At the University of Chicago’s website, a countdown has already begun for Let’s Get Working, a three-day celebration of Studs Terkel that will take place in early May. The festival is to feature readings, film screenings, musical performances, and community dialogues—an appropriately diverse tribute to a man who “recognized the value in listening to all of the city’s voices.” This Friday at 7 PM the Nightingale Cinema will host a sneak preview event called “What We Do All Day,” a multimedia program combining readings, organized by local writer Mairead Case, from Terkel’s Working and experimental short films, curated by Nightingale cofounder Christy LeMaster, on the subject of working. Admission is free. (Incidentally, the Museum of Contemporary Art will present another multimedia program on which Case and LeMaster collaborated, Stress/De-Stress, this coming Tuesday at 6 PM.)
“What We Do All Day” takes place at the same as another fantastic free screening, a 35-millimeter revival of Dusan Makavejev’s The Coca-Cola Kid (1985) at the University of Chicago Logan Center for the Arts. It speaks to the vitality of the city’s repertory programming that these two events should take place at the same time—but still, what a pisser! With the exception of WR: Mysteries of the Organism, none of Makavejev’s films have screened theatrically in Chicago for years. And in a time when practically any motivated individual can make a film, we need Makavejev’s example more than ever. The Yugoslavian director developed a personal, freewheeling aesthetic out of financial necessity, shooting his early movies (e.g., Man Is Not a Bird, Innocence Unprotected) documentary-style (i.e., with few retakes) and filling them out with wittily manipulated old footage to make up for a lack of film stock. His collagelike comedies are both playful and politically engaged, with the erratic shifts in tone and visual style communicating a dialectic view of global affairs.
The Coca-Cola Kid comes from a brief period when Makavejev flirted with the American mainstream. The movie is a fish-out-of-water comedy starring Eric Roberts as a zealous American executive who travels to the Australian outback because he can’t understand why people aren’t buying Coke products there. It’s the first film Makavejev directed that he didn’t also write, though one can sense his personality in every scene. The filmmaker views the cartoonish characters with obvious sympathy, even those who represent political views he finds absurd (this may be because, as a traditional Marxist who came of age in Tito-era Yugoslavia, Makavejev has always regarded his own ideology as absurd).
Compared with his earlier work, Coca-Cola Kid seems tame and a little compromised—indeed, this was the sentiment of most reviews upon its first release—yet it’s definitely weirder and more intellectual than most mainstream comedies coming out now. “The film lives in a hundred different eccentric details and niceties of execution,” Dave Kehr conceded in his generally underwhelmed Reader capsule. I’d second that assessment. Several years since my last viewing, I still find myself humming the aboriginal Coke jingle that Roberts’s character produces and that provides one of the movie’s funniest scenes.