Underground Film Journal

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Short Film: Chicago Corner

By Mike Everleth ⋅ February 9, 2011

What happens to neighborhoods after they die? In Chicago Corner, documentary filmmaker Bill Brown chronicles the afterlife of the Henry Horner Homes housing project in the windy city. Almost entirely demolished after decades of abandonment and neglect, there is one building left standing, a morose reminder that people used to live here. Although, it doesn’t quite much look that way when the only human beings coming around are city workers killing the place even more dead. Sometimes places just die, like the way people do. (One viewing note: The film does start off silent, but sound comes in a few minutes into it.)

Abandoned corner in Chicago with the downtown skyline in the background

In this brief neighborhood portrait, Brown doesn’t get into the deep history of the place he’s documenting. The Henry Horner Homes were built in the ’50s and named after Illinois’ first Jewish governor. But, when assistance for public housing was cut off in the ’80s, the development fell into neglect and became overrun by gangs, as described in the New York Times editorial “What It’s Like to Be in Hell.”

Most of the buildings were eventually knocked down, but the one that Brown films stood all the way up until just about three years ago. Former residents sadly gathered right before its demise to say goodbye.

Brown also didn’t specifically say at which corner he was actually standing, but after noodling with Google maps I figured out it was the corner of N. Wood St. & W. Walnut St. This is what it looks like today:

View Larger Map

Hope I’m not being a killjoy. Knowing all the details takes a little bit of the mystique away from Brown’s film, which evokes a mood and a general sense of loss, rather than getting into nitty-gritty details. This is a very poetic documentary and shows what can be done with the form. Brown’s approach to this type of filmmaking belongs in the same field along with filmmakers like Deborah Stratman, Ben Russell, Georg Koszulinski, Jessica Oreck and others.

Brown only has one other video, Bike Box, on his Vimeo page, but you can read more about him and his various travels at his official website. He’s also published several issues of his zine Dreamwhip and has written a couple books. Those, plus a couple DVD compilations, can be purchased the Microcosm Publishing website.