Claire Denis’s Stars at Noon won the Palm D’Or at Cannes but isn’t playing at a single theater in Chicago. The reason is that the studio has decided to release it VOD same day. The big movie chains don’t like that so they fight back by not booking films for theatrical runs. The whole business seems like it’s in death throes, trying to cause as much collateral damage as it can before disappearing for good.
But I wanna see the movie in a theater so I get on my bike and pedal to Wilmette.
I listen to a podcast interview on the way. It’s fifteen miles or so. I’m into Evanston before they finish talking. I put on something else. There’s still a way’s to go.
Then I’m passing the Ba’hai Temple so I know I must be close. It’s an uncanny edifice. Sort of like aliens plopped the thing among this quiet place of trees and houses like an outpost to be visible from far away. The daylight’s fading as I leave it behind me.
I’m over an hour early so I walk around the quaint commercial strip where the theater sits, then choose an Italian place next door for dinner. It’s busy so the hostess hesitates to give me a table. But I promise I’ll be out of there by 6:45 so she relents.
Every other table includes screaming infants. The family seated to my right has three. The mom keeps taking the smallest one outside. I watch her pace up and down the sidewalk as the dad tries to control the two left inside. Their oldest knocks a full sippy cup off the table. It sprays soda in a big puddle inches from my feet. It takes several employees to clean it up.
To my left, by the window, a couple is on an early date. They’re not young but I can’t tell their ages. Younger than me for sure. He looks like maybe he was athletic once but has settled into something like insurance or maybe he sells cars. She has an accent I can’t make out over the competing squalls of children. Eastern-European, maybe? He reaches to hold her hand awkwardly across the table. Doesn’t feel like they’ve done even that much before. He keeps checking movie showtimes on his phone, then reading her the descriptions of the movies. She suggests they skip the movie and go to his house after they get what’s left of their pizza wrapped to go. He doesn’t get the hint. “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” she keeps asking, obviously frustrated.
There’s no one inside the lobby when I go in, then a young woman, possibly a high-schooler, comes out of a messy office to the side of a makeshift concession stand. I show her the ticket I printed out at home and she points me to the auditorium door. Inside there are a bunch of mismatched loveseats and armchairs arranged in approximate rows. There’s a stage with amps and music stands below a movie screen at the far end of the room. Judging by the position of the left wall and the incline of the floor, I’d guess this is the right side of a single-screen theater that was chopped back when multiplexes were first coming in in the 80s and the home-video market began the gradual murder of movie-going that is nearly complete today.
Despite the theater losing power at one point, causing a five-minute stop in the screening and the young woman frantically running about trying to unplug the lights after, the movie’s amazing. Maybe my favorite this year. The tindersticks soundtrack and Denis Johnson source-material doesn’t hurt.
Claire Denis is one of the great filmmakers going. Too bad the age of movies is just about done. I’ll keep going to whatever rec center or forgotten hall I have to to see movies on a screen, but the audiences will keep shrinking. There’s no use crying about it. This is the way of things. Every art medium has its day in the sun before it fades. Then it’s the job of outcasts and obsessives to keep it flickering rather than being snuffed out for good.
—Just in time for the playoffs, here’s my Jean-Paul Sartre, Sox fan t-shirt.
—Listen to my talk with Westley Heine, then tune in Wednesday for one with musician/printmaker/craft fair impresario Mat Daly.
—Read my review of an epic new play.