Tom Palazzolo Biography


Tom 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."

In 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 country 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" developed.

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 of society.

--Rebecca Sanders, 2001



Tom Palazzolo