Testament to the power and mastery of a movie that, nearly 60 years on, still feels as modern, complex and cutting-edge as any film released…
by Neil Steinberg Sun-Times Columnist
Last week, I wrote that Mayor Richard J. Daley didn't allow movies to be shot in Chicago because of "The Man with the Golden Arm," the 1955
Frank Sinatra film.
It was a good guess, but printing that as fact was like grabbing a container at the back of the refrigerator and gobbling what's inside without first checking to see if it's still good.
The error -- no, let's make it a "probabilistic fact later proved untrue" -- prompted a phone call from Michael Kutza, founder and longtime director of the Chicago International Film Festival. He remembers what happened.
"It was 'Medium Cool,' " he said, referring to the controversial 1969 film set against the riots at the Democratic National Convention. "It put a stop to everything. Every script had to be read by somebody at City Hall, and they didn't allow anything to happen."
That out of the way, we fell into talking about the censorship board, which Kutza had to appear before when the festival began.
"A feature film was in two very heavy metal cans whose combined weight was 100 pounds," he said. "In 1965, I had to drag my movies down to the old building where we used to pay our parking tickets.
"You went in there -- it was a leftover courtroom -- and they had actual judges, these nine ladies --they had to be widows of policemen, that's what gave them the right to be on the censorship board. I was
too young to think it was funny.
"I had to drag these things in there and leave them overnight," he continued. "I took maybe 10 feature films there -- they had a 35mm projector, and any film shown in Chicago had to pass by these people."
"Pass by" should not be taken to mean they actually watched the films, not all of them.
"Our films were immediately made X-rated because they were from foreign countries," Kutza said. "When I dragged in a Swedish film, it was rated porn immediately, without looking."
This was a problem for a film festival, so Kutza struck on the solution of making the event "adults only." Eventually, he did what all who wanted to get something done in that long-ago era did -- he appealed to the mayor.
"I worked with Frank Sullivan, the press secretary to Mayor Daley," remembered Kutza. "He took me to him, and Daley said, 'Give the kid what he needs, but don't tell anybody because the stuff you show could
lose me votes.' "
The 45th annual festival takes place this autumn.
"The nicest thing about doing this so many years is you have a chance to outlive your critics," Kutza said.
I will look forward to that.
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