Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

“Everglades of the North” tells the story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Filled with breathtaking motion, captivating photos and illustrations, compelling interviews, and dramatic re-enactments, “Everglades of the North” shows viewers how people have sustained and changed the Grand Kankakee Marsh.

What Grand Kankakee Marsh, you ask?   Exactly.  You’re like the lumberjack foreman who hired  only experienced ax-men:

“I’ve got a lot of experience, boss. I worked in the Sahara Forest.”

“Whaddya talkin’ about.  There ain’t no Sahara Forest.  There’s  only a Sahara Desert.”

“That’s right, boss.  Now.”

Well, as recently as 1900 there was a Grand Kankakee Marsh.  800 square miles of wetlands stretched from Momence, IL to South Bend, IN, more than 500,000 acres. For 12,000 years, the Marsh  supported countless beaver, otter, deer, frogs, ducks, geese, eagles and tens of thousands of native Americans.

Europeans began arriving in the 17th century. Some – like many French – melded happily into the timeless lifeways of the Marsh. But the 19th century brought waves of new settlers who saw the Marsh as an obstacle to a god they worshiped, a god named Progress. They took 70 years, but these new earth carvers  and river-straighteners successfully drained the Marsh. By 1920 only mini-marshes survived. What had been a beautiful river meandering through more than 2000 sandy bends for 250 miles progress-praisers morphed into an efficient, paltry 90-mile ditch.

In the last 20 years, however, the efforts of conservationists have awakened hundreds of persons in Northwest Indiana to the importance of the Marsh’s natural history and the possibilities of restoring the marsh to some semblance of its former glory.

Pat Wisniewski, Brian Kallies, Jeff Manes, and Tom Desch raised $100,000 and invested three years of their lives to make “Everglades of the North” the most important publicly-available contribution to this effort.  Everyone concerned not only with the destiny of the Grand Kankakee Marsh but with putting our lives into a more sustainable relationship with nature owes them a debt of gratitude.


Redemption and Americanism in Gran Torino

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Raber Aziz


Walt Kowalski, Clint Eastwood, is an old school Korean War veteran who has lost his faith in the war where he seemingly killed people and committed crimes as well as he argues with the priest, Father Janovich, played by Christopher Carley, that what bothers him about the war was not what he was ordered to do but the things he did that he was “not ordered to do”. The burden of what he did in the Korean War has been on his mind ever since and he does not find peace in anything. The death of his beloved wife, Dorothy, has just added to his restlessness, therefore he is seeking peace especially after the death of his wife he becomes worried about his own life.

Basically, this is what Clint Eastwood’s 2008 movie, Gran Torino – Eastwood’s second self directed project after the 2004 Million Dollar Baby – is about: redemption of a war veteran. The theme of redemption is noticed throughout the movie. The movie opens with Kowalski standing, in a church, by the coffin of his beloved wife, Dorothy, who has recently passed away. People come forth to offer condolences to Kowalski for the loss of his wife and to pay their final homage to his late wife. The priest preaches that “death is a bittersweet occasion to us Catholics. Bitter in the pain, sweet in salvation.” But these words, which serve as the first warning to Kowalski to seek redemption before it is too late, mean little for him who has seen a lot of deaths in the Korean war and because of which he has lost his faith. He has stopped going to church to confess his sins long time ago. In fact, he never really “cared very much for the church” and only went because of his wife. He has no desire to confess especially to a young priest. Father Janovich is persistent, however. He always pops up out of nowhere to remind Kowalski to go to church and confess his sins. A proud tough guy, Kowalski is not convinced easily, especially by a 27-year-old priest who is, in Kowalski’s view “an over educated… virgin who would like to take the hands of old ladies who were superstitious and promises them eternity”.

As the movie goes on and Kowalski starts to build relationships with his Hmong neighbors, especially with Sue, acted by Ahney Her, and Thao, Bee Vang, following the latter’s attempt to steal Kowalski’s Gran Torino, other reminders of redemption come his way. Kowalski is sitting at the front of his door with his dog. He reads the newspaper horoscope which goes: “It is your birthday… This year, you will have to make a choice between two life paths. Second chances come your way”. This is the second reminder Kowalski gets in the movie in order to redeem for his sins, but “what a load of shit” it is to the old school tough guy Kowalski who needs more than just a priest’s appeal and a newspaper horoscope to convince him to take the path to redemption by confessing his sins at the confessional and go back to the grace of his lord. He tries to find peace, instead, in teaching Thao how to “be a man”, helping him find a job, lending him money to buy his tools, and in protecting the neighborhood. But he can’t find peace, not only because he can’t forget the past and the “horrible things” he has done in the war, but also because the Asian gang is disturbing the peace of the whole neighborhood about which he will have to do something someday.

As the plot of the movie develops, Kowalski’s relationship with his Hmong friends, particularly Sue and Thao becomes stronger. One day, he decides to join his celebrating neighbors, and perhaps because of the abundance of “gook food” rather than socializing. He is there sitting on a chair finding himself in front of a Hmong priest, or fortuneteller, who wants to read his fortune, Kowalski agrees. While Sue translates, the priest tells Kowalski that he is a man who does not get the respect he deserves, that he is a person who is worried about his life, and that he made mistakes that he regrets and because of that he has no happiness in his life. This time, the third reminder for redemption, Kowalski is moved by the Hmong priest’s words. He gets up out of his seat and leaves.

What finally settles Kowalski’s inner conflict to come over his stubbornness, pride and despair that he is not redeemable is when he finds out that the Asian gang has abducted Sue, beat her and raped her. Feeling guilty for what happened to Sue because he beat a member of the Asian gang for hurting Thao, Kowalski decides to redeem for his sins. One morning, Kowalski moans his garden, takes a hot bath, has a haircut, buys a new suit then goes to church to confess. He has finally thrown away the burden he felt because of his war actions. But the peace e has found seems to only cover his past sins from the Korean War as far as the point when Sue was kidnapped, beaten and raped because of his action. And for that he will have to seek redemption in a different way, to do something whereby Sue, Thao and the whole neighborhood will never see any trouble from the Asian gang again. He decides to face the gang head on. Standing in front of the house where the gang live, he acts as if he has a gun. He takes out a cigarette and puts it in his mouth, “you got a lighter?” he asks while reaching for his lighter in his pocket in a way that the gang think he is actually reaching for his gun and at which point they open fire on him and kill him on the spot. Kowalski lays there on the ground with his legs stretched and his arms wide open as if on a cross. He has redeemed for all his sins by offering his own life as the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the neighborhood and his Hmong neighbors. He has found salvation for himself, peace for his neighbourhood. Kowalski does not stop there, he has also written a will in which he has given away the house to the church in honor of his wife’s wish for him to confess his sins and has given the Gran Torino to his Hmong friend Thao in whom Kowalski saw a good young man.


While Gran Torino is a movie of redemption; it is also a movie of Americanism. Kowalski is very proud of his American values; he maintains his property well, moans the garden often and keeps everything in order. He is very proud of his American made 1972 Gran Torino and prefers it to other foreign made cars even though American cars might be more expensive than Japanese cars or even if they are less fuel efficient than other foreign vehicles. Following the end of the mourning of Kowalski’s wife, we see him looking with discontent at his son’s Japanese made Toyota Land Cruiser as he passes by him. “Would it kill you if you buy American?” he murmurs to himself referring to his son’s choice of car. Kowalski’s Gran Torino represents his American spirit. It represents the superiority of the American industry, the American muscle, and the American values and therefore he takes good care of it, washes it often and cares for it like a human being. He even personifies it as a woman. “ain’t she a beauty?” he says to himself when he sits in his chair on the porch admiringly looking at his car that has just been washed clean and parked just outside of his garage.

Walt Kowalski acts in many ways as a coach to Thao as the two get close to each other. We see Kowalski teach Thao how to repair house roofs, how to be a man and talk like a man in order to leave a good impression, and even how to deal with girls. When Kowalski has Thao for a week to put him to work as a punishment for his attempt to steal the Gran Torino, Kowalski finds him some useful work to do so that not only he realizes that he made a mistake, but also learns from the punishment some useful skills that would later prove very useful when he takes him to his friend who works on the construction site in order to find a job for him. Kowalski shows Thao how to work hard and build his own life with his own hands. Amazed at the number of tools and gadgets Kowalski kept in his garage, Thao asks where Kowalski got all the tools from. That might be a surprise to a thief, but I bought every tool in here with my own money, he replied with sarcasm. He also finds him a job, buys him construction tools with his own money just to put him to work so he can learn to depend on himself. Kowalski also teaches Thao how to speak like men. He shows him how to speak with respect but also never “kiss ass”. And we also see Kowalski teach Thao how to treat girls when they are interested in him and he has the same feeling. The way is not to stand off and look on from a distance. Thao needs to ask “Yum-Yum” out like any man does when he is interested in a woman. He encourages Thao to do that or he is going to ask the Asian girl out himself, he tells Thao and the girl. He does not stop there, only giving advice, he lets Thao take his own majestic Gran Torino in order to make their first date important and romantic.

Kowalski is the typical American hero who fights alone even when others are ready to help, when it is possible to just call the police and let them handle the situation, or when it is not his problem yet he is ready to fight the evil and to sacrifice himself for others. He is committed to justice. When the Hmong gang assigns Thao, who are not yet friends with Kowalski, with stealing his Gran Torino, Kowalski finds out that someone is in his garage trying to steal from him. He could have easily called police and let them catch the boy and handle the situation, but he decided to take action right away without calling police. He takes out his old gun, probably his Korean War rifle, and heads directly to his garage to get his thief. It is not Kowalski’s way to call police for such issues; this is simply not the American hero’s way to handle situations, at least no in movies. He handles them on his own. He is a macho man and a veteran soldier who has seen war and death. Again, when the Hmong gang block Thao’s way, take away his construction tools and beat him, put out a cigarette on his face, Kowalski decides to take action on his own even though Thao tells him that “It is not your problem” to do anything about it, but he does not listen to that, he is dedicated to fighting the evil. Kowalski goes alone to the gang’s place and beat one of them so hard that he hurts his own hand. Again when Sue walks with a white guy in an apparently black neighborhood, Kowalski is there to stand up against three young black men in order to save Sue even though he and Sue were not friends yet. And we see in the end that Kowalski sacrifices himself for his neighborhood in order to put an end to the troubles the gang cause for the Hmong community when he faces the gang in front of their own place and without even a gun. His plan is to get himself killed by the gang while the whole neighborhood looks on so that everybody in the community who watched the incident could testify against the gang when police started investigating and took statements from eyewitnesses and thus the gang will be found guilty and put to jail probably forever.

Fargo: the Upper Midwest on the Big Screen

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

The American Midwest has shown many faces in its cinematic incarnations. Moviegoers have marveled at the stark, open prairies of Dancing with Wolves, the dark, rough streets of Chicago in Batman: the Dark Knight, and the frigid tundra of Wabash, Minnesota in Grumpy Old Men. Two such films that show the contrast found in the Midwestern are Hoosiers and Gran Torino. People often think of the Midwest as a rural area, forgetting that cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, and St. Louis are cities located in the Midwest. Midwesterners are viewed as farm people who ride around on John Deer tractors quoting Bible verses and strangling chickens for dinner. Hollywood films have intentionally or unintentionally projected various views about Midwestern life. The movie Fargo is a great example of filmmakers from the Midwest playing on Midwestern stereotypes and their own Midwestern upbringing to create a film that is both a caricature of Midwestern stereotypes and an accurate representation of Midwestern life.
Fargo was released in April 1996 to great critical success, winning two Oscars (Best Actress in a Leading Role for Frances McDermott and Best Screenplay for Joel and Ethan Coen) along with 59 other award wins and 32 nominations. It had a budget of an estimated $7,000,000 and grossed over $60,000,000 worldwide.1 The movie has become a cult classic that is highly quotable with many memorable moments and characters. It follows the misadventures of Jerry Lundegaard, a misguided oaf living in Minneapolis, Minnesota who plots to have his wife kidnapped so he can collect ransom money from his rich father-in-law to aid undisclosed financial problems. The ineptitude of his hired henchmen and the superior police work of a heavily pregnant police officer from nearby Brainerd cause his plot to fall apart in a spectacular fashion. The plot obviously does not ring true to the life of an average Midwesterner, but Director Joel Coen and his brother and fellow screenwriter Ethan Coen are both Minneapolis natives who are able to bring a surprising authenticity to the characters in the film. The film exposes several Midwestern stereotypes: the vast, flat and generally barren landscape; the overly polite, oppressed population; and the complete lack of anything exciting pastimes.
Being originally from Minneapolis, Joel and Ethan Coen have based all of their films in the Midwest. Fargo was no exception. Joel Coen said in Fargo they were looking to capture the “blank, white landscape” of their childhood.2 Ethan Coen described Minnesota as “Siberia with family restaurants.”3 The open and closing shots in the film are a snowy road in almost white-out conditions. The feeling of solitude and emptiness is palpable. The filmmakers have a tongue-in-cheek view of the land of their youth, but there is truth to the desolate nature of a snowy winter landscape. The film is just as much about life in the Upper Midwest as it is a character-driven story about the flawed Jerry Lundegaard and police officer Marge Gunderson who unravels his criminal plot. People in the Midwest are viewed to be as bland as the flat prairies they call home. The Coens effectively juxtapose a violent murder story to the placid politeness associated to Minnesota / Midwestern culture.
Whether Jerry is arguing with his wife’s kidnappers or negotiating a sale at his father-in-laws car dealership, Jerry’s speech is full of the perky phrases of polite language. He never curses and exclaims, “What the heck do ya mean?” when one kidnapper (played by Steve Buscemi) tells Jerry that their cut of the ransom has increased because “blood has been shed.” Upon hearing that three people were murdered in Brainerd Jerry relies, “Oh, jeez!” 4 When Jerry cheats a customer by forcing him to pay for a clear coat on the car that he stated he didn’t want, the man visibly shutters and has to force out the words when he calls Jerry a “fucking liar.”4 The man is clearly uncomfortable with such confrontational language, but politeness is too firmly bred in him to do anything but sit in his chair and tell Jerry off without raising his voice. The viewer can imagine that this underwhelming display is a fit of passion for this man. He just doesn’t have it in him to express his emotions any more dramatically.
The actors and crew referred to the phenomenon of extreme politeness as “Minnesota Nice.” The actors used a book call How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor’s Guide written by A Prairie Home Companion contributor Howard Mohr as a resource to get a feel for the Minnesota accent referred to in linguistics as North Central American English. Much like the skits on A Prairie Home Companion, the book represents the people of Minnesota as emotionally repressed and extremely polite. It states that over 35% of Minnesota conversation is about the weather, 30% is about cars, and most of the rest is food, road conditions, and fishing. Only about 1% is spent on politics and religion. 5 Minnesotans are far too polite to offend by expressing opinions on hot button issues. Mohr notes that Minnesotans use the term “you bet” in just about every situation because it is “pleasantly agreeable and doesn’t obligate you to a strong opinion. In fact, hardly anything obligates you to a strong opinion in Minnesota.”6 Mohr notes that the Minnesota accent is a bland monotone that has been referred to as “the musical equivalent of a one string guitar.”7 The Coen brothers do successfully represent the Minnesota Nice and emotionally understated culture in their dialog and characters. When Marge tells her police partner Lou a joke while they are leaving the murder scene Lou replies, “Yah, that’s a good one” and you get the impression that is Lou’s version of snorting with laughter. Lou makes few facial expressions and exemplifies the monotone Mohr references.8 William H. Macy noted that every little stutter of his character was written in the script. The Coens used great intent and attention to detail in how they would represent their native state.
The characterization of Minnesotans as repressed, bland people begs the question of how a story about such people could be compelling. The tension between the character’s actions as it strains against their polite upbringing is readily apparent in the characters in the film. The viewer sees Jerry crack in scenes such as the one in his office where he is trying to put off the bank agent who needs the numbers for the car he stole from his father-in-law’s car lot. His words are the standard Minnesota Nice “ya” and “you bet” but his body language is that of a man hanging from a cliff with no parachute. He slams down the phone receiver at the end of the call, but maintains his polite upbringing throughout the exchange. When Steve Buscemi’s character picks up an escort from a service, he takes her to see José Feliciano at a dinner theater called the Celebrity Room and wines and dines her before enjoying her services. He attempts to make small talk and even awkwardly asks if she finds her line of work interesting.9 Even the villains in this movie adhere to some form of Minnesota Nice.
Actor William H. Macy (native to Miami, Florida) who played Jerry Lundegaard described the area through the Great Lakes and the Chicago area as the “spine of the country.” He said, “It seems to me that if you want to find America, that’s where you go. It seemed so appealing. [The People] seemed like Norman Rockwell to me.” 10 This concept of the Midwest belies the vast cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity in the region. The concept of Midwesterners living in a bland, idealistic American nirvana is inaccurate and a simplistic view of millions of Americans. A scholar contemplating Midwestern distinctive qualities wrote that Midwesterners have the reputation of being “polite to a fault.”11 It is so ingrained in Midwesterners that they cannot turn off their affability. Ethan Coen noted that the Minnesota Nice culture does not preclude hostility and violence. He said the hostility is there, but it is “covered by the politeness.” Coen added, “Polite cultures are the most repressed and therefore the most violent.”12 The idea of violence brewing beneath the surface doesn’t coincide with the peaceful farm life most people associate with the Midwest, but statistics appear to back Coen’s claim. NBC News reported in June 2012 the 10 cities with the highest rates of violent crime and the top three cities on the list were all located in the Midwest. Flint, Michigan is the most violent city in the United States with Detroit, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri taking second and third place. It’s worth noting that seven of the 10 cities are located in either the Midwest or the South.13 The areas in our country most noted for their polite, welcoming culture and deep religious roots are some of the most violent in our nation. Perhaps Fargo’s representation of violence poking through the holes in an otherwise squeaky-clean society is more on point than popular stereotypes allow.
While the story of Jerry and his botched attempt as a criminal mastermind drive the action at the beginning of the film, Frances McDormand’s character of Marge Gunderson becomes the heart of the movie. While the rest of the characters are focused on personal gain and vice, Marge is trying to find justice for the victims of the other character’s greed. Marge’s final speech as she drives the perpetually mute Gaear Grimsrud off to prison after finding him feeding his partner-in-crime into a wood chipper illustrates the contrast between Marge and the other main characters. While they are all from the Upper Midwest, she exemplifies the stereotype of the friendly, hardworking Midwesterner. She said, “So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.”14 Marge’s Midwestern work ethic doesn’t allow for crime as a means to get ahead. People are meant to get ahead in life by their own sweat like the pioneers who settled the region.
Troy D. Paino wrote in the Journal of Sports History that the core values associated with rural America are hard work, self-sacrifice, egalitarianism, discipline, and merit.15 Marge and Norm Gunderson become an example of the average Midwestern couple in Fargo. They display obvious affection for each other, but it’s always in a low-key way. While the Midwest is home to the most violent areas in the country, the region is not associated with violence. People think of Norman Rockwell paintings and the ideal images of Americana. While Jerry Lundegaard and his cohorts do represent a part of Midwestern life, they are the part that most don’t consider when contemplating what the Midwest represents. Marge and Norm are the people we would expect to meet while visiting the center of the nation. We would go to their house for a casserole (or hot dish as they would say in Minnesota), some apple pie, and a few rounds of cards. There would be an afghan on the back of the couch and doilies on the end tables. No one would swear or have excessive outbursts of emotion. It would be a calm, relaxed evening and you would leave feeling full and sleepy. New York City or Compton, California would more readily spring to mind as a place where people are most likely to be shot, not Michigan or any place in the Midwest.
Marge and her husband Norm are the stereotypical Midwestern couple in multiple ways. It’s worth noting that every scene where Marge and Norm are together they are either in bed or eating. They have few scenes together, but it that short time, you see their genuine affection for and support of each other. Norm brings Marge lunch at work and she hands him night crawlers she picked up for him so he can go fishing. Norm works from home as a full-time artist creating paintings of ducks (only corn could be more Midwestern). When Marge is awoken in the early morning hours to go to a murder scene on the highway, Norm gets up to make breakfast for her.16 Frances McDormand said in an interview, “You can laugh at the Midwest and think of it as simplistic, but there are couples out there that are like that. Marge and Norm kind of gave the audience a safe haven.”17 Without the normalcy of their relationship to contrast the avarice and callous attributes of the other characters, the movie would have been too disturbing in its lack of humanity. The quiet celebration of an average Midwestern couple and their normal lives are the light in a rather dark film.
Fargo offers a narrow, but accurate view of Midwestern life in many of its characters. One area where the film is authentic is the cultural background of its characters. The Swedish and Norwegian background of the people in Minnesota is highlighted in the main character’s last names: Gunderson, Lundegaard, Grimsrud, and Gustafson.  The main theme music of the film is a Norwegian folk song called “Den Bortkomne Sauen” or “The Lost Sheep.” Peter Stormare who plays the taciturn Caear Grimsrud is originally from Sweden and was discovered by the Coens while he was touring the United States with the Royal National Theatre of Sweden. He was excited to shoot in Minnesota so that he could see the Swedish part of America. He and Frances McDormand would drive to places like Stockholm, Minnesota during down time to see the Swedish-American culture of the area. Stormare said that the influence of the four million Swedish immigrants who settled there is readily visible and “It’s more Sweden than Sweden” because unlike his homeland, Minnesotans proudly display photos of the Swedish King and Queen in shop windows and wear their culture openly. He said the inscriptions written in Swedish on tombstones in the local cemeteries brought tears to his eyes.18 The Hjemcomst Center in Moorhead features a Viking ship and the American Swedish Institute located near downtown Minneapolis has exhibits celebrating the Swedish heritage of the Upper Midwest. While the Swedish elements in the film are never at the forefront, the inclusion of these details adds authenticity to the representation of the Upper Midwest in Fargo.
While Fargo can hardly be viewed as an entirely accurate representation of the Midwestern experience, the Coen brothers pay homage to their native Minnesota by highlighting some elements of Midwestern life. The film is ultimately fiction, but Minnesotans and Midwesterners will recognize elements of the film as part of their home region such as the excessive politeness of the characters and the flat, white landscape of a Midwestern winter. All Midwesterners can relate when Jerry is eager to get in his car and leave a parking lot blanketed in snow, but must first scrape a solid sheet of ice from his windshield. The violence and absurdity of most of the characters is intentionally extreme, but there are elements of the film that speak to the Midwestern experience and the stereotype of what outsiders consider Midwestern characteristics. The Midwest is so many different things that it is impossible to represent the entire region with one film or concept, but Fargo captures a small piece of the Midwest.

1. Internet Movie Database, web, 1 November 2012,
2. Coen, Joel. Interview. “Minnesota Nice.” Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. MGM Home Entertainment, LLC, 2005. DVD.
3. Coen, Ethan. Interview. “Minnesota Nice.” Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. MGM Home Entertainment, LLC, 2005. DVD.
4. Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. Perf. Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, and Peter Stormare. PolyGram Film Productions, 1996. Film.
5. Howard Mohr, How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor’s Guide (New York: Penguine Group (USA), Inc., 1987), 23.
6. Mohr, How to Talk Minnesotan, 2.
7. Mohr, How to Talk Minnesotan, 4.
8. Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. Perf. Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, and Peter Stormare. PolyGram Film Productions, 1996. Film.
9. Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. Perf. Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, and Peter Stormare. PolyGram Film Productions, 1996. Film.
10. Macy, William H. Interview. “Minnesota Nice.” Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. MGM Home Entertainment, LLC, 2005. DVD.
11. R. Douglas Hurt, “Midwestern Distinctiveness”, The Identity of the American Midwest: Essays on Regional History, Edited by Andrew R. L. Cayton and Susan E. Gray (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2007), 162.
12. Coen, Ethan. Interview. “Minnesota Nice.” Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. MGM Home Entertainment, LLC, 2005. DVD.
13. Abby Rogers. “The 25 Most Dangerous Cities in America” 4, Nov. 2012. Web 4 Nov. 2012 See Also Daniel Fisher. “America’s Most Dangerous Cities: Forbes” 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.
14. Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. Perf. Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, and Peter Stormare. PolyGram Film Productions, 1996. Film.
15. Troy D Paino. “Hoosiers in a Different Light: Forces of Change v. the Power of Nostalgia.” Journal of Sport History Spring Issue (2001):63-80. Print.
16. Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. Perf. Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, and Peter Stormare. PolyGram Film Productions, 1996. Film.
17. McDormand, Frances. Interview. “Minnesota Nice.” Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. MGM Home Entertainment, LLC, 2005. DVD.
18. Storemare, Peter. Interview. “Minnesota Nice.” Fargo. Dir. Joel Coen. MGM Home Entertainment, LLC, 2005. DVD.

Harry Morgan, M*A*S*H’s Col. Potter, Dies at 96; Had Michigan Boyhood

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Harry Morgan sustained one of the most successful acting careers of the twentieth century, working in the theatre, motion pictures, and television. He appeared in 50 films and 10 television series.   Counting made-for-tv movies, he appeared in prime-time roles for 42 consecutive seasons, 1957-1999. (Source: IMDB.Com)

He was born Harry Bratsberg (often misspelled with a “u”)  in Detroit to  immigrant parents.  His father came from Norway, his mother from Sweden. He graduated from Muskegon (MI) High School and attended the University of Chicago. As Bratsberg, he began his professional theatrical career in New York with the influential Group Theatre. With that company in 1937, he debuted  in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, directed by Harold Clurman, assisted by Sanford Meisner. The cast included Luther Adler, Morris Carnovsky, Frances Farmer, John Garfield (still Jules Garfinkle), Lee J. Cobb,  Karl Malden (still Mladen Sekulovich), and Elia Kazan. (Source: IBDB.Com)

Read the full New York Times obituary here.

Harry Morgan’s interview for the Archive of American Television can be accessed  here.

Actor John Mahoney Describes His Midwest Roots

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Known to millions as Martin Crane, exasperated and exasperating father of Kelsey Grammer  on the hit comedy series “Frasier,” actor John Mahoney followed a more-than-usually tortuous path to theatrical success.  The trail began in England but wound through western Illinois to Chicago before leading to New York and Los Angeles.  Kathryn MacNeil’s article in Shore Magazine maps the fascinating details offered in modest Midwestern accents by one of American theatre’s finest artists.

Uncle Buck: Midwestern Values in Comedy

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

By Natalie Beck

In the 1989 classic film Uncle Buck, written and directed by John Hughes, Midwestern values come to life in this comedy set in the outskirts of Chicago. Filmed primarily in Evanston, Illinois as well as other suburbs and even the city of Chicago, this film subtly captures a Midwestern feel. With John Candy playing “Buck,” the wacky uncle that is estranged from the family, Midwestern values on the family come to life in nothing short of a hilarious good time.

At the onset of the movie, the audience is introduced to a typical Midwestern family of five, with two daughters and a son. The eldest daughter, Tia, plays the role of a difficult teenager, often giving her parents, especially her mother a hard time. One of the earliest examples of this is when the family is gathered around the dinner table eating Chinese food. Tia sarcastically turns to her mother and says, “Oh Mother, however did you cook this delicious meal?” Her mother immediately stares back at her, visibly weary of what the audience assumes is a long struggle between mother and teenage daughter. This scene sets the stage for continuing conflict with Tia and other members of the family, including Uncle Buck.

However, Tia’s cold and sarcastic attitude is quickly explained when it is mentioned that the family moved away from the mother’s side of the family to Chicago because of an opportunity for more money. Tia is clearly the most affected by this move, and it is clear that family values run strong throughout the Midwest if even teenagers are affected by the loss of family. What is even more striking in this sense of loss in Tia is the fact that Tia never once mentions moving away from friends, leaving her old house or neighborhood, or even school. She only references the loss of family members from the move.

In the first plot twist of the movie, the mother received a phone call that her father has had a heart attack. She must go to Indianapolis to see him, and once Tia finds out that her grandfather has had a heart attack, she is very upset. The mother says, “I love my father very much,” and Tia’s response is, “Then why did you move away from him? If my whole family moved away from me, I would have a heart attack, too.” While this is an incredibly harsh response to her grieving mother, it is very clear that this is the response of a girl who misses her family and sees value in being in close proximity to loved ones, comparing a move with a heart attack. This scene also sets up the movie to show that Tia is not just going through a normal teenage angst period, but is actually suffering. With this established so early on, it forces the audience to want to see some sort of resolution come for this character.

This scene also sets up the mother and father to be vulnerable and distressed, which they appropriately are. As the mother and father prepare to leave for Indianapolis, they search through their rolodex for people who can watch the kids. The parents are shown communicating with one another and brain storming different names of who they could call. None of the suggestions are family members until the father suggests, “Hey, what about my brother Buck?” The suggestion is immediately shot down because of Buck’s irresponsibility, but resurfaces after the parents realize they have no one they can turn to in a time of need. This is the point when the mother says, “I am so helpless here.” This is the first time that the audience sees the mother equally upset about the move. This is solidified when her husband convinces her not to get down about the move “again,” signifying that the move has been a hard transition for everyone in the family, because of the loss of their family members.

Within the first few scenes of the movie, Uncle Buck already hits the nail on the head with the importance of family values in the Midwest. Family is not just about staying connected with one another through the internet or over the phone, but is about living in community with one another. Family represents part of everyday life. In reality, for other areas of the country, a move equivalent to the Indianapolis to Chicago move would not be considered a significant move, being only a few hours. However, to Midwestern families, this move is a life-altering decision that leaves families recuperating from the blow.

Eventually, once the parents realize they have to leave and they have no other options, they call Buck. In this scene, it is clear that Buck and his brother are estranged, but that their connection is still genuine. Buck is more than happy to help out. It is clear that Buck is considered a nut case, but that he is still family, and family is all that matters. It is comical to watch the scene where the brothers interact over the phone because the audience knows that the entire plot of the movie was probably created off of the idea of that one crazy, estranged uncle every Midwestern family has. The uncle that everyone knows is unreliable, who is not put together, and may be a little slow in development, but that is still an uncle.

Buck as a Midwestern character is an interesting concept in and of itself. He is clearly a take on a cliché, being unmarried, unemployed, and unmotivated. He even just so happens to live by Wrigley Field, which only adds to this Midwestern character. Watching him reminds me of my uncles and their undying loyalty to Chicago teams, through thick and thin, despite where they move or how bad the team is.

Buck also brings in another interesting character into the movie, and that is Chanice, his love interest. Chanice is much more put together. She has a job, she is responsible, and she wants to get married. She sticks with Buck, even when he is a disappointment, and tries to help pull him together. She embodies the Midwestern values of hard work, while also emphasizing the Midwestern values of family because she wants her own with Buck. She is a nice balance to the figure of Buck, who is rough around the edges and loves his life as a bachelor.

Once Buck agrees to come to the family’s house in the suburbs, the comical scenes start flowing like water. Buck’s crude attitudes pair nicely with his allegiance to his family, often times showing him as a strong protective figure, whether or not his nieces and nephews want it. Within his first few days at the house, Buck manages to put the fear of God into Tia’s boyfriend, confronts Maizy’s principal, who believes Maizy is too much of a dreamer at the age of seven, and punches a clown that shows up to Miles’ birthday party drunk. Buck tries by whatever means necessary to help maintain a happy environment for his nieces and nephews.

Some of the scenes show Buck as a good caretaker, such as when he makes gigantic pancakes for Miles’ birthday. Other times, however, the family life is shown as having a positive influence on Buck. In many of the scenes, he is shown having to do laundry, as well as cook and clean. These are standard caretaker chores that he takes on, but it isn’t until he has to go to the race track to place bets that the true effects of family life have rubbed off on him. Tia runs off to a weekend long party at a friend’s house, leaving Miles and Maizy at the house under Buck’s sole care. Buck has no choice but to take the two children if he wants to make it to the track in time, but before he pulls out of the driveway, he stares back at the two children and realizes that he can’t go through with it. He can’t be a bad influence on his young family members. This is the scene where Buck develops into a responsible adult from a wild, goofy bachelor. Buck calls Chanice for help with the kids, and the audience has a double impact of this scene because of Chanice’s surprised reaction to Buck’s new sense of responsibility.

Buck manages to make it to the party where Buck thinks Tia is with her boyfriend, Bug. By the time Buck makes it to the party, however, Tia has already left because of a fight with Bug. Buck drives up along side Tia walking down the street and offers her a ride. Rather than having another fight like they have been having throughout the movie, Buck consoles her and allows her to be upset about the situation with Bug. This moment is heart-felt and surprisingly sweet for a movie that is predominantly full of jokes and ridiculous humor, with Buck saying that he is really glad he got to known Tia and wants to have a relationship with her. Tia feels the same way, and the scene would be overly sentimental if it wasn’t for the abrupt change in pace when Tia asks what Buck did to Bug.

The scene cuts to Buck opening his trunk and revealing a gagged and bound Bug, screaming for help. Buck forces Bug to apologize to Tia, switching back into his role as protective uncle. Bug apologizes and Buck lets him go. However, as Buck drives away, Bug screams at him from what he thinks is a safe distance. Buck reverses the car and gets a golf club and golf balls out of his trunk. He takes aim and smacks Bug with the balls, one after the other.

While this scene is absolutely hilarious, it does hit on some very real values, which is that family always comes first. Many Midwestern women can attest to the fact that they have at least one crazy family member, an uncle or an aunt, a brother or maybe even a grandparent, who has no bounds for where familial ties and loyalty end. For these family members, no one messes with their family members. For the Russell family, Buck is just that guy. He is so loyal to Tia, that he is willing to take practice swings at an ex-boyfriend.

By the end of the movie, Tia and Buck have called a cease fire and a truce. The younger niece and nephew have fully bonded with buck, and Buck himself has grown and matured, much to the pleasure of Chanice. However, these were not the only character relationships that needed fixing. From the very beginning of the movie, it was clear that Tia and her mother had a strained relationship that was hard for both involved. This relationship, with the help of Buck, and a new found security in family life, is able to be reclaimed at the end of the movie.

The reunion between Tia and her mother happens as the mother and father come back from Indianapolis. Tia is waiting in the hallway while Buck, Chanice, Miles, and Maizy hide in the kitchen. The mother is the first person to walk through the door, and a long stare is held between her and Tia. No words are exchanged; Tia merely walks up to her mother and abruptly hugs her. The tension between the two is cut in half and the father walks in as the mother is letting out sighs of relief and gasps of joy. The final seal on the deal is when the mother says, “It’s going to be a lot different.”

The mere fact that the entire plot can be brought together by a reunion of a mother and a daughter is clearly Midwestern in value. Resolution within the family is the highest relief of stress for the audience, and plot tension is gone. The scene ends with comical relief from Buck, who knocks over pots and pans, but even the comedy cannot overshadow the climatic scene with Tia and her mother.

At the very end of the movie, Chanice and Buck leave the house as the family says their goodbyes. Buck has found himself in the good graces of the Russell’s and with Chanice, because of his newfound maturity. As he is about to leave, he says to Tia, “Hey, maybe next time you’re downtown, maybe we can go get a coffee or something.” Tia smiles and agrees, showing a very different Tia from the very beginning of the movie who was cold and sarcastic.

In general, this scene seems to show that the only remedy for Tia’s loss of family is to find new family to unite with. No new friends or boyfriends could replace family members for this teenager, or for the entire Russell family. The movie seems to suggest that even the oddball uncle can bring together a broken family, making things better. But Midwesterners know that it isn’t about an oddball uncle coming in to save the day, but about family members coming together to form bonds that are so essential to the Midwestern way of life. As a Midwesterner myself, I can testify that nothing can replace family, except maybe more family.

Three Generations View Hoosiers

Monday, May 9th, 2011


After watching Hoosiers in class, I decided it would be interesting to watch it with my parents and daughters—three generations—to see what they thought about it.  The movie is roughly based on the Milan High School’s win of the state basketball championship in 1954.  Indiana basketball was not played in a class system until 1997, so it was difficult for a small school to go beyond the sectional level. 

In the movie, Ollie gives examples of what progress is—electricity, school consolidation, and indoor plumbing among others.  Electricity came to rural areas in the late 1930s after F. D. Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act (REA) and indoor plumbing came around the same time.  My dad was born in 1934 and three or four years later his parents built a new house—it had electricity but still no indoor plumbing.  The house was built to accommodate the indoor plumbing which was installed in the late 1940s.  The outhouse (a two-seater) was still used some until I was about ten years old (for men working and kids playing outside.)  The outhouse building was used for storage until it was torn down about 1978. We have see progress on the farm my parents live on—from a 2-row planter and corn-picker to a four, then six, then eight, to a sixteen row planter and eight row corn-picker; from a few hundred acres to a few thousand acres farmed and from corn to a variety of field crops. 

My questions for my parents—and my daughters—had more to do with the main theme of the movie, high school basketball.  Changes have been made in Indiana so a team like Milan will not be able to become the state champions.  First, many of the rural high schools have been consolidated (like Ollie talked about) so there are fewer small schools.  In fact a law was passed recently stating that all schools with less than 500 students must consolidate by 2014.  My dad went to DeMotte High School and had about 25 students in his graduating class. He said many boys tried out for the team and some were cut.  My dad (pictured) managed to make it on the team for his last three years of high school.  He said that before the gym was added on to the building the basketball team practiced in a cracker box (picture is pre-gym.)  The playing floor in the cracker box was 10 feet shorter than regulation, although the free throw line was 15 feet from the basket and the basket was 10 feet from the floor.  When they moved to the new gym they didn’t know how to play the extra 10 feet at first, but they got used to it.  He remembered DeMotte High School winning their sectional, but never the regional, although the records show they did not win until 1963 and 1970.  DeMotte High School and neighboring Wheatfield High School consolidated in 1970-71, forming Kankakee Valley High School.   

When I was in high school, our boys won sectional senior year, and at least 10 years since.  Since we did not have classes at the time we were often up against larger schools at the regional. The year I graduated, we played against Lafayette Jeff (Jefferson) as we had done before and many times since.  We made it to the final game, but Jeff pulled out the victory; it didn’t help that the refs were biased (in our opinion.)  Lafayette Jeff holds the record for most regional wins in IHSAA history with 38, and won the state title twice. 

During the time my girls were in high school, the teams weren’t doing as well and band was more important to them.  It wasn’t until just after my youngest graduated and after a dry spell of sixteen years that they won the sectional again. My girls did enjoy pep band, but they didn’t play basketball, choosing to swim instead.  They know a bit about sports and were concerned about the shoes worn in the movie; they were so flat and offered little support so there would be too much stress on the player’s joints.  My dad said that the high-tops shoes would support the ankles. 

My mom enjoyed watching the cheerleaders and she thought their uniforms were cute.  When my mom was in high school she wore the popular yellow corduroy skirt—autographed by all her friends.  She was not a cheerleader, but her sister (pictured) was a pompon girl.  We didn’t really have any cheerleaders in our family. 

It was fun to watch Hoosiers with my parents and daughters.  We all agreed that although a lot of things have changed, basketball is still the most popular sport in Indiana high schools.  It is fun to watch if the team is losing, but even better if you are on the side of the winning team.

Field of Dreams

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

The final movie that I watched was a Midwest movie classic: Field of Dreams.  This movie also helped to circle back to the first one that I watched.  My first movie post was about Eight Men Out, which was about the 1919 Chicago White Sox team.  In Field of Dreams, the eight suspended players are able to return to the field and play baseball again.

In this movie, Ray hears a voice talking to him while working in his cornfield.  The voice says one of the most iconic movie quotes ever: “If you build it, he will come.”  Initially, Ray does not understand what he is meant to do.  After hearing the voice several times, Ray figures out that he is supposed to build a baseball field and that Shoeless Joe Jackson will come to it.  Even though the majority of the town believes that Ray is crazy, he plows under some of his corn crop in order to build the field.  He and his wife invest their life savings into the field.

Several months pass, and nothing happens with the field.  Ray and his wife realize that they are having extreme financial difficulties, and the only way they will be able to make ends meet is if they get rid of the field.  During this conversation, Karen, Ray’s young daughter, informs him that there is a man out on the baseball field.  Ray goes out to the field and starts to hit fly balls to the man.  Then he pitches to him.  After hitting for a little while, Ray and the man finally introduce themselves; the man is Shoeless Joe.  Both Ray and his wife, Annie, realize they cannot get rid of the field.

It is interesting to compare the White Sox that Joe brings with him to the field to those represented in Eight Men Out.  There are some things that are misrepresented in Field of Dreams.  The catcher in 1919 was not in on the fix, but a catcher comes to Ray’s field.  There is also a point where Eddie Cicotte is arguing with one of the other players about how he could have won 20 games in a season.  Cicotte usually won nearly 30 games, so 20 would not have been an issue.

Eventually, Ray hears the voice again.  This time it says, “Ease his pain.”  This leads him to find Terence Mann, a very well known author who has decided to leave the spotlight.  While at a baseball game with Mann, they both hear the voice say, “Go the distance.” A name also appears on the score board, Archibald “Moonlight” Graham.  They both travel to Minnesota, where Ray interacts with Archie’s ghost as he had passes away several years earlier.  Ray and Terence Mann then travel back to Iowa, but along the way they pick up a young hitchhiker.  They eventually find out that the hitchhiker is Archie when he was younger.

The loan collectors, who cannot see the baseball players, want Ray and Annie to sell their farm, but they obviously do not want to.  Karen tells them that people will come from all over to see their field and just to watch the games.  Ray continually refuses to sell the farm.

The last time we see the players disappearing into the cornfield, they invite Terence Mann to go with them.  He accepts and promises to tell Ray what it is like when he comes back.  Shoeless Joe also points out a particular player to Ray.  This player turns out to be Ray’s father, John.  They had been pretty much estranged in life, but they have the opportunity to reconcile now.  They have a catch.

The movie ends with Karen’s prediction coming true and a stream of cars coming to the farm.

Jean Shepherd: Beyond “A Christmas Story”

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

The movie “A Christmas Story” has become a December staple, with one cable channel even showing the movie for 24 hours straight beginning on Christmas Eve. Its popularity has grown so much in the last decade or so that it now ranks as a holiday classic alongside such older films as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol.” Lines like “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” and “I triple-dog-dare you!” have become catchphrases.

The film’s plot, for the uninitiated, revolves around young Ralphie Parker’s yearning for an “Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.” In the days leading up to Christmas, Ralphie tries several different strategies to ensure the coveted b.b. gun ends up under his tree.

“A Christmas Story” was filmed in Cleveland, but the setting is clearly Northwest Indiana, Hammond in particular. The movie is based on a section of the book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” by humorist and Hammond native Jean Shepherd. Shepherd gained fame as a radio host, starting in 1948 in Cincinnati, then moving on to the east coast. He hosted a popular radio show, filled with anecdotes and observations on the human condition, on New York City’s WOR for two decades until 1977. During this same time he was writing for print, including a series of short stories about his upbringing in northwest Indiana. He told many of these stories on-air and also published them as a series in “Playboy” magazine. Later, the stories were collected for “In God We Trust” as well as several other books.

The Red Ryder plotline on which “A Christmas Story” is based is actually only a small portion of “In God We Trust”, which follows a loosely-fictionalized Shepherd’s trip back to his hometown of “Hohman” Indiana. Shepherd describes his initial homecoming with razor-sharp wit–and the result is a none-too flattering portrait of this steel region:

“Outside I could dimly see the grimy streets lined with dirty, hard ice and crusted drifts covered with that old familiar layer of blast-furnace dust; ahead of us a long line of dirt-encrusted cars carrying loads of steelworkers, refinery slaves, and railroad men to wherever they spent most of their lives…

Hohman, Indiana, is located in the extreme Northwestern corner of the state, where the state line ends abruptly in the icy, detergent-filled waters of that queen of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. It clings precariously to the underbody of Chicago like a barnacle clings to the rotting hulk of a tramp steamer.

From time to time echoes of the Outside World arrive in Hohman, but they are muted and bear little relevance to the daily life of its inhabitants. Theirs is a world of belching furnaces, roaring Bessemer Converters, fragrant Petroleum distillation plants, and freight yards. Mostly, their Social life is found in Bowling halls or Union halls or beer halls, not to mention dance halls and pool parlors.

Theirs is a sandy, rolling country, cooled, nay, frozen to rigidity in the Winter by howling gales that got their start near the Arctic Circle, picked up force over the frozen wastes of Lake Michigan, and petered out in downtown Hohman, after freezing ears, cracking blocks, and stunting the Summer hopes in many a breast.

In Summer the process is reversed, and the land lies still and sear under the blazing Midwestern sun. This is where the first faint beginnings of the Great Plains can be found. A gnarled cactus plant, rolling tumbleweeds; an occasional Snowy Owl. The residents of Hohman are hardly aware of this, although their truculent pride in being Hoosiers is seen everywhere.

Under the soil of most backyards, covered with a thin, drifting coat of blast-furnace dust and refinery waste, made fragrant by the soaked-in aroma of numerous soap factories, lie in buried darkness the arrowheads, stone axes, and broken pots of the departed Indian. Where the tribes danced in Indian summer now grow Used Car lots and vast, swampy junkyards.

Not far from downtown Hohman lie the onion sets and cantaloupe vines of the Dutch immigrant farmers, and then the endless, mile-after-mile monotony of the Indiana cornfields. To the West the sand dunes ring Lake Michigan almost to the border of Michigan itself. To the North–the Lake. And to the West and North–Chicago.

It is a place people never really come to, but mostly want to leave. And leave they do, to go to the fabled East or to the unbelievable California coast. They rarely talk about where they have come from. There isn’t much to say. At night in Hohman the rabbits still hop through the backyard gardens. The trains thunder through the dark on their way to somewhere else. The sky is always lit by the eternal flames of the Open Hearths and blast furnaces.”

Ouch. Is it any wonder that Shepherd’s work beyond “A Christmas Story” has been little promoted by area tourism efforts? Best to stick with Ralphie and that sentimental story of growing up in Depression-era Midwest. But anyone who has grown up in the Calumet Region, or who has ever even driven the Toll Road between I-65 and Chicago, will immediately recognize his descriptions. The area and its people have been so shaped by the industry of the past 100 years that we still refer to a generic “Mill” to describe any part of the daisy-chain of factories that dot the lakeshore (as in “My dad works at The Mill”).

Shepherd is spot-on with his skewering, and does it so skillfully that we native readers want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s a humorous, yet painful, self-identification. Even though the steel dynasty has declined tremendously over the past 50 years, most of us still know someone working at that sort of industrial job, and we certainly know the kind of people Shepherd describes.

Later in “In God We Trust” Shepherd describes Cedar Lake, in the “rural” section of the region, where these northern Lake County folks go in the summer to get away from it all:

“It is impossible to sink in this water. The specific gravity and surface tension make the Great Salt Lake seem dangerous for swimming. You don’t sink. You just bounce a little and float there. You literally have to hit your head on the surface of these lakes to get under a few inches. Once you do, you come up streaming mosquito eggs and dead toads–an Indiana specialty–and all sorts of fantastic things which are the offshoot of various exotic merriments which occur outside the Roller Rink. The bottom of the lake is composed of a thick incrustation of old beer cans. The beer cans are at least a thousand feet thick in certain places… The water in these lakes is not the water you know about. It is composed of roughly ten per cent waste glop spewed out by Shell, Sinclair, Phillips, and the Grasselli Chemical Corporation; twenty per cent used detergent; thirty-five per cent thick gruel composed of decayed garter snakes, deceased toads, fermenting crappies, and a strange, unidentifiable liquid that holds it all together.”

He describes the blue-collar men who head to the lake to fish:

“They wanted to get out on the lake and tell dirty stories and drink beer and get eaten by mosquitos; just sit out there and sweat and be Men. They wanted to get away from work, the car payments, the lawn, the mill, and everything else.”

Shepherd has clearly been shaped by his upbringing. He knew these people. Sitting in a tavern owned by his friend Flick (the kid who stuck his tongue to the flagpole in “A Christmas Story”), the narrator of “In God We Trust” muses about how his friends in New York City think his stories are made up. They simply cannot identify with the surroundings he grew up in. He watches Flick, not much changed since childhood, pour beers for the shift-change crowd. Flick, like most region residents still today, doesn’t recognize that there is anything unique about his life–and in fact doesn’t think much at all about the world outside his own mill-town sphere. Shepherd is grateful to have “gotten out” and broadened his horizons in a way Flick never has, but he still feels a strange sort of kinship with his hometown.

The northwest Indiana Shepherd describes is fast disappearing, due to the decline of the steel industry and the general homogenization of 21st Century life. Maybe this is for the better in some ways. But at least with the stories of in “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” we can look back and laugh knowingly (and often wincingly) at this region we call home.

The Babe

Monday, April 25th, 2011

A movie to add to your midwestern film list is The Babe (1992), which traces the life of baseball legend Babe Ruth. Though set in New York and several other locations across the country, it was filmed largely in Chicago and other Illinois locations. Two friends of mine spent several days at Wrigley Field as extras—“fans” during a baseball game. They can be seen clearly behind actor Kelly McGillis, who played Ruth’s wife. The following information comes from (Internet Movie Database):

Every ball park except Fenway Park was portrayed by Wrigley Field (Cubs fans can tell just by looking at how the grass is cut by 1st and 3rd base).

The minor league Danville Dans stadium in Danville, Illinois, was the one used for Fenway Park and Forbes Field, as well as being seen in black/white news footage.

The transportation scenes were filmed at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illionis. The museum’s Frisco 1630 steam locomotive and the observation car “Inglehome” were used. The museum’s 1859 Chicago horse car was moved to Chicago’s Webster Street for a cameo role as a Baltimore horse-drawn tram in the segment about Ruth’s childhood days

Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois, was used for batting practice scenes.