What’s Uptown?

A look at Uptown in 1981 from the point of view of the everyday people who live and work in the neighborhood. In addition to on-the-street interviews with working class people about their opinions on their neighborhood, the documentary also spends a significant amount of time talking to gang members. The footage in mostly in color, although a few sections are in black & white.

0:25Copy video clip URL Color bars.

1:03Copy video clip URL Titles. “What’s Uptown? a view from the street”

1:14Copy video clip URL The program begins with a montage of shots from around Uptown set to a folk song. Shots include: Train platforms (notably the Lawrence Red Line Station), views of the neighborhood from the trains and train platforms, driving under the El tracks (Broadway between Wilson and Lawrence), Uptown Theater, Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, and Sharon’s Hillbilly Heaven.

2:14Copy video clip URL The video switches to the band that has been playing the country folk song. They are sitting on cars in an alleyway (supposedly at 4619 Magnolia Ave) playing guitar and banjo while some people dance.

3:14Copy video clip URL Black & white footage of interviews on the street. A man says of Uptown, “To me it’s working man’s neighborhood. If you work for a dollar, there’s nobody gonna cheat you here, nobody gonna hustle you.” They also speak to a man in Spanish, and the interviewer translates roughly that the man likes the neighborhood. Another man standing outside his building says, “This neighborhood is just about as good as any of the other neighborhoods. They’re all bad if you want to know what I think of them, but there’s good and there’s bad in every neighborhood,” and admits that he thinks Uptown could be improved, saying in particular that he thinks the “purse-snatchers” need to be arrested. He also says the police help him, “and I help them.”

5:00Copy video clip URL A police officer says the community is getting a lot safer, and talks about how they are beautifying Kenmore Ave. Meanwhile, a man who appears to be a blue collar worker says he’s lived in Uptown for 18 years and he “[doesn’t] think they should make a rent so high that people can’t pay it, like the elderly people, and people that can’t work.”

5:50Copy video clip URL Kids cross the street under the direction of a crossing guard. They interview the crossing guard, at one point asking her if the kids have changed during her 27 years on the job. “Oh, they’re smarter than you’ll ever be!” she responds.

6:50Copy video clip URL A woman holding her baby says that everyone who leaves Uptown comes right back because “they miss it.” She says that Uptown is a tight knit community, calling it “one big happy family.” The other mothers in the group agree that raising kids is hard, but “it’s easier here… because you’ve got all these people around you.” “You’ve got communities that help you. Down there, [if] you can’t get a job, that’s it.” They also talk about how terrible it would be for their community and Chicago as a whole if the city cut welfare.

8:55Copy video clip URL In a separate interview, a woman talks about places in Uptown that will help people without food or shelter. However, she says, “These girls going around having these babies, getting on welfare… [it’s] not very good, not very good.” When asked what she thinks would happen to the babies if welfare was cut, she claims the women would just go find work instead and the children would be taken care of that way. They ask her how the neighborhood has changed since she first moved here. “Well, these smart ass boys, we didn’t have that then,” and talks about how a building she lived in that was once nice has changed for the worse, and the increase in gang activity. Behind her, graffiti is visible, some of it potentially marking the spot as territory belonging to the Gaylords.

10:59Copy video clip URL The footage returns to color from here on out, starting with a shot of some young men listening to Zapp’s “More Bounce to the Ounce” on a boombox. The crew then interviews some young gang members who seem to be Gaylords. One of the older guys talks about the boundary lines restricting where he can safely travel in the city. He also talks about loyalty within the gang, and mentions one guy who is currently in jail because he is taking the rap for another guy who actually committed the robbery. He says if you get shot by someone in another gang, you don’t tell the cops, “because that’s what gang-banging is all about. You know you’re going to get shot if you’re in a gang.” He says that he’s never personally shot a gun at anyone himself, but that gang-banging is getting rougher now, and he wants to get out of it if he can.

13:44Copy video clip URL Footage of the gang member tagging a wall. In another shot, he draws a rough map of the neighborhood and where different gangs hold territory. He says that they fight with all the other gangs except the Disciples. Other members talk about the various affiliations between gangs, and where you can and can’t expect help from other gangs. The interviewer asks how large their gang is, and one man estimates about 15,000 members across Chicago, maybe 20,000 if you include people in court and jail. A very young white member of the gang is wearing a shirt with a swastika that says, “White Power,” although there are also black members in the group. The gang members say that the Gaylords and the Disciples have the same colors, black and blue.

18:41Copy video clip URL A man (apparently named Brian) stands on a chain-link fence and touches up a graffiti tag when the police show up and he runs. Over the footage is audio of a man talking about Brian, who he says is viewed as the president of the Gaylords in Uptown. “Brian, he’s a hardcore gang member, okay? He’s not a member that you would see going to jail every day for what he is, okay? Very sensible guy. He used to be one of the intelligent guys around here, he didn’t gang bang before. Now he does, only because he wants to be somebody, or he thinks he’s somebody but he ain’t.”

19:35Copy video clip URL A gang member in a flannel shirt (possibly Brian?) says, “I want to be somebody, I don’t want to be running the streets all my life.” The interviewer asks some other members what they want to be when they get older, “do you want to just stay here and get high?” “No, I want to be a cop,” one of them responds. The man in the flannel shirt talks about how, as much as he would fight for his friends in the gang, sometimes you have to think about yourself, because if you stay in the gang too long you’ll just burn out.

21:12Copy video clip URL A man in a suit and hat speaks into a megaphone about the problems in Uptown, specifically talking about helping alcoholics. Meanwhile, a woman talks to a man on a bench about how God can help him quit alcohol, and he’s taking his first step by being here and wanting to quit.

23:09Copy video clip URL An old man says he’s still in Uptown because he has relatives here and he can’t afford more than what he’s already paying for rent. He says he suspects a lot of people who live in Uptown are there because they can’t afford the rent elsewhere.

23:44Copy video clip URL The man with the megaphone talks about how Uptown is more culturally and racially diverse than any other part of Chicago.

24:07Copy video clip URL A woman on the street talks about all the different people who live in Uptown. “You’ve got them all up here. You got the whole world right here.”

25:08Copy video clip URL A man says he’d tell young people to get out of here and go to the farmland, grow their own food, make their living that way.

25:36Copy video clip URL The man on the megaphone continues to evangelize for Christianity while a man plays church music on an accordion.

27:19Copy video clip URL End credits.

28:50Copy video clip URL End of tape.