Monday, April 13, 2015

Maybe Spike Lee should call his new movie "Eden"

     The Chicago City Council. The aldermen in it. Where do these jokers come from?
     Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) specifically. Ever heard of him? Me neither. But there he was, in the Sun-Times on Saturday, demanding that Spike Lee call his new movie something other than "Chiraq."
     "It's very offensive and, hopefully, he rethinks his position," Beale told our Fran Spielman. "He definitely needs to change the name."
     He does? Definitely? Or what?
     Maybe Beale will lead a squad of alderman to arrest the movie, the way Ald. Dorothy Tillman and a couple colleagues, backed by the cops, raided the School of the Art Institute to seize a painting.
     Not that we have to go back to 1988 to find Chicago officialdom acting as ham-handed censors. It's a Chicago tradition. Remember Persepolis? The acclaimed graphic novel that two years ago Barbara Byrd-Bennett yanked out of the public schools after one complaint. Or Bob Fioretti quashing a hot dog stand, "Felony Franks?"
     Doesn't Beale realize that sting of embarrassment over art quickly passes, but the stain of censorship never fades? He belongs to the same legislative body which, in 1965, voted its "unqualified condemnation" of Wright Junior College, for having James Baldwin's novel Another Country on a reading list?
     And why? Let's read from the City Council resolution. The book "extensively dwells upon homosexuality as though it had redeeming social value."
     It isn't always the City Council trying to toss a blanket over what they don't like. That's a game anyone can play. In 1958 the Archdiocese of Chicago banned the Everly Brothers' song "Wake Up Little Susie." Polish groups pushed the mayor to remove Nelson Algren's 1942 novel, Never Come Morning from library shelves. More on that later.
     No matter how far you go, you have bluenose Chicagoans jamming their sausage-fingers in the arts.
      In 1907, the Chicago Tribune thundered against nickelodeons for exerting "an influence that is wholly vicious." That was the same year Chicago instituted its movie censorship board, one of the first cities to do so. Chicago is a place that censored silent movies. Then gangster movies. Then Richard J. Daley was so insecure about the city's film image that he shut down production here altogether. His son had the head of the school board investigate students who acted in "Hardball" because kids in it swore a lot.
     The city's silent movie censorship backfired. The pink permits it issued to show movies had adult content became prized advertising tools.
     Censorship always backfires, bringing publicity to what these lunkheads are trying to squelch. News of Spike Lee's movie being shot here was in the gossip pages before, speculating on which stars would appear. Now it's news.
     Titles change. Lee might call it "Chiraq." Or he could change the title to "Eden," sarcastically, and include a scene where a dunce alderman pops his mouth off, making empty demands, as if Chicago's violence problem will be solved if nobody knows about it.
     Artists don't forget, and revenge is a dish best served cold. Mayor Kelly pulled Algren's book. But he had other books.
     In Chicago: City on the Make, Algren decries, "the medieval nonentities of City Hall who have gotten the work of Rossellini, Sartre and Denis Mitchell outlawed here don't care for the local talent either ... The Dziennik Chicagoski will get you if you don't watch out. The Polish Roman Catholic Union, having recently purchased Milwaukee Avenue, wants its property boosted, not described."
     That's it. In a nutshell. Beale wants the city "boosted, not described." Spike Lee hasn't shot a foot of film, and already he's flushing out the fools in Chicago, prompting them to leap up and wave, identifying themselves. Just imagine what the film itself will do.
      "Freedom of expression still doesn't mean you can insult the people of this city," Beale said of a movie that hasn't even been made yet.
     Actually, freedom of expression means exactly that. The embarrassment is that Beale doesn't seem aware of the fact.


  1. The worst part is that we let those bozos have real, unchecked power over things like zoning and city services. My alderman is a blithering idiot. how do they manage not to hurt themselves?

  2. Some so called do gooders don't want to face the reality of the big city or think they can keep things under wraps.

  3. I remember, during our strike, my alderman came to the picket line to complain how bad we made our city look, our blue ribbons were offensive, we were blocking decent people from using the sidewalk. Well, he just got voted out of office, replaced by a public school teacher. Heh.

  4. If you want to impress a moody artsy young-un, give them a copy of Algren's "The Man with the Golden Arm," a novel so bleak and tough it makes the movie version look like a romcom comedy in comparison and books like "Last Exit to Brooklyn" seem like pale imitations. Ernest Hemingway once wrote this hilarious (but laudatory) review, which he used to mock Henry James as a wimp in comparison. He said Algren's writing might kill you if you weren't careful and ended it "Mr. Algren, damn you're good" or something like that.

  5. I've always considered Spike Lee an overrated, self-important twerp, and my first thought on hearing about "Chiraq" was, Why is he picking on Chicago in particular, when practically every major American city has problems with violence?

    Then the heavy-handed Chicago officials came along and accomplished the seemingly impossible task of making Lee look sympathetic. Well done.

  6. No lie - when I first heard "Chiraq" I thought somebody was doing a biopic on Jacques Chirac, and I'm like, I think you can pick a more amusing French politician to do a film on....

  7. That Sun-Times writer, John Fountain, often mentions the word Chiraq in his columns, in reference to the violence here.

  8. "Maybe that's the definition -- you're a Chicagoan if, wherever you are at the moment, Chicago is the place you'd like to be." That's an observation of Neil's that was quoted on Twitter by somebody yesterday and then re-tweeted by our host today, from what I can tell. Personally, I'd have gone with "delusional" rather than "a Chicagoan", but toMAYto -- toMAHto, I suppose. ; )

    1. That's a line from my last book, which someone was tossing around Twitter, and I figured I'd help out. I was once on the Eurostar, heading into Venice, and I thought, sincerely, "Why am I going to Venice? I don't want to be in Venice; I want to be back in Chicago." Of course I had been away from home for nearly six weeks at that point.

  9. Yes, I'd rather not be here in winter time.

  10. Sorry you didn't appreciate your visit to Venice, Mr. S. Italy can be a wonderful place to visit-perhaps another city there was preferable.

    1. Where did you get THAT from? I said before I got there I was homesick for Chicago. Once I got there, I loved it. You can't appreciate a place you haven't yet been.

  11. I'm reminded of an extralegal aldermanic intervention when a painting of the late Mayor Washington was displayed at a private student exhibit at SAIC. Rush, Tillman & Co stormed the exhibit, carted off and damaged the painting at a cost of 100k to the city, in the process also ensuring that a million or so people would see the offending object instead of just a few hundred.


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