21 September 2006

Closing the Esquire




The memories of some movies are inseparable from where you first see them. My prime example: Oak Street's 70-year-old deco dowager, the Esquire. In 1982, I saw Blade Runner there five, six times. That creepy, crapped-out metropolis is stuck in the same zone of memory as the bold, stories-high vertical neon marquee outside, Vangelis playing across huge curtains, forty feet high. Subdivided and sold several times since then, the Esquire closed last Thursday: as the developer who's bringing the wrecking ball phrased it to the Sun-Times, the up-up-upscale environs of Prada-era Oak Street are missing "a restaurant component." Loews and most recent lessor AMC, for whatever corporate interests, let the joint, like many before, run to ruin. Posters on the walls included E.T. (also 1982), and JFK and Bugsy (both 1991). Advertisements are the modern decor, and I get a coupon for $5 off at Old Navy, expiring the next day. Cup and napkin cartons are stacked in the foyer. A print of a Fox picture in two cans awaits an empty dolly at the other end of the lobby.

The metal doors clap loudly against each other with each entrance. At The Devil Wears Prada, a clutch of thirteen watches Stanley Tucci's character talk about the proud tradition of fashion as art, forehead foreshortened by the projectionist. The overhead fans are off. Two abandoned poster cases flank World Trade Center, where, inside, 14 viewers are trapped underground with Nicolas Cage. I expected the dank smell of dirty carpet, but the third floor reeks of cherry Twizzlers. But the ivy-patterned carpet holds deep crimson and black stains, like shadows in shallows beneath the surface of a stream.

This final show is at 7:40: Scoop. A tiny woman as old as the theater sits in the back row, platinum hair high, an immense tub of fluids in lap. A trailer for Hollywoodland plays. "If it stops one person from a buying a ticket, I have to stop it," a character menaces. The animated AMC filmstrip leaps about and the stereo's off-whack, but Woody Allen's a monaural man. Allen's familiar white typeface against black pulsates, the dim, picture flickers. Twenty-four people watch without audible complaint.

There are intermittent open holes along the balustrade where footlamps once beamed. This place was thrilling once. In one abandoned marble-counter ticket booth, paint peels, the board that covers the gape of a missing machine is smashed. Back on Oak Street, the night smells of rain and the lake. Benath the marquee, there are missing burned-out or missing small white bulbs. Across the street, a woman works angles with a flash disposable. A chubby man behind a tripod focuses on the orange and white light of the marquee that will be doused for good, seconds from now. [Originally appeared in a different form in Newcity, 21 September 2006..]