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Monday, December 17, 2018

Archive dive: the year 1971 in review

Posted By on 12.17.18 at 01:17 PM

FROM THE READER ARCHIVE
  • from the reader archive

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every week in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

There are plenty of "best of 2018" lists popping up this time of year (including a few to come here at the Reader), but do you ever wonder what were the most memorable movies, meals, and moments of 1971? If so, boy do we have the list for you!

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Archive dive: How Soul Train, the show that put black music on TVs across America, got its start in Chicago

Posted By on 12.10.18 at 01:37 PM

COURTESY WCIU-TV
  • courtesy WCIU-TV

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every week in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

It's been nearly 13 years since the final episode of Soul Train aired, and right around the time the long-running series ended, Chris Lehman published A Critical History of Soul Train on Television. Among other things, the book looks at Soul Train's Chicago roots, including a local version of the show that continued to exist after it hit big in Los Angeles.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Archive dive: Revisiting the canal that made Chicago what it is today

Posted By on 12.03.18 at 01:32 PM

U.S. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION
  • U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every week in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

On July 4, 1836, while the United States was celebrating 60 years of independence, Chicagoans were preparing to dig a ditch that would change the course of the city forever. In 1987, Peter Friederici looked back on that day in his piece "The ditch that made Chicago happen."

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What we learned at the Chicago Humanities Festival about witches

Posted By on 11.13.18 at 10:30 AM

Sollée - COURTESY KRISTEN SOLLÉE
  • courtesy Kristen Sollée
  • Sollée

Last Thursday, Kristen Sollée, writer, editrix of the sex-positive feminist website Slutist, and lecturer at the New School, visited the Museum of Contemporary Art to speak about her book, Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. According to Sollée, witches are having a moment (politically, aesthetically, and spiritually), and it's no coincidence that this comeback is happening now.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

What we learned this weekend at the Chicago Humanities Festival

Posted By , and on 10.29.18 at 06:00 AM

Jerry Saltz is happy to pose for selfies

Saltz at the 2018 Pulitzer awards ceremony - FUZHEADO
  • Fuzheado
  • Saltz at the 2018 Pulitzer awards ceremony

Jerry Saltz says he’s so withdrawn, he hasn’t gone to a sit-down dinner for 20 years. But give the 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York magazine art critic an audience of 400 or so, and it’s SHOWTIME.

Last Saturday, on the stage of the Art Institute’s Fullerton Hall (a platform he says he’s wanted to occupy since his student days there), Saltz—cannily self-deprecating, shamelessly endearing, and, above all, funny—gave in once more to the demons that tell him to "dance naked in public."

Which is something he clearly loves to do. "Like Bruce Springsteen," he announced early on, "I will play until there's nobody alive in the audience."

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Why should the government interfere with the very personal process of gender identity?

Posted By on 10.26.18 at 06:00 AM

At an Intersex Awareness Day protest last year outside Lurie Children's Hospital - SARAH JI
  • Sarah Ji
  • At an Intersex Awareness Day protest last year outside Lurie Children's Hospital

Transgender historian Susan Stryker wrote in her 2017 book Transgender History that the contemporary meaning of the word "transgender" is still under construction. It has been redefined often since the word was first created in the mid-20th century, but even then the very concept of moving from one gender was already very old. While Roger Severino, appointed by President Trump as the director of the office for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would call this concept "radical gender ideology," the history books and Chicago activist groups call it reality.

Severino's memo, leaked earlier this week by the New York Times, argues that gender should be rigidly defined under Title IX "on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science," as a male/female binary that is unchangeable and determined by genitalia perceived at birth. HHS is encouraging the other government departments that also enforce Title IX—including Education, Justice, and Labor—to follow suit. Under this rule, genetic testing is the only option to determine a person's gender. The memo doesn't just define a gender binary as a rule, it also invalidates gender confirmation surgeries, ignoring any possibility of a person transitioning from the gender assigned at birth. The memo all but explicitly states that all people must identify as either male or female, whichever they were registered at birth. Many trans people feel this strict binary erases their identities.

The crux of Severino's argument is that X and Y chromosomes determine gender, a theory that has been disproven. And even before genetics were discovered, no one talked about regulating a person's gender expression based on anatomy. Before the 20th century, there was no standardized system of birth certificates that assigned gender. Our contemporary understanding of gender is relatively new, only dating back to physician Magnus Hirschfeld's work in early 20th-century Germany. In his studies of gender and sexuality, Hirschfeld coined the terms "transsexual" and "transvestite," both of which have changed in definition and connotation over the past century. As time passes, the terms we use to define gender change along with the way we perceive gender roles. Past cultures have used systems that have organized people into social genders through a variety of methods different from our contemporary binary, often by the work people did rather than by the bodies that did the work. Some gender systems were determined by social, legal, or religious obligations. Some people changed gender roles based on dreams or visions. Many indigenous American communities have three or more genders. Ancient rabbinical texts explain seven distinct genders once recognized in Judaism.

Gender varies by time, place, and culture, not just science. Yet another factor influencing gender identity for many people is genitalia deemed "ambiguous" at birth. With so many contingent factors, gender is difficult to explain, making it an easy target for bigotry. The memo's leak coincidentally occurred during the week of Intersex Awareness Day and protests in Chicago and New York, which aim to educate people about the often overlooked group of intersex people in the queer community.

The existence of intersex people is stark proof that bodies exist outside a gender binary. One in 100 people is intersex, possessing some combination of male and female genitalia, internal sex organs, and chromosomes. Oftentimes intersex people have combinations of chromosomes that aren't male or female, such as XXY or XO. When intersex babies are born and doctors are unable to determine a male or female gender, they often assign one to the infant. Surgeries that are considered "cosmetic," such as clitoral reductions, vaginoplasties, and the removal of functional testes are forced upon the child, and may not match their identity. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago is still performing these operations, which the United Nations has deemed a form of torture.

The Intersex Justice Project protested last Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, 2017, outside Lurie Children's Hospital, which continues to perform cosmetic surgeries on intersex babies and children. - SARAH JI
  • Sarah Ji
  • The Intersex Justice Project protested last Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, 2017, outside Lurie Children's Hospital, which continues to perform cosmetic surgeries on intersex babies and children.

The Chicago-based Intersex Justice Project launched a campaign outside Lurie last year on Intersex Awareness Day to end intersex surgery, and will be leading another protest on this year's Awareness Day on Friday, October 26, this time organizing a train occupation. Pidgeon Pagonis, cofounder of the project, summarizes their demands: "We want a public apology for the irreversible harmful surgeries that have been done on intersex people without their consent." The group also wants sensitivity training for Lurie staff and clinicians who handle intersex children, taught by intersex individuals. They demand reparations, Pagonis says, "including free medical care that doesn't position intersex variations as problems to be fixed." This would include hormones and psychological support for intersex people and their parents.

Friday's protest, which begins at 1:15 PM at a location that is only disclosed privately on Intersex Justice Project's Instagram account, is inspired by the first (and last known) intersex protest in 1996 outside the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual convention. The idea for the train action, Pagonis says, was inspired by the Black Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Collective and #NoCopAcademy who crowded CTA Red Line cars to commemorate Rekia Boyd and chant against Mayor Emanuel's proposed cop academy, respectively. IJP's protesting arguments against "corrective" surgeries will conflict with the administration's historically and scientifically inaccurate definition of gender.

Sex defined by a male/female binary is too rigid to accurately label the many ways we express gender socially. Bodies are too varied in their chromosomal makeup and genital formation to accurately conform to the social categories a person lives in. They can't be defined on such a narrow binary. Many people—myself included—have taken years to come to an awareness of their own gender identities. Why does the government need to intercede in that already complicated, and very personal, process?

So why does the Trump administration insist on defining gender as a binary? Comments in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and even from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow speculate that it's a simple tactic to score political points before the upcoming midterm elections. Maddow framed her coverage of the story by recalling President's Bush's homophobic remarks before the 2004 election to encourage conservative voters to come out and vote against marriage equality. This is not a scientific debate on whether or not 1.4 million transgender people exist in the U.S.; this is political, using real people as pawns to gain power.

Should other government departments follow HHS, the results would be bigger than the ongoing bathroom debate. On Wednesday, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court that businesses can discriminate against their own workers based on their gender identity, suddenly reversing the position of 2008's Schroer v. Billington. People may begin to face discrimination at work and while jobs-hunting. Social services and health care (including gender-affirming surgeries, hormone replacements, and other necessary care for transgender patients) could be denied. Military bans lifted during the Obama era could go back into effect. Identification documents such as drivers licenses, birth certificates, and passports might be impossible to change. Medical records would be inaccurate. The memo's broad support from the government, says Pagonis, "will only serve to give surgeons who ignore the United Nations more fuel for the already existing intersex-phobic fire. A parent of an intersex kid who (rightfully) decides they don't want to allow surgeons to 'fix' their child could be met with, 'Sorry, sex reassignment surgery is the law now.'"

Pagonis cites the colonialists who attempted to decimate the two-spirit people of indigenous communities, the medical-sanctioned genital mutilation of infants since the 1950s, and the U.S. government's refusal to acknowledge the existence of AIDS in the early 80s, even as it plagued and ravaged the queer community. "Yet we fought back," Pagonis says. That might be where the Trump administration's political trick for votes goes wrong: transgender and gender-nonconforming people have historically turned out to fight and vote more so than their cisgender counterparts, and in disproportionately high numbers for Democrats.

Following the memo's leak, activist group Voices4 and Lambda Legal gathered hundreds of people in Washington Square Park in New York City, the same park where activists Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970. They shouted "Hell no to the memo!" Hundreds more protesters gathered outside the White House.

The Trump administration's definition of gender becoming policy would undo legal work to protect trans people dating back to the Minnesota state legislature's ban on discrimination against transgender people in 1993, all the way through President Obama's protection of trans identities on a variety of federal fronts. But this unprecedented setback on one vulnerable community's civil rights might not take shape should the election favor a democratic senate. With 33 Senate seats on the upcoming ballot, a shift in power might see HHS's Roger Severino out of a job.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Life Sentence bassist Joe Losurdo on reissuing the Chicago band’s 1986 hardcore classic

Posted By on 10.05.18 at 11:16 AM

Life Sentence back in the day, left to right: bassist Joe Losurdo, drummer Tom O'Connor, and guitarist Eric Brockman - GENE AMBO
  • Gene Ambo
  • Life Sentence back in the day, left to right: bassist Joe Losurdo, drummer Tom O'Connor, and guitarist Eric Brockman

Life Sentence bassist and vocalist Joe Losurdo says his 80s hardcore band is probably better known for its T-shirt than for its music. It's not as iconic as the Black Flag bars, but Life Sentence's logo is one of the best of the era: the word "life" is stamped in huge white capital letters on a red background (an obvious nick from Life magazine), while "sentence" appears in black lowercase directly beneath. You can still buy a Life Sentence shirt from their Bandcamp page, which also lists better-known bands whose members have worn one, including Metallica, Anthrax, Exodus, Napalm Death, and D.R.I. "Some fuckin' Chinese apparel company, like, bootlegged it—it's like a fashion item not even remotely connected to punk rock," Losurdo says. "Someone sent me a link to it—I couldn't believe it. They made it look a little more Frankie Goes to Hollywood-ish. Still the same fuckin' logo, and it says 'Life Sentence.'"

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill is at war with American exceptionalism and imperialism

Posted By on 10.03.18 at 05:59 AM

Jeremy Scahill - KHOLOOD EID FOR THE INTERCEPT
  • Kholood Eid for The Intercept
  • Jeremy Scahill

There was no obvious moment when the torch passed during host Jeremy Scahill's interview with Seymour Hersh on a recent live episode of Intercepted, but it wasn't difficult to imagine one.

Like Hersh, Scahill was born on the south side of Chicago, and his worldview was partially shaped by his family's experience in the city he calls "this amazing place filled with contradictions."

The 43-year-old investigative journalist and cofounding editor of online news site the Intercept is also following in the formidable footsteps of his Pulitzer Prize-winning forebear in his choice of career. Both men have made their marks unmasking corruption and abuses of power at the highest level of the U.S. government—especially in the domains of wars and foreign policy. For Hersh, it was exposing the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war, the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the CIA's secret surveillance programs. Scahill's reporting helped uncover ugly truths behind Blackwater, the private mercenary army employed by the Bush administration during the Iraq war, and shone a light on the U.S. military's bloody covert operations and drone assassinations during the Obama years.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Gone too soon: five films by directors who died young

Posted By on 09.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Jean Vigo's L'Atalante
  • Jean Vigo's L'Atalante
The Music Box Theatre and the Chicago Film Society present the 1930 film City Girl this Saturday at 11:30 AM as part of their monthly silent film series. The film's director, F.W. Murnau, died the year after its release in an automobile accident, cutting short his life and remarkable career. He left behind a substantial body of work, though. The five filmmakers below also died much too young but had only made a handful of movies each, and in one case just a single film. We're spotlighting their work.

L'Atalante
Jean Vigo's only full-length feature (1934), one of the supreme masterpieces of French cinema, was edited and then brutally re-edited while Vigo was dying, so a “definitive” restoration is impossible. (The reassembled version released in France in 1990 is almost certainly the best and most complete we'll ever be able to see—it's wondrous to behold.) The simple love-story plot involves the marriage of a provincial woman (Dita Parlo) to the skipper of a barge (Jean Daste), and the only other characters of consequence are the barge's skeletal crew (Michel Simon and Louis Lefebvre) and a peddler (Gilles Margaritis) who flirts with the wife at a cabaret and describes the wonders of Paris to her. The sensuality of the characters and the settings, indelibly caught in Boris Kaufman's glistening cinematography, are only part of the film's remarkable poetry, the conviction of which goes beyond such categories as realism or surrealism, just as the powerful sexuality in the film ultimately transcends such categories as heterosexuality, homosexuality, and even bisexuality. Shot by shot and moment by moment, the film is so fully alive to the world's possibilities that magic and reality seem to function as opposite sides of the same coin, with neither fully adequate to Vigo's vision. The characters are at once extremely simple and extremely complex (richest of all is Simon's Pere Jules, as beautiful a piece of character acting as one can find anywhere), and while the continuity is choppy in spots—a factor skillfully cloaked by Maurice Jaubert's superb score—the film's aliveness and potency are so constant that this hardly seems to matter. A major inspiration to subsequent generations of filmmakers, yet no one has ever succeeded in matching it. In French with subtitles. 89 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The House Is Black
Forugh Farrokhzad's black-and-white documentary (1962, 19 min.) about a leper colony in northern Iran is the most powerful Iranian film I've seen. Farrokhzad (1935-'67) is widely regarded as the greatest Persian poet of the 20th century; her only film seamlessly adapts the techniques of poetry to its framing, editing, sound, and narration. At once lyrical and extremely matter-of-fact, devoid of sentimentality or voyeurism yet profoundly humanist, the film offers a view of everyday life in the colony—people eating, various medical treatments, children at school and at play—that's spiritual, unflinching, and beautiful in ways that have no apparent Western counterparts; to my eyes and ears, it registers like a prayer. 19 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Conqueror Worm / The Witchfinder General
An unusually restrained Vincent Price stars as Matthew Hopkins, a 17th-century magistrate who took advantage of the English civil war to conduct a massive witch hunt across East Anglia. This sinister 1968 feature was adapted from a historical tome by Ronald Bassett, though director Michael Reeves (whose life was cut short by a drug overdose the next year) seems equally inspired by the stark visuals in Carl Dreyer's Day of Wrath. Tigon Films, a pretender to the Hammer throne in the late 60s and early 70s, released the movie as The Witchfinder General in Britain; American distributor Roger Corman, hoping to capitalize on his earlier Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, retitled it The Conqueror Worm and slapped on some voice-over of Price reading from Poe's poem. 86 min. —J.R. Jones

Wanda
Perhaps the most depressing film ever made, this 1971 feature by director-actress Barbara Loden tells of a young, ignorant, emotionally deadened, and hopelessly dreary woman from the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania whose life is a succession of dead ends. Doomed from the start to a life of ignorance and boredom, she's victimized by her surroundings, by men hardly less dreary than she, and by her sex. A brilliantly atmospheric film with a superb performance by Loden. 105 min. —Don Druker

Savage Nights
Highly controversial and troubling but undeniably powerful and impossible to dismiss, this French feature cowritten (with critic Jacques Fieschi) directed by and starring the late Cyril Collard follows the last reckless days and nights of a 30-year-old cinematographer and musician who discovers he is HIV-positive but continues to have sex with strangers as well as with his two more regular lovers. Based on Collard's autobiographical novel Les nuits fauves, Savage Nights won Cesars for best picture, best first picture, most promising actress (Romane Bohringer), and best editing a few days after the 35-year-old director himself died of AIDS in March 1993. These honors can't simply be written off as sentimental: stylistically and dramatically, this is an accomplished piece of work. If Collard's driven hero often seems far from admirable—unconsciously misogynistic beneath his apparent bisexual "tolerance," and, as his masochistic behavior often implies, full of self-loathing—the film seems admirably unpropagandistic in permitting spectators to make up their own minds about him. It also gives full voice to the agony of unrequited adolescent love (Bohringer's volcanic performance), and, for better and for worse, offers a treatment of AIDS that's the other side of the moon from Philadelphia—politically incorrect with a vengeance. Whether you like this or not, you'll have a hard time shaking it loose. With Carlos Lopez. 126 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Five opera films that hit the high notes

Posted By on 08.29.18 at 08:00 AM

Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet's Moses and Aaron
  • Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet's Moses and Aaron
Inspired by the Gene Siskel Film Center's screenings this upcoming week of Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Fluteall part of the theater's extensive "Bergman 100" serieswe've selected five other opera films of note. If this list seems a bit highbrow, know that we would have listed Chuck Jones's great Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon What's Opera Doc? in all five spots if we could have. But these are good too.

Carmen Jones
There's something contradictory in the notion of an Otto Preminger musical: his admirable rational/realist sensibility doesn't settle too well with the whims of the genre. But there are some fine Preminger moments in the midst of this 1954 film, an all-black pop version of Carmen—fine, that is, if you take the trouble to separate them from the clumsy segregationist context. Impeccably liberal in its time, the film has not aged gracefully, although Dorothy Dandridge's performance in the lead remains a testimony to a black cinema that might have been. In CinemaScope. 105 min. —Dave Kehr

Bluebeard's Castle
After the hostile reception to his 1960 masterpiece Peeping Tom, Michael Powell was virtually banished from English cinema, and most of his remaining oeuvre is a scattered assortment of TV commissions and Australian features. Made in 1963 for West German TV, this rarely seen one-hour adaptation of Béla Bartók's only opera, based on a libretto by Béla Balázs (later known as a film theorist and as screenwriter of Leni Riefenstahl's first feature), is a particular standout, especially for its vivid colors and semiabstract, neoprimitive decor (by Hein Heckroth, who also designed the sets for The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman). The two performers are producer Norman Foster (not to be confused with the Hollywood actor and director) in the title role and Anna Raquel Satre as Bluebeard's doomed wife, Judith. In accordance with Powell's wishes, the English subtitles briefly describe and clarify the action but don't translate the text. 60 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Moses and Aaron
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet have used Arnold Schoenberg's 12-tone opera as the basis for a rigorous and fascinating exercise in elemental cinema (1975). A film about film—the meaning of long takes and short shots, of camera movement and static composition, of angles and perspectives. Schoenberg is Greek to me, but Straub and Huillet's investigation of the medium is an important experience for anyone interested in the way film represents reality—or fails to. In German with subtitles. 105 min. —Dave Kehr

Don Giovanni
Joseph Losey's film of Mozart's opera (1979) has redundant trappings of Freud and Marx, as if Losey felt the need to make the material more personal. He shouldn't have bothered, because it already plays straight to his concerns: Giovanni, with his self-destructive idealism, stands in the line of Losey heroes from The Boy With Green Hair to Mr. Klein. The visual context is ravishing, with a lighting scheme that builds from the understated and naturalistic to shocking contrasts of black and white. Meanwhile, the camera moves with a preternatural grace, drawing clean, curving lines through the romantic confusions. If the film has a fault, it is a common one in Losey: the absence of an emotional support for his piercing intellectual observations. 179 min. —Dave Kehr

Parsifal
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg has given us Wagnerian treatments of King Ludwig, Karl May, and Adolf Hitler; now, he gives us a Wagnerian treatment of Wagner, which seems somewhat redundant. Syberberg uses all the tricks of modern stagecraft—abstract settings, projected images, puppets, and doubled characters—to “expand” Wagner's Grail opera into man's eternal search for social perfection. But the meanings Syberberg tacks onto the piece are inherent in Wagner's work; his additions seem fussy, didactic, and often reductive. But Edith Clever, miming to the voice of Yvonne Minton as the witch Kundry, gives a performance of great passion and authority—a brilliantly effective revival of silent-film acting techniques. Reiner Goldberg supplies the voice of Parsifal; the other singers include Robert Loyd, Wolfgang Schöne, and Aage Haugland. 247 min. —Dave Kehr

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