Deborah Stratman’s experimental film considers the wide scope of the American experience through a narrow prism of eleven chapters from Illinois history.
The production considers the eerie near-erasure of the land’s ancient inhabitants – the Cahokia Mounds are shown with scant explanation of their relevance, while Native American culture is viewed in the tacky stagnation of a museum diorama and the expulsion of the Cherokees is encapsulated in a street sign called “Trail of Tears Road.” The rise and fall of outsider communities is also considered in the relatively brief period of the Icarian utopian commune of French immigrants and the rise of Joseph Smith’s nascent Mormon movement (as well as Smith’s death and the burning of the Mormon temple in Nauvoo). Stratman brings in archival footage of the devastating 1925 Tri-State Tornado and stages a re-enactment of the televised re-enactment of the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by law enforcement.
Throughout the film, Stratman uses off-beat sound design and music selections – the Parisian punk band Les Porte-Mentaux can be heard during the Icarian segment – and the film is shot in a grainy 16mm that makes the footage seem like a faded educational film. It is certainly an idiosyncratic approach to history and social commentary, but those with little patience for avant-garde cinema may become bored with this artsy endeavor and its heavy handed framing of historical intolerance.