Home / News / New movie “He Went That Way” is based on true events

New movie “He Went That Way” is based on true events

In the rarefied world of ape movies, “He Went That Way” ranks among such cinematic triumphs as “Planet of the Apes” and its many sequels, Clint Eastwood’s “Every Which Way But Loose,” various King Kong romps or sequels It’s unlikely he’ll get it. Even Ronald Reagan’s “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

But this filmThe film, which opens in theaters and releases on January 12, is nevertheless worth our attention, especially given its inherent strangeness and strong local connections.

This is a fact-based story about how, in 1964, animal trainer and Evanston native Dave Pitts traveled by car with his trained chimpanzee named Spanky.

Before this trip, Pitts was studying musical theater at Northwestern University but dropped out to sing with the trio. That career ended when he saw a chimpanzee skating at the state fair, bought the chimpanzee’s brother, named him Spanky, and taught him to ice skate. They have created a show that has made them among the Ice Capades’ most popular leads, touring the world and appearing on various television shows. They were famous.

In 1964, Pitts and Spanky were on their way to meet the Ice Capades team in Minnesota. They caught a hitchhiker named Larry Ranes, who quickly revealed himself to be a serial killer. For three understandably tense and terrifying days, the trio headed east from Las Vegas.

The movie, which is basically spoiler-free, was inspired by a chapter of the book “Luke Karamazov” written by Conrad Hilberry about Ranes in 1987. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June and has recently received less-than-favorable reviews. Richard Roeper wrote in the Sun-Times that it “never finds a steady tone, strays into some oddball subplots and delivers two surprisingly underwhelming performances.” The New York Times called it “painfully interesting.”

Directed by Jeffrey Darling, the film stars Zachary Quinto (here renamed Jim Goodwin) as Pitts, Jacob Elordi (Bobby Falls) as the killer, and Spanky, as Roeper describes it, “played by an actor in motion capture (with some puppetry).” ).”

But Jonathan Pitts says: “It’s a good movie. “I really liked it.”

He may be biased because he is the story consultant and narrator of the film.

“Producers who have been trying to get this movie made for 17 years contacted me,” he says. “I spent part of two weeks on set when the movie was shot in Los Angeles in 2021. And I was at the opening of the film festival, walking the red carpet for the first time.”

But their relationship goes much deeper. He is the son of Dave Pitts.

“For the first two years of my life, we all lived in a trailer — me, Spanky, and my family — and traveled around the country,” the 64-year-old says. “Then my parents divorced, and I could only see my father one day a year, when the Ice Capades were in town or sometimes when he and Spanky were in a television commercial or talk show.”

It’s understandable that he said, “I’ve been haunted by this story since I was a kid,” and he created his own theatrical presentation inspired by his relationship with the film. “The film is very different from what I would do on stage,” he says. “It’s a very different narrative, more personal.”

It’s easy to be hopeful. First of all, his solo exhibition has a much more striking title than the movie. “My Dad, His Chimp, and a Serial Killer” will premiere this weekend as part of the always interesting and often entertaining schedule. Solo Festival FilletIn its 27th year, the two-week presentation of storytelling performances. The event, which will run Jan. 12-21 at the Lifeline Theater (6912 N. Glenwood Ave.) and South of the Border (1416 W. Morse Ave.), will feature Pitts as well as offerings such as: Nestor Gomez and “80 Minutes Around the World: Immigration Stories.”

Pitts is enthusiastic and harbors unrealistic hope that his show might become the basis for a longer run at a local theater.

He definitely knows the landscape. He has had a busy and influential career since dropping out of university to dive into the world of improvisational theatre. He helped Jane in the late 1980s and her later years. Bernie Sahlins here and in 1988 he and Frances Callier with the ambitious International Theater Festival Chicago Improv Festival and served as executive director for the following decades.

He needed some care in 2017 after the death of his mother, Judith, for whom he was the primary caregiver for several years after she suffered a stroke. to break“I was exhausted and felt like I had made my contribution,” he told me.

He has traveled, lectured and performed in 26 countries. Then came COVID. He returned to Chicago and lived mostly alone in an apartment in Albany Park. However, this forced intermission gave him time to think more about himself, get involved in the film and create his own show. “I know the opening line, the closing line and the tenor of the story, but there is a lot of freedom in this cut and a lot will be determined by the audience and their response,” he says.

We talked a little more about the film and director Darling’s ironic tragedy. It was the 60-year-old famed cinematographer’s feature directorial debut, and he died in a surfing accident shortly after the film was completed.

We talked about murderer Ranes, whose brother was also a serial killer and died in a Michigan prison in November. We talked a little about Spanky, whom Pitts knew when he was a little kid. Then I asked about his father.

Dave Pitts worked with several young chimpanzees for Ice Capades until the mid-1970s; He trained them all and named them Spanky. He flirted with several other animal-related careers. He sold cars. And then, a long time ago, it moved to South America. “I haven’t seen him for many years, and I think the last time we spoke was in 2015,” his son says. “He’s in Buenos Aires and has dementia, but I think he’s aware that this movie is being made and he’s happy about it. But I’m not so sure he knows about my show. And what can he think about it?

rkogan@chicagotribune.com

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