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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Making All Black Lives Matter: Barbara Ransby talks politics and protesting in 2018

Posted By on 10.10.18 at 06:00 AM

Sign-in table at yesterday's book talk.
  • Sign-in table at yesterday's book talk.
Barbara Ransby, a history professor at UIC, author of Making All Black Lives Matter, and one of the keynote speakers for the March to the Polls this Saturday, October 13th, hosted a book talk and discussion panel Tuesday at the SEIU Healthcare headquarters on Halsted. The panel also included Jaquie Algee, a board member and organizer of Women's March Chicago, and Chicago poet and playwright Kristiana Colón, cofounder of #LetUsBreatheCollective and creator of #BlackSexMatters.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Lana Turner shines as FilmStruck's Star of the Week

Posted By on 08.22.18 at 06:00 AM

John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana Turner is rightfully remembered for striking performances in her mid- and late-career melodramas, but her range was wide. She was cast in early ingenue parts, traditional dramatic films, period films, comedies, and even had some horror and musical detours. Her status as a Hollywood star, though, was cemented due to roles in classic film noir. A glimpse of Turner's talents can be seen in her films available on FilmStruck, where she is currently "Star of the Week." Here are five with which to start:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Freud was making his first impact on American popular culture when MGM assembled this 1941 version of the Stevenson tale, and Spencer Tracy's good doctor is clearly suffering a bad case of repressed something or other. Under Victor Fleming's direction, it's sober and turgid but far from unwatchable, thanks exclusively to the caliber of the performances (even though Ingrid Bergman, the sluttish barmaid, and Lana Turner, the pure-hearted fiancee, seem to be playing each other's roles). With Donald Crisp, Barton MacLane, and C. Aubrey Smith. 114 min. —Dave Kehr

The Postman Always Rings Twice
John Garfield, drifting down the California coast, is waylaid by a shimmering Lana Turner and her plot to murder her husband. Adapted from a novel by America's finest pulp writer, James M. Cain, this 1946 film is a key work of the postwar period, dripping with demented romanticism and the venom of disillusionment. Tay Garnett directed, finding the pull of obsession in every tracking shot. 113 min. —Dave Kehr

Green Dolphin Street
Good sister (Donna Reed) battles bad sister (Lana Turner) for possession of a New Zealand plantation. It climaxes, famously, with Turner giving birth in the midst of a spectacular MGM earthquake (which won an Academy Award for special effects). Victor Saville directed; Samson Raphelson adapted the bestseller by Elizabeth Goudge. With Richard Hart, Edmund Gwenn, and Van Heflin (1947). 141 min. —Dave Kehr

The Three Musketeers
The MGM version of 1948, with Gene Kelly as a balletic d'Artagnan and Lana Turner, perfectly cast, as the villainous Lady DeWinter. George Sidney's engagingly incontinent direction makes it fun, though his usual problems with pacing ultimately take their toll. With Van Heflin (in an unaccountable Method funk that never matches up with the rest of the picture), Gig Young, June Allyson, Vincent Price, Angela Lansbury, Frank Morgan, and Keenan Wynn. 125 min. —Dave Kehr

The Bad and the Beautiful
Vincente Minnelli will always be known and loved for his musicals (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Band Wagon), but the melodramas he made in the 50s are no less accomplished and often more personal. The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) is superficially a typical Hollywood “inside story” chronicling the ruthless rise of an aggressive producer (Kirk Douglas), loosely based on Val Lewton. But under Minnelli's direction it becomes a fascinating study of a man destroyed by the 50s success ethic, left broke, alone, and slightly insane in the end. Douglas is surprisingly good as Minnelli's manic everyman and is well supported by (believe it or not) Lana Turner and Dick Powell. Scripted by Charles Schnee; with Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, and Leo G. Carroll. 118 min. —Dave Kehr

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Nerds unite at Challengers for Women’s Comics Night

Posted By on 07.09.18 at 06:00 AM

The June edition of Women's Comics Night - ANDREA THOMPSON
  • Andrea Thompson
  • The June edition of Women's Comics Night

When the owners of Challengers Comics decided they wanted to put on more events, they knew they wanted some of them to focus on women, but they had no idea what that would look like. But when they asked for organizers, Samantha LaFountain volunteered. She knew what she wanted to see.

"I wanted it to be like a party, that was the main idea," LaFountain said. "And to build friendships between women, nonbinary individuals, however you identify. Between people who aren't normally seen."

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

How two Belgian boys became the youngest kids to bike across the U.S.—in 1935

Posted By on 06.21.18 at 06:07 PM

Jacques, Pierre, and Victor de Visé during their 1935 cross-country bike trip - COURTESY DANIEL DE VISE
  • Courtesy Daniel de Vise
  • Jacques, Pierre, and Victor de Visé during their 1935 cross-country bike trip

On the evening of June 17, 1935, Victor de Visé and his young sons arrived in Chicago after pedaling 793 miles from Trenton, New Jersey, over 13 days on their bicycles. They had 2,349 more miles to go.

As Victor's grandson, I'm fairly sure that his sons—ten-year-old Pierre, my father, and nine-year-old Jacques—became the youngest people in history to cross the United States by bicycle when a month later, they reached Hollywood, where Victor was to work as a correspondent for a Belgian newspaper.

RELATED: READ ALL OF OUR BIKE WEEK COVERAGE

My father's family had just arrived in America from Antwerp, evacuating their Belgian homeland ahead of the Nazi menace. The cross-country cycling tour was my grandfather's harebrained scheme for exploring his adoptive homeland. Goodness knows what horrors they endured on the roads. Yet Chicago, at least, left a favorable impression. My father eventually returned and made a life here as an urban planner for the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission who researched the city's color and health-care gaps in the 60s and 70s. (The Tribune once dubbed him "Dr. Gloom" for his views, which he shared in letters published in the Reader.) He died in 2004, having spent nearly six decades of his life in the city.

Why Victor would choose to lead his sons on a 3,000-mile bicycle ride is a question I never heard a satisfactory answer to in childhood—Victor died a few years after I was born. But the great bicycle trip would come up in conversation whenever talk turned to my father's eccentric Belgian kin. Pierre, my father, told me Grandpa Victor thought a marathon cycling tour would be a nice way to see the country. Jacques, my uncle, seemed to believe the journey was motivated by Victor's essential meanness.

Looking back now with the cynical eye of a former newspaper reporter (I covered higher education for the Washington Post for eight years), I can only see the trip as a publicity stunt.

Victor de Visé had knocked around Brussels in the years since the Great War, working as a schoolteacher and covering sports for L'Étoile Belge (the Belgian Star). His wife, Madeleine, died of peritonitis after a botched abortion around 1930, leaving Victor to care for two young boys. Having lost their mother, the boys endured a cruel father. Rather than hire help, Victor would lock the boys in a closet before he set out for the offices of L'Étoile, where he worked nights. The boys sometimes awakened with bruised faces; they managed to incur their father's wrath even in their sleep. Victor sent them to live with German relatives in the summer and eventually hired a German governess.

An old saying has it that a Belgian boy is born with a bicycle between his legs. In 1934, Pierre, then ten, and Jacques, eight, bicycled nearly 500 miles across Belgium and into Germany, where, visiting Berlin, they saw what it was like to live under Hitler's Third Reich. After hearing Der Führer's shrill voice blaring forth from public loudspeakers and glimpsing a Nazi party meeting in a parlor at their hotel, Victor resolved to leave Europe. He had already traveled to Chicago once, in 1927, to cover the celebrated boxing match between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey at Soldier Field.

The cross-country journey began on a spring day in 1935 when Victor and his sons disembarked at New York Harbor after a 15-day crossing from Europe and began to make inquiries in accented French about the location of a "Hotel Eem-kah." New Yorkers shrugged; the name did not ring a bell. But Victor eventually found the hotel: the YMCA.

After a brief stay at the Y, the three set out on bicycles on June 5 from Trenton along U.S. 30, the old Lincoln Highway, a route that would take them through Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cedar Rapids, Omaha, Salt Lake City, Reno, and Sacramento. They traveled 50 to 70 miles a day and camped on the roadside or in "sleeping rooms," typically pine shacks with dirt floors. Pierre was a slower cyclist than Victor, and Jacques slower still, so Victor would give the boys a head start each morning, Jacques setting out first and Pierre some minutes later, so that all three would reach their eventual destination at roughly the same time. In racing this is called a handicap, but it left Victor's young sons to pedal for hours on the road alone. Neither child spoke English.

On June 11, near Pittsburgh, the family became separated. Jacques had started the daily ride alone, as usual, and came upon a fork in the road. It was a bypass, offering motorists the option to steer around the city. Jacques could not read the sign, so he proceeded on instinct. Evidently Pierre chose the same road, and he eventually found Jacques—but not his father. Around noon, the two boys were spotted "wandering aimlessly about" on their tiny bicycles by J. L. Broderick, a man employed as boys' work secretary by the local Y. He addressed them in high school French and found the boys "very friendly and extremely polite" as they clutched their berets, according to an account in the Pittsburgh Press. But they didn't understand a word he said. Broderick found an interpreter, and through him, the boys explained their plight. A police bulletin finally located the elder de Visé, who was comfortably settled at the elegant Fort Pitt Hotel.

Delighted at the attention, Victor parlayed his parenting lapse into two full days of media coverage, lecturing the Pittsburgh press like a visiting diplomat. "I see another terrific war in Europe as inevitable," he told them. "It is coming soon." Victor recounted how his own parents had been burned alive when the Germans marched through Belgium in 1914.

On June 17, the cyclists arrived in Chicago having logged 800 miles. Victor dressed his tanned boys in matching argyle sweaters and again summoned reporters. The Chicago Daily Tribune covered the makeshift press conference (at which my dad was said to be 11, but his birth certificate reveals he was only ten when the trip started):

The Tribune story on the trip from June 18, 1935.
  • The Tribune story on the trip from June 18, 1935.

"Victor de Visé, a Belgian newspaper man, and his two sons, Pierrot, 11 years old, and Jackie, 9, arrived in Chicago last evening on their European bicycles after pedaling 793 miles here from Trenton, N.J., in 13 days. They are guests at the home of Louis Clement, 1120 Lake Shore Drive. De Vise was once Clement's swimming instructor and tutor in Brussels.

"De Vise says he plans to make his home in America."

The Tribune account said the boys had arrived "bright eyed and fresh," perhaps anticipating that readers would question Victor’s wisdom in staging such a trip with such young boys. Victor amiably explained that Pierre and Jacques had "developed bicycling stamina by touring Europe."

After lodging with the family friend for a few days, Victor and family pressed on through Iowa and Nebraska and into Wyoming, which was "a desert, really, hotter 'n hell," Jacques recalled to me 70 years later. They continued through Utah and Nevada, sleeping on Indian reservations. Finally, after more than 40 days of cycling, the family arrived in California, their journey complete.

Victor's bragging was off-putting, but his family's accomplishment was real. Assuming that he and the boys pedaled the full distance—and neither Jacques nor Pierre ever suggested otherwise—they were almost certainly the youngest souls to traverse the nation on bicycle. When another nine-year-old boy completed a cross-country bicycle ride 79 years later, in 2014, he did it with his family riding alongside him in a bus.

Victor de Visé settled in Hollywood, taking an apartment near the intersection of Hollywood and Vine and planting his sons outside fashionable nightclubs with cigarette trays in hope that they'd be discovered. They were, and the boys reaped bit parts in various films. In 1936, Pierre, my father, landed a tiny speaking role as a bellhop in the Oscar-winning drama Dodsworth, directed by William Wyler and starring Walter Huston.

When neither the boys' film careers nor Victor's photojournalism business took flight, Victor relocated to Chicago and took a job at the Belgian consulate. Pierre, the more studious brother, earned a diploma from Waller High School (the present-day Lincoln Park High School) at 15, and an associate degree at 17. He entered the University of Chicago that fall, but war interrupted his studies, and he took a job at the Belgian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Pierre then trained his considerable ambitions on his bicycle, and through the war years, he emerged as one of the better amateur cyclists in the east.

Family photos suggest my father rode his first bicycle race in 1938, the year he turned 14. Press clippings show him placing fourth in a 40-mile road race in Baltimore in June 1944, and ninth at a race in Detroit the following month. Although I have no records to prove this or other claims, my father told me he once held the national amateur speed record for the distance of 10,000 meters. He and Jacques also claimed to have pedaled more miles on their bicycles than anyone else on the amateur racing circuit; after all, they had a 3,000-mile head start.

Not surprisingly, I grew up in a home where bicycle racing, rather than baseball, framed the summer months. Bicycle wheels hung from suspended broomsticks in the basement. Bicycle frames dangled from hooks in the garage. I owned my first fixed-gear track bike at six or seven. I owned a spoke wrench at 12. Though we lived just a mile from Wrigley Field, our preferred spectator sport lay 20 miles away, at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook. There, on Thursday nights, we would file into the grandstands for an evening of bicycle races.

I never entered a bicycle race; I lacked the reckless, daredevil spirit I recognized in the racers, who jostled and bumped like bulls in Pamplona and regularly sustained gruesome injuries. Instead, I threw myself into a routine of relentless recreational cycling, pedaling back and forth across the north side of Chicago on summer days instead of taking the el, and logging 30 or 40 miles at a time on weekend rides with my father. We would head north up Sheridan Road through the elegant North Shore toward the Glenview Naval Air Station, or northwest through the Caldwell Woods along the bicycle path that abutted the Chicago River. One summer, I commuted 36 miles daily on my bicycle to a job in Des Plaines. I loved the hypnotic rhythm, the bucolic scenery, and the rush of accomplishment that came after completing a long ride.

My father died after attaining a measure of fame as an urban scientist and seer of Chicago's demographic future. A few years ago, I set out to write a book that honored his passion and celebrated the glory days of bicycle racing in America. The book recounts the glorious career of Greg LeMond, probably the greatest American cyclist of the modern era, climaxing with his comeback from near death and miraculous victory at the 1989 Tour de France. Of all the great tours my father and I watched on television, that was our favorite. The book, titled The Comeback, came out this month. Naturally, I dedicated it to Pop.

Daniel de Visé is a Chicago native, former Washington Post reporter, and author of The Comeback: Greg LeMond, the True King of American Cycling, and a Legendary Tour de France (Atlantic Monthly Press).

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

826CHI's Teen Writers Studio amplifies the voices of Chicago’s youth

Posted By on 06.14.18 at 06:00 AM

The cover art of I Will Hold You Like a Bible - KRIS EASLER
  • Kris Easler
  • The cover art of I Will Hold You Like a Bible

The Chicago high school students enrolled in 826CHI's Teen Writers Studio aren't afraid to learn from each other. "Everyone is welcoming and willing to help each other grow and learn," says 11th-grader Stephanie R. of her experience in the program. For fellow 11th-grader Kara K., being a part of the encouraging environment at the Writers Studio has helped her become more confident in her skills and given her a community to engage in discussions over difficult, but relevant topics, like gun violence. "I always feel safe to express myself at 826CHI," she says.

On Monday at a special event at the Poetry Foundation, Stephanie, Kara, and their fellow members of the Teen Writers Studio will release a chapbook of their poems and short stories created over the course of the 2017-'18 school year entitled I Will Hold You Like a Bible.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Can a Division Street cocktail bar truly capture the spirit of Nelson Algren?

Posted By on 06.13.18 at 06:00 AM

Algren on Division Street - ART SHAY
  • Art Shay
  • Algren on Division Street

Eater Chicago recently broke the news that, to quote the headline, "A Nelson Algren-Inspired Bar is Coming to Wicker Park from Bar Deville's Team." The story details how the new place, the Neon Wilderness, to be located near the Polish Triangle, the convergence of Division, Milwaukee and Ashland, will serve high-end cocktails such as the Polish Broadway, an old-fashioned with Żubrówka vodka. The mixologists behind the plan are award winners, and Eater Chicago's Ashok Selvam seemed upbeat about this addition to the near northwest side's high-end cocktail possibilities. I imagine it would lend some much-needed balance to the stroller corridor/brunch-spot and bro-sports-bar scene that thoroughly gentrified Wicker Park/Bucktown has degenerated into.

But this Algren scholar could only groan at the thought of an "Algren-inspired bar."

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Friday, June 8, 2018

It’s time once again for the two-day book bonanza that’s the Printers Row Lit Fest

Posted By on 06.08.18 at 06:00 AM

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
  • Chicago Sun-Times

It's time once again for the Printers Row Lit Fest, which combines three of the greatest pleasures in life: walking, talking about books, and the serendipitous discovery of new books (sometimes at incredible prices). The fest goes on all weekend in the south Loop near the intersection of Dearborn and Polk with events inside Jones College Prep (700 S. State).

Here are some talks worth interrupting your book browsing for:

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Five literary biopics whose pictures are worth a thousand words

Posted By on 05.30.18 at 06:00 AM

Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table
  • Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table
The biopic has been a staple in filmmaking since the sound era began, though over the years literary figures seem to have gotten fewer screen treatments than other notables. On Friday, Gene Siskel Film Center opens Haifaa al-Mansou's 2017 film Mary Shelley, starring Elle Fanning, and next Tuesday, Chicago Film Society screens Charles Vidor's 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen, starring Danny Kaye. Taking a page from these, we've selected five additional biopics about writers, ones that don't just rest on words but also offer up some visual artistry.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

When craft beer went corporate: Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out tells how Goose Island's sale transformed an industry

Posted By on 05.29.18 at 06:00 AM

Josh Noel's book Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business, from Chicago Review Press
  • Josh Noel's book Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business, from Chicago Review Press

"There wasn't a single moment when the chummy, jovial craft beer industry became a battlefield of 'us versus them,'" Josh Noel writes in Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business (Chicago Review Press). "It happened slowly. And then, seemingly, all at once."

The line isn't an introduction to his subject matter (it actually comes near the end of the book), but it does encapsulate it fairly neatly. Noel happens to be discussing the attempts of the Brewers Association to define craft beer—which has become an increasingly thorny question as more craft breweries have been bought by global beverage companies (often referred to as Big Beer). In the early years of the craft brewing renaissance, he says, the term was never really defined. "Craft beer was the underdog. It was flavor. It was creativity. It was peace, love, and collaboration. Everyone was included—except for Big Beer. There were no wrong answers. But when there are no wrong answers, there are no right answers, and the Brewers Association sought to correct that."

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

John Huston, FilmStruck's Director of the Week, had a way with actors

Posted By on 05.23.18 at 06:00 AM

Brad Dourif in John Huston's Wise Blood
  • Brad Dourif in John Huston's Wise Blood
Considering that director John Huston was related to three noted actors (his father, Walter Huston; his daughter, Angelica Huston; and his son Danny Huston) and acted in more than 50 films himself (including Chinatown and The Misfits), it's no surprise that his films offer consistently strong performances. The streaming channel FilmStruck is currently featuring a selection from Huston's nearly 50-year career, and we've picked five with some particularly fine acting.

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