The Illinois Parables Screen 19 articles

The Illinois Parables


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  • The Illinois Parables is a politically blunt object — not quite John Gianvito-level ideological firmness, but still a work of progressive convictions that are both righteous and a little standard. But Stratman’s description of the film as “maximalist minimalism” sticks: there’s plenty of gorgeous 16mm footage to look at, in many different aesthetic modes, and an eclectic soundtrack of disparate cues to process. What’s fascinating is the gap between the two.

  • Even more diverse than the film’s historical material is its eccentric mash-up of styles and approaches, which come coupled with a soundtrack that combines Gregorian chants, Arvo Part, haunted church organ, and various snatches of midcentury blues and pop music. Stratman has a phenomenal eye... Her camera draws out geographical patterns that echo across the state—and in a few subtly perception-skewing shots, across museum exhibitions and paintings.

  • Comprising eleven chapters that encompass fourteen centuries, the sixty-minute film, shot in 16mm, catalogs a history of calamities — natural, political — in the Land of Lincoln. Stratman often juxtaposes static, serene landscape footage with an increasingly agitated soundtrack, arriving at an odd consonance amid so much dissonance.

  • At first glance, they may not seem to fit together so seamlessly, but placed in chronological sequence, the “parables” speak in dialogue to one another about historical occurrences of exodus on different terms. It’s the sort of approach to a cinema of historicizing that combines journalistic rigour and formalistic articulation, a meeting place of fact and fiction that provokes discovery and philosophical and sociopolitical reflection in equal measure.

  • A second viewing clarified for me just how crystal-clear this film is. It's rare to see any work with such a defined purpose. In fact, I think the first time I saw it I was a bit confused, because I expected there to be a bit more, something deeper and more resonant. But that's not the way all films need to operate, and Parables treats the history of the state of Illinois not as an opportunity for mythmaking or even storytelling, but as a framework for a set of historical core samples.

  • The seduction comes from the rigorous composition of the shots and from a strategy – not unlike that of Eastern Asian scroll painting – that allows the spectator to project him/herself in the “empty spaces” of the shot. The juxtaposition of image and texts is not authoritarian, but allows for gaps, (mis)readings, (re)interpretations, playfulness even; the spectator is invited to float over the image like a little boat over the crest of the wave.

  • Stratman, like William T. Vollmann, gives us each moment as a vision of how a place, how a person might have been, and what that possibility can mean to us now as we glacially awaken from our long nightmares into an incandescent present.

  • A stunning example of the polyvocal, hybrid essay movie, Stratman’s multilayered film may nod to James Benning’s explorations of American landscape but it has a voice and aesthetic uniquely its own... She establishes a hypnotic, rhythmic flow in the assembly of her material that draw the viewer ever deeper in, mixing aerial and wide shots, archival footage, historical documents... The result is one of the most striking examples of documentary filmmaking you’re likely to see anywhere this year.

  • In what is surely one of the year’s best documentaries, Stratman takes us from earthen mounds to commemorative plaques, from newspaper reports of tornadoes to re-enactments of Cointelpro operations against black nationalists – all as part of a compelling meditation on the politics of place and the difficulties of belonging.

  • I’ve seen Deborah Stratman’s “The Illinois Parables” only once, but I’m eager to see it again. A dense weave of found and original sights and sounds, this hourlong film is at once an experimental documentary, a work of historical excavation and an insistently moral ideological critique.

  • The Illinois Parables does nothing by the numbers, constantly redefining its approach... Threading the needle between the abstruse and the didactic, Stratman takes a cacophony of documents, murals, dioramas, testimonials, plaques, and other markers on the land, and locates strange harmonies among them.

  • What results is a cyclical narrative of endurance and erasure at the hands of ideology, natural and supernatural destruction, technological advancement, faith, and resistance. Taken as the violent fallout of when abstract conviction in the name of historical necessity or science meets implementation, it’s a tale that cannot help but feel prescient in our current political atmosphere. The hope, then, is that we are willing to hear it.

  • The Birth of a Nation flattens out a crucial episode in our national story into a simplistic revenge narrative and presents itself as definitive. It’s a saddening truth of commerce and taste that far more people will ever see Parker’s work than Stratman’s, but I’m hopeful The Illinois Parables will be more _remembered_ by those who see it.

  • Stratman’s essay film transforms the fifth-largest US state into a teeming, mythopoetic palimpsest. ‘The anxiety of our era has to do fundamentally with space,’ Foucault said, almost a half-century ago – and yet Stratman’s film urgently explores such questions, sensitive to the layers of history, the displacement and violence, that haunts contemporary Illinois.

  • Digging through the archives of her home state to reveal how currents of migration, racism, genocide and disaster have literally been etched into the landscape, experimental director Deborah Stratman offers up a dense and often mesmerizing film essay with her latest work, The Illinois Parables.

  • With pensive shots set to a richly-detailed soundtrack, Stratman allows the language of the setting—natural, built, imagined—to speak. The voiceless people within it try to embed their own idioms, or objects, into it: antiquaries, flags, signs, bones.

  • At a time when America's marginalized once again face an uncertain future, Deborah Stratman's wise, rueful essay The Illinois Parablesserves as a timely reminder that history has always pressed hardest on the disenfranchised. Stratman's approach is akin to a precise archeological excavation performed on the oft-ravishing landscapes of the Prairie State that pepper her film.

  • While Stratman’s eye for lost landscapes is striking, the film is also a showcase for her characteristically evocative sound design, associative montage, and meticulous research... What emerges is a disquieting sense of the inextricability of history and place, the feeling that time haunts the landscape in deep and tangible ways.

  • Chicago-based artist Deborah Stratman has been using her 16mm camera to hunt down meaning in exterior and interior spaces for going on 30 years now. In The Illinois Parables, she tells 11 obliquely affecting stories, located at once in the past and present, of human dramas that played/are playing out in her home state.

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