Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A New Website Showcases Chicago - its architecture, vistas, events and people. Introducing Lynn Becker Gallery

[September 18, 2010] Father Time

Over the past fifteen years, I've taken over 175,000 images, mostly of my thumb.

Some are of San Francisco, even fewer of Washington and other cities, but almost were taken in Chicago.  Slowly, I've been going through those hundreds of thousands of photographs and picking out or my newest website, Lynn Becker Gallery

Here you'll find the images in a large, full-page format, far more expressive than the sizes to which I'm restricted to in this blog and on social media.  Often, they'll be accompanied by a short essay providing the story behind what's in the day's photograph.

I'll be adding new pictures several times each week, and just to get started, daily this week, with a bonus image on this original post.

I hope you'll find them enjoyable, and I welcome your comments.

For your troubles, today's bonus image:

(April 10, 2010) Drummond Place stalked by purple dinosaur.

© Lynn Becker, 2003-2015.  All rights reserved.  Reproduction without permission strictly prohibited.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Spartacus, Newly Relevant in the Time of Trump, two rare 70mm showings at the Music Box

Spartacus in 70mm will be shown twice at the Music Box Theater, Saturday, July 8th at 6;00 p.m., and 2:00 p.m., Thursday, July 13th.

"As those slaves have died, so will your rabble... if they falter one instant in loyalty to the new order of affairs. Arrests are in progress. The prisons began to fill. In every city and province, lists of the disloyal have been compiled. Tomorrow, they will learn the cost of their terrible folly."     -Marcus Licinius Crassus 

It's not only the most overtly political of the great Hollywood epics, it's also newly relevant - a film created in the shadow of McCarthyism, being revived in a time of authoritarian restoration via the alt-right and its bouffanted Crassus, the current President of the United States.

When the Kirk Douglas/Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus returns to Chicago as part of this year's edition of the Music Box Theatre's always incredible 70mm Film Festival, it will to the best of my knowledge be the first time it's been shown in 70mm here since the picture's original 1960 release. (A short run of the restored version ran at Piper's Alley in the 1990's, but not in 70mm.)

I was lucky enough to be in L.A. back in 1991 when the million dollar restoration premiered, and was able to see it with a demonstrably appreciative audience at a Century City cinema.  Before the 1960 release, censors had forced numerous cuts, and even more were made for reissues and television.  The original negatives had decayed to the point of being useless, and the restoration had to be created from color separations.

The 2010 Blue-ray transfer was infamously flawed. A 2015 4K version supervised by Robert A. Harris appears to be much better, but here's a chance to see it - maybe for the last time? - in the original 70mm.  Why pass it up?

As with Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus is made up of two very distinct halves.  The first is largely made up with extended set pieces - Spartacus becoming a Gladiator, the climatic match between Spartacus and Draba, the takeover and escape from the compound, the assembly and training of the slave army.  The emphasis is on action.

The second act, again as with Lawrence, is much more telescoped, with a strong counterpoint between the march of the slave army and the politics in Rome, reaching a climax in cross-cut scenes of Olivier's speech his character Crassus has been made dictator by a fearful Rome, and Spartacus addressing his followers on the eve of battle.  Crassus speaks in the Forum, with all the pomp and architectural Rome as his backdrop.  Spartacus speaks from a bluff overlooking a seemingly boundless array of people in which Kubrick's sure use of 70mm makes the crowd not anonymous but a sea of individuals.

Saul Bass not only designed the film's striking title sequence, but also served, as he often did with Hitchcock, as the film's visual consultant, designing the gladiator school and storyboarding the climatic final battle between the armies of Spartacus and Rome.  The massing of the opposing armies across a vast physical expanse can truly only be fully appreciated in 70mm.  The ultra-wide shots of the movement of clotted masses of humanity seen from a great distance rare a visual representation of the appreciation of abstraction that both Bass and Kubrick shared.

 It is the political maneuverings of the second half of Spartacus that give it its lasting character.  The book on which the film was based was written by Howard Fast, whose renunciation of his flirtation with communism did nothing to dim his radical sensibilities.  Very early on, when it became apparent that the screenplay Fast was hired to write was essentially unfilmable, Dalton Trumbo was brought on as a rush replacement.   Trumbo would write the screenplay under the name Sam Jackson, one of a series of pseudonyms he used to continue a (diminished) living as a blacklisted radical banned from working in Hollywood (including, as Robert Rich, winning an Academy Award he couldn't show up to collect for 1956's The Brave One.) . It was Trumbo's Spartacus script the helped Douglas get the cast of British acting royalty he was looking for - Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, and Peter Ustinov.  (In the original concept, the slaves would all have American accents, the Roman patricians would all be - and sound - British.)

But there were still more changes to the script to come.

In an interview for Criterion Collection, Ustinov - who would be the only person ever to receive an Oscar for acting in a Stanley Kubrick film -  says Olivier joined the shoot a week before the others, and had used the time to coral Douglas into rewrites.  When everyone assembled for the first table read, Ustinov and Laughton found themselves acting out a script far different from the one they had originally been given.  Laughton, believing that his part was being diminished, was enraged.  He threatened to sue Douglas, and Ustinov says he walked through the production essentially "waiting to be offended."

As a placation, Ustinov and Laughton were allowed by Kubrick to rewrite the scenes in which they appeared.  Steven Spielberg has said those scenes are his favorite part of the picture.  And they define the political content.  ""I'd rather have a little Republican corruption, with a little Republican freedom," Laughton's Gracchus proclaims to a Senate contemplating giving Olivier's Crassus dictatorial powers, "than rule by Crassus and no freedom at all!"  It is not the strongman Olivier but the amiably corrupt Gracchus - corpulent, indecently wealthy, indulgent of his own appetites and those of others, and comfortable with the mechanics of power and persuasion, who, second only to Spartacus himself, is the hero of the piece.  

If you have not seen Spartacus, do yourself a favor.  Stop reading here and go so it.  If you already seen it, proceed on.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

For a 100th Anniversary, Chicago becomes the Lions den.

Note: to see the photographs in full size, click the first one below.  You will then be able to use the thumbnail bar at the bottom of the window to move through the pictures, either by clicking or using your right arrow key.

When I heard the music coming from the street below, I had no idea what was going on.  By the time I got downstairs, I was immersed in one of the most amazing parades ever.  Lions Club International was holding its annual convention in Chicago, where it was founded by insurance agent and Business Circle activist Melvin Jones at the LaSalle Hotel in 1917, and celebrating its centenary in a big way.

23 marching bands joined an estimated 24,000 Lions Club members representing over 100 countries and an overall membership of nearly 1,500,000 people constituting was claimed to be the world's largest service organization..

The result was an incredible pageant of visitors from throughout the U.S. and all around the world, often in colorful native dress.  The Lions last met in Chicago ten years ago.  After operating out of Melvin Jones office, it moved to the six-story post-fire building at the northeast corner of Michigan and Lake, which was remodeling in the early 1920's by Jarvis Hunt, and then again with its facade getting a concrete modernization in the 1950's.  For twenty years, the  Lions purple and gold emblem placed on the blank southern facing wall proclaimed the Lions presence, until the organization sold the building to Metropolitan Structures and moved to a new headquarters in Oak Brook in 1972.  The structure was demolished to make way for Fujikawa Johnson's 205 North Michigan, the easternmost component of the massive Illinois Center development constructed on the Illinois Central's old railyards.

Jones set the mission of the Lions in service for others, saying "You can't get very far until you start doing something for somebody else," a commonsense statement under mounting assault in a current society that seems evermore obsessed with greed and cruelty.

According to an article by Joyce Russell Joyce in the Times of Northwestern Indiana, this mission found focus after Helen Keller addressed the 1925 convention, heeding Keller's call for the group to become "knights of the blind" their mission.  It's said a Lions member created the first white guide cane, and in 1939 members of the Detroit Uptown Lions opened one of the first schools for training guide dogs.  The Lions collected prescription eyewear for redistribution, and sponsored a series of vans and buses for vision testing.

I remember encountering volunteers on the street for Lions Candy Day, collecting contributions and passing out rolls (now pouches) of Lifesavers. The tradition continues to this day, and accounts for a large portion of Lions operating income.

Membership in the Lions remains by invitation only - you have to be sponsored by an existing member.  Women were not admitted as members until 1987.  (The majority of the Worcester England club resigned in protest.) Judging from Saturday's parade, they've made up for lost time.  Similarly, while it took 14 years before an annual convention took place outside the United States, and until 1969 before a convention was held on the Asia continent, Japan, Korea and China today constitute the Lions fastest growing areas.  Since 2002, conventions have been held in Osaka, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Busan and, last year, Fukuoka.

Saturday's parade was sprawling, marching from Wacker all the way down to Van Buren, with staging areas all along Wacker, to Franklin on the West and Wabash on the East.  While Chicago has a habit of inflating crowd estimates, the Tribune reported the 1967 Chicago gathering as even larger - 50,000 Lions and 18,000 in the parade marching before a quarter million spectators. Mayor Richard J. Daley watched from the reviewing stand on State Street just north of Balbo.  Scheduled for 4 hours, the parade actually took five and a half to finish.

Today the Lions claim to be represented on every continent accept Antarctica, in over 200 countries and geographical areas. The emphasis on vision remain, but  the Lions mission has expanded to such issues as youth mentoring, protecting the environment, and disaster relief.  This year there are new programs addressing diabetes awareness and education.

While countless "Lions" were on view, actual "lions" appeared to be limited to participants such as these.