Death Ship

the wreck of the MV Scantrader

This 43 minute documentary by Wilfried Huismann shows that, as of the 1990s, the state of labor on the high seas portrayed in B. Traven’s novel is not history. Slavery on the ocean is a thing even today.

The documentary is mildly frustrating in that Huismann’s investigation got the German legal system moving, but of course, there’s no news as to the ultimate outcome.

Huismann is an interesting journalist, but most of his other work is in German.

Snowy Bing Bongs Across The North Star Combat Zone

The Cocoon Central Dance Team

Had I known this video would occupy some 40 minutes of my time, I might not have stopped to watch it. But it kept messing with my head and messing with my head and messing with my head each time in a different way and in a different part of my head. I had to watch; there was no choice in the matter.

The Cocoon Central Dance Team melds dance with comedy. Since I’m not particularly hip, I’m sure I missed the majority of the references, but this has got to be the greatest commentary on commodity culture that I’ve seen since Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue and Millenium Actress.

I’m humor impaired, but this is brilliant.

Science Inside a Tornado

Why storm chasing still matters

Hank Schyma (aka “Pecos Hank”) is a good videographer. He’s a fun musician. And he’s one of my favorite storm chasers. Not only are his storm chasing videos minor works of art, but he often makes a point of educating his audience on points of meteorology.

This recent video is an interview with Dr. Leigh Orf about the latest computer simulations of tornado genesis. Schyma uses his own recordings to compare with the simulation results. It’s also a not-too-subtle justification for storm chasing… not that I needed persuading.

Maxwell Street

To Touch a Dream

These are two short films (yes, films) that were made in the late 1970s by an old friend of mine, Michael Heister.

I don’t recall just when Michael arrived in Chicago. It was around the middle of the 1970s. When he arrived, he got a gig working as a waiter for the old Blackhawk Restaurant, a fairly posh establishment. For a time, he lived in his truck, a 1967 Chevy telephone van. And that’s when he began teaching himself film animation.

Michael Heister
Photo by Corcoran. That’s Michael Heister on the right. Yip is on the left.

The first film, “Maxwell Street”, is one of the projects he used for self-instruction. It was shown at an Illinois film festival in the old Granada Theater (since demolished) located at Sheridan Rd & Devon Avenue in Chicago’s Rogers Park. The film is a look at Chicago’s old Maxwell Street district where truly everything was for sale, to the accompaniment of live blues, gospel, and maybe even sometimes rock music.

The film, even back then, inspired two different reactions: “Cool” or “Bogus”. The latter was a demand for authenticity as Michael used his own musical score rather than the blues and gospel that were the soundtrack for the last years of actual Maxwell Street. At the time, I felt he might have defused that critique somewhat if he had labelled the film an experimental film about Maxwell Street rather than a documentary about Maxwell Street. But these days I’m inclined to think there’s nothing for it. As Frank Zappa said: “Is that a real poncho or is it a Sears poncho?”

Chicago, back in the 1970s, had several film animation companies, and Michael landed a gig with one of them. That’s where the second film, “To Touch a Dream” was made. This film was included as part of episode 609 of “Image Union”, broadcast on WTTW in Chicago.

Chicago’s film animation industry was wiped out a few years later by… video tape.

For more information about Maxwell Street, visit the Maxwell Street Foundation.

For more information about “Image Union” go to Media Burn, where all the episodes are archived along with scads of other really cool stuff.