The celluloid ghetto: Cabrini Green in film

April 1, 2011

They began this week knocking down the last high rise at Cabrini-Green this week.

But the complex which symbolized the worst of the city's public housing--Cabrini was called "notorious" in seemingly every newspaper headline, live shot or social critique of the place over the past 40 years--has achieved a bit of immortality: The Near North Side housing project was immortalized in television and film from the 1970s through the 1990s.

James and Florida Evans raised their kids there in the 1970s sitcom "Good Times," the above clip.

Not far from the projects, Stone, Damon and Robert killed Cochise as the EL screeched overhead in the 1975 classic "Cooley High."

And a one-armed creature from beyond the grave lived in Cabrini-Green and terrorized residents--and a nosy blonde graduate student--in 1992's "Candyman."

I sometimes covered crime in Cabrini-Green when I was a young reporter in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It could be a place of sudden and unspeakable cruelty and violence. But the video below, taken on a summer day in what looks like 1979 or so, tells a different story. No so much a counterpoint as, perhaps, a calm in the storm. But it's still remarkable. It's a festival of some kind, with kids lining up for snow cones, and children in afro-puffs and painted faces as the R&B vocal group does a pretty fine job singing The Doobie Brothers "Minute by Minute."

The grainy black-and-white video looks like snipped of someone's memory. And as the last tower comes down and Cabrini ceases to exist, memories of the place are all that will remain soon. And film.