[Studs on a Soapbox raw: Skip #2]

Continuation raw for Studs on a Soapbox (Skip's camera). Producer Tom Weinberg interviews Studs Terkel at his home and at Bughouse Square, a park that hosted a free-speech forum during Terkel's youth.

00:00Copy video clip URL Crew sets up for interview. There is a Beta setup operated by Mirko Popadic, and a mobile mini-DV camera operated by Skip Blumberg. Blumberg captures the entirety of the shoot, equipment and all. Terkel’s audio is difficult to hear throughout.

00:19Copy video clip URL Weinberg coaxes transitional soundbytes out of Terkel, covering his upbringing at the Wells Grand Hotel, his opinion of World War II, and his friendship with Chicago columnist Mike Royko. “We naturally became friends,” he says of Royko. “I found in Mike a very strong sentimental streak, yet Mike also possessed demons that were destroying him. … But that very demon that was hurting him so much was the very same one that created him.”

05:29Copy video clip URL They discuss Terkel’s motivation to seek the truth, a “guerrilla journalist” as he calls himself. “That’s the drive … to find out what it’s like to be in the other guy’s shoes. And who is the other guy?” Weinberg also asks about author Nelson Algren, Terkel’s close friend.

09:00Copy video clip URL Weinberg moves on to lengthier questions, asking Terkel about his legacy and how he edits his interviews for his books. Comparing himself to a prospector sifting gold from rubble, he says, “That’s the key moment—do I edit out the truth? Edit in such a way that you make the truth hard and clear and awful. … Suddenly you put all of the gold dust together and out comes a watch.” He also compares his process of choosing interview subjects to a director’s job casting a play.

15:33Copy video clip URL They briefly discuss the archive of Terkel’s long-running WFMT radio show at the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum). Weinberg then asks him about his work ethic, hectic schedule and role models. “There’s a job to do,” he explains, “and I have this job. This job is coming through with books, making a speech or two about something which I believe here or there, and that’s about it.”

20:56Copy video clip URL Asked about his regrets, Terkel replies that there are “too many” but doesn’t go into detail. While they talk the picture shows Weinberg’s long lists of topics to ask about. Studs names a few of his interviewees whom he particularly admires, the people who “are not different from others, [but] they merely have the ability within them to articulate.” They pause to switch tapes and choose a place to go to lunch.

25:57Copy video clip URL They discuss ageism, which Terkel calls “the most pervasive of prejudices and bigotries.” “There’s an obscenity here. We live longer … and yet our work lives are being shortened because we want ‘young horses,’ ” he says sarcastically. He then launches into a political rant criticizing Ronald Reagan, military spending, and the 2000 presidential election.

33:32Copy video clip URL The crew moves to Bughouse Square in downtown Chicago. Terkel chats with an acquaintance and recalls fabulous stories from the 1930s about the square’s colorful orators. Raconteurs like “Joe Chchch—there wasn’t a vowel to his name” would stand on soapboxes and address their audience. Terkel performs a memorable speech from a “one-armed Charlie Wendorf.”

43:11Copy video clip URL “We don’t have any more of that discussion we used to have, good bad or indifferent,” he laments. Terkel, standing atop his own soapbox performs his own speech Bughouse Square-style. “More and more the media and TV and the press are controlled by fewer and fewer people instead of many of us knowing what it’s about,” he begins. “It should be many sources of [information]. Take that last election we had—they wouldn’t let Ralph Nader take part in the debates. Why not? He had more brains that the other two put together, which wouldn’t be saying too much.”

48:01Copy video clip URL The crew wraps up shooting in the park and Terkel meets with a couple of enthusiastic fans (and their dog) who compliment his “fancy red socks” and his work at the Chicago Historical Society. Near the end, Terkel tells the story of Bughouse Square’s demise and criticizes modern American “couch potato-ism.” “Even goofy though it was, there was a life to it. … That’s what we need today,” he says.

 

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