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Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

February 28, 2013

Willie Wright: 1 of 2 Willies Featured in IMAGINATION MUSIC

Nightsong (1964)

This Saturday, Chicago Film Archives and the Black Cinema House present a film screening (IMAGINATION MUSIC: DIXON & WIRGHT) about two Chicago artists named Willie – Willie Dixon & Willie Wright. Willie Dixon is a household name in these parts, but there’s a chance you may not have heard of Willie Wright – and that’s ok! We just hope to change this.

Willie Wright is the protagonist in Don Klugman’s 1964 film “Nightsong” – an experimental film that uses Chicago’s near north nightclub scene as its backdrop. The story center lies in the struggles and romantic desires of Wright, who is struggling for respect and survival in a primarily white musical genre and neighborhood. Klugman won the “Coupe Kodak-Pathe” prize for NIGHTSONG at Cannes in 1965. The film was also named one of the “Ten Best Winners” in the Amateur Cinema League’s 1964 International Film and Video Festival, for its expressive use of color.

Apart from his depiction as a folksinger in the film, Wright’s actual musical roots were in the Chicago doo-wop scene, playing in a group that formed out of Cabrini Green called the Medallionaires during the late 1950s. After having lack-luster success in three successive doo-wop groups, Wright decided that there had to be a better way. Since folk music had become all the rage in the mid-1960s, and with the remarkable coffeehouse success of black performers such as Harry Belafonte, Josh White, Odetta and John Lee Hooker, Wright decided to become a folk singer too. According to the Chicago Defender, patron Chloe Hoffman suggested that he try folk music. Hoffman provided him with a guitar and some albums of folk songs, and Willie returned three months later a self-made folk singer, crossing over to the Near-North side’s burgeoning folk music community. To the best of our knowledge, NIGHTSONG contains the only known extant performance footage of Wright.

Join us this Saturday at the Black Cinema House for a 16mm archival preservation print screening of NIGHTSONG (funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation) alongside a 16mm print of  THE FACTS OF LIFE –  a journey and reflection upon the life of Willie Dixon and the meaning of the blues. Following the screening, we invite you to stick around for a listening party of recently discovered tapes of a 1972 performance of Willie Dixon’s All Stars at Malcolm X College. As far as we can tell, these tapes haven’t been heard in 40 years.

February 27, 2013

SCMS comes to Chicago!

stills from Michelle Puetz & Nathan Holmes’ program “City Symphonies”

Each year members of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies (SCMS) meet up for their annual conference in cities throughout the country, and this year (March 6-10)… it just so happens to be in Chicago! The SCMS is the leading scholarly organization in the United States dedicated to promoting a broad understanding of film, television, and related media through research and teaching grounded in the contemporary humanities tradition.

CFA is excited to assist the conference with workshops, panels, screenings, and general party vibes. Here’s a rundown of CFA-affiliated events:

Thursday, March 7th:

  • Past (and forever-affiliated) CFAers Andy Uhrich (Indiana Univeristy), Charles Tepperman (University of Calgary) and Michelle Puetz (SAIC, MCA) present on the panel “Where the Minor was Mainstream: The Sponsored, Amateur, Educational and Experimental Cinemas of Chicago.” Both Charles and Michelle’s presentations feature female figures tightly affiliated with CFA- Margaret Conneely and JoAnn Elam. Charles will present on Central Cinematographers (a local amateur film club that Margaret Conneely was part of), while Michelle’s presentation focuses on feminist filmmaker JoAnn Elam and her collection of experimental films donated to CFA in 2011. (G7, 1-2:24PM)
  • Recent University of Chicago grads Michelle Puetz and Nathan Holmes put together an entire screening of CFA materials for SCMS members! Titled “Chicago Symphonies,” Michelle & Nathan’s delightful program presents four nontheatrical 16mm shorts from our vaults. Included in the batch are CHICAGO BREAKDOWN (Gary Brown, 1976), THE CORNER (Robert Ford, 1962), SUPER UP (Kenji Kanesaka, 1966) and CHICAGO: CITY TO SEE IN ’63 (Margaret Conneely, 1962). (Cinema Borealis, 1550 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 4th Floor, 9PM)
Friday, March 8th:
  • Chuck Kleinhans (Northwestern University, Jump Cut and close friend of JoAnn Elam) will also present on JoAnn Elam at SCMS. His presentation “The Dialectics of Labor Media Activisim: JoAnn Elam’s EVERYDAY PEOPLE and Monopoly Capitalism” is part of the “Media Activism and Social Movements” panel. JoAnn Elam’s unfinished project, EVERYDAY PEOPLE (filmed from 1979 to 1990), is based on her experiences as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Papers donated to CFA with her collection of films suggest that Elam intended to expand the story into the political struggles USPS employees faced with the administration and the union, as well as larger issues related to the history of labor struggle and activism in the United States. CFA recently uploaded a rough-cut VHS transfer of the film on Youtube. (K19, 12:15-2PM)

Saturday, March 9th:

  • CFA’s Executive Director, Nancy Watrous, takes part in Jacqueline Stewart’s (Northwestern University) workshop “To Preserve Disorder: Moving Image Archiving and Preservation in Chicago.” Joining Nancy and Jacqueline are Media Burn’s Sara Chapman, Video Data Bank’s Tom Colley and Kartemquin Film’s Carolyn Faber. Nancy plans to explore the many ways to skin a catalog through the contextual preservation of moving images. (N21, 11AM-12:45PM)
  • CFA presents 16mm and digital projections at a special event for SCMS members to blow off some post conference steam. We’ve dug deep into our collection to find a mix of Chicago-themed and abstract footage to help set a fun, Warholian mood.
  • As part of the SCMS Annual Conference, Christy LeMaster & CFA’s Michelle Puetz present WITH A VOICE LIKE THE LAKE: A Snapshot of New Work from Chicago. Featured in this batch of exciting, new works are CFA-commisioned WREST (by Kent Lambert with music by CAVE) and LIE BACK AND ENJOY IT (by Jessica Bardsley with music by Tim Kinsella). Free to the public! (The Nightingale, 1084 N Milwaukee, 8:00PM)

For a full list of SCMS panels and events, click on over to the 2013 conference program.

February 5, 2013

Margaret Heads to the UK!

This March, Margaret Conneely’s MISTER E heads to The Horse Hospital - a three tiered progressive arts venue in London that provides an umbrella for new media, film, fashion, literature and music.

A domestic “black comedy,” MISTER E expresses some of the edgier mischief and discontent that women of the 1950s could rarely express openly. This short film narrates the revenge acted out by a young wife, left at home while her husband is at a card game; by staging a rendezvous with a mannequin, this woman provokes an eruption of jealousy and violence before bringing about the desired marital tenderness. The film will be part of a larger Morton Bartlett themed screening of doll-related (in this case, mannequin) oddities and rarities. Read more about outsider artist Morton Bartlett and this amazing film program here.

February 1, 2013

Romanticizing Decay

Every so often we run across a reel of film that has been damaged by the elements (water, heat, humidity, etc). Sometimes this deterioration results in beautiful yet horrifying effects.

Hypnotic visuals like these are often utilized by New York-based filmmaker Bill Morrison (Chicago born!), who is most well known for his experimental collage film DECASIA (2002). Since our vaults are not secure for nitrate storage (we send all of our nitrate over to the Library of Congress), the only image decay we see here affects acetate film, rather than the nitrate decay most often featured in Morrison’s films.

Here are a few frame grabs from a 16mm water-damaged acetate film found at our vault (click on the images to gain a larger, more detailed view). Thankfully, only the last 50′ or so of this particular film was damaged by water.



It’s up for debate whether romanticizing these images is warranted (New York Times’s David Kehr seems to think so, while AV Preserve’s Joshua Ranger thinks maybe not). I guess I fall somewhere in the middle, more so seeing this imagery as a conversation starter for sharing film preservation basics (remember..dry and cool storage conditions are best!). It’s hard, though, to not be a little bit enticed by these frighteningly beautiful and abstracted images formed by time and the elements..

Head on over to the National Film Preservation Foundation to learn more about film preservation basics.