Rainbow Bright...

Last summer, I spent a couple of posts talking about my burgeoning obsession with one Vincent P. Falk, Chicago's own Riverace. His eccentricity appeals both to my love of kitsch, and my profound appreciation for all thing unique to this fair city. Although I had yet to spot him in 2010, I still found myself thinking of him whenever I crossed one of the bridges over the Chicago River, and I would find myself looking, even when I knew it was too cold to be tour boat season. Therefore, when I was conducting my monthly perusal of the Gene Siskel Film Center's screenings and saw that they would be hosting a showing of Vincent: A Life In Color, the locally-produced documentary about the life of Vincent Falk, it quickly became a must-see.

Although I went into
Vincent hoping to learn more about the life of Mr. Falk and garner some insight into why he feels compelled to put on his "fashion shows" for the city and its visitors, I must confess, I came away from the film feeling less certain of Mr. Falk and his motivations than ever before. In the portrait painted of him in the film, Mr. Falk comes across as the kind of man who is largely unknowable, even to his closest associates. He deflects attempts at interpersonal intimacy with jokes, and despite all of the attention he purposefully draws to himself, he seems deeply uncomfortable with one-on-one contact.

I couldn't shake the impression that he might be suffering from a highly functional form of autism. He holds a job with Cook County, working as a computer programmer with the Department of Management Information Systems (a job which he came to, interestingly, after the decline of disco ended his career as a DJ in a series of gay bars and go-go clubs) in which he demonstrates a high aptitude for incredibly detail-oriented work. He has cultivated a number of hobbies (including audio equipment and, of course, suit collecting), which he pursues with near obsessive zeal. And yet, he seems unable to truly connect to other people.

The film provides no simple answers to the mystery of Mr. Falk, but it does raise a somewhat upsetting question -- what if Mr. Falk is simply a master of self-promotion, in the vein of such reality television stars as Kate Gosselin, who seeks to extend his 15 minutes of fame in whatever way he can? In the documentary, Mr. Falk is seen staking out local news studios, where he stands behind the glass, jostling past young children to get his face on camera. He makes appearances on other television and radio programs, and stalks the WGN announcers who perform in the public studio in the Tribune Building. Is his self-display truly an altruistic act, designed to brighten the days of its beholders, or is it a means to an end for a man for whom fame has become another one of his obsessions?

I'm not sure that the filmmaker intended to portray Mr. Falk in anything but a positive light -- indeed, the tone of the film is generally celebratory. I suppose, however, that the mark of any good documentary is not merely to explore a subject, but to raise questions and propose new interpretive frameworks for understanding that subject. Much as I would have preferred to maintain my simplistic admiration of Mr. Falk, I now think of him in more complex, and thereby more human terms. If for no other reason than that, Vincent: A Life in Color should be counted as a success.

No comments:

Post a Comment