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Music Box 70mm Film Festival: Theatre Begins First-Ever Fest Celebrating Rare Film Format

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The Music Box Theatre 70mm Film Festival runs Friday, Feb. 15 to Thursday, Feb. 28. (Music Box Theatre Facebook) | Music Box Theatre Facebook

An iconic Chicago movie theatre is bringing a rare format to the masses in a first-ever film fest of its kind at the venue.

Friday, the Music Box Theatre kicks off it's two-week-long tribute to the format, celebrating the now-rare beauty of 70mm films.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports, in all, the movie house will screen nine classic films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “West Side Story.”

With studios making the switch to digital — and cinemas following suit — a modern film shot in the large format is a rarity these days. Until "The Master" last year, the last film to be shot on the wide-gage, high resolution format was 1996's "Hamlet." Picture quality — sharp, crisp, vivid color that's steady and without the distortion that can occur with 35mm — is the draw with 70mm.

The Music Box notes that few people, particularly those born in recent decades, have actually had the chance to see a film in 70mm:

"Due to the costs of 70mm film few films were ever shot in this large format, and following their initial release many of them were also released in 35mm to facilitate wide release. Other films were shot in 35mm and “blown up” to 70mm to facilitate more sound information. When DTS sound and Dolby Surround were introduced to cinemas, 70mm (and auditoriums devoted to 70mm) all but disappeared."

Last fall, however, a screening of the Paul Thomas Anderson's Oscar-nominated "The Master" changed all that. Anderson shot the film in 70mm, but few cinemas actually had the necessary tools to screen it that way.

Time Out Chicago film critic Ben Kenigsberg wrote a blog post urging the director to bring the film to the Music Box; the call led to Anderson's camp offering a sneak-preview screening to the Music Box. The result was a sellout screening last August.

According to WBEZ, the Music Box purchased its 70mm projector a decade ago and is the lone movie house in Chicago to operate one.

Doug McLaren, the Music Box’s chief projectionist, told the Sun-Times the festival is the theatre's way of capitalizing on the demand kicked up from "The Master" screening; naturally, the film will be a staple of the festival, with screenings Feb. 22, 23 and 25.

McLaren said he hopes the festival will become an annual event, and the theatre is putting all its chips on the round of upcoming screenings; TOC reports the projectors have been completely rebuilt, outfitted with new gears and bearings.

The Music Box Theatre Film Festival runs Feb. 15-Feb. 28 at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport Ave.; tickets are $9.25 or $70 for a festival pass.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the 70mm Film Festival is the first of its kind at the Music Box Theatre; other cities have hosted similar festivals featuring the format.

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