On episode #6 of the Cine-Cast, Cine-File associate editor Ben Sachs and contributor Scott Pfeiffer talk about the upcoming Black Harvest Film Festival and the ongoing Ingmar Bergman series at the Gene Siskel Film Center (Scott's a particularly devoted Bergman fan); contributor Mike Metzger and Julian Antos, erstwhile Cine-File contributor and executive director of the Chicago Film Society, discuss the film society's new 35mm print of Andrew Bujalski's 2013 film COMPUTER CHESS; contributors Metzger, Tien-Tien Jong, and JB Mabe chat about what's sure to be a legendary weekend at Doc Films (August 9-11), during which Hollis Frampton's ZORN'S LEMMA, Stan Brakhage's SCENES FROM UNDERCHILDHOOD, and Jonas Mekas's LOST, LOST, LOST will all grace the big screen on 16mm; and associate editor Kathleen Sachs interviews local filmmaker Casey Puccini, whose second feature-length film I DON'T CARE will screen at Chicago Filmmakers on August 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Listen here. As always, special thanks to our producer, Andy Miles, of Transistor Chicago.
Maurice Tourneur’s THE BLUE BIRD (Silent American Revival)
French émigré Maurice Tourneur (father of director Jacques Tourneur) employs all sorts of movie magic to convey the wonderment and downright weirdness of Old World fairytales. Set in no particular country at no particular time, THE BLUE BIRD follows two young siblings as they go on a magical search for the title animal, which is believed to bring happiness to anyone who possesses it. They’re guided by a good fairy, who gives the children the power to see the souls of animals and inanimate objects, like sugar, bread, and fire. These objects travel with the kids as they explore such fantastic landscapes as the Cathedral of Happiness, the Palace of Night, and the Kingdom of the Future, where unborn souls hang out and wait to be conceived. (Was this an inspiration for Alan Rudolph’s MADE IN HEAVEN?) The special effects are quite impressive for 1918; more importantly, they’re rooted in a sense of imagination that one rarely finds in contemporary effects-driven films. In its wild narrative and innovative use of effects, THE BLUE BIRD gives a sense of what Georges Méliès what have done had he continued working in features after 1912. The film is preceded by the 1925 short VOICE OF THE NIGHTINGALE (13 min, 16mm); it was directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz, so expect more wonderment and weirdness there. Live accompaniment by Dennis Scott. (1918, 82 min, 35mm Archival Print) BS
Juleen Compton’s THE PLASTIC DOME OF NORMA JEAN (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave — Wednesday, 7:30pm
There’s a line from Andy Newman’s Spin Alternative Record Guide review of the legendary obscuro 60s girl group The Shaggs that I often think about: “The trail they blazed was a cul-de-sac.” Almost everything about Juleen Compton’s long-lost THE PLASTIC DOME OF NORMA JEAN (1966) sounds like it comes from a similar outsider universe: written, directed, and produced by a female real-estate entrepreneur, the film was shot in the Ozarks with a cast of unknowns and given only a handful of screenings over the subsequent decades. Then again, those screenings were at the Cannes Film Festival and the Museum of Modern Art, and that real-estate entrepreneur was also a New York theater-world insider who had her portrait painted by Diego Rivera. As a work of mid-60s New American Cinema, THE PLASTIC DOME OF NORMA JEAN is far too savvy to read as just a vanity project or naïve curio; no New York-based filmmaker in 1966 would give a character the last name “Meekas” by mistake. Instead, it’s helpful to see the film as a bold piece of real estate speculation: Compton pitches her PLASTIC DOME at the junction of beat-group rocksploitation, ACE IN THE HOLE-style cautionary tale, and good-old-fashioned psychodrama. It’s a niche, to say the least. The narrative is pure pop allegory: literal babe in the woods Norma Jean (Sharon Henesy) turns her clairvoyant abilities into a sideshow in order to boost attendance for a rock band at a revival-tent-cum-discotheque (the eponymous plastic dome), until the group’s malevolent singer Bobo (Marco St. John) pushes her too far. If you always wished the Monkees’s “I’m a Believer” was about ESP, this is the film for you. Stuffed with black turtlenecks and go-go iconography, PLASTIC DOME looks enough like a downmarket JD programmer—except it’s both deeply eccentric and a colossal downer, with a particularly nightmarish last act. So is it an art film? As a fable of externalized female psychic distress, Compton’s film might be compared—perversely, perhaps—to the work of Maya Deren. Like other works of American independent cinema such as Shirley Clarke’s THE COOL WORLD (1963) or Joseph L. Anderson’s SPRING NIGHT, SUMMER NIGHT (1967), location photography imparts a distinct regional terroir. The film’s fairy-tale touches and rabbit-hole digressions are also pure arthouse, but it’s the inconsistency of its weirdness—or perhaps, its audacity to bend the tropes of commercial cinema without breaking them—that distinguishes PLASTIC DOME from what P. Adams Sitney called the “picaresque cinema of anarchic nonsense” seen in Mekas Brothers films like HALLELUJAH THE HILLS (1963) or the works of Vernon Zimmerman, whose SCARFACE AND APHRODITE will be screened before Compton’s film. It’s also one of the few post-Beat films that intentionally (and correctly) positions beatniks as misogynists. Whether it’s an uncompromisingly bleak feminist fever-dream posing as teen fare, or an underground movie too straight for its own good, THE PLASTIC DOME OF NORMA JEAN plays—delightfully—like a calculated bid for incompatible audiences. Kind of like a rock band playing to a dome full of parapsychology nuts. In a different market, Juleen Compton might have opened up a vital path for a generation of independent female filmmakers daring to mix pop-culture and high-culture. Unfortunately, by the time THE PLASTIC DOME OF NORMA JEAN hit the screen, both the teen-film and psychodrama bubbles had burst—but Compton may have actually been looking a little too far into the future. Preceded by Vernon Zimmerman’s 1963 short SCARFACE AND APHRODITE (15 min, 16mm). (1966, 82 min, Restored 35mm Archival Print) MM
Lisa Truttmann’s TARPAULINS (New Documentary)
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) — Friday, 8pm
Austrian artist/filmmaker Lisa Truttmann’s delightful TARPAULINS begins with a meditation on traditions: documenting the raising of a Circus Vargas tent in a Southern California parking lot, Truttmann notes that many of the carnival workers she’s depicting were born into their trade and marry among their own, producing new generations of circus performers. What draws her to this scene, however, is neither the trade nor the lineage, but simply the raw material of the tarpaulin from which the tent, like the dozens of fumigation tents Truttmann photographs across greater Los Angeles, is fashioned. At several points in this restlessly creative 80-minute landscape essay, Truttmann returns to the subject of generations and traditions, as when a Mexican pest-control worker describes the roles his adult children now play in his tenting business. Tenting and fumigation is built into the life cycle of LA homes; when houses go on the market, termite inspection and extermination are often part of the negotiation. This fact ensures that neighborhoods throughout the city are spotted with the bright, colorful “temporary sculptures” that prove so fascinating to Truttmann; to a recently-displaced Angeleno, it also indicates the real-estate churn that is displacing communities that have lived in the city for generations. It’s easy to be dazzled by the aesthetics of these momentary edifices, as it is to take Truttmann’s uniformly immaculate compositions and dexterous montages at face value. Teeming with bold little ideas, the film rethinks itself faster than the viewer can put it all together, and it’s tempting—and totally rewarding—to let the film’s larger argument slip out of focus. But there’s a lot going on under the brilliant surface, not least when one thinks about TARPAULINS—as Truttmann undoubtedly does—in light of its own tradition. Each year, under influential filmmaker-educators like Lee Anne Schmitt, James Benning, and Thom Andersen, the CalArts Film/Video MFA harvests a fresh crop of psychogeographies, essay films, and formalist landscape studies; Truttmann graduated in 2015. Notwithstanding a decade’s worth of exceptional Southland studies by the likes of Brigid McCaffrey, Laida Lertxundi, Laura Kraning, and Alexandra Cuesta, it’s valid to wonder whether the CalArts school of geography hasn’t assumed the “square, boxed-in shape and gemlike inertia” film critic Manny Farber diagnosed of so-called “White Elephant Art.” Think of that shape as the frame of a house—sturdy, perhaps, but also inflexible and unfilled. TARPAULINS gets around that shape in two ways: the way of the tarp and the way of the termite. The tarp, for Truttmann, reupholsters that tried-and-true structure, adding color, movement, and contour while preserving the stable frame of its tradition. The termite, on the other hand, is “ornery, wasteful, stubbornly self-involved, doing go-for-broke art and not caring what comes of it.” In Farber’s 1962 essay “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art”—which makes its appearance so late in TARPAULINS that it feels like a spoiler to quote from it—the irony is that both kinds of art are defined by hyperactivity—the former, like the tarp, “[fills] every pore of a work with glinting, darting Style and creative Vivacity”; the latter “goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.” What to make of such an incessantly clever, stylish film? If TARPAULINS is termite art, why does it feel so crystalline, so conscientiously organized? If it’s just a renovation of familiar traditions, why does it keep asking questions—about power, about climate, about art itself—which its exquisite images, sounds, voices, and ideas can’t answer? Ultimately, TARPAULINS is itself as ambivalent about where it fits in the white elephant art vs. termite art debate as it is about the termite itself. As the film points out, termites and earthquakes are ultimately just conditions of life in Southern California—perhaps, so are landscape films. If so, let’s hope that future generations can make them as witty, surprising, and ingenious as this one. Truttmann in attendance. (2017, 78 min, Digital Projection) MM
Tsui Hark’s GREEN SNAKE (Hong Kong Revival)
The Chicago Film Society (at the Music Box Theatre) — Monday, 7pm
Critics often compare films to popcorn or cotton candy as a way of emphasizing, albeit reductively, both a work’s entertainment appeal and its inherent disposability, but could we ever mean it literally? Can a film be like a kernel of popped corn, doused in butter to the delight of one’s taste buds but to the chagrin of one’s waistline? Can it be like cotton candy, a floof of sugar spun magically—and colorfully—into existence, dissolving in one’s mouth the instant it hits the tongue? Turns out, yes, yes it can, Hong Kong director Tsui Hark’s GREEN SNAKE being the perfect example of such a film. Released the same year as Tsui’s THE EAST IS RED and ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA III and IV, GREEN SNAKE eschews a corporeal, action-based plot for a more metaphysical, empyreal one gleaned from Chinese legend, though there’s still plenty of action in the mix. Adapted from Lillian Lee’s eponymous novel, which is based on a folk tale commonly known as Madame White Snake, the film follows sister snake spirits (White Snake and Green Snake, played by amaranthine Hong Kong actresses Joey Wong and Maggie Cheung, respectively) after they assume human form in order to experience that which is limited to us, namely romantic love. White marries a local tutor and devotes herself to their relationship, while Green struggles to find meaning; the sisters are threatened by an unscrupulous Buddhist monk (Vincent Zhao from the ONCE UPON A TIME franchise) and a vain Taoist, both of whom are at odds with the snake spirits and their purportedly evil intentions. But the sisters are good, providing medical aid to the local villagers, and the primary tension between the two is the result of their conflicting perspectives: White embraces the human experience, eager to achieve our range of emotions, while Green does not. The legend focuses on White’s side of the story, but Tsui, drawing from Lee’s novel, instead uses Green’s vantage point as the proud ophidian to question various facets of Chinese culture and even humanity itself. Complementing its subversive narrative are awe-inspiring martial arts sequences; an essential figure in wuxia cinema, Tsui manages to elegantly insert these set pieces into an otherwise airy tableau, the dramatic thud of violence just another note in the celestial ballad. The most impressive aspect of the film is its stunning visuals—like a display of multi-colored cotton candy, each composition has its own hue and even its own texture, and one shot cuts to another as quickly as the delectable treat dissolves on your tongue. Wong and Cheung are mesmerizing, both coquettish but tough, and perhaps unintentionally feminist, coy nudity and gratuitous bathing scenes aside; the film’s use of largely feminine design in a traditionally masculine genre is ahead of its time. Like cotton candy, GREEN SNAKE is fun, colorful, soft, and even sticky—but probably better for your glucose levels. Preceded by a selection of 1990s Hong Kong film trailers. (1993, 99 min, 35mm Archival Print) KS
Bob Fosse’s CABARET (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Sunday, 11:30am
CABARET starts off with a bang—it’s got one of the best opening sequences in the New Hollywood canon. Bob Fosse synthesizes a stunning range of influences: the ironic, modernist songs of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht; the circus-like atmospherics of Federico Fellini; the immersive camerawork and editing of direct-cinema documentaries (Fosse conveys the high of performing like few other directors); and the richly detailed yet subtly melancholy depiction of a past era that one finds in Bernardo Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST and in Luchino Visconti’s films from THE LEOPARD on. And all this in the service of reviving the Hollywood musical, one of the great popular genres. Fosse’s choreography is astonishing in its forthright eroticism; the dance numbers draw out the film’s themes of sexual liberation and exploitation in a way the conversations can only suggest. The subsequent musical numbers sustain the energy of the introductory number, and they comment on the drama in a Greek chorus-like fashion. The story follows the relationship between Brian (Michael York), a closeted gay British writer who’s moved to Berlin in 1931, and Sally (Liza Minnelli), an American expat who performs at a burlesque club. They fall in love, but the relationship, like the liberated Weimar era, can’t last. Brian says can’t adjust to Sally’s libertine ways, but really he can’t respect her for the moral compromises she makes for show business. It’s still remarkable that a serious, two-hour consideration of sexual revolution under the Weimar Republic could get released with a PG rating. I wonder how many kids learned about threesomes, transvestism, and queer-positive attitudes from CABARET. The film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Cinematography (for Geoffrey Unsworth, who also shot 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and Polanski’s TESS). (1972, 124 min, 35mm) BS
Stan Brakhage’s SCENES FROM UNDER CHILDHOOD (Parts One and Two) (Experimental Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7 and 9:30pm
Stan Brakhage was never very explicit in describing the “plot” of his films, but with SCENES FROM UNDER CHILDHOOD, he laid it out bluntly: "a visualization of the inner world of foetal beginnings, the infant, the baby, the child—the shattering of the 'myth of childhood' through revelation of the extremes of violent terror and overwhelming joy of that world darkened to most adults by their sentimental remembering of it...." Easy. You could watch the film and take away exactly that. This is Brakhage’s exploration of vision through childhood development—from a bloody and dark birth to a frightening and fractured view of the world yet unnamed to the growth of an understanding of relationships and a place in the world. All those elements are there. The film begins with solid red and black frames flashing and blurring to evoke the birth. The early images are smeared, raw, and unformed—a straightforward example of Brakhage’s great “untutored eye” project. The imagery moves away from the fractured and “matures” into more still and more contemplative views of play, boredom, sleep. But beyond this near-literal reading of the film, Brakhage was also using this primary material as a primer of-sorts to explain his larger project of activating the viewer to a more complex understanding of vision and engagement with the materials and light and structure. If you want to dig a little deeper on the development of this film and its importance in Brakhage’s overall aesthetic project, Jacob Waltman’s lovely defunct blog Making Light of It provides some crucial material. The linked post also includes Marie Nesthus’ incredibly detailed reading of the film’s influences from Olivier Messiaen’s similar engagement with music’s structure, the use of commonplace subject matter, and the potential to evoke synesthesia. In addition to all this, of course, Stan Brakhage’s films are just gloriously beautiful and should be viewed on film as often as possible—so don’t miss this chance. (Note that Doc reports that the print of Part 2 is faded.) (1967-1969, 65 min total, 16mm) JBM
Jonas Mekas' LOST, LOST, LOST (Experimental Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7pm
Jonas Mekas' best know film, the stunning, sprawling 3-hour "diary" montage WALDEN (1969), is a collection of seasonally arranged reels from various locations in and around late-1960s New York, including observations at early Velvet Underground performances and respites at Stan Brakhage's house upstate; but these incidental avant-celebrity moments became irrelevant with respect to a greater work of historiographic meditation. Without being informed of the narrative pertinence of a particular Midtown winter's day, the viewer becomes that much more immersed in its preserved qualities, in the archaic textures and visual details that seem hopelessly lost in written histories—but which are revived in Mekas' cinephiliac romance with everyday life. His 1976 film LOST, LOST, LOST reflects, at a greater temporal distance (1949 to 1963), his personal experience as an Eastern European refugee (explored in the previous REMINISCENCES OF A JOURNEY TO LITHUANIA (1972)). Here, his early documentations of 1950s working-class Williamsburg (which should be of utter fascination to anyone who has been there recently) and among the period's regional Lithuanian immigrant communities leads to new observations and encounters in an increasingly political early-'60s Greenwich Village. Historical artifacts in their own right for anyone interested in the domestic emergence of an artistic and cinematic counterculture, these films simultaneously function as unparalleled provocations of restrained contemplation. (1976, 180 min, 16mm) MC
Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988 (New European)
Music Box Theatre — Check venue website for showtimes
Susanna Nicchiarelli’s biopic is a haunting, elegiac tribute to the singular, often baffling musician/model/muse, Nico (born Christa Päffgen). Concentrating on the last couple years of Nico’s life, Nicchiarelli still nimbly evokes the singer’s long history with the Velvet Underground, Jim Morrison, and a host of other 60s luminaries—most long dead—through seamless interweaving of archival and narrative footage. Trine Dyrholm gives an astounding lead performance, nailing Nico’s atonal voice—mournful dirge one moment, piercing primal scream the next. While Dyrholm may not resemble Nico physically, she channels her spirit in such a way as to make appearances irrelevant; in fact, a look-alike might've just been distracting. One of the great strengths of this artist’s portrait is that it neither glorifies nor minimizes its subject’s drug addiction and mental instability. Biopics often fail by presenting flaws as virtues but Nicchiarelli shows Nico shooting up, being dope-sick, and having on-stage meltdowns matter-of-factly, with little judgment. If she sugar coats anything it is Nico’s well-documented misogyny and racism, but perhaps the complete, unvarnished truth would’ve made her come off as a monster. As the singer and a hired band of junkie vampires shuttle around Europe at the end of the Cold War, Nico keeps wandering around with a portable recorder, trying to capture a sound from her childhood, when her native Berlin was being bombed by the Allies. She calls it the sound of defeat. The lingering impression this film leaves is of a creative but tormented person trying to navigate a world which hasn’t much use for her or her art, preferring instead to replay nostalgic moments from the celebrated youth which she has spent most of her life trying to forget. (2017, 95 min, DCP Digital) DS
Miklós Jancsó’s RED PSALM (Hungarian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 7pm
Miklós Jancsó is the man with X-ray eyes. He sees past the skin and the heart and the brain, right through to the skeleton: to history. History is the tough, unseen bone that shapes our bodies. It strips lives of the meaningful by striving to give itself meaning. When we begin to think of a head as a skull we stop thinking of it as a face; when we begin to think of something as an historical event, we cease to think of it as a human one. RED PSALM consists of only twenty-six shots, its cuts even rarer, more monumental than those in his 1967 film THE RED AND THE WHITE; it's also THE RED AND THE WHITE's opposite: a film about history tuned to culture, to pieces of ordinary life and tradition that don't disappear, but just change position, coming to the forefront or receding as life dictates. Songs and bits of folk imagery react to the 19th century peasant revolt Jancsó takes as his plot; they are the real characters, and the actors are here to take their turns embodying them. With its non-tactile and largely apolitical color, it's an inversion of Jan
Ingmar Bergman's THE MAGICIAN (Swedish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 5:15pm and Monday, 6pm
One of the director's period pieces, THE MAGICIAN culminates Bergman's fascination with nineteenth-century theater and social customs that extends from SAWDUST AND TINSEL to SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT and WILD STRAWBERRIES. Telling the story of a traveling magic troupe and their all-night encounter with a noble family, the film becomes a quintessential Bergman meditation about artists versus working people, faith versus skepticism, and morality versus lust. As with the other films listed above, the philosophizing is tempered with good deal of levity, including some earthy flirtation scenes that show the influence of Jean Renoir. Along with fine performances by Bergman regulars Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, and Erland Josephson, THE MAGICIAN also features striking camerawork by his first main cinematographer, Gunnar Fischer (in one of his last collaborations with Bergman). The film has an almost storybook aesthetic with heavy shadows and a sentimental revival of period architecture, making the film something of a cozy rumination (1958, 100 min, DCP Digital) BS
Robert Mulligan's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) — Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
Despite the novel's critical and commercial success, the film adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill A Mockingbird was initially considered something of a Hollywood nonentity. "The other studios didn't want it because what's it about?" Robert Mulligan recounted about the Universal Pictures classic. "It's about a middle-aged lawyer with two kids. There's no romance, no violence, except off-screen. There's no action. What is there? Where's the story?" Shot in black and white, MOCKINGBIRD's racial tension is set against an ironically 'colorless' backdrop that gives sharp contrast to the characters' social divide. A guilelessly straightforward title sequence and a score that brings to mind youthful musical experimentation add further innocence to the film's mature overtones. Lee intervened to have Gregory Peck cast as Atticus Finch, a deep-voiced Southern lawyer of high morale, and two kids with no professional acting experience (Mary Badham and Phillip Alford) were cast as his kids, Scout and Jem, the novel's young protagonists. Robert Duvall also made his film debut as Boo Radley, the man whose presence sparks the imagination of the precocious children. With deceptively simple styling and a faithful screenplay by noted playwright Horton Foote, Mulligan succeeded in tastefully representing the inherent simplicity of Lee's acclaimed novel. (1962, 130 min, DCP Digital) KS
Steven Spielberg’s READY PLAYER ONE (New American)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) — Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
Anyone would be right to suggest that READY PLAYER ONE predictably follows the standard “blockbuster model,” a typified structure of storytelling that is set-piece driven, lively, fast-paced with plenty of action and humor, concluding with fairly predictable results; but since Spielberg mostly wrote the rules for this model of cinematic storytelling, the formulaic design becomes emboldened by his signature and still-pioneering direction. Just as JURASSIC PARK’s storyline—the artificial creation of fantastic beings that would eventually run loose and wreck everything—paralleled the film’s actual production/creation of real-world CGI-spectacle that would increasingly run ferociously and blindly amok, so does the creator of the virtual world in READY PLAYER ONE resemble its filmmaker, with both utilizing nearly every element that has come to define what a “blockbuster” is. Nearly all of the pop culture references in the movie found their genesis in the 1980s, with Spielberg harvesting them and coalescing them into a single nostalgia-laded green-screened universe, fostering a joyous (if fairly simplistic) reminiscence of the halcyon days of one’s early years (for those who came of age in the ‘80s). READY PLAYER ONE also conjures another aspect of this decade—the no-limit financial opportunities for business execs and CEOs who knew how to leverage the system. A different kind of ‘80’s nostalgia. (Could this be Spielberg taking aim at contemporary Hollywood’s go-to mode of recycling revered and vibrant films of the past into hollow, plastic “remakes” and “reboots”?) As much a Spielberg appropriates characters from other films and franchises (his own and others) for sheer spectacle and culture-riffing, he is also in a sense liberating them from the commercial exploitation they’ve experiences in the intervening decades. Seeing Mario, Chucky, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and other characters together in a film certainly can elicit some initial jeering and laughter, but the larger point comes through, maybe only afterwards, and understanding of Spielberg’s game and one begins to commiserate for how these now devalued iconic figures have just become commodities of capital. Here, the creator of the film’s virtual world, Oasis, and Spielberg, are aligned. Both are battling against the cynicism of their times, looking to re-connect people with the joys of creation and creativity. The greed of the 1980’s business world and the greed of the corporatists in READY PLAYER ONE are both harbinger of and reflection of the greed of contemporary Hollywood. These themes transpire in a film that is on its own a visually dense world of eye-popping movement, color, and texture. It’s situated somewhere between Spielberg’s CGI-only works (THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, THE BFG) and the more real-world world-building of a few of his other films (MINORITY REPORT, EMPIRE OF THE SUN). He steals from his own films, as director and as producer, as freely as he steals from others: the T-Rex from JURASSIC PARK makes an appearance, and several of his fellow genre-subvertor buddy, Robert Zemeckis’ films get nods. Spielberg’s own AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, and the criticism it received from the pro-Kubrick camp, is addressed directly and humorously in one standout scene. READY PLAYER ONE is Spielberg reckoning with his own pop-culture legacy, his complicity as the “progenitor” of the modern blockbuster, and the soulless product they’ve become. Gone is the fantasy, the wonder, and the joy of creativity. One wonders whether audiences can get past the cynicism of internet-driven hot-takes to look at Spielberg’s visionary creation with even the smallest sense of awe. (2018, 139 min, DCP Digital) JD
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Strange Days Film Festival and Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) present Alex Grasshoff’s 1972 documentary FUTURE SHOCK (43 min, 16mm) on Wednesday at 8pm. Followed by a discussion with Strange Days programmer Harrison Sherrod and Comfort Film programmer Raul Benitez. Free admission. More info at www.strangedaysfilmfest.org/future-shock.
Silent Funny (4106 W. Chicago Ave.) hosts the second edition of Destroy Your Art on Friday at 8pm. Created last year by Jack C. Newell and Rebecca Fons, Destroy Your Art is a one-night-only screening of films specially made for the event, which are then destroyed on stage immediately after the screening, leaving no existing copies. Works by Lydia Fu, Vincent Singleton, Deja Harrell, Jacquelyn Jamjoom, and Andrew Stasiulis will be screened and destroyed. More info and tickets at www.destroyyourart.com.
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) presents Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 4 on Thursday at 7pm. Screening are: THE LINGERIE SHOW (Laura Harrison), THE MAGIC HEDGE (Frédéric Moffet), SOLAR PULSE (Dena Springer), 4 THINGS TO REMEMBER (Hannah Kim), EVERY GHOST HAS AN ORCHESTRA (Shayna Connelly), AND YOU THE BELL (Elisabeth Hogeman), SOMETHING TO MOVE IN (Latham Zearfoss), VERACITY (Seith Mann), and ON THE RINK (Benjamin Buxton). Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens episodes of local filmmaker Ali Abbas’ 2017-18 web series THE GIRL DEEP DOWN BELOW on Saturday at 7:30pm, with Abbas in person.
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Marcel Camus' 1959 film BLACK ORPHEUS (107 min, Video Projection on Friday at 7:30pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Bart Layton’s 2018 film AMERICAN ANIMALS (116 min, DCP Digital) and Carla Simón’s 2017 Spanish film SUMMER 1993 (97 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; Ingmar Bergman’s 1963 Swedish film THE SILENCE (96 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 4:30pm, Saturday at 3:15pm, and Wednesday at 6pm; and at the Black Harvest Film Festival this week: Michael Mooleedhar’s 2017 film from Trinidad and Tobago GREEN DAYS BY THE RIVER (102 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 2pm and Thursday at 6:15pm; Qasim Basir’s 2018 film A BOY. A GIRL. A DREAM. (89 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 6:30pm and Saturday at 8:15pm; Nick Budabin’s 2018 local documentary CHI-TOWN (82 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 8:30pm (sold out) and Monday at 8pm, with Budabin and producer Terry Minogue in person at both shows; Pamela Sherrod Anderson’s local 2018 documentary THE G FORCE (58 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 3pm and Tuesday at 6pm, with Anderson in person at both shows; Nijla Mu’min’s 2017 film JINN (92 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 5:15pm and Tuesday at 8:15pm, with Mu’min in person at both shows; and the shorts programs Made in Chicago is on Saturday at 5:15pm and Wednesday at 8pm; and Urban Tales is on Thursday at 8:15pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Matt Tyrnauer’s 2017 documentary SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (97 min, DCP Digital) opens; Tim Wardle’s 2017 documentary THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (96 min, DCP Digital) continues; Shinichirô Watanabe and Tensai Okamura’s 2001 animated Japanese film COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE (115 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 9:30pm (subtitled Japanese) and Thursday at 7pm (English-dubbed); and François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell’s 2018 film SUMMER OF ’84 (105 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Jordana Spiro’s 2018 film NIGHT COMES ON (86 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Rob Hatch-Miller’s 2015 documentary SYL JOHNSON: ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS (85 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: John Miller's 2016 PowerPoint work RECONSTRUCTING A PUBLIC SPACE is in Gallery 295A; Cauleen Smith's single-channel video SPACE IS THE PLACE (A MARCH FOR SUN RA) (2001) is in the Stone Gallery through August 19; Gretchen Bender's eight-channel video installation TOTAL RECALL (1987) is in Gallery 289;
CINE-LIST: August 10 - August 16, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Michael Castelle, John Dickson, JB Mabe, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Dmitry Samarov, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky