Music Box Theatre projects past to modern moviegoers

Reels of film at The Music Box Theater, 3733 N. Southport Ave. 

By Kaci Watt

Since the Music Box Theatre opened its doors 89 years ago, film has changed immensely, but the historic venue continues to showcase many generations of film productions and technology.

The theater, located at 3733 N. Southport Ave., announced the lineup for its annual 70mm film festival, giving viewers the experience of seeing films in the alternative style with a vintage technique.

Shooting film in 70mm is an immersive and more textured experience than other forms of cinema, according to Julian Antos, the technical director and assistant programmer at the Music Box Theatre.

The festival runs until Sept. 27, and is intended to highlight a historic film style, Antos said.

“It is a part of our cultural heritage. [The] format started in the ‘50s, and this is how audiences saw works of art for many years when they first experienced them,” Antos said. “It’s important to maintain that.”

As a film format, 70mm has become less common. 70mm is more of a legacy format, according to Associate Professor in the Cinema and Television Arts Department Peter Hartel. “One of the reasons for the creation of [70mm] format was because Hollywood was competing against television from the ‘50s on,” Hartel said. “They needed ways to attract audiences into theaters instead of sitting home and watching their TVs. One of the things they came up with was large screen presentation because they could get something more all-encompassing.”

70mm print film titles are not easy to come by, with only 60 or 70 left in existence, Antos said.

“It’s a pretty narrow range. There are things we show every year, like ‘2001: [A Space Odyssey.]’ Everybody loves that movie, and it does really well. It’s also a perfect representation of  what the format can do,” Antos said. “We’re always trying to look for new titles we haven’t shown before.”

This year’s festival includes eight new titles. Most are old film shot in the ‘80s in 35mm that has recently been blown up to 70mm. Antos said to expect a mini ‘80s retrospective within the new  films,  including  Michael Cimion’s “Year of the Dragon” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”

The Music Box Theatre is a haven for anyone interested in film, according to sophomore cinema art and science major J Davila.

“[The Music Box ] releases great prints of movies. They are showcasing some of the best work, in the best way to see it,” Davila said. “The people that work [there] really care about what they’re doing.”

The theater is one of the few that still has the equipment to play analog film, Antos said.

“Film [may be] a dying way to watch movies, but the fact that the Music Box is so adamant on preserving it, and it’s working out so well [for them], shows that there is an admiration for it,” Davila said.

Generating this public interest in 70mm film is something the Music Box can do, according to Hartel. 

“If they can generate public interest in a niche like that, it means those original film elements will be preserved,” Hartel  said. “If prints continue to be made, facilities who are capable of making prints like that will still be in business, so it has a chain effect for film preservation.”