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Chicago-spotting at the Cineplex

BACKGROUND NOISE: I definitely don’t watch Chicago movies like a normal person.

Scene from High Fidelity
High Fidelity
’s John Cusack wondering what hole in the CTA’s space-time continuum enabled him to board the Purple Line at Wilson

 

At some point during any Chicago movie (“Top 40 Movies Filmed in Chicago”), it happens. You’re losing yourself in the story, digging deeper into the popcorn, when suddenly . . . you recognize a location on the screen. You blurt it out to your spouse before your spouse is able to blurt it to you. I call this the Hey Game, as in “Hey! That’s McCormick Place!” or “Hey! It’s the corner of Milwaukee and Damen.” If you happen to be in a city theatre, you may hear others playing throughout the room; no matter how cool we pretend to be, we’re still psyched to see our hometown on the big screen.

Scene from Ferris Bueller's Day OffNo wonder Ferris had to sprint home. He ran all the way from some place with palm trees.For some, this may be a fun little diversion, but for one obsessive subculture—that proud, infuriating phylum of Chicago know-it-alls of which I am a member—the Hey Game is not a game at all. It is a challenge and a distraction, a curse that renders Chicago films impossible to enjoy. Take The Dark Knight. I hear it’s a good movie and that Batman saves Chicago/Gotham from annihilation. I wouldn’t know, because I was so busy scanning each scene for locational clues and continuity errors, that I didn’t realize Harvey Dent and Two-Face were the same person. You may see High Fidelity on our top 40 list and think, Oh, yeah, funny movie, great soundtrack. All I remember is seeing John Cusack’s character on the Purple Line and wondering why a guy whose whole life was in Wicker Park would be riding the Purple Line. (“Is his mom in Evanston? Is he taking classes at Northwestern?”) After waiting 20 minutes for an explanation that never came, it was too late: The movie was ruined.

You think I’m a freak? No, I’m a mild case. One Hey-Gamer I know, as if driven by a preternatural compulsion, calls out screen locations like a robot (“Daley Center . . . Navy Pier . . . Hilton Towers . . .”), often with creepy specificity (“LaSalle Street bridge, facing south” [Road to Perdition]). When the world onscreen diverges from the Chicago she knows, and the characters do something geo­graphically impossible, like leave Hyde Park and head south on North Lake Shore Drive (When Harry Met Sally), you can almost hear the pop of her brain collapsing on itself. Another friend remains fixated on a scene from a 1996 dud called Chain Reaction, where bad guys chase the atomic energy researchers played by Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz through the Field Museum and, suddenly, through the Museum of Science and Industry seven miles south, before miraculously ending up back outside the Field. (As if any of this were less plausible than Keanu Reeves as a nuclear scientist.)

Scene from Batman BeginsBatman Begins has cars going the wrong way on the Franklin Street Bridge and digitally added buildings— someone activate the Bat Signal!Who cares? It’s just a movie, you say. Why do you weirdoes torture yourselves when you could be taking a two-hour break from life? I do it because I am a petty man who loves nothing more than unearthing a cinematic blunder to get all pissy and self-righteous about, like the Canada Post mail truck in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. At heart, I want to see the Chicago I love onscreen, not some Hollywoodized pseudo-Chicago where palm trees line “Northbrook” (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and “Aurora” has mountains (Wayne’s World). Careless locational gaffes like these are civic affronts that say, We don’t care enough about your town to get it right. So the next time you’re about to advise some chatterbox in a movie theatre to shut up, remember: He may be trying to protect your city. Like Batman. Or so I’ve been told.

 

Photography: (High Fidelity) Dogstar Films, (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) Paramount Pictures, (Batman Begins) Warner Bros. Pictures

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