Oddballs and True Believers
There are advantages to being a vendor, says Wrigley Field beer man and video director David Levenson. "The money's decent, you're independent, and it's basically a mindless job, so you're free to think about other things." A decade ago, when the old Comiskey Park was about to be dismantled and Levenson, who's also an artist, was taking photographs of it, his fellow vendor Bob Chicoine was memorializing the park in his own way. Sweating his way up and down the stands with a fistful of bills and two dozen beers hanging from his shoulders, Chicoine was composing an epic poem, turning the verses over in his head. That poem, Levenson's (and other) photographs, and some original music became The Wrecking of Old Comiskey Park, a 37-minute video the two made with the help of vendor Jimmy Mack and a Sox fan who's a professional video editor, Jim Hausfeld. The tape came out in 1992, sold 1,500 copies, and--to its creators' surprise--turned a profit. It was a great first inning, followed by a long delay. The group's second video, Wrigley Field: Beyond the Ivy, will have its first public showing this weekend.
Levenson says Beyond the Ivy was made possible by the advent of inexpensive digital cameras. Nearly four years in the making, it moves Bougainville Productions beyond the Ken Burns-Civil War style of their first project and into a live-action mix of fictionalized episodes and stranger-than-fiction documentary footage. The catalyst for and linchpin of the piece is Buffalo Grove artist Steve Wolf, who called Levenson after seeing the Comiskey video on television to announce that he was building a model of Wrigley Field. Levenson and Hausfeld, who had been tossing around ideas with Chicoine, went out to take a look. What they found--Wolf working 16 hours a day on the painstaking, living-room-size re-creation that no one had commissioned and he couldn't afford to keep--hit them like a fastball off Sammy Sosa's bat. Hausfeld turned to Levenson, suddenly understanding what they needed to do. "'Maybe Steve is the story,' he said," Levenson recalls. "We never wanted to make a video about the cliches of baseball--hot dogs, fathers and sons. Now we saw that we needed to focus on the characters."
For the next three years, while Wolf completed his model, Bougainville mined the rich field of obsessive behavior in and around Wrigley. They taped Ronnie "Woo" and the bleacher bums, of course, but they also got the man in the death seat, the barflies, the scalpers, and the neighborhood hangers-on--oddball losers, likable or not. They documented Waveland Avenue's ballhawk culture, where Moe Mullins, who's recovered more than 3,500, is king, and followed him home to gape at his bounty: 1,000 major-league balls hoarded like dinosaur eggs. And when a struggle broke out over Sosa's 62nd home run ball, Levenson was there, catching the bloodied Mullins vowing a court battle to get the ball back. Then they wrote a letter to William Petersen and got him to narrate. Levenson paid him with a painting and a promise.
Bougainville Productions is now $30,000 in debt, says Chicoine, who, when he's not hauling beer or writing poems, is a CPA. But Beyond the Ivy is having a preview party (they'll show half the tape) tonight, October 5, at the Piano Man, 3801 N. Clark, and a premiere at the Gene Siskel Film Center November 10. WTTW is considering airing it next spring, and the producers are hoping to find a distributor. Meanwhile, Beyond the Ivy is for sale for $23 a copy on their Web site, www.wrigleyfieldvideo.com. Wolf's model is on permanent display at Murphy's Bleachers.
Film Center's New Marquee Player
The School of the Art Institute's Gene Siskel Film Center announced a coming attraction this week: Randy Adamsick, who resigned from his job as executive director of the Minnesota Film Board in July and is coming on as the Film Center's new executive director November 1. Adamsick will outrank the center's longtime head, Barbara Scharres, and will take over the administrative portion of her job; Scharres's title will change from director to director of programming.
Adamsick, 51, left his old job "not knowing what I was going to do." During his 11-year tenure 70 films were made in Minnesota, including the one he's proudest of--Fargo. But lately, he says, "it's much harder to get films to shoot. Most of the production is going to Canada. We're down to one or two a year. It's frustrating. I wanted a change." He had already resigned when a friend E-mailed him about the opening at the Film Center; he was chosen from an initial field of 80 candidates.
"It's going to be a homecoming," Adamsick says. "I grew up in Peotone. My older brother brought me to the Loop every school holiday, and he'd drag me to the Art Institute. A few years later I was an art history major at the University of Chicago." He ended up getting a BA in English from the University of Minnesota, and as administrative director of the University Film Society he launched the Minneapolis/Saint Paul International Film Festival. Then he became the first director of the Minneapolis Office of Film, Video, and Recording.
Scharres came to the Film Center 26 years ago as a part-time projectionist and soon became its technical director, a position she held until 13 years ago, when Richard Pena left to run the New York Film Festival. As director she expanded on the center's reputation as a showcase for classic cinema by bringing in a lot more international work, most notably Asian and Middle Eastern films. She also oversaw development of the center's sleek new two-screen State Street home, where it moved last spring. Audiences were disappointingly light during June and early July--about the time the search for a new honcho began. "Since then we've done extremely well," says SAIC president Tony Jones. "But we need someone who can get the message out there, in Chicago as well as regionally and nationally." Plus "there's an awful lot of administrative and management activity with the expanded Film Center. We're wasting Barbara's talent in those ways. She wants to do programming and that's what I want her to do too. She's brilliant at that."
Scharres says average combined attendance at the new location's two rooms equals or exceeds attendance at the old facility, where there was only one screen. "We're spreading our business out over a lot more showings," she notes. On November 1 the Film Center goes from being open five to seven days a week. "We have to increase the audience," she says, "but we're in a great location to do it." As for Adamsick's top billing: "This is a big institution. Things work in an institutional way."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.