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Back Alley Rip Off

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Film Identifier: F.2013-02-0057
Run Time
0h 8m 8s
Date Produced
Scenes from an unfinished narrative film by artist Don McIlvaine, shot in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago with local actors. It follows two men that win a sweepstakes lottery, and the people who want to take the winning ticket from them (including a mobster and a man who wants to use the money to improve the neighborhood). The Art & Soul Gallery and several of McIlvaine's murals can be seen.

Back Alley RIp-Off is discussed briefly in Rebecca Zorach's 2019 book Art for People's Sake: Artists and Community in Black Chicago, 1965-1975. Zorach describes that McIlvaine "wrote a treatment and portion of a script and shot sample scenes. In the treatment, three street people split a lottery ticket that turns out to be a winner, and have to find one another again to claim their prize. The portrait of life on the margins, loving but cynical, includes street hustlers, a lesbian voodoo practitioner named Miss Cupid, a 'Superfly dude with two white girls,' a 'Sissy walking down street (switching),' a marijuana-smoking storefront preacher (Rev. Herb) who delivers a monologue in the toilet about the temple of meditation he wants to build, and a group of militants trying to keep their revolution alive by acting like gangsters—intimidating store owners and moving in on the drug trade. A nightclub scene features a performance by the real-life singer, comedian, and transvestite performer Wilbur 'Hi-Fi' White, followed by his attempted seduction of a painter named Tommy Green. The characters in the sample reel McIlvaine shot and edited to send to Hollywood constantly blur the line between acting and not-acting—indeed the drunk characters seem actually to be drunk. In the portions for which film footage still exists, comic exaggeration sits side by side with extended, nonnarrative shots that provide a portrait of life on the West Side. A shot of the two militants strutting down 16th Street provides an opportunity to see both the façade of Art & Soul—with new, hip signage ('art & soul art gallery')—and Black Man's Dilemma, the mural by Don McIlvaine that replaced Sachio Yamashita's stripes on the side of the building.

Like [McIlvaine's other film Street Art in the Ghetto], [Back Alley Rip-Off] remained unfinished. The script is inspired both by local context and by the sense of possibility in Hollywood's newfound interest in Black subject matter that spawned the blaxploitation trend. The very character types suggest conflicting values: honest depiction, entertainment appeal, and the 'positive images' of the Black Arts Movement. Though the fiction film was obviously intended as a comedy, it also addressed the goal of portraying 'community activities' and 'behavioral patterns related to environmental surroundings'—thus channeling youth 'into constructive creative occupations.'" -– Zorach, pp. 277-278.
Main Credit
McIlvaine, Don (is director)
McIlvaine, Don (is producer)
Additional Credits
McIlvaine, Don (is writer)
Related Place
Chicago (depicts)