Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. He has contributed pieces to Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Reader and Playboy magazine. He has written books about the Farm Aid movement, travel and kick ass country music. His latest book is about minor league baseball in the Midwest.
Jan. 27, 2013— Elaine Layabout transforms global music through images from vintage dramas, kitsch and travel videos. The Chicago-based indie filmmaker is creating the video wallpaper for a monthly tribute to Tiki exotica that sets sail at 9 p.m. Jan. 29 at Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar, 960 W. 31st St. in Bridgeport-By-The-Sea.
Well, Bridgeport-By-Bubbly Creek.
“It’s exciting because this is the reverse of what happens in movies,” Layabout said last week. “I’ve done music direction in movies where you’re picking music to transform the images. Here I am doing the reverse.”
A couple of hours of her work will be shown to the mixes of global DJ Richard Pierson. Expect colorful snippets from 1932’s Dolores del Rio romantic drama adventure “Bird of Paradise,” the 1952 Bing-Crosby-Bob Hope classic “Road to Bali,” 1922’s “Toll of the Sea” and much more. I’ll be spinning Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Don Ho and “The Magic Organ Goes To Hawaii,” but that’s not the point of this coconut telegraph.
“My work is completely cued into the music,” Layabout said. “I’m a musician, so it’s a given. Richard gives me the mixes and I listen to them. Then I browse through my archives and pull videos. I cut them up to pull scenes I think are interesting or to fit whatever narrative I am trying to shoehorn them into.” Layabout said she pulls her material from large stacks of still and moving images. “I was watching (the 1944 travelouge) ‘Belles of the South Seas’ and trying to see if I could use some clips,” she explained. “It is old black and white video and every scene the women are topless and I’m totally fine with that. My videos are all about breasts in the moonlight. But the way the images are framed, in order to get everyone’s breasts on camera, they cut off the tops of the women’s heads. Is this too much objectification for me to handle? This is all about objectifying people and their culture. I may use these at Maria’s, I don’t know.”
Layabout assembles the videos aesthetically. Sometimes she mixes color and black and white footage and colorizes black and white footage. “It’s irreverent,” she said. “I’ve taken footage from Cuba, South America, Africa and Japan and put it all together. Thinking with the music, that’s the exciting thing to me. There’s a lot of dance footage, which is appropriate. I’m manipulating time. I’m slowing footage up, or speeding it up in order to fit with the music. I’m very anal retentative about matching video with the music.”
Iconic Chicago groove merchant Joe Bryl is the show’s promoter. “Tiki music per se was developed by mainland haole Martin Denny and Kaui born Arthur Lyman, both of whom spent the bulk of their careers sound-tracking Tiki themed tourist lounges in Waikiki,” Bryl said. “Those who insist Tiki music has nothing to do with Hawaii forget that it’s a music of ports of call rather than territories, sound born along a web of trade routes linking Havana and Hong Kong, Mexico South and Manila, with Honolulu as a hub.” Snippets of “I Am Cuba” will be part of her mix at Maria’s.
The 1964 anti-American propaganda film was made as a Cuban-Soviet collaboration. It was restored and released in the United States in 1995 by Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola. The film is shot in black and white with hand held cameras that create a musical rhythm (and accounts for the film’s majestic pans). The Sun-Times Roger Ebert called it “dated—but fascinating.” I bought the cigar-box sized “Ultimate Edition” of “I Am Cuba” which does a fine job of creating ambiance at my home tiki bar. Layabout said, “Just for me as a photographer where every single frame looks like a photograph, ‘I Am Cuba’ blew my mind.”
Layabout is a native of Cleveland, Ohio who grew up in the hills of Virginia.
Bird of Paradise, 1932
She also lived in Treasure Island, Fla. and the Everglades in Florida where her late father Walter was a manager for the Farm Store convience store chain. “Whenever there was a hurricane he would load us into the car during the eye of the storm,” she recalled. “And we would drive us around checking on all these stores.” Now, there’s some video footage. Layabout earned an English degree at the University of Chicago and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. She went to law school and studied film at U.C.L.A. She stayed in Los Angeles for “many years” and returned to Chicago in 2011. Layabout is currently doing post-production work on jobs sent to her from Los Angeles.
When Layabout lived in Los Angeles she played—mandolin—in the popular Southern Gothic punk band Manhattan Murder Mystery. “Most of my video experience is in Los Angeles,” she explained. “I was the videographer for this amazing college radio station called KXOU. We did a live show on Friday nights. Somebody would do playlists from YouTube and we had cameras on the DJs. We were live mixing the DJs to bands from YouTube. Sometimes we even color keyed and did special effects. Video is also very popular in L.A. clubs with outdoor bars. I don’t know why, but it seems like in outdoor bars they project video.” I’d guess it’s because of drive-in movies.
Layabout continued, “I’m surprised there’s not more of this being done. I’m kind of new to all this in Chicago.”