While You Were Sleeping | Our Town | Chicago Reader

While You Were Sleeping 

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Two women hug inside a fluorescent-lit currency exchange. Two men at a construction site work their way across wet cement, smoothing the surface with trowels. Seen through a window, a giddy couple in a gym spar with rapid martial arts moves. A sleeping boy snores in his bed.

These and 71 other disconnected scenes make up Something More Than Night, a film directed by Daniel Eisenberg (who also recorded sound) and shot by cinematographer Ingo Kratisch over two years in Chicago between nine at night and four in the morning. The 77-minute work, distilled from more than nine hours of 16-millimeter footage, is an observant nocturne reminiscent of the paintings of Edward Hopper. But it also evokes the early days of cinema, when the Lumiere brothers trained their cameras on the streets of Paris in 1895 to record minute-long "actualities."

"I'm trying to visualize Chicago and decode the city through its industrial past," says Eisenberg. "You can see it by who works when and what they do."

The film, which screens this weekend at the Gene Siskel Film Center, comprises calm, grainy shots of subjects ranging from a Maxwell Street Polish stand (now demolished) to a billboard advertising DNA testing to the view out the window of the United terminal at O'Hare. Eisenberg says it's "like a time capsule. It is very much designed to have these long shots so that the idea of what the time of our time is like is there. It's very rare to sit and watch things that unfold in real time. It makes people uncomfortable and I don't think that's a bad thing."

Eisenberg, chair of the School of the Art Institute's department of film, video, and new media, has worked as an editor on traditional film projects such as the civil rights documentary series Eyes On the Prize, but his own work is more experimental. Persistence, a meditative study of Berlin shot during a 1991-'92 residency with Berliner Kunstlerprogramm, blends Eisenberg's shots of the contemporary urban landscape with U.S. Air Force footage of Berlin in June 1945 and clips from Germany Year Zero, Roberto Rossellini's 1947 drama set in the ruined postwar city. The sound track is filled with narration and music; the film's 22 sections are defined by fussy titles decked out with Roman numerals, parentheses, colons, and ellipses.

The understated scenes in Something More Than Night, by contrast, are accompanied only by synchronized ambient sound--the clanging of a bell as a bridge is lowered over the Chicago River; dogs barking by the rail yard at Roosevelt and Canal. They pass unidentified by date or address.

Eisenberg says he felt like a beat cop making the film. "I was a new father, I had a new job," he says. "I didn't have a lot of free time except at night. That was a real practical dimension, and it was a way of discovering the city through ulterior means. We just started wandering around the city and would bump into things."

He ends up with more than a walk in the dark, though. "Many of the spaces that I'm trying to reproduce in the film are ubiquitous; they are spaces that appear everywhere," he says. "Everyone has gone through this where they sit in an airplane for many hours and they arrive somewhere and it's not significantly different from where they just came from. The things that are out of whack with our idea of the local are clear when you realize that what is going on very near is as strange as something thousands miles away."

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