One of the many treasures of the Music Box Theatre's 70mm movie festival: Jacques Tati's Playtime from 1967.
Playtime is a personal favorite, because one doesn't often see architecture and "place" played for laughs. It's an infinitely fascinating French film with endless and ingenious sight-gags, set-ups and visual puns--often playing out simultaneously at various spots on the screen--involving Tati's character, the befuddled Mr. Hulot in an increasingly modern Paris.
Indeed, Paris is so gray, glassy and architecturally modern, Hulot and the characters can hardly function within it. Glass-walled lobbies, low-slung leather furniture all become problems. And then there is a magnificent, 45-minute scene in which a modern restaurant slowly goes haywire on its opening night.
Beneath the laughs, Playtime is asking real questions about what architectural modernism was doing to authentic and individualistic places.
So it is worth celebrating when good design occurs in the community, as is the case with La Casa Student Housing and Resource Center, a college dorm that opened last fall in the Pilsen neighborhood.
The six-story building at 18th and Paulina cuts a tall, graceful figure along 18th, with masonry exterior walls that pull back—and up—to reveal glassy corners and a base.The building hits the right note in the historic neighborhood by using heft and masonry of its older neighbors, then reworking the elements into a contemporary form.
Designed for Chicago college students who want to stay close to home, the $12 million building is the brainchild of The Resurrection Project. La Casa has 25 four-bedroom suites and amenities such as a fitness center, tutors and on-site counseling.
The building’s purpose and program have garnered it early acclaim, including a New York Times profile. And now its design is getting notice.
For the past few years, Chicago photographer David Schalliol has been telling us--showing us--that Chicago's West and South Sides are disappearing. Building by building; block by block.
As a native South Sider, I see Schalliol's haunting photos of clipped rowhouses, single-family homes standing alone against wide vacant lots and I am reminded of Johnny Ola's great and wistful line in Godfather II: "One by one, our old friends are gone. Death--natural or not..."
Earlier this week, I told you of a beautiful old printing plant in the Washington Park neighborhood that is now being demolished to make way for a Northfolk Southern Railroad truck depot. But look above and check out The Area, the fascinating mini-documentary that appeared on Gapers Block The Grid series this week.
For a brief moment in 1970, Bird of the Iron Feather was one of the most-talked about programs on local television.
Produced by Chicago public television station WTTW, Bird was television's first black soap opera. But the program dodged the usual soap opera plot conventions and took an unflinching look at the harsh realities of ghetto life. Race. Poverty. School desegregation. Police brutality and corruption. Set in Chicago and coming on the heels of late 1960s racial unrest here and across the country, Bird was as topical as the evening news.
But the show was canceled after a few months. And episodes of Bird have been rarely seen and never aired since.
Until now, at least. Check out the video above. In a bit of insomnia last night, I ran across a link to the archives of television historian and author J. Fred MacDonald, professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University. Among the treasures there, MacDonald has a full episode of Bird of the Iron Feather that aired January 14, 1970.
Bird's opening credits featured a swinging and supremely funky theme song performed by Oscar Brown Jr. with Jimmy Ellis on sax.
Here's another gem from our friends at the Chicago Film Archives: The City to See in '63, a 12-minute, 16mm color film touting the places, spaces and other virtues of Chicago.
There is some good stuff here. You can see Marina City's residential towers under construction and neon signs blazing at night--nothing said "big city" like neon back then. There are glimpses of long gone places such as the Chicago Sun-Times Building, demolished in 2004; White Sox Park, which was bulldozed in 1991; Riverview amusement park which was wrecked in '67 and the first McCormick Place, which burned down the same year.
I like that neighborhoods were included. Logan Square, Garfield Park and old Maxwell Street made the cut. So did the modernist, backswept North Avenue Beach chess pavilion, which was only about five years old at the time.
The purposely deadpan narration--written like Carl Sandburgesque poem to the city--is also amusing. "You pride yourself in gangster lore and brutal frontier politics," narrator says at one point. "Yet...how do you explain [the] Art Institute and your...how many...universities and colleges?"
The City to See is the work of the late Chicago filmmaker Margaret Conneely and was done when the amateur film movement was big here.