Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL

Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL
Uptown Theatre, Chicago, IL

18 March 2012

Prologue to My Irish Film Fest and a Brief Plea to Save the Portage Theater

Because i don't drink, i'm always left with the dilemma of finding some new and interesting way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day that involves as little contact with the rowdy hordes of revelers as possible. Some years this can be as simple as staying home and baking Irish soda bread, but this year i decided to hold my own private movie marathon of films that either are filmed in or are about Ireland and the Irish. This did involve one daring foray into the outside world, a harrowing ride on the L and walk through Lincoln Park to the Chicago Public Library to find what is apparently the last existing copy of The Commitments (1991) in existence. It wasn't easy, but a true quest never is; so i braved the roving packs of pie-eyed twenty-somethings in their green teeshirts and Mardi Gras beads (When did that become a St. Patrick's Day tradition?), dug through racks of DVDs at the library, and finally made it back to my safe and sober domicile with my prize. The other films in my marathon (all of which i will write about at greater length in the coming days) were The Field (1990), My Left Foot (1989), The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), and Ondine (2009). All were more readily available, either because i have them in my collection or could get them streaming online. But The Commitments was the prize of the day: the movie i went to the most effort to get because i couldn't imagine my idiosyncratic film fest without it. 

The difficulty i had in finding a copy of The Commitments really took me by surprise and made me think about how much we take for granted in this marvelous digital age of ours. I'm old enough to remember having to scour bookstores, thrift shops, and libraries for some obscure book, or having to wait literally years for a favorite film to play at one of those wonderful little art house movie theaters in obscure corners of the city. I could here burst into a song of praise for the TLA and long-departed Bandbox in Philadelphia, where i fell in love with Cocteau, Buñuel, and Herzog, and forever changed my relationship to film, but i'll save that for another day. I could sing a similar paean to those classic art houses that still survive like the Music Box in Chicago, where i've spent many an evening. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, better than watching a classic film in a classic theater. The Portage in Chicago is one such theater that is currently in the greatest danger of not only closing, but having its lovingly restored architectural features eradicated. The owner of the building that houses the theater has put it up for sale. A church group, the Chicago Tabernacle, hopes to purchase the theater and turn it into a place of worship, eliminating or destroying key elements of this wonderful vintage theater, which was built in 1920. The local alderman, John Arena of the 45th Ward, is trying to block the zoning change, while making it very clear that the church itself is very welcome in the community at a more appropriate site. Please take a moment to read about the current threat to the Portage and then send an email to Alderman Arena expressing your support of his opposition to the destruction of this gem of Chicago's cultural scene. 
Click here for an article about the Portage Theater in the Chicago Tribune. 
Click here for the Portage Theater's website.
Click here for Alderman Arena's website.

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