When a half dozen buff and beautiful gentlemen, gyrating to Madonna’s “Girl Gone Wild,” ripped off their trousers to reveal nothing but hot pink thongs underneath, the patron sitting next to me squealed, “Oh, my God! How many of them stuff?” Welcome to the 7th Annual Chicago Takes Off, a night of burlesque to benefit the Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN), a peer-led advocacy group for people impacted by HIV/AIDS. This year’s neo-noir theme was a showcase of the event at its finest, if not its most daring or cheeky (pun intended).
For a show aiming to capture noir’s smoky, black-and-white rhythms, the banquette and table seating at the expansive Park West formed a suitable cabaret setting for the evening’s moody themes. Host Miss Astrid replaced Murray Hill’s zingers and insults (Hill emceed the last two years) with kittenish musings wrapped in a thick German accent. “I’m wur-gin,” she purred. “Will you be gentle with me?” She was a suitable stand-in and gave the evening a Weimar kick, although I longed for Hill’s sly one-liners and upbeat showmanship.
The first stunner of the evening was “Informant,” a solo number in which a pole dancer, looking genderqueer in his corset and maroon thong, defied gravity a number of times as he worked the pole to the jaw-droppings of the audience. By the end of the song, the corset had disappeared and so did the thong (revealing only a barely visible G-string in its place). Numbers like “Forbidden Tango,” with its R&B vibe, and “Trouble’s Brewing,” featuring a live vocal performance wrapped in '80s pop energy, gave the middle portion of the show the up-tempo energy it needed, including plenty of gorgeous men in briefs and women in stockings and garters.
The real showstoppers arrived later. “Lord Dragonballs” featured a lone dancer artfully rocking a red ball back and forth around his upper body while stripping down to a leopard-print thong. Meanwhile, “Thugs,” which I was hoping would deliver a man-on-man brawl, nevertheless showcased the most skin of the evening as a quintet of studs stripped out of their trench coats and boxer shorts and ended up naked on the catwalk with just their hats, and at times only their hands, covering their junk. But the real winners of the evening were the S&M enthusiasts and latex fetishists in the house. In “The Panther Arrives” (Or was it “The Boss Returns”? The running order started to blur after my third cocktail), we got a full-on master-and-slave number complete with leashes and spiked collars. Considering the noir theme lacked the insouciant energy and comic prowess of previous Chicago Takes Off efforts, in going dark it proved it could bring the audience to its feet and at least one dancer down on his hands and knees.
With snow still blanketing the ground, this year's Polar Plunge lived up to its name. Thousands showed up at North Avenue Beach on Sunday morning to dive into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan to raise money for Special Olympics Chicago. Donning a variety of creative costumes, participants temporarily sacrificed warmth and comfort for a worthy cause.
The Music Box's 70mm series concludes tonight with Playtime at 7:30pm. Although the fest's opening days were plagued by technical problems—a pink print of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; a canceled screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey due to cracks in the audio discs; sound missing from reel five of Lord Jim, leading to the cancelation of a second show—the event as a whole should go down as a major success. Certainly that's been the case in terms of attendance, with seven screenings officially declared sold out. Music Box rep Buck LePard e-mailed that as of this afternoon, the theater had sold more than 6,900 tickets for the 23 shows.
What of the technical difficulties? Remember that 70mm is a borderline-obsolete format. Prior to The Master, it had been 16 years since a fiction feature was released for that kind of presentation. The Music Box is the last theater in town that's 70mm-capable—and many cities no longer have such venues at all. Two projectionists separately told me that the 70mm print of Playtime in the series is the only one that circulates. (I haven't yet heard back from Janus Films, the distributor.) It was one of the less impressive prints shown, more scratched than the (same?) one I saw around New Year's 2005. But the economic incentive to strike a fresh version is low. Figures vary on the cost of a 70mm print, but allowing a conservative estimate of $13,000—and considering the relatively small number of venues that can still show wide-gauge celluloid—one becomes sympathetic to the idea that retros of this nature must make do with what they can get.
Head projectionist Doug McLaren says that while improved picture and sound were a bonus, the chief reason the theater recalibrated its projectors before the series was to avoid damaging rare prints. At a comparable 70mm series in New York in December, I watched a scratched, Swedish-subtitled copy of Cheyenne Autumn that had missing footage at one of the reel changes. A screening of My Fair Lady reportedly encountered difficulties of its own. Relative to what can happen with problematic materials, the Music Box's setbacks were minor (and apart form Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, almost entirely sound-related). 70mm is a great technology. Let's hope it's preserved for future generations.
If you're looking to show off your vocal skills, we've found the places for you. From the upscale private room at Murasaki to the wacky karaoke nights at Hamburger Mary's Attic, there are plenty of spots to belt it out.
After 22 years as Cafe Shino, this Gold Coast stalwart got a makeover and has emerged as a sake lounge, complete with two dozen varieties of rice wine, a private karaoke room and a menu of otsumami, traditional Japanese small plates (we're fans of the crispy-edged hot-dog bites, plummy baby octopus, spicy salmon hand rolls and tofu-topped udon noodles). For a primer on sake, ask manager Kerry Tamura, who's happy to steer you in the right direction.
Around this time of the winter, our apartment becomes especially dreary and confining. Escape with us through photos of the newly renovated Conrad Hilton Suite, a two-floor mini palace that starts at $10,000 a night, in the South Loop's Hilton Chicago hotel. In addition to three bedrooms, it offers a library, a dining room, a kitchen and something called a grand salon.
There are plenty of opportunities to have some fun this week, completely free. A lot of art exhibits around town are worth seeing, and you can get inspired for the future at Mess Hall before it closes its doors at the end of March.
"Climate of Uncertainty"
11am–5pm, DePaul Art Museum
The photos and videos that dominate this exhibition elicit a voyeuristic guilt: Though they document the ruinous effects of human activities on the natural environment, works including Terry Evans’s photos of a melting glacier and Sonja Hinrichsen’s video installation about the Three Gorges Dam are achingly beautiful. Through Mar 24.
In a race that had belatedly acquired all the suspense of Argo's goosed runway climax, Ben Affleck's procedural drama took top honors at the Academy Awards last night, corroborating prognosticators' expectations but flying in the face of Oscar history, which suggests films whose directors aren't nominated rarely take the grand prize. (It's happened only three other times, with 1927's Wings, 1932's Grand Hotel and 1989's Driving Miss Daisy.)
Dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds were unleashed at McCormick Place this weekend, in attendance (with their owners, naturally) for the annual International Kennel Club of Chicago Dog Show. The canine competitors showcased their looks and talents, with each pup vying for the prestigious title of best in show.