I love “Home Alone!”

While I suppose it’s really more a Winnetka movie than a Chicago movie, this holiday classic is full of local flavor. Both the Chicago and Paris airport scenes were filmed at O’Hare International Airport, with some additional runway footage shot at Meigs Field, so while most of the locations were in Winnetka, Willmette, Evanston, and Oak Park, there are indeed some parts of the movie shot within the Chicago city limits. Furthermore, the vast majority of the special effects in this movie were done by hand in a Chicago basement by a man named Kevin Nordine.

Here are a few stills that highlight the strong sense of place in “Home Alone.”

Upstaris under the Flag of Chicago




These screen grabs show Kevin beneath the Chicago flag, the interior of Grace Episcopal Church, the Hubbard Woods Metra, and the United Airlines terminal at O’Hare, respectively. If you have a favorite or one you’d like to add, please share a photo or link!


I love the voice acting of Junius Matthews.

Although he appears to have spent most of his life elsewhere, the late, great voice actor and character actor Junius Matthews was born in Chicago in 1890. He acted in various television and film roles, including on episodes of Dragnet and Have Gun–Will Travel, but he’s best known for voicing Rabbit in the original Disney Winnie The Pooh shorts and feature-length film. My favorite Junius Matthews performance has to be Archimedes the owl from The Sword in the Stone.

This clip illustrates his genius as a voice actor. In it, Archimedes laughs hysterically, much to Merlin’s chagrin. I’ve never heard an owl break out laughing, but Matthews clearly spent a lot of time thinking about what such a thing would sound like. At the same time, he didn’t let the fact that this character is an owl limit him–the laughing moves beyond, “Hoo hoo hoo!” into a broader range of cachinnation that still retains a certain avian quality.



I love Sandburg’s Chicago Poems.

Everybody knows the famous “city of the big shoulders” poem. What you may not know is that Carl Sandburg wrote not just a poem, but an entire book of poems, about this city. A defining work of the Chicago Renaissance, the book is a perfect example of what literary scholars now call modern poetry. Concerned with the people and places he saw every day rather than mythology and other classical topics, Sandburg and other poets of the Chicago Renaissance wrote about the particular scenery, dialects, smells, and characters they encountered on the city streets. Chicago Poems is more than a pleasure to read as a book of poetry; it is a document of what Chicago was like in 1916. The poems have a delightfully populist bent to them, and some are even political, but there are also poems that are just plain fun.

Rather than overrun this blog with poetry, I’ll just post two that I think are often overlooked and that are particular favorites of mine.

The first, “To Beachey, 1912,” describes a flight of Lincoln Beachey, widely considered America’s first great stunt pilot. Beachey set an altitude record in Grant Park during August of 1911, according to The Chicago Daily News Almanac and Year Book. About 75,000 people sat in bleachers along the lakeshore to watch him (and others) at the  1911 Chicago International Aviation Meet, and Sandburg may have been among them. Sandburg may have also watched Beachey fly at the 1912 International Aviation Meet, where Beachey dressed in comical drag and performed numerous stunts as “Madam Lavasseur.”

Source: aerodacious.com

Enough exposition! Here is the poem:

RIDING against the east,
A veering, steady shadow
Purrs the motor-call
Of the man-bird
Ready with the death-laughter
In his throat
And in his heart always
The love of the big blue beyond.

Only a man,
A far fleck of shadow on the east
Sitting at ease
With his hands on a wheel
And around him the large gray wings.
Hold him, great soft wings,
Keep and deal kindly, O wings,
With the cool, calm shadow at the wheel.

The other poem is “Clark Street Bridge.” In it, Sandburg describes the site of the  Eastland disaster. Beautiful and haunting, its lyricism is as striking as its imagery. Interestingly, the bridge Sandburg would have crossed while going from River North to the Loop was the second bridge at this location–the bridge there today was completed in 1929, and the first one saw Chicago’s first civil disturbance, a beer riot, unfold. Still, I think these evocative words can yet catch in the hearts of those walking through the city on a misty, lonesome night.

DUST of the feet
And dust of the wheels,
Wagons and people going,
All day feet and wheels.

Now. . .
. . Only stars and mist
A lonely policeman,
Two cabaret dancers,
Stars and mist again,
No more feet or wheels,
No more dust and wagons.

     Voices of dollars
And drops of blood
. . . . .
Voices of broken hearts,
. . Voices singing, singing,
. . Silver voices, singing,
Softer than the stars,
Softer than the mist.

You can read the rest of Sandburg’s Chicago Poems right here, if you like.

I love eating pizza.

Chicago’s pizza has been getting a lot of attention lately.

First, Jon Stewart delivered an epic rant against deep dish. Then, The Rahmfather sent him a little something. Finally, there was an official apology involving an emissary from the Malnati family. Somehow, despite all this coverage, something important was lost.

I love deep dish. I eat it semi-regularly and have strong opinions about whose crust, sauce, and baking methods are best. (I’ll take this opportunity to pour one out for Rolling Meadows Gino’s East, the recently-demolished graffiti pizza parlor.) Many other locals feel the same way, including some who are so passionate about pizza that they will lie, cheat, and steal to get some. It is just plain wrong, however, to write off Chicago’s pizza as strictly deep dish and pan pizza–which are not necessarily the same thing!

Chicago does indeed have many, many options for thin crust pizza. It is, by and large, a far cry from New York style pizza. Here are some key differences:

–Thin crust pizza should not fold in half. It should not be floppy or dripping grease.

–Thin crust pizza should be cut into little squares, not triangles.

–Thin crust pizza should be crispy, and the edge pieces should crunch when you bite them.

–Toppings are the best when they’re hiding under the cheese, not dumped on top of it. This keeps them from drying out during baking.

This is how we do it.

The true breadth and depth of pizza in this city and its hinterlands extend far beyond matters of crust. A truly diverse pizza scene exists, enabling an adventurous diner to spend weeks or even months eating his or her way through one of several best-of lists:

Chicago Magazine‘s 25 Best Pizzas in Chicago

The 20 Best Pizzas in Chicago from Chicagoist

–A selection of lists from pizza junkies, pie freaks, and general food fanatics from Yelp Chicago

I love film writing.

When every city now boasts a plethora of film critics, ranging from newspaper journalists to bloggers and trade journal writers, it may not seem that film writing has any special connection to Chicago. Historically speaking, however, film criticism was born and raised in the Windy City.

In 1914, the Chicago Tribune ran the first motion picture review column, written by journalism’s first official film critic, Jack Lawson. According to A Million And One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture, his career as a movie critic was short lived, as he died in an accident at the Chicago Press Club (?!?) shortly after the inception of the column. He was succeeded by the popular and influential Kitty Kelly (a pseudonym for Audrie Alspaugh, who later moved to the Chicago Examiner) and then Mae Tinee (originally the pseudonym of Frances Smith, but later of many others). By 1925, there were 400 film critics writing for American newspapers.

Mae wrote many positive reviews of Louise Brooks movies.

One cannot discuss film criticism without mentioning the late, great Roger Ebert, who was not only a great Chicagoan but a hugely influential film writer on an international scale. The New York Times eulogized him as the first film writer to become a multi-media brand. In 1975, Ebert was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, marking Chicago as the city where he made the world take film writing seriously.

There are, of course, still movie critics in Chicago. Indeed, the Chicago Film Critics Association has over 60 members and mounts a film festival each year. Among their ranks are the podcasters of Filmspotting and the insightful film writer Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.

I love Pumpkins in the Park.

I love this annual 5k race so much, in fact, that I am actually running it this year. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and public celebrations of it in this city tend to be wonderful and full of adventure. Fleet Feet puts on the event in Lincoln Park, where adults and children alike are encouraged to dress up, participate in festive activities, and of course, haul ass along the scenic paths.

Past Participants. Source: mychicagoathlete.com

Proceeds benefit the Chicago Park District’s Theater on the Lake: The Chicago Summer Theater Festival, helping it continue its 60-year tradition of bringing artistically-diverse theater to the public. If you’ll be there, look for me. I’ll be the one covered in fake blood and/or hugging a little dinosaur.