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Bruce Trinz: Every Day a Film

Bruce Trinz died in Philadelphia on July 7, 2011. He was 93.

Bruce Trinz led the way down the flickering aisle, past the anonymous faces turned up to the screen. Lee J. Cobb, the foreman of a jury in "Twelve Angry Men," was engrossed in a pause that lasted all the way to the exit sign. A stairway led up to the offices of the Clark Theater, once the Adelphi, once the Columbia, up to the offices that once were dressing rooms for the stars of the Columbia Burlesque Wheel: Paul Muni, Dore Schary, the Step Lively Girls and Rose Sydell's London Belles.

Bruce Trinz, who has probably seen more movies than anyone else in the world, has an office filled with clues for his endless hunt for film. The Clark is voracious, consuming a double feature a day, 14 films a week, 730 films a year. Since Trinz came back from the Air Force in 1946 and took over management of the house from his father and uncle, the Clark has shown more than 15,000 movies.

To select the daily double-feature, Trinz combs through the catalogs of all the film distributors in the country, the big ones in Los Angeles and the little ones in Evansville, Ind., and he keeps a card file on the first time and the most recent time each film has played in Chicago. The records are his lifeblood. Sometimes Trinz knows a distributor's list better than the distributor himself. Because Trinz enjoys the chase for half-forgotten films, the Clark plays a unique role in the cultural life of the city. It makes the total cinema repertory - those thousands of films worth seeing at least once -- available to the moviegoers of Chicago. While "Doctor Zhivago" settles in for a long run at a dozen neighborhood houses, the Clark is showing hundreds of different films, all kinds of films: an Errol Flynn festival, a James Cagney retrospective, a Beatles double-feature, and "Electra" and "Antigone" with Irene Papas.

In the trade, the Clark is known as a "grind house," because it grinds out films hour after hour, from the first show at 8 a.m. until the last at 3 the next morning. It is also a sociological phenomenon, because through its portals and past it's well stocked refreshment stand (specialty of the house: the Super Duper Kosher Dog) pass people of all types.

The filmniks are there, of course, the serious young filmmakers from the Art Institute and the college students who get in for 50 cents. But there are others, for whom the Clark is perhaps even more important: the little old lady with her pet pigeon in her blouse, the senior citizens on an outing, the secretaries who sit in the "Little Gal-lery for Gals Only," the Clark Gable fans from Rockford, the derelicts, the weary runaways, the lonely, the worried, the travelers between trains and the divorcees between marriages.

"People go to the ballet because going to the ballet is the thing to do," Trinz said, "but when they go to the movies they go for a definite personal motive. Nobody will see them, and it's not really a social thing. They may want to kill time, or forget something, or escape from the lives they're leading. Or they may want to see a film they liked years ago. Maybe they come because it's a habit. And, of course, some come because they really feel something about movies, they want to learn, they want to study the film as an art form. And then there are the Moviegoers -- please make that a capital M -- for whom the Clark is not so much a cinema, more of a way of life. These are the hopeless addicts who, quite simply, like movies.

"We get people who drive 100 miles for something they want to see," Trinz said, "and we get people who come three or four times a week, not because they're trying to escape or anything, but simply because they enjoy movies. Sometimes I wonder what the Moviegoers would do without the Clark."

Trinz, who reached above his cluttered desk to adjust a speaker which pipes the film sound track into his office, belongs to the Moviegoer group. But be has been involved in movies for so long that he probably belongs to all the other groups as well, by empathy at least.

The Clark has the lowest admission price in the Loop, and one of the lowest in the city: 75 cents in the morning, 85 cents in the afternoon and 95 cents at night. A variety of ingenious plans, which Trinz seems to conceive the way other people fill in crossword puzzles, makes the admission even lower for some people. On Wednesdays and Fridays, ladies are admitted for 50 cents. A half a dollar will also gain admission for college students and members of official high school groups. Needy children and senior citizens in official groups are admitted free. And on Saturdays and Sundays, $2.25 will buy both a double feature and a complete Chinese dinner at the Bamboo Inn next door.

The desire deep within Trinz to see the house filled may have been engendered three generations ago, when his grandfather came over from Austria-Hungary with a traveling carnival.

"My great uncle was a sword swallower and fire-eater in the same outfit," Trinz said. "When they got to this country, in the 1880s, my grandfather operated a saloon for a while, but that made him restless, and eventually he went up to Milwaukee and opened the first movie theater there. This was in the early 1900s, and the reason he went to Milwaukee was that Chicago was already 'overrun' with movie houses -- it had seven.

"My great uncle and a partner, Harry Lubliner, started operating movie houses in Chicago, and my grandfather came back here, and what with one thing and another the Lubliner and Trinz chain was running 30 vaudeville and movie houses here by the late 1920s. But they over-expanded, and the whole chain came tumbling down. There was a shotgun wedding with Balaban and Katz about 1930."

In 1931, Trinz' father, his uncle, and Harry Lubliner bought the Monroe. Two years later they bought the Adelphi, converted it from vaudeville to movies, and renamed it the Clark. The Monroe was sold during the war, the father and uncle retired, and Howard Lubliner, the second generation, joined with Bruce Trinz, the third generation, in operating the Clark, Lubliner died in 1964.

"The thing was, we loved movies," Trinz said. "I started at the Clark as an usher, back when being an usher meant something. You had to stand at attention, eyes straight ahead, and if you wanted a job at a swank place like the Tivoli, you had to have influence. I got 25 cents an hour, and stayed after work to see the movie free. It was a cardinal rule that an usher on duty never looked at the movie."

Although many of the Clark's patrons, time-killers and Moviegoers alike, would doubtless turn up for a documentary on cast-iron furnaces, Trinz pays infinite attention to his programs. A month's schedule, featuring a cover article on the festival(s) of the month, is mailed in advance to thousands of patrons, and each film is described in a brief Trinz couplet, which, while it may not make the anthologies, gets the job done:

"A House Is Not a Home" -- Polly Adler's confession Re: the "oldest profession"

"Electra" -- Vengeful sister and brother Stalk stepfather and mother

"Life at the Top"-- He left home and cavorted When ambition was thwarted

"The funny thing is, you never know for sure what will be box office," Trinz said. "We probably get the most up-to-date sample of what the public enjoys, because of our daily changes, but we find there's no such thing as an automatic draw anymore, like Gable and Garbo were. Now people shop around for the movie they want to see. Bogart draws, and Sean Connery draws as James Bond, although not otherwise. And John Wayne, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Sophia Loren are steady magnets for Moviegoers.

"But you have to keep experimenting. Take a truly great film like John Ford's 'The Informer,' for example. It was a bomb when it came out, then it was very popular for a long time, and now it's out of vogue again."

Trinz swiveled in his chair, put his feet up on an ancient and honorable wooden desk.

"You ever read a book by Walker Percy called 'The Moviegoer'?" he asked. "It's not about the movies, of course, but the central character is a moviegoer, and you begin to get a feeling for him, for why he likes the movies and why he goes."

Trinz did not quote from Percy's novel, but perhaps he was recalling this passage from Page 7:

"In the evenings I usually watch television or go to the movies... Our neighborhood theater in Gentilly has permanent lettering on the front of the marquee reading: Where Happiness Costs So Little. The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in 'Stagecoach,' and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in 'The Third Man.'"

Bruce Trinz, cinema devotee and manager of the Clark, selects the 730 films the theater shows every year. Asked to compile a list of 14 personal favorites for an "ideal week" at the Clark, Trinz listed these selections, with the directors and years of U.S. release:

SUNDAY: "Lolita" (Kubrick, 1962), "Sundays and Cybele" (Bourgignon, 1963). MONDAY: "Grand Illusion" (Renoir, 1939), "Paths of Glory" (Kubrick, 1958). TUESDAY: "Wild Strawberries" (Bergman, 1950), "La Dolce Vita" (Fellini, 1960). WEDNESDAY: "Singin' in the Rain" (Kelly and Donen,1952), "Lili" (Walters, 1953). THURSDAY: "The Informer" (Ford, 1937), "Citizen Kane" (Welles, 1941). FRIDAY: "Dr. Strangelove" (Kubrick. 1964), "The Asphalt Jungle" (Huston, 1950). SATURDAY: "Limelight" (Chaplin, 1953), "The Overcoat" (Batalou,1965).

When Trinz got to the end of his "ideal week" he paused, sighed, and said, "Listen, I've got to have another day. I can't stop here." So for the eighth day of the week, he chose: "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (Huston, 1948), "All Quiet on the Western Front" (Milestone, 1930).

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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