Big Picture: A New Take on Film in Chicago

November 3 – 27, 2007

Curated by Michelle Puetz and Andy Uhrich

Flanked by the Hollywood storytelling machine to the West, and the legacy of art cinema and cinéma-vérité documentary to the East, film production in the Chicago metropolis has historically been relegated to the realm of the industrial, commercial, and educational film. In collaboration with the exhibition The Big Picture: A New View of Painting in Chicago at the Chicago History Museum, these programs explore connections between traditions of industrial production and the under-valued amateur and artistic cinematic output of filmmakers working in Chicago and the Midwest.

Cityscape As Landscape: The City As An Ever Variable Constant
This program presents the ever-changing Chicago skyline as a backdrop for various cinematic interpretations of urban life. Mid-century films such as Wayne Boyer’s The Building: Chicago Stock Exchange (1975); Jack Behrend’s time-lapse footage of the construction of the Equitable building (1964); James Benning’s Chicago Loop (1976); and Kenji Kanesaka’s Super Up (1966) provide complex portraits of Chicago as rapidly changing industrial city.

Domestic Portraiture
This program illustrates the manner in which cinematic conventions are embedded in amateur film production, as well as the various ways in which non-professional films challenge the candy-coated portraits of domestic life presented by Hollywood and television. The home becomes a battleground of sorts in Margaret Conneely’s wonderful illustration of a group of fed-up housewives’ revenge on their husbands in Mister E (1959), while in Peter Kuttner’s Mary Had a Little Lamb (1966), a young African-American couple’s budding romance is the front line in the struggle between the sacred and the secular.

Form Becomes Function: The Institute of Design and the Art in Industry
Founded in 1937, László Moholy-Nagy’s Institute of Design has left a lasting legacy on the industrial and commercial creative output of the city of Chicago. Joining films directed by Moholy-Nagy with the work of his students and associates, this program examines the intersection of art and functionality, inspiration and occupation, and the visionary and the market driven in works that range from pure abstraction to the purely utilitarian. Films screening include László Moholy-Nagy’s Ein Lichtspiel - schwarz weiss grau (1930); Morton and Millie Goldsholl’s Union Pier Film Experiments (1942); and Ken Josephson’s 33rd and LaSalle (1962).

An Accidental Avant-Garde
This final program emphasizes Chicago’s unique contribution to art cinema and the filmic avant-garde. While most of these films can be categorized as experimental in form, they were produced by filmmakers who made a living by making films ranging from commercials and educational films to soft-core pornography. Films screening will include an unusual selection of regional home movies, Red Grooms’ Tappy Toes (1969), a comic-musical depiction of the late-60’s art group the “Hairy-Who” starring Ed Paschke, and Don Klugman’s Nightsong (1965), a portrait of Chicago’s Near-North nightclub scene which features legendary African-American folk singer Willie Wright.

Co-presented by the Chicago Film Archives, the Chicago History Museum, and the Gene Siskel Film Center. Curation and notes by Michelle Puetz and Andy Uhrich of the Chicago Film Archives.