Here’s an appearance I recently made on the local series, Authors Showcase, which can also be seen on Chicago Cable Channel 25:
Thu 23 Apr 2015
Here’s an appearance I recently made on the local series, Authors Showcase, which can also be seen on Chicago Cable Channel 25:
Sat 11 Apr 2015
In Case Ya Missed It:
Much fun was had at the Roots Room last night! Began the night with a brilliant singer named DeWayne and had a contingent of poets and writers do some fantastic work. Stann Champion displayed his guitar mastery.
And I got to do some poems, standup (very rusty but I had my moments), a long story piece, and just generally get my shamanic jibber-jabber on— which felt tremendous after a long Winter of Hermitude.
I always hope for what I call a “Triumphant Moment” in my Open Stages- that moment where someone feels comfortable and/or bold enough to stretch themselves as a Performer/Artist (or to perform/read for the very first time).
Last night’s Triumphant Moment: When Writer/Actor Robert Strasser got up on stage (again) and borrowed Stann’s guitar to do a heartfelt rendition of Long Black Veil.
The next Open Mic at The Roots Room shall be on May 8 (a mere 3 days after my Birthday).
Please Stop By And Be My Triumphant Moment!!!
Tue 31 Mar 2015
ATTENTION CHICAGO MUSICIANS, POETS, STORYTELLERS, STAND-UP COMICS, MAGICIANS, AND PERFORMERS OF ALL KINDS!!!
I’m Hosting The Next Open Mic/Variety Night At The Roots Room?!!!
FRIDAY APRIL 10
The Roots Room is a great space and this night is perfect for working out new material and expanding horizons as an Artist/Performer.
When I host Open Stages I create an atmosphere of respect for all genres of performance where Artists can feel safe and secure. [No stylistic cliquishness OR DISRESPECT allowed!]
My greatest joy comes from seeing someone perform for the first time or watching an Artist try out a new genre: a Writer reading their work in front of others for the first time, a Musician doing Storytelling, a Storyteller doing Stand-Up, a Poet playing Music, a Stand-Up reading a poem— The Place Where The Boundaries Meet & Overlap Is Where True Magic Happens.
And there is nothing like the feeling of opening a door into a new room in the mansion of your soul— SO COME ON DOWN & GO ON UP!!!
The Roots Room: 5203 N Kimball
BYOB & All Ages.
$10 Suggested Donation (or pay what you can).
Fri 13 Mar 2015
Here’s the link to my appearance on WGN 720 AM Radio on Wednesday, March 11 with host Mike Stephen on his program, Outside The Loop Radio. I did the segment with DNAinfo Chicago reporter Tanveer Ali, who has created an awesome interactive map of 2014 Chicago Production.
Wed 15 Oct 2014
I was tagged into this game on a certain social media network and thought it would be edifying to the public to redo it (with some bells and whistles) on my blog.
The rules were: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen films you’ve seen that will always stick with you- not necessarily the best films. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.
I obviously took more time than that on this post, but the list itself came to me in a few minutes. It’s uncanny how the ones you just think of turn out to be influential in other ways, especially to someone whose upbringing was as odd as mine.
Here Are My Fifteen, Roughly In The Order I Saw Them:
1. Night Of The Iguana: Stayed up to see it on TV when I was five because the voice over made me think it was about giant lizards attacking people. Or something with scary monsters. Here is a longer version of the trailer they showed that grabbed my attention:
Turned out to be much scarier of a premise to a five year old but I was riveted through the whole thing.
2. Ring Of Bright Water: Not very memorable except it was the first movie I ever saw in the theater. In fact, I had to Google for the title because all I could remember was that it was about a guy who has an otter named Mij.
3. 3 Days Of The Condor: Robert Redford’s character in this movie became a lifelong role model. He’s able to thwart the entire CIA because of things he learned reading books. I was already on that path but I wanted even more to be that guy whose depth and breadth of knowledge struck fear into The Man. Best exchange between CIA wonks: “He Reads!” “So what?” “No, you don’t get it. HE READS EVERYTHING!!!”
4. Jaws: Saw it in the theater and was scared when swimming in my boyhood Wisconsin lake for the next two years.
5- Love And Death- Saw it in the theater with my parents at age thirteen and was so proud that I got all the jokes.
6- The Godfather: What can you say?
7- Blue Velvet: Saw it by myself in an empty theater in the middle of the afternoon and was almost traumatized by it. It was so raw and so far beyond anything I had ever seen.
8- Stop Making Sense: Cried after seeing it because it seemed so beautiful and perfect and I felt like I could never create anything (film, music, novel, etc) so powerful and moving. Then that evening I did a standup comedy set with my parents in the audience (seeing me for the first time) and I killed. I felt like it was the power of the Talking Heads that gave me strength to fight the butterflies and also that perhaps someday I could contribute something worthwhile to the World Of Ideas.
9- Wings Of Desire: In 1987 I was crashing on some friends’ couch in Chicago every weekend and auditioning/performing at comedy clubs with an eye to moving down here. One of the friends was a film major and we watched this one afternoon. It introduced me to the films of Wim Wenders and the music of Nick Cave- and gave me a HUGE crush on Solveig Dommartin.
10- Matewan: One of my favorite dramatic films. The sequence that cuts between the boy preacher and Chris Cooper & James Earl Jones talking is one of the best in all of Filmdom. And this scene here isn’t so bad either.
11. Shakes The Clown: Bob Goldthwait’s saga of a misanthropic alcoholic birthday party clown is still one of the craziest and most twisted films ever. Where else you going to see Aunt Esther from Sanford & Son talk about her punani? And Tim Kazurinsky is hilarious in his cameo, too bad the clip cuts off before his brilliant response.
12. Rikky And Pete: A delightfully quirky Aussie Indie comedy with a score by Crowded House.
13. Pow Wow Highway: Great Native American road comedy. Just see it!
14- Sans Soleil: Chris Marker’s video essay totally changed my ideas of what a documentary film could be.
15- You Me And Everyone We Know: Miranda July created one of the most bizarre yet most strangely realistic indie films ever. It’s a meditation on how amazing it is that (considering how insane and damaged we are) humans are able to connect with each other in way at all. I couldn’t stop crying for 20 solid minutes after watching this, for reasons I still can’t quite understand. Then I wrote a heartfelt email to Miranda July at 3AM. She never responded, but from her end it probably seemed much more crazy and stalker-ish than heartfelt.
So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed this long trip through the underpinnings of my psyche!
Mon 8 Sep 2014
I am appearing at the Indian Trails Public Library in Wheeling on Thursday, September 11 at 7 PM.
I’ll be discussing Chicago Film and selling & signing copies of Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition.
It’s free but you need to sign up:
Hope to see you there!
Sun 17 Aug 2014
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME SOUL SEARCHING?!?!?!?!
In a fit a pique right before the last Superbowl I sent a tweet to my followers (and copied the NFL on it) that if the NFL was still a tax exempt organization by the beginning of the next season then the Superbowl would be the last NFL game I would ever watch. At the time I knew that meant I would never be watching an NFL game again (if I held to my guns) because there was no way in hell they would voluntarily give up that status and for some reason nobody seems to be bothered by the fact that an organization that makes BILLIONS of dollars doesn’t pay a fucking cent in taxes.
After spending the last few weeks thinking about “walking back” my bold declaration (the season approaches and I do still have a primal love of American Football going back to infancy)- my mental pendulum began to swing the other way.
I’ve always been bothered by how much Sports in general (and the NFL in particular) are used to sell the lies of Hetero-normative Consumer Capitalism and the Military Industrial Complex [sounds like real GooGoo Lefty statement when I say it like that- but can you honestly say that it’s not an accurate one?] and how much the various Sports Subcultures have become bastions of ignorance and bigotry of all sorts.
Getting back to the NFL: this ongoing idiocy and continued resistance to changing the name of the Washington franchise has also bolstered my decision to drop my American Football habit. There several other sketchy/unethical things about the league l could list as well; but the recent incident where an NFL player beat his fiance unconscious in a public place and RECEIVED A 2 GAME SUSPENSION for his punishment is the last fucking straw.
Therefore, I will hold to my statements of last January and will not be watching any NFL games this season, even my beloved Green Bay Packers [might as well “come out” about that as well since I’m being all bold & shit! ]. I’m not going to avert my eyes if I’m in a public place and a game is on (I know that gives me a huge out but I’m not wearing blinders when I go drinking) but I will no longer willingly consume the product of the National Football Association until I can not feel like watching a game makes me Part Of The Problem.
The thought of doing this also makes me really uneasy, so that’s another indication that this is something I need to do.
In its purest form Organized Athletic Activity can be one of the most beautiful experiences a person (especially a young one) can engage in. It’s time to stop supporting those who use its inherent power to make untaxed fortunes, bolster the lies of those who are enslaving humanity and promoting the destruction of our species, and indoctrinate young men into a destructive cult of masculinity.
/stepping off soapbox
UPDATE:The NFL increased their penalties for assault to make it a harder slap on the wrist for a first offense and a possible lifetime ban for a second (just make sure there is video if you are cold-cocked by a player) , but there are still too many other issues they have to address before I’ll return to the fold.
UPDATE #2 (9/11/14): The same day I was having a moment of weakness and was considering letting the slightly enhanced penalties for assault allow me to just watch Packer games— the Ray Rice elevator video was leaked. Now I knew what was going to be on that video so I was not surprised (how did people think she became completely unconscious- he rubbed her belly like an alligator to put her to sleep?) but the immensely disingenuous and hypocritical response from the NFL (you have a world class security and investigative team and nobody saw or thought to ask for the elevator video?- PUHLEEZE!!!) and the sports media (just C’MON!) has furthered my resolve in this matter. Concussions, the Washington Mascot fiasco, Domestic Violence, Non-Taxed Status, etc etc etc—- It’s just all too damn much…
Fri 1 Aug 2014
I am EXTREMELY pleased and honored to announce that I will be the Featured Author in the Lt. Governor’s Tent at the Illinois State Fair from 11AM-1PM on Friday, August 8!!! I’ll be doing an interview, reading excerpts from Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition, and signing free copies to be raffled off to attendees.
Stop on by if you are at The Fair that day. It’s going to be HUGE fun!!!
Mon 12 May 2014
In February of 2013 I was invited to write an article for Printers Row Journal (they had received an advance copy of Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition). The piece was about some lesser known Chicago Films and ran in their February 23rd edition. Click here to read it.
When I emailed them the piece, I also sent it my publicist at Chicago Review Press (publisher of Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition). He told me that it might not be what they wanted, because it was in the form of a list and wasn’t “literary enough.” This threw me into a panic and I spent an afternoon furiously revising the content so as to have a clearer overarching theme and to be more “Authorly.”
Then I sent that revision to the editor at Printers Row Journal, telling her that they could use this version if the original was not highbrow enough (or words to that effect). As you can see from the link, they ended up using the first version I submitted.
I recently ran across the second version in my files, however, and decided that it deserved more than to just sit in my computer drawing pixel dust. Plus, I wanted to show off how well I can quickly revamp and revise content. Here it is (with a few added bells and whistles for the internet):
Seven Ways Of Looking At A City
By Michael Corcoran
Chicago has been involved in film-making since the very beginnings of the technology, and the world’s first movie studios operated here in the early 1900’s. And even from those early days of the nascent film industry, when neighborhood kids would sneak on to the Selig Polyscope lot at Western and Irving Park (many old Selig Westerns include children curiously peeking out from the bushes during shootouts), Chicago has managed to insert itself into the productions shot here and basically become another character in them.
The overwhelming presence of the city was imbued into the iconic Chicago blockbusters of the 1980s, such as The Blues Brothers, Risky Business, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and even recent hits like The Dark Knight still feature Chicago’s distinctive look as an integral part of their narrative landscape. And the city, much like the mercurial lake which it sits upon, never seems to appear the same way twice. Other lesser known productions have harnessed Chicago’s chameleon like qualities and also showcased areas not normally seen in the more mainstream Hollywood films shot here.
Unconditional Love (2002), a quirky comedy starring Kathy Bates and Rupert Everett, goes beyond the standard Lower Wacker Drive chase scene to explore Downtown Chicago’s vast and often foreboding underground labyrinth of streets, byways, parking areas and subterranean loading docks. There is also an extended scene in the legendary Billy Goat Tavern, which sits in the catacombs beneath The Magnificent Mile. Bates plays a frumpy Chicago housewife whose singing idol (Jonathon Pryce) is murdered right before a television appearance in Chicago. This inspires her to fly to England to attend his funeral, where she bonds with the singer’s longtime gay lover (Everett). The pair then return to Chicago to solve the murder, which leads them on an odyssey through the bowels of the downtown area.
Moving back above ground, Scriptwriter Zach Helm (a graduate of DePaul’s Theatre School) and Director Mark Forster succeeded not only in capturing the spirit of great 1970s Hal Ashby comedies such as Harold and Maude but also provided a unique view of downtown Chicago in their 2006 offering, Stranger Than Fiction. The story is set in an anonymous “any town” but the filmmakers chose Chicago for its plethora of International Style buildings, which function as a visual shorthand for the bland conformity of the film’s protagonist, routine bound IRS agent Harold Crick (played by Will Ferrell in an uncharacteristically subtle and brilliantly understated performance). Chicagoans will immediately recognize this forbidding landscape of glass and steel boxes set in concrete plazas, however, as the Daley Center, the CNA Building, Illinois Center Plaza and several other iconic modernist structures are utilized.
In the film, Ferrell’s character suddenly finds himself hearing the voice of a narrator describing his life, “accurately and with a better vocabulary.” When the third person omniscient voice portends his death, he seeks out an English Professor (Dustin Hoffman) to try and discover the origin and identity of the narrator. In a parallel story, an author (Emma Thompson) is locked in writer’s block over how to kill the protagonist of her latest novel, an IRS agent named Harold Crick. The audience is charmed and horrified as these two narrative threads move toward their inevitable meeting.
Another facet of Chicago architecture is pointed out by the film Crime Spree (2003), an amusing mob farce starring Gerard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel. Set in Paris and Chicago (with a few locations fudged in Canada), it not only visits some more obscure Windy City environs (such as The Heart ‘O’ Chicago Motel in the far North Edgewater area) but during an opening montage in Paris also illustrates just how much French-style Beaux Arts Architecture exists here, as shots of certain Parisian vistas make you think you are in Chicago. The plot revolves around a woefully inept band of French burglars led by Depardieu who after blowing a job in Paris are sent to Chicago for what is supposed to be an easy score. The victim turns out to be an Outfit underboss (Keitel), however, and the ragtag ensemble is thrown into a nightmare of mob reprisals, corrupt feds, and a series of double and triple crosses.
The Merry Gentleman (2008) is a darker mob related offering starring Michael Keaton. Keaton (who also made his directing debut) plays a depressed hit man about to commit suicide by leaping off a roof, but first is spotted by a woman on the sidewalk (Kelly Macdonald) whose scream startles him into not jumping. Keaton later searches her out and the two begin an awkward relationship; with her unaware of his identity and he unaware that she has fled an abusive ex (Bobby Cannavale) and is living under an assumed name. The Merry Gentleman (2008), uses the rarely filmed North side neighborhoods of Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, and North Center to provide a fresh look that is still unmistakably Chicago.
The powerful drama Proof (2005) is set on the University of Chicago campus in the South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park, and the ivy-covered Gothic structures there are used to great effect. The film’s plot revolves around a brilliant yet mentally ill mathematician and professor (Anthony Hopkins). When he dies after a long bout with delusion and dementia, his daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is left to deal both with her grief and with fears that she may have inherited the same mental instabilities. Her anguish is compounded by the arrival of her overbearing and manipulative older sister (Hope Davis) and by an increasingly complicated relationship with a young math student (Jake Gyllenhaal) studying her father’s notebooks. Although stunning, the campus buildings themselves (particularly the Rockefeller Chapel where Hopkins funeral is set) seem to loom disapprovingly over Paltrow’s character as she works through all her various issues and tribulations.
Back on the North side, Return To Me (2000), directed and co-written by Chicago native Bonnie Hunt, used several sites in Old Town (her old stomping ground during her Second City days) and Lincoln Park, most notably the Twin Anchors Restaurant. These urban yet almost homey locations shot during the midst of summer provide a perfect backdrop to this sweet romantic comedy, and Chicago seems like an dear old friend encountered by chance on a beautiful sunny day. Minnie Driver plays a woman who receives a desperately needed heart transplant, and David Duchovny is the grieving husband of the woman who donated Driver’s new heart. A coincidence brings them together and they begin a romance that is greatly complicated when they find out each other’s identities.
The superb drama A Family Thing (1996) provides a fascinating window into a Chicago almost two decades gone, with some seedier parts of Uptown (much more so than today) getting screen time as well as other off the beaten path locales. The story begins with rural Arkansas store owner Earl Pilcher, Jr. (Robert Duvall) discovering that his biological mother is actually an African American maid who died in childbirth and that he is of mixed race. Stunned by this sudden and jarring news, he gets in his truck and proceeds to drive to Chicago to find the half-brother he never knew existed. The brother (James Earl Jones) is understandably ambivalent about Earl’s appearance but is chastised by their Aunt T (Irma P Hall in a career making turn) into taking him in and giving him a place to stay. This vision of Chicago seen through Pilcher’s eyes is intimidating yet filled with wonder, much like the city must have seemed to the scores of southern blacks who migrated here in the 20th Century.
All of the aforementioned seven films highlight a different area of the city, and despite their disparate content and varied views of our metropolis, Chicago is the one constant. And, as in all films shot here, the city provides a powerfully photogenic tableaux.
Of course this is not surprising, for what is Chicago anyway other than an immense film set? Built on stilts of concrete, hovering above a swamp. A patchwork constructed of dreams from across the globe. A set for the greatest movie ever made, the story of Chicago.
Michael Corcoran is a historian, lecturer, and Certified Chicago Tour Guide. He and Arnie Bernstein are co-authors of Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition, available from Chicago Review Press. Visit www.brainsnack.net for info about Michael’s tours and lectures.
There you have it. It’s a bit clunky but I whipped it up over the course of a single long afternoon. The takeaway here is that I am an extremely bright penny when it comes to content manipulation and you should look to me for your freelance writer needs.
Tue 29 Apr 2014
Sometimes a film falls through the cracks because it is treated poorly by the studio or is unable to find a distributor and other times it happens because of disputes between the creative and fiduciary forces involved in making it. The latter scenario is the reason The Merry Gentleman never received its due and it’s high time to correct this oversight.
The disputes over this film have been bitter, so much so that one of the Producers actually filed a lawsuit against Michael Keaton last year; essentially accusing him of sabotaging the post-production and release of The Merry Gentleman via a variety of bad behaviors (which I detailed in this 2013 posting) and dooming the picture to a poor box office showing despite decent reviews and a warm reception at The Sundance Festival. This matter is still in litigation at this time.
Despite all the acrimony and problems, The Merry Gentleman is still a fine film which deserves to be seen by a wider audience. The fact that the movie itself survived all these travails essentially intact (although there are some problems with the editing and few other minor issues) is a testimony to the excellent script by Ron Lazzeretti (who was slated to direct until a bout of appendicitis right before shooting led to Keaton taking the helm), the fine performances by the cast (top to bottom), and (regardless of whatever happened in post-production) a good job of directing by Keaton.
The film begins with Kate Frazier (played by Kelly Macdonald) fleeing her abusive husband (Bobby Cannavale) by escaping to Chicago and starting a new life. This fresh start is complicated however, when (while leaving work) she notices someone (Michael Keaton- who shines as a depressed hit man) standing on a building ledge contemplating suicide. Her scream startles him and he slips and falls backward onto the building roof instead of jumping to his death. Macdonald then calls the police to report the incident. These two acts trigger a chain of events which demonstrate that, although a woman can flee an individual abuser, it is far more difficult for her to escape from the attentions of men with deep emotional issues.
The next day she is questioned about what she saw by two homicide detectives investigating a murder which occurred in the same building as her employer. The detectives correctly surmise that the man she saw committed the crime and try to obtain whatever details they can from her. In the course of the interview one of the cops becomes infatuated with Macdonald and begins questioning her about her personal life (in particular why she has a black eye). She is evasive and oblique; partly because she doesn’t wish anyone to know her situation (her abuser was a policeman which further complicates the matter) and partly because it’s none of this nosy cop’s business. But the damage has been done and the detective (played brilliantly by Tom Bastounes) is now fixated on her.
The fact that she can’t escape from men who want to claim her is further reinforced at a company Christmas party when she is besieged by guys who all want to “get with the new girl.” On her way home from the party she stops and buys a large Christmas tree (which her cab driver refuses to help her with) and is pinned underneath it while trying to drag it into her building. She is rescued by Keaton, who has sought her out to discern if she can identify him (and perhaps kill her) but is also fixated on her emotionally after noticing her as he looked around through the scope of his rifle while waiting to kill his victim the previous evening. He helps her carry the tree up to her apartment and as she opens her door they are interrupted by a phone call from Bastounes, who wheedles a date out of her via the pretext of “wanting to discuss new developments in the case.”
Keaton rings her bell a few days later, but succumbs to a case of pneumonia and passes out in front of her building as she answers. She then visits him in the hospital and they begin an awkward yet tender relationship; with her unaware that he is the man she saw on the ledge and he oblivious to her past. The budding romance between the two is complicated by Bastounes’ jealousy and increasing suspicions about Keaton, as well as an appearance by Macdonald’s now completely unhinged husband.
I won’t explicate any further so as not to spoil the drama, but I really encourage you to either rent or purchase this movie. While it is admittedly on the somber side, it is by no means a depressing film. Aside from being a fine understated drama, it’s also a thoughtful meditation on the nature of power dynamics, particularly in relation to violence against and oppression of women. Whether he is aware of it or not, Lazzeretti has fashioned a brilliant illustration of how the philosophical concept of Male Privilege operates in the day-to-day context of society as the story follows a woman who seems to want nothing more than to go about her life and be left in peace but is continually having to deal with unwanted attention from men who feel that the fact she is female entitles them to impose their will and desires upon her. The ultimate irony of the film is that the one man who is truly kind and understanding to Macdonald’s character is from a world steeped in violence and treachery and the supposedly “good” policemen want to abuse and/or own her.
I know I’m making this film sound like some sort of Gender Studies or Feminist Theory thesis, and although these elements are implicit in the narrative, it’s still just an extremely interesting film about lonely people trying to cope in this world.
And you should check it out.
PS- Another fabulous reason to check this film out is that three people involved in it are featured/interviewed in Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition; Producer Steven A. Jones and Line Producer Christina Varotsis (neither of whom are involved in the aforementioned lawsuit whatsoever BTW) and Special Effects Foreman John Milinac.
It also uses locations in areas not normally seen in other Chicago films; such as Lincoln Square (opening scene is right in my ‘hood in Welles Park which was quite a kick for me), Ravenswood, and North Center.