In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_heaven_is_for_real

Heaven Is for Real

Faith-based film tries reaching past its audience, but falls back on preaching to its own choir way too much.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Chaz's Blog Archives
Other Articles
Far Flunger Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Chicago Heights

Chicago Heights Movie Review
  |  

Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, is sometimes named as a great work of fiction that cannot be filmed. Daniel Nearing demonstrates in "Chicago Heights" that's not necessarily true. The book is a collection of 22 short stories connected by the character George Willard, who comes of age there and reflects on the citizens he has grown to know. Perhaps one could make 22 short films. Nearing finds an approach that in 90 minutes accomplishes the uncanny feat of distilling the book's essence.

Anderson's Winesburg is a town with roads that can be walked along a short distance into the country. His time frame spans the century's quarter-century. Nearing's Chicago Heights is a distant Southern suburb of Chicago, bordering on farmland. His time is the present and recent decades. His central character is Nathan Walker Andre Truss), also played as Old Nathan by William Gray, and at that age named in the credits as Sherwood Anderson. Anderson's characters were all white. Nearing's characters are all African-American. Race is not really a factor. We are concerned with inner selves.

It's helpful, maybe essential, to be familiar with the book before seeing the movie. Anderson explains his theory of Grotesques, by which he means not sideshow freaks but people who have one aspect of their body or personality exaggerated out of proportion to the whole. Wing Biddlebaum, for example, has hands so expressive they flutter like birds, and these beautiful hands are the cause of his isolation and hatred by the community. All of the characters have some special reason they don't fit in. This attribute is why their inner thoughts and dreams never become known. They are judged by the uncaring, and will be buried
never understood.

What Nearing does, and it is rather brilliant, is show us Nathan in old age, under a blanket on his bed, remembering, dreaming or hallucinating about the people he has known. A narrator explains his thoughts. Remarkably for a film of average length, Nearing touches on almost every one of Anderson's characters, and because of his meditative stylistic approach the film never feels rushed or choppy.

The film is mostly in contrasty black and white, sometimes slipping into color. Dialogue slips in and out too, as it does in the book, but we're not intended to think it's being said now. It's being heard in memory. Chicago Heights is seen as a not particularly lovely place drowsing near the prairie with the skyline of modern Chicago in the distance. Much of it was shot on location, and Nearing succeeds in establishing it as a place like Winesburg where the countryside is always in walking distance, and one can go there with one's grotesqueries and feel at peace.

When I say it helps to have read the book, I don't mean to frighten you. Perhaps you could read just a few of the stories to begin with. They won't take long, and once you understand their workings the whole film will come into focus. Nearing is not the first artist to be drawn to Winesburg. It inspired a made-for-TV film and a Broadway musical, and influenced such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck and Salinger. It is a beautiful book, and has inspired this beautiful film.

Popular Blog Posts

Hashtag Activism and the #CancelColbert campaign

The recent #CancelColbert campaign on Twitter raises all kinds of issues about racism, but also about hashtag activism.

Able-Bodied Actors and Disability Drag: Why Disabled Roles are Only for Disabled Performers

Scott Jordan Harris argues that disabled characters should not be played by able-bodied actors.

For the love of it: notes on the decline of Entertainment Weekly, the firing of Owen Gleiberman, and the ongoing end of an era

Owen Gleiberman's sacking as lead film critic of Entertainment Weekly — part of a ritual bloodletting of staffers at ...

The most important thing Roger taught me

The most important thing Roger Ebert taught me.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus