I love “Lost Buildings.”

This book/DVD combo is some sort of mind-blowing intersection of many things that interest me and about which I am passionate. Somehow NPR’s This American Life, the work of Chris Ware, local history, a movie, a well-designed book, and yes, actual lost buildings all conspired to arrive shrink-wrapped in a box on my doorstep one day. When I first found out about it, I wanted to call somebody up and talk excitedly at an inappropriate volume and at too-great length, but I had nobody to call who might understand and who would have been awake at 2 AM (prime book-nerding time, if you ask me). Well! Now I have a blog where I can use caps and exclamation points to convey to you the AMAZING EXCELLENCE OF LOST BUILDINGS!!!

Actually, it is difficult to explain its wonderfulness here. The saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” so here are just a few images to help convey something more than I might be able to just now.

Chris Ware does vertical as only he can do.


A non-Ware spread.

DVD still.


Having still failed to do the project justice, I’ll recommend that anybody who can get their hands on a copy, even for a short time, watch and read Lost Buildings.


I love the 22 Clark.

This much-reviled bus route is one I used to ride on a regular basis. Despite the frustratingly-common occurrence of two late buses arriving just before one early bus, it’s actually a convenient way to navigate Clark Street, which is often fraught with drunken pedestrians. It is also a 24/7 bus route, so it can and will help you get home at 3 AM just as handily as it does during rush hour.

Completely aside from its utility, this bus route also inspired the song, “Get On The Bus,” a catchy little tune by the late, great Wesley Willis.

Brace yourself for some poetry. Here is an excerpt from the song’s lyrics:

The 22 Clark bus passed me up

I picked up a rock and threw it at the bus

Then I called the bus driver a fucking jerk

I told him to suck a camel’s ass and fuck off

Get on the bus

Get on the bus

Get on the bus

Get on the bus

As far as I’m concerned, love smells like popcorn.

A friend and I were having a conversation about bad dates recently, and we started recalling good dates as well. It occurred to me then that I fall in love at the movies. There are some excellent places to see them in and around Chicago, too.

Dates aside, I also have a few very fuzzy wuzzy memories of seeing movies with my grandma (including my first visit to the Catlow). My sister and I, ten years apart in age, have always bonded over movies. At one difficult point in my childhood, my dad took me to see a movie, just the two of us, so I’d feel better. (This was at the Elk Grove Theater before it was remodeled, so the lobby actually smelled like years and years of the gross, burnt popcorn at the bottom of the machine, but I didn’t care.) I never really fit into my family, and watching movies was one of the few areas of common ground we all shared. Going to the movies meant two hours or so where I didn’t feel like I came from the island of misfit toys, and we could laugh together or rehash favorite lines over dinner afterwards.

In high school, as for many people, the default date was seeing a movie at the mall. I started saving my movie ticket stubs during my sophomore year, so I can say with absolute certainty that almost all the dates I went on in high school involved a movie, and while the boys who would take me sometimes got sick of going to the same places again and again, I never did. Even when I would go home and write up a scathing review for the school paper (I think I compared Rush Hour 2 to a dessicated corpse picked at by vultures), I was happy to have gone to the theater to watch a movie.

The best of all these, though, was a date with my first serious boyfriend that happened my senior year. I had never heard of or been to the Pickwick in Park Ridge, and since I was (and am) “obsessed with old shit,” to quote his sister, he knew that had to change. I remember what  we ate for dinner before the movie, what I wore, where we parked, and of course what movie we saw (Amelie), and it was all completely amazing to me. Even now, when I think of that theater, I think of the giddy rush of first love.

I later went on to fall in love with Mr. Wrong at the Gene Siskel Film Center, stand in line at the Lake Theater with Ms. Wrong for what felt like eons only to have the movie sell out before we got tickets, and nervously jabber like an idiot about rack focus while waiting for a film to start with the man who is now my husband at Century Centre Cinema.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the Des Plaines Theater, even though I’ve never eaten popcorn there; if I didn’t recall Piper’s Alley, even though you can’t see movies there anymore; or if I didn’t talk about the special kind of love that happens between a drunk guy in a bathrobe and a drunk woman in a bathrobe when The Music Box has a midnight showing of The Big Lebowski.

I love Rogert Ebert.

Roger Ebert died last week. The internet probably doesn’t need one more navel-gazing reflection upon this great man, but I’m the kind of woman who goes to see midnight showings of The Big Lebowski at The Music Box, so fuck it, dude. Let’s go bowling.

In high school, I briefly entertained film school aspirations and wanted to be a cinematographer. Well, that never happened, but the dream was because of Roger Ebert. I read a review of his praising Sidney Lumet as a great director, so I went out to Blockbuster for DVDs and the book store for Lumet’s book. This is how I learned that everything you see or hear in a film is (or should be) intentional; for a purpose. Somebody is controlling not just what you see, but how you see. Mind blown!

Even before that, Ebert had opened my eyes with his writing. Having heard from somebody  that Being John Malkovich was his pick for 1999’s best movie, I begged my mother to take me to see it even though I was aware there might be “sexual situations,” something I would pretty much rather die than sit through with her. Ebert’s review in the paper caught my attention, and her suggestion (Toy Story 2) was not my speed. I had never seen anything like it. My parents typically favored moralistic action films and summer blockbusters, so it literally changed the way I thought about movies.

I did go on to take actual film classes. Here, too, Ebert changed everything, because he was not just a critic but a gateway for the average moviegoer to experience and understand film theory. He introduced me to the theory of multiple audiences, as discussed in A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood CinemaSeveral times, I went online and read his old reviews or flipped through his books to find references to ideas and critics I could use to understand something when the material in class was unclear; I ended up quoting him alongside Laura Mulvey in a theory class. I probably learned as much from him in those classes as from my professors.


As I remember him, in a photo from his blog.


For perspective, I grew up in the Chicago television market at a time when Siskel and Ebert’s show ran multiple times per week. It was what I watched after Saturday morning cartoons. (He later wrote, “If “Siskel & Ebert & Roeper” had any utility at all, it was in exposing viewers, many of them still children, to the notion that it was permitted to have opinions, and expected that you should explain them.”) There was never not Ebert. He was never not talking about movies. Realizing as a young adult that he was secretly a clever genius was like discovering the meaning of life inside the prize packet in a box of Cracker Jacks. Who knew? Well, everyone, pretty much, but it was astounding to me. Then I learned that he wasn’t just on TV, but he was also a journalist–possibly one of the best journalists of his time.

Talking of him as just a critic or journalist still doesn’t cover it all. He was an amazing writer whose work includes local history and travel writing in addition to a cookbook and his memoir. Later in life, his excellent blog showcased his engaging writing style and witty humor with posts on religion, philosophy, politics, and fascinating bits of random local flavor. His film festival, which is still happening this year, also deserves mention. Then there’s the way Roger Ebert lived his life.

Other critics, even those with whom he had disagreements, loved and respected him. This is because he always conducted himself with integrity and furthermore didn’t believe you must demonize somebody who you believe is wrong. Every week on At The Movies, viewers saw friendly (if heated) disagreements and respectful (though passionate) debates. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert frequently disagreed, but you got the feeling they might still get a drink together after the show and exchange birthday cards every year. If you haven’t noticed, that sort of thing is pretty rare on television these days. Youtube has a great stash of segments if you haven’t watched the show yourself. It also has a clip of the time Siskel and Ebert appeared on Sesame Street (further proof that Ebert was a great man). Don’t forget his inspirational and courageous battle with cancer, of course. On top of all this, he championed minority film honestly, genuinely, and unpaternalistically, sometimes drawing criticism in the process and bucked critical trends by taking genre films seriously. (“When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you’re not asking if it’s any good compared to Mystic River, you’re asking if it’s any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then The United States of Leland clocks in at about two.”)

His criticism was truly constructive.

If you have read this far and consider it possibly the most boring blog post ever, here’s a reward–some hilarious quotes from negative Ebert reviews.

On Kazaam:As for Shaquille O’Neal, given his own three wishes the next time, he should go for a script, a director and an interesting character.”

On Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys.”

On Battlefield Earth: Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way. Some movies run off the rails. This one is like the train crash in The Fugitive. I watched it in mounting gloom, realizing I was witnessing something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies.”

On The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: “Of Taylor Lautner’s musculature, and particularly his abs, much has been written. Yes, he has a great build, but I remind you that an abdominal six-pack must be five seconds’ work for a shape-shifter. More impressive is the ability of both Edward and Jacob to regard Bella with penetrating gazes from ‘neath really dope eyebrows. When my eyebrows get like Edward’s, the barber trims them and never even asks me first.”

On Freddy Got Fingered: “This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”

On Baby Geniuses: “The movie involves a genius baby named Sly, who escapes from the lab and tries to organize fellow babies in revolt. The nauseating sight of little Sly on a disco floor, dressed in the white suit from ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and dancing to ‘Stayin’ Alive’, had me pawing under my seat for the bag my Subway Gardenburger came in, in case I felt the sudden need to recycle it.”