Palazzolo was born in a midwestern city, St. Louis,
in 1937. His mother, a devout
Irish-Catholic, enrolled her son in the local Catholic
school where he was "instilled
with some heavy duty fear." He remembers the experience
well with both positive and negative feelings since
he tended to be a prankster and wise guy. The mystery
of faith had a hold on him, and this was important to
his mother. He was not a juvenile delinquent, but he
was very good at "sneaking past the guards and
into a stadium in his neighborhood where the circus
would come every summer."
1958, Tom was 21 years old when he moved to Sarasota,
Florida to study at the John and Mable Ringling School
of Art. "It was the cheapest art school in the
and had no academic requirements." He brags about
this fact. The circus winter
headquarters were in Sarasota, and this is where his
love "of the carnival aesthetic"
In 1960, Tom moved to Chicago. "He was consumed
by the vitality, energy, and diversity
of the city and never left." He lived in a cheap
room in the poor Near-Northside
neighborhood. The city fascinated him.
Tom applied to the School of the Chicago Art Institute
with no academic background. He studied painting and
photography. His earliest paintings of this time were
costumed figures from the circus culture, such as acrobats
and daredevils. He was attracted to people dressed in
funny costumes and twisted in weird positions.
Tom worked at odd jobs, but actually supported himself
by copying Rembrandt's paintings
and selling them to doctors and dentists. This money
helped pay his tuition.
In 1965, he got his M. F. A., which helped keep him
out of Vietnam.
His first film, entitled "O" was made on 16mm
film. This film was experimental, and it was "montage
of flying trapeze acts, drag races and parades."
Film making at this time was a new art form. The rules
were still being written and bent. There were no film
schools at this time.
Tom became part of the Chicago Underground. It was made
up of about ten filmmakers. There was no "particular
school or direction, we did our own thing." He
liked roaming the streets, filming activities and people
he saw which he" expresses his fascination with
the humor, delight, wonder…. the absurdity."
In 1966, he made The Story Of How I Became A Tattooed
Lady. This was an interview with "an elderly lady
that was tattooed with over 200 tattoos and then broaden
to the demolished Riverside amusement park." In
1967 he tried different subjects and styles from Pop
Art to 20's style surrealism.
He made another film, which was an "ode to his
old Clark street neighborhood called He. This was the
"light-hearted take on homeless people, it was
not the horrible thing it is today. America's In Real
Trouble was another "slice of raw Americana."
The Bride Stripped Bare was about the "absurd and
mystical pomp bound up in grandiose ceremonies."
In 1971, lightweight sound-synch 16mm cameras made "a
great impact on independent filmmaking. Another filmmaker
turned him onto this new style. Ricky And Rocky, a spoof
on the working class Italian/Polish-American backyard
wedding and Hot Nasty, takes place in a Chicago massage
parlor called Big Bertha; both show "a certain
humanism in his films and letting us see the humor in
social gatherings." In his film Jerry, about a
deli owner who screamed, shouted, and pushed his customers.
He shows from the point of view of Jerry that "he
makes people feel like human beings instead of numbers.
Another film was Marquette Park that looked "at
the reaction of white residents to a black march into
their neighborhood, generating hostility by the local
Nazi organizers. Tom was able to show these events "without
a trace of moralizing or manipulation."
In 1982 he completed his first feature film, Caligari's
Cure. It is a "psychic exploration
of Tom's past. In 1988 Added Lessons continued the psychic
explorations. These two features put him into his third
phase of filmmaking.
Today he is teaching at Columbia College in Chicago
and also teaches at Daley City College. He still wants
to make another film; the Chicago of long ago only exists
in memory. He still hates the commercial filmmaking
culture of Hollywood, and likes the freaks and outcasts
© Rebecca Sanders, 2001
- . -
Reflections on Photography, Painting and Film:
conversation with Chicago-based multimedia artist Tom
Marianne A. KINZER