In a time when all the content anyone could ever desire is quite literally at our fingertips, a movie theater celebrating 90 years in business is a wonder. When that theater is Chicago’s own Music Box Theatre, the cinema palace that anchors the north end of Lake View’s Southport Corridor, it’s a special thing, indeed.
History buffs would do well to read Bill Stamets’ exhaustively researched rundown of the Music Box’s nine decades (and counting), from details on its construction (though built when vaudeville was still very much a thing, this was quite possibly Chicago’s first theater built solely for “talkies”) to examples of the various Chicago Tribune ads announcing its programming over the years.
“An epicenter for cineastes devoted to the big-screen experience,” he calls it.
As one who’s fallen deep into Peter O’Toole’s dreamy blue eyes at Lawrence of Arabia presented in 70mm; who’s witnessed a hand-painted (!), original print of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty projected above our heads; who’s celebrated new film premieres, sung along with classics, met friends and fellow cinephiles for drinks and a chat; who’s walked under that classic marquee more times that I can count…it’s an epicenter, to say the least.
How can such a revered establishment best celebrate such a landmark milestone? Do more of what they do best, of course: eclectic, inventive programming that truly offers something for everyone. If for some reason you can’t find anything to check out the week of August 22-29 (literally the 90th anniversary, as the Music Box opened for business on August 22, 1929), the Music Box’s programming is a bit like Chicago weather: wait a bit, and it will certainly change.
A preview of what’s in store as the Music Box turns 90 is below (head here for a full run-down), and the only question that remains is: what will they do when they turn 100?
Thursday, August 22 — Innocents of Paris
Transport yourself back to the movie house era when the Music Box first opened with this Maurice Chevalier classic, about a “junk man” who has to choose between love and the stage. Features the classic song, “Louise.”
Friday, August 23 — The Fugitive, with filmmaker Andrew Davis in person
Right up there with the likes of The Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Fugitive is quintessentially Chicago, the city as backdrop to the now classic Harrison Ford crime drama. Filmmaker Andrew Davis will be in attendance to share stories about the film, and growing up in the neighborhood around the theater.
Saturday, August 24 — Dolly Parton 9 to 5er
Chalk this one up to the Music Box’s characteristically genius programming: eight hours of non-stop Dolly Parton programming from, yes, 9 to 5. PM to AM, that is. So take an afternoon nap and then claim your seat for a night that will also include The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Rhinestone and Straight Talk. Dolly would be proud.
Sunday, August 25 – Mary Poppins Sing-A-Long
This one’s for the whole family. The 1964 classic starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke screens on a Sunday afternoon, and stumbling your way through Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is not only appropriate, it’s encouraged.
Tuesday and Wednesday, August 27 & 28 – Double Features
On Tuesday, the theater’s sister company, arthouse distributor Music Box Films, presents two of their best: the Oscar-winning Polish film Ida (from the masterful Pawel Pawlikowski), and Terence Davies’ haunting The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston. For Wednesday, the double feature is two audience favorites: The Terminator and Robocop, both screening on 35mm.
Thursday, August 29 – Back to the Future II on 70mm
Notably absent from the Music Box’s 2019 calendar is their always impressive 70mm Film Festival; not that they haven’t featured the extra-large format plenty this year, from screenings of Roma and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood to an upcoming engagement of The Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix. See one more classic on 70mm when the theater screens Back to the Future Part II, set in the far-off future of 2015.