The Atrocity Awards | Year In Review | Chicago Reader

The Atrocity Awards 

Just keep telling yourself: It's only politics, it's only politics

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Atrocity buffs, it was a boffo year in local politics, with scenarios that approached--but could not quite match--that international epic George of Arabia Meets the Thief of Baghdad in Desert Hell at High Noon for the Love of the Seven Sisters. Nor could we quite rival that beltway blockbuster The Dead S and L Society, with sound track by the Keating Five, or the comedy classic Abbott and Costello Meet Gramm and Rudman, with all 435 members of the House collectively playing the role of Abbott and 100 senators doing Costello.

Nevertheless, we give two thumbs up and a bushel of stars to the following nominees for the Atrocity Academy Awards, better known as the "Janies," and we are delighted to report that the eponymous pol herself heads this year's list of contenders for her role in:

A Nightmare on Chestnut Street: Part V

Just when we thought she was finally done in by Jamie Lee Curtis playing the role of Aurelia Pucinski, she emerges again from her condo to terrorize the town, bringing us to the realization that Jane "Fredericka" Byrne is a figure of our collective nightmares, as indestructible as a bad dream.

It has been 12 years since this series started; I directed the first episode, at a time we thought she was real. By the third episode the series had become a bit boring, but the media moguls at Channels 2, 5, 7, 9, and 32 believe we want more remakes of this horror story, so they flock to her like flies to a manure heap. All that's missing from the scenario now is the reappearance of Eddie "Jason" Vrdolyak. It's a pity that Charlie "Count Dracula" Swibel could not live to see it.

Ishtar: The Senate Race

Once thought to have a lot of box-office potential because of its cast, this multimillion-dollar production, starring Lynn Martin and directed by Roger Ailes, was the biggest bomb of the season, enlivened only by the cameo role of Paul Simon, played by Orville Redenbacher.

The Elephant Man II

In this melodrama Neil Hartigan, whose career almost ended with the 1986 flop Requiem for a Lightweight, makes a strong comeback by donning 86 pounds of makeup and posturing as a Republican. Though the sight is repellent to many, the elephantine look briefly captivates audiences downstate and in the outlying suburbs of Chicago. But the folks from his hometown rise up, strip him of his disguise, and expose him as "Robocandidate," half human, half machine. This sight is too gruesome for anyone to bear. He falls under the weight of his political baggage, unable even to crawl to the fabled elephant's graveyard.

The Three Stooges Meet Milli Vanilli

What we first see onscreen is a pair of respectable-looking black guys who file complaints stating that the Harold Washington Party does not qualify for the ballot. We quickly learn, however, that they are only mouthing the words. The behind-the-scenes lip-synchers are Tom "Curly" Lyons, head of the Cook County Democrats, and Ray "Moe" Simon, chairman of the Hartigan campaign, who keep bopping each other on the head, tripping over each other's shoelaces, and exposing themselves while protesting that they have nothing at all to do with the challenge.

In one wild chase sequence, they romp through a series of courtrooms controlled by Curly and his wacky Rube Goldberg Machine, but bang flat up against the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in a straight role, restores the Washington Party to the ballot just as the final reel is about to run out. Things are looking bad for the regular Democratic ticket.

Enter the third stooge, Mike "Larry" Hamblet, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, who comes up with the final madcap idea: a punch-card ballot system with lettering you can barely read while holding a voting stylus in one hand, a ballot book in the other, and a magnifying glass between your elbows. In the last zany scene, lots of voters stay home, the Democrats lose a lot of offices, and Curly Lyons is about to be stripped of his Grammy.

The Baer

An alternate version of the award-winning nature film, fuzzy-headed Steve Baer, head of the United Republican Fund, gambols through the wilds of Illinois committing unnatural acts against Republican officials who disagree with his right-of-Schlafly ideology. Younger and more sensitive viewers may be repelled by scenes of political cannibalism, but all ends well enough when the Baer turns out to be toothless.

Pinocchio: The Alderman

This animated cartoon is about a rich, wooden boy alderman who has problems with the truth. It opens at a press conference where Edwin "Pinocchio" Eisendrath announces only two days before the congressional primary election that a canvass of his district shows he has overtaken Congressman Sidney "the Whale" Yates--44 to 40 percent. Pinocchio's nose grows 12 inches as he delivers this message, cooked up by Bill "Geppetto" Singer, who pulls the strings. Two days later, the Whale swallows Pinocchio whole as the puppet receives only 27 percent of the vote.

From inside the Whale we flash back to early in the campaign, when Pinocchio says his net worth is a mere $250,000; then, in a flash-forward, he says his net worth is really $500,000 as he pumps $235,000 of his own money into the campaign--hoping to win because the Whale is too old to swim well. More nasal growth is evident.

After Pinocchio is expelled by the Whale, Ann "the Blue Fairy" Stepan grants his wish to run again for alderman of Her Ward. But he has a problem: he has told the people of the ward that he already finished his aldermanic agenda. The solution: deny he ever said it. There goes that nose again. Jiminy Cricket! At this rate he may never get to be a real person.

The Jack Nicklaus Story

Standard sports-hero flick, notable mainly for its star, Cecil Partee, in a nontraditionally cast role. The hero is so wrapped up in his golf game that he goofs off on the job and ignores his political base in order to improve his putts. But he turns out to be the real putz, double-bogeying himself out of office.

Blackman III

In this still unfinished melodrama, Danny K. Davis, who was first elected as an independent alderman and then as a regular Democratic county commissioner, is suddenly made lord of stately Washington Manor, a high honor bestowed by the deprived denizens of Gotham City. Davis dons the black mantle and cowl once worn by two fallen figures, Eugene Sawyer and Timothy Evans.

The new Caped Crusader must now climb into the Blackmobile and ride forth to win back control of Gotham City in the name of Washington Manor. But he faces that most formidable of all villains, the man with the hideous white face and maniacal laugh, Richie "the Joker" Daley. We can all guess how this will end, but we must still wait for the final reel.

The Millionaire

A full-length adaptation of the vintage TV series, in which Richard "the Millionaire" Phelan is cast in a triple role, playing John Beresford Tipton, who has all the money, Michael Anthony, who distributes the money, and himself, the ordinary citizen who receives the money. First Phelan gives himself a million bucks, then he raises another million from his friends, clients, and employees and gives it to himself. With this largess he buys himself the presidency of the Cook County Board, assuming yet another role in order to complete the transaction: political reformer. None of this would have been possible without the performance of Richie Daley, the Millionaire's secret ally, who wins the award for best supporting actor even though he never appears onscreen.

The film is also notable for its sound track, Bob Crosby's jazz classic "Big Noise Blew In From Winnetka." Watch for the sequel: The Millionaire Tries to Buy the Governor's Office.

Ghost III

Police detective George S. Gottlieb, who starred as the Invisible Man in two previous congressional elections, is nominated by the Republican Party as its candidate for mayor of Chicago and thus gets to inhabit the bodies of previous nominees Don Haider and Dr. Herbert Sohn; now he must find a medium to confirm his existence or suffer the torment of the living dead.

30 Seconds Over Tokyo . . . and London . . . and Paris . . . and Warsaw . . .

The story of Jim Thompson's last year as governor of Illinois, which was very like the previous year, which was very like the year before . . . Though its title is taken from the World War II flag-waver, it is actually a remake of the Preston Sturges classic Sullivan's Travels, in which the hero sets out on a long journey looking for serious subjects but returns dedicated to comedy as a way of life.

McCastle: A Metamorphosis

This eerie new-age psychological thriller is based on the collected works of Franz Kafka and directed by David Lynch. At its center is a ghostly castle that appears, disappears, and then reappears in the shape of a domed stadium on South Lake Shore Drive, surrounded by the apparition of an exposition hall. The castle is the intended domain of Prince Michael McCaskey, who has turned into a cockroach. Thus it is called McCastle.

As the story unfolds, Mayor Daley dispatches his favorite liberal beard, multimillionaire John Schmidt, to find a way to pay for the castle, but then the mayor's support strangely vanishes. Meanwhile, we are told that everyone wants McCastle to be built but no one understands how it will be paid for. Then we learn that no one wants to pay for it and thus it is necessary for everyone to pay for it. Then we are told that no one will have to pay for it because it will pay for itself. Then we learn that these things never pay for themselves. Then someone suggests that people who come to visit the city will wind up paying for it when they pay their hotel and restaurant bills.

But that means that the ordinary townsfolk, who eat at the same restaurants, also will wind up paying for it, which makes a lot of people unhappy, which is why the mayor's support disappeared right before election time. But it may yet reappear, because a lot of contractors and developers, who are also cockroaches, want to help build it so that they may become even wealthier cockroaches.

So those contractors and developers will pay for the mayor's reelection campaign in order to regain his support, and thus we will all wind up paying for it, even though we probably don't want it. You may recognize all this as a sequel to Lynch's taut thriller, The 1992 Chicago World's Fair.

The Greatest Show on Earth: November 1990

The latest version of C.B. deMille's big-top epic is a three-ring circus, thanks to the presence of the Harold Washington Party. There, in the left ring, Eugene "Fire Eater" Pincham burns out early. In the center ring, Michael "the Strong Man" Madigan ruptures himself trying to carry Neil Hartigan into the governor's mansion. Over in the right ring, Jim "the Juggler" Edgar does pirouettes atop a recalcitrant elephant, successfully juggling 17 different constituencies and three tax issues.

Off to the side, Ted "the Human Cannonball" Lechowicz has fallen well short of the net because his cannon was manned by a zany collection of clowns and midgets called Ward Committeemen.

Back in the center ring, Gary "Gunther Gabel" LaPaille, tamer of the state Democratic Party, cracks his whip and turns Black Panther Bobby Rush into a pussycat. Over in the sideshow, Dorothy "the Bearded Lady" Tillman is remarkably comfortable in her new role as a beard for the regular Democrats, but takes great glee in watching Cecil "the Sword Swallower" Partee impale himself on his own constituency.

Meanwhile, in a death-defying act overhead, David Orr walks the tightrope between his independent base and his new alliance with the two Richards, Daley and Phelan. In yet another aerial act, Patrick "Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" Quinn swings back and forth on the tax issue, does three double flips, and still lands on his feet.

Below them again, in another clown act, Jim O'Grady, dressed up like a sheriff, and Michael Sheahan, dressed up like a reformer, romp through the center and right rings, spraying bullets at each other. The sheriff's popgun backfires and he falls down dead.

In another unexpected fatality, Jerry "the Fat Man" Cosentino, billed as the best mud wrestler in the circus, slips and expires in his own muck.

In the finale, Jim "P.T. Barnum" Thompson reluctantly hands his megaphone over to Edgar, but no one really believes that Thompson is through with the circus.

As the end titles appear, we see conservative Tom Roeser sweeping up after the elephants.

The envelope please . . .

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kurt Mitchell.

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