Capone heaps praise on VINCENT: A LIFE IN COLOR, a documentary about a living Chicago treasure!!!
Published at: May 6, 2010, 10:54 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I thought for sure going into the Ebertfest screening of this outstanding documentary from first-time filmmaker Jennifer Burns that I was embarking on a learning experience about a man who has quickly become a staple on the streets and bridges of Chicago. And if all you wanted to find out was who that guy is who dances a jig on various bridges that cross the Chicago River or plants himself in the background of early morning or prime time local newscasts that dare to feature street-level views outside their windows, VINCENT: A LIFE IN COLOR has got you more than covered. But it doesn't take long for you to gleen that Burns has something else going on that taps right into the very core of what makes us compassionate human beings…or not.
He goes by many names ("Riverace" is my favorite, but tour boat guides also call him "Fashion Man"); he has a seemingly endless supply of snappy and brightly colored suits, shirts, and ties; and he squints his eyes so tight that it makes his smile twice as big. I've seen him so many times, I lost track ages ago, but I never bothered to ask him his name to see if I could discern whether he was mentally disturbed or just one of the city's great eccentrics, or to see what sort of life he had when he wasn't twirling his coat over his head and making people either smile or very nervous. The man's name is Vincent P. Falk, and getting to know him through this movie (and a great deal since having seen the film) has been one of my greatest joys in my years in Chicago.
Every city has these characters--some cities have more than one, and some cities seem populated entirely by them--and my guess is that every one of these men and women is worth getting to know or investigate via a long or short doc. But this rarely happens to the extent that Burns saw this project through.
Through extensive interviews with people who know Vincent personally or those who only interaction with him is on the street or outside a window or via an article in a local newspaper, Burns uncovers not only a fascinating portrait of an individual worth getting to know, but also a trend in human behavior to concoct a story about such high-profile figures in their heads and stick with them. Some believe Vincent was homeless (which always seemed unlikely to me since his suits were impeccably kept and I never once saw him ask for money), some thought he was a trust-fund eccentric, and the list goes on. But the truth about Vincent is loaded with surprise after surprise, both in terms of how extraordinary his past is and how relatively ordinary his world outside of entertaining everyone is.
VINCENT doesn't just provide biographical details on Vincent Falk's life but it also offers some rather astute observations about why he does what he does the way he does it. Is he addicted to attention, or does he simply enjoy making people's days a little brighter with a dash of the unexpected? I sincerely believe both of these are at play. I don't want to give away any of the film's big reveals (other critics will and they are evil bastards for doing so), but trust me when I say that the details of Vincent's life are worth discovering for yourself. But just as a tease, I will let you know that when the film was made, Vincent was fully employed, legally blind, and a master of the ill-gotten pun. At least two of those traits remain true today.
I also enjoy the way Burns structures the film around Vincent's seasonal activities (he religiously tracks the schedules of the tour boats that run from early spring to mid-autumn in Chicago), and by the time we watch Vincent spin for the season's last boat in November, we've learned more than we know about most strangers in our lives. And I guarantee that the next time you see Vincent after viewing this film, you'll greet him enthusiastically.
As much as VINCENT: A LIFE IN COLOR is not about teaching us valuable lessons, I went ahead and learned one anyway. As I watched a great deal of footage of Vincent on the bridges of Chicago, I started to notice the reaction passers-by had to him. Most didn't smile or applaud; they blew by or side-stepped him as fast as their nervous feet could move. Probably without meaning to, Burns has documented some mildly shameful behavior, and it made me think about the times I might have engaged my own avoidance techniques with Vincent or other colorful characters on the city streets.
Vincent is proof beyond any doubt that there are no boring stories, and director Burns has made certain that Falk's story is told in colors as vivid as his most eye-catching suit. If you consider yourself a loyal Chicagoan or you have a fondness for human behavior at it's most celebratory, you need to see this film, which opens Friday for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Believe it or not, Vincent is a Chicago treasure, and treasures like these rarely have films made about them. Don't you dare miss it.
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