On episode #9 of the Cine-Cast, contributor Harrison Sherrod chats with fellow contributor and local filmmaker Rob Christopher about Christopher's upcoming documentary, ROY'S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD'S CHICAGO. Associate editor Ben Sachs and contributor Alexandra Ensign cover the upcoming Chicago Film Society and Doc Films calendars. And, finally, Sachs, Ensign, Sherrod, and contributor JB Mabe discuss their favorite films of 2018.
Listen here. Engineered by Sherrod. Produced by Mabe and associate editor Kathleen Sachs.
The introductory theme is by local film composer Ben Van Vlissingen. Find out more about his work here.
Tsai Ming-liang’s WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? (Taiwanese Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Wednesday, 7pm (Free Admission)
One of the key films of the early 21st century, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? communicates feelings of alienation on both an intimate and global scale, with neither level overwhelming the other. Similarly it’s never entirely funny nor melancholic—Tsai Ming-liang achieves a perfect fusion of his two cinematic modes here, achieving painful laughs and moments of wry poignancy. The movie concludes a loose trilogy started by Tsai’s REBELS OF THE NEON GOD (1991) and THE RIVER (1997), centering on the same unhappy Taipei family played by Lee Kang-sheng, Lu Yi-Ching, and Miao Tien. Miao’s character dies near the beginning of the film, and his death casts a thematic pall over the story that follows. His grieving widow (Lu) gets wrapped up in Buddhist rituals, trying to summon her late husband’s spirit at some points; meanwhile his son (Lee) turns into a full-blown eccentric. The young man, who sells watches as a street vendor, becomes obsessed with a female customer (Chen Shiang-chyi) who tells him she’s going on vacation to Paris. He acts on his obsession by trying to change every clock he sees to Paris time, and his strange behavior occasions some of the best sight gags of Tsai’s career, one of which deliberately evokes the famous clock scene of Harold Lloyd’s SAFETY LAST! Tsai intercuts Lee’s strange misadventures in Taipei with Chen’s lonely French vacation, using crosscutting to suggest a communion of souls of which neither participant is ever aware. (In its contemplation of missed connections in the globalized world, the film feels like a successor to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s RED.) The closest thing the director had to an American breakout hit, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? reminded numerous U.S. critics of more than just Lloyd; Tsai’s deadpan minimalism inspired comparisons to Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, Yasujiro Ozu, and Robert Bresson, among others. Those directors might be useful points of reference for viewers new to Tsai’s world, but what’s most satisfying about the film is how it marked the full flowering of his style up to that point. The oblique compositions are particularly inspired—consider how Tsai shoots the family’s apartment, finding new ways to shoot the cramped interior in every scene. (The first time I saw the film, it took me most of the run time to realize that all the rooms belonged to the same domicile.) The long takes, ever integral to Tsai’s art, achieve wonders too; rather than conjure a spirit of confinement or patience (as they do in so much durational cinema), the static, minutes-long shots underscore the sense of longing common to all of the film’s major characters. (2001, 116 min, 35mm) BS
Morgan Fisher: Paintings, Photographs, Films (Experimental)
Since the late 1960s, experimental filmmaker and artist Morgan Fisher has been creating a body of cinema works that collectively function as a meta project exploring the nature of cinema as a mechanical, material, performative, and process-oriented undertaking. This program (in which Fisher will also discuss his art and photography practice) is bookended by an early work and his most recent work, both of which slyly explore the nature of the moving image through static images and black screen. In PRODUCTION STILLS (1970, 11 min, 16mm), the static camera films still photographs placed on a wall in front of the lens. The images, it becomes clear, are still documentation of the shoot that is taking place. The camera is recording the behind-the-scenes production of the film’s own making. ANOTHER MOVIE (2017, 22 min, Digital Projection) takes the entirety of Respighi’s symphonic tone poem Pines of Rome, which is famously used in Bruce Conner’s 1958 experimental collage film A MOVIE. Fisher uses black screen over the segments of the composition that are featured in Conner’s film—allowing the viewer, or challenging the viewer, to recall the images from the original classic—and a static, time-lapse (but slow moving) single shot of the moon advancing across the screen accompanies the music Conner omitted. The centerpiece of the program is Fisher’s 1984 film STANDARD GAUGE (35 min, 16mm), a mesmerizing show-and-tell of fragments of 35mm films, trailers, and leader that Fisher had collected over the previous two decades, accompanied by his affectless voice-over narration discussing (or not) each. Sometimes the footage we see has personal relevance to Fisher—reflecting a friendship or job opportunity (Fisher was an associate editor on Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s cult horror film MESSIAH OF EVIL, and also has a bit part, which he details). Other times, Fisher is noting particularities about lab and film stock markings or other aspects of the film (IB Technicolor leader; the ill-named “China Girl” women used for color timing), proving mini-histories of material, manufacture, and technology. Eventually, words give way to just image; Fisher states near the end, “Here are some pieces of film that I think are interesting to look at,” and shows off a number of additional examples with no narration. No matter the interest it may hold, the spoken text is abandoned (mostly, there’s one final informational line to come, though its qualified, abating it’s concreteness), becoming secondary, supplemental, to the fascination and power of just looking. Fisher in person. (1970-2017, 68 min total, 16mm and Digital Projection) PF
William Castle's MR. SARDONICUS (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) — Wednesday, 7:30pm
The tragedy of William Castle’s success is that his self-presentation as an impresario of schlock also obscures much of what makes his films enduringly fascinating. Castle is synonymous with the gimmick, and his independent horror productions of the 1950s and early 1960 are defined by a series of questionable innovations, from the $1000 life-insurance policy given to each viewer of MACABRE (1958), to the seat-belt-equipped chairs designed to prevent audience members from leaping out of their chairs in I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965). At their best, however, these devices are more than just novelties—they’re brilliant mechanisms for collapsing the distinctions between representation and reality, eccentric extensions of a film’s central themes (yes, these movies have themes), and manifestations of Castle’s unique talent for activating the body and the psyche of the spectator. Take MR. SARDONICUS (1961), a gothic tale of a 19th-century doctor (Ronald Lewis) lured from London to the figmental country of Gorslava to cure his former lover’s husband of a disfiguring illness. The husband, the sadistic Baron Sardonicus, wears a mask to hide a face frozen in a rictus smile after robbing his own father’s grave. As in THE TINGLER (1959) and the incredible STRAIT-JACKET (1964), the source of the horror in MR. SARDONICUS comes from within, and the film’s protagonist ends up more of a psychologist than a physician. Castle, too, was something of a psychologist; if THE TINGLER’s “Percepto” contraption offered audiences something like a combination of primal scream and electro-shock therapy, then MR. SARDONICUS’s notorious “Punishment Poll” is more of a Milgram experiment. Just before the film’s conclusion, Castle intrudes to offer the audience a choice of how the movie should end: does the Baron find redemption or punishment? (I’m hopefully not spoiling anything by mentioning that only one of these two endings has ever been seen). In his keen understanding of spectatorial fears and desires, and his inventive approach to stimulating them, Castle resembles his colleague Alfred Hitchcock—if not in his mastery of cinematic technique. That said, the sometimes threadbare production values and throwaway performances from secondary players have the effect of intensifying the film’s still-revolting sordidness, which offers a grim picture of the human soul designed to mirror the gleeful cruelty that Castle diagnoses in his viewers. That’s what makes Castle a great filmmaker—regardless of the indelicacy with which he sometimes wields the instruments of cinema on screen, he succeeds palpably—and palpitatingly—in turning those instruments against his audience. Preceded by a reel of William Castle film trailers (approx. 10 min, 35mm). (1961, 90 min, 35mm) MM
Zhu Shouju’s THE STORMY NIGHT (Silent Chinese Revival)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Reportedly over 600 films were made in mainland China in the 1920s; alas, fewer than 20 exist today. THE STORMY NIGHT is one of those films, though for many years it was presumed lost too. Only in 2006 was a print discovered in the personal archive of Japanese filmmaker Teinosuke Kinugasa. Donated to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, THE STORMY NIGHT sat on a shelf for five years because no one could identify it—the print was missing the first reel, which included the credits. The film’s identity was confirmed in 2011, but audiences had to wait another six years before they could see it, after the film underwent a digital restoration. Given the rarity of Chinese silents, I can’t say how STORMY compares with other films of its country and decade; still I found it generally delightful. A cheery comedy of manners, the movie follows a writer who moves from Shanghai with his wife and daughter to an estate in the nearby countryside. The characters get entangled with the family who owns the estate, which comprises a philandering landowner, his lonely wife, and two grown daughters. The younger daughter falls for the writer, while the elder (who’s prematurely an old maid) strikes up a friendship with a local man who’s in love with the sister. Writer-director Zhu Shouju, a popular novelist before he became a filmmaker, balances the various romantic intrigues with Lubitschian gracefulness, observing the characters critically but with undeniable affection. (Chinese film historian Yeh Yueh-yu has noted that the filmmaker may have seen Lubitsch’s THE MARRIAGE CIRCLE when it played in Shanghai the year STORMY was made.) Another reason for the movie’s sprightliness is the brisk editing, which may surprise viewers accustomed to the more staid montage of other early Chinese films. Zhu cuts frequently within scenes, varying the action with closeups and occasional point-of-view shots. He also elicits winning comic performances from the cast, who render the characters lovable even when they lie to one another. Live accompaniment by Tan Yuting. Followed by a discussion with Weihong Bao (UC Berkeley) and Shi Chuan (Shanghai Theater Academy, Shanghai Film Association, Shanghai Film Museum). (1925, 84 min, Digital Projection) BS
Technology Transformations: A Feminist History of the Supercut (Experimental)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
In the 1950s we had détournement, in the 80s we had remixing and culture jamming, and today we have the supercut. The act of taking imagery from the dominant culture and subverting it for political or artistic purposes has a long history by many different names. And the goals were different, too. Détournement had a harsh, mocking edge back when the ironic appropriation of advertising language and pop culture visuals hadn't yet entered the mainstream. Culture jamming was a little more fun and oddly alt-consumerist itself; letting you get angry about getting sold a bill of goods, while indulging in tape trading and collecting zines and 12-inches. Now, the supercut does away with the physical objects and, oddly, often also does away with subversion. There's a feeling of losing yourself in the wash of clichés, a feeling of ambivalence about these images that you grew up with or you semi-guiltily choose to watch as a stress relief. And the dominant culture has radically altered too. A 14-year old today probably isn't watching Wonder Woman, she's watching other 14-years olds on their YouTube channels. The images and the narratives that the artist has to reckon with have shifted from network television to awkward self-reflection by teens in front of webcams. It's this shift that is at the heart of this excellent screening that traces the history of the feminist-themed supercut, from Dara Birnbaum's classic staccato and swirling superhero appropriation TECHNOLOGY/TRANSFORMATION: WONDER WOMAN (1978) to Jennifer Proctor's affectionately distancing and sadly repetitive YouTube sampling AM I PRETTY (2018). In between, the highlights include another work from Proctor (who will be in attendance), NOTHING A LITTLE SOAP AND WATER CAN'T FIX (2017), which heightens a movie cliché from the banal to the erotic to the violent; THE DARK, KRYSTLE (2013) by Michael Robinson and NORMAL APPEARANCES (2018) by Penny Lane, both of which have a begrudging and conflicted love for their source material; and need ideas!?!PLZ!! (2011) by Elisa Giardina Papa, which delves into shared content-based worries and performative tropes of the modern broadcasting teen. Also showing are HOME STORIES (1990) by Matthias Müller, MASS ORNAMENT (2009) by Natalie Bookchin, INFINITE DOORS (2017) by Takeshi Murata, and SOLILOQUY (SHARON), 1992-2000 (2000) by Candice Breitz. (1978-2018, 67 min total, Digital Projection) JBM
John Waters’ PINK FLAMINGOS (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for showtimes
Even by today’s more desensitized standards, PINK FLAMINGOS retains its shock value. Babs Johnson (Divine) wears her tabloid-branded moniker “Filthiest Person Alive” with great pride. Living in a trailer park with her toddler-like mother Edie (Edith Massey), son Crackers (Danny Mills), and roommate Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce) somewhere in the sticks just outside Baltimore, Babs is hiding from society and authorities due to her countless crimes, which includes murder. Meanwhile, perverted couple Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary) are outraged by Babs’ title—deeming themselves to be the filthiest—and set out to usurp her dubious designation. In a series of ever-escalating scenes more revolting than the last, the Marbles and Babs and her cohorts engage in a battle of one-upmanship. Waters’ film subverts damn near all societal norms and employs an almost cinéma vérité style of filmmaking, particularly in shots of Babs/Divine walking around town with onlookers gawking. No topic is too taboo here. Besides the infamous dog-poo scene, scenes featuring cannibalism, fetishes of all varieties, and rape also feature. This is a film not for the faint of heart—like a pig rolling around in its own filth and loving every second of it, PINK FLAMINGOS knows that it is trash, but glorious, artful trash. It’s not surprising that this is the film that brought John Waters (and Divine) out of underground cinema obscurity and into a broader collective consciousness. (1972, 93 min, 35mm) KC
CLAIRE DENIS X 2
Claire Denis' THE INTRUDER [L’INTRUS] (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Tuesday, 9:30pm
Though her films are notably free of conventional narrative constraints, Claire Denis is fascinated with the ties that bind the characters. Each of her features is a study in the connections between family, friends, and lovers in loosely constructed narrative worlds; THE INTRUDER deals primarily with familial bonds. It's based on an autobiographical essay by esteemed philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy and is about an older French man, Louis, who receives a black market heart transplant in Switzerland, then relocates to Tahiti in search of an illegitimate son he sired while working there as some sort of mercenary. One of her most elliptical films, it can't be condensed into summary, and any attempt to do so is often done in vain. It's a film that exists in the watching of it, not in reading or talking about it. Though singular, it encapsulates themes that Denis has worked with since her debut film, CHOCOLAT—namely, the tenuous connection between her home country and the French former colonies in Africa where Denis grew up and which she thinks of as her true home. Louis is an intruder in the countries he visits and in the lives of people he encounters, much like his foreign heart is an intruder within him. Receiving the new heart spurs Louis's desire for his foreign son; in another parallel, both ultimately reject him. (2004, 130 min, 35mm imported print) KS
Claire Denis' WHITE MATERIAL (International Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
Claire Denis' exploded chamber drama centers on the white inhabitants of an isolated coffee plantation in an unnamed African country as they face a variety of interlopers from the outside world, including a wounded rebel leader (Isaach De Bankolé), a child army, and evacuating French soldiers. Building on the anti-psychological approach introduced in THE INTRUDER, Denis shuffles the order of events, linking chronologically disconnected scenes through a sort of associative logic; the result could be compared to someone pulling on a thread in order to untangle a knot. In many ways, this is Denis doing Michael Haneke—a bourgeois woman (Isabelle Huppert) is done in by an entitled sense of vocation, while her layabout son (Nicolas Duvauchelle) turns to brutality as a way to lash out against his own boredom (shades of BENNY'S VIDEO and, depending on who you ask, CACHE)—but Denis' vision, focused on the characters' individual failings, is at once more sympathetic and more brutal than the comparison suggests. (2009, 106 min, 35mm) IV
Orson Welles' MACBETH (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 2pm and Tuesday, 6pm
The story behind the filming of Orson Welles' MACBETH could be a theatrical drama (or perhaps a farce) in and of itself—shot in just twenty-three days with cheap rented costumes and sets leftover from studio westerns, it should be more Ed Wood than Shakespeare. But the end result only hardly reveals the haphazard production, and the residual chaos adds an ambience that solidifies it as being "a perfect cross between Wuthering Heights and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN," per the maestro himself. Having previously mounted a production of the Scottish Play at just twenty years old (his famed Voodoo Macbeth), Welles took as many liberties with the film version as he did on stage, except instead of casting it with all African-American actors, he opted to change some of the key elements that make Macbeth a revered paradigm. While such edits would typically be ascribed to artistic license, Welles is perhaps the only director of whom it could be said that any deliberate changes were likely made from a place of artistic equality. It's ambitious in both vision and execution, but while Welles had much of the former, he had little with which to succeed at the latter. The version being shown is the UCLA Film & Television Archive restoration from 1980, complete with affected Scottish accents and another two reels that Republic Pictures had Welles cut for the 1950 re-release. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum lectures at the Tuesday show. (1948, 107 min, 35mm restored archival print) KS
Houman Seydi's SHEEPLE (New Iranian)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 6pm and Sunday, 3pm
To say too much about Houman Seydi's SHEEPLE, an intensely acted, blistering Iranian crime drama, would be to spoil moments that made me gasp. It works as a fairly captivating gangster movie, while holding a mirror to a macho culture that places ultimate value on a man's never "losing face," often at women's expense. SHEEPLE is writer/director Seydi's fourth feature, in which Seydi regular Navid Mohammadzadeh gives a demented, sensitive performance as hotheaded Shahin, a dimwitted gangster wannabe from the outskirts of Tehran. The hood looks like a vast junkyard, strewn with rubble and old appliances. Fathers are in jail, or addicted to drugs. Into the breach steps Shakur (a well-cast Farhad Aslani), the "shepherd" of this syndicate, who takes kids off the streets and raises them to join the family business: drugs. Though he raised Shahin as his brother, Shakur doesn't really think he has what it takes to be a gangster, and routinely humiliates him. Shahin, in turn, makes himself feel like a big shot by pushing around others, including his sister Shohreh (Marjan Ettefaghian), his pal (and partner in sniffing glue) Amir (Navid Pourfaraj), and even his little brother Shahrouz. He's such a goon, with his bluster, his slouch, his big front teeth, the way he runs with his arms straight down at his sides or glowers at you from beneath a lowered brow, that Mohmmadzadeh's performance edges right up to the comic. I admired SHEEPLE, found it brave, even, for offering a social critique, from the inside, encompassing child abuse, poverty, the class system, drug addiction, and, most saliently, the patriarchy. Shohreh is a hairdresser: it's somewhat of a scandal that she works at all, but when she dyes her ponytail seven colors as a demo for her clients, the men treat it almost like a crime. And when a rumor surfaces of a video showing her in a SUV displaying her hair to a man, all hell breaks loose. Seydi shows himself to be quite a good suspense director, here. Check out the way he telegraphs danger, in the shocking scene I alluded to above. We know a character is in trouble, and Seydi marshals silence and sound (the scrape of a plate) to prolong the moment. The picture fascinated me in the sense that I'd never seen an Iranian picture with quite this tone, this energy, before: gritty, dark, vibrant, with flashes of violence and action. To my Western eyes, it felt at once universal, in the human themes portrayed (vengeance, betrayal), and exotic. The later part of the film follows Shahin's desultory attempts to become a shepherd himself, but he's a sheeple at heart. That's what makes a final image so chilling, when he comes face-to-face, at last, with what a real shepherd—a real killer—looks like. The movie is programmatic, and not quite as meaty or cinematically gangbusters as its obvious role models. Still, SHEEPLE represents an interesting attempt by a talented filmmaker to reconcile the influences of Scorsese and Coppola, TRAINSPOTTING and CITY OF GOD, at a fraction of the budget and in a specifically Iranian context. (2018, 102 min, DCP Digital) SP
Allan Arkush's ROCK N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (American Revival)
Among schlock mogul Roger Corman's countless contributions to humanity, I most cherish this vision of a late 70s alternative universe where punk rock founding fathers the Ramones are teen heartthrobs bigger than the Bee Gees or Peter Frampton. Allan Arkush and Joe Dante took a sexploitation script titled "Girl's Gym" (written by future film scholar Joseph McBride) and nimbly persuaded Corman to give it a punk edge instead of tapping into the disco craze. Possibly the most anarchically inventive school flick since ZERO DE CONDUITE, there's an anything-for-a-laugh spirit fueled by Dante's cartoon zaniness, as well as gags supplied by the Zucker brothers of AIRPLANE!/NAKED GUN fame. It's all wrapped under a 50s B-movie vibe that fits perfectly with the Ramones' retrocore aesthetic, though it lacks the band's airtight execution. But the band more than compensates with one of the most electrifying sets caught on celluloid, shredding through "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Teenage Lobotomy," "California Sun," and "Pinhead" with breathtaking ferocity. (Be sure to honor the memory of Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee by dancing your ass off during this sequence—you won't find it difficult.) Starring the irrepressible P.J. Soles as the Ramones' #1 fan, with ex-Warhol Factory Girl Mary Woronov as the fascist butch principal and Ron Howard's little brother Clint demonstrating various techniques for unhooking bra straps. Preceded by Chris NyBy's 1979 short TOTAL CONTROL (11 min, 16mm archival print). (1979, 93 min, 35mm archival print) KBL
ALAIN RESNAIS X 2
Alain Resnais’ STAVISKY... (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for showtimes
It took Alain Resnais six years to make another film after the critical and commercial failure of JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME (1968), although the director kept very busy during this period, developing several fascinating-sounding films that were never made (including two collaborations with Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee). He also lived in New York City for some of this time, attending the premiere runs of certain works by Stephen Sondheim, of whom he became a big fan. Resnais incorporates a lot of Sondheim’s musical personality into the overall aesthetic of STAVISKY... Indeed one could argue that Sondheim is as important a collaborator here as the screenwriter, Jorge Semprun. (That’s not to discredit Semprun, a Spanish novelist who also scripted Resnais’ LA GUERRE EST FINIE; a secret organizer for Spain’s exiled Communist Party during the Franco era, Semprun’s political perspective most certainly shapes the material involving Leon Trotsky, who factors as a sort of phantom within the narrative.) The music is essential to the film’s elusive appeal, the graceful melodies hiding vaguely unsettling counter-melodies just beneath the surface. (The tone is summed up nicely by the ellipsis in the film’s title.) Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his Chicago Reader review, writes that “Resnais models his liquid, bittersweet style on Lubitsch,” yet the film hints at dark mystery in a way that Lubitsch’s never did—in spite of the swanky 1930s European locations, there’s an unaccountable sense of sorrow and imminent loss. It’s also a fascinating history lesson, showing how one Russian-Jewish con man spun a scam so big it brought down a number of powerful people in France when he was exposed in 1933. Like many a Lubitsch character, Stavisky enjoys to the fullest a life of privilege that seems like a fantasy—and in a sense, it is, because it’s founded on fraud. Rosenbaum, writing about the film for Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, notes how one masterful crane shot around the exterior of a luxury hotel manages to evoke Lubitsch and offer something more. “What’s most personal in this ravishing sequence isn’t the Lubitsch reference but what Resnais subsequently does with it and to it—a sudden shock cut from the Baron (Charles Boyer) knocking on Arlette’s (Anny Duperet) bedroom to a close-up of her turning her head with a startled expression—for me, one of the most beautiful and frightening cuts in the history of cinema, and one encapsulating the entire film by turning Stavisky’s dream of glamor into something like a nightmare.” (1974, 120 min, DCP Digital) BS + KS
Alain Resnais’ MURIEL (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 4pm and Saturday, 5:15pm
Alain Resnais' radical politics were as integral to his art as his psychological insights and love of comic books. A member of the same Left Bank creative circle as Chris Marker and Marguerite Duras, Resnais was among the first major artists to call public attention to the Holocaust (in NIGHT AND FOG), the atrocities of atomic war (in HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR), and Franco's persecution of dissidents (in LA GUERRE EST FINIE). His third feature, MURIEL, confronted France's brutal history in Algeria, using a melodramatic premise as an entryway into the difficult truths of French colonialism. Set in Boulogne, the film centers on a middle-aged antiques dealer, Hélène (Delphine Seyrig, in one of her greatest performances), who lives with her grown stepson Bernard. One day Hélène receives a visit from an old lover, Alphonse, who arrives with a mysterious woman he claims to be his niece. Bernard and Alphonse have both spent time in Algiers—Bernard as a soldier, Alphonse as a cafe owner—and both seem haunted by their experience there. Resnais and screenwriter Jean Cayrol (a noted intellectual and concentration camp survivor who also wrote the narration for NIGHT AND FOG) withhold the nature of the characters’ traumas until very late in the film, telling the story out of order so as to avoid confronting those traumas until they absolutely have to. The modernist structure isn’t a coy trick, but rather a poignant reflection of the characters’ repressive memories—which in turn reflect the avoidance strategies of French society at large with regards to colonialist history. (Resnais’ radical experiments with montage never feel more thematically purposeful than they do here.) Resnais, Cayrol, and Seyrig aren’t the only major artists associated with this monumental work: Sacha Vierny (one of the director’s key collaborators in the first half of his career) is the cinematographer, and the noted modernist composer Hans Werner Henze wrote the score, his first for a feature film. Both men add layers of distance between the viewer and the characters’ traumas—Vierny with his mysterious camera movements, Henze with his atonal melodies—yet their work is also ruminative and beautiful, heightening the film’s considerable intellectual power. (1963, 116 min, DCP Digital) BS
Lisa Cholodenko’s HIGH ART (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Tuesday, 7pm
Syd (Radha Mitchell) works as an ambitious assistant editor at Frame, a New York-based photography magazine. Syd discovers that the woman living below her in her rundown apartment building is Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy), once the hottest photographer in the New York art scene. She’s back from a 10-year absence in Europe where she became involved with Greta (Patricia Clarkson), a has-been Fassbinder actress, and started doing heroin. The blossoming affair between Syd and Lucy is at the heart of HIGH ART, the feature film debut of director Lisa Cholodenko that examines the complexities of fame, ambition, love, and aging with assurance and depth. The strong subtext of Syd and Lucy’s desire is ambition. There’s no question that the two women are in lust and could be falling in love, but what really pushes them together is their individual hopes for themselves. Syd has a good eye and immediately recognizes that Lucy could be the great discovery that could raise her profile at Frame. Lucy’s overtures to Syd are, to me, more touching. She seems to want to be saved from herself, from the pull of heroin and her codependent relationship with Greta. She is feeling the advance of age, signaled by her desire to return to New York and spend time with her aging, if difficult, Jewish mother (Tammy Grimes), fearing the future, fearing her own mortality. Becoming the Lucy Berliner again seems a plausible way to ensure that her life will count for something once more, and continue after death. The central performances by Sheedy and Mitchell are a master-class in the way women love each other. Cholodenko frequently directs shots that put Syd in the foreground, with Lucy in a corner of the frame looking at her with the eye of both a photographer and a seducer. Sheedy invades Mitchell’s space casually, agilely, but fixes her with her intensity. The script is a bit precious at times, but often witty and revealing, such as when Syd holds forth on one of Lucy’s compositions, and Lucy responds ruefully, “I haven’t been deconstructed in a long time.” Perhaps at that moment she sees the true foundation of Syd’s affections toward her, but chooses to ignore it. The lived-in, hazy look of Lucy’s apartment creates a realistic milieu for the kind of crash pad/opium den atmosphere needed to suggest the subterranean hideout of Lucy’s spirit. The unsuccessful photographs depicting Greta underwater reflect Lucy’s muffled talent. By contrast, the photos she takes of Syd when they go away together for the weekend to consummate their love are alive, vital, compelling. HIGH ART offers a point of view in its final act. Photography—and by extension, film—captures moments in time that can move us with their emotional and physical content. The more universal the image, the more timeless it can be. Mere ambition and even enormously hard work have amazingly short shelf lives. True art can only come from those who can face the pleasure and pain of being alive and project that honestly. (1998, 103 min, 35mm) MF
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT (Cuban Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm
Director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea is probably best known in the U.S. for his penultimate film, the innocuous gay love story STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE (released here by Miramax in 1994) but his most acclaimed work is MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT, a masterpiece of Godardian self-reflexivity from 1968; anyone seeking to understand the state of the contemporary Cuban soul would do well to check out this masterpiece, the unforgettable chronicle of Sergio Corrieri (Sergio Carmona Mendoyo), a bourgeois intellectual who chooses to remain in his native Havana from the pre-Revolution era through the rise of Castro, the Cuban Missile Crisis (which prompts his family into exile), and beyond. Like a Latino version of the characters Marcello Mastroianni specialized in playing for Federico Fellini, Sergio lives an empty, decadent existence, pursuing hedonistic affairs with young women in a vain attempt to recapture his former happiness. Far from being the work of Communist propaganda that one might expect from a Cuban film of this era, however, MEMORIES is instead a deeply ambiguous character study and a brilliantly fragmented work of cinematic modernism. Beautifully shot in black and white, it looks and sounds like a kissing cousin of the contemporaneous French New Wave while also functioning as a vivid portrait of a specific time and place in Cuban history. (1968, 98 min, DCP Digital) MGS
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's ALL ABOUT EVE (American Revival)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) — Saturday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, an ubiquitous presence in Hollywood thanks to some early string pulling by his brother Herman, was a screenwriter for Paramount and a producer for MGM before he realized his second-greatest ambition and became a director for 20th Century Fox (his first was to make it as a Broadway playwright). Ambition is written on the walls of ALL ABOUT EVE, Mankiewicz's sharp and ever-popular comedy of self-comment in which a dissembling fan (Anne Baxter) insinuates herself into the personal and professional life of an aging Broadway star (Bette Davis) until the sparks and epithets really begin to fly. A feeling of ersatz-ness reigns in much of Mankiewicz's cinema: Bette Davis seems to be impersonating Bette Davis, much as EVE is striving for the deeper themes of SUNSET BOULEVARD, released the same year. But Mankiewicz stuck bravely to his guns, impressing upon his actors the need to step outside their roles and acknowledge their theatrical conceits—and many an adoring fan has followed along. (1950, 138 min, Digital Projection) JB
Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (American Revival)
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) — Wednesday, 6:30pm
The narrator of Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is more than just a character in the story—she’s a symbolic representation of the film itself. The unborn child who tells the tale of the Peazant family in their last days before migrating north is as much a reflection of the past as she is of the future; all that has come before her is as intrinsic as the blood in her relatives' veins, and it's that history which propels them along trying and changing times. The Peazant family are inhabitants of the southern Sea Islands and members of its Gullah culture, having preserved the identity of their African heritage in spite of institutional slavery and post-war oppression. Before the move, the matriarch of the Peazant family contemplates her native beliefs while the family's younger members overcome their personal struggles. Rape and prostitution afflict several of them, and scorn from both society and their own clan present the unique obstacles of African-American women within an already disparaged race. Beyond its plot, Dash brilliantly uses magical realism as a filmmaking device that’s reflective of the characters' ethereal culture. It was the first feature-length film by an African-American woman to receive theatrical release, and its historical context and female-oriented storyline set it apart from other films of the time and other films put out by fellow members of the L.A. Rebellion. Introduced by U of C professor Allyson Nadia Field. (1991, 112 min, Digital Projection) KS
Howard Hawks' RIO BRAVO (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) — Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
RIO BRAVO marks the symphonic culmination of themes that Howard Hawks had been developing for most of his directorial career, and the film delivers such a profound sense of coming together that it’s easy to understand why many Hawks fans consider this to be his greatest work. On one level, it’s a passionate love letter to Hollywood movies (which explains why it was such a crucial text for the French New Wave). The actors aren’t playing characters, per se, but rather larger-than-life variations on their screen personas; and the archetypal premise, about a group of committed good guys working together, reflects on ideas central to the western in general and Hawks’ filmography in particular: namely, the beauty of teamwork and the desires of the individual versus the needs of the society. On another level, RIO BRAVO is an audacious experiment in film form, as Hawks (working from a script by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, two of the greatest screenwriters in Hollywood history) frequently relinquishes any sense of narrative momentum to consider niceties of character and the joys of hanging out. Starting around the mid-40s, Hawks claimed to have stopped approaching films as stories and started looking at them as collections of scenes, and RIO BRAVO shows this method at its finest. The film contains funny scenes, poignant scenes, romantic scenes, and suspenseful scenes—it’s as though Hawks, who famously worked in every Hollywood genre, wanted to condense his entire career into a single feature. Yet for all his ambition, Hawks maintains the direct, understated visual style that was as central to his filmmaking as any of his themes. (1959, 141 min, Digital Projection) BS
Paweł Pawlikowski’s COLD WAR (New Polish)
Music Box Theatre — Check venue website for showtimes
Whether inspired by a clichéd romantic notion of doomed love or by an interest in examining historical epochs, storytellers have long fixated on relationships unfolding during times of sociopolitical tumult. The juxtaposition of the personal and the political allows for all manner of parallels and convergences to illuminate the human tolls of social upheaval; the intensity of romance, in particular, comes to seem like a particularly resonant analog of a world sometimes literally on fire. But whereas many films in this subgenre-of-sorts take a conventionally epic tack, charting the psychological and erotic development of a relationship across historical backdrops as vast as the films’ running times are long, Paweł Pawlikowski’s COLD WAR opts for a defiant austerity. Taking place across four countries in postwar Europe, it condenses 15 years of turbulent romance and geopolitical strife into a terse 80 minutes minus credits. Or, more appropriately, it suggests these things through omission. Indeed, as trite as it might be to say, Pawlikowski’s film is as much about what’s not shown as what is. Although we see the material effects of World War II and the subsequent Soviet dominion over Eastern Europe, it is in the elided swaths of time that transpire between the film’s starkly unsentimental cuts to black when we know the greatest tragedies have occurred. The absences are structuring, making the images and sounds we are privy to all the more bittersweet for their (fleeting) presences. And what images and sounds they are: Pawlikowski, reteaming with IDA cinematographer Łukasz Żal in the same 1.37:1, black and white aesthetic, creates visuals that gleam. One could be forgiven for mistaking the film for an actual postwar European opus from a Resnais or a Bresson, so remarkable is its sensuous evocation of this cinematic idiom, architectural rubble and chic modern surfaces finding equal purchase in fastidiously composed frames. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is filled with the Polish folk songs and midcentury jazz performed by the film’s protagonists Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). The film is almost a musical in the way it uses song to illustrate both their (d)evolving relationship and the changing culture they navigate, acting as commentary on the ravages of national politics and self-failings alike, with escape from either becoming an impossibility. Call it a European art-house A STAR IS BORN and you wouldn’t be too far off, except here, the romance between Zula and Wiktor, too impeded by circumstance to ever reach consummation, is less a fully formed relationship than a metonymical tool to reflect a continent riven by political conflicts. This symbolic function, combined with Pawlikowski’s rigorously pared-down form, has the effect of denying their stormy romance much heat, or psychological realism. But this was a COLD WAR, after all, and catharsis wasn’t in the cards. By the end, the film’s abbreviated runtime seems to communicate less time racing by than time stolen. (2018, 85 min, DCP Digital) JL
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Feminist Film Festival takes place at Columbia College Chicago (Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash, 8th Floor) from Wednesday to Friday, February 27-March 1. Full schedule at
www.chicagofeministfilmfestival.com. Free admission for all events.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) and the Chicago Film Archives present Out of the Vault: Funny You Should Mention… on Saturday at 7pm. Screening are three films by Robert Flaxman: WHO (1967, 7 min, Digital Projection), THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO RALPH WILLIAMS (1969, 8 min, 16mm), and SECOND CITY “PTA MEETING” (1970, 10 min, Digital Projection); and two films by Don Klugman: I’VE GOT THIS PROBLEM (1966, 9 min, 16mm preservation print) and YOU’RE PUTTING ME ON (1969, 16 min, 16mm preservation print). With Klugman in person and Flaxman remotely.
The symposium Connecting the Dots Through Guo Baochang: Contemporary Chinese Opera, Film, TV continues at the University of Chicago on Friday and Saturday. More info at https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/connecting-the-dots. Free admission.
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Maryam Sepehri’s 2018 Iranian/US documentary MOUTH HARP IN MINOR KEY: HAMID NAFICY IN/ON EXILE (62 min, Digital Projection) is on Saturday at 1pm, with Sepehri and NU professor Hamid Naficy in person. Free admission.
South Side Projections, the DuSable Museum, and the Haitian American History Museum (at the DuSable, 740 E. 56th Pl.) present A Slippery Land: Recent Short Films from Haiti (2008-17, 61 min total, Digital Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm. Screening are: Myléne Simard and Kaveh Nabatian’s NAN LAKOU KANAVAL (2014), Leah Gordon’s BOUNDA PA BOUNDA (2008), Vincent Toi’s THE CRYING CONCH (2017), and Hugues Gentillion’s LOVE ME, HAITI (2014).
Media Burn presents two screenings of documentaries by Nancy Buchanan from the Message to the Grassroots television series, with director, Grassroots co-creator, and Watts Tower Arts Center workshop instructor Buchanan in person. Michael Zinzun’s 1992 THE L.A. UPRISING: BEFORE, DURING, AND IS IT OVER (59 min, Video Projection) is on Saturday at 7pm at the Uri-Eichen Gallery (2101 S. Halsted St.); and WATTS UP? (1992, 25 min, Video Projection; produced by participants in the Watts Tower Arts Center video workshop) and Nancy Buchanan’s 2007 documentary EACH ONE, TEACH ONE: THE LEGACY OF MICHAEL ZINZUN (27 min, Video Projection) is on Sunday at 2pm at the National Public Housing Museum (625 N. Kingsbury St.). Free admission.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago screens three films in conjunction with artist Laurie Simmon’s talk the previous day. Showing on Sunday are Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 film MOROCCO (94 min; 11am), Richard Quine’s 1958 film BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (106 min, 1pm), and Terrence Malick’s 1973 film BADLANDS (92 min; 3pm). Unconfirmed formats; And Simmons’ 2016 film MY ART (86 min, Unconfirmed Format) is on Tuesday at 2pm (with additional showings through April 9). Free with museum admission.
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Natalia Santa's 2017 Columbia film THE DRAGON'S DEFENSE (79 min, DVD Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2018 Turkish film THE WILD PEAR TREE (183 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Kamal Tabrizi’s 2018 Iranian film SLY (90 min, Digital Projection) is on Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm; and Brian Skiba’s 2018 film CHOKEHOLD (98 min, DCP Digital) Sunday at 7:30pm and Monday at 8pm, with producer Kenny Loften in person at both shows.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Mitchell Leisen’s 1950 film NO MAN OF HER OWN (98 min, Digital Projection) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 1:30pm; Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 Italian/US film SUSPIRIA (152 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:45pm and Sunday at 4pm; François Ozon’s 2000 French film UNDER THE SAND (96 min, 35mm archival print) is on Monday at 7pm; Taylor Hackford’s 1985 film WHITE NIGHTS (136 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and Lars von Trier’s 2003 Danish/International film DOGVILLE (179 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Jonas Åkerlund’s 2018 UK/Swedish film LORDS OF CHAOS (118 min, DCP Digital) opens; Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s 2018 German film NEVER LOOK AWAY (189 min, DCP Digital) continues; Oscar-Nominated Documentary Short Films is on Saturday and Sunday at 11am; Tommy Wiseau's 2003 film THE ROOM (99 min, 35mm) is on Friday at Midnight; and Jim Sharman's 1975 film THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (100 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Michael B. Bilandic's 2018 film JOBE'Z WORLD (68 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run; and presents the second iteration of its Religion in the Frame Film Festival. Screening are: Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 French film THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (110 min) on Friday at 7pm; Paul Schraeder's 2017 film FIRST REFORMED (113 min) on Saturday at 7pm; Reza Mirkarimi's 2004 Iranian film UNDER THE MOONLIGHT (96 min) on Sunday at 7pm; Gidi Dar's 2004 Israeli film USHPIZIN (90 min) on Monday at 7pm; George Roy Hill's 1972 film SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE (104 min) on Tuesday at 7pm; Bruce Beresford's 1991 Canadian film BLACK ROBE (101 min) on Wednesday at 7pm; and Lee Chang-dong's 2007 Korean film SECRET SUNSHINE (142 min) on Thursday at 7pm. Films in the Religion series are free admission and the screenings will include discussion between Gretchen Helfrich and a guest scholar.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Isaac Julien’s 2007 video installation THE LEOPARD (WESTERN UNION: SMALL BOATS) is on view at the Block Museum (Northwestern University) through April 14.
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Naeem Mohaiemen’s 2017 three-channel video installation TWO MEETINGS AND A FUNERAL (88 min) is on view through March 31 in the Stone Gallery; Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes); and Dara Birnbaum’s KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (1979, 6 min loop, two-channel video) is in the second floor corridor.
CINE-LIST: February 22 - February 28, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Jeffrey Bivens, Kyle Cubr, Marilyn Ferdinand, Kevin B. Lee, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, JB Mabe, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael Glover Smith, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky