Canyon Cinema 50: Decodings (Experimental Revival)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
As the morning newscaster might say, the third program in Canyon Cinema's touring golden anniversary package has a local connection. Several, in fact. One-time Chicagoan Jodie Mack's POINT DE GAZE (2012) takes a more granular view of embroidery than any movie this side of PHANTOM THREAD. Tom Palazzolo's LOVE IT/LEAVE IT (1973) is a more expansive vision of American life than the filmmaker's Chicago-famous miniatures like JERRY'S DELI, trading the richness of sociological portraiture for the scope of a society-wide freak-out. We get every corner of Nixon's America in LOVE IT/LEAVE IT: the liberated nudists, the wandering bums, the numbskull nudniks, the pigs and the swine, the kids bicycling down Main Street, U.S.A. The filmmaking aspires to be as crude as its subject matter—cut from a row of nude women to a scrum of policemen thrusting their batons like steel phalluses. There's something for everyone, from the hippie to the horndog. The leering, unthinking consumption of the female body gets turned upside-down in Chicago Filmmakers co-founder JoAnn Elam's 1982 masterpiece, LIE BACK AND ENJOY IT. A dialogue between an unseen 'personal' filmmaker (Chuck Kleinhans) and his partner/prop (Elam) that's laid against the backdrop of a pornographic celluloid loop that keeps jumping out of the gate, LIE BACK AND ENJOY IT is a scorching feminist rebuke that practically burns out the projector bulb. A raw deconstruction of the political power invoked by the very act of filming another person, Elam's elemental treatise still resonates because its archetypes remain depressingly recognizable in the #notallmen/#yesallwomen era. Naomi Uman's REMOVED (1999) is its perfect companion piece, a work of revisionist graffiti that literalizes the expendability of women on screen. Painting over with nail polish the soft-core writhings of two actresses conscripted into the lowest rung of '70s Eurotrash, Uman's structuring absence reveals a void that was there all along. This merciful erasure productively bumps up against the materialist degradation of Uman's found footage; where does the artifact end and the artifice begin? Now that's news you can use! Also on the program: DUO CONCERTANTES (Lawrence Jordan, 1964), BILLABONG (Will Hindle, 1969), CHRONICLES OF A LYING SPIRIT (BY KELLY GABRON) (Cauleen Smith, 1992), ENCOUNTERS I MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE HAD WITH PETER BERLIN (Mariah Garnett, 2012), and DECODINGS (Michael Wallin, 1988). (1964-2012, 87 min total, 16mm) KAW
Benny and Josh Safdie’s GOOD TIME (New American)
Music Box Theatre – Friday-Thursday, 9:30pm, and Friday and Saturday, Midnight
The American heist movie enjoyed something of a resurgence in 2017 with the releases of LOGAN LUCKY, BABY DRIVER and GOOD TIME. While the first two of these films are enjoyable, comedic, populist entertainments, the Safdie brothers' movie is, by contrast, a trickier, more troubling and ultimately more satisfying thing: a breathlessly paced thriller centered on an unlikable protagonist (who is brilliantly played by a charismatic actor) that continually challenges viewers by making disturbing asides about racism in contemporary America—beginning with the fact that the pre-credits heist is pulled off by the main characters, brothers Connie and Nick Nikas (Robert Pattinson and co-director Benny Safdie), in blackface—while also never slowing down enough to allow us to process what's happening until it's over. This provocative mishmash of contradictory elements, and the almost-assaultive quality with which they're put across, has proven too much for some critics, including the New York Times' A.O. Scott who accused the Safdie brothers of dubiously including "racial signifiers" that he feels can be interpreted in a multitude of ways but that the filmmakers ultimately don’t care anything about. My own take is that the Safdies are subtly but unambiguously critiquing Connie Nikas for the way he plays the race card throughout the film. Just look at the memorable scene set in Adventureland: Connie uses his white privilege to his advantage, breaking and entering an amusement park after hours to find a bottle of abandoned LSD worth thousands of dollars then walking away scot free with his white criminal accomplice while allowing two innocent black people to take the fall and go to jail. The scene is about as damning of an indictment of racial profiling as one could ask for. I suspect what really makes Scott uncomfortable is the fact that the Safdies are asking viewers to admire Connie's cleverness in thinking on his feet and improvising a plan as he goes along while simultaneously finding him morally reprehensible. I also don't know what Scott is talking about when he faults the film for its "bad lighting" and "avoidance of prettiness," qualities that are much better ascribed to the Safdies' previous film, the urban junkie-drama HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT. While the two films do share a similar sense of gritty verisimilitude (especially in the extensive use of exterior New York City locations, which harkens back to the Film School Generation of the 1970s in the way it seemingly turns urban spaces into a giant playground), GOOD TIME is also much more daring in how it juxtaposes its "street cred" with a bolder sense of aesthetic stylization—one where helicopter shots, neon lighting, bodies-in-constant-motion and a pulse-pounding electronic score all blend together into a gorgeous and expressionistic swirl. At the end of the film, when Connie's luck has finally run out for good, we see him in an extreme overhead shot attempting to run from the police but looking as helpless and trapped as a rat in a maze. It's a marriage of form and content worthy of comparison to Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock, a moment of pure cinema to renew one's faith in the medium. (2017, 101 min, 35mm) MGS
Seijun Suzuki’s YOUNG BREASTS (Japanese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Tuesday, 7pm
We’re on week four of Doc’s Seijun Suzuki series, and while attendance at the post-TOKYO DRIFTER screenings has steadily increased, something tells me this one will pack the house. If its licentious title isn’t enough to get your butt there, then perhaps its rarity will lure you—YOUNG BREASTS is perhaps the hardest-to-see of the series, and thus unmissable on two fronts. One of four films Seijun Suzuki made in 1958, it’s the second he made with Kobayashi Akira, who later starred in his better-known 1963 film KANTO WANDERER. The Doc website specifies that YOUNG BREASTS is a “[s]ocial melodrama about juvenile delinquents,” which is “not the genre most closely associated with Suzuki.” In his book Time and Place Are Nonsense: The Films of Seijun Suzuki, scholar Tom Vick writes that YOUNG BREASTS includes “a teenager [who] blackmails his stepmother and tricks his girlfriend into appearing in a pornographic movie” as he highlights how “the focus in Nikkatsu Action films moved from the bonds of family, clan, or company to the individual… as traditional notions of familial obligation were beginning to erode in Japanese society in the 1950s and ‘60s.” University of Chicago PhD candidate and series programmer Will Carroll wrote to me in an email that “the film has a sophisticated use of character subjectivity, flashbacks, and a film-within-a-film sequence (all of which bleed into each other at points) that's closer to the kind of experimentation from his mid-to-late '60s films than anything he'd made up to this point.” The progression of Suzuki’s formal experimentation is a hallmark of the series, each film a fun little game in identifying the visual flourishes that betoken his more conspicuous eccentricities. Come play with us. (1958, 90 min, 35mm) KS
Brett Morgen's JANE (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center - See Venue website for showtimes
One of the year's major documentaries, JANE serves as a wonderful introduction to Jane Goodall's life and career but its storied subject shouldn't overshadow its innovative method. This is a work that has more to teach filmmakers, editors, and historians than it does wildlife biologists. On the basic level, it is a remarkable archival assemblage, culled from 140 hours of 16mm footage of Goodall's chimpanzee expeditions in Gambe and elsewhere in Africa that sat largely undisturbed and unremembered in the National Geographic vaults. In adding a voice-over, score, foley work, and library sound effects to the silent footage, writer-director Brett Morgen is following the example set by countless television documentaries that seek to disguise the humdrum origins of their source material. But Morgen takes this method to another level, not merely fluffing up and padding out the available footage but shaping it into a coherent and continuous grammar. In developing whole sequences of shot-reverse shot back-and-forth from unrelated scraps, JANE demonstrates that cinematic language is perhaps as elemental and instinctual as the chimpanzees' social cues. An early sequence of Goodall recording her initial findings is among the most supple and teachable instances of montage in recent cinema. There's another, more radical challenge posed by JANE that interrogates the "archival" form itself. Simply describing the source material as a neglected NatGeo media asset undersells the strangeness of the early '60s discovery. As becomes clear over the course of JANE, the 16mm library footage is really a home movie collection, albeit among the most elaborate and professional ever shot. The footage lacks the straight-ahead, purposeful, just-the-facts-ma'am gaze of a scientist's camera; instead, the set-ups—a fixed camera, the prim and poised Jane entering from off-screen left, walking across the frame with her head cocked in 3/4 profile—suggests all the faux-spontaneity of your average Kodachrome picnic reel. The footage is silent, but you can practically hear the directions shouted by Goodall's cameraman (and later, husband) Hugo van Lawick. The 16mm footage that forms the core of JANE is an act of love but also a tightly rehearsed, public pronouncement of the same. The 83-year-old Goodall's voice-over serves then not only as context but as reclamation: as in so many home movies, she acted a role but now she has the final word. (2017, 90 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Francis Lee’s GOD’S OWN COUNTRY (New British)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes
Having devoured André Aciman’s novel Call Me By Your Name in the weeks leading up to the release of Luca Guadagnino’s film adaptation, I was ultimately disappointed by its handling of the sublime source material. Where Aciman manages to beautifully epitomize the most sacred of connections—that of true intimacy between two people, irrespective of such meaningless constructs as gender—the film vitiates the resplendent absoluteness of the thing. If there is to be an antidote to my disenchantment, it’s writer-director Francis Lee’s GOD’S OWN COUNTRY. An accomplished feature debut, the film is set in West Yorkshire (hence its being referred to as the “Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain,” another acclaimed film I’d say pales in comparison to it) where he was born and raised, adding a distinctly personal touch on an almost archetypal preoccupation of recent years. John (Josh O'Connor) lives on his family’s farm with his father, Martin (Ian Hart), and grandmother, Deidre (Gemma Jones), the young man now largely responsible for its upkeep following his father’s stroke. John is unhappy, to say the least, confined to a lonely existence in the countryside while his peers are off at college, a melancholy he abates with alcohol and casual sex. They hire Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a darkly handsome Romanian migrant worker, to help out, relegating him to a slipshod caravan outside the main house. The relationship between the two men is contentious at first, a glint of racism—John frequently calls Gheorghe ‘gypsy’ or ‘gyppo’—concealing whatever initial pull lingers beneath the surface. It’s during an excursion to the hills, where John curiously observes as Gheorghe revives and cares for a sickly lamb, that they consummate their attraction, at first roughly and then tenderly, the enigmatic Gheorghe introducing John to a more intensely visceral realm of lovemaking. Absent in all this is any doubt or outrage over the men's sexuality. Neither John nor Gheorghe, both comfortable in their masculinity, seem troubled over their romantic predilections (that they playfully call each other ‘faggot’ is the film’s only signifier of external trepidation), nor is John’s family—his father and grandmother are more upset that he’s steadfast in his immature ways, and they’re encouraging of him when he goes to convince Gheorghe to come back following a conflict. In this way, the film resists politicization—it’s not political, about either sexuality or immigration (seemingly any film featuring British people and beings who aren’t of English descent—be they human or...Paddington—is considered in the context of Brexit), but rather wholly personal, a cherished domain that should be immune from overwrought allusions. “For me GOD’S OWN COUNTRY is an investigation into authenticity of emotion and landscape,” Lee told Filmmaker Magazine. “Having grown up on the same hillside where the film is set, it was critically important to me to communicate what this very specific landscape not only looks like but how it feels, sounds, tastes, smells. The wind, the cold, the rain that gets into your bones when you work outside all day. The daily struggle with the animals that leave very little time or energy to investigate emotion or relationships.” Lee, eager to show us his world through cinema, certainly succeeds in doing so, but not without help from a talented crew: cinematographer Joshua James Richards and production designer Stéphane Collonge (who worked on Joanna Hogg’s exceptional films ARCHIPELAGO and EXHIBITION) achieve an aesthetic that’s irremovable from Lee’s vision. Its look is especially important considering the shortage of dialogue—I’m always confused by what people mean when they liken a contemporary film to a silent film, but I’d imagine this is as close as one can get in earnest without creating an overt pastiche. Some of the outdoor scenes are reminiscent of Victor Sjöström’s THE WIND, the beautiful men and their muted romance magnificently small against the glorious terrain, worthy of the titular nomenclature. Their relationship may be infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things, but the intimacy transcends corporeality. (2017, 104 min, DCP Digital) KS
Nora Twomey's THE BREADWINNER (New Irish/Canadian Animation)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
Up for an Oscar for best animated feature of 2017, THE BREADWINNER, Nora Twomey’s film about a spirited, brave girl living in war-torn Kabul, moved me intensely. It's a beautiful and moving tale about human rights for women, storytelling as a form of freedom through imagination, the importance of nonconformity, and the universal longing for freedom and peace. While it can be intense, I can’t think of a worthier film for thoughtful young people. Based on a 2000 young adult novel by Deborah Ellis, the film is set before the 2001 U.S invasion and ensuing perpetual war. Its hero is named Parvana (voiced by an excellent 13-year-old Canadian actress, Saara Chaudry, who has a delightful storytelling voice). The central situation has her becoming a "bacha posh"—a girl who dresses as a boy to be the breadwinner for her family. She was raised to be a freethinker by her father (Ali Badshah), a teacher in peacetime, pre-Taliban Afghanistan, who taught her to think of stories as transmitters of her ancestors' history, memory, and knowledge. They live in constant fear of the authorities, who, when they come, bang on the door like moralistic, ignorant, intolerant authorities do in every time and place. When the Taliban arrests her father on a pretext of "having forbidden books and teaching the women with them," the family falls into desperate straits. Since women are banned from moving around outside the house without a male escort, she's confined, along with her grieving mother (Laara Sadiq), big sister, and baby brother. So, she begins to tell them a story: an amusing fable of a boy on a quest to retrieve a sack of precious seeds stolen from his village by the ferocious Elephant King. The boy must find three things—something that shines, something that ensnares, and something that soothes. (As Twomey notes, this is a universal myth: the story of a hero with three tasks is told across cultures.) Once, Parvana had an older brother, the late Sulayman. When she's pressed to give the boy a name, she names him for her brother. The family is on the verge of starvation when she transforms herself. As a boy, she feels free; she befriends another bacha posh, the streetwise Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), who dreams of one day seeing the sea, and who helps her raise money to bribe a prison guard, on the million-to-one chance that she may be able to find her father. Ellis is a Canadian peace activist who based her book on the testimony of women she met in refugee camps in Pakistan; the screenplay is co-credited to her and Anita Doran. Twomey is Irish, working in association with Cartoon Saloon, an Irish animation studio. She's spoken about “the idea of mixing cultures to tell stories,” as though the very point of THE BREADWINNER is that it's a truly international co-production. She calls it “the ultimate expression of hope”: “over 300 people from different countries and cultures bringing all of their skills together to make one film and tell one story with one central performance.” The "story world" is rendered in a theatrical, colorful style that mimics a paper cutout puppet show. The "real world" is vivid, with hand-painted backgrounds and unforgettable spaces: the market, the candy factory, the little home on the hill overlooking Kabul. The performances are expressive and rich, cartoons or no. The movie makes relatable each and everyone it touches. We witness everyday cruelties, yes, but, much more importantly, everyday kindnesses. I think of the way Parvana’s mom, a writer in pre-Taliban days, takes up telling the story, at a moment when Parvana is too sad and tired to continue. And I can't stop thinking of a Taliban soldier, Razaq (Kawa Ada), a gentle man who, in a moving scene, employs Parvana’s reading skills: she reads him a letter bearing unexpected news. (Pay close attention to what Razaq says later about his wife's name, and the outline of the moon—think about it as you watch the ending.) I like to think young Western viewers will notice the way Parvana's culture is different, yes—all the more to be struck by her humanity, her inner strength, her courage and hope, and her love. I learn that Ellis has continued Parvana's story in three subsequent novels. My imagination is piqued. Like a kid of any age wrapped up in a good, deeply human story, I want to know how hers ends. (2017, 93 min, DCP Digital) SP
Julien Duvivier’s THE GREAT WALTZ (American Revival)
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Wednesday, 7:30pm
After being thrust into the international spotlight with the success of PÉPÉ LE MOKO, Julien Duvivier signed a contract with MGM to direct his first American film, THE GREAT WALTZ. The French director was given a substantial budget to work with and had access to a bevy of musical talent to help create an extravagant production. In this loosely adapted biopic on the life of Johann Strauss (Fernand Gravey), we find the esteemed Austrian composer meandering through life as a banker all the while pursing his love for waltzes on the side until one day he is fired. Free to pursue his passion, Strauss stages a small production at a cafe that eventually attracts a large audience, thanks to his music. It’s at this time he meets Carla Donner (Miliza Korjus), an opera singer who would became a cornerstone on his path to stardom. Strauss’ talent leads him to great success and he is finally able to marry his beloved, Poldi Vogelhuber (Luise Rainer). A love triangle forms as Strauss tries to navigate married life and his increasing closeness to Donner. For fans of Strauss’ music, it doesn’t get much better than this. The extended musical numbers with lavish costumes and dancers are stunning to behold. The passion behind these famous waltzes and their inception, although fictionalized, comes across strongly, aided by Gravey’s weighty performance. Although Duvivier would return to France to make a few more films and wouldn’t make another film stateside until the middle of World War II, his work on THE GREAT WALTZ established cemented his reputation and enabled him to work with many of the major Hollywood studios. Preceded by George Pal’s 1942 short MR. STRAUSS TAKES A WALK (7 min, 16mm). (1938, 104 min, 35mm) KC
Jim Jarmusch’s MYSTERY TRAIN (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sunday, 7pm
Jim Jarmusch had never been to Memphis before he made MYSTERY TRAIN, but that doesn’t make the film less successful as a portrait of that city. Rather, it communicates what Memphis looks like to an outsider who believes in the magic of the city’s music history (Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and many others recorded songs there) and hopes to discover traces of its impact. Divided into three stories, the film plays like a sketchbook of Jarmusch’s ideas, which revolve around travel, loneliness, crime, and the supernatural. The first story, “Far From Yokohama,” concerns a Japanese couple who travel to Memphis to pay homage to their favorite musicians. The second section, “A Ghost,” follows a young Italian widow (Nicoletta Braschi) as she buries her husband during her honeymoon, spends a night at a run-down hotel, and meets the ghost of Elvis. (In deadpan Jarmuschian fashion, the ghost appears to her only because he gets the wrong address.) The third, “Lost in Space,” centers on a British expat (Joe Strummer), his brother-in-law (Steve Buscemi), and a mutual friend as they spend a long night drinking, fighting, and hiding from the police. All three stories converge at the same hotel, which is watched over by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (in a screamin’ red suit) and a bellboy played Cinqué Lee; these two provide the film with much of its winning humor. The images of the hotel (like those of the diners and run-down houses the characters visit) recall the work of such noted photographers as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and William Eggleston. It’s a beautiful-looking film, shot lovingly by Robby Müller and designed inventively by Dan Bishop; this was Jarmusch’s second feature in color, and its palette is perhaps the most varied and vibrant in his entire filmography. (1989, 110 min, 35mm) BS
Luchino Visconti's THE LEOPARD (Italian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Wednesday, 7pm
THE LEOPARD is the most beloved film by Luchino Visconti, who remains one of cinema's most immersive chroniclers of past eras. His exquisite mise-en-scene (aided here by voluptuous Technirama, Technicolor's in-house version of CinemaScope) never fails to suggest living, breathing worlds; and his fluid camerawork, a major influence on both Michael Cimino and Olivier Assayas, creates the unique, sweet-and-sour flavor of nostalgia seen at an impossible distance. The film is an epic about an aristocratic family's final period of prominence; it takes place during the 19th century revolution that would come to remake Italy entirely. Burt Lancaster, in what he considered his finest performance, plays the family's patriarch, a tragic hero who must learn to cede his political authority in order to adapt for the coming era. Roger Ebert, in his Great Movies review of THE LEOPARD clearly agreed with Lancaster. He wrote, "An actor who always brought a certain formality to his work, who made his own way as an independent before that was fashionable, he embodies the prince as a man who has a great love for a way of life he understands must come to an end." This transition is dramatized in the film's audacious final third, which alone makes for crucial big-screen viewing. To quote Ebert again: "The film ends with a ballroom sequence lasting 45 minutes... Critic Dave Kehr called it "one of the most moving meditations on individual mortality in the history of cinema.' Visconti, Lancaster and Rotunno collaborate to resolve all of the themes of the movie in this long sequence in which almost none of the dialogue involves what is really happening. The ball is a last glorious celebration of the dying age; Visconti cast members of noble old Sicilian families as the guests, and in their faces, we see a history that cannot be acted, only embodied. The orchestra plays Verdi. The young people dance on and on, and the older people watch carefully and gauge the futures market in romances and liaisons." (1963, 186 min, 35mm) BS
Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD (New American)
Music Box Theater - Check Venue website for showtimes
More often than not, modern movies are endlessly clogged with flimsy and cardboard cutouts of the “classic love story,” a trend hopefully being seared away entirely, given that they seem more offensive in a cavernous last year of cynicism and bitterness. The genre has been in desperate need of a refurbishing to allow for a better understanding of what’s embedded inside its own fragile construction. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest and possibly greatest achievement isn’t without a mind of its own; it is a wonderfully conceived cinematic dream, wrapped in the lush, evergreen imagination of an artist working closely within the inner representation of his creations, much like Daniel Day-Lewis’ dress-making main character, Reynolds Woodcock. Anderson achieves something much closer to the actual emotions and feelings that echo throughout a relationship between two people, avoiding many of the stale and dry trends found in the modern romance movie. These lifeless morality lessons, usually soaked in a pale blue sadness, seem too bitter and lazy to have much real purpose and functionality, allowing Anderson to spin a delightedly deceptive chamber piece instead. Given the film’s advertising, championing PHANTOM THREAD as a brooding sure-fire contender in the race for awards-season gold, you might be surprised to discover a strange rom-com hiding in the lining of its framework. The plot involves a dressmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his closely-curated daily home and work life, right as another of his romantic relationships is beginning to dim out. As another unfulfilled and lifeless relationship goes, Woodcock decides to retreat to one of his favorite restaurants (it is here I’d like to heavily underline the film’s ideas about taste and hunger, given new literal and metaphorical life in a way that is shockingly unpretentious). It is at this place of dining that he meets Alma, played by newcomer Vicky Krieps, that leads to an intimate portrayal of love’s inherent mystery, built inside an almost hermetic world of imagination that conjures up visions of the classical Hollywood era, while simultaneously managing to subvert the work of “tradition.” straddling the lines of the modern and classical film structure/form with the skill of a master operating at the height of their creative abilities. Despite taking place in Great Britain, this is far from the British-ness on display in BBC dramas and endless droves of Oscar bait. Beginning with its suggestive point-of-view, then unwinding between not two points of view, but a shared point of view, the personal nature of this film for Anderson is evident, with Anderson not only writing the script, but also shooting nearly every frame of film himself (though he appears uncredited in that role). The everyday gestures, glances, embraces, arguments, and alluring atmosphere between two people seeps through every frame, delivering unexpected surprises carefully yet unabashedly. This is one of the few films in recent years that is really essential to witness in 70mm. The projection’s colors and light are captured in spellbinding luminosity, the sounds and images pushing forth the relationship of one woman and one fragile male ego, across a tapestry of sensual pleasures with hardly a hint of on-screen sex in sight. The results trace the lines around eroticism, rather than circling it directly, letting them blossom into a rare achievement in recent American cinema, a precious gift inside the fabric of its own design; one to keep close through the next several years. (2018, 130 min, 70mm) JD
Hayao Miyazaki's MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (Japanese Animation Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Saturday, 4:30, 7, and 9:30pm [Subtitled Version]; and Sunday, 4pm [English Dubbed Version]
The seminal Studio Ghibli film MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is one of director Hayao Miyazaki's most beloved and celebrated. Thought-provoking and poignant, Miyazaki's fourth feature is an enchanting, hand-drawn masterpiece that demonstrates his creative passion. Mei and Satsuki, the two female protagonists, are perfect vehicles to allow the viewer to see the world through the eyes of children. The film does not rely on traditional narrative structure, where conflicts arise and obstacles must be overcome. Instead, Miyazaki appeals to the viewer to live in the now much like a child would. Both the pain and elation that Chika Sakamoto (Mei) and Noriko Hidaka (Satsuki) emote through their voice acting is palpable in every scene. From this vantage point, a feeling of wonderment occurs, and the dazzling animation invites a sense of nostalgia. This perspective makes it easy to believe that the strange magical spirit Totoro, his band, and the soot spirits are all very real. While these creatures may only be symbolic of nature (the wind, why plants grow, etc.), they serve as a source of comfort and hope for the two girls. Miyazaki's animation is bright and vivid--an homage to rural life--and the mystical quality of the film is bolstered by Joe Hisaishi's uplifting score. MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is a beautiful tale about love, family, and hope that makes for joyous viewing for people of all ages. (1988, 86 min, DCP Digital) KC
Jean-Luc Godard’s CONTEMPT (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday, 7 and 9:30pm
All the films that Jean-Luc Godard made in the 1960s are readily rewatchable for their infectious, trailblazing energy, but CONTEMPT also possesses a magisterial authority that anticipates the poetry of his awesome late period. The primary concern, as always, is Cinema: Taking place on the set of a big-budget film of The Odyssey improbably directed by Fritz Lang (who plays himself), CONTEMPT contains still-pertinent ideas about the ethics of making movies, with Lang representing artistic integrity and producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) representing the crassest instincts of the medium. Torn between them is Paul, an ambitious writer coerced into penning the film’s script; not only must he play mediator on the troubled shoot, but his professional commitments are about to cost him his marriage. The way in which Godard sets these conflicts against the classical presence of Homer inspired Jonathan Rosenbaum to write that CONTEMPT is a look at modern man as he may appear to the Greek gods. (Godard, writing in 1963, put it more obliquely: “It is about characters from L’AVVENTURA who wish they were characters in RIO BRAVO.”) But the film is shot through with a sense of immediacy—especially during the 25-minute centerpiece depicting an argument between Paul and his wife (Brigitte Bardot). Playing out in real-time and jumping nervously from antagonism to reconciliation to sympathy, the scene is instantly recognizable to anyone who has experienced the death of a romance. Godard does little to hide the fact that his own marriage to Anna Karina was failing at the time (Bardot even dons a black wig at one point to resemble Karina), and his candor makes CONTEMPT perhaps the most confessional work of career. Raoul Coutard’s ‘Scope photography—with its bold emphasis on primary colors—creates some of the most stunning images in Godard’s canon as well. (1963, 103 min, DCP Digital) BS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Also presented by the Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) this week: Transitioning Publics: An Evening with Chase Joynt is on Thursday at 7pm, with Joynt in person (in conversation with Jennifer Wild, associate professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies). Screening are: GENDERIZE (2016, 14 min), I'M YOURS (2012, 5 min), and FRAMING AGNES (2017, 15 min) (work in progress). All Digital Projection. Free admission.
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E 70th St.) screens Gordon Parks’ 1969 film THE LEARNING TREE (107 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 7pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Oren Jacoby’s 2017 documentary SHADOWMAN (81 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Monday at 6pm; Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley, and David Beilinson’s 2016 documentary ALL THE RAGE (SAVED BY SARNO) (94 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 5pm, with Galinsky and Chicago-based doctor Dr. John Stracks scheduled to appear at both screenings; Régis Wargnier’s 1992 French film INDOCHINE (157 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at 5pm and Tuesday at 6pm, with a lecture by Nora Annesley Taylor at the Tuesday screening; and Jack C. Newell’s 2017 documentary 42 GRAMS (82 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 5pm, Wednesday at 8pm, and Thursday at 6pm, with Newell and documentary subject Alexa Welsh schedule to appear at all screenings.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Stephen Norrington’s 1998 film BLADE (120 min, 35mm) is on Monday at 7pm; David Slade’s 2005 film HARD CANDY (104 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and Alice Lowe’s 2016 film PREVENGE (92 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Alexandra Dean’s 2016 documentary BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (90 min, DCP Digital) continues; David Zellerford’s 2017 documentary DECONSTRUCTING THE BEATLES’ RUBBER SOUL (89 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 7:15pm; and Franco Prosperi’s 1984 Italian horror film WILD BEASTS (92 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays David Heinz’s 2017 film AMERICAN FOLK (99 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run; and presents the Religion in the Frame Series from Sunday through Friday, February 2. Each screening will be followed by a discussion. All are Video Projection. The lineup is: ELMER GANTRY (Richard Brooks, 1960, 146 min) on Sunday at 6pm; KUMARÉ (Vikram Gandhi, 2011, 84 min) on Monday at 6:30pm; WITNESS (Peter Weir, 1985, 112 min) on Tuesday at 6:30pm; A SERIOUS MAN (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009, 106 min) on Wednesday at 6:30pm; GROUNDHOG DAY (Harold Ramis, 1993, 101 min) on Thursday at 6:30pm; and THE LIZARD (Kamal Tabrizi, 2004, 115 min) on Friday, February 2, at 6:30pm.
At the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Michael Cacoyannis’ 1964 film ZORBA THE GREEK (142 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free admission.
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Max Ophuls’ 1953 French film THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE… (105 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 11am and François Truffaut’s 1962 French film JULES AND JIM (105 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 1pm.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
PRESENT ABSENCE, a five-channel video installation by Salome Chasnoff and Meredith Zielke that honors the lives of individuals killed by Chicago Police is on view at Hairpin Arts Center (2810 N. Milwaukee Ave.) during public events in January and early February. Viewing times include (but may not be limited to): Tuesday, January 23, 6-9pm; Friday, January 26, 6-10pm; Saturday, January 27, 12-5pm; Tuesday, January 30, 6-9pm; and Saturday, February 3, 6-9pm.
Pseudo- & Hetero-: A Dual Exhibition by Tao Hui and Barry Doupé is on view at Lithium (1932 S. Halsted, Ste. 200) through January 26. On view are Tao’s videos TALK ABOUT BODY (2013) and THE DUSK AT TEHERAN (2014) and excerpts of Doupé’s animated feature films PONYTAIL (2008) and THE COLORS THAT COMBINE TO MAKE WHITE ARE IMPORTANT (2012). The full version of Doupé’s COLORS (118 min) screens on Friday (January 19) at 6:30pm.
DIGITAL FOUNTAIN, a video installation by Jarad Solomon, is on view continuously through the windows at Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) through Sunday, February 18 (ending at 6pm).
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Elizabeth Price’s 2015 video installation K (7 min loop) in Gallery 186; 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: January 26 - February 1, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael G. Smith