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January 30, 2013

Out of the Shadows

Left: Sybil Shearer (image courtesy of the Morrison Shearer Foundation);Right: John Neumeier

Slowly, slowly modernist dancer and choreographer Sybil Shearer is emerging from the shadows.  After a successful dance premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1941, Shearer decided to come to Chicago to develop her art in the open landscapes of the Midwest.  She built a studio in Northbrook, IL and mentored and inspired many young artists including John Neumeier, Director and chief Choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet.  This weekend Neumeier and the Hamburg Ballet present Nijinsky at the Harris Theater.

Sid Smith wrote this article for the Chicago Tribune about the Midwest artistic giants who influenced Neumeier’s work. In it, Neumeier mentions Sybil Shearer, stating “From the point of view of movement and movement invention, from a sense of inner concentration, Sybil is my greatest inspiration…I didn’t realize it at the time. Sybil was slow-working; she prepared and prepared something and then would shelve it to work on something else. As a young man, I was impatient. But in retrospect, I deeply appreciate what she gave me.”

CFA houses and manages the Morrison-Shearer film collection for the Morrison-Shearer Foundation. To learn more about Sybil Shearer, you can go to CFA’s Explore Collections page or to the Morrison-Shearer Foundation website.

The Hamburg Ballet performs Nijinsky Friday, Februray 1 and Saturday, February 2 at the Harris Theater. And on Monday, February 4, John Neumeier will be talking with Northwestern University’s Susan Manning at the Arts Club of Chicago.

January 28, 2013

A Spotlight on Mort & Millie Goldsholl

Full cover and spine of CHICAGO MAKES MODERN

At the turn of the new year, University of Chicago Press and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago published the anthology Chicago Makes Modern: How Creative Minds Changed Society. This much-needed scholarship, co-edited by Mary Jane Jacob (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) & Jacquelyn Baas (University of California Berkley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive), looks at Chicago’s connection to the twentieth-century modernist movement and discusses how and why the Windy City continues to drive the modern world. More specifically, it looks at the key Chicago figures or innovators entrenched in modernism, from “the radical social and artistic perspectives implemented by Jane Addams, John Dewey, and Buckminster Fuller to the avant-garde designs of László Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe.”

The chapter titled “Designers in Film: Goldsholl Associates, the Avant-Garde, and MidcenturyAdvertising Films” shines light on the Chicagoans, Morton (Mort) and Millie Goldsholl. Here, Amy Beste (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) looks at the Goldsholls’ relation to the Bauhaus-inspired School of Design and the industrial films that came out of their design firm, Goldsholl Design Associates. Chicago Film Archives acquired the fascinating film collection of Mort and Millie Goldsholl back in 2012. The Mort & Millie Goldsholl Collection consists of commercials and industrial films that Goldsholl Design Associates made for their clients, experimental films and animations made by both Mort and Millie, unedited travel films shot by Mort and Millie and films (primarily animated) that the two collected over the years.

The industrial films within this collection played a significant role in Beste’s Goldsholl scholarship, some of the first on the two. Beste describes these particular films as “playful, constructivist collages, stylized graphic animation, and dazzling light displays.” From the time the Goldsholls began making films in the late 1950s through the 1980s, their work reached millions of viewers in conference rooms, living rooms, and film festivals across the country. But, as Beste proclaims, “In spite of their importance to design, film advertising and regional history the Goldsholls are virtually unknown today.”

With the help of Beste’s scholarship, we here at CFA hope to correct this omission in design history by reintroducing audiences to the innovative films that Mort & Millie made and collected over the years. In fact, a Goldsholl screening is currently in the works (more details TBA). In the mean time, you can view an interview with Millie Goldsholl and a selection of her films, here.

January 17, 2013

Chicago Academy of Sciences: Sidney Downey

Since November I have had the privilege to work on an expansive collection of 16mm films belonging to the Chicago Academy of Sciences. The Chicago Academy of Sciences, dubbed “the first Museum in the West,” was founded in 1857 to give scientists and nature aficionados a place to study and share the specimens they collected. Over the years, the Academy has amassed numerous collections ranging in subjects (from entomology to paleontology) and formats (from still photography to ancient fossils). The Academy also operates the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park Neighborhood. (learn more about the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ fascinating history, here)

Spanning the 1930s to the mid 1970s, their audio-visual collection covers a fascinating scope from a variety of filmmakers. Most of the films were shot in Kodachrome, and the stock’s excellent dye retention keeps them continuously charming.

One of the prominent series within the Academy’s collection is that of Sidney Downey. Downey began as a hunter in Kenya in the 1930s, but transitioned into photographic safari. Downey’s sprawling films capture wildlife in the Serengeti, with intimate views into pride dynamics and breathtaking landscapes. These stills are taken from his General Safari films, shot between 1959-1974 in Lang’ata, Amboseli, Masai Mara, Nakuru, Marsabit, Elmenteita, Tsavo, Shimba Hills, and Samburu in Kenya and Manyara, Ruaha, and Ngorongoro in Tanzania.


Downey’s film in its original can

Notes accompanying Downey’s film

Downey loved sunrises and sunsets over the Serengeti– he begins and ends almost all his films with them!

Downey’s collection of over 30 films are only a fraction of the gems in the Chicago Academy of Sciences. Up next: the ethnographic portraits of C.L. Frederick!


-Lauren Alberque


January 11, 2013

8 FLAGS FOR 99 CENTS Restoration

Yesterday we received a newly struck restoration print of Chuck Olin’s 8 FLAGS FOR 99 CENTS (1970) – a rarely seen documentary about a blue-collar community’s growing unease with the Vietnam War. 8 FLAGS FOR 99 CENTS was produced in response to President Nixon’s famous November, 1969 speech when he contrasted the unlawful and vocal anti-war protesters to the respectful “silent majority” who were in favor of remaining in Vietnam to fight communism. This film explores the thoughts and opinions of the “silent majority” represented by the folks living in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago.

8 FLAGS, along with another Chuck Olin film, A MATTER OF OPPORTUNITY (1968), were preserved thanks to a grant from the Nation Film Preservation Foundation (more on these two films, here). Endless thanks goes out to the NFPF and to Colorlab, who skillfully color corrected this 16mm film back to its original glory. A future screening of this new print is in the works… but in the mean time, here are some frame comparisons to give you a sense as to why we’re so excited about this new print! :

January 9, 2013

DeWitt Beall Collection Update

About a year ago, CFA went on a quest to find the film materials for LORD THING (1971), a documentary on the Conservative Vice Lords made by Chicago filmmaker and adman Dewitt Beall. Soon after our search began, film researcher Bucky Grimm found the film materials with Elina Katsioula-Beall, who then donated the films to CFA. Elina cared for her husband’s films since his passing in 2006 and took it upon herself to carefully inventory Dewitt’s collection of films and ship them our way.

In addition to the the 27 prints and elements associated with LORD THING, the Dewitt Beall Collection also contains a handful of other 16mm productions made by Dewitt. These productions are a mix of documentaries, commercials, sponsored films and a PBS television series (Earth Keeping) that never quite came to fruition.

Two stand outs from this mix of films are the sponsored documentaries, MAKING IT (1966) and A PLACE TO LIVE (1968).

MAKING IT, which was made by Beall for the American Can Corporation, looks at the obstacles African-American males face when building a career. As the narrator states, “this film is about his chances, about the changes that have been made and the problems still remaining.” The film includes interviews with men who are “making it,” or who are some of the first African-Americans in their field. These men discuss how they feel about their struggle at large and what changes they think have been made since their current career path began. Some of these men (Allen “Tiny” Evans and Henry Jordan), later became part of Dartmouth University’s Foundation Years Project – a program that transported members of the Vice Lords from Chicago to Dartmouth from 1967 to 1973. Beall, a 1962 graduate of Dartmouth, spear-headed this short-lived 1960s-era program, even suggesting potential candidates that he met while shooting MAKING IT and LORD THING (read more about this Dartmouth-North Lawndale connection over at Chicago Magazine).

I can’t help but draw obvious parallels between MAKING IT and Chuck Olin’s A MATTER OF OPPORTUNITY (1968). Both films are sponsored documentaries that look at the limited career opportunities afforded to African-Americans. A MATTER OF OPPORTUNITY, though, narrows its focus within the field of medicine and also expands the discussion to include African-American women. Both of these films arose from the burgeoning civil rights movement in the United States and gave voices to African-American professionals at a time when obstacles to their careers were still firmly in place.

MAKING IT (Dewitt Beall, 1966)

Two years after MAKING IT, Beall made A PLACE TO LIVE (1968) for the City of Chicago’s Department of Urban Renewal. This film attempts to defend the city’s redevelopment plan for residential and commercial urban renewal, and explains how relocation officers can assist those who have been recently displaced. As the narrator states, “we are tearing down what stands in the way of a better city. Some buildings must go simply because they occupy space needed for something else, but for the most part, it’s the worn out areas of the city that are making way for the new.” Surprisingly, the film also gives a voice (albeit, brief) to recently displaced home owners who express their rightful frustrations and distaste of the city’s urban renewal process. Instead of analyzing these opinions, though, the film shifts back to its main goals – convincing viewers of the necessity of urban renewal and highlighting the relocation services offered by the Department of Urban Renewal.

A PLACE TO LIVE (DeWitt Beall, 1968)

At this time, it’s unclear how these films were originally seen. We’re left with only can markings and speculations – MAKING IT was found in a can addressed to a PBS affiliate, while A PLACE TO LIVE was undoubtedly used for outreach (or propaganda, depending on your definition) purposes by the City of Chicago. To the best of our knowledge, these two prints may be the only ones out there in existence (perhaps this is a world premiere of sorts?!..but we don’t want to get too ahead of our selves).

We’re still in the process of wrapping our heads around this complicated collection, with loads of hand inspections, digitization & cataloging to go. We’re also looking forward to receiving a newly struck print of LORD THING from our friends over at Colorlab (thanks to a grant from the NFPF!!). We’ll be sure to keep you posted as more on these films and filmmaker unfold…

January 4, 2013

An Early Peek at the Ruth Page Collection!

BOLERO at Ravinia (HIghland Park, IL), 1928

Dancing with the Ravinia Opera as early as 1926, Ruth Page (herself only 26 years old) was also given the chance to choreograph large-scale performances at Ravinia’s north of Chicago outdoor venue.

Last year CFA discovered several 35mm nitrate film elements in the Page Collection. As a result of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, these films are currently at Colorlab to be restored and preserved on 35mm safety film.  According to labeling on these elements, both CARMEN and BOLERO were performed at Ravinia in 1928.  Nitrate film produces crystalline images often like no other film stock can.  We are excited to see the final prints that Colorlab produces for this project.

Also underway is the digital preservation of 80 more reels of Ruth Page performances and rehearsals recorded on ½ inch reel-to-reel videotape in the 60s and early 70s.  The folks at Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) are working with these more volatile tapes in order to ensure the survival of these dance events recorded a half century ago.

We’ll keep you posted!