Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Our cinematic image preservation also gives Illinois some economic benefits

I’ll be the first to admit that I get a kick out of film and television productions where I can recognize Chicago in the background – even if it’s a Chicago of the past.

There’s even an otherwise-forgettable Bruce Willis film “Red” from a few years ago that I only remember because its story chose to have its tale of international intrigue wind up in the Second City – of all places.

POLITICAL CORRUPTION AND murder on a world-wide scale being resolved here. As if we didn’t have enough local political hacks and plots to contend with.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Because Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday tried to score himself some political points by boasting of the number of entertainment projects that are made in Chicago.

He cited $358 million being spent during 2013 – creating the equivalent of 4,200 full-time jobs. Which is nearly double the $184 million that was spent during 2012 – which previously had been considered a record-setting trend.

Are we in Chicago just that entertaining? Or gritty looking? Or are we generic enough that we can pass for the set of just about any place on Planet Earth?

I’M NOT GOING to get into the economics of it so much. All I know is that I find it amusing when I suddenly see a location on the film screen (yes, I still prefer the idea of seeing a film in a theater, rather than putting money into a red box to get a copy) that I routinely pass through.

Sometimes, even some fairly obscure spots that I’m amazed anyone else has ever heard of.

Heck, I know how residents of the Bush, a little subsection of the South Chicago neighborhood, still go on about how a little storefront once passed for the "Curl Up and Dye," a neighborhood beauty salon where actor Carrie Fisher could be seen reading technical manuals about flame-throwers and antipersonnel mines in her on-going plot to kill John Belushi's "Jake Blues" character in "The Blues Brothers."
For his part, Quinn went Tuesday to the set of “Chicago Fire,” a new television drama about firefighters in our fair city – which had better not dare think it could shoot anywhere else. Although anyone who ever saw the Blues Brothers sequel – “Blues Brothers 2000,” knows that the only thing worse than actor John Goodman trying to be a Belushi-like character was the sight of Toronto trying to think it could resemble Chicago.

OF COURSE, MUCH of the reason why so many productions are willing to come to Chicago is because the local government likes the idea of being used as a background for so many stories.

It’s quite a change from the days of “M Squad,” a 1950’s-era police cop show where actor Lee Marvin’s “Frank Ballinger” character gave us an image of a tough cop so over the top that one could argue that Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” character was a wimp, by comparison.

An image that helped influence then-Mayor Richard J. Daley into thinking that “Hollywood” attention just wasn’t worth the “bad” press!

Watching those “M Squad” episodes now, one realizes how limited the Chicago settings were – because film crews were usually trying to elude the authorities who would have cited them for the lack of a permit (that the city never would have issued).

IT’S NOT LIKE the later year films such as “The Blues Brothers,” which might be a simple-minded film with a sketchy story line – but which also used so many gritty Chicago scenes that the film truly is a tribute to a Chicago that isn’t truly with us anymore.

Similar to the old “Call Northside 777” film starring James Stewart as a Chicago Times reporter. Those scenes of Stewart wandering about the Back of the Yards back when it was a Polish enclave truly are something – along with other scenes depicting downtown sites that we have to think twice about what is there now.

In short, films that make the “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” moments at Wrigley Field or the Art Institute look just a bit simple, and lame, by comparison.

Although one of my favorite Chicago-based films to watch may well be “Medium Cool,” a late 1960s film that definitely is dated in its sensibilities and its look.

BUT HOW MANY other films could give us real-life moments of the now-infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention (it helped create an image that resulted in us getting Richard Nixon as president) and the protests that spouted out as a result of its presence in Chicago?

And how many other films could give us a candid moment with one of its own camera crews getting caught in the teargas that police used on said protesters?

Although the beauty of Grant Park throughout the years also manages to come through, despite the chaos that took place within it.


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