Jacques Tourneur's CANYON PASSAGE (American Revival)
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Tuesday, 7:30pm
While generally overlooked among his noirs and his low-budget Val Lewton-produced horror films, CANYON PASSAGE, Jacques Tourneur's first western (as well as his first film shot in color), is one of the most sensual entries in his filmography. It's violent and visceral in a way that his most exciting work is, but it's a lot sweatier. And the cordial way characters act around one another—Brian Donlevy and Dana Andrews carry on as if they were in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS—and Hoagy Carmichael's folksy musical accompaniment, makes the film's brief moments of violence even more unsettling. CANYON PASSAGE also feels unhinged in a way that films like NIGHTFALL and THE CAT PEOPLE don't (the latter becoming progressively more tense, the former feeling more manic): there's a random and scattered sense about it that keeps everything off-balance. The result is like seeing a close friend getting beaten up on a hot summer day, with intermittent pauses to talk about the shipping business and sing "I'm Getting Married in the Morning." Preceded by Robert Clampett’s 1945 Porky Pig cartoon WAGON HEELS (7 min, 16mm). (1946, 92 min, 35mm) JA
Albert Maysles, Nelson Walker, Lynn True, David Usui, and Ben Wu's IN TRANSIT
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check venue website for showtimes
All the best Amtrak routes sound like either gridiron plays or politically unpopular military ops: the Heartland Flyer, the Texas Eagle, the Yankee Clipper and the Yankee Clipper Turbo, or my personal favorite, the majestic Kansas City Mule. Albert Maysles’ final documentary, IN TRANSIT, showcases the railroad service’s northern workhorse: the Empire Builder. The route runs 2,200 miles from Chicago’s Union Station to the Pacific Northwest, hugging the Canadian border for most of its 46-hour travel time. On paper, IN TRANSIT seems like a premise in search of a purpose. Maysles, who was 87 at the time of filming, along with a team of four co-directors made three cross country trips on the Empire Builder in hopes of capturing something essential about the journey. Virtually nothing about the project was predetermined and the deck was never stacked: no rockstars, heads of state, or Edie Beales of any size were known to be on board. What the movie lacks in plot and curated personality, though, it makes up for in bleary-eyed moments of humanity. Author George Saunders once referred to the natural state of openness people sometimes experience while traveling as an “airport state of mind.” You’re on your way to or from being with loved ones, the party is about to start or has recently ended, and you’re super-tenderized, left alone with your own thoughts. Maysles and his team built a movie around observing these exalted moments. For the filmmakers the Empire Builder is a mobile laboratory where the conditions exist for them to observe strangers for an extended period, and the experiment is to see whether people can connect. If that sounds naive or trite it’s possible IN TRANSIT isn’t for you, but as it turns out that level of earnestness is exactly what Maysles was going for. Co-director Lynn True said of the work, “It really came from this abstract idea Albert has always had about how people should be able to connect. They can connect if you just relax for a moment and open your mind to the possibility of how you might relate to the person sitting in that seat next to you." After over half a century of filmmaking, Maysles' IN TRANSIT is a fitting coda that manages to be just as genuinely curios and collaborative as anything we've seen from the director. (2015, 76 min, DCP Digital) JS
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH (German Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sunday, 7pm
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s first feature as a writer-director, completed when he was just 24 years old, lays out many of the themes and stylistic tropes that he would develop across his monumental career. The principal theme is expressed by the film’s title; Fassbinder believed that love could be used as an instrument of social control, driving people to submit to patterns of work, coupling, and reproduction because they’ve been convinced that these things will make them happy. The punk aesthetic of LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH (which shows the influence of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Marie Straub) reflects this cynical worldview. As Michael Koresky wrote for the Criterion Collection, “The film thwarts conventional audience identification with its protagonists. They are like mannequins, posed in static tableaux, often in stark, white rooms. Fassbinder’s camera rarely moves as it surveys their follies in self-consciously long takes. But his attitude toward them never seems patronizing; rather, he distills behavior into gestures, and language into basic, childlike words.” Ulli Lommel plays an ex-convict charged with convincing another hood, played by Fassbinder, to join a criminal syndicate. He moves in with the other man, who makes a living by pimping out his girlfriend (Hanna Schygulla, the director’s longtime muse). The men become close friends, and the dead-eyed prostitute develops romantic feelings for Lommel. Yet these interpersonal connections mean little to the characters when compared with the pull of criminal activity—which ends up destroying all of them. “Though Fassbinder was influenced by Hollywood and French New Wave depictions of the criminal underworld, there’s no glamor to the lives of gangsters in his world,” Koresky writes. “He sees them not as cool rebels but as symbols of capitalist exploitation, victims of bourgeois society, and therefore as trapped in the muck of the everyday as everyone else.” Fassbinder portrays that muck as inherently violent. The film is full of beatings—it practically begins with a series of sadistic rituals that Lommel’s superiors perform on their new recruits—and it contains a few murders as well. Yet Fassbinder purposely drains the violence of suspense; it feels inevitable, ritualized, a cold fact of modern life. (1969, 88 min, 35mm) BS
Toshio Matsumoto's FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES (Classic/Cult Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 5:30pm and Monday and Thursday, 7:45pm
A frequent subject in Amos Vogel's seminal Film as a Subversive Art, Toshio Matsumoto's work is rarely mentioned in the United States anymore. FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES is an unflinching look at drug abuse, counterculture, and transvestism in 60s Tokyo, purportedly similar to contemporaneous work by Andy Warhol and William Klein in its collage of documentary and pop-art sensibilities. (It also shares a financier—the Art Theater Guild—with some of the most challenging Japanese films of the era, including Shohei Imamura's A MAN VANISHES, Yoshishige Yoshida's EROS PLUS MASSACRE, and Oshima's DIARY OF A SHINJUKU THIEF.) The film was all but unprecedented in Japanese cinema for its (male) homoeroticism, and this trait only helped to make it more controversial at home. But in spite of these potentially dating aspects, this remains powerful filmmaking to many contemporary viewers. Writing on the film a few years ago, Philadelphia City Paper's Sam Adams still found its despair troubling: "Dipping into Greek mythology as well as Japanese popular culture...FUNERAL PARADE is alternately haunting and frenetic, a ghost story for a generation still twitching on the slab. Clinging to appropriated identities, the film's wayward youth wind up in a flooded graveyard, where [transvestite hero] Eddie muses, 'I wish the whole world would sink.'" (1969, 105 min, DCP Digital) BS
Ernst Lubitsch’s HEAVEN CAN WAIT (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 2pm and Sunday, 3pm
HEAVEN CAN WAIT was Ernst Lubitsch’s second-to-last completed feature before his death in 1947 (Otto Preminger came in on both A ROYAL SCANDAL in 1945 and THAT LADY IN ERMINE the year Lubitsch died, though the German auteur was able to finish CLUNY BROWN in 1946), and, as the penultimate denouement of a consistently illustrious career, it’s a fitting apogee of all those elements that made his eponymous ‘touch’ so indelible. His first film at Fox is also his first and only film in color, a quality that enhances the quaint suspension of disbelief one must assume to fully appreciate the wonderful world in which even the most inimical archetypes are rendered innocuous by Lubitsch’s genial direction. Don Ameche stars as Henry Van Cleve, a 19th-century Don Juan-figure who, after he dies, attempts to convince Laird Crager’s cosmopolitan Satan that he indeed belongs below rather than above. His transgression? Why, nothing you couldn’t level against most every other Lubitsch lead, at least those of the male persuasion. In this way ‘His Excellency’ is a stand-in for Lubitsch’s audience, as simultaneously charmed and appalled as we were at Maurice Chevalier’s not-so-veiled innuendo in THE LOVE PARADE, THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, ONE HOUR WITH YOU and THE MERRY WIDOW, the urbane ménage à trois in DESIGN FOR LIVING, et al. And much like these worldly protagonists, whose imprudent actions signify a high-class apathy towards social mores, Henry is ultimately redeemed via his love for Gene Tierney’s Martha, their marriage largely a happy one excepting a few trials (mostly due to Henry’s—and later his son’s—philandering). The earnestness of his affection—as well as those of Lubitsch’s earlier playboys, and even Lubitsch himself—is unquestionable, and thus we, the viewers, like His Excellency, decline to condemn Henry to eternal damnation, but rather to eternal happiness with Martha, his beloved grandfather, and all the other ladies who’ll surely be happy to see him. Typical for its time, that it’s a costume film (apropos of a studio then jokingly referred to as Sixteenth Century-Fox) centered around a familial unit is not especially unorthodox, even if Lubitsch’s earlier films were more concerned with the romantic couple than the nuclear family. That it and CLUNY BROWN, which merges the charming romance of his earlier films with the family centeredness of HEAVEN CAN WAIT, represent a sort of finality—marriage and children in the latter, all that and literal death in the former—is likely circumstantial, owing both to the aforementioned trends and Lubitsch’s untimely death. Still, it’s felicitous, with HEAVEN CAN WAIT serving as a sort-of microcosm for his career, representing a gradual maturation from ribald preoccupations to contentment vis-à-vis settled domesticity. It was also a huge commercial success, the biggest of Lubitsch's sound films, a notable distinction for a director who was considered a “prestige loss-leader” during his tenure at Paramount; it also garnered him his first Oscar nomination since THE LOVE PARADE in 1929. Above and beyond these accolades, or even the fact that his version of hell is so Lubitschian that it’s more endearing than it could possibly be foreboding, is the indefinable feeling that only a Lubitsch film can evoke—HEAVEN CAN WAIT does a devil of a job arousing it. (1943, 112 min, DCP Digital) KS
Edward O. Bland’s THE CRY OF JAZZ (American Revival)
Black World Cinema & South Side Projections at Hyde Park Art Center (5020 S. Cornell Ave.) – Saturday, 2:30pm (Free Admission)
More than half a century after it was made, THE CRY OF JAZZ still feels audacious. It takes place at a small gathering on the south side of Chicago where about a dozen jazz aficionados—some black, some white—discuss the history of the music they love and get into a heated debate on American race relations. The subjects of music and black history are intertwined from the get-go, as the group pedant (who also serves as the film’s narrator) describes each development in jazz as it corresponds to a different aspect of black American experience. As he explains, the paradoxical nature of jazz—in which players improvise within and around a fixed musical structure—reflects the inherent contradiction of black American life. Because American culture denies blacks a sense of past and future, black life is, by definition, stagnant; yet the fact that it persists allows for moments of joy and celebration. Some of the whites in the room argue against the pedant, who believes that blacks have suffered more than anyone else in American history and that they represent the neglected conscience of white America. Cowriter-director Edward O. Bland privileges the narrator’s position, but he grants more than adequate time to the rebuttals, giving the film the flow of a genuine rap session. Implicit in this organization is that for any meaningful change to occur with regards to race relations, people of different races need to have more conversations like this. Bland’s editing is impressive as well, illustrating the musical and history lessons with a dense montage that alternates images of jazz musicians in concert with images of black poverty and other social ills. Though some of these images can be difficult to look at, the film’s overall effect is stirring. (1959, 34 min, Video Projection) BS
The screening is a pre-festival event for the new South Side Film Festival, which runs October 6-8.
Gary Sherman’s DEATH LINE [aka RAW MEAT] (UK Revival)
An Evening with Chicago Film Masters at the Davis Theater (4614 N. Lincoln Ave.) – Friday, 8pm
Writer/director Gary Sherman’s first and best film is a low-budget chiller about a scary thing that grabs unsuspecting Londoners who tarry too long on tube platforms—essentially an urban legend about all the horrible possibilities of those miles and miles of tunnels, used and unused, that snake beneath our feet in most large cities. But it’s not content with that: it wants to know more about the scary thing, which turns out to be the lone survivor of a race of humanoids descended from a work crew trapped beneath London by a cave-in. It wants to explore how such a person, however feral, would survive, how he’d pass the time, how he’d deal with loneliness or grief. Call it an ethnographic horror film. It is, of course, a horror film, and Sherman doesn’t skimp on gore or shocks, but it’s all in its own unique key, with Donald Pleasance’s odd, Ernest Thesiger-esque lead performance defining the ever-shifting feel of the film. Gary Sherman in person. (1972, 87 min., Digital Projection) MWP
Screening as part of An Evening with Chicago Film Masters, which takes place on Friday beginning at 7:30pm at the Davis Theater. The program includes a block of shorts at 7:30pm; DEATH LINE at 8pm; John McNaughton’s 1998 film WILD THINGS (108 min) at 10pm, with McNaughton in person; and Gary Michael Schultz’s 2016 film VINCENT ‘N ROXXY (102 min) at Midnight, with Schultz in person. All Digital Projection.
More info at www.facebook.com/events/1968059540102542.
George Cukor’s THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
A quintessential example of what Stanley Cavell has termed the "comedy of remarriage," THE PHILADELPHIA STORY challenged the restrictions of the Hays Code by suggesting the possibility of polyamorous love. The narrative follows the formulaic trajectory of the genre from divorce to inevitable reunion, but the film’s genius lies in its subliminal remarks on censorship via Cukor’s use of off-screen space, as the characters take turns spying and eavesdropping on one another. Due to the static, two-dimensional nature of his compositions, environments often feel enclosed to both the characters (and by extension the viewers) when they’re actually vulnerable to spectatorship, blurring the lines between private/public space. Though Cukor uses camera movement sparingly, he does so to great effect, providing his scenes with a humorous or startling punctuation mark; characters are constantly hiding behind columns, hovering discreetly in corners, or peeking through windows. This pattern of constant surveillance provides an amusing endnote for the film’s finale when an unknown photographer snaps a photo of the wedding. The violation of the private (i.e. monogamous) sphere is emblematic of the paranoia that would later become a hallmark of 1940s film noir, but also parallels Cukor’s sidestepping of uptight MPAA provisions. These themes can be situated within the broader context of marriage plot literature that deals with issues of physical and psychological boundaries in an aristocratic milieu, such and Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, as well as theoretical works like Foucault’s writings on panopticism and Gaston Bachlelard’s The Poetics of Space. (1940, 112 mins, 35mm) HS
Robert Siodmak’s THE KILLERS (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday, 7 and 9:15pm, and Sunday, 1:30pm
THE KILLERS is the movie that made Burt Lancaster a star and cemented Robert Siodmak’s reputation as one of the great noir directors. But as significant as their contributions are, the film’s power really hinges on its screenplay, which is one of the cleverest in the entire noir canon. Written by Anthony Veiller, John Huston, and Richard Brooks (the latter two uncredited), THE KILLERS boasts a flashback-driven structure as ambitious as that of CITIZEN KANE, employing multiple narrators and a non-chronological organization of events. Like KANE, the film starts with the death of a mysterious individual—in this case, Lancaster’s Ole “Swede” Anderson—then follows an investigator as he tries to make sense of that person’s life. Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story provides the material for the opening ten minutes, which detail the events leading up to Anderson’s murder, and this passage feels particularly Hemingwayesque in its terse dialogue and its critical portrait of masculine bravado. (According to legend, this was the only film adaptation of his work that Hemingway actually liked.) The script preserves the existential despair at the heart of Hemingway’s story, showing Anderson accepting his death with cold indifference, and the fatalism of the early scenes haunts the rest of the picture. What follows is often unexpectedly poignant. Especially noteworthy is a scene where Anderson’s ex-girlfriend describes when she fell out of love with him; her recollection comes between images of her doting on her husband, Anderson having been long resigned to the past. And then there’s Anderson’s relationship with Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner), the woman who draws him into a life of crime. It’s sad, the way she manipulates Anderson, playing on his wounded self-respect and his desire to be somebody—and sadder yet is that Anderson doesn’t even realize he’s being played, so blinding is his devotion to Kitty. (Siodmak and Lancaster would revisit this interpersonal dynamic in their subsequent noir CRISS CROSS.) Even if you didn’t know from the start that Anderson will meet a bad end, you could sense his doom in the expressionistic shadows that hang over most of his encounters. Cinematographer Woody Bredell (who also collaborated with Siodmak on PHANTOM LADY and CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY) contributes greatly to the movie’s sense of foreboding, but its dark romanticism is pure Siodmak. (1946, 103 min, 35mm) BS
Francis Ford Coppola's THE GODFATHER (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Wednesday, 7pm
It's tough (or impossible) to summarize the impact THE GODFATHER has had. So, instead, only three points. Gordon Willis's brilliant cinematography—Rembrandt by way of Manhattan—made it acceptable for studio-made color films to be as shadowy and moody as the black & white noirs had been earlier. Where would classic paranoiac thrillers be without that added palette? Its flowing, epic structure, courtesy of Mario Puzo's screenplay and Coppola's subtle, no-nonsense direction, remains a model of classic storytelling. And finally, because of its amazing critical and commercial success, gangster movies have been continuously in vogue ever since. Utterly disgraceful then that, according to a New York Times article, the original negatives "were so torn up and dirty that they could no longer be run through standard film laboratory printing equipment, and so the only option became a digital, rather than a photochemical, restoration." Luckily Robert A. Harris, working with Willis and Coppola, stepped in to save the day. (1972, 175 min, 35mm) RC
David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE (Contemporary American)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 9:30pm
Part mind-bending mystery, part hair-raising thriller, part tear-jerking break-up soapfest, David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE evokes an aura of nocturnal wonder and dread, a realm caught between the parameters of waking life and dreams, achingly poignant in its emotional core, absolutely hypnotizing in it’s formal ambiance, and sometimes-frustratingly labyrinthine in its thorny construction. Addressing the cult of personality that is David Lynch’s public persona, it’s hard to look past the hovering cloud that is his semi-comical presence as a cult figure. His fan base certainly gives the impression that Lynch has been, and will always be, the only director who can tap into the idea of dreamworlds and existential cinematic strangeness. Even though this is severely not the case, it isn’t enough to diminish an artist who frequently operates at the height of his powers behind the camera. MULHOLLAND DRIVE contains many elements of his previous work and re-contextualizes them into a concise, epic investigation into the landscape of a shifting personality, that moves with the weight of a person waking and falling into a series of dreams, contrasted with possible realities imagined and lived in. Naomi Watts plays “Betty,” who comes to Hollywood hoping to achieve stardom as an actress in the movies. She catches the attention of a young director played by Justin Theroux, who has been told by a shady, ultra-powerful group (led by Twin Peaks’ “The Arm”) to cast a different actress in his movie. This actress, first glimpsed being driven along the spiraling and ink-black road of the film’s title, suffers a near-assassination attempt, and is left an amnesiac. When she wakes, she believes her name is “Rita”, eventually running into “Betty,” where together they try to solve the mystery regarding “Rita” and her true identity, falling into a romantic obsession in the process. Over the course of the movie, the characters’ identities begin to shift, leading to possible alternate realities in the film’s story and timeline, where Lynch plays with the illusion of the cinema as a false construction that occasionally evokes deep emotional responses from those witnessing it. This idea is fleshed out in the “Silencio” scene, where the two women stumble upon a nightclub with a singer, Rebecca Del Rio, performing a Spanish version of a famous Roy Orbison song. As she sings, the two women begin to cry uncontrollably at the performance, which is eventually revealed to be false, as the singer isn’t even singing and the music is pre-recorded. When the music stops, so does the singer, as she collapses on stage and is dragged off. Lynch pulls a cinematic magic trick on his viewers, engulfing them in the emotions of these two women, who are witnessing something that is a construct and not real, while simultaneously being emotionally swept up in its power and beauty, crying to an illusion that is revealed to be false. One of the most powerful scenes of the last several decades, the rest of the film is a testament to a director operating at peak levels of his matured artistry. Twin Peaks: The Return has much in common with this bewitching work, even in its production history. MULHOLLAND DRIVE started originally as a TV pilot, later to become a series, but never actually materialized into one, so it was changed to a feature film, while Twin Peaks: The Return is a television show that feels more like a long movie in the spirit of Jacques Rivette (who once remarked that the feature film TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, very much the origin to MULHOLLAND, left the French filmmaker “floating” when he left the theater). Much like his recent work with Peaks, characters tend to appear and vanish without trace, while identifies twist and morph into sometimes wholly different characters. Like the devastating, yet cathartic ending of his recent 18-hour masterwork, digging deeper into an obsessive mystery can sometimes bring you further and further from the reality of what it is you began searching for in the first place. (2001, 147 min, 35mm) JD
Includes a pre-show presentation by Daniel Knox at 9pm.
Bill Morrison's DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (New Documentary)
Film Studies Center at the Logan Center for the Arts (Univ. of Chicago, 915 E. 60th St.) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
If you're familiar with Bill Morrison's work, particularly his major experimental features DECASIA and THE GREAT FLOOD, the opening minutes of his latest effort, DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME, may come as a shock: in place of the usual distressed nitrate imagery, we see clips from "High Heat," a cable television baseball talk show from 2014, a late 1970s Canadian Broadcasting Corporation newscast, and even a conventional talking head interview recorded at the home of two retired curators, complete with visible lav mics and all. Has Morrison found work at PBS? Over the course of two hours, DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME becomes something else, with Morrison's characteristic obsessions peeking through the topsoil of the orderly, televisually sterile contemporary documentary template. Morrison sketches a story familiar to film archivists of a certain age, and obscure to most everyone else: the 1978 discovery of over 500 reels of nitrate film under the permafrost of a demolished hockey rink in Yukon Territory. The scope of DAWSON CITY is more expansive and unruly than that: it encompasses the history of Dawson City's indigenous Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people, the 1919 World Series, a trove of glass plate negatives used as cabin insulation, the Canadian banking system, the murder of one-time "Yukoner" William Desmond Taylor, and the tawdry origins of Donald Trump's family fortune. (It goes without saying that if the Trump "golden shower" tape referenced in the Steele dossier actually exists, Morrison should have right of first refusal to incorporate it into his next film.) Each digression seems gratuitous and shapeless at first, but emerges as part of a grander design. Dawson City, a boom town that reverted to its humbler origins within a few years, is the land of eternal returns: sooner or later, the cycle of fire—some incidents nitrate-inflicted, but many not—will come for your theater, your hotel, your casino, your library. Real estate contracts, telegrams, photographic records, and newspaper listings reverberate through the years, their implications not fully understood for decades. Morrison's form is something of a reclamation, too: reviving the intertitle as a unit of construction and a suggestive promise, DAWSON CITY is the last silent film, a finale a century in the making. (The score, by Alex Somers, leans on sound effects that amount to atmospheric Mickey Mousing, but that comes with the territory.) Incorporating clips from newsreels, serials, and features pulled out of the ground (including work by major talents like Lois Weber, Maurice Tourneur, and Alice Guy Blaché), as well as Hollywood films depicting the Klondike (Chaplin's THE GOLD RUSH, Handschiegl footage from THE TRAIL OF '98), DAWSON CITY's major act of cinematic historiography is Morrison's elevation of CITY OF GOLD, a nearly-forgotten National Film Board of Canada production from 1957 that apparently inaugurated the now-standard documentary technique of zooming and panning across historical photographs. The revelation of the NFB film, which predates Ken Burns' influential documentaries by three decades, reorients our relationship to Morrison's seemingly straightforward DAWSON CITY aesthetic; everything was new once if you burrow deep enough. Morrison in person. (2016, 120 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Jonathan Olshefski’s QUEST (New Documentary)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Jonathan Olshefski’s QUEST follows an African-American family of four living in North Philadelphia. Shot over the course of a decade, Olshefski’s unobtrusive camera (he’s also the cinematographer) follows the Rainey family through the good and the bad, using the political climate at whatever point they’re at to contextualize intimate moments within a larger societal framework. Much as Steve James’ HOOP DREAMS and Margaret Byrne’s RAISING BERTIE utilized years-long shooting times to document their subjects, QUEST confronts stereotypes with longevity, showing us there’s always more than meets the eye. Editor Lindsay Utz in person. (2017, 104 min, DCP Digital) KS
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (German Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 6pm
Not to be confused with the Fox News Channel's liberty-lovin' early morning coffee klatch Fox and Friends, itself a formidable showcase of sadomasochistic aggression and queenly preening, Fassbinder's 1975 film FOX AND HIS FRIENDS is one of his finest—a fatalistic cautionary tale about an innocent schnook deflowered by the logic of industrial capitalism. (Appropriately, one plausible translation of the original German title is "Freedom Will Fist-Fuck You.") Though Fassbinder lifts the name of his central character from Alfred Doblin's 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, the decisive Weimar shadow is that of F.W. Murnau’s 1924 film DER LETZTE MANN; FOX AND HIS FRIENDS plays like an inversion of Murnau and screenwriter Carl Mayer's classic of working classic humiliation, which famously proposed "a most improbable epilogue" that delivered salvation-through-unexpected-inheritance to Emil Jannings' downwardly-mobile washroom attendant and depicted his new-found magnanimity in comically out-sized terms. In Fassbinder's version, prissy prole Franz "Fox" Biberkopf assays a providential lottery jackpot in the first reel (a camp-crass "triumph of the will" played with Keystone staccato) and spends the rest of the movie paying the price for his good fortune. Instantly drawn into a gay demimonde of mud baths, antique furniture dealers, chintzy nouveau riche flats with absurd chandeliers, and admittedly impeccable exemplars of male fashion, Fox is an arriviste outsider, an avatar of working class boorishness. Proudly adorned with his SCORPIO RISING-style stud jacket, freely professing his love of pilsner and total ignorance of sugar spoons, Fox cannot his recognize new friends' predations as anything but acts of love that he's too dim to fully appreciation or comprehend. That presumption of ignorance, the automatic self-deprecation and inferiority complex, is Fox's tragic flaw—and an exploitative opening for his high-bred defilers, who are immune to such doubts and instinctively know how to weaponize shame. Defending FOX AND HIS FRIENDS against charges of self-loathing leveled decades ago by Andrew Britton in Gay Left, the critic Alex Davidson smartly quipped, "[W]ould that the avaricious men in Fox and His Friends had enough self-awareness to hate themselves." So, is this hilariously precise dissection of West Germany's gay scene a covert act of homophobia? Let us say only that Fassbinder knew the milieu a hell of a lot better than many of the actors with whom he populated this acid postcard from paisley purgatory. Karl-Heinz Böhm, who played the camera-killer of PEEPING TOM and appears here as Fox's high society tour guide Max, incredibly maintained that the profoundly queer Fassbinder was only "pretending to be a homosexual or bisexual," "very good at acting as a gay person, and behaving like a gay person," all as "a kind of protest against his father, but also to express his opposition to a society where homosexuals were not being accepted." That Fassbinder could craft such a warm, empathetic, and ruthless movie with collaborators who misunderstood and denied his deepest desires is but one demonstration of this artist's unearthly powers. (1975, 123 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Bernard Rose's CANDYMAN (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Friday and Saturday, Midnight
While Chicagoans are quick to recall the location shooting of CANDYMAN in the Near North Side's Cabrini-Green public housing community, few seem to remember just how highbrow this low-budget Clive Barker adaptation really was: the main characters are UIC folklore/anthropology Ph.D. students studying (via ethnographic interviews) the urban legends on which the film's plot is itself based, and the soundtrack is an elegant, metronomic fugue for electric organ, strings, and chorus by Manhattan minimal don Philip Glass. The story, conflating the by-then nearly universal Anglo-American folktales of "Bloody Mary" and "The Hook" (regarding menstruation and castration, respectively) with some vague Shakespearean allusions, a touch of hypnotism, and a lot of bees, centers on the real-world locus of imagined terror for a generation of city residents and journalists: the intersection of Division and Larabee. In a twist which seems rather insightful even for the early 90s, the post-colonialist "Indian burial ground" cliché is displaced onto the contemporary process of gentrification then occurring in Old Town: Virginia Madsen's character's high-rise condo is itself revealed to be part of a redeveloped former housing project. The resulting film oscillates widely and sometimes uncomfortably between clever meta-horror and quotidian actual-horror, but remains an underrated snapshot of the city's pre-"Plan For Transformation" unconscious, in the shadows of the towers which (as of May 2011) no longer exist. (1992, 92 min, 35mm) MC
Steve James' ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL (New Documentary)
Gorton Community Center (400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest) – Thursday, 7pm
True stories can be just as absorbing as narratives, and real people as memorable as characters, as Steve James' suspenseful courtroom documentary demonstrates. This David versus Goliath story chronicles the five-year trial pitting the inexhaustible resources of the Manhattan DA's office against the small Abacus Federal Savings Bank. Founded by a Chinese immigrant and run today by himself and his daughters (the Sung family), Abacus was the only bank indicted during the 2008 global financial crisis. Ironically, Mr. Sung has the integrity of a real-life George Bailey (and Mrs. Sung's favorite movie is Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE), having founded Abacus expressly to serve New York's Chinatown. James gives us a rare glimpse into this somewhat unmelted immigrant community. The steely, whip-smart daughters turn out to be not so easy to push around, and their loving bickering banter with their parents is a delight. Producer Mark Mitten in person. (2016, 88 min, DCP Digital) SP
Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne's THE UNKNOWN GIRL (New Belgian)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
The Dardenne Brothers return with this expressive, visceral realist mystery. Adèle Haenel gives a naturalistic central performance as a promising young doctor at a working-class clinic on the outskirts of the Belgian riverside city of Liège. She's admired, even beloved. One fateful evening after a long day, she refuses to let her intern buzz someone in after hours. When the night caller turns up dead, she feels responsible. If she'd given the desperate African woman shelter, she'd be alive—a powerful, relevant metaphor. Mounting an investigation to discover the unknown woman's name, she discovers secrets involving the young son of her own patients, as well as various more or less threatening characters. (The boy's father is played by Dardennes regular Jérémie Renier). The Dardennes' mise en scène, carefully composed yet open, is rendered in the fluid handheld style of their longtime cinematographer, the great Alain Marcoen. Actors, directors, cameraman: all seem to be in a process of mutual discovery, catching real life as it unfolds. There's something in the doctor's steadfast, non-judgmental acceptance of people as they are, the way she even shares in their guilt, that makes one unforgettable scene in particular play out very differently than it might have. This movie has no score to telegraph how we're meant to feel. There's just one person caring, helping...because that's what she does. (2016, 106 min, DCP Digital) SP
Joe Cornish's ATTACK THE BLOCK (Contemporary British)
Black Cinema House at the Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) – Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
The directorial debut of comedian Joe Cornish is an unexpectedly good action-thriller, set in a high-rise council estate (British for "projects") in the south of London. Drawing comparisons to GOONIES due to it's ensemble teen cast and light-hearted joking, ATTACK THE BLOCK is a whole lot darker, a little farther from the beaten path, and even more class conscious in its approach. Looking past the basic plot about some hooligans who save the earth from an alien invasion, the best part of this movie is the morally challenged hero, Moses, played by the 19 year old John Boyega. He initially displays some of the more prevalent stereotypes of the angry black teen: the film opens with Moses leading a group of thrill seeking youths through the knife-point mugging of a female neighbor; he then follows that up by eagerly agreeing to sell drugs for the local kingpin. But, as the mysterious aliens grow in number and the body count inside the Block piles up, Moses begins to make the right choices, and protect both his gang and his neighbors. In this tale of redemption, the tough kid from a broken home, wise beyond his 15 years, comes through and saves the planet. Excusing the preachy, didactic, conspiracy theory-laced monologue that Moses delivers at the end of Act II, what makes this film special is the political stance the filmmakers take in favor of the poor and systematically oppressed. Cornish champions the boys in Moses' gang by showing them as fun-loving, feral kids, trying to act like grown-ups. Where Mikey and his friends were young adventurers out on a treasure hunt to save the family home in GOONIES, Moses and his crew begin as petty criminals in search of a power trip. Instead of giving us characters to instantly root for, we're shown realistic grit and violence inside public housing, along with brief glimpses of the broken home lives that spawn it. Like all good blockbusters there are plenty of funny moments, mostly courtesy of Nick Frost (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ) as the pot dealer on the top floor, and the film eventually delivers a good guy to root for. But, the real guilty pleasure here is watching a teen thug find the tools to play the hero. (2011, 88 min, Digital Projection) JH
Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 7pm
In the final moments of RUSHMORE, amidst a sleepy dance number at a theater gala, precocious prep-schooler Max Fisher gives the order and the DJ reinvigorates the room by spinning Faces' "Ooh La La." Wes Anderson didn't reinvent rock n' roll, but in the stylistically sluggish landscape of American cinema circa 1998, he left enough audiences convinced he had. Building on his BOTTLE ROCKET cred, Anderson patents his stilted and symmetric brand of Americana within these frames, with well-wrought whimsy and overtones of the British Invasion that would inform not just his work to come, but countless indie imitators across the burgeoning decade. Jason Swartzman gets his big break as Max, who against the backdrop of his expulsion from the hallowed halls of Rushmore Academy, falls strategically in love with a widowed first grade teacher (Olivia Williams, wonderful as always). Vying for her affections is a disillusioned industrialist (Bill Murray, at the turning point of his career), and as the two suitors, separated by some 35 years, engage in petty antics, hilarity can't help but ensue. It's a quirky hand that Anderson and company play, but they play it well, and the result is both heartfelt and awkward in the best possible ways. RUSHMORE ain't exactly rock n' roll, just as it's not Truffaut or Ashby or THE GRADUATE, but it's certainly one of the most notable hybrids of influence to emerge from the 90s, one that still feels like a breath of fresh air. (1998, 93 min, 35mm) TJ
Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Friday and Saturday, 11:45pm
Of all the H.P. Lovecraft works director Stuart Gordon has adapted to film, RE-ANIMATOR endures as his magnum opus. The idea to create this film came to Gordon after discussing vampire movies with a friend and determining that there were too many Draculas and not enough Frankensteins. At Miskatonic University, headstrong med student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) has recently arrived to continue research on his serum that can re-animate recently deceased bodies. He becomes roommate with fellow classmate Dan (Bruce Abbott) who is dating Megan, the daughter of the Dean. As Herbert’s experiments progress, unintended side effects ensue that throw him, Dan, and the entire medical school of Miskatonic into danger’s way. The practical effects used are one of the key components that make this film work so well; disembodied heads, a psychotic cat, and gory dismemberment are all featured to great effect. Composer Richard Band cited Bernard Herrmann’s score for PSYCHO as his main influence for the film’s distinctive soundtrack, maintaining a staccato-ed and string-heavy nature. Like many other horror films of its era, the film uses slapstick horror to lighten the tone, with several sequences in the morgue being particularly funny. RE-ANIMATOR is a slice of pure 80’s B-movie fun and remains one of the finest adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s work. (1985, 105 min, DCP Digital) KC
Kogonada's COLUMBUS (New American)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
I cherish Kogonada's COLUMBUS for what it values, and questions, in architecture and cinema both. At the same time, it's a thoughtful, moving story of a budding friendship that becomes a form of love, and a middle-aged man contemplating a parent's mortality. Kogonada is a justly celebrated video essayist; I highly recommend you visit his site, kogonada.com, and check out his beautiful, exhilarating video essays on the likes of Ozu, Godard, Bresson, Bergman, Malick, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, and Kore-eda. He wrote, directed and edited this dramatic feature debut, and he's filled it with compositional homages: Kubrick's one-point perspective, Ozu's passageways, Bergman's mirrors. It's about a pensive, melancholy middle-aged man (John Cho) who arrives in Columbus, Indiana, from Seoul, after his estranged father, a noted professor of architecture, falls into a coma. Columbus is a small, rural midwestern town that also happens to be a kind of open-air museum, where some of the greatest figures in Mid-Century Modern architecture created masterpieces of the form. (Just for starters, there's First Christian Church by Eliel Saarinen, North Christian Church by his son Eero, and Michael Van Valkenburgh's beautiful Mill Race Park, with its covered bridge and lookout tower.) While waiting on the fate of his father, Cho forms a friendship with a bright, young working-class woman (Haley Lu Richardson), an "architecture nerd" who's stayed in town a year after high school because she's essentially a mother for her own mother, a recovered meth addict (Michelle Forbes). He also gets reacquainted with his father's protégé (Parker Posey), who's just a couple years older than he. We only see his father, truly, at the beginning: from a distance, standing with his back to us in the gardens of Eero Saarinen's famous Miller House. (Watch for, and think about, how this sequence is mirrored later in the film.) Yet his father's absence is seen and felt throughout, as Cho moves through the man's vacated rooms at the historic Inn at Irwin Gardens: in a game of Chinese checkers with the absent man, in his hat on a chair. (Kogonada frequently deploys still-life views, absent of the people who were present before, or will be later.) The movie features beautifully-played interaction by the actors, as they circle and discover one another and make, or miss, connections. (As in Bresson, Kogonada's characters express feelings beyond words with hands: a squeeze, a caress.) Previously known for comedy, Cho gives a fine dramatic performance. Richardson is amused by other people, and I enjoyed watching that amusement break over her face, as well as the wonder when she engages the buildings, tracing their contours with her hand. She's also good at showing the wrenching burden for a young person of carrying the world on her shoulders. At the local library, designed by I.M. Pei, she shelves books alongside her co-worker, a thoughtful grad student who's not quite her boyfriend (Rory Culkin, who tickled me, as he does her, with the earnest way he engages ideas.) At the Republic newspaper offices, a historic building designed by Myron Goldsmith, Richardson applies for a newsroom job; this also happens to be where her mother cleans at night. This gets to the crux of Kogonada's concerns. What is the effect of these buildings, if any, on contemporary everyday life? What is the legacy for modern human beings of the modernists' promise that architecture could change the world? That, as Polshek believed, architecture is the healing art, the one that has the power to restore? If the buildings are just the unnoticed, almost unseen, places where people live and work, whose failure is it, if anyone's? As shot by Elisha Christian, Columbus is a magical place, but there's something forlorn about it, as well, as if the buildings are telling their own story about the way their spirit has been abandoned. For her part, Richardson likes to park her car in the middle of the night and sit in front of Deborah Berke's Irwin Union Bank, glowing ghostly in the darkness. She tells Cho the story of how she'd probably seen it a thousand times, until the day, near her darkest hour, when she finally saw it. Suddenly, the place she'd lived her whole life felt different. There is a vision here, of art as comfort, and maybe even life-saver, that at least begins to answer some of the questions the film’s asking. (2017, 104 min, DCP Digital) SP
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Cornell University scholar Arnika Fuhrmann gives a lecture titled “Tropical Malady: Queerness and Political Critique in the Cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul” on Wednesday at 6pm at the School of the Art Institute’s MacLean Ballroom (112 S. Michigan Ave.). Presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: The Serenity of Madness” currently on view at the school. Free admission.
The Chicago South Asian Film Festival takes place at several Chicago and suburban locations from Friday-Sunday. More info and a complete schedule at www.csaff.org.
The Reel Abilities Film Festival opens on Wednesday and continues through Sunday, October 8. Full schedule at http://chicago.reelabilities.org/films-and-events.
Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria, UIC) presents the screening Thinging Bodies on Thursday at 6pm. The program includes work by Zachary Fabri, Sanaz Sohrabi, Mores Mcwreath, Jefferson Pinder, Andrew Mausert-Mooney and Kera Mackenzie, Cauleen Smith, ibid (Robert Heishman and Megan Frank), eliza myrie, Amina Ross, Zachary Hutchinson, Christopher Meerdo, and Sondra Perry. Free admission.
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Sally Lawton and Max Wirt’s televisual series Katie’s Crossing (approx. 90 min total, Video Projection) on Thursday at 8pm, with several crew and cast in person.
The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (800 S. Halsted St.) screens Shuli Eshel’s 2001 documentary MAXWELL STREET: A LIVING MEMORY (30 min, Video Projection_ on Thursday at 6pm. Followed by a discussion with Eshel and author Roger Schatz. Free admission.
The blue fish Japanese Environmental Documentary Film Festival presents Hitomi Kamanaka’s 2010 Japanese documentary ASHES TO HONEY (56 min, Video Projection) on Sunday at 7pm at The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.).
Asian Pop Up Cinema presents Xiaogang Feng’s 2017 Chinese film YOUTH (148 min, Digital Projection) on Friday at 7pm and Yuki Ranada’s 2016 Japanese film MY DAD AND MR. ITO (119 min, Digital Projection), both at AMC River East 21; and Yukinori Makabe’s 2015 Japanese film I AM A MONK (99 min, Video Projection) on Sunday at 1pm at the Midwest Buddhist Temple (435 W. Menomonee St.). www.asianpopupcinema.org
At the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Kurt Neumann’s1958 film THE FLY (94 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm. Free admission.
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Loïc Paillard’s 2016 French film LES ÉTOILES RESTANTES (80 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 7pm, with Justine Lévêque, artistic & event director at the Champs-Élysées Film Festival in person.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Vittorio De Sica’s 1963 Italian film IL BOOM (88 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; The Quay Brothers’ 1995 live-action feature INSTITUTE BENJAMENTA (105 min, 35mm) screens on Friday at 8:15pm and Tuesday at 6pm, with a lecture by film scholar Donald Crafton at the Tuesday show; Michael Clayton’s 2017 film THE DUNNING MAN (90 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 8pm, with the author of the short story collection the film is based on, Kevin Fortuna, in person; Colin Broderick’s 2016 film EMERALD CITY (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 8pm, with Broderick and actor John Duddy in person; and Peter Foott’s 2016 Irish film THE YOUNG OFFENDERS (83 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 5:15pm, with producer Julie Ryan in person.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Edgar Wright’s 2017 film BABY DRIVER (113 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:15pm and Sunday at 3:30pm; Dino Risi’s 1962 Italian film IL SORPASSO (105 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm; and Andrzej Wajda’s 1958 Polish film ASHES AND DIAMONDS (103 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Jennifer Reeder’s 2017 film SIGNATURE MOVE (80 min, DCP Digital) opens; Doug Nichol’s 2016 documentary CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER (103 min, DCP Digital) opens; Michael Roberts’ 2017 documentary MANOLO: THE BOY WHO MADE SHOES FOR LIZARDS (89 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 11:40am; and Andrés Couturier’s 2015 Mexican-made English-language animated film TOP CAT BEGINS (89 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm.
At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Jennifer Brea’’s 2017 documentary UNREST (97 min, Video Projection; the Sunday 3pm screening will be followed by a discussion) and Kevin Phillips’ 2017 film SUPER DARK TIMES (100 min, Video Projection) both play for week-long runs.
At the Chicago Cultural Center this week: Cinema/Chicago presents a screening of Christopher Markos’s 2016 documentary HOT DOUG’S: THE MOVIE (64 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
Sinema Obscura at Township (2200 N. California Ave.) presents local filmmaker Dustin Puehler’s 2017 indie feature IN A MOMENT (94 min, Video Projection) on Monday at 7pm.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The SAIC Sullivan Galleries (33 S. State St., 7th Floor) presents Apichatpong Weerasethakul: The Serenity of Madness through December 8. The exhibition opens on September 16, and there is an Opening Reception on Friday from 6-9pm. The show features many short films and video installations by the SAIC grad, along with a selection of photography, sketches, and archival materials.
The Graham Foundation presents David Hartt’s installation in the forest through January 6 at the Madlener House (4 W. Burton Place). The show features photography, sculpture, and a newly commissioned film.
At the Art Institute of Chicago, British artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen’s video installation work END CREDITS (2012-ongoing), which is currently comprised on nearly 13-hours of footage and 19-hours of soundtrack, is on view until October 1.
The Art Institute of Chicago (Modern Wing Galleries) has Dara Birnbaum’s 1979 two-channel video KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (6 min) currently on view.
CINE-LIST: September 29 - October 5, 2017
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Julian Antos, Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Jason Halperin, Michael W. Phillips Jr., Tristan Johnson, Scott Pfeiffer, Harrison Sherrod, James Stroble