Cool places in Chicago, no. 1: The Music Box

This may well be the best cinema I have ever been to.

There are rivals.  Preston Odeon, now closed, has a special place in my heart as the cinema  where I saw ET one Christmas and cried all the way home.  The Oxford Penultimate Picture Palace: freezing cold, always on the brink of closing down, but undeniably cool.  Leeds Hyde Park Picture House, the Brixton Ritzy, the Orpheus cinema above Bristol Waitrose where you still get paper tickets that pop up from a metal slot and the icecreams are usually past their sell-by date. Oh, and the Brighton Duke of York’s, where you can sit on the balcony in sofas drinking beer or hot chocolate, scene of a rather unsuccessful outing this summer to Four Lions.

But I think this may beat them all.  Lush old-fashioned interior with ruched red curtains, elaborate mouldings and light fixtures: check.  Popcorn with proper molten butter, salted only, in a paper bag: check.  Raspberry iced tea to drink: check.  Sloping lobby with comfy benches to sit and wait for your friends: check. Interesting arthouse programme, but not so earnestly arthouse that you feel you should be taking notes: check.

All this is nice – but then there is the organ.

I guess once all cinemas had a guy playing the organ before the show and after the credits, and I feel sure I’ve seen it done once before somewhere.  But at the Music Box the theatre organist, whose name I learn from the website is Dennis Scott, plays almost every Saturday and Sunday.  We went to see the Hildegard of Bingen film, Vision, on Saturday, and get this: after the credits he did an organ version of one of Hildegard’s compositions.  Swirling kitsch meets twelfth century liturgy.  It was one of the most understatedly inventive things I’ve ever seen.

Some more things that endear me to it: it doesn’t sell tickets in advance.  At all. Allowing you to roll up a few minutes before the film because the mood for twelfth-century mystics has suddenly overcome you.  It has a ghost who – er – died on the bench in the lobby that I was just commending to you. And it has given me a great idea for how to spend Christmas Eve: seeing a double bill of White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life, and singing carols in the intermission with the words on the screen and the organ playing.

Nearest el: Southport brown line, Addison red line; standard tickets $9.25; website


About scepticalexpat

British 30something wannabe academic, moving to Chicago for three years in August 2010.
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One Response to Cool places in Chicago, no. 1: The Music Box

  1. Cathy says:

    Sounds wonderful. I would also add the Castro Theater in San Francisco to the list.

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