid feeds through, turning off the machine. Todays films are have been duly written on the pages he keeps secured to a clipboard chronicling the last 10 years of movies shown there.