The independently owned Music Box Theatre

the tyranny of the multiplex:
no matter which one you visit,
it’s screening the same ten
Hollywood movies, and eight of
them suck. But here in Chicago you
can shake off your chains: in a typical
week the Reader lists more than
100 movies showing well within
reach of public transportation. Even
if 80 of them suck, you’re still way
ahead of the game.

For first-run Hollywood movies
we have plenty of venues, but only
two of them are worth noting, one
for its huge selection and the
other for its huge screen.
Most megaplexes use
their extra theaters to
schedule staggered
showings of the same
corporate product; by
contrast, River East 21 (322 E. Illinois, 312-596-0333) books more
titles, integrating a few
art-house movies with its
Hollywood fare and hanging on to
new releases a few weeks after the
other commercial theaters have
dropped them. Down the street, the
Imax theater at Navy Pier (600 E.
Grand, 312-595-5629) augments its
regular large-format programming
with big-budget Hollywood movies
(usually animated features or special-effects behemoths), projected in
70-millimeter on its jaw-dropping
80-foot screen.

The meaning of “independent
film” has gotten fuzzy, as big studios
have launched their own specialty
divisions to acquire, market, and
distribute offbeat movies like An
Inconvenient Truth
or Little Miss
. Like the movies themselves,
the theaters that specialize in
them—Pipers Alley in Old Town
and Landmark’s Century Centre in
Lakeview—are owned by big corporations.
One exception is Lakeview’s
independently owned Music Box (3733 N. Southport, 773-871-6604,, a 1929 jewel
that’s worth visiting for the decor
alone. In addition to indies and
the best new foreign films, the
Music Box also offers weekend
matinees and midnight shows of
cult movies and Hollywood classics,
though it’s worth phoning ahead
to ask whether something is
showing in the main theater or
the glorified shoe box that serves
as a second screening room.

The city’s finest cinematic
resource, bar none, is the Gene Siskel Film Center (164 N. State,
in the north Loop. Funded by the
School of the Art Institute and
blessed with two excellent screening
rooms, the Film Center offers just
about everything: Hollywood retrospectives,
foreign releases, truly
independent features, experimental
work, plus academic lectures and
talks by visiting scholars, archivists,
and artists. Facets Cinematheque (1517 W. Fullerton, 773-281-4114,, in west Lincoln Park,
may rank a distant second to the
Film Center, but it too offers a fine
selection of foreign and independent
releases, and its worldclass
video-rental facility
puts even Netflix to
shame. Both venues,
like the Music Box,
publish schedules in
advance, available by
mail or e-mail.

Chicago’s big revival
houses went out of
business in the 1980s, but
you can still find classics
being screened in 16- and 35-millimeter
here. Besides the Music Box,
the University of Chicago’s Doc Films (1212 E. 59th, 773-702-8575, in Hyde Park
and Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art (40 Arts Circle Dr.,
Evanston, 847-491-4000, show older
films almost daily during the school
year. The northwest side’s historic

Portage Theatre (4050 N.
Milwaukee, 773-205-7372), which
reopened this year, hosts programs
by the Silent Film Society of Chicago ( But the
city’s best-kept secret may be the
LaSalle Bank Cinema (4901 W.
Irving Park, 312-904-9442), hidden
away in the LaSalle Bank building,
also on the northwest side. It has
only one program a week, on
Saturday night, but it generally
sticks to features that aren’t available
on video, augmented with old-timey
cartoons, newsreels, or
cliff-hanger serials. With a new
sound system and 35-millimeter
setup, the LaSalle’s projection rivals
that of the Film Center.

Experimental film may be
cinema’s smallest niche market, but
Chicago has an impressive number
of outlets for it. The Film Center’s
ongoing “Conversations at the Edge” series often includes appearances by
visiting artists. Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark, 773-293-1447, in
Andersonville presents weekly programs
of new experimental work
(as well as frequent gay- and lesbian-themed programs). The
University of Chicago Film Studies
(5811 S. Ellis, 773-702-8596, has
more academically inclined programs
that explore the history of
American experimental cinema.
Various art spaces also dabble in
avant-garde cinema, notably
Heaven Gallery (1550 N.
Milwaukee, 773-342-4597, in Wicker Park.

You may be one of those who
believe there are only two kinds of
movie venues: those that serve
alcohol and those that don’t. Brew & View at the Vic (3145 N. Sheffield,
773-929-6713) was devised to keep
the marquee lit at Lakeview’s Vic
Theatre when there are no concerts;
it gives you a chance to catch up
with big-studio releases in 35-millimeter and get drunk enough
to believe they’re good. Like many
taverns, Delilah’s (2771 N. Lincoln,
shows videos on TV, but its free
programs on Saturday, Sunday,
and Tuesday evenings delve into
the far reaches of horror, sci-fi,
rock ’n’ roll, and exploitation
cinema. If you’re looking for a
guilty pleasure, you can’t get much
guiltier than this place.

In addition to these regular
venues, the city offers numerous
world-class film festivals, all covered
in the Reader’s listings and
sometimes in special pullout guides,
such as the ones we publish for the
Chicago International Film Festival,
running October 5 through 19.
Other festivals we’ll be covering this
fall include the Chicago
International Children’s Film
(October 19-29), Reeling
2006: The Chicago Lesbian & Gay
International Film Festival
(November 2-12), the Polish Film
Festival in America
(November 4-19), and Facets Cinematheque’s
Festival of New French Cinema
(early December).
Last but not least, the following
irregular venues often screen
movies for free, usually by video
projection: Acme Art Works,

Chicago Cultural Center, DuSable Museum of African American History, Hotti Biscotti, Morseland,
New World Resource Center, and
Transitions Bookplace. A bit of a
trek, the Northbrook Public Library
screens classic films in 35-millimeter, sometimes with lectures
and live musical accompaniment.

The Reader has the best movie coverage in town; every other publication
will tell you it does, but
they’re all lying bastards. Most
weeks you can find one or two
essay-style reviews in Section 1 and
complete listings in Section 2,
divided into three parts: alphabetical capsule reviews, a comprehensive
directory of locations and showtimes, and sidebars that focus
on that week’s notable series
or festivals. It’s all posted on the
movies page at our Web site, There’s more
going on here than any cinema
lover can possibly keep up with, but
if you blow off everything else you’ll
have a pretty good shot at it.