7-7-7 (Day 3)

Two days in, I was rejuvenated, and about as excited as a person can be to go see a 50 year old movie at an 80 year old theater in a sleepy little suburb. Tonight, it was 3 Godfathers at the Tivoli. In Downers Grove, my old hometown.

Well, actually, my old adopted hometown. I lived in Woodridge, which is one town over, for about five years during high school. But Woodridge was (and still is) just houses and White Hen Pantries- DG was where the action was. And the Tivoli is right in the heart of it. Steps off the Metra stop in downtown Downers, in an old building which also houses a downstairs bowling alley, and a pizza joint. Straight up suburbs. Small Town, USA, with just a hint of white-folk ritz.

When I called it home, Downers was good to me. I drove my cars up and down its streets in summertime, to park in front of friends' houses, lugging bass amps down cramped stairwells and back up again. We drove down Ogden Avenue to the Omega restaurant at 3 AM, for free bread and hot coffee and dirty looks. We watched movies, too. In basements and living rooms, drinking liquor we shouldn't have had, laughing and smiling with that old, ecstatic purity of teenaged-ness. Lots of memories. Very few bad ones.

These days, the Tivoli spends most of its days (as it did then) sadly relegated to second-run movie house duties. On the day I visited, Monsters and Aliens (in 2D, sadly,) had just finished a run, and something else lousy was coming in behind it. The Tivoli used to have a sister theater, Tivoli South, which was on the other side of town, and about as ratty and run-down as they come (side note: it's under new ownership and has been converted into a movie house for exclusively Bollywood/Indian language movies. The delicious Sher-a-Punjab buffet and Bombay Bazar grocery are just a few steps away. It's like Mumbai, DuPage Co. edition.) But the Tivoli is no typical cheap theater. Not by a mile. Built in 1928 at the dawn of the sound era, when the huge, sprawling movie palaces were giving way to smaller (by comparison) and more plentiful theaters. By today's standards, it might as well be Carnegie Hall. Easily the most spectacular room in Downers Grove, the Tivoli has benefited from some loving care and restoration in recent years (no doubt there are quite a few patrons of the arts with deep pockets still left in town.) It's really something. Here's hoping that the Tivoli can keep its mojo forever.

I arrived a bit early, somewhat on purpose, as I wanted to grab a pint at Emmett's Ale House, one of the first micro-breweries I ever visited, at the dawn of my drinking years. Hitting the suburbs is a funny thing when you have the benefit of a few years mainly in the city to color your perspective. I suppose if you're looking for it, you're going to find people that annoy you anywhere you go. But that night, in that bar, I was surrounded by a flock of rapidly aging yuppies, with $50 haircuts, $500 jackets and $50,000 cars. I ordered my doppelbock, and it came in a snifter (?). Five years ago, I might have thought it was the best thing I ever tasted. Not so much any more. I paid and headed down to the show, and the soft din of the high-priced dinner conversation faded out of my ears. What a relief.

I've seen 3 Godfathers plenty of times; it's a nice choice to bust out around Christmas time. A loose retelling of the "three wise men" bible story, filtered through Ford's trademark Monument Valley/cowboy lens, and it has a universal appeal and an easy charm that suits most tastes. Was this my first Ford in the theater? Apart from Young Mr. Lincoln at the Chicago Outdoor Film Fest this Summer, I think so. It's late, minor Ford, to be sure; the great director is painting with a broad brush here (something about the size of a push-broom,) and nuance goes out the window pretty quick in favor of tear-jerky chest-grabbing moments, which are pulled off pretty admirably by the three godfathers of the title: John Wayne, Harry Carey Jr., and Pedro Armendáriz. Never one to leave us hanging, Ford's story of three men in search of new souls pushes (sometimes mashes) all the right buttons, and by the end, by trial and tribulation, they, like their unexpected child companion, have been reborn. Drinks are poured, songs are sung. What a yarn. So great.

The news had broken earlier in the month that Downers' annual summer hooplah, Heritage Fest, had been cancelled. The city couldn't afford it. Could it be true? Heritage Fest was like a high school reunion where your friends parents might show up. Seemed like we went every year, whether we wanted to or not. And we paid $6 a cup for Michelob, and ate the elephant ears. Cuz that's what the townie kids do. But were all grown up now. Very few of us left in Downers Grove proper. No more Heritage Fest? Shame for somebody, I guess. But I won't miss it.

The Tivoli, on the other hand, is a treasure. And worth the drive.

History of the Tivoli Theatre: http://www.classiccinemas.com/history/tivoli.asp

(images: click to enlarge)

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