Love It/Leave It

This winter the University of Chicago Film Studies Center presents a series of programs celebrating the 50th anniversary of Canyon Cinema, the experimental-film distributor founded by filmmaker Bruce Baillie and still going strong in San Francisco. This Friday’s installment, “Decodings,” offers plenty of exciting stuff: Jodie Mack’s Point de Gaze (2012), a dazzling high-speed montage of the patterns in fine Belgian lacework; Naomi Uman’s Removed (1999), in which the figure of a woman has been scraped away from 16-millimeter footage of an old 1970s soft-core feature, just as her perspective has been overlooked in the original; and JoAnn Elam’s Lie Back and Enjoy It (1982), whose soundtrack consists of a woman interrogating a male filmmaker about the power relationship he creates when he trains his lens on her.

My favorite blast from the past, however, is Love It/Leave It (1973), Tom Palazzolo’s 15-minute satire of knee-jerk patriotism and a choice example of good old Chicago lefty troublemaking. Palazzolo, who graduated from the School of the Art Institute, opens with footage from a nudists’ parade at the annual Naked City festival in Roseland, Indiana: as martial music plays on the soundtrack, women wearing only heels and carrying helium balloons strut around a fairground and clothed male photographers angle for position. A nude old woman rocks gently in a tree swing, and Palazzolo cuts to a close-up of an alarmed squirrel darting out of frame. (You have to admire an experimental artist who isn’t ashamed of an animal-reaction shot.) The men get their nude parade too, complete with an insert of a corkscrew drill spinning into the ground

Palazzolo takes his title from the slogan “America—love it or leave it,” which was popularized by red-baiting columnist Walter Winchell in the 1950s and revived in May 1970 by construction workers who attacked student antiwar protesters in Manhattan. The final movement of the film is accompanied by a deranged audio loop of voices chanting “Love it!” and “Leave it!” while Merle Haggard’s country hit “Okie From Muskogee” drifts in and out (“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee . . . We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street”). Meanwhile Palazzolo cuts together familiar Chicago locales, wacky footage of clowns at the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, and a shot of the White House through its spike-tipped iron fence. In a joking edit, a shot of black teenagers horsing around near the lakefront is countered by footage of riot police marching in close-step formation. They plow forward, thrusting their batons ahead of them like phalluses. Clearly they’ve made their choice: Love it.   v