Tom Chicago on Location

The nom d'art 'Tommy Chicago' reflects independent filmmaker Tom Palazzolo's unique status within the Chicago film community. Since 1967, Palazzolo has filtered all aspects of the Windy City through his audacious lens. This documentary captures the artist at work and play on his latest film: we see him engage street urchins in the service of his vision, teach his son that you CAN buy love, and drive cast and crew to the brink of artistic chaos. Colorful and fast-paced, the tape illuminates the vital interplay between Palazzolo's brash personal style and his filmic art.

01:04Copy video clip URL Open to Tom Palazzolo on a rant against video and praising his hand-held film camera. “Video is shit, by the way,” he says, “I wouldn’t touch that crap.” Palazzolo picks up a busted-up TV set in a front yard and smashes it on the ground. “That’s video!” he says.

01:42Copy video clip URL Title. Palazzolo filming with his hand-held 16mm camera. Palazzolo orders a chili dog. He introduces himself as “Tom Chicago” to the cashiers. “What does that mean?” one of the cashiers asks. Palazzolo explains, “For twenty years I’ve done nothing but film this city.”

02:56Copy video clip URL Footage from “Venus Adonis” (1967). Footage of downtown Chicago from Lake Michigan.

03:06Copy video clip URL Footage from “The Bride Stripped Bare” (1968). The unveiling of the Chicago Picasso in the Chicago Loop’s civic plaza.

03:24Copy video clip URL Footage from “Campaign” (1969) featuring the violent clash between police and protestors at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

03:42Copy video clip URL Footage from “Jerry’s” (1976).

03:56Copy video clip URL Footage from “Love It / Leave It” (1970).

04:11Copy video clip URL Cut back to Palazzolo talking with the cashiers. Scenes from around Chicago. In the summer heat, children drench themselves in an open fire hydrant. Palazzolo drives a beat-up Oldsmobile to their next shooting location.

05:22Copy video clip URL Palazzolo explains how his film making process has been shaped by documentary work and the adventure of being “alive to what’s happening around you.” Palazzolo approaches a teenager playing in the open fire hydrant and enlists his help for an upcoming scene. A large group of kids gather around the hydrant as Palazzolo directs the neighborhood kids to squirt one of the actors with water from the fire hydrant. They shoot the scene. Afterward, Palazzolo passes out soda and cups to all the neighborhood kids to screams of their delight.

07:52Copy video clip URL Palazzolo in the editing room. He describes the process of moving from the anxiety of shooting a film  toward putting a film together once it has “all the ingredients that I like.”

08:40Copy video clip URL At his home in Oak Park Palazzolo asks his ten-year-old son to show the cameras his collection of plastic toy guns. Palazzolo jokingly “buys” his son’s affection.

10:58Copy video clip URL Palazzolo crams old tires into the trunk of his car and into the passenger side and roof of another car. “I’ve always been sort of a pack rat,” he admits, collecting other discarded items. He explains his love for the 1920s, cubism, and art movements that use “found objects” as the base of their material.

13:00Copy video clip URL On set, Palazzolo discusses camera direction with camera operator Allen Ross, who then hops on the back of a motorcycle to shoot an upcoming scene. Palazzolo directs a group of young actors as they run up a hill toward a makeshift sculpture. Footage of the scene is shown on reel.

14:53Copy video clip URL Palazzolo skips and whistles down a sidewalk in Oak Park. “That’s what it’s like to be a grownup here in the suburbs,” he says. He reflects on the “absurd” situation of being both an artist and having a family with three sons in the suburbs.

15:32Copy video clip URL Palazzolo and his son try to feed meal worms to a pet frog. They try several failed attempts to feed the frog. Palazzolo jokes about offering the frog a gin and tonic.

16:48Copy video clip URL In the back alley of his home, Palazzolo offers a demonstration of his hook shot. His demonstrations take on increasingly exaggerated forms and he ends up trying to break a tree limb in half to use as a massive club. When the limb snaps, Palazzolo falls to the ground. He jokes about how the crew needed to take the sound equipment from him and tells the story of a career changing foible by Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini while he was directing the NBC symphony for radio. “One little fall and you’re through in this business,” Palazzolo says.

18:39Copy video clip URL Back at the shooting location, Palazzolo directs several scenes trying to beat the fading twilight.

20:22Copy video clip URL Palazzolo reflects on why he makes films, treating art as an adventure, making it playful and enjoyable.

20:54Copy video clip URL At the film shoot, with a can of Old Style in his hand, Palazzolo continues his frantic direction of both camera crew and actors. He captures a final shot of his subject against the moon and the skyline and the fading light.

22:45Copy video clip URL Credits


1 Comment

  1. Bob Boldt says:

    Loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real. — Nelson Algren

    This famous adage embodies all of Tom’s work. IMHO

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