21-87 | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

21-87 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

Few films are as movingly bleak as Arthur Lipsett's little-known 21-87 (1963). This stunning evocation of dehumanization juxtaposes found footage from several cities. Cuts between images that don't match--crowds seen from different camera angles or under different light--subtly express alienation. The editing also creates surrealistic illusions--for example, jumping from a man looking upward to an image of a monkey. Shots of anonymous crowds are combined with shots of people playing roles central to the era--models at a fashion show, a man in a space suit, kids shaking like automatons to (one assumes) rock 'n' roll. Such identity-altering roles steal the idea of the soul; everyone in the film seems tragically removed from any possible authenticity. Lipsett uses sound ironically; at midpoint and again at the film's end a voice seems to declare that everyone is proud to have a number rather than a name, announcing, "Somebody walks up and they say, 'Your number is 21-87, isn't it?' Boy does that person really smile." The fear of being reduced to a number was more intense in 1963 than today in the age of PINs, and the voice on the sound track equates identity with a number that's as arbitrary as the rag-and-bone shop footage from which Lipsett assembled his film. Not surprisingly, the Canadian Film Board, for which it was made, hated it and later threw most of the prints in the garbage. Lipsett committed suicide in 1986. This program also includes films by Len Lye, Kevin Deal, Inger Lise Hansen, Vincent Grenier, Dirk de Bruyn, Michael Wallin, and Matt Chernov. International Cinema Museum, 319 W. Erie, Wednesday, May 17, 7:00, 654-1426.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
February 22
Performing Arts
February 08

Popular Stories