On episode #5 of the Cine-Cast, Cine-File associate editor Ben Sachs and contributor JB Mabe talk about the upcoming Ingmar Bergman series at the Gene Siskel Film Center; Ben and contributors Kyle Cubr, John Dickson and Dmitry Samarov discuss the Doc Films summer schedule; Mabe interviews Raul Benitez, film programmer for Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square and lead programmer for the Chicagoland Shorts Volume 4 for Full Spectrum Features; and Ben and contributor Harrison Sherrod chat about the Bill Gunn films GANJA & HESS and PERSONAL PROBLEMS, as well as cult-classic LIQUID SKY, all of which played at the Film Center in June. (The new restoration of PERSONAL PROBLEMS in now available for purchase on DVD/Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.)
Listen here. As always, special thanks to our producer, Andy Miles, of Transistor Chicago.
Jean Grémillon’s THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS (Silent French Revival)
Chicago Film Society and the Music Box Theatre (at the Music Box) — Saturday, 11:30am
If rarity was the sole criterion, this would still be one of the major film events in Chicago this year. Only four of French filmmaker Jean Grémillon’s nearly 50 films, made between 1923 and 1958, are commercially available on home video in the U.S., and only a handful of additional ones in France; none of his 20+ silents are available. THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS is online in a bootleg, but in such abysmal quality that it’s completely unwatchable. The print that the Film Society will be showing is from Japan, temporarily in the U.S. after its screening at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. So it’s not unreasonable to state that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But setting aside the rarity, the film stands on its own and is a major work. His final silent film, THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS’ story is slight: a young man, Yvon, leaves his sweetheart behind to serve with his father for a month’s duty at the lighthouse near his remote village in Brittany. Before leaving, he’s bitten by a rabid dog, and the effects start to show after he’s reached the isolated small island, with no access to medical aid. Grémillon moves between a range of stylistic influences—impressionism, lyricism, documentary realism, even surrealism—that keep the viewer off-balance visually, mirroring Yvon’s radically changing behavior and mental state. Grémillon frames his characters isolated amidst the desolate land- and seascapes and in the empty spaces of the lighthouse. They are lost in a world they can’t control, subject to its cruel whims. The film offers little hope, little promise, little comfort; a moment of relief at the end is a false one—the audience sees the heartache waiting for one of the characters after the film’s end. As bleak as the film is, though, the filmmaking is enthralling. THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS stands alongside Jean Epstein’s great Brittany films, and approaches Roberto Rossellini’s STROMBOLI in its evocative sense of isolation and despair. You really don’t want to miss this. Preceded by the anonymous c. 1920’s silent comedy short THE FRESH LOBSTER (7 min, 16mm). Live accompaniment by Dennis Scott. (1929, 73 min, 35mm Archival Print) PF
John Brahm’s THE LOCKET (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) — Wednesday, 7:30pm
With THE LOCKET, the underrated director John Brahm (HANGOVER SQUARE, the 1944 version of THE LODGER) landed a script wild enough to match his baroque visual sensibility. The film is famous for containing a flashback within a flashback within a flashback—and, really, do you need much else to recommend it? It opens in present-day Miami, where the mysterious Nancy (Laraine Day) is about to marry a wealthy man named Willis (Gene Raymond). The prenuptial festivities go well until an uninvited guest arrives. This is Blair (Brian Aherne), a psychiatrist who claims to be Nancy’s former husband. He has an urgent message for Willis about Nancy’s past: the woman may be a kleptomaniac and even a murderer. He proceeds to tell the story of how he met this strange woman and one of her former lovers, a painter named Norman Clyde (Robert Mitchum, cast against type as a sensitive sort)... who once appeared to Blair with a warning similar to the one Blair delivers to Willis. The narrative structure, which suggests the dismantling of a Russian doll, is loads of fun, but THE LOCKET is also thrilling from moment to moment, thanks to Brahm’s inspired chiaroscuro effects and the deliciously ambiguous characterizations. Is Nancy a genuine femme fatale or a poor soul in thrall to compulsive behavior? Day plays the role with her cards close to her chest—for most of the film, your reading of the character could go either way. This central mystery speaks to the influence of psychoanalysis on 40s film noir, and indeed one might compare the knotty plot to the make-up of the human psyche. Given the film’s idiosyncratic structure, you might wonder how Brahm would have made the transition to the New Wave-inspired cinema of the 1960s; alas his tenure in theatrical features petered out a decade earlier, and he ended his career in television. Wednesday’s screening of THE LOCKET will be preceded by an example of the director’s TV work: “Nice Place to Visit” (25 min, 16mm), an episode of The Twilight Zone that Brahm directed in 1960. One of the more memorable episodes of the groundbreaking series’ first season, “Nice Place” follows a two-bit thief after he dies and goes to the afterlife. You’ll probably figure out the twist ending well before it occurs, but Brahm renders the story fascinating anyway, creating moody mise-en-scene and eliciting vivid performances from Larry Blyden (as the thief) and Sebastian Cabot (as his spiritual guide). (1946, 85 min, 35mm) BS
Bobcat Goldthwait's WORLD'S GREATEST DAD (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Tuesday, 7pm
Haphazardly lit and edited, casually sexist, and riddled with plot holes, Bobcat Goldthwait's third feature as writer-director is also some of the most personal American filmmaking to receive a national release this year. Robin Williams (mercifully understated) plays a failed novelist teaching an unpopular high school poetry class. Divorced and lacking the respect of his colleagues, he also has to contend with an antisocial teenage son who's turned into a sexual deviant. The story hinges on a plot twist too many critics have been willing to divulge; less noted is the film's pervasive sense of self-loathing and its credible depiction of quotidian failure that marks so many adult lives. Goldthwait's best stand-up comedy hovered between shock tactics and disarming vulnerability (His material about failed relationships and alcoholism cuts closer to the bone than much serious literature on the same subjects), and WORLD'S GREATEST DAD is steeped in this sensibility. It's the rare American comedy that observes personal suffering so well that it often ceases to be funny; but unlike the work of Todd Solondz (probably the closest point of reference), Goldthwait seems to be observing it from the inside out. There's remarkably little prurience here, in spite of the sick subject matter—the implication being that Goldthwait identifies with his characters' pain too deeply to laugh at them. That the film is so hurriedly put together only makes it feel more urgent: Artless in the best sense, this is may be the closest film equivalent to Daniel Johnston's Songs of Pain. (2009, 99 min, 35mm) BS
Satyajit Ray’s THE HERO (Indian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm
Made at the height of Ingmar Bergman’s influence on world cinema, Satyajit Ray’s THE HERO takes a psychoanalytic approach to a Bengali movie star, considering the impact of his first flop. The narrative structure recalls that of Bergman’s WILD STRAWBERRIES, following Arindam Mukherjee as he travels by train to Delhi (where he’s due to receive a reward) and reflects on his life so far. Like Bergman, Ray employs flashbacks and dream sequences to enter into his protagonist’s mind, and he fills the present-day sequences with probing conversations about Mukherjee’s inner torment. Ray differs from Bergman, however, in that his concerns are not strictly psychological. One flashback details the actor’s relationship with a radical activist, who tries unsuccessfully to make Mukherjee take part in a labor strike; and several conversations on the train concern whether celebrities should bear a sense of social responsibility. The film hinges on the actor’s encounters with a perceptive female journalist he meets on his journey. Whether out of attraction to her or a desire to work through his problems, Mukherjee grants her a tell-all interview in which he opens up about what’s tormenting him, such as his failure to honor his mentors and the emotional isolation caused by being rich and famous. Uttam Kumar, one of the most famous Bengali stars of all time, is brilliant in the lead, fully embodying the nuances of Ray’s script. “The power of Kumar’s performance, which changes with every tremor, is that he can inhabit the movie star and the real man in the same shot,” wrote Pico Iyer for the Criterion Collection. “He knows just how to give the world the glamorous hero it demands—and perhaps needs—even as he is slow to slough off his mask and claim a richer humanity. Ray’s way with close-ups is as powerful as ever, whether in the confounding tears of an ambitious would-be actress or in the warm, inquiring glances of sari-ed matrons.” (1966, 117 min, 35mm) BS
John Ford's STRAIGHT SHOOTING (Silent American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 7pm
Over the last 100+ years, STRAIGHT SHOOTING has seen its fair share of reversals of fortune. When ordered up by Universal in 1917, studio brass simply wanted to run out Harry Carey's contract in an anonymous two-reeler. Ford had already made several successful such films for Universal, but like his mentor Griffith, he chafed against the cautious and arbitrary length of contemporary product. Gallantly, arrogantly, the twenty-three-year-old Ford submitted a five-reel cut of STRAIGHT SHOOTING to Universal—a covert feature debut. The not-so-accidental feature was rejected by the marketing executives until Universal chief Carl Laemmle intervened and posed a marvelous analogy: "If I order a suit of clothes and the fellow gives me an extra pair of pants free, what am I going to do—throw them back in his face?" Both sides got their way eventually: Ford's five-reel STRAIGHT SHOOTING was released to theaters in 1917 and the front office boys reissued it as STRAIGHT SHOOTIN' in 1925—shorn of a letter and three whole reels. By then, Ford was directing big pictures like THE IRON HORSE and THE BLUE EAGLE for Fox and there was no time for posterity. Sooner or later STRAIGHT SHOOTING became a "lost film." (When did we lose STRAIGHT SHOOTING exactly? At the necessarily indeterminate moment we forgot to not lose it.) Recovered from the Czechoslovakian national archive in 1966 following the American Film Institute's worldwide search and re-premiered at the 1967 edition of the Montreal International Film Festival, a cheap program Western became an unlikely tributary of national importance. Ford was suddenly the de facto Old Master of an indigenous American tradition, honored with TV specials and the endorsement of California Governor Ronald Reagan. Excerpts from STRAIGHT SHOOTING aired on NBC. (Meanwhile, Ford's sublime 7 WOMEN—his latest feature and, ultimately, his last—had already vanished from theaters, received indifferently in all but the most fervently auteurist circles.) Despite its long obscurity and modest ambitions, STRAIGHT SHOOTING was picked over endlessly and admiringly in the burgeoning body of Ford literature. Scholar Richard Koszarski even complained that too many film students had been content to let a single early Ford feature stand in for the totality of this complicated transitional period. Then STRAIGHT SHOOTING receded again, for whatever reason—stubbornly absent from the repertory as new Ford discoveries like BUCKING BROADWAY and UPSTREAM trickled out. STRAIGHT SHOOTING still awaits a full restoration, which would entail replacing the Czech titles with better approximations of the English originals. (1917, approx. 60 min, 35mm Archival Print) KAW
Eugene Jarecki's THE KING (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Eugene Jarecki's stunning documentary THE KING examines the rise and decline of Elvis Presley as a metaphor for the rise and decline of America. Jarecki structures the film around that most romantic and mythic of metaphors for freedom, the American road trip. Driving across the U.S. in Elvis's '63 Rolls-Royce a year out from the 2016 election, he charts the life of the country via a road trip from Tupelo to Vegas, with stops in, among other places, Memphis and New York City. That is, he traces Elvis's, and the country's, journey from rebellious youth to the top o' the world, then to bloated, corrupt empire. There are detours: a stop in Bad Nauheim, a trip trough the Arizona desert on Route 66, where Elvis, unforgettably, once saw Stalin's face in a cloud. All manner of musician piles into the backseat of the Rolls along the way—the late Leo "Bud" Welch; the startling young Emi Sunshine; Emmylou Harris; students from the Stax Music Academy. Densely, richly, and playfully layered, both aurally and visually, the film contains interviews with the people you want to hear talk about Elvis, like Greil Marcus, Peter Guralnick, and Chuck D. (In my room back at school, I had a poster of Elvis Presley next to one of Public Enemy. This, I figured, was the dialectic.) Even seemingly random folks like Ethan Hawke, Mike Myers, Van Jones, and David Simon nonetheless have cogent, revealing things to say about the traps of American life, about American identity, class and race, happiness and addiction, and the destruction of our democracy by celebrity and money. This final stage reaches its apotheosis with the election of Donald Trump, the smirking goblin popping up throughout like the film's, and America's, curse. If, as Marcus suggests, Elvis was "the voice of America at its best and at its worst," then with Trump we've arrived at the embodiment of us at our absolute worst. A haunting, elegiac farrago, the film, like its subject, is rollicking and electrifying, frustrating and fascinating, endlessly contradictory and complex. By the time we get to Vegas, the film's controlling metaphor is so on-the-nose it hurts: Elvis is strung out on opiates, bloated, gruesome, demented. Yet, as he stumbles to the piano to sing a breathtaking Unchained Melody, he still somehow radiates endless, selfless love and generous good humor. From that chest and heart erupts that voice—a fireworks display so spectrally beautiful it might just make you cry, for what could have been, for what could still be—let loose over a montage of an America riven by dissension and corruption (Kiss, disco, cocaine, Wall St., OJ, Monica, Gulf War, George W., Barney, Twin Towers, Katrina, Native American resisters, BLM, Ferguson...and Trump). Then, with a glint in his eye, our unelected king's ghost is caught one last time in the camera, as if to say, I'll go on embodying and reflecting your contradictions forever. It's up to us to make of his story what we will, but the lesson seems to be it would have been better if we'd treated what we love with a bit more care. Jarecki in person at the 7pm Friday and 2pm Saturday screenings. (2017, 109 min, DCP Digital) SP
Michael Curtiz’s THE KENNEL MURDER CASE (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Sunday, 11:30am
After portraying S.S. Van Dine’s private investigator Philo Vance in three other films for Paramount, William Powell reprises his role for Warner Bros. in Michael Curtiz’s THE KENNEL MURDER CASE. When despised Chinese art collector Archer Coe turns up dead one morning, his cause of death is thought to be suicide, as he is found with a hole in his head and a gun in his hand, locked in his bedroom that’s been bolted from the inside. Vance hears of Coe’s death and cancels his trip, surmising foul play is at hand after having met Coe just the day before at a dog show. A whodunnit quickly unfolds as a handful of suspects emerge, including Coe’s brother, niece, and several others, and all appear to have a motive. Powell’s performance as Vance is easily the highlight of the film, elevating it from a B-movie to something more nuanced and quick-witted. Curtiz’s artful editing pushes the film’s story forward at a rapid pace as more clues become discovered. His use of wipes in the transitions and quick pans suggests that the viewer may have just missed the killer off screen and also mimics Vance’s perceptive observations. Curtiz sets up the characters in reenactments, allowing the audience to play a little bit of detective themselves. An astute and oftentimes funny film, THE KENNEL MURDER CASE solidifies William Powell as the archetypical gumshoe and is a precursor to the great body of work he would go on to do in THE THIN MAN series. (1933, 73 min, 35mm) K
Debra Granik’s LEAVE NO TRACE (New American)
Shellshocked vet Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Tomasin McKenzie) have been off the grid in a forest outside Portland, Oregon for many years when a chance sighting by a jogger spells an end to their way of life. Forced to reintegrate into contemporary society, Will chafes under the externally imposed constraints while Tom is torn between allegiance to her father—who has been her only family and provided the only home she’s ever known—and the community of other people. The beauty of Granik’s film is that it presents flawed people doing what they can to get by in a world they can’t abide in shades of grey rather than the all-or-nothing terms which a story of a man withdrawing himself and his only daughter from society might imply. Will’s effort to shield Tom from the civilization that has scarred him locks her into an existence that may be necessary for him but will eventually stunt her. As Granik showed with WINTER’S BONE (2010), she has an eye and ear for rural American subcultures. The Pacific Northwest and the idiosyncratic misfits who fashion a life they can abide on the margins of the larger monoculture are as much the subject of this film as Will and Tom’s story is. Granik wisely leaves gaps in their history allowing the viewer to bring their own experience to the pair’s plight rather than explaining away their situation via psychological or sociological theories. The longing to live in harmony with nature and to be left to one’s own devices has been with humanity since the start. One doesn’t have to be a traumatized vet to want to run off into the woods, the question is what is one running from and what is one running toward, and who can one take along for that ride? (2018, 119 min, DCP Digital) DS
Sergio Sollima’s VIOLENT CITY [aka THE FAMILY] (Italian/American Revival)
The Front Row Presents at the Music Box Theater — Sunday, 9:30pm
In many ways, Sergio Sollima’s VIOLENT CITY kicks off the run of hitman-centered films that would cement the image of Charles Bronson as the world’s most vengeful and emotionless killer-for-hire. After retired assassin Jeff (Bronson) decides to leave his past behind, he finds himself set up by his girlfriend (real-life wife Jill Ireland) and the mob he had worked for. Having survived his attempted assassination, Jeff makes his way back to his old crime boss (Telly Savalas), only to discover that his ex-girlfriend is now his former employer’s wife, which only increases his need for bloodshed. Jeff sets out for retribution, but not in the smooth and calculated way one would expect from these types of movies. Bronson’s character isn’t the talented combatant with a heart-of-gold from movies like Richard Fleischer’s MR. MAJESTYK, but is instead partially blinded by his rage, unable to express anything beyond cold-hearted violence against those he seeks out. The vengeance doesn’t bring any satisfaction to Bronson, or the viewer, but rather sticks pointedly and uncomfortably in the sequence of events. Aside from a motorcar explosion, the on-screen violence is ugly and doesn’t ring with the satisfaction usually intended by such movies. Beginning and ending with long, tour-de-force passages of dialogue-less action set-pieces, VIOLENT CITY throws you into it’s brooding revenge with little delight for it’s carnage, instead choosing to mourn the resulting chaos. The crystal blue color palette that engulfs the entire screen in the first five minutes of the film, before Jeff discovers the truth behind his then-current reality, gives way to garish and neutral tones that dominate the rest of the film. Despite being an Italian production directed by Sergio Sollima, best known for his Lee Van Cleef western THE BIG GUNDOWN, the movie is surprisingly devoid of many of the characteristics that make up these genre excursions: the violence is brutal, but not overly sadistic, the cast is almost entirely from the U.S., the location is not Rome but rather New Orleans, and while it shares in the ubiquitous dated misogyny of the time, it does so with a twist. Ireland’s double-crossing girlfriend is typically labeled a “whore” throughout the film, as Bronson can’t decide whether to violate her, kill her, or hop back on a yacht with her and sail into the sunset. Whether the film commends Bronson’s violence against Ireland is questionable, but it sticks out like a sore thumb that reads like a critique, rather than an empathetic leaning. SEVEN BEAUTIES filmmaker Lina Wertmuller was one of the six writers credited to the screenplay, so it seems probable that its backstabbing gangster’s moll was given more of a chance to become something other than just a “treacherous bitch.” Even though Bronson’s girl does betray him, his revenge feels somehow less heroic than what audiences of this genre have become accustomed to, and Ireland’s motivations feel entirely natural. The final ten minutes, echoing Mario Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD from the previous year, circles its cyclical violence back to something more somber than revelatory, continuing rather than finishing. Oh, and the Ennio Morricone score (conducted by Bruno Nicolai) is undeniably top-shelf. (1972, 100 min, 35mm) JD
Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne's SAVING BRINTON (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — See Venue website for showtimes
Buried in a spare room stuffed to the gills with stuff was a nondescript cardboard box marked "Brinton crap - Look for historical value." This instruction was probably intended less as an admonition than a shrug, a half-hearted reminder to maybe salvage something from the scrap head. But retired schoolteacher, amateur historian, and cemetery enthusiast Michael Zahs, the subject of SAVING BRINTON, took the message on the box in earnest, wading into the crap and spinning silver nitrate out of it. Zahs had been shepherding the Brinton collection since 1981, when he acquiring it from the estate of the Brintons' executor and informed his new wife that they would have to find a place for it in their house. In the decades that followed, Zahs has been tirelessly needling academics, archivists, and everyday folks to recognize the value of this vast collection of artifacts from early itinerant cinema exhibitors Frank and Indiana Brinton who lived, like Zahs, in the snowy hamlet of Washington, Iowa. (This self-distributed documentary has been following a similar trajectory, playing in Winterset, Iowa City, and Des Moines before arriving in the more traditional art house hubs like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.) Amidst the collection of film catalogs, magic lantern slides, projectors, flip books, irregular lenses, and other exhibition ephemera from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were several dozen reels of 35mm nitrate film, including a Méliès title that did not survive in any other collection. We follow Zahs from Washington, Iowa, to the Mostly Lost film conference at the Library of Congress in Culpeper, Virginia, to the offices of Serge Bromberg's Lobster Films in Paris, to the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, where the restored copy of Méliès' THE TRIPLE-HEADED LADY premieres before an adoring cinephile public. As a documentary, SAVING BRINTON is breezy, ingratiating, and occasionally hazy on key details. Zahs donated the 35mm nitrate in the Brinton collection to the Library of Congress in the 1980s, and he screens 16mm reduction prints of the Brinton titles on his Kodak Pageant in storefronts and barns and school auditoriums all over Iowa. So, the system worked and the films got preserved, but the blustery SAVING BRINTON prefers a more heroic and simplistic narrative: a tireless messiah beating the drum for thirty years in the wilderness, gently but tenaciously pushing the sclerotic bureaucracy to recognize the Ark of the Covenant gathering dust in its warehouse. Still, SAVING BRINTON works as a moving piece of small-town American and a compelling portrait of Zahs. When Hollywood gets overconfident, its wannabe blockbusters tease their putative sequels right before the credits of the first installment. (Anybody still waiting for SUPER MARIO BROS. 2: RETURN TO DINOHATTAN?) SAVING BRINTON ends with a different kind of teaser—not another can of newly-discovered nitrate, but a self-deprecating lecture from Zahs to a group of Iowa librarians. He muses on the distinction between "collectors" and "savers" and shows off a hitherto-undisclosed collection of turn-of-the-century household artifacts, including a vacuum cleaner from 1911 and a carpenter's tally brick. If the next installment in the Zahs franchise focuses on the farmhouse rather than the filmhouse, I'll be there. Film subject Michael Zahs and writer-directors Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne will appear for a discussion with moderator Michelle Puetz at the Saturday show; writer-cinematographer John Richard will appear at the Wednesday screening. (87 min, 2017, DCP Digital) KAW
INGMAR BERGMAN X 2
Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne's SAVING BRINTON (New Documentary)
Ingmar Bergman's SUMMER WITH MONIKA (Swedish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 3pm and Thursday. 6pm
That the story of a willful teenager and her summer romance was picked up by Kroger Babb (the man behind such titles as SHE SHOULDA SAID NO) and distributed in the U.S. as an exploitation film should come as no surprise. The film was recut, with emphasis on Harriet Andersson's scandalous nudity, and retitled MONIKA: THE STORY OF A BAD GIRL. "Naughty and Nineteen" promotional posters declared. Monika is a rebellious, sexually experienced teenager who winds up pregnant. We even see her ass. It's not a tough sell. But this is Bergman. Andersson's Monika isn't offered up to the audience as an object for its salivation and sanctimony. She is never really punished for her "sins"—not cowed into domesticity or subjected to whatever horrors typically await "bad girls." She is triumphant to the end. It is she who chooses Harry Lund, as if at random, to provide her with a light and a date to the cinema that first night. "I'm crazy about you," she says, addressing Harry but gazing at her own reflection. She is a fervent consumer of love on screen and in print, and she has decided to embark on a summer romance of her own. Harry Lund, a shop clerk from a petit bourgeois home, is not exactly the stuff of dreams. Next to Monika, he is about as charismatic as a pat of butter. But he has a nice face and a kind demeanor, and, most importantly, he's game. Monika has enough life for the both of them. She commands the screen. Yes, we see her ass, but she also holds our gaze in a radically drawn out extreme close-up. At about 30 seconds, it's long enough that we can't help but feel her mind churning, blood pumping, and life bursting just below the surface. What are we to think of Monika? Is she really so bad? So she chooses to spend a summer on a boat cruising along the Swedish coast, bathing naked in tide pools and dancing on piers. Given the opportunity, what sort of soulless monster would do otherwise? And what's her alternative? To work in some cold cellar, selling dry goods to leering customers. What we see of her life in working class Stockholm puts into sharp relief the couple's idyllic summer days (captured in all their sun-dappled glory by Gunnar Fischer). Her romanticism won't allow her to accept the everyday drudgery that's her lot. She is, at times, vulgar and petulant, self-absorbed and needlessly cruel—a typical teenager. But even at her worst, she's captivating. Monika is as much Andersson's creation as she is Bergman's. For the director no other actress could have played the part. No other girl "could be more Monika-sh." Andersson imbues the role with an energy that is both preternatural and wholly organic. When Harry jumps and shouts and acts wild, it's a performance. He is playacting rebellion. Monika seems at home in that wildness. Freedom suits her. However we might judge her final act, it's impossible to spend an hour and a half watching her live, so naturally and irresistibly, and wish to see that freedom tempered. (1953, 97 min, DCP Digital) EJC
Ingmar Bergman's TO JOY (Swedish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 5pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Ingmar Bergman is the director who means the most to me on a personal level, but then, whatever his failings, he couldn't help but make personal virtually every frame he shot. As David Thomson observed, "For so many people, Bergman has been the man who showed the way to a cinema of the inner life." 1950's TO JOY, his eighth feature, tells the story of the tragic marriage of Stig and Marta, played out in flashback over seven years. By turns lyrical and abrasively honest, with even a comic moment or two, it's the portrait of the artist as a young milksop. It's relatively minor Bergman, yet it's worth seeing for the fascinating way we find, in embryonic form, many of the concerns that would flower in the great films of the late '50s and the masterpieces of the '60s. In his moving autobiography The Magic Lantern, one of my favorite books, Bergman writes of TO JOY that it was "about a couple of young musicians in the symphony orchestra in Helsingborg, the disguise almost a formality. It was about Ellen [his then-wife] and me." Stig Olin steps into the almost comically pathetic character of Stig, a transparent Bergman self-parody. Maj-Britt Nilsson takes on the somewhat thankless role of Marta, though it shouldn't surprise us that she, too, is a Bergman surrogate. Even in his early work he sees himself, in more ways than one, through his female character. On Nilsson's performance, I can't improve on Bergman's own take: she "succeeded in making the desperately idealized wife almost believable, which was as good evidence as any of her brilliance." Remembering TO JOY, he was, as always, his own harshest critic. He dispatches with the film in a few words, noting that "the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was shamelessly exploited." Actually, I find his deployment of Ode to Joy stirring, and in fact, the film rings with beautiful music. He shoots orchestral rehearsals like he's Hitchcock, with all the suspense and fluid, felicitous camerawork. Already, Bergman is himself a conductor—of cuts and angles, light and silhouette, elegant dollies and zooms. It's got beautiful black and white cinematography by Gunnar Fischer, with whom he would go on to create the iconic imagery of THE SEVENTH SEAL. And it features Bergman's first collaboration with the great Victor Sjöström, playing Sönderby, the gruff conductor who becomes a dear friend. My favorite scene, indeed, shows Bergman's gift for recording the simplicities of pleasure. It takes place in a summer idyll, everyone splayed out, children running about. There's a soft breeze in the trees and sunlight in the leaves, dappling the afternoon with the play of shadows. On the edge of napping, Sönderby reflects on the troubled love of Marta and Stig, and how nearly impossible it would be to get down in words the "complicated secret language that two lovers develop and speak, unhindered, to conceal their most secret and fragile emotions." Very possibly, but a film poet like Bergman could translate it to the screen, in a way we can see and feel. Beyond the pain and despair, he gave us these moments of grace, odes to joy. (1950, 99 min, DCP Digital) SP
Edouard Deluc’s GAUGUIN: VOYAGE TO TAHITI (New French)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
I dreaded watching this movie but couldn’t stay away. To say that a dramatization of French post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin’s sojourn to Tahiti is a minefield of problems would be an epic understatement. Start with a middle-aged, broken down European diabetic running around impregnating teenaged Polynesian girls and keep shoveling. Even the most forgiving viewer will find him or herself in a deep, dark hole in no time. Fictionalized from Gauguin’s journals, Deluc and a team of screenwriters mostly let this wretched man’s actions speak for themselves. While there’s an unquestioning assumption of Gauguin’s artistic genius undergirding this narrative—why would anyone put up with a person like this otherwise?—his behavior with women is thankfully not sugar-coated much. For all of his blather about wanting to live like a savage, Gauguin was actually a fairly conventional bourgeois colonialist indulging in a bit of exotic sex tourism. This film depends almost entirely on Vincent Cassel’s performance and he doesn’t disappoint. Gauguin will take a prominent place in Cassel’s career-spanning rogues’ gallery of creeps. No other actor working today portrays masculine arrogance quite as accurately and in all its multidimensional glory as Cassel. He was born to play this guy. I’ve never cared for Gauguin’s work and this film didn’t make me reconsider it in any way but Cassel’s grizzled, obstinate mug made a horrible man come to life on the screen. Whether or not that is a worthwhile endeavor will be up to each individual viewer. Cassel is able to make one see Tahiti as an edenic reprieve from a grubby, glutted late-19th century Paris the way Gauguin saw it. Being a destitute artist convinced of his own titanic talent had to have been a bit more enjoyable among palm trees and blue skies. But no actor, writer, director, or warlock could sell a compelling reason for such a minor, miserable demon to invade such a paradise. (2017, 102 min, DCP Digital) DS
Cinema 53 (at the Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave.) – Saturday, 12-10pm (Free Admission)
Cinema 53 presents a day-long series of screenings as part of the Silver Room Sound System Block Party on Saturday. In addition to the films below, also screening are: MAHOGANY (Berry Gordy, 1975; 2pm) and ROCK RUBBER 45s (Bobbito Garcia, 2018; 6pm, with Garcia in person).
Otto Preminger's CARMEN JONES (American Revival)
At the height of his popularity, Otto Preminger drew as much attention from manipulating controversy (c.f., his public battles with Hollywood censorship) as he did from his formidable skills as a filmmaker. Case in point, in 1953 he leapt at the chance to direct a film based on CARMEN JONES, a stage revue that transplanted Bizet's Carmen to a modern African-American setting. Intended as an independent production, it ended up an A-list feature for Twentieth-Century Fox and Preminger's second in CinemaScope—an ideal format for the director's inquisitive formal interests. In the words of biographer-critic Chris Fujiwara, "[Preminger's] response to the increased width of the frame [was] to expand the characters' fields of action and motion, emphasizing the vastness of both their physical environment and the sphere of moral decision." Physical environment is indeed a key factor in CARMEN JONES, which was shot largely on location: The South Side of Chicago, seldom used in American movies prior to this, becomes a prominent setting. Likewise, Preminger rewrote all the dialogue of the stage show (which he considered flat) in favor of more realistic speech that addressed the impulsive sexuality of the material. (It also helped him to elicit distinctly modern performances from the gifted cast, which included Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, and Diahann Carroll.) And yet, the realist flourishes hardly add up to anything you'd call "realism." As Fujiwara notes, "the absence of jazz, blues, gospel, or contemporary popular music [all the songs are set to the original Bizet score] accentuates the artificiality of the film." More notably, the film lacks a single white character, which makes "white racism...the major structuring absence of CARMEN JONES." In short, it is another technically inspired, psychologically acute, and ultimately bewildering film from this notoriously contradiction-loving filmmaker—no less majestic to behold as it is to contemplate. (1954, 105 min, Digital Projection) BS
Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (American Revival)
The narrator of Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is more than just a character in the story—she’s a symbolic representation of the film itself. The unborn child who tells the tale of the Peazant family in their last days before migrating north is as much a reflection of the past as she is of the future; all that has come before her is as intrinsic as the blood in her relatives' veins, and it's that history which propels them along trying and changing times. The Peazant family are inhabitants of the southern Sea Islands and members of its Gullah culture, having preserved the identity of their African heritage in spite of institutional slavery and post-war oppression. Before the move, the matriarch of the Peazant family contemplates her native beliefs while the family's younger members overcome their personal struggles. Rape and prostitution afflict several of them, and scorn from both society and their own clan present the unique obstacles of African-American women within an already disparaged race. Beyond its plot, Dash brilliantly uses magical realism as a filmmaking device that’s reflective of the characters' ethereal culture. It was the first feature-length film by an African-American woman to receive theatrical release, and its historical context and female-oriented storyline set it apart from other films of the time and other films put out by fellow members of the L.A. Rebellion. (1991, 112 min, Digital Projection) KS
Djibril Diop Mambéty's TOUKI BOUKI (Senegalese Revival)
TOUKI BOUKI was the 1973 feature directing debut of Djibril Diop Mambéty, the angriest and most experimental of Senegalese cinema's founding fathers (the Republic of Senegal itself was only 13 years old at the time, and a true African cinema had only emerged a decade prior with Ousmane Sembène's first film). Maybe due to Sembène's example, the greatest Senegalese films have always been distinguished by their candor. However, the opening sequence of TOUKI BOUKI, in which a peaceful scene of cattle being herded across a dusty plain is followed by unbelievably gruesome documentary footage of their slaughter on the killing floor, sets a new and brutal standard. Mambéty's nightmarish/playful "anti-realist" brashness finds its outlet in (of all things) a comedy, and one about a motorcycle-riding petty crook to boot, though everything seems to take on new and strange meanings through the bright colors and striking compositions of Georges Bracher's cinematography. (1973, 85 min, Digital Projection) IV
Boots Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (New American)
Boots Riley’s debut feature about a black man who can only become a success in America by using a white voice at his bottom-feeder telemarketing gig is a trenchant, by turns hilarious and horrifying take on the state of our country. Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) can’t make headway interrupting people’s lives on the phone until an older coworker (Danny Glover) shows him how to use a white man’s voice to project confidence and trust, enabling him to become the star of the office. But his newfound talent and riches come at the cost of losing his girlfriend and friends, who are all battling an economic system that is literally turning citizens into chattel. Riley uses conspiracy theories and surreal horror to illustrate the very real situation many Americans, but especially African-Americans find themselves in—trapped in a cutthroat system which values profit over basic human decency at every turn. While Armie Hammer’s evil mogul may be an ugly caricature, he will not be unfamiliar to any halfway-informed resident of 2018 United States of America. His company, Worry Free, which offers food and shelter in exchange for freedom, is like a funhouse mirror version of gig economy juggernauts like Uber or AirBnB. They offer a cheerful illusion of independence as they’re robbing their customer/workers of basic rights. By the time the horse-people appear I was ready to accept about anything Riley threw in front of me because his feel for setting and tone is so assured that even the most out-there moments fit the overall premise. He has created a parallel world not unlike the ones found in the work of Gogol, Kafka, or Paul Beatty’s great 2015 novel, The Sellout, where people are turned into monsters and do outrageous and reprehensible things and no one bats an eye. Much of what he shows has already come to pass and the rest will as well unless we fight like hell against it. (2018, 105 min, DCP Digital) DS
Ofir Raul Graizer's THE CAKEMAKER (New Israeli/German)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes (week two of a two-week run)
In Berlin, a soft-spoken baker, Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) becomes lovers with a married Israeli, Oren (Roy Miller), who visits his cafe just for his wonderful cookies. When Oren dies in an accident in Jerusalem, Thomas moves there, befriending Oren's widow Anat (Sarah Adler) and young son, baking for her cafe, and, eventually, becoming her lover. All the while, he keeps his life with the late Oren a closely guarded secret. A personal, understated tale of doomed love, THE CAKEMAKER, the first feature by Israeli-born, Berlin-based filmmaker Ofir Raul Graizer, is not earth-shattering, but it's worth seeing—for the uniformly fine performances, especially, but also for the precise, canny modulation of Graizer's storytelling, his pleasing way with a curvilinear narrative line. There's careful attention to detail: note the toy train in the dead man's box. The actors, especially Kalkhof and Adler as Thomas and Anat, say a tremendous amount non-verbally, through expression, glance, gesture, touch. (Notice how deftly the film toggles between their points of view.) Many shots are wordless. Already, Graizer grasps an essential strength of the medium: it gives us the human face as canvass for an internal life which, forever the province of the novel, must remain mysterious to us. Grazier wants to explore the problem of identity—the disorienting feeling of always living in between worlds: religious and secular, Israel and Germany, gay and straight. How hard it is for a human to stand alone, to not be defined by nation or sexuality. The movie's very title existentially restricts Thomas's identity to the one role he has carved out for himself: he's the cake-maker, and that's how he expresses his connection with other people. Thomas is essentially a big kid, who's probably never felt like a "real" anything in his life. He's always isolated, gazing from the outside at visions of community, the rules and traditions of which the film sees as both nurturing and suffocating. When he's absorbed in his work, kneading the dough, he's happy. His work is his comfort and his company. His cookies, cakes, and pies make people happy—so good Anat has to lick the plate. There's a dark side to the film, as well. In a certain light, Thomas is faintly creepy. Especially when Grazier intercuts scenes of him making love to both Oren and Anat, the betrayal of Anat feels so intimate it's faintly incestuous. Yet it seems the faithless Oren did truly love Anat, in his way. Is the film's point that, absent community strictures, Oren could have been himself in the first place? Or is his sexuality beside the point, and he simply fell in love with someone else—with Thomas? How, finally, should we see these two men? There's a moving shot of Anat, again wordless, that seems to offer a clue. Her visage reads, to me at least, like a vision of forgiveness, and even mercy. Graizer's made a slight but special film, a quiet debut about the mysteries of other human hearts, and our own. (2017, 105 min, DCP Digital) SP
Tim Wardle’s THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Note: Spoilers! Playing like an unholy amalgam of THE TRUMAN SHOW, a human-interest puff-piece, and the Stanford Prison Experiment, this documentary about three identical twins separated at birth is a fascinating tale in an imperfect package. When three 19-year-old New Yorkers in 1980 accidentally discover each other they become instant celebrities, making appearances on the Phil Donahue Show and the like, and living it up at hotspots like Studio 54. But when their three sets of adoptive parents go searching for answers this feel-good fairytale quickly goes very dark. The Jewish adoption agency that placed the triplets with three families of different classes seemed to be using them and other twins to run a study to determine the effects of nature versus nurture. After one of the brothers commits suicide, his survivors are even more intent on learning the circumstances of their adoption but their efforts are frustrated by bureaucratic red-tape. The brothers and the only families they’ve ever known are justifiably outraged to have been treated like lab rats. The study they were part of was never published and most of those who ran it are dead or keeping mum about their intentions. The fact that a Jewish organization sponsored a program such as this less than twenty years after the Nazis’ eugenics experiments is equal parts baffling and horrifying. One junior staffer, now a distinguished elderly woman with sparkling eyes, insists they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. At times, Wardle needlessly inserts reenactments and slo-mo cinematography to tart up his movie; this has become de rigueur since Errol Morris revolutionized the look and feel of documentaries, but these flourishes can’t obscure the power of the story Wardle is telling. More questions are raised than answered, as is often the case in actual life rather than fairytales. (2017, 96 min, DCP Digital) DS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Front Row Presents screens three films at the Music Box Theatre this week: Chang Cheh’s 1981 Hong Kong film MASKED AVENGERS (93 min, 35mm) is on Friday at Midnight; John Woo’s 1989 Hong Kong film THE KILLER (111 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at Midnight and Sunday at 7:30pm; and Sergio Sollima’s 1970 Italian/French Charles Bronson film THE FAMILY [aka VIOLENT CITY] (100 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 9:30pm (see review above).
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents The Midwest Can Be Alright, a program of short Midwest-made films and videos, on Wednesday at 8pm. Screening are: VENUS IN TAURUS (Blair Bogin, 2014), SUPER UP (Kenji Kanesaka, 1966), SPECULATIONS (Ben Balcom, 2017), HAIR POLICE LIVE JULY 4th 2002 (C. Spencer Yeh, 2002), DO IT AGAIN (Curtis Miller, 2018), DISTANT SHORES (Christopher Harris, 2016), and HOW TO RUST (Julia Yezbick, 2016). Curated by Aaron Walker. Approx. 82 min total; all Digital Projection.
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) presents Films and Videos by David Wojnarowicz and Collaborators on Sunday at 5pm. Screening are: WHAT IS THIS LITTLE GUY’S JOB (Marion Scemama and David Wojnarowicz, 1989, 2 min, Video Projection), ITSOFOMO (IN THE SHADOW OF FORWARD MOTION) (David Wojnarowicz and Ben Neill, 1989-1991, 22 min, Video Projection), SILENCE = DEATH (Rosa von Praunheim with David Wojnarowicz, 1990, 60 min, 16mm), and AFTER WORD (Marion Scemama and David Wojnarowicz, 1989, 2 min, Video Projection). Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) presents Now That We Have Your Attention on Saturday at 7:30pm. Included are: AN ATRAMENTOUS MIND (Layne Marie Williams and Lonnie Edwards, 2017), FORGOTTEN WEST (Vincent Singleton, 2006), BUG (James Pillion, 2013), THE BIG CHOP (Derek Dow, 2016), FEAR (Chan C. Smith, 2016), WHO IS JON SAVEGE…? (Lonnie Edwards, 2017), THE WOE CHRONICLES (Samantha George, 2018), BIG MAMA RED: THE ARTWORK OF CATHERINE WOODS (JC Farris, 2018), and RUNNER (Clare Cooney, 2017). Curated by Layne Marie Williams and Lonnie Edwards. Approx 105 min total; 16mm and Digital Projection.
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E. 70th St.) presents BCH Mixtape: Vol. 5 on Friday at 7:30pm. The screening features work by Joshua Jackson, Chris Jon Conti, and Montel Williams. Free admission.
The Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 200) screens Fatih Akin’s 2014 German/Turkish/International film THE CUT (138 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Twisted Oyster Film Festival continues on Friday. More info at www.twistedoysterfilmfestival.com.
At the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: David Anspaugh's 1986 film HOOSIERS (114 min, Digital Projection) is on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Kate Novak’s 2017 documentary THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ (94 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; and Jan Hrebejk’s 2017 Czech/Polish/Slovak film GARDEN STORE: FAMILY FRIEND (130 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Rolando Díaz’s 1995 Cuban film MELODRAMA (56 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: George Dunning’s 1968 animated film YELLOW SUBMARINE (85 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 11:45am; Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film THE ROOM (99 min, 35mm) is on Friday at Midnight; and Jim Sharman’s 1975 film THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (100 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Hlynur Pálmason’s 2017 Danish/Icelandic film WINTER BROTHERS (100 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run.
The Chicago Cultural Center screens Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis’ 2017 documentary WHOSE STREETS? (103 min, Video Projection), followed by a discussion, on Saturday at 2pm; and hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Jennifer Peedom’s 2017 Australian documentary MOUNTAIN (74 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Sam Irvin's 1993 film ACTING ON IMPULSE (93 min, VHS Projection), as part of their recurring “Released and Abandoned” series, on Wednesday at 8:30pm. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Cauleen Smith's single-channel video SPACE IS THE PLACE (A MARCH FOR SUN RA) (2001) is in the Stone Gallery; Gretchen Bender's eight-channel video installation TOTAL RECALL (1987) is in Gallery 289; Joan Jonas’ MIRROR PIECES INSTALLATION II (1969/2014) is in Gallery 293B; Frances Stark’s 2010 video installation NOTHING IS ENOUGH (14 min loop) in Gallery 295C; and Nam June Paik’s 1986 video sculpture FAMILY OF ROBOT: BABY in Gallery 288.
CINE-LIST: July 20 - July 26, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Elspeth J. Carroll, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Scott Pfeiffer, Dmitry Samarov, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky