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Poring Over the Past, Squinting at the Future

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 12, 2007 2:33PM

Let's start with a tough question: Who is Chicago's greatest filmmaker? When it comes to experimental film some might advocate for James Fotopoulos, whose output is both prodigious and relentlessly probing. When it comes to documentaries, Steve James is more than formidable. And on the narrative end of things although neither Andrew Davis nor John Landis quite make the grade, they've both had their moments.

We would argue that the title should go to Tom Palazzolo, who has been a tireless chronicler of Chicago since the early 60's. His movies combine the best of all worlds; taken as a whole, his work is a mosaic-like depiction of the city, verging on the experimental while firmly maintaining an earthy sense of humor (and abundant pathos for local foibles). His coverage of everything from the unveiling ceremony of the Picasso in Daley Plaza, to a 70's-era Gay Pride parade and a senior citizens picnic takes us back to a time and place both eerily recognizable and unfamiliar.

2007_9uptown_theater.jpg This Thursday, Chicago Filmmakers presents seven newly preserved prints of films by Palazzolo (the screening is in conjunction with SAIC and will take place at the Siskel). The new prints are courtesy of funding from the Avant-Garde Masters program of the National Film Preservation Foundation, and promise to look even better than earlier DVD releases. If you love movies and Chicago history, it's an event not to be missed.

And if you love movies and Chicago history, you'll also want to head out to the Portage Theatre on Friday night to catch the documentary Uptown: Portrait of a Palace. It's part of a mini-festival called Preserving Palaces, a collection of films about the (often unsuccessful) attempts to restore and preserve some of America's grandest movie theaters. We hardly need to rehash the whole Uptown Theatre mess; it's a sad history of glory, decline and dashed hopes. But could a brighter future be just around the corner? Let's hope for the best ... but don't hold your breath

Amazing photo of the Uptown Theatre auditorium via