I haven’t posted anything in this lovely little blog in over a year now. So first of all, hello! Since my last post in April of last year, this blog has actually seen a fair amount of new followers, readers and fantastic, insightful comments. I love that 1) people actually read this and 2) people tend to have strong opinions on a few of my posts! Even if you curse my name for hating Thomas Kinkade (RIP), I love you for caring enough to leave a hate note.
Until now, my penultimate post was a delightful little rant about having to choose between unpaid intern hell and selling out. After a year and half of management in the service industry, through which I met some lovely people and learned a lot about myself and other people, it was time to move on. A new set of management and customer service skills later, I snagged a position in Development at Facets Multi-Media, which is a leading film non-profit that focuses on preserving, screening and educating about classic, art and foreign cinema. In essence, this is right up my alley; hell to the yes.
So here it is! The triumphant return of Visual Tidbits. I feel like the perfect way to jump start this blog again has to involve featuring one of my new favorite local directors, Tom Palazzolo, for a multitude of reasons. As a director, he represents so well through film my pride as a Chicago resident, my interest in documentary film and my new job in the film world, my nostalgic streak, and his “Tom Palazzolo’s Chicago” series (restored and digitally released by Facets) was the first set of films that I saw during my first week on the job.
Onto the film…
A Chicago resident for over 40 years, Tom Palazzolo began dabbling in film in 1964 as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In his documentaries, Palazzolo has often turned to the streets of Chicago for his subject matter, filming things like the 1979 East Chicago neighborhood’s Labor Day celebration, the gritty landscape and marginal characters of 1960s old Clark Street, and the life and times of one of the original munchkins from The Wizard of Oz (Pernell St. Aubin, and his lovely wife Mary Ellen). Part of Palazzolo’s style and strategy was determined by the low, low budgets of the films, which he always financed himself.
In the following clip from I Married a Munchkin (1994) from Palazollo’s Chicago series, you’ll get a taste of his gritty style and unique subject matter. Please keep in mind, the archival footage of the “Midget Village” from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair did not come from an era of political correctness…
“The lively, unscripted festival footage supports the image of Ms. St. Aubin as a self-sufficient woman who has lived an active life, making her own way in a world that can be unkind to those that are different.”
-Milos Stehlik, Founder & Executive Director of Facets Multi-Media
But onto the main attraction. The short documentary that I have included in this blog, with an introduction by Tom Palazzolo himself, is his 1976 Jerry’s Deli, featuring a Chicago delicatessen by the same name that was operated by Jerry Meyers.
Jerry takes what one would expect from a typical customer service experience, being coddled and given exactly what you want, and flips it on its ass. You may have heard of other delicatessens or restaurants in Chicago (see Weiner’s Circle on Clark) or elsewhere, in which the customer service experience is somewhat sadomasochistic. In today’s consumer-driven society, in which customer’s have the upper hand due to a flailing economy, it is highly unusual to see a deli owner quite literally screaming at their customers, yelling at them to hurry up, linking arms with them at the door to usher them inside, and running around and panting like a lunatic. But as someone who has spent a fair amount of time in management in the service industry, most days I wished that Jerry’s style of customer service was more commonly accepted.
To me, the most fun in this short film lies in the quick cuts between scenes depicting the two very different Jerrys: 1) Jerry screaming otherwise mundane-sounding things at his customers like “ON RYE OR ON WHITE!?!?” while gesticulating wildly, and 2) Jerry as the very calm, rational man who is being interviewed about his business practices.
Before you watch the film, I want to point out what is perhaps the most poignant monologue, in which Jerry sheds some light on why he thinks that his customers put up with his verbal abuse:
“I try to analyze why customers come in and take my grabbing them and take my forcing them to give orders, and it’s always been the case where I’ve said ‘Maybe they’re masochists.’ And then I realized that 90% of people can’t be masochists, so it must be something else. And I’ve analyzed to the point where…they are very humanized when they walk in here, whereas where they work, they are just ‘number 4 or 5,’ they’re nobodies. And they come in here and by my grabbing them and touching them and screaming at them, they become human beings. I think this is the secret of the thing, and it’s the fact that I feel that close to people. I like people.” -Jerry Meyers, Jerry’s Deli
Hope you enjoyed this little peek at Tom Palazzolo’s work! Stay tuned for (hopefully) more frequent posts.