Michelle Citron’s LEFTOVERS and LIVES:VISIBLE (New Experimental/Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 8pm and Wednesday, 8:15pm
Several years ago, Vivian Maier posthumously took the world by storm—or, rather, her photographs did—after much of her prolific output was purchased at auction, exposing an immensely creative inner life that was enshrouded in secrecy. The result has been an abundance of content surrounding the reclusive Chicago nanny-cum-artist and her work, from which we learn not just about her demiurgic fixations but also the conditions in which they flourished. Similarly, Chicago-based filmmaker Michelle Citron uses recently discovered photographs to characterize her subjects and explore the context of the elusive ephemera, the snapshots in question being of a lesbian couple, Norma and Virginia, who lived together in East Rogers Park for over 45 years. But just as Citron subverted the documentary genre with her seminal 1978 film DAUGHTER RITE, she deviates from the prescribed narrative—or at least the one impressed upon us—to further confront our perceptions of reality as winnowed through the medium. In LEFTOVERS (2014, 23 min, DCP Digital), Citron suffuses experimental processes to more truly paint a picture of her subjects’ lives via the documentary form. Literally speaking, a curated selection from the couple's collection of over 2,000 photos are “painted” over, brought to life against paint-by-number backgrounds, that activity having been one of their hobbies. In a voiceover, Citron narrates the women's final years, using their relationship with a neighbor, Kevin, himself also gay and the discoverer of the photographs, to peel back the layers of their isolated existence. The emotional impact at the end, after both Norma and Virginia have died, is similar to that of Yasujirō Ozu’s TOKYO STORY. Their relationship is the very stuff of life, as anticlimactic as it was epic. Norma dies first, and Virginia’s reaction is recounted as being somewhat temperate. “I think about her sometimes,” she tells Kevin, “but I’m alive.” It recalls a final scene from TOKYO STORY during which one character asks another, “Isn’t life disappointing?” “Yes, it is,” the other replies, smiling. The unassuming beauty of quiet bliss and even quieter melancholy is likewise evident throughout LEFTOVERS, the finality of its subject matter making it an appropriate denouement for Citron’s four-part Queer Feast series, described as being “a multi-course meal of lesbian identity played out through its pleasures, complications, and contradictions.” LIVES:VISIBLE (2017, 35 min, DCP Digital) expands on the themes set forth in LEFTOVERS, digging deeper into Norma and Virginia’s lives, as well as Chicago’s vibrant, albeit covert, pre-Stonewall lesbian community. The voiceover and old photograph motifs are intercut with live readings of the couples’ writings, uncanny narrative sequences, and connections to current-day Chicago stores and organizations, including Central Camera, The Brown Elephant, and Center on Halsted. Like DAUGHTER RITE, this combination of old and new, traditional and experimental, challenges our understanding of what we think we see and understand versus what we do not. The focus on physical photographs grounds this ambiguity, however, anchoring indisputable truth against an equivocal reality. While Vivian Maier’s photos are surely beautiful and her life just as compelling, Citron’s merging of an almost utopian corporeality with ambiguities owing to the art of filmmaking, the nature of representation and the general dubiety of life insists that we view the past through a new lens. Citron in person at both screenings. KS
Michael Schultz’s CAR WASH (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Tuesday, 7:30pm
Devout Schumacherheads may be rushing to relive the 20th anniversary of his dark masterpiece, 1997’s BATMAN AND ROBIN, but they shouldn’t allow that work’s uncompromising vision to overshadow an early highlight of the septuagenarian’s career: the screenplay for CAR WASH, a 1976 disco hangout movie that plays like a Robert Altman/Spike Lee sandwich. The film is directed by Michael Schultz, the master practitioner of thoughtful comedies that cloak biting and aggrieved social commentary in Day-Glo shenanigans. The movie spends a day with the primarily black crew of a car wash in downtown L.A. The characters are broad, but the performances are honest and heartfelt, and CAR WASH picks up more poignancy and meaning as it dawns on the viewer that every character in every scene is a little bit sad and misbegotten. The tiny kindnesses and cruelties accumulate through the myriad goofs and visual gags until its ending becomes unexpectedly affecting. Schultz’s camera whip pans from a bickering couple in an azure roadster to George Carlin, cameoing as a cab driver, yelling from beneath a newsie’s cap. The movie’s like an older, looser cousin to Sean Baker’s TANGERINE. Its first genesis was as a possible musical, and this shows in the thematic counterpoint provided by the film’s soundtrack—a radio DJ and a cascade of disco hits. Highlights include Richard Pryor’s spreading economic spirituality as Daddy Rich, a melancholy non sequitur saxophone solo performed by Black Muslim Abdullah, and a beautiful beat where the gawky son of the car wash owner watches a kid on a skateboard glide past in slow motion. (1976, 97 min, 35mm) Preceded by a production featurette for Michael Schultz’s 1977 film GREASED LIGHTNING (6 min, 16mm). B
Joseph Cedar's NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER (New Israeli/American)
Gene Siskel Film Center – See website for showtimes
Following the success of his previous film, FOOTNOTE (which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film in 2012), the Israeli director Joseph Cedar did what most any moderately acclaimed international filmmaker would do: he made his next feature in English. While the verbal wit of NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER is exquisite, one can still find Cedar's decision a bit off. The diasporic milieu of NGOs, think tanks, and white-shoe law firms along the Acela corridor certainly conducts its business in English, but the moral dimension of NORMAN is rendered more fluidly and fluently in Yiddish. Indeed, it's almost impossible to discuss NORMAN without resorting to Yiddish, so intrinsically are its dilemmas and dreams wrapped up in a quintessentially Jewish yearning to do good. Briefly: small-time macher Richard Gere obliges himself to do kindness unto a stranger, who later winds up becoming the Prime Minister of Israel. Gere's fortunes suddenly change, but the long-time schlemiel quickly finds himself to be the schlemazl. Will the innocent entanglement bring shandah upon the Jewish people, or will Gere pull a mitzvah out of an impossible situation? Complicating the story is the ambiguity of Norman's intent: Norman may be motivated by goodness, but he's too socially inept to grant any favors without seeming like a noodge, and one can't overlook the selfish pleasure he takes in appearing the big-shot. Gere's performance—his best since Altman's undervalued DR. T & THE WOMEN—is warm, aggravating, moving, and laugh-out-loud funny. Only an actor this lively and inherently charming would understand the perils of coming off as too lively and too ingratiating; every encounter Norman has feels a little off, his behavior always edging into too-muchness. Yet how beautifully and funnily Gere realizes the character's awkwardness! The longer you spend with Norman, the more you love him, the more you appreciate his generosity and curiosity. An extended scene on a train between Gere and judicial investigator Charlotte Gainsbourg contains some of the best acting you'll see in a movie in 2017, as Gere plies Gainsbourg for information, pushes his goodwill upon her, and pretends to be more important than he really is while she looks on the older gentleman with a combination of sympathy, concern, and discomfort. The give-and-take between the two actors is realized so precisely that one regards each exchange as a critical transaction, requiring just the right balance of politeness and firmness. The particularity of the Cedar's script and the performances he elicits from Gere and Gainsbourg feels exceedingly Jewish; the characters, both here and throughout the film, weigh the costs of what they divulge as though scrutinizing the Talmud. Perhaps the film is more deeply connected to FOOTNOTE than it first appears. Both FOOTNOTE and NORMAN boast beautifully constructed screenplays, with each incident setting off a new chain of precisely calibrated cause-and-effect, but Cedar's greatest achievement in both movies is his uncanny transposition of time and space. The social dynamics of NORMAN play out against a backdrop of present-day New York, but the sensibility is that of a pre-modern shtetl, a fairy tale vision of the Old Country where daily life revolves around the whims of a wealthy village elder who exercises personal, near feudal dominion over the peasants. (With its vision of Middle East peace within reach if only the Israeli body politic could embrace a vaguely squishy, radical centrism, NORMAN qualifies as a fairy tale in more ways than one.) It's the smallness of Cedar's films—the sense of each person knowing, adoring, and remaining wary of everyone else in her community—that grounds them and spins them into fables. (2016, 117 min, DCP Digital) BS & KAW
Jack Arnold's THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON [3D Version] (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Saturday, 7 and 9pm
In Jack Arnold’s 3D monster feature THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON a group of plucky scientists journeys deep into an Amazonian cul-de-sac in search of a fossil, definitive proof of an aquatic hominoid from the Devonian Period. (Why a hominoid would be from the Devonian of all times is a mystery too deep to plumb.) They find instead that the species they seek is still alive, and it lives in lovesick solitude in a cave at the base of a serene lagoon. Narratively, CREATURE is a great plodding beast, lurching from one plot point to the next with all the dexterity of a half-man/half-fish out of water. But once in the lagoon, the film becomes a feast for the eyes, a series of languorous plays of depth, movement, and cross-species eroticism that is genuinely scary, and deeply disturbing. The film's 3D effects on land are often limited to cheap, but effective, shock effects—the creature approaching the lenses, his claw raking our eyeballs, and so on—but the uncannily unrealistic effects of 3D cinema become the very subject matter as the monster propels himself easily, strangely, through a primeval seascape. As the scientists close in on the Gill-Man, threatening to capture it, or kill it, the film literalizes its theme of humanity versus nature, making the advancement of learning a process that can only succeed at the expense of the world it studies. The wild, in the person of the creature, its libidinous needs created by the presence of a woman amongst the scientists, must either capture and rape her or be destroyed in the attempt. In THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, the only response possible to the evil we bring on nature is to finish the job of destroying it before it takes revenge upon us. (1954, 79 min, 3D 35mm) K
Robert Aldrich’s WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7:30pm (Free Admission)
Two of the most revered actresses in their era, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, come together in Robert Aldrich’s WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, a film that brought the duo’s real life feud to the silver screen in a transformative way that encapsulates their respective careers during the 1960’s. With it having been nearly ten years since either actress appeared in anything noteworthy, the film served as a springboard for each that led to a renaissance for them in the years that followed. As a child in the late 1910s, Baby Jane (Bette Davis) was lauded as a star of the stage while her sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) always watched from the wings. As the pair grew older, Jane’s charm and talent faded as she became a drunk while Blanche moved on to Hollywood and became a successful film actress. When Blanche becomes paralyzed from the waist down after an auto accident in her driveway (presumably with Jane vindictively running her over for having a better career), the bickering sisters are forced to live with one another with Jane caring for, but mostly tormenting, the paraplegic Blanche. Aldrich’s film oozes a menacing ambiance with the bulk of the film transpiring in the aforementioned home. Aiding this aesthetic are the frequent musical cues that call back to Jane’s most famous song when she was younger but have taken on a more sinister tone, as well as menacing lighting that casts ominous shadows like a predator lying in wait. The dynamism between Davis and Crawford is vitriolic and hostile. This quality and, in particular, Davis’s role as the spiteful, washed-up former star hungry for just one more taste of fame make for an enthralling viewing. An interesting look on a seriously dysfunctional sisterly relationship, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? sees Davis and Crawford back at the top of their game in a movie that shows sometimes art truly does imitate real life. (1962, 134 min, 35mm) KC
Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SAMOURAI (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 6pm and Saturday, 3pm
For many cinephiles—among them John Woo and Johnnie To—this is the quintessential Jean-Pierre Melville film. Alain Delon plays a hitman who lives by a private code inspired by that of the samurai: he says little, requires few possessions, and acts in precise, deliberate gestures. In a sense, he is the ideal hero for this famously eccentric filmmaker, who based his career on whittling down the crime film into a minimal, personal form. As Roger Ebert wrote in his “Great Movies” review: “The elements of the film... are as familiar as the movies themselves. Melville loved 1930s Hollywood crime movies and in his own work helped to develop modern film noir. There is nothing absolutely original in LE SAMOURAI except for the handling of the material. Melville pares down and leaves out. He disdains artificial action sequences and manufactured payoffs. He drains the color from his screen and the dialogue from his characters.” And yet the movie is rich in double-crosses and hidden motives—as well as a seductive sense of movement (assisted by a keen, deco-inspired production design) that mirrors the hero's own progression. To quote Ebert's review again: “One of the pleasures of LE SAMOURAI is to realize how complicated the plot has grown, in its flat, deadpan way.... The movie teaches us how action is the enemy of suspense—how action releases tension, instead of building it.” (1967, 105 min, 35mm Archival Print) B
Jean-Pierre Melville's UN FLIC (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 5pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Jean-Pierre Melville's last film (released posthumously in the US in 1979) is a blue affair from top to bottom. Shot in a sickly cobalt, UN FLIC is largely affectless and methodical but no less captivating as it pairs cop (Alain Delon) and robber (Richard Crenna) as two sides of the same coin. Both are supposed friends, and both play the long game—albeit with different target: one intricately plans and executes well-timed bank heists and smuggling operations, the other is equally as calculating and patient in pursuit. Both men are infatuated with Cathy (Catherine Deneuve), adding something tangible to their otherwise inexpressive—and passively homosexual relationship. Melville is masterly in creating a mysterious and unseemly atmosphere out of seemingly very little. The extended opening heist sequence is intentionally mechanical, but it is also held together by an inherent urgency and tension. Mostly, though, Melville imparts the feeling of down-and-out apathy of going through the motions, overriding the generic film noir conventions. All the waiting and planning, false leads, sterile locales, etc., coupled with Melville's interest in showing us such things, suggests that criminal and detective might simply be filling their roles for the sake of the film and by extension the audience. Is Melville? (1972, 98 min, DCP Digital) BW
Ana Lily Amirpour's THE BAD BATCH (New American)
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes
Following 2014’s A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, Ana Lily Amirpour returns to the screen with her sophomore film, THE BAD BATCH. In a dystopian future and in a world where the notions of community and camaraderie have become isolated and ethnocentric, loner Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) finds herself banished to the desert. The barren wasteland she’s forced to traverse, reminiscent of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and the MAD MAX series (specifically FURY ROAD), is full of cannibals and hostiles at every turn. She forms an unlikely bond with the no-nonsense Miami Man (Jason Momoma) in an effort to find a missing girl. THE BAD BATCH employs the same genre-mashing style Amirpour employed on GIRL but with slightly less satisfying depth in scope. The silky, dynamic shadows, pulsing electronic music, and skateboards all make a return here; but the focus has shifted more towards grander ideas about the extremes humanity goes to when the normal way of life has ceased to exist. Nevertheless, it remains a beautiful film to look at and shows flashes of Amirpour’s abilities to tackle larger subject material. The idea of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” plays strongly and the inter-weaving of the strong and empowered Arlen amongst various communities showcases the director’s skill at writing compelling lead characters. THE BAD BATCH, although uneven at times, displays fantastic vision and aesthetic as Amirpour continues to refine her style early in her career. (2016, 118 min, DCP Digital) K
MORE OPPOSITIONAL VIEWING
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Laura Fallsgraff’s 2017 documentary short THE 39TH (30 min, Digital Projection), about 26-year-old activist Will Guzzardi’s Illinois House campaign, on Wednesday at 8pm. Fallsgraff and others TBA will participate in a panel discussion following the film. Free admission.
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Damani Baker’s 2016 documentary THE HOUSE ON COCO ROAD (78 min, Video Projection), about his mother and his family’s “family’s flight from racial tensions in 1980’s Oakland, California, only to find themselves settled directly in the path of a U.S. military invasion” in Grenada, on Friday at 7pm. Hosted by Quenna Lené Barrett, Education Programs Manager, University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life. Free admission.
The Gene Siskel Film Center presents Abby Ginzberg and Ken Schneider’s 2017 documentary AND THEN THEY CAME FOR US (47 min, DCP Digital), about forced internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, is on Monday at 6pm. With Ginzberg, Richard Cahan and Michael Williams (authors of Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II), and Jean Mishima (who was incarcerated as a child at Gila River, AZ) in person.
Facets Cinémathèque screens Gianni Amelio’s 1994 Italian film L’AMERICA (116 min, Video Projection) on Monday at 6:30pm, as one of their Teach-In events. A discussion on the film’s theme of immigration will be led by author Aleksandar Hemon. Free admission, but donations will be requested.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Justin Webster’s 2015 Spanish documentary GABO: THE CREATION OF GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ (90 min, DVD Projection) on Monday at 6pm. Free admission, but RSVPs required: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2954032.
Also at the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Chris McKay’s 2017 animated film THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (104 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 2 and 7:30pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Gillies MacKinnon’s 2016 UK film WHISKEY GALORE! (98 min, DCP Digital) and Frédéric Mermoud’s 2016 French/Swiss film MOKA (89 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: a Mystery Screening is on Friday at 7 and 9pm (16mm) – we’ll just say it’s maybe a classic psychological film from maybe the 1950s. Or maybe not; and Mario Peixoto’s 1931 Brazilian film LIMITE (114 min, 16mm) is on Thursday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: David Leveaux’s 2016 UK film THE EXCEPTION (107 min, DCP Digital) opens; James Mangold’s 2017 film LOGAN, showing in a black and white version, LOGAN NOIR (137 min, DCP Digital), continues; Wes Anderson’s 2009 film FANTASTIC MR. FOX (87 min, 35mm) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am; and Bigas Luna’s 1987 Spanish film ANGUISH (89 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Also at Facets Cinémathèque this week: Feras Fayyad’s 2017 Danish/Syrian documentary LAST MEN IN ALEPPO (104 min, Video Projection) and Amber Tamblyn’s 2016 film PAINT IT BLACK (96 min, Video Projection) have week-long runs.
At the Chicago Cultural Center this week: Cinema/Chicago presents a screening of Francis Legault’s 2016 Canadian documentary THE TASTE OF A COUNTRY (102 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
The Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest (400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest, IL) hosts a screening of Howard Deutch’s 1987 film SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (95 min, Digital Projection) on Friday at 7pm.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Art Institute of Chicago exhibition Zhang Peili: Record. Repeat is on view through July 9. The artist’s first US exhibition features over 50 channels of video from 1989-2007. It is on view in Modern Wing galleries 186 and 289.
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: June 23- June 29, 2017
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kian Bergstrom, Kyle Cubr, Ben Medina, Brian Welesko