In Genevieve Coleman’s documentary Monday Night at the Rock ‘n Bowl, Diversey River Bowl co-owner Gary Secrest boasts that his lanes were specifically designed to accommodate sloppy drinkers–unlike other alleys that discourage boozing in such proximity to the lane approaches. That advancement in lane technology is just one of the lucky circumstances that led to the evolution of punk rock night at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl, now a raucous but amiable weekly convocation of around 150 kegling punks and their balls.
Three years ago the lanes were deserted on Monday nights. But gradually a small group of service workers began hanging out at the alley when their bars and restaurants were closed. A contingent of rockabilly and punk kids–friends of bartender Julia Henner–was already in residence, and Secrest’s judicious selection of early punk and metal on the sound system and his relaxed attitude toward alcohol on the wood made it an ideal place to hang out.
One Monday in October 2000, Coleman, who’d been visiting the lanes off and on for about six months, was stood up by her regular bowling partners. As she sat alone looking around, it dawned on her that all 36 lanes were filled with young people drinking, dancing, and knocking down pins–and everybody seemed to know each other. The original groups had merged and blossomed into a thriving scene that got bigger every week.
Coleman thought such an organically grown happening would make a great film subject, so she began bringing along her digital camera. “The funny thing is, everybody told me that they were sort of the one that brought everyone there,” she says. “Everybody was sort of taking credit for it. It was sort of true. They all kind of did it independently of each other. Groups of 10 to 30 people started showing up and they eventually all knew each other.”
Her hour-long film, shot over eight months, is a collection of retardo one-liners (bowling “allows me to use my arm”) and drunken high jinks on the lanes, bridged by a sober section on the history of the game. Like televised bowling itself, that may not sound like the most gripping spectacle, but Coleman makes it look like a lot of mindless fun. “That was definitely one of our goals with the film, to just try and capture the feeling of this scene that exists there and the place itself. You can forget about all your trouble when you’re there. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s very true.”
Before Coleman and her boyfriend Michael Palmerio (who produced the film) left Chicago for Los Angeles in February, she paid a final visit to the lanes. “It was almost that the scene that we saw develop there lasted a year or so, and then a new kind of crowd had come in,” she says. “It’s just gotten bigger and bigger.”
Monday Night at the Rock ‘n Bowl screens Monday, August 26, at 7 and Tuesday, August 27, at 3:30 as part of the Chicago Underground Film Festival at Landmark’s Century Centre, 2828 N. Clark. Call 866-468-3401 for tickets; see the sidebar in Section Two for more information.