Dreaming Grand Avenue is a decidedly odd and thematically ambitious romance with
elements of noir and surrealism thrown in. The film was shot in Chicago (mostly
Uptown from the look of it) and the whole thing takes place there as well. It is
currently playing at the Music Box Theatre at 3733 S. Southport. It is also
available for downloading in several web sites. See below for link information
for this film.
I must qualify the high rating slightly. Although I enjoyed the film greatly, I
am definitely part of the film’s target audience. Viewers who do not know the
Chicago poetry scene, or the city itself might appreciate the film a bit less
(maybe this would be a three-star film for them.) But the film has plenty of
good aspects including its highly original story and its non-showy, convincing
performances. It should appeal to both art film aficionados and genre film
The director, Hugh Schultz previously produced another poetry themed film, Look
and See: A Portrait of Wendall Berry a documentary about (you guessed it)
Wendall Berry as well as the family drama, Cass (2013).
Dreaming Grand Avenue is about Maggie (Andrea Londo), and Jimmy (Jackson
Rathbone), a romantic couple that does not meet in the usual way. They don’t
meet up in reality, but they frequently pair up in the dreamscape. It all begins
when the characters run into each other in a train station (in a dream) when we
get to find out about their contrasting artistic interests. Maggie is reading
Emily Dickinson’s Sounds of the Soul, while Jimmy is a drawing a bird person
when they start eyeing each other. The basic premise of people meeting in dreams
reminded me slightly of On Body and Soul (2017), a Hungarian Netflix film I put
on my top ten list a few years ago, but the tone here is much lighter.
It turns out that Jimmy is averse to working, and he may be intentionally
messing up his job interviews. Of course, his girlfriend does not appreciate
this. The long unemployed Jimmy also have one strange hobby that occupies his
time which gives him pleasure . He likes to snorkel in the bathtub while wearing
a weird apparatus on his face. Which may sound odd but is at least better than
the man whose hobby is to slow dance with his son in his dead wife’s clothes in
a similar 1999 film Julian Donkey Boy .
They film suggests they both recently had tragic encounters with death in their
lives. After the train door opens Jimmy recalls his half-brother in a coffin and
Maggie sees a coffin with the name Sarah on it.
There is another parallel aspect of their lives, parental issues. Jimmy feels
anguish because of the death of his father while Maggie continually argues with
her combative dad (he is completely unsympathetic). He continually berates her
(like many parents) for not having a better job. She graduated law school with
top grades, but she watches kids for a living.
The film is filled with literary allusions. Jimmy’s half-brother has a tattoo on
his arm which contains one of Joseph Campbell’s (read The Power of Myth you
won’t be sorry) most well-known quotes “Follow your bliss” which ties directly
into the theme of the movie.
There is also a subplot involving missing kids which ties into a sinister
conversation about Mayan blood sacrifices (Maggie’s dad bizarrely claims that
child blood sacrifices are the cornerstone of every human civilization). Not
coincidently Jimmy is hired to draw a mural near the old remains of a Mayan
temple. Not all these threads are adequately tied together or resolved well
enough but they sure are interesting.
A dream detective named Jack Yancy (played by Tony Fitzpatrick) goes into a
darkly lit bar owned by Andromeda (Wendy Robie from Twin Peaks), It turns out
that Andromeda wants Yancy to hire Jimmy for a mysterious task The detective is
a variation on a traditional film noir dick. He is gruff and tough on the inside
and he conceals a caring side.
The main reason why I wanted to see the film was it contains a substantial role
for local Chicago art celebrity, Tony Fitzpatrick and he is convincing in the
film. Fitzpatrick is known for his riveting spoken word performances his
appearances on the radio, and his marvelous art. (I went to see his fine Secret
Birds paintings show.).
There is even a scene shot in the Green Mill Lounge with an extended cameo by
Chicago poetry legend, Marc Smith who is known for his dynamic performance
skills and his humorously abrasive comments (unfortunately rumor has it that
Smith has retired from MCing ). Marc’s Green Mill show was the entrance point
for many (including me) into the Chicago spoken word/performance poetry scene.
The Green Mill was also the first place I saw Tony Fitzpatrick read.
The film has many brief interesting and magical moments. One of the highlights
is when Jimmy who is about to be interviewed for a job, practices in front of
his girlfriend. When he answers the questions in a mock interview, he
impersonates Christopher Walken and Marlon Brando (although I think few post
millennial's would get it). Oh, and get this the spirit of Walt Whitman (Troy
West) appears to Jimmy as a kind of poetic mentor (in real life Whitman has been
a great influence on almost all post-Civil War poets.) In one scene Whitman
reads from Leaves of Grass onstage (before I teach this book, I always try to
read part of this pantheistic text in the woods.)
At one point one of the characters says that there are less and less dreamers,
and that she hopes the dreamers will find each other. Here’s hoping that some of
them also find this film which qualifies as a quirky little buried treasure.