Friday, May 27, 2011

Vanishing Chicago: Piper's Alley

There's a reason why, whenever you go to a theater, you often see a mask with a smile and an accompanying mask with a frown--because happiness and sadness often travel together, one never very far from the other.

On Wednesday, I got the downright ecstatic news that the Patio, a 1927 movie house that closed nearly a decade ago, will reopen at the end of next week, fully restored to its classic glory. (The grand reopening movie? Thor.) Will I be there opening night? Oh, you bloody well know I will.

Thursday, though, brought the buzzkill: the Piper's Alley Theater was closing for good that evening.

This was not exactly a surprise. Piper's wasn't a theater I frequented--there were movies house that were closer to where I lived and less expensive--but I ventured down to Old Town from time to time to indulge in the indie features and foreign films that those closer, cheaper theaters never show. Whenever I did go, though, especially recently, the "crowds" were very thin. The last time I went there was a couple of months ago to see The Illusionist, an animated movie based on an unproduced screenplay by the great French comedian Jacques Tati. the screening room had at least a couple hundred seats, but there were maybe a dozen other patrons there. "How does this place stay open?" I wondered.

I need ask that question no longer--it couldn't stay open. Not with audiences that could be counted on fingers and toes and still have digits left over.

That's a shame, of course. Even though Piper's wasn't one of my "got-to" theaters and wasn't a classic, old-school theater like the ones I usually hit (the Portage first opened in 1920, and the Davis, New 400 and Logan all opened before 1920), but I saw quite a few flicks there in the 20 years it was around, including Cemetery Man (Italian zombies!), Diary of the Dead (American zombies!) and Moulin Rouge! (Australian zo...oh wait, that was just the Botox-frozen face of Nicole Kidman). The most memorable movie I saw there was The Blair Witch Project, which I saw opening night with Mr. E and two of his friends (or so they tell me--I have no memory of Chrissy or Katie being there, but that's no surprise, given my memory; I also can't remember my home phone number or what I ate for breakfast). Pipers was packed that night--the only time I ever saw it sold out--and when the end credits started to roll, the house lights immediately came up, leaving a stunned audience to stumble out quickly to the lobby wondering, "What just happened?"

It's also a shame because Chicago has so few movie theaters left as it is beyond the megaplexes found mostly in the near (and not-nearly-so-near) suburbs. (River East 21, nestled near downtown, is the closest, best option for most.) The Old Town neighborhood has suffered particularly, with the nearby Village Theater closing several years ago, and the nearest theaters to Old Town's north and south all either shutting down (the Esquire) or being repurposed as live performance space (the 3 Penny and Biograph).

Maybe some other theater chain will lease the space Piper's Alley used to occupy. Or maybe it will be repurposed as well. Or maybe, like so many other shuttered theaters in the city, it will just sit there, empty and dusty, a ghost of good times long past.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 5/26/11

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fog City

Sometimes, days come full circle. On my way in to work yesterday morning, thick fog cloaked the city (especially along the lake shore) immediately prior to heavy thunderstorms clearing the air and flooding the ground. On the way home from work, the same phenomenon occurred: plumes of fog snaked through the Loop and enveloped the office buildings and condo towers just ahead of another storm front crashing through.

I love my city in fog. It makes her look different, yet familiar--at once futuristic and ancient. And it makes me a tourist in my hometown, staring up as far as I can and snapping shots till the batteries in the Kodak run dry.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On the Way in to Work This Morning...

Thick fog rolls in ahead of heavy thunderstorms.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 5/25/11

Easter may be long since past, but the recruitment for the PsychoBunny Army continues nonetheless...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May Haiku

Flowering tree sways
fragrant in the filtered rays
just out of dawn's grasp.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 5/5/11

I've taken to taking photos of theaters whenever I visit them, especially if it's an older movie house like the Music Box. Here's of shot of the marquee from the day I saw Stake Land with Josep and his finacee Jen. These vampires aren't pretty and don't sparkle in the sunlight--they're ugly and they burn, just like proper vampires should. And though Stake Land has funny moments, it's hardly a comedy. Quite the contrary--it's a somber, contemplative vampire/zombie movie with enough blood to sate the gorehounds and enough social commentary to engage the intellectuals.

Oh...and seeing it in the big room at a classic old theater? Awesome sauce.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story: 5/4/11

"Why yes, dear boy. Of course you can have a cup of coffee. Of course. Just step inside this police box. Right this way. No need to be alarmed, no need at all. It's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside...the police box, yes, dear boy. It's how I travel through time. And space to boot. You're welcome to travel along with me. Yes, you are. Of course, your life will be placed in endless jeopardy by my boundless curiosity and nosiness...wait...where are you going, dear boy? I thought you wanted a cup of coffee. Hm?"

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's Difficult to be Stealthy about This Whole Birthday Thing...

...When your friends conspire to sneak you presents--like, say, the festive pinata and adorable li'l cake pictured above--before my arrival at work this morning.

There were two small flaws in their plan, though.

Flaw one: Kathleen snuck over to my desk to drop off the prezzies before I got in, only to find I had arrived before she did.

Flaw two: My birthday is tomorrow.

No matter. The sugar rush is vastly appreciated, and the pinata has sparked much discussion as to what, exactly, he is. A llama? A donkey? A donkey-chupacabra?

It's my birthday pinata. Therefore, it is a llama. And his name is Roy.

Thanks, Kathleen and Jessie!

On the Way in to Work This Morning...

Every Picture Tells a Story: 5/3/11