The line of the evening during Sundays Oscars broadcast came when the winner of the Best Documentary Feature film, “My Octopus Teacher,” said, “A man forming a relationship with an octopus sort of makes you wonder what else might be possible.” What indeed. Films make us wonder, which is just one of the reasons to celebrate the recent Lake Theatre reopening. Here’s what I wrote about The Lake way back in January of 2002, in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
It’s “mourning in America.” It’s also “re-examination time.” Since 9/11, Americans have been asking, “Who are we that people hate us so?” We’re re-examining what we stand for and asking, “What’s real? What can we believe in?”
Well, I’ll tell you what’s real, what we can believe in. The Lake Theatre.
OK, it’s only part of the picture, but this is a time for going back to basics. “The Lake” is one of Oak Park’s basics — which is ironic since what it purveys is virtual reality.
Movies are a major cog in our mythmaking machinery, however, and the American myth is the most “real” thing we have at the moment. Movie houses play a central role in presenting the stories we tell ourselves to create the consensual myth of who we are — or who we would like to be.
All of which applies to one of the movies currently showing at The Lake. It’s called The Majestic — about a movie house and the central role that theater plays in reawakening a small town to who they are and who they want to be. The film also explores how, as a nation, we frequently fall short of who we want to be — which is particularly pertinent today.
One of the majestic moments in the film comes when the theater’s rehabbed marquee first lights up the night. My reaction was, “The Lake is better.”
The Lake has the best marquee in the entire metro area. OK, one of the best. Large deep-blue letters blinking downward to the red, white and blue neon wraparound, accented by white bulbs “chasing” in sequence — it’s a marvelous sight, especially in the deep freeze of January and February, when darkness takes control of the northern hemisphere and obliterates all memory of the other three seasons.
Except on the screens inside. One of the payoffs of movie-going is being instantly transported, not only to exotic locales, but other times of the year. We get to experience, at least vicariously, a couple of hours of sunlight and green growth or autumnal explosions of color. It is a momentary — but necessary — escape from our petty pace, a chance to live other lives briefly, risk everything and survive implausible thrill rides of danger, solve perplexing mysteries while putting ourselves in the kind of jeopardy we would never dream of exposing ourselves to in real life.
Films stroke our emotional hot buttons and pleasure centers or unleash adrenaline rushes or make us laugh, then land us back on firm ground with scarcely a perceptible jostle. Longer escapes from reality can be hazardous. Two or three hours is just about right.
Then we gush forth onto the street beneath that brilliant marquee to say good night or head to one of the restaurants or coffee shops in the area for post-film reflection and discussion.
Going to The Lake is a communal experience — an antidote to the isolation imposed by living in a severe climate [or a pandemic]. It is our winter Farmers Market, a place to briefly reconnect. And at this time of year the Oscar hopefuls find their way to the neighborhoods, so the choices are plentiful.
Getting out of the house is healthy. The lights of the marquee battling the dark is hopeful. Films provide a quick release from the ordinary. It all works and shouldn’t be underestimated.
A movie house can do a lot for a town, as it does in The Majestic. The Lake has done that and more. It anchored the downtown renaissance of the downturn past and continues to entertain and bring people together. It’s a place where kids and parents can go at the same time — not always, but sometimes, together. No small feat.
Not many towns have a Lake Theatre. When you’re looking for something real to hold onto, go back to the basics.
This one is positively majestic.