Uptown Theatre

4816 N. Broadway,
Chicago, IL 60640

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DavidZornig on April 6, 2016 at 3:21 pm

As I recall, when JAM first obtained ownership, they were the only ones who had showed up at the sale. The city later wanted JAM to partner with Live Nation on the Uptown, who the city was already in bed with at the former Charter One Pavilion I think. Partnering with Live Nation would never happen according to JAM at the time. There are details of it and the reasons why, buried in the comments dating back to 2008 or `09. I recall an article mentioning an old, leaked Live Nation e-mail that said “Kill, crush, destroy JAM. (Which still comes up on Google) I also recall that back then the Uptown needed an estimated 30 million in asbestos removal. Live Nation once had ownership of a much smaller theatre/venue in Nashville I think, that also had a recording studio in it. And they couldn’t even keep that open. So their input likely would not have been of any importance to JAM, even if they had partnered. As JAM has successfully owned and ran the Riviera for decades. I believe they only manage the Aragon. Discussed in previous threads too, was the types of shows that would need to run almost constantly after reopening, to break even on the huge cost of all the needed renovations. And mainly music shows at that, since road shows of say Broadway In Chicago would likely not have adequate load-in. Or the ability to sell 4000+ seats regularly. In my opinion converting to digital projection so films could again be run on off nights, might pick up the slack. Larger music acts would likely opt for the United Center to guarantee a larger payout.

Scott on April 6, 2016 at 9:55 am

Hi Bobby. I suspect you’re right about JAM expecting government assistance from a combination of city, state, or federal programs. I also suspect, though I have nothing to back it up, that JAM wanted the Uptown to keep other players, such as Livent, from getting a major foothold in the Uptown neighborhood. A restored Uptown Theatre could divert some shows away from JAM’s Aragon Ballroom and Riviera Theatre, which would threaten their viability.

BobbyS on April 5, 2016 at 10:47 pm

Hi Scott! I really believe they thought the City of Chicago would kick in and pledge the $$$$$$$ since they have a favorite son in Washington. Eight years later, Chicago is as broke as a church mouse!

Scott on April 5, 2016 at 4:32 pm

No doubt JAM has tax deductible expenses associated with the Uptown, but it doesn’t make sense to keep a property like this just to have deductible expenses. It’s better not to have the expense in the first place. I have questioned JAM’s intentions with the Uptown since they won the bid to purchase the theatre in 2008.

stantheman2016 on February 15, 2016 at 8:36 am

The Uptown Theater on Broadway Avenue has been closed since 1981. I’m sick of looking at it. Restore it to its former greatness or knock it down already. Right now its just a tax write off.

LouRugani on February 11, 2016 at 4:14 pm

On the positive side, the chaser mechanism kept the bulbs off for fractions of a second. With modern technology I’m sure the LEDs could be made to be not only tungsten-color-correct but, more importantly, avoid the sudden harsh On/Off that gives away LED bulb usage. They’re even making LED Edison-look “carbon” bulbs now.

BobbyS on February 11, 2016 at 8:22 am

Thanks Lou..I can imagine the electric bill was HUGE !!

LouRugani on February 10, 2016 at 5:49 pm

They’re 11-watt S-14 sign bulbs.

BobbyS on February 10, 2016 at 8:44 am

The marquee bulbs were so bright and made quite a statement at night. What wattage was each bulb? So much better than the LED’S of today. I do not like the led lights the Chicago now has on their marquee.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on February 10, 2016 at 6:27 am

The Uptown was the largest movie theatre ever designed by the architectural firm of Rapp & Rapp. It was also one of only three theatres by Rapp & Rapp with more than 4,000 seats, the two others being the Brooklyn Paramount and the Michigan in Detroit.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on February 7, 2016 at 9:00 am

The Uptown Theatre had its grand opening on August 18th, 1925, a date that was somehow not included with the ad posted in the Photos Section.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on February 6, 2016 at 1:57 pm

It ought to be mentioned in the introduction that the Uptown was the largest movie/vaudeville theatre in Chicago, and the 12th largest in the USA, according to records kept by Theatre Historical Society of America. And in Chicago, the Uptown was larger than any such in the entertainment hub known as “The Loop.”

LuisV on January 26, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Until recently, arguably, the two most magnificent of the world’s remaining unrenovated theaters were the Uptown in Chicago and the Loew’s Kings in Brooklyn. That title now belongs to the Uptown alone! The Loew’s Kings $95MM restoration and expansion has been completed! Here is a great link to some incredible photographs of the fully restored masterpiece by Rapp & Rapp. FREE Tours to the public will be offered on Saturday, February 7th from 12:00 – 4:00 PM! I can’t wait to see it for myself! The first event, a sold out performance by Diana Ross, is on February 3rd!!!!! I hope this gives fans of the Uptown in Chicago some hope! http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/01/26/behold_brooklyns_magnificently_restored_kings_theatre.php#more

moviefanaticfan on January 11, 2015 at 9:32 am

Here is a video link


whtesoxfan56 on November 19, 2014 at 12:29 pm

So are all the Transformers(2014? I’ve lost count of the # of Transformers movies Bay has done, since I don’t care about them for the most part, since calling it quits to this series after Transformers 2) Uptown Theater scenes, only at the beginning of the film, and there aren’t any later in the plot? Interesting to know, since I’d still like to catch this movie on cable at some point, and just watch the Uptown Theater scenes outta minor curiosity.

Trolleyguy on June 28, 2014 at 9:19 pm

The new “Transformers” movie prominently features the Uptown at the beginning of the film. The only thing is, that it has been moved to a small town in Texas. There are shots in the lobby and auditorium, as well as the projection room.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on May 6, 2014 at 1:26 am

There’s been some talk of locating a George Lucas museum here. So far it doesn’t seem too serious.


paullewis on March 9, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Like Justin Whitfield I wish I had a substantial amount of money to donate towards the restoration of what has to be one of the top 5 or 6 Movie Palaces of all time. In Australia they have managed to save the Melbourne Regent (auditorium although not as large, based on the much lamented Capitol/New York, my all time favourite) The Sydney State with one of the finest lobbies anywhere and of course the wonderful Capitol in Sydney. The loss of the Brisbane Regent was a disgrace, arguably the finest overall in the country.

JustinWhitfield on June 15, 2013 at 9:35 pm

One of my favourite theatres in the world…I wish we had a grand theatres like this one here in Australia…

If i had the money i would love to buy this theatre or one like this one, Like many others, just to bring her back to life.. And I know from the local TV station that’s this is what is about to happen to the Uptown.

I believe that people love these grand theatre because there is such an emotional connection and an experience that you can not get any where else in the world.

Walking through that grand foyer alone would be just the biggest wow factor let alone walking into the theatre itself to here your favourite band, movie etc.

Would love to be part of helping in the restoration of this grand theatre as I had a lot to do with the capital Theatre in Sydney Australia from the entire audio system it was an Honor to work there for two years, and from that I have had a massive passion for large theatres as it is my dream to own one, one day soon. And was honoured to be the sound engineer for the first opening it was amazing…

The funny thing is I am looking to move to the USA in the next year or two for business.

Would love to be part of the dream is their anything that I can do here in Australia as i know there looking to raise $80- $100 million

Your biggest fan

Justin Whitfield

LouRugani on May 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

WGN-TV’s ( www.wgntv.com/ ) live News at Nine (PM) on Tuesday May 14 will take its cameras inside the UPTOWN Theatre to see how it looks today. Then on Wednesday, May 15’s News at Nine reports on plans for a planned music district centered around the theatre. And then on May 15 at 10 pm, CLTV will broadcast a live half-hour special “Creating a Music District” with theatre owner Jerry Mickelson, Alderman James Cappleman and the Green Mill Lounge owner Dave Jemilo with host Randi Belisomo to discuss plans and take viewers' questions, which can be submitted in advance to the CLTV Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/cltvnews?ref=tn_tnmn ) or by phone to 877-358-CLTV. Follow the discussion on Twitter with @CLTVNews and use the hashtag #Uptown. All of the stories will be posted on www.wgntv.com and www.cltv.com.

ThePhoenix on March 8, 2013 at 10:29 am

Compare the two theaters for yourselves folks. Do a search in your favorite search engine" “joliet rialto pictures”.

ThePhoenix on March 8, 2013 at 10:03 am

A note to especially “paullewis”:

I agree with you that the Rialto is notable but keep in mind that the thrust of my mention of that venue was not to compare theaters but to give direction as to how the funding and renovation might be achieved.

Irrespective of the Rialto’s venue, the machinery used to affect the success there might be looked into for possible parallel applications to seize a similar opportunity in application to Chicago’s Uptown.

The Rialto’s venue is obviously not the same as Chicago’s uptown in physical size however, it is competitive in its ornate collage compilation of culture of its day and European representations. A news excerpt found in http://www.rialtosquare.com/vision_takes_form.asp puts the intent of venue into its proper context:

“When the doors of the new Rialto open tomorrow, Joliet will have one of the finest theaters in the United States, as experts say there is nothing to compare with it in any city of similar size, and it stands on even terms with the modern motion picture palaces of Chicago and New York.

Joliet Sunday Herald News
May 23, 1926"

Seeing the Uptown’s internal design I would say the Rialto in Joliet is “on even terms with the modern motion picture palaces of Chicago and New York.” of those days and times. The very ornate French, Greek, Roman and Byzantine architectural details and fixtures of the Joliet Rialto are in my observation equal to if not greater than that found in the Uptown.

The Uptown’s Spanish baroque and Renaissance style is decidedly a different kind of ornamentation. Beauty, in this case, is perhaps in the eye and appreciation of the beholder!

Of notable difference is that the Uptown is physically larger. It is a little over twice the seating capacity of the Joliet Rialto however, if the Rialto was similarly sized proportionately to the Uptown with its concentration of detail I believe the Uptown detail would hands down pale if not be hard pressed in comparison!

The script in the Rialto site: http://www.rialtosquare.com/palace_for_the_people.asp attests to its highly competitive design especially due to the architecture it is similar to or mirroring:

“The esplanade, or inner lobby, is designed after the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles near Paris, France. The arch between the esplanade and rotunda area has been carefully copied from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In the center is the head of the goddess Athena.

To the upper right of the arch is a symbolic bas-relief, in the form of a dragon, entitled “Labor Fighting the Evils of Today.” On the left side is “Man’s Labor,” showing the harvesting of wheat.

The elegant rotunda is surrounded by 18 Corinthian-style columns, and surmounted by a dome very similar to the Pantheon in Rome. The suspended eight-arm crystal chandelier, the “Duchess,” bronze giant of some 200 fixtures, is 20 feet long with 250 lights. The large prisms are of the Marie Therese cut which was popular during the Rococo period.

Draperies throughout the theatre were of the early Dufour period. Encircling the rotunda in full view, is the Goddess of the Eastern Star."

The Uptown’s front outdoor facade pales in comparison to the Rialto’s grand niche that rises to 100' 1" with its columns at its front entrance!

Illinois Great Places http://www.illinoisgreatplaces.com/ sums the Rialto up further:

“The "Rubens Rialto Wonder Theatre” was designed by nationally prominent theater architects, Rapp & Rapp. The sumptuous ornamentation throughout and the scale and beauty of the many lobbies was unusual for a theatre in a town the size of Joliet. A variety of classical and more exotic ornament graces the building’s exterior. On the interior, the inner lobby was based on the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. The archway dividing it and the rotunda was based on the Arc de Triomphe. The rotunda itself was based on the Pantheon in Rome. As with many of the great theaters of the 20’s and 30’s the Joliet Rialto Theatre was a place where the average person could walk through a “palace.” The Rialto, like some other AIA Great Places, such as the State Park lodges, reflects the increase in recreational opportunities available to the middle class between the world wars. As architect George L. Rapp [1878 – 1949] stated about his theaters: “Here is a shrine to democracy where there are no privileged patrons. The wealthy rub elbows with the poor” The Rialto was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978"

I would like to see a similar representation of intent and grandeur that the Uptown is designed to emulate for an offset comparison. The Uptown appears to me to be a more original collage of Spanish baroque and Renaissance style without the historical associations of specific historical European architecture as are found in Joliet’s Rialto!

None-the-less not to preserve similarly the Uptown in its per se venue would certainly be a tragic loss to architecture’s heritage and mankind.

LouRugani on March 7, 2013 at 3:43 pm

(CHICAGO READER www.chicagoreader.com Aug. 1, 1996)

Swimming With Sharks

The latest chapter in the battle for control of the Uptown Theater involves shady landlords, pie-eyed restorationists, and a mysterious buyer who vanished overnight.

By Ben Joravsky

From time to time over the last few years one reporter or another has written the sad story of the Uptown Theater, a great old movie palace caught in the clutches of penny-pinching land scavengers who don’t care if it lives or dies.

As the refrain goes, a band of restorationists nobly strives to keep the building functional – making repairs out of their own pockets – while desperately trying to raise enough money from city or private backers to meet owner Lou Wolf’s purchase price of over $1 million.

The story was retold last month by newspapers coast to coast, after the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Uptown on its list of the country’s 11 most endangered historic places. “It needs at least $150,000 in basic repairs, not to mention millions to restore it to its grandeur,” says Ron Emrich, executive director of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois. “If the building doesn’t fall into good hands very soon, I’m afraid it could simply implode.”

But what the stories didn’t report – because most of the people involved didn’t know – is that the Uptown was available for purchase at the county’s last two scavenger sales of tax-delinquent property. In other words, restorationists could have pulled the property from Wolf’s control for a few thousand dollars had they, city officials, or local politicians been just a little savvier about how land deals in Chicago really work.

“I’ve never seen a project that’s had more sad, bad luck than the Uptown,” says Curt Mangel, a restorationist who has spent 12 years trying to revive the theater. “The scavenger sale is just another example of this poor theater’s sad fate. Not being an expert at scavenger sales, we got screwed. We were swimming with sharks, and yet we were naive.”

The confusing, often seesaw battle for control of the Uptown goes back at least 16 years, when Wolf and his partner Ken Goldberg picked it up from the Plitt movie chain. They showed little interest in operating it as a theater, allowing it to stand shuttered and vacant – a hideous boarded-up scab blocking development at Broadway and Lawrence, one of Uptown’s most important commercial intersections.

In 1984 Mangel was allowed access to the building. What he saw both blew his mind and broke his heart. It was one of the grandest theaters he had ever seen, an eight-story structure with a 40-foot-high front lobby, ornately painted ceilings, opulently embellished fixtures mixing Spanish baroque and Renaissance styles, and more than 4,000 seats – reportedly more than any other movie theater in the country. But it was in horrid disrepair.

“I walked in there and saw six inches of ice coming down the grand stairs,” says Mangel. “The boiler was broken and the pipes had burst. There were 48,000 square feet [of space] in the basement and it was all under four feet of water. The place was just piled high with junk – sinks, pipes, stoves – someone was using it as a storage warehouse for kitchen equipment, of all things. I keep saying that God must have a good sense of humor to give the Uptown to these guys.”

Over the next few months an odd but mutually beneficial relationship developed between Wolf and Mangel. Wolf, a convicted arsonist, is one of the city’s most notorious landlords, known for buying property cheap, sitting on it without paying taxes or making repairs, and selling it years later for top dollar.

Mangel, in contrast, admits he’s helpless at wheeling and dealing. He is, instead, a brilliant tinkerer, able to take apart and put together the intricate innards of watches, pipe organs, boilers, and other machines. He persuaded Wolf to give him a key to the Uptown in return for making repairs on some of the landlord’s other properties.

“I always believe in being fair with people, and for all his faults with his other buildings, Mr. Wolf’s not half bad with the Uptown,” says Mangel. “At least he let me in to fix it up, and he even paid for some of the repairs. I think he was fond of me because he thought I was full of piss and vinegar. Personally, I don’t care for Ken Goldberg. But I feel fortunate to say that I’ve seen the real Mr. Wolf, as opposed to the caricature created by the press. If you met with him you’d think he was a grandfather, that’s how quiet and nondescript he is. And I can say this: If he says he’s going to do something, consider it done. He’s very honorable in his own way.”

By the late 1980s Mangel had joined forces with a local developer named Larry Mandell in an effort to buy the Uptown and reopen it as a theater. “I love that building,” says Mandell. “I was willing to put years and years of my life into it.”

For a few years they had backing from a developer in Milwaukee; after that deal fell through they detected interest on the part of Disney, Mike Ilitch—who owns Little Caesars and renovated the Fox Theatre, one of Detroit’s grand movie palaces—and Garth Drabinsky, the chairperson of Livent Incorporated, a Toronto-based entertainment conglomerate.

But these prospects also died. Mandell says the city refused to commit the necessary funds. “The problem going back to the Washington administration is that the city never wanted to make an investment that it thought would compete with the downtown theater market,” says Mandell. “I understand State Street is integral, but there can be two great theaters. The city kept telling me about the Chicago Theatre, and I kept telling them to look out for Rosemont. I said there’s enough business for two big theaters. Sure enough, Rosemont built a big theater, and now we’re seeing the 6 percent amusement tax going out there instead of staying here.”

City planning officials say they would have been interested in funding the Uptown’s restoration, but the project would have cost millions, and they were never presented with a specific deal to consider.

For whatever reason, Mandell and Mangel’s many proposals never came together, even as they and their backers sunk thousands into the Uptown. “We paid all the bills on the Uptown from 1986 to 1991,” says Mandell. “We put a lot of money into that building – maybe $300,000 – and that doesn’t include the hours and hours of labor that Curt put into it. For a while we paid Wolf and Goldberg $10,000 every month for an option to buy.”

Last summer they formed a not-for-profit group and intended to buy the building with money raised through donations. “We worked out a deal where we would buy the building from Wolf and Goldberg under a five-year mortgage for $1.6 million,” says Mandell. “For the first two years we don’t have to pay anything while we try to round up our money. It was a very good deal for everyone. It would have taken the building out of Wolf and Goldberg’s hands and given us time to find our backers.”

The deal was signed last September 1, but even then the building wasn’t theirs. City officials told Mangel he couldn’t claim title until he had paid a $40,000 outstanding water bill. Mandell countered that the bill must be erroneous, since the Uptown hadn’t had water service in many years. Days and weeks passed, and in December Mandell found himself in City Hall haggling with a lawyer from the water department.

“I blew up,” says Mandell. “I said, "I don’t care if this building was owned by Cardinal Bernardin or Lou Wolf, if the money’s not due to the city we shouldn’t have to pay it.‘ The lawyer for the city kind of agreed, but he said he wanted to make sure that we weren’t in collusion with Wolf and Goldberg. I said, "Are you crazy? We’ve been trying to get that building from them for years.”’

The city finally realized its mistake and canceled the water bill, leaving Mandell and Mangel ready to claim the title on the Uptown. That’s when the bad news broke. “I got a call from Goldberg’s attorney, and he told me that the building had been sold at a county scavenger sale,” says Mandell.

In short, Wolf and Goldberg had agreed to sell them a building that they couldn’t really sell. It turns out that more than $400,000 in property taxes had accumulated over at least a half-dozen years, making it one of thousands of tax-delinquent properties auctioned off at the August scavenger sale.

On August 27, just a few days before Mangel and Mandell were set to consummate their long-awaited deal, a fellow by the name of David Harper bought the Uptown and its surrounding parcels of vacant land for about $23,000, according to the county treasurer’s office, which oversees scavenger sales.

Wolf and Goldberg were notified that unless they paid their property taxes by May 1 they’d lose the property, but they let that deadline pass.

The sale, says Mandell, caught him by surprise, since he was expecting the local alderman, Mary Ann Smith (48th), to keep him abreast of potential obstacles.

But Greg Harris, Smith’s chief of staff, says his office assumed no one would bid on the Uptown since it had such a huge delinquent tax bill.

In fact, buyers are excused from paying back taxes on property acquired at auctions. “It’s a tax reactivation sale—the whole point is to get property in the hands of people who will pay future taxes,” says an official with the treasurer’s office. “You’re bidding on the tax lien of delinquent property. The county then goes to court to have the sale confirmed. If the previous owner doesn’t pay his delinquent bill after a minimum of six months, a new deed is awarded, and the old taxes are expunged from the record.”

This was not even the first time someone bought the tax lien to the Uptown at a scavenger sale, according to the treasurer’s records. In 1993 someone named Gene Ware purchased the lien to the property for $3,500. But Ware never followed up on his bid by appearing in court to obtain the deed, so the property remained with Wolf and Goldberg. As hard as it is to swallow, the very Uptown for which Mandell and Mangel were willing to spend $1.6 million might have been theirs for as little as $3,600. At the very least, they could have attempted to purchase the property in August by outbidding Harper.

Mangel says he wasn’t aware that they could have purchased the Uptown in 1993 or last August. Mandell says he was. “You have to remember that we were negotiating with Wolf and Goldberg in good faith,” says Mandell. “It wouldn’t have been illegal to buy the Uptown at the scavenger sale, but it would have been immoral. And that’s not the way you should do business. And we wanted to do everything honorable with Wolf because, as I have said, Louie Wolf was always honorable with us.”

Besides, Mandell continues, the Uptown actually includes three parcels of tax-delinquent land near Broadway and Lawrence. “Anytime he wanted, Louie could have retained ownership to at least one parcel by paying the back taxes, and we still would have had to deal with him. With twenty-twenty hindsight, yes, we could have bought the property at the scavenger sale. But it’s really the city and county’s fault for letting that parcel go up for sale when they knew we were working on a deal for it.”

In any event, attention now turns to the buyers: Harper and Howard Weitzman, who’s listed as one of Harper’s “authorized bidders” on forms filed with the treasurer.

Mandell says he and Mangel met with Weitzman a few months ago and offered him $150,000 for the property. “Weitzman was a nice man,” says Mandell. “He seems knowledgeable. He said make me an offer. And we did. He agreed to that offer. Since then he’s stopped talking to us, and we haven’t been able to reach him by phone. It doesn’t make any sense.”

According to Harris, Alderman Smith, who had been unable to persuade Wolf to maintain his property, insists it will be different with Weitzman. Harris recounts a conversation between Smith and Weitzman: “She said, "If you do anything to that building we will hold you to the highest standards.‘ He assured the alderman that he would.”

Meanwhile, Smith has pledged to use her connections with Mayor Daley to win the city money needed to save the Uptown or at least to convert it into some sort of mixed-use development. “We would not want to see it converted into a 20-screen multiplex bringing 4,000 cars into the neighborhood,” says Harris. “But we would like something that’s true to the architectural integrity. Maybe some retail and theaters. We talked to an architect who has done this kind of renovation work, and he said the key is not to compete with the Chicago Theatre. There are only so many touring Broadway shows.”

But Mangel, Emrich, and other restorationists hold out hope that the building will be restored, a multimillion-dollar effort that would require a huge investment by the city to build more parking.

In the fall the National Trust will hold its convention in Chicago. There are plans to hold a reception at the Aragon Ballroom. Afterward, Emrich and others plan to lead tours of the nearby Uptown to build support for restoration and to find investors. “I take so many people on tours of the Uptown, and no one fails to be impressed,” says Emrich. “People stand in the front entrance, look up at that ceiling, and say, "My God, we can’t let this die.‘ I keep thinking we have to get Maggie Daley here. She is a lover of art and architecture, and with someone like that on our side a lot can be done.”

Emrich hopes that Weitzman will accept an offer for the building – or at the very least that he won’t pay his property taxes, and the restorationists can buy it in the summer of 1997 at the next scavenger sale.

For his part, Mandell says he can’t wait that long, and will move on to other projects, but Mangel vows to persevere. “I have a friend who calls me the keeper of lost dreams because I’m always taking on projects that other people wouldn’t touch,” he says. “The Uptown’s the only one not finished yet. It’s heartbreaking to think that we could have bought it at a scavenger sale, but I can’t look back. It’s been worth the 12-year effort. And I still say the day will come when I get it done.”

LuisV on January 23, 2013 at 7:34 am

I hope this gives the lovers of the Uptown Theatre some hope. The restoration of New York’s Loew’s Kings Theatre breaks ground this morning with a $94MM renovation. It is projected to reopen early in 2015. The Kings (along with Chicago’s Uptown) is the most beautiful of the unrenovated movie palaces in the country and has the potential to be its most beautiful renovated theater after completion.


RickB on January 17, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Shots of five endangered Chicago palaces—including this one—and a Roger Ebert essay. Chicago Magazine