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1960s Protest Films

Chicago-based filmmaker Tom Palazzolo presents an evening of shorts 

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People's Park
  • People's Park

In advance of the G-20 summit next week, plenty of journalists, activists and ordinary folks are polishing their cameras, hoping to capture something of interest occurring around the controversial event. Today, we expect newsworthy footage to be streamed live on TV or the Internet. Even editing pieces takes only a few extra minutes.

For those with an agenda, "instant" and "raw" footage can be a powerful and immediate boon to the cause. But another argument says an effective protest film results from placing on-the-fly footage into a larger framework.

It's something to ponder -- and discuss -- when Chicago-based filmmaker Tom Palazzolo presents a collection of 1960s protest films, including a couple of his own, at the Melwood Screening Room, on Tue., Sept. 22.

America's in Real Trouble
  • America's in Real Trouble

Films scheduled to screen include: "Assembly Line," Morton Hellig's 30-minute nighttime odyssey tracking a factory worker in Philadelphia, vainly looking for a meaningful connection; The San Francisco Newsreel Group's "People's Park (1969)," an account of the infamous community-vs.-cops battle for a Berkeley park; and three shorts from Palazzolo: "America's in Real Trouble (1968)," "Campaign (date n/a)" and "Love It/Leave It" (1970).

Palazzolo's films -- heady, almost delirious collages of juxtaposed images and sound -- are all rooted in the turmoil of the late 1960s. Much of the "Campaign" footage was shot during the 1968 Democratic Convention riots, and "Love It" contains disturbing images of policemen rehearsing no-mercy crowd-control techniques.

The amiable (and occasionally self-deprecating) Palazzolo, now retired from more than three decades of teaching art and film, spoke to City Paper by telephone from his home in Chicago.

 

How did you get started in filmmaking? 
My films are coming from an art background. There weren't any classes in those days, so I pretty much picked it up on my own, influenced by early surrealist films. With film, it was a chance to get out of the painting studio, and I particularly liked "street photography," like Cartier-Bresson. 

It was fun just getting out and shooting things, and since it was the LSD era, it was easy just to be free about [editing]. I knew that people watching my films were probably smoking pot anyway, so even if the films made sense, they wouldn't have known. And if people didn't like them, I just wrote them off as not being hip [laughs].

Most of your films seem to document events in the street.
For a filmmaker with no money, there were free events where you could find all kinds of activity, characters and so forth. It's the availability of everyday spectacle. And especially going to third-rate events -- people loved having their picture taken. It was fun for all of us. 

Your films are composed of all sorts of images, from street people and nudist pageants to parades and political rallies, often all mixed together without explanation.
For me, that [format] is a little more natural because modern artists generally don't want to be too out front. They want a certain amount of mystery in their work. I have shifted to documentaries over the years where the work is much more straightforward but still with idiosyncratic stuff going on. 

"America's in Real Trouble" is a pretty straightforward title.
It's an early film of mine that uses patriotic songs in an ironic way. It shows parades but also shows that people were a little too militaristic during the Vietnam War. It was meant as an ironic statement about America's state of mind then, which wasn't good.

"Campaign" is anchored by one of the best-known 1960s street protests, at the Democratic Convention.
The film is framed like a one-day experience: It goes from daytime to nighttime. I borrowed that from the Greek playwrights.

I also wanted to do a reverse-style of film, because the actual event was very exciting at the beginning, but then people drifted away after they got beat up. So it ends with Hubert Humphrey arriving, and then disappearing in a puff of tear gas. I had mixed feelings about a lot of the events of that era, but it was fun to be part of it and running around, being chased by the police, though it wasn't fun sniffing tear gas.

It's the only film of mine that has a few celebrities of the time: Jean Genet, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Phil Ochs. ... Abbie Hoffman is on early in the film, dancing around. They had an un-birthday party for President Johnson, where a lot of these people spoke.

What do you think of the myriad troubles affecting young people today?
There's so much [wrong] now and it's a much more complicated time. Back then, there were two major things -- racism and Vietnam, and they were pretty clear-cut. Now, things can be so gray. 

Now that I'm not one of the Young Turks anymore, I'm looking forward to this visit, and hearing how younger people react to these films, and these times.

 

1960s Protest Films 7:30 p.m. Tue., Sept. 22. Melwood Screening Room. $3-7. 412-682-4111

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