Chicago seen and questioned in 1961 documentary | WBEZ
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Set in Chicago, early 1960s doc seeks a fairer urban America

Here is a glimpse of Chicago from 1961, courtesy of The City of Necessity, a film co-produced more than 50 years ago by a contingent of local religious organizations.

The 22-minute film was a bid to show the benefits of living in cities, using Chicago as an example. There are shots of Chicago's early midcentury skyline, a parade down State Street (Streets and San's space-age float at the 5:53 mark is worthy of pausing and replaying) and good footage of old buildings being demolished.

But the documentary's framers are also pushing for a more humane and inclusive city.

"The promise of the city is not always fulfilled," narrator George Ralph intones. "Often one becomes a statistic in an unemployment office."

The cameras venture out into white, black and Latino neighborhoods--and the level of poverty and dilapidation is alarming by today's standards. Race and class are noted in the documentary.

"We have no ghetto, and we have no Negro ghetto," Mayor Richard J. Daley is heard saying.

Then the film provides footage to the contrary.

We see Chicago nightlife at 16:30. The montage of peep shows, tattoo parlors and the "Girls Girls Girls" sign set to a burlesque-grade rock and roll score is the best part of the documentary. 

After its release, the City of Necessity won a Golden Gate award at the San Francisco Film Festival. A copy of the film is the U.S.. National Archives.

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