Cold in July
  • Cold in July

I miss the short reel they used to run before coming attractions at the Cineplex Odeon theaters, which gave the impression you were about to watch a movie in a Greek amphitheater in outer space. Julian Antos projected that reel at a Northwest Chicago Film Society event sometime in the past year. I was happy to see it, though I didn’t think about it again until this past weekend, when I saw Cold in July for a second time at the Landmark Century. Jim Mickle’s dark comic thriller is designed to resemble a second-tier Hollywood genre picture from the mid-1980s, and I’ve got to tip my hat to the filmmakers for their specificity. The movie takes place in 1989, but it looks like a 35-millimeter print of a 1986 movie that’s spent three years on the second-run circuit. Some of the bright colors seem unusually saturated, and some of the night scenes look a little too dim.

The night scenes are vaguely reminiscent of that old Cineplex Odeon reel, with brilliant flashes of neon color amid space-movie black. The aesthetic may seem tacky now, but for me it touches a raw nerve. Cineplex Odeon dominated the first-run market in the area of Chicagoland where I grew up. I must have seen that reel hundreds of times before the company merged with Loews Theatres in 1998, at which point the amphitheater in space no longer appeared. My first impressions of moviegoing are bound up with those 20 seconds of film.

I suppose there are far worse 20-second clips to have lodged in your subconscious. Come to think of it, the idea of a theater transforming into an expanse of infinite space is a nice metaphor for the movies’ power to transport us. When I went to the movies this weekend, the first thing to appear onscreen after the lights went down was a commercial for a TV show. I feel sorry for the poor kids first going to the movies now—they might come to think that people go to movies only to be transported back home.

Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.