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Uncovering New Stories Through the NEH CARES Grant

Palazzolo Collection

In June 2020, CFA received generous support from a CARES grant, which was made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and designed to help us delve into our collections and make more stories and films accessible to the public. During this exceptionally difficult time (on so many levels), we were tasked with finding new ways to work with our collections amidst lockdowns, staggered schedules, and Zoom meet-ups due to COVID-19. The grant supported our ability to focus on the labor-intensive work of stabilizing, digitizing, and cataloguing portions of our large audiovisual collections, which contain precious footage documenting Midwestern culture and history. With help from the NEH, we were able to dedicate much-needed time to the William Franklin Grisham Collection, which documents the history of the early film industry in Chicago; the Frank Koza Collection of mid-century newsreels; the Tom Palazzolo Collection, which captures the outermost fringes of life in Chicago; and the Rhodes Patterson Collection of design, architecture and industry films.

We found plenty of exciting and potentially groundbreaking narratives through our work. For example, the William Franklin Grisham Collection contains elements from The Very Last Laugh (1976), a documentary directed by Grisham that features the only known footage of Luther J. Pollard, the head of Ebony Film Co. and possibly the first African American film producer in history. Work is currently underway to further understand Pollard’s role in the establishment of Ebony Film Co., but for now, The Very Last Laugh presents a fascinating story that is under-acknowledged within film history. Also included in the collection are rare 16mm prints of several films made by Ebony in the 1910s, including The Comeback of Barnacle Bill and A Black Sherlock Holmes, now streaming.

We also found hidden gems within the Frank Koza Collection, which contains wonderful snippets of Midwestern life in the 1950s and ‘60s. CFA brought on contract archivist Jiayi Chen to work on inspecting and stabilizing the massive collection of 2100 reels of news footage shot by the professional cameraman. Jiayi was able to inspect nearly 400 elements over the course of the grant, and CFA staff digitized and catalogued 48 new titles from the collection. Highlights among these newly streaming films include never-before-seen footage of Elvis getting ready to enter the military in 1958, scenes of polio vaccinations being administered in 1960, and a look at Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1959. 

Collections Manager Yasmin Desouki was also able to dig into the vast Rhodes Patterson Collection, uncovering a surprisingly diverse body of work. Among the architecture and design films we were expecting, Yasmin also came across a film Rhodes made with his wife Norma, The Signal (ca. 1966), which features delightful stop-motion puppetry. Another charming find was The Dogs of Aspen, a humorous film about, you guessed it, the dogs that live in Aspen, CO.

Jiayi Chen

Archivist Jiayi Chen inspects a roll of film from the Frank Koza Collection

 

Digitization manager Olivia Babler and transfer technician Justin Dean were excited to work on the Tom Palazzolo Collection, which contains more than 1700 prints, trims, and elements from the filmmaker known as “Tommy Chicago.” The entire collection has now been inventoried, and this grant also enabled us to digitize and catalogue a number of Tom’s underground documentary films and home movies. We truly enjoyed getting to ask the insightful and goofy filmmaker more about his work over the last six months (and have delighted in the sometimes elaborate, costumed selfies he frequently attaches to his e-mail correspondence). You can now stream some of Tom’s earliest works, his first feature, and even his wedding film on our website.

A heartfelt thank you to the National Endowment for the Humanities for facilitating this work. We are delighted to have been given the capacity required to work on these wonderful collections in the past few months, and to have catalogued upwards of 80 films for our audience to research and enjoy. Below you will find links to view all of the films we have digitized and catalogued for this project.

 

 

NEH-Horizontal-Seal-Black820

 

Frank Koza Collection

Tom Palazzolo Collection

Rhodes Patterson Collection

William Franklin Grisham Collection

45 years ago….the Chicago Apollo 11 Parade

As Collections Manager at CFA, I love finding connections among our collections, or better yet, finding documentation of the same event spread across various collections. Whenever this happens I admittedly find myself daydreaming of filmmakers crossing paths…possibly chatting with each other, comparing cameras and stocks. 

In the context of our collections, having multiple films shot on the same day of the same subject is a fairly common phenomenon for big and notable public events. Examples of this include the ’33 Chicago World’s Fair, the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention, or more generally, rowdy Chicago parades. One of my favorite Chicago “same day” subjects is the Apollo 11 parade, which took place 45 years ago this month (August 13, 1969 to be exact) in downtown Chicago. Thousands gathered to get a glimpse of the first humans on the Moon aka Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, Jr. To celebrate this sapphire anniversary, here are stills and films of the parade found across genres and collections…plus one special guest appearance courtesy of Tom Palazzolo!

Our first example is a social-issue documentary by Dewitt Beall….

LORD THING (DeWitt Beall, 1970, 16mm.; found in CFA’s DeWitt Beall Collection)

This Thursday, CFA is delighted to premiere the 16mm restoration of LORD THING as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s 20th annual Black Harvest Film Festival. The film chronicles the genesis and transformation of the Conservative Vice Lords, one of Chicago’s oldest street gangs. In one particular scene, an “LSD” (Lords, Stones & Disciples) coalition marches on city hall during the Apollo 11 parade festivities. Along with LSD protests at various Chicago construction sites, the march took place to encourage the hiring of black youth for city sponsored construction projects. Unlike the other examples highlighted below, LORD THING doesn’t attempt at capturing the astronauts or parade as a whole, but rather keeps it lens tight on the LSD and their colorful berets.

Now from social-issue documentary to unedited B-Roll….

APOLLO 11 PARADE (Rhodes Patterson, 1969, 16mm.; found in CFA’s Rhodes Patterson Collection)

Chicagoan Rhodes Patterson wore many professional and artistic hats during his lifetime; he was a designer, cinematographer, photographer and writer. In the mid 1950s, Patterson started working for the Container Corporation of America (CCA), writing much of their advertising material, designing internal publications, and documenting various aspects of the corporation and its activities. The diverse subject matter and style of Patterson’s films reflect the interconnected communities of industrial and graphic design, commercial and industrial film production, fine art, and architecture in Chicago. Whether made “just for fun,” as documentation, or for commercial purposes, his films reflect his humor, interest in art and design, imagination and creativity. One unedited reel in his collection captures the Apollo 11 parade from various vantage points. Here it is streaming in full below:

+ my favorite shot of the film…a girl with her 8mm camera:

and now from B-Roll to home movie…

ASTRONAUTS PARADE 1969 (Carl Godman, 1969, 8mm.; found in CFA’s Carl L. Godman Collection)

CFA recently acquired the Carl L. Godman Home Movie Collection- a collection of films documenting the Godman family of Chicago and Evanston from the early 1960′s to mid 1970′s. It contains a whopping 95 reels of 8mm film, the majority of which were shot when 8mm Kodachrome was at its most saturated prime – the early to mid 1960′s.  Included among birthday, holiday and vacation films was a single reel documenting the family’s experience at the parade as well as attempts at capturing the famed three – Buzz, Neil and Michael. Stay tuned as we begin to publish streaming films of this exciting new home movie collection on our site. In the meantime, here are stills from the aforementioned reel appropriately titled “Astronauts Parade”:

and now from home movie to educational film…

THE METOOSHOW: “Where Does My Street Go?” (Gordon Weisenborn, c. 1969, 16mm.; found in CFA’s Jack Behrend Collection)

The MeTooShow was a Chicago produced educational program, focusing on children’s interactions and interpretations of the world around them. It was made by Chicago-born Gordon Weisenborn, a prolific director of educational and sponsored films (and creator of a CFA favorite, MURAL MIDWEST METROPOLIS). CFA is lucky to have a handful of Weisenborn titles in our Jack Behrend Collection, including two episodes of the Meetooshow. Unfortunately, though, both episodes are severely color faded. In the show’s  “Where Does My Street Go?” episode, footage of the city and its people are intercut with children at play within the classroom, providing real-world examples of their imaginative play. One of these city scenes features footage of our topic at hand, including shots of the astronauts and a streamer-lined LaSalle Street (pictured below with the show’s opening title card).

and now from educational film to experimental documentary…

YOUR ASTRONAUTS (Tom Palazzolo, 1970, 16mm.; courtesy of  Tom Palazzolo)

Chicago filmmaker (& legend) Tom Palazzolo generously offered us permission to stream his 1970 film YOUR ASTRONAUTS, which captures his distinct and witty perspective of the parade. During a recent phone conversation with Tom, he described the parade as “just one of those electric days.” He found it most intriguing that the majority of the crowd schlepped in from the burbs. To emphasize the strangeness of this suburban takeover, Tom added a soundtrack of cafeteria noise over footage of parade attendees (interpret as you will). Here it is in full courtesy of Tom:

+ one of my favorite shots from the film:

 

For the time being, that’s it for Apollo 11 Parade footage at CFA. We’ll continue to add to this post as we come across any additional footage. And this may be stating the obvious, but loads and loads of photographs and films (especially home movies) of the parade exist outside of our vault. I recommend checking out the Chicago Tribunes collection of photos here (the bunnies!).  

 

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