I have come back—to Chicago Now. I left for a while. Long enough to write a book: The Hidden History of Old Town (now published), carry on a literary love affair with Ernest Hemingway (now over, I think), and launch a new career—reviewing short films and filmmakers for Zacuto USA, a video production group(still going strong). I cast my net beyond Old Town, and, like Alice, fell down the rabbit hole into video wonderland.
- Ben Sherman holding a copy of my "Hidden History of Old Town" at the Perennial/Virant book signing bash
Chapter Two: Changing Directions A while ago, the History Press approached me about writing a history of Old Town from a different perspective—finding little known or unknown stories about the area. That was a challenge I gladly accepted. Having already written three neighborhood books: a history, an architectural study, and an artistic examination, I was ready for something new—a chance to dish a little dirt. So I journeyed back to a time when Old Town was in its heyday—actually several of its heydays—and I found stories about the people who gave the area its always artsy, sometimes naughty, aura. My research led me to some of the most interesting characters who ever lived in the city—or anywhere else for that matter: people like Herman Kogan, Leo Weissenborn, Henry Gerber, George Spoor, Richard Latham, David Kennison, Ira Couch, Paddy Bauler, Henry Rago, Joseph O’Connell, Slim Williams, Kitty Weese, … the list goes on. If you’ve never heard of these people, no worries, I’m going to give them all an encore.
When the book wasfinished, I looked about for a diversion. I found it in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Overcome with nostalgia and a desire to recherché le temps perdu, I re-read A Moveable Feast, combed the internet for all things Hemingway, and read the five-volume opus of Michael Reynolds’ Hemingway, maybe a bit extreme,but you can’t control nostalgia. Sadly, by the third volume, the drop-dead good looks and the glamour of EH were gone. I was left with a brilliant, but seriously flawed, human being—a man who killed magnificent animals for trophies, and discarded his friends and his wives when they were no longer useful to him,(Scott Fitzgerald said every time Hemingway came out with a new book, he took on a new wife, an observation only partly tongue in cheek.) Just when I was ready to cross him off the dance card, out comes Paul Hendrickson’s sympathetic new biography that says “not so fast”. There was a reason why we (and his wives) fell in love with him in the first place. With all his faults, no one ever wrote a truer or better sentence, and no one exuded a persona so large or so magnetic. So, Papa, I will love you still and will think of you when I excise my sentences of superfluous adjectives and adverbs.
- Phil Arntz on location in Germany
A Unicorn in the Garden of YouthIn my latest incarnation—as a reviewer for internet films—I’m hob-nobbing with some interesting young (and I do mean young) talents and discovering the fascinating world of video cinema. For starters, I met seventeen-year-old German phenom Phil Arntz (left). At a time when many kids his age are talking on their i-phones and punching keys on their i-pads, Phil is creating timelapses and making commercial music videos. He captures the world around him in a few seconds and reveals the results in brilliant bursts of light and color. Talking to him is like going trick-or-treating with a kid who’s just discovered candy. Everything is “amazing”. In coming weeks, I’ll introduce you to Phil and some of the other talents who are changing the cinematic scene in Madrid, Marrakech, New York, Los Angeles, Paris,— everywhere there are landscapes to be shot and stories to be told. And you won’t have to pass through one security check. Just read and click.
- Media czar Steve Weiss shooting "Filmfellas"
With a LittleHelp from My Friend There is an old Chinese proverb that goes, “May you live in interesting times”. My times have become a good deal more interesting due to my association with an enormously talented friend and Old Town neighbor Steve Weiss. In addition to owning the house that was once the smallest cathedral in the world (shown on the cover of my last book), Steve is the owner of Zacuto USA, a media production firm that is revolutionizing the video film industry both with the development of their high- end cameras and accessories and their production of web films. Last year, he won the first-ever Emmy for a web film (Filmfellas); and he has been nominated again this year for the continuation of the series. Steve knows and works with almost every director, cinematographer, and producer in indie filmmaking and is riding the crest of the web film wave. Lucky me, he’s letting me hang on for the ride. You come too, and I’ll be the conduit for your entry into the wonderful world of Steve and many other worlds in our interesting times.
Filed under: Living in Interesting Times