A Peek At The Past



Here is an interview I did for the Outside The Loop radio show on WLUW.
I come on right after the first break:

Click here for the show.

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.

HOLM 2 Book Cover

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


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?

This is a wonderful event where you can take in your old home movies to be evaluated by professional film restorers. If they are in viewable condition you can also screen them that evening for an appreciative audience.

Chicago Film Archives & Northwest Chicago Film Society present….


Saturday, October 19th (11AM-3PM), Chicago History Museum

Go down to the basement and dig out your Super 8 memories of that interminable trip to Idaho or that embarrassing 16mm footage of your mother’s rockin’ bat mitzvah and bring them to the Chicago History Museum on Saturday, October 19 for this year’s edition of Home Movie Day. Jointly presented for the third year in a row by Chicago Film Archives and the Northwest Chicago Film Society, Home Movie Day offers Chicagoans the opportunity to gather together and share their celluloid histories.

Home movies provide invaluable records of our families and our communities: they document vanished storefronts, questionable fashions, adorable pets, long-departed loved ones, and neighborhoods-in-transition. Many Chicagoans still possess these old reels, passed down from generation to generation, but lack the projection equipment to view them properly and safely. That’s where Home Movie Day comes in: you bring the films, and we inspect them, project them, and offer tips on storage, preservation, and video transfer–all free of charge. And best of all, you get to watch them with an enthusiastic audience, equally hungry for local history.
All Chicagoans are encouraged to attend and participate in Home Movie Day. This year’s edition will also spotlight two special neighborhoods: Bronzeville and Ravenswood Manor. Unique home movies will resurrect the rich history of Bronzeville’s storied performance hall The Forum and offer glimpses of surprisingly dangerous boyhood diversions along the Chicago River, circa 1970. Watch out, too, for the home movies of Olympic medalist Ralph Metcalfe.

Come for the home movies and stay for Home Movie Day Bingo; prizes include memberships to the Gene Siskel Film Center and Chicago Filmmakers and a $100 gift certificate for home movie video transfer services.

When: Saturday, October 19, 2013
What Time: 11AM-3PM
Chicago History Museum

1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois, go to map

Admission: Free! (Donations Welcome)
More info: http://www.chicagofilmarchives.org/current-events/chicago-home-movie-day-2013
Facebook eventhttps://www.facebook.com/events/330879947055507/

In honor of the screening of Goldstein at The Patio Theater on Friday night I am re-posting this review of the film which I wrote several years ago.


"I saw a man, he danced on the breakwater." The prophet Elijah gets his groove on down on the lake front.

“I saw a man, he danced on the breakwater.” The prophet Elijah gets his groove on down on the lake front.


This is very old news, but the always informative and funny blog of  Lynn Becker hipped me to the new section on Chicago in films that the brilliant folks who run Forgotten Chicago have started on their site, entitled Drama, Documentation and Discontinuity. As befits the subject of their blog, they concentrate on older films mostly from the “Daley I” drought years of the 50’s and 60’s.

Much like the rest of their work, the new section is a fascinating blend of historical info and trenchant meta-commentary. I was so inspired by their fine work that I finally rented Goldstein (1965), the first film by eclectic writer/director Philip Kaufman.

Although the film falters overall (as fabulous as Kaufman’s later work was, his debut project was an amateurish aping of French new wave film), the parts are greater than the whole and it functions as a valuable record of several important Chicago persons, places, and things (yes, a celebration of the noun!). Aside from the buildings and locations, Goldstein showcases some of the most talented actors and performers ever to call Chicago home, particularly those from the earliest days of Second City/Compass Players.

Some of the buildings not mentioned in Forgotten Chicago are:

Block 37 before it was razed, sat vacant for a few decades, and became home to the current monstrous structure that occupies the land.

Soldier Field- What a Spartan place it was back then! With nothing but uncomfortable looking bleachers ringing the inside of the classical coliseum.

A shot of the now-unused spotlight on top of the Palmolive Building blazing away (you can really see why residents of the John Hancock Building immediately put the kibosh on the lamp as they moved in just across the street.

An amusing chase sequence through a large sausage factory was also a treat.

As far as some of the amazing performers featured:

Del Close- One of the greatest improvisational gurus of all time and creator of the long form improvisational framework known as Harold, which revolutionized improvisation. Charna Halpern (and later Del himself) used it as the backbone of perhaps the most innovative and eclectic improv theater companies ever, the io. The long form also revitalized Second City when concepts central to it were integrated into main stage shows. Some time I’ll tell the story of how Del scared the utter living bejesus out of me when I was a young stand-up comic.

Viola Spolin– Those people whose young lives were rocked upon reading Improvisation For The Theater won’t need to ask who she is, everybody else needs to do some clicking. To sum it up, she conceived the first games and exercises that formed the foundation of what we know today as improvisation.

Nelson Algren– Yeah, that’s right, Nelson Freakin’ Algren. In all his brilliant prose writing, Simone De Beauvoir exciting resplendence. Right there in his authorial lair. Nelson tells a story whilst the camera pans around his apartment, lingering longingly over his array of nudie centerfolds scattered amidst the books, photos, and awards. The slow pan of Algren’s books is a valuable document in itself (I need to go back and freeze it again and jot all those titles down).

There also were quite a few other early SC alums in the film, including Severn Darden, Anthony Holland, and Jack Burns (from the comedy duo Burns and Shreiber).

Goldstein is a wonderful glimpse into many aspects of Chicago’s past. Just let it wash over you though, and don’t expect it to make any sense.

There are many shots of this man wandering through mid-1960's Chicago.
There are many shots of this man wandering through mid-1960’s Chicago.

Just got this late notice from the Chicago Film Archives about a co-produced event with the Northwest Chicago Film Society happening this Friday.

GOLDSTEIN in 35mm!

Friday, October 4th (7:30 PM), Patio Theater

the Northwest Chicago Film Society and Chicago Film Archives present the locally produced feature….

Directed by Philip Kaufman and Benjamin Manaster • 1964 • 84 min • Montrose Film Productions • 35mm from George Eastman House
A ragtag, charmingly self-conscious attempt at forging an American nouvelle vague, Goldstein was the first feature of University of Chicago graduate Philip Kaufman. Shot entirely on the streets of Chicago during the fall of 1963, Goldstein offers an invaluable record of apartments, factories, and downtown movie palaces soon buried by urban renewal. The loose storyline follows the audacious adventures of a Hassidic hobo (Lou Gilbert) who emerges from Lake Michigan, but the many digressions include visits with folksy poets, wacky abortionists, novelist Nelson Algren, and Second City veterans Severn Darden, Anthony Holland, and Tom Erhard. A rousing success at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, where it won La prix de la nouvelle critique, Goldstein reminds us, too, of the perilous fate of many independent productions. With no studio to look after it and the original camera negative long missing, Goldstein has been newly restored from Kaufman’s personal print. Preservation funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. (NWCFS)
Goldstein is part of Chicago Artists Month 2013, the 18th annual celebration of Chicago’s vibrant art community presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.  For more information, visit www.chicagoartistsmonth.org
When: Friday, October 4th
What Time: 7:30PM
Patio Theater

6008 West Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL go to map

Admission: $5
More info: http://www.chicagofilmarchives.org/current-events/goldstein
Facebook eventhttps://www.facebook.com/events/454333994685915/

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!!!




Another blogger positively reviewed HOLM 2- but this one inadvertently “outed” me with a link on my name so I might as well just come clean about it. When I was VERY young and impressionable…uhhhhm this is sooo embarrassing… I was a Civil War General.

There, I feel SOOO much better now that I got that off my chest!


HOLM 2 Book Cover

Confession really is good for the soul!



My appearance on WGN Radio 720 with Matt Bubala is now up on the web!!! Click Here To Listen



It was ALMOST as fun as jumping up and down on the bed singing rock songs into a hairbrush, but not quite! 😉

Talking about Chicago History and taking calls from listeners; it doesn’t get much better than that. I was in Pontification Heaven! A huge Thank You to Matt Bubala and everybody at WGN!!!

The hits just keep on comin!. Arnie and I are on the venerable Chicago PBS news digest Chicago Tonight to discuss the history and present of film in Chicago.

“Hollywood on Lake Michigan”

Chicago Tonight | July 11, 2013  7 pm

A new book takes a look at how Chicago became a leading lady on the silver screen. Hollywood on Lake Michigan looks at the city’s role in developing cinema throughout the past 100 years. Authors Michael Corcoran and Arnie Bernstein join us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm.




I had to do something to make this post more visually interesting- so here’s a wacky photo from the internet. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for the emotional over-saturation of the psyche engendered by electronic media.

Kartemquin Korner is a weekly-ish segment spotlighting a particular selection from Kartemquin Films, the finest documentary production company this side of the spiral arm of the galaxy. This week’s installment:

The Inquiring Nuns (1968)


Who wouldn’t want to answer a question from these two smiling nuns? Not surprising that they both left the order within a few years of doing this film- neither one looks like they would enjoy tormenting a child!


Co-Directed by Kartemquin founders Gordon Quinn and Jerry Temaner, The Inquiring Nuns was one of the collective’s first projects. It features music by a very young Phillip Glass and was filmed on Kartemquin’s now legendary first camera. The Inquiring Nuns was inspired by a French film, Chronicle Of A Summer (1960), which itself inspired the cinema verite movement– which in turn led to reality television and the current glut of shows about worthless yet photogenic proto-humans (must take the bad with the good I guess).


The Inquiring Nuns features two young nuns (Sister Marie Arne and Sister Mary Campion) traveling around various circa 1968 Chicago locales (the Art Institute, the MSI, a supermarket, outside churches etc.) and asking people the same question posed by its French inspiration, “Are You Happy?”


This interview also provides an insight into the fact that one used to be able to get a steak in this town for $1.29!

The responses range from the glib to the profound and offer a fascinating glimpse into 1968 Chicago/USA and the human condition in general. At first the project seems like a lark, but becomes increasingly deep as more people open up to the pair of earnest inquisitors. It doesn’t hurt that the filmmakers found the most adorable nuns since Sally Field strapped on her flying habit to ask their question- a far cry from the stern, yardstick wielding Dogmafascists which terrorized me in my youth!


Some segments offer hilariously unintended insights into the folks being interviewed, like a couple who were obviously seeing each other on the sly (“Is this going to be shown anywhere?” they ask nervously). Others offer a glimpse more into the relationship dynamics of the couples or the internal lives of the individuals answering the question rather than the question itself.


One wonders what became of this young boy who emphasized one of his father’s qualifying remarks by forcefully intoning “I am happy TODAY!!!”


As one can imagine, the war in Vietnam was foremost on the minds of many interviewees, as well as the social strife of the era in general- but in many ways The Inquiring Nuns points out the cyclical nature of societal trends and how little people really seemed to have changed in the past 50ish years.


The Inquiring Nuns works both as a glimpse into the past and as an insight into certain permanent aspects of the human condition. It is definitely worth a look by contemporary audiences- and is also a project that needs to be repeated {this time with Buddhist nuns}!


Chicagoans say the darnedest things when asked open-ended philosophical questions by a pair of inquisitive sisters.


Christopher Borrelli of the Chicago Tribune did a marvelous piece about The Inquiring Nuns which features more of the history, back story, and subsequent influence the film had on society and culture (although it’s hidden behind a pay wall so you will have to register):


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