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Chicago Celebrates 100 Years of Cinema

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To celebrate the anniversary of cinema's invention in 1895, Ines Sommer has organized a program of films "made in and about Chicago," beginning with the 1897 Stockyards. Most offer an unglamorous view of the city's grittier sides. I especially like Conrad O. Nelson's Halsted Street (1931) and James Davis's Pertaining to Chicago (1957), both of which are in the tradition of topographic paintings and photographs. Davis's film is a lyrical paean to a city in motion: he intercuts shots from moving trains to create a clear rhythm and pans tall buildings along their architectural lines, making them seem to soar upward. Nelson's Halsted Street follows this quintessential Chicago artery from the far south side--the second image shows a horse-drawn plow--through poor neighborhoods to a wealthy riding club on the north side. The contrast between rich and poor on the street itself and images of a man hurrying to a rally make the film's leftist politics clear, but its geographic sense is what makes it unique. Rather than trying to blend images, Nelson framed his shots to suggest that each offers only a limited window on the street or the city; many images begin and end with streetcars, autos, and pedestrians entering and leaving the frame, calling attention to the space outside each shot's rectangle, redirecting our eyes, so used to isolating points of interest, to the whole street. On the same program: See America First (1915), Goodnight, Socrates (1962), Tom Palazzolo's The Bride Stripped Bare (1967), Trick Bag (1975), and several excerpts. Presented by Chicago Filmmakers and the Chicago Historical Society; tickets are $15. Chicago Historical Society, Clark at North, Thursday, December 7, 6:30, 384-5533 or 642-4600.

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