Barbara Hammer: Mediated Sensuality (Experimental Retrospective)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
This is the first screening in a two-night celebration of the recently-passed experimental film legend Barbara Hammer in the ongoing series "Visual Pleasures: The Work and Play of Women’s Liberation" at Block Cinema. Barbara Hammer's work was groundbreaking for it's explicit female-driven lesbian content, while very much of its time stylistically in her focus on materiality and process. These past couple of years have seen an explosion in screenings of her work around town, and I hope that trend continues. This screening includes a rolling bounding bodily chant—DYKETACTICS (1974)—a lovely "commercial" for lesbianism! An erotic and funny planting a flag on the pixilated beach NO NO NOOKY T.V. (1987). A graceful and physical poetic rumination on the stages of love in DOUBLE STRENGTH (1978). VITAL SIGNS (1991) takes a colorful and poetic route to explore death. Also screening are the sensually tactile SYNC TOUCH (1981), playful portraiture in WOMEN I LOVE (1976), and the radically empathetic performance piece EVIDENTIARY BODIES (2018, Digital Projection). (1974-2018, 84 min total, 16mm except where noted) JBM
Christopher Harris' STILL/HERE + Shorts (Experimental and Documentary Revivals)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
As STILL/HERE opens, a flurry of black and white images depicting a multitude of buildings in downtown St. Louis is shown. A disembodied voice speaks about how every brick was hand-lain, how each bricklayer had a family, and how many people it took to construct all those places. Christopher Harris' avant-garde documentary (2000, 60 min, 16mm) is a mournful take on the urban decay that had befallen St. Louis and what that decay means within the context of the city's past, present, and future. In a minimalist style, Harris uses long, static shots of derelict facades interjecting household diegetic sounds such as washing dishes to ruminate on what life was like within those four walls when they all were standing. Harris frequently frames the subjects of his shots behind obstructions (fences, glass cases, etc.) to imply a sense that the city has become a neglected object in some museum of sorts, further endangered by apathy and a lack of resolve to improve it. STILL/HERE's imagery conjures up visions of a run down Detroit in the post-Recession era, a spiritual predecessor to 2012's DETROPIA. One of the film's most remarkable aspects is its lack of human presence on screen. Relying instead on voiceovers and recorded messages to fulfill this element, an eeriness sets in as the magnitude of the city's indifference towards these structures is realized. STILL/HERE is an abstract observation on finding meaning and beauty in imagery that's anything but. Also screening are the short films SUNSHINE STATE (EXTENDED FORECAST) (2007, 16mm), 28.IV.81 (DESCENDING FIGURES) (2011, Digital Projection), and DISTANT SHORES (2016, Digital Projection). Harris in person. (2000-16, approx. 71 min total, 16mm and Digital Projection) KC
Lou Ye’s SUMMER PALACE (Chinese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 7pm
Unlike his noted contemporaries Li Yang (BLIND SHAFT) or Jia Zhang-ke (PLATFORM, STILL LIFE), the Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye does not derive his style from the methods of social realism. Rather, he aims for subjective, impressionistic effects that create a precise mood even when the narrative context is vague. (For a lot of Western critics, the most common point-of-reference is Wong Kar-wai.) Lou has stubbornly followed his introspective sensibility even when ostensibly making historical epics: His PURPLE BUTTERFLY (2003) was something of a tone poem about espionage in the Sino-Japanese War, and with SUMMER PALACE he has made a diaristic account of sexual discovery set against the prelude and long fall-out of the Tiananmen Square riots of 1989. After its Cannes premiere, the film elicited responses ranging from high praise to derision (with the Village Voice singling out the redundancy of the graphic sex scenes) to official ban: Because of his unapproved use of Tiananmen Square footage, the Chinese government barred Lou from making another film for the next five years. (2006, 140 min, 35mm) BS
Humphrey Burton’s THE GOLDEN RING (Documentary Revival)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) – Saturday, 7pm
Beginning in 1958, conductor Georg Solti and Decca classical record producer John Culshaw embarked on perhaps the most fabled collaboration in the history of recorded music: committing Richard Wagner’s four-part epic opera Der Ring des Nibelungen to vinyl. Never before had a studio recording of the Ring cycle been attempted, thus requiring the chief sound engineer, Gordon Parry, and his team to build new equipment and employ new techniques to recreate as far as possible the physical and emotional dynamics of a live performance. Television presenter and producer Humphrey Burton, who made brilliant programs and documentaries with the likes of Ken Russell and John Schlesinger, went to Vienna in 1964 to document the recording of the last part of the cycle, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), for the BBC television series Work Shop. The result, THE GOLDEN RING, offers an absorbing look at the technical challenges of this herculean effort, which many consider the greatest classical recording of all time. Much like shooting a movie using reels of film of finite length, the audiotape process meant that the nearly five-hour opera had to be recorded in 15-minute takes. The 10-day session meant the conductor, principal singers, orchestra, and chorus had to create as much as possible the same feeling, tempi, and sound dynamics from one day to the next. And like any collaboration, differences regarding interpretation arose between Solti, heading the Vienna Philharmonic, and Culshaw, in charge of the entire production. The small crew of sound technicians worked nearly around the clock to create a stereophonic approximation of a stage production by positioning mikes precisely, moving the soloists from mike to mike in accordance with the stage directions, and figuring out how to record the steerhorns, medieval instruments made especially for this project, so that they seem to be moving closer and closer to the main action. Burton fleshes out the recording session with tidbits about Vienna and interviews with Solti, Culshaw, and the vocal soloists Birgit Nilsson (Brünnhilde), Wolfgang Windgassen (Siegfried), and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Gunther) about the project and even about Wagner’s flaws and Hitler’s devotion to the composer. In the end, however, the main pleasure of this informative film is the glorious music made by some of the most gifted interpreters of Wagner ever to grace a stage. Shown with various short clips featuring Guided By Voices and DJ Q. Introduced by series curator Adam Sonderberg. (1965, 90 min, Video Projection) MF
CHICAGO FILM CRITICS FESTIVAL
The Chicago Critics Film Festival, presented by the Chicago Film Critics Association, takes place at the Music Box Theatre from Friday-Thursday. Included are 24 new narrative and documentary features currently without distribution, two shorts programs, and a retrospective screening of ALIEN.
Alex Thompson and Kelly O' Sullivan's SAINT FRANCES (New American)
SAINT FRANCES, the pungent debut feature from director Alex Thompson and writer Kelly O'Sullivan, is funny, warm, and truly affecting. It's got the flux of life about it, that constant play of comedy and drama. It could make many women feel less alone, not the least because it's so unusually frank about certain bodily realities. In fact, it's more awash in blood, mostly uterine, than some horror films, but the sanguinary is often played for laughs. O'Sullivan herself stars as Bridget, a woman freighted with shame and self-contempt because, at 34, she has no career, no family, no house. (She lives in a tiny apartment in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood.) Even though she doesn't particularly like kids, she interviews for a summer job as a nanny in a wealthy Chicago suburb. The parents are a lesbian couple: the affectionate, sad-eyed birth mother Maya (Charin Alvarez), a devout Catholic, and the no-nonsense, professional Annie (Lily Mojekwu). They've just had an infant, so they need someone to look after their rambunctious six-year-old, Frannie (Ramona Edith-Williams). Frannie and Bridget are at odds at first, and the story is about their unfolding friendship, as Fannie brings out a knack for caregiving Bridget never quite knew she had. She also becomes a bit of a caregiver to Maya, who has postpartum depression. (The movie insists that women should speak out about the loneliness of motherhood, the unspeakable thoughts you can sometimes have.) Things get complicated when Bridget finds out she's accidentally pregnant by Jace (Max Lipchitz), a sweet 26-year-old she's just met. She's immediately certain she wants an abortion; she pops a medication and never looks back. Judging from interviews, O'Sullivan has been in Bridget's shoes, whereas I've been in Jace's. He's supportive of her choice at every turn, yet he still wants to discuss the "emotional impact" and his "residual sadness about our loss." Bridget, though, doesn't feel a loss, and in fact resents that she should be expected to feel anything at all. (Actually, she feels a tremendous amount, which we find out later in the movie—but, refreshingly, no regrets.) Seeing the world through Bridget's eyes made me turn over my own life experiences in a way that felt productive. The movie edges right up to the predictable, but it never quite gets there, thanks to the freshness and honesty of the performances and Thompson's skill for finding just the right shot. Even a potentially contrived bonding montage between Bridget and Annie (gymnastics, ice-skating, the beach) comes off as a bit of summery poetry. The film is light and suffused with the sun—so many cicadas on the soundtrack—but it's got a real edge to it. Little Ramona Edith-Williams steals the movie as Frances. She's precocious, but she's a real kid. She can be a brat. She's bossy and loud. And she's funny and darling and smart and heartbreaking, and yes, I fell in love with her. There's a breathtaking scene late in the film when Bridget goes to the park to watch fireworks with Maya and the children, and a confrontation ensues having to do with the nation's cultural divide. My pulse began to pound, but the way the film handles it is remarkable. We're on Bridget and Maya's side by tacit assumption, but somehow everyone's humanity emerges enhanced. Laughter on the edge of tears is the stuff this film is made of; it has the joy and sadness of life in it. You come out with your sense of empathy, and your heart, freshly filled up. O'Sullivan and Thompson in person. (2019, 106 min, DCP Digital) SP
Ridley Scott's ALIEN (American Revival)
The history of horror films in America is basically a history of self-reflexive cultural negotiations regarding the appropriate monstrous representation of sublimated, dead labor (from industrial-era vampires to post-industrial/consumerist zombies, for example). The serial killer, in particular, is a monster born of the late 1970s, a time of increased independence and employment for women, as well as of increased corporate diversification. Emblematic here is Ridley Scott's ALIEN, in which a crew of highly-skilled co-ed journeyman space-laborers for the (presumably monopolistic) "Company" are obliged by their weak contracts into dangerous, unpaid overtime work exploring a nearby crashed spacecraft—resulting in one worker's being literally raped by an articulated organism of unknown origin. Left in a coma, his body immobilized by a unremovable death grip to the face—also known as your cubicle's computer screen—this employee violently gives birth to the titular illegitimate xenomorphic slasher, an outrageous H.R. Giger creation best described as a toothed vagina on a penis inside a toothed vagina on a penis. Its savage hypersexuality is in striking contrast to the celibate and demoralized crew, who in turn discover (as we all someday must) that their employer—mediated by a bureaucratic artificial intelligence system—considers them essentially disposable in the face of true biomechanistic innovation. ALIEN's innovative, languorously developed, and politically relevant narrative structure is also accompanied by simultaneously punishing and dazzling sound-effects work, romanticizing the harsh interstellar environment with a progressively intense and surprisingly passionate lullaby of humming, clicking, whirring, dripping, hissing, and shrieking noises. Actor Tom Skerritt in person (1979, 119 min, 35mm) MC
Satyajit Ray’s THE ADVERSARY (Indian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
The first film of Satyajit Ray’s “Calcutta trilogy” finds the great director engaging with his country’s contemporary political climate more directly than he ever had before. Given the climate of Bengal in the late 1960s, it was perhaps inevitable that he would address the situation. Andrew Robinson explains in his biography Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye that Bengal during this period was marked by a number of crises: food shortages, the Bangladesh War and the influx of refugees it caused, and the rise of violent anti-police movements, to name a few. Siddhartha, the 25-year-old hero of THE ADVERSARY, is neither a revolutionary nor a counterrevolutionary, but rather a sensitive intellectual who feels ambivalent about what’s going on around him. (Ray claimed that the character reflected many of his own feelings at the time.) The narrative centers around Siddhartha’s difficult search for a job, which allows Ray, adapting a novel by Sunil Ganguli, to dramatize the corruption and lack of opportunities within Kolkata’s business world. He also dramatizes these things through the character of Siddhartha’s younger sister, who works as personal assistant to a successful businessman and who embraces the heartless materialist culture in which her boss thrives. Siddhartha also has a younger brother, a radical student who’s been absorbed into one of Kolkata’s young revolutionary movements. The hero loves both his siblings but can’t bring himself to empathize completely with either one—he is torn, much like the culture he inhabits. Where Ray’s previous film, DAYS AND NIGHTS IN THE FOREST (1969), suggested an affinity with the movies Eric Rohmer was making around the same time, THE ADVERSARY feels closer in spirit to the work of Jean-Luc Godard, not only in its topical concerns, but also in its mélange of stylistic approaches. Ray incorporates flashbacks, dream sequences, and passages of documentary realism; it feels as if the film, much like its hero, is trying to find its voice amidst chaos. (1970, 110 min, DCP Digital) BS
Kathleen Collins' LOSING GROUND (American Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Wednesday, 7pm (Free Admission)
"There's nothing wrong with telling stories." So says one artist when another expresses envy over his ability to work instinctively as opposed to narratively. Kathleen Collins' LOSING GROUND is composed of various such oppositions that manifest themselves through Victor (played by Bill Gunn, best known for directing GANJA & HESS), a painter, and his wife, Sara (Seret Scott), a professor of philosophy. He's artistic; she's logical. This is the jumping off point from which other dichotomies—male versus female, creativity versus intellectualism, abstraction versus specificity—are explored. With regards to race, which is a de facto theme owing to that it's one of the first fictional features to be directed by a black woman, the film shows rather than tells; many suspect that it was neglected upon its release because it portrays black characters as well-to-do professionals rather than as victims or ‘thugs.’ In response to being asked if minority filmmakers have a duty to address their respective struggles, Collins said, "I think you have an even greater obligation to deal with your own obsessions." Though LOSING GROUND isn't exactly autobiographical, Collins herself was a professor (at the City College of New York), and the name of the film comes from one of her own short story collections. Sara's almost obsessive study of aesthetic experience both parallels the aforementioned oppositions and prompts the changes that occur over the course of the story. "Essentially it's that change is a rather volatile process in the human psyche," Collins said in an interview with James Briggs Murray for Black Visions. "And, that real change usually requires some release of fantasy energy." This last part refers to the dance-centric film-within-a-film that Sara acts in at the behest of one of her students, which she does in an attempt to achieve the same creative ecstasy as her husband and actress mother. (The meta-film also mirrors the central drama of the narrative.) Overall, the film is an astute meditation on a great many things: the academic experience, the aesthetic experience, the black experience, and Sara's experience as a woman. Collins was also a person of varied interests: in addition to teaching, writing, and making films, she was also a playwright and an activist. She once remarked, "I'm interested in solving certain questions, such as: How do you do an interesting narrative film?" LOSING GROUND is an exceptional solution to that dilemma. There's nothing wrong with telling stories, indeed. (1982, 86 min, DCP Digital) KS
Michael Glover Smith's MERCURY IN RETROGRADE (Contemporary American)
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) - Saturday, 7pm
Two years ago, I praised Michael Glover Smith’s strong debut, COOL APOCALYPSE, for its subtle dissection of relationships in the inflexion point of their collapse. His sophomore feature, MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, builds upon and expands the earlier title’s strengths, presenting a nuanced and troubling portrait of six people who, over the course of a long weekend, quietly and privately reveal that they are in the process of exploding inside. It is a movie about three good-natured, loveable, charming men who each, in his own insidious way, is a manipulative, dehumanizing sexist, and the three spirited, jovial, smart women who have fallen for them. Built in two rough halves, the first part of MERCURY IN RETROGRADE shows us a deceptively idyllic group friendship, three couples who love one another, understand one another, and love being around one another. They eat, drink, joke, play, and seem to grow together as people. Everything feels wrong, but only with the second part in mind do the tension lines in the first become clear. An extended pair of alcohol-fueled conversations, one all-male at the cabin and the other all-female at a nearby bar, are intricately intercut and woven together, cutting away the pretense of kindness, decency, and equality that the characters have worked so hard to convince themselves of. Set almost exclusively in a palatial cabin in the Michigan woods, the movie’s roving compositions, highly mobile camerawork, and idiosyncratic editing keep placing characters in off-putting juxtapositions, dividing spaces, preventing the six principals from ever fully integrating with the natural world they’re surrounded by. Instead, following Smith’s title, they spin around and are trapped by one another like celestial bodies mere moments before collision. The phrase ‘mercury in retrograde’ itself comes from a term of pseudoscientific bullshittery that attempts to explain away misunderstandings and conflict by blaming it on the different orbital speeds of Mercury and Earth, and is a neatly symbolic way of signaling the viewer that the characters will both argue over important issues with one another and both misunderstand the nature of those arguments and be satisfied with papered-over illusions rather than actual resolution. Indeed, the narrative is awash in oddly revealing moments of internalized oppression and violence that are rationalized away as evidence of love: a throw-away comment one woman makes about convincing a partner to ‘let’ her have an abortion; another woman breaking out of a relationship of physical abuse only to pursue her abuser’s career path; a third whose desperate need to keep her history of violent exploitation, victimization, and addiction secret from her partner drives her to break years of sobriety. Many of the actors deserve special acclaim, especially Jack Newell and Alana Arenas, two local actors who play Jack and Golda, the one couple amongst the three to be married, inhabit their complex roles to a chilling degree. It’s one thing to play a dysfunctional couple, but another level entirely to play one that believes itself to be fully equal and loving. It is a trenchant, beautifully and disturbingly stylized look at misogyny and oppression, neither the first nor the last word on the subject by any means, but a modest and welcome addition to the conversation. Smith in person. (2017, 105 min, Digital Projection) KB
Zhangke Jia’s ASH IS PUREST WHITE (New Chinese)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes
Set over the course of nearly seventeen years (from 2001-2018) and taking place in three distinct periods, ASH IS PUREST WHITE is a gangland drama with an eye for romance and the rapidly-evolving modernity of China during that time. Qiao (Tao Zhao) is the girlfriend of highly respected Bin (Fan Liao), a mob boss in a small town in the Shanxi region. Although she does not consider herself to be jianghu (gangster, within the context of this film) like Bin and his cohorts, she crosses that line when she’s forced to fire a gun to save his life when a rival gang nearly kills him, sending her to jail for five years as a result. Once free from prison, Qiao sets out to rekindle her flame with Bin and must learn about the changes of nature within herself and their relationship dynamic. Zhangke Jia’s film is simultaneously patient yet breakneck. When viewing each segment as a whole, the narrative unfolds in a realistic fashion with each plot point flowing into the next. It’s only when the chapters are juxtaposed against one another that the daunting passage of time and all that it implies, both for the characters and the era of China being depicted, are realized. In addition to some more overt signs showing these time jumps, Jia plays with the film’s color hue to further signify the importance of these skips. Greens, yellows, whites, and other colors all help to invoke an emotional response from the audience and help to enhance our understanding of Qiao’s situation. The rubber band-like nature of Qiao and Bin’s relationship, in which neither can be too far from the other emotionally before snapping back, is what makes up the film’s core. Zhao’s performance alone makes for enthralling viewing; add in Jia’s finesse for detail and ASH IS PUREST WHITE stands tall as a modern take on the gangster film. (2018, 136 min, DCP Digital) KC
Bi Gan’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (New Chinese)
AMC River East 21 — Check Venue website for showtimes
When Luo Hongwa (Huang Jue) sits down in a movie theater and puts on a pair of 3D glasses about 70 minutes into LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, finally triggering the title card, you know you’re in for a ride. Of course, this is already the expectation for those coming to Bi Gan’s sophomore feature aware of its buzzy 60-minute unbroken traveling shot, but it’s at this precise, narratively and phenomenologically pivotal moment that the spectator feels the real stirrings of anticipation. It’s a leveling up, an invitation to cross the threshold from the film’s splintered and largely static first section to its oneiric second, a transition that entails not only an aesthetic movement into the more immersively tactile realm of 3D but also a somatic movement on the part of the audience. As we put on our glasses, mimicking Luo, we immure ourselves yet further into the darkened space of the theater, and by extension into his/our mental space, entering a point of no return. The ensuing long take is a virtuosic (and perhaps inevitably self-regarding) marvel of choreography, less impressive for the post-converted 3D than for its astonishing logistical feat, as the camera wends its way from a mineshaft down and through a neon-lit village, changes between character vectors, and at one point lifts off into the night sky in an edit-less switch from third- to first-person perspective. Bi Gan, who came out of the gate already rigorously exploring the capabilities of the long take with his debut KAILI BLUES, here deepens his structuralist preoccupation with onscreen time in a cyclical narrative that assumes the shape of an unending lucid dream. The moment in the theater effectively cleaves the film into two parts, although the chronology of said parts is compellingly unfixed. In the first part, Luo has returned to his hometown of Kaili following the death of his father. He is haunted by two other disappearances: that of his friend, Wildcat (Lee Hong-chi), who was killed by the gangster Zuo Hongyan (Chen Yongzhong), and most pertinently that of Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), Zuo’s kept woman and Lou’s former flame. Luo searches for Wan as he remembers their summer together, yearning after her and everything else that has been lost in the crumbling Kaili. Although this section takes place in ostensible waking reality, its scrambled timeline and frequently surreal imagery, accompanied by self-reflexive comments from Luo and Wan about the relations between movies, memories, and dreams, place it somewhere far more liminal. By the time the second part comes along, cleverly reworking the elements of the first in ways both more dreamlike and more tangible, it’s not clear if either section should be considered “real.” Like many of his noted long take forebears and influential contemporaries—Tarkovsky, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Tsai Ming-liang among them—Bi is interested in how film manipulates time and reorients subjectivity, how it can induce perceptual states that challenge our naturalized temporal regimes. Bi may still need some work finding his own voice outside the shadows of those giants (a glass slowly trembling off the edge of a table and a four-minute shot of a man tearily eating an apple are especially explicit nods to two of them), but his prodigious formal invention is a gift to anyone excited by the aesthetic and technological possibilities of this ever-evolving art form. (2018, 138 min, DCP Digital) JL
Werner Herzog and André Singer's MEETING GORBACHEV (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
"Please allow me to explain myself. I am a German, and the first German that you met probably tried to kill you." Thus does a clearly thrilled Werner Herzog begin his interlocution with, in his words, "one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century," Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. The documentary that results, MEETING GORBACHEV, which Herzog co-directed with his longtime collaborator André Singer, is thoughtful, moving, and rather fascinating, if somewhat straight by Herzog standards. In Moscow, Gorbachev and Herzog sit for three conversations. At 86, Gorbachev's features have softened, but he is instantly recognizable by that iconic birthmark on his pate. He is quite a raconteur, feisty, decent, and democratic. What Herzog calls his gift for establishing immediate rapport with people is made evident again and again throughout the film. This is the man who ended the Cold War (at least for a time). His "perestroika" (that is, a complete restructuring of society) and "glasnost" (openness and transparency) caused, in Herzog's words, "an avalanche that eventually swept away the entire system." From a little house with blue shutters in a village in the Caucasus, Gorbachev excelled as a boy farmer, and then as a student. He took the helm of General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, as a bold reformer in a time of decline. Chernobyl led him to reach out to Reagan to ban nuclear testing, leading to their breakthrough meeting at Reykjavik. He was dead serious about ridding the world of nuclear weapons (and so, it must be conceded, was Reagan). He set off great independence movements. There is stunning footage of an endless human chain connecting three Baltic states: hands across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. In Hungary, Miklos Nemeth, prime minister at the time, remembers cautiously beginning to dismantle the barbed wire along the "Iron Curtain" between Hungary and the West, after Gorbachev assured him there would be no repeat of the repression of '56. And then there is the fall of the Berlin Wall, with "millions of East Germans suddenly free," as Herzog puts it, "an overwhelming manifestation of the human longing for freedom and unity." That yearning is really what this film is about, and why it sung to me. One reason this project is so personal for Herzog, who famously walked across Germany as a young man when it was still divided, is that Gorbachev, working with Helmut Kohl, allowed the reunification of his country to take place peacefully. For this, Herzog tells Gorbachev that he loves him. He's also a somewhat tragic figure. He didn't get to see his vision through, and Raisa, the love of his life, died long ago, in 1999, of leukemia. The segment devoted to her gets off to a rocky start, as Herzog fumblingly attempts to get his quarry to open up about her. He finds a way, however, to make the segment into a tender elegy, deploying stirring footage by Vitaly Masky of Gorbachev in 2000, remembering Raisa and going back to his little village. While this is perhaps a more conventional documentary than Herzog usually gets up to, I wouldn't overstate by how much. He still subjects the archival footage to his usual incisive, whimsical eye for the absurd, and we get glimpses of the strange, beautiful poetry he customarily makes of his raw materials. In fact, within the strictures of a film presumably intended for a more general audience, who might be more interested in the subject than in Herzog, this is as personal as it could be. To witness Gorbachev's singular talent for connecting with other people is to be reminded of just how important the personal can really be to history. (2019, 92 min, DCP Digital) SP
Penny Lane's HAIL SATAN? (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
From the incredibly talented experimental documentarian who brought us the features OUR NIXON and NUTS, and notable shorts like THE VOYAGERS and (my personal favorite) THE COMMONERS, HAIL SATAN? is a delightful and surprisingly un-experimental documentary about the Satanic Temple. Not to be confused with the Church of Satan, the Satanic Temple is a nontheistic religious organization (think "secular humanism," but with cool tattoos and black t-shirts) that aims to illustrate, through wildly entertaining satire and literal interpretations of first amendment rights, what should be obvious: church and state should be kept separate, and Christianity is not the national religion. This, of course, drives the religious right nuts, and we get to watch the outrage unfold. Indeed, the subject matter of HAIL SATAN? is almost too easy to enjoy, and could perhaps have benefitted from a bit more of the pluralism the Satanic Temple asserts forms the core of our democracy. What do the atheists think? The (less fun) secular humanists? They don't seem to have a voice in HAIL SATAN?, but we do hear from lawmakers and protesters on the religious right who speak with passionate candor about how much they hate these damn Satanists. That is the only critique I have of this fantastic documentary, though—the tone is pitch perfect, as one would only expect from Penny Lane. Her expert interviewing skills draw out her subjects and animate the Temple's increasing media attention and civil actions with wry humor. Her creative use of archival footage is much less prominent than in her previous work, with so much content already at hand in archival news and phone footage, but vintage religious films and an irresistible clip of Tim Curry from LEGEND are always apt and quite funny. By the time the credits roll, HAIL SATAN? makes the Satanic Temple so disarmingly charming, you might very well end up wanting to join this quite reasonable non-religious crusade. Is there a mailing list I can sign up for? (2018, 95 min, DCP Digital) AE
Claire Denis’ LET THE SUNSHINE IN (Contemporary French)
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) - Tuesday, 6:30pm
Claire Denis follows up her darkest and most disturbing feature, 2013’s BASTARDS—a gut-wrenching journey into the heart of a prostitution ring that was loosely inspired by William Faulkner—with LET THE SUNSHINE IN, undoubtedly her lightest and funniest work, which was loosely inspired by Roland Barthes. A delight from start to finish, Denis’ first collaboration with the iconic Juliette Binoche is probably the closest we’ll ever come to seeing the Gallic master’s take on the rom-com. Binoche, looking more radiant than ever at 53, plays Isabelle, a divorced mother living in Paris whose career as a painter is as successful as her love life is a mess. The neurotic Isabelle plunges headfirst into a series of affairs with dubious men, some of whom are married and one of whom is her ex-husband, all the while hoping to find “true love at last.” Isabelle’s best prospect seems to be the only man who wants to take things slow (Alex Descas) but a witty coda involving a fortune-teller played by Gerard Depardieu suggests that Isabelle is doomed to repeat the same mistakes even while remaining a hopelessly optimistic romantic. Bolstered by Agnes Godard’s tactile cinematography and Stuart Staples’ fine jazz score, LET THE SUNSHINE IN is funny, wise, sexy—and essential viewing. (2017, 94 min, Video Projection) MGS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) screens George Nichols, Jr. and Wanda Tuchock's 1934 film FINISHING SCHOOL (73 min, 35mm archival print) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Preceded by Raymond McCarey's 1934 Three Stooges short MEN IN BLACK (18 min, 16mm).
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Lawrence Abu Hamdan's 2016, Lebanese/German film RUBBER COATED STEEL (21 min, Digital Projection) and Chris Kennedy's 2017 Canadian film WATCHING THE DETECTIVES (36 min, 16mm) are on Friday at 7pm, with Kennedy in person; and Julia Bacha's 2018 US/Palestinian hybrid documentary NAILA AND THE UPRISING (76 min, Digital Projection) is on Saturday at 1pm. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Patch Work (approx. 60 min, Digital Projection), a shorts program curated by Eli Rudavsky, on Wednesday at 8pm. Included are works by Ramón Rivera Moret; Finn Jubak; Kelsey Ellison; May Makki, Fabienne Elie, and Courtney Mackedanz; Street Level Video 1992-93 Youth Producers; and Rudavsky. Free admission.
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave.) screens Marco Segato's 2016 Italian film ON THE TRAIL OF MY FATHER (92 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 6pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
The Beverly Arts Center screens the Wachowski's 1999 film THE MATRIX (136 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7:30pm
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Park Ridge Public Library, 20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) screens François Truffaut's 1962 French film JULES AND JIM (105 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Sergei Bondarchuk's 1967 Soviet film WAR AND PEACE (434 min, DCP Digital) screens in four parts (each showing three times) this week; Hong Sang-soo's 2018 South Korean film GRASS (66 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; An Evening with Gregg Bordowitz is on Friday at 7pm. Screening are Bordowitz's 1993 documentary FAST TRIP, LONG DROP (55 min, Digital Projection) and Marlon Riggs' 1989 documentary TONGUES UNTIED (55 min, Digital Projection); and Mustafa Kara's 2015 Turkish/Hungarian film COLD OF KALANDAR (132 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7:45pm and Thursday at 8pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Robert Aldrich's 1961 film THE LAST SUNSET (112 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 1:30pm; Harmony Korine's 2019 film THE BEACH BUM (95 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Makoto Shinozaki's 1995 Japanese film OKAERI (99 min, 35mm imported print) and his 2014 Japanese film SHARING (111 min, Blu-Ray Projection) play as a double feature on Sunday at 7pm; Claude Chabrol's 1992 French film BETTY (103 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm; Robert Wise's 1962 film TWO FOR THE SEESAW (119 min, Digital Projection) is on Tuesday at 7pm; and Neil Young's 1978 concert film RUST NEVER SLEEPS (116 min, 35mm archival print) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Hiroyasu Ishida's 2019 Japanese animated film PENGUIN HIGHWAY (118 min, DCP Digital; English-dubbed) is on Sunday at 4:30pm; and Gaspar Noé’s 2019 film CLIMAX (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Collin Schiffi's 2018 film ALL CREATURES HERE BELOW (91 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run. The Chicago Cultural Center screens David Kovacs and Steve Ordower's 2019 documentary LEAPS OF FAITH (57 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 2pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Michael Robinson’s 2015 video MAD LADDERS (10 min) is on view in the group show Shall we go, you and I while we can at the Carrie Secrist Gallery (835 W. Washington Blvd.) though June 15.
Local videomaker, artist, writer, activist, and educator Gregg Bordowitz is featured in a career retrospective exhibition, I Wanna Be Well, at the Art Institute of Chicago through July 14.
Also on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes).
CINE-LIST: May 17 - May 23, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kian Bergstrom, Michael Castelle, Kyle Cubr, Alexandra Ensign, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, JB Mabe, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael G. Smith