A Peek Behind The Scenes


Chicago Film/History Fans Will Have TWO Final Chances To Catch My Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition Presentation This Week:

 

 

Wednesday, July 8— 7PM
Palatine Public Library
700 N. North Court
Palatine, IL 60067
https://il.evanced.info/palatine/lib/eventsignup.asp?ID=11869

 

 

Thursday, July 9— 7PM
Wood Dale Public Library
520 N. Wood Dale Road
Wood Dale, IL 60191
http://wooddalelibrary.evanced.info/eventsignup.asp?ID=7532

 

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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.

Click Here To Listen

 

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Chatting with Tanveer and Mike in the WGN Radio 720 Studio. Nothing like sitting in that glass fishbowl looking out on the Mag Mile to make you feel like an important Chicagoan!!!

 

Click here to check out Tanveer’s Map.

 

Fantastic Fun!!!

 

 

 

 

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I don’t normally like to brag on myself, but it seems to be the only way to get attention these days.

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.

 

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Unconditional Love is about as quirky as you can get. A Don’t Look Now reference and a bizarre Julie Andrews cameo don’t come along too often, especially in the same film.

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.

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Will Ferrell is not his usual over-the-top Wacky Guy in this film, so don’t let his presence scare you off.

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.

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Maggie Gyllenhaal and Will Ferrell have a fantastic chemistry in Stranger Than Fiction.

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.

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This hilarious film also has several inside jokes for a French audience.

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.

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I just evangelized about The Merry Gentleman in my last post.

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.

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Proof is a superb dramatic film. One of the best ever made in Chicago.

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.

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Driver and Duchovny get close. Return To Me is the kind of smart, sincere, and sweet romantic comedy people often complain “they just don’t make anymore.”

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.

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A Family Thing is another great Chicago film. Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones are as fabulous as usual, and Irma P. Hall goes toe-to-toe with them both dramatically.

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Every once in a while I like to discuss a Chicago-related documentary not created by Kartemquin Films just to see what it feels like. 😉

 

Musician (2007)

Subject: Ken Vandermark

Produced by Jason Davis and Daniel Kraus. Cinematography and Editing by Daniel Kraus. Additional Crew: Joe Chellman, Amanda Kraus, Ryan Bartelmay. Released by Facets Multimedia Studios.

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Musician is Part 2 of The Work Series, a documentary project conceived and created by Daniel Kraus; the other 3 being Sheriff (2005), Professor (2009), and Preacher (2011). The series is currently on hiatus while Kraus works on a series of writing projects, although he hopes to return to the series to profile several women at some point (fingers crossed on this!).

 

The Work Series is a documentary project inspired by the oral histories collected by Studs Terkel, most notably his volume entitled Working. Featuring no narrator or any typical documentary film drama-enhancing bells and whistles, the series uses the “fly-on-the-wall” technique to try and bring the viewer as far as possible into the work and life of the subject.

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Tearin’ it up on Baritone. Photo: Juan-Carlos Hernandez

 

 

This technique is perfect for the subject of Musician, the Chicago-based musical genius (literally so, as he won a coveted MacArthur Fellowship in 1999) and Civic Treasure, Ken Vandermark. Musician opens with Vandermark composing a new tune in his basement workspace, worrying and fretting over each note as he tries to actualize the sounds he hears in his head, and then cuts to a segment of the finished composition being performed by an ensemble.

 

The film then follows him as he goes about the Herculean task of being a working original Jazz musician/composer in America (which unsurprisingly includes several trips to Europe and other foreign locales where quality musicianship is more readily accepted by the public). Musician doggedly chronicles the whole experience; talking on the phone with bookers and club owners, coordinating/rehearsing with other musicians, hauling gear to and from gigs, endless hours in airports or behind the wheel, and of course the performances themselves. The film also illustrates Vandermark’s struggle to maintain his relationship and home life in the face of constant travel and work, something he approaches with the same calm rationality and good humor he brings to his work.

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Cookin’ with Ken. Dave Rempis on Sax and Tim Daisy on Drums. Photo: Juan-Carlos Hernandez

 

 

Vandermark was the perfect choice for the Work Series, because DAMN does he work! If he hadn’t won a MacArthur grant so early in his life this film would have been a perfect “audition” for the coveted Genius Grant; because you simply cannot watch this film without coming away thinking that the man is a genius. Even if you don’t enjoy/get his music (and I truly pity you if that is so) you still have to award him the moniker by the “99% Perspiration” benchmark (easily 110% in his case). The sequence that shows the CD covers of all the bands and projects he has either headed or participated in (over 100 albums with almost 40 ensembles) is an apt testament to this fact.

 

Musician is available for streaming (as is the entire WORK Series) and has several bonus segments of Vandermark and some of his various ensembles playing his music.

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Solo improvisation is incredibly difficult, but Vandermark pulls it off with uncanny skill. Photo: Amanda Kraus

And let’s discuss the music! A multi-Reedist (tenor and baritone saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet), Vandermark has absorbed and embodies the style of Modern Jazz known as “Post Bop” but there are also echoes of Punk and Thrash in the mix. Those familiar with avant-garde Jazz will recognize several of his influences in the music; John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, John Gilmore (from The Sun Ra Arkestra), Roland Kirk, Ornette Coleman, Booker Ervin and several other Sax Giants are combined and augmented in a sound that is traditional yet original. His compositions are also stunning and powerful, by turns beautiful & blistering and always uniquely his own. Vandermark has a well-earned reputation for playing with the best musicians around and his various ensembles are always brilliant and tight.

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Genius At Work. Photo: Amanda Kraus

So there you have it, Gentle Reader. Either stream this film or rent the DVD from Netflix (I’ve been hogging a copy for the last several weeks but I finally returned it over the weekend) and make a point to go see Ken Vandermark whenever you are able. Because like many cultural treasures of Chicago, he’s criminally under-appreciated by the mainstream.

 

And let’s hope that Daniel Kraus continues this series as soon as possible!

Kartemquin Korner is a semi-regular feature which spotlights a particular film from Kartemquin Films, the greatest documentary collective this side of the spiral arm of the galaxy. This installment looks at the first feature documentary to be crafted by the collective, Home For Life (1966).

Home For Life was created in 1966 by two of Kartemquin’s founders, Gordon Quinn and Gerald Temaner (the “quin” and the “tem” in Kartemquin); the pair co-produced and co-directed, with Quinn handling the camera and Temaner working the sound (assisted by Richard Sato and Neill Hicks). Lois Lione was the assistant director and Gordon edited the film with help from William Clarkson. Barbara Propst was the research coordinator.

 

Home For Life (1966)

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In its own way, it is a work of art rather than an artful work.

— Studs Terkel, Author

 

Watching Home For Life for the first time gave me the same sort of rush I got from seeing the Monadnock Building or the Manhattan Building for the first time. That feeling that you are looking at history, a prototype of a major revolution in a creative endeavor; a sensation similar to viewing early sketches of a ground breaking artist.

The film explores the Drexel Home For The Aged in Hyde Park and looks at the first day (and the next several weeks) of new residents Bertha Weinberg and William Rocklin.

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Bertha Weinberg was moving into Drexel Home from the household of her Son and Daughter-in law.

Far from being a “snake pit” of neglect and abuse, Drexel Home was a very nurturing and caring environment (especially by today’s standards), and the two new residents are given extreme amounts of care as they make the hard transition to institutional life.

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William Rocklin was a fastidious and fiercely independent man who was forced to face the hard realization the he could no longer care for himself adequately.

 

The pair are helped through this process in a variety of ways; a slew of resident physicians (cardiologist, podiatrist, psychiatrist etc.) and support staff are dispatched to evaluate the pair and provide them with the requisite treatment and assistance. Almost 50 years old, this film is literally a look at another century and (after a half-century of America’s social infrastructure being systematically gutted)  is almost like a peek into a parallel dimension. Some strange fantasy world where the elderly are provided with medical/social services and people work out their differences through rational discussion and sensible compromise. Sadly enough, I had almost forgotten what this was like.

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Unpacking belongings.

A piece of history as well as a fine documentary, it is only fitting that Home For Life was restored and re-released in 2007; and I strongly encourage you to rent or buy the DVD for all the extra footage and interviews (which are worth it by themselves).

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Don’t let the hideous 1960’s International Style Architecture fool you- Drexel Home was a place of warmth and caring.

In the interview for the remastered edition, Quinn and Temaner discuss making the film and the innovations involved. Some were planned, like the duo rejecting pressure to include voice-overs from “experts” and instead deciding to let the footage speak for itself or showing long sequences to allow the viewer to become immersed in the narrative; but others came about as a consequence of the process- such as how Quinn (behind the camera) actually responds to a subject speaking to him and breaks the 4th Wall taboo under which documentarians had previously labored.

The bonus footage is also extremely edifying, especially a scene where the staff and management discuss concerns over new procedures as workloads are increased and duties evolve. This sequence really goes into “alien civilization” territory, as it’s almost dumbfounding to see workers and supervisors calmly and rationally working out their various problems and issues. Seriously, this film should be shown to everyone just so they might see and/or remember what that sort of dialogue process looked like.

Aside from being a fascinating artifact of A Seemingly Bygone Civil Society, Home For Life is also touching as a portrait of and meditation on the closing act of the cycle of life. The film aptly illustrates how difficult it is not only for people themselves to become old and infirm but also the emotional toll it takes upon their families and loved ones.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record- this is yet another must-see for Kartemquinites.

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Drexel Home residents “getting their gamble on.” Youngsters will be stunned by the footage of people not only smoking indoors, but during business and staff meetings.

Part 2 of my ABC 7 interview segments aired last month, and it features even more of my waxing rhapsodic about Chicago Film:

 

 

And here is Part 1 in case you missed it:

 

It has been such a thrill to be a part of such fantastic tributes to the Chicago Production Industry. I sincerely hope these segments bring even more recognition to what a wonderful place Chicago is to make a film or television show. Please share with everyone you can and help once again make Chicago the worldwide production hub that it was in the early 1900’s (when 1 out of every 5 films was made here)!

 

Oh Yeah— And BUY MY BOOK!!! 😉

 

Kevin’s Movie Corner has an excellent review of Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition. Check it out here!

 

 

I especially enjoy the fact that he had read the original edition and loved the additions I made and the extra material that Arnie put in the history section:

I had bought, and enjoyed, the first edition of the book, but there’s a lot of fascinating new material on hand for the new edition. So many movies have been shot in the Chicago area since the first book came out that there’s lots of interesting tidbits to enjoy.
 
The book is loaded with not only stories and anecdotes, but interviews with moviemakers with deep Chicago roots, such as writer/director Harold Ramis, producer Michael Shamberg, actress Irma P. Hall and so many others.
 
Plus, the authors have substantially beefed up the section on the early days of cinema, where for a short time it looked like Chicago might be the nation’s movie making capital. This is what I found particularly interesting.
Yes!!! He then goes on to detail several tidbits and sidebars that he found enjoyable and intersperses it with fascinating stories of his own encounters with Chicago Film. It is really a fine piece of work.
The takeaway here is that Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition is the perfect gift for that relative or loved one who is an old movie buff!!!

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http://kevinsmoviecorner.blogspot.com/2013/12/book-review-hollywood-on-lake-michigan.html

Here is the ABC 7 News segment featuring me discussing Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition and Chicago Film. I couldn’t be more pleased with how well it turned out. Enjoy!!!

 

WOW! I watch the ABC 7 News At 4 pretty regularly and it was SUCH a surreal and wonderful experience to see ME suddenly appear on screen in the midst of such a well done piece of work. Incredibly reifying!!!

A big thanks to Producer Marsha Jordan for her kindness and general awesomeness. And a huge shout out to Tonya Davis for a brilliant editing job!!!

Part 2 will be airing at some point in the future. Stay tuned for details!

I will be giving my Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition Slide Presentation and selling/signing books:

Thursday, October 24 at The Mather’s More Than A Cafe, 7134 W Higgins Ave. 1:00 p.m.

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Hollywood on Lake Michigan,2nd Edition Live!
Michael Corcoran, Historian/Author

In the early history of films, one out of every five motion pictures was made right here in Chicago! Michael discusses early film history in Chicago and entertains us with stories about more recent Chicago films and locations; descriptions of some great, yet unknown, Chicago films; profiles of people he interviewed for his book; and hilarious stories about his efforts to update Arnie Bernstein’s beloved Chicago classic, Hollywood on Lake Michigan.
Suggested Donation $8

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This picture of the aftermath of the Car vs Train collision in the movie Running Scared (1986) is just one of the many behind the scenes photos I will be showing and discussing. (Photo courtesy of Bob Janz)

Stop on by if you can, it shall be a fun and frolicking time. Where else are you going to see a picture of Gary Coleman in a bright chartreuse body stocking?

The World Premiere of my Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition Lecture!!!

Saturday, October 5        4PM

I am appearing in Lisle this coming Saturday, October 5 at 4PM at The Lisle Depot Baggage Room (921 School St.) as part of The History Author Series of The Museums At Lisle Station Park. I will be holding forth about the History and Present of Chicago Film and telling stories of my herculean struggle to update Arnie Bernstein’s beloved Chicago classic.  I will also be selling (cash only) and signing copies afterwards.

It’s going to be a very fun afternoon, so stop on by!!!

 

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 WHERE ELSE ARE YOU GOING TO SEE A PICTURE OF A YOUNG GARY COLEMAN IN A CHARTREUSE BODY STOCKING?

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