On episode #8 of the Cine-Cast, Cine-File associate editor Ben Sachs gives an overview of Chicago movie-going in November. Sachs and contributors Alexandra Ensign and John Dickson cover several series at Doc Films (Cinema Novo and Beyond, The Films of Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai, The Films of Chantal Akerman, and Female Sexuality and the Male Gaze), the Luchino Visconti series at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and Chicago Film Society screenings of Elaine May's MIKEY AND NICKY and Edward Yang's YI YI (read our review below).
Listen here. Engineered by Cine-File contributor Harrison Sherrod. Produced by contributor Josh B Mabe and associate editor Kathleen Sachs.
The introductory theme is by local film composer Ben Van Vlissingen. Find out more about his work here.
Edward Yang’s YI YI (Taiwanese Revival)
Edward Yang’s final film—one of the indisputable masterpieces of the Taiwanese New Wave, if not the culminating achievement of the entire movement—contains one of my favorite moments of any narrative film. It occurs during a business dinner between the film’s hero, middle-aged businessman NJ (Nien-Jen Wu, a key figure of the New Wave who collaborated on numerous screenplays with Hou Hsiao-Hsien), and a Japanese entrepreneur named Mr. Ota (Issei Ogata). Prior to this scene, Yang had presented Mr. Ota as something of a caricature, a nerdy computer whiz with limited social skills. But as the character opens up to NJ about his personal philosophy, something extraordinary happens: Mr. Ota transforms before one’s very eyes into a three-dimensional human being worthy of sympathy and respect. It’s an exemplary use of the long-take—not flashy, but wise, playing on duration to manipulate the audience’s understanding of character and interpersonal relationships. It’s also represents in microcosm what Yang accomplished with his small, but extraordinary body of work, employing a rigorous sense of form to better understand people, the social structures they inhabit, and how they can transcend those structures through a shared sense of humanity. YI YI is full of humanist epiphanies akin to the one at the business dinner, whether Yang is following NJ, his wife, his teenage daughter, or young son. (Many have commented on how this last character, pointedly named Yang-Yang and who’s interested in taking pictures, serves as an autobiographical stand-in for the director.) The accumulation of these assorted character portraits feels literary, as one comes to understand the family’s problems both intimately and on a societal level—their feelings of loneliness, disappointment, and aspiration speak to universal human experiences as well as the anxieties felt by many urbanites at the end of the 20th century. “At first glance,” wrote Kent Jones for the Criterion Collection in 2011, “YI YI appears to be a serene and becalmed film, in pace and spirit, a movie made by a director who has shed his youthful anger and made peace with the assorted confusions of ‘late capitalist’ Taiwanese life. On close scrutiny, it becomes something else again. Yang has set his city symphonies in a variety of emotional keys—the doleful lament of TAIPEI STORY (1985), the grid-like coolness of THE TERRORIZER (1986), the comic hysteria of A CONFUCIAN CONFUSION (1994), the carefully modulated fury of MAHJONG. In YI YI, he brings all of these moods together, never allowing any one of them to take precedence over another. Which is to say that this is a grand choral work, with a panoptic majesty and an emotional amplitude worthy of George Eliot or late Beethoven, whose ‘Song of Joy’ is quoted with the greatest delicacy in Kaili Peng’s piano score.” Preceded by Thad Povey’s 1994 experimental short DUERMETE NINITA (6 min, 16mm). (2000, 173 min, Archival 35mm Print) BS
Johnnie To's VENGEANCE (Contemporary Hong Kong)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Tuesday, 7pm
While looking for the men who killed his daughter's family in neon Macau, gnomish, trenchcoated hitman-turned-restauranteur Johnny Hallyday hires a trio of assassins (including Anthony Wong and Suet Lam) with whom he can only speak in accented English and who are also working for a vengeful gangster (Simon Yam). This is business as usual for Johnnie To: the casting of regulars Wong, Yam, and Lam; a script by Wai Ka-Fai, heavy on group dynamics and coincidence; the significance of objects, specifically photographs, combined with pulp Freudianism and 1950s-style character psychology; an indulgence of the director's Francophilia, which involves not only putting Hallyday in the starring role, but also naming him after Alain Delon's character in LE SAMOURAI, casting Sylvie Testud as his daughter, and throwing in yet another UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG reference in for good measure; Macau, language-games, car rides through the city at night. But just because it's business as usual for To doesn't mean that VENGEANCE is workmanlike or routine. In fact, it's kind of a masterpiece. To, one of the greatest directors in the world, is incapable of making a bad movie or "taking it easy"; a roughly 15-minute sequence set in a wooded park at night features the finest, most intense directing you'll probably see on the screen this year. Like all To films, this is essential. (2009, 108 min, 35mm) IV
Chantal Akerman’s LA CAPTIVE (Belgian/French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
“In adapting Proust, Akerman eschews the temporal pyrotechnics of Raul Ruiz’s TIME REGAINED,” noted J. Hoberman in his 2001 review of the Belgian master's modern-dress adaptation of the fifth volume of In Search of Lost Time. “Visual as LA CAPTIVE is in its rigorously formal compositions, the filmmaker is straightforwardly concerned with language. She filters her Proust through the old nouveau roman of Duras or Robbe-Grillet to fixate on recurring phrases: ‘au contraire,’ ‘if you like,’ ‘you think so?’ Similarly, Akerman takes situations from Proust and elaborately defamiliarizes them. The novel’s brief description of Marcel and Albertine’s adjoining bathrooms occasions a long scene in which the unseen Ariane sings as Simon sits in the tub, instructing her on the precise details of her toilette. (Outrageously, much of the conversation is a deadpan discussion of Ariane’s intimate physiognomy, vaginal secretions, and body odor.)” This is all to say that Akerman makes Proust’s novel of male sexual jealousy entirely her own—indeed, it bears thematic similarities with the director’s early feature JE TU IL ELLE. The film also suggests a fusion of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO and Albert Brooks’ MODERN ROMANCE in its alternately brooding and comic depiction of obsessive behavior, though it’s worth noting that the Brooksian cringe humor comes straight from the source material. Akerman adds to Proust with her understanding of female psychology and her critical distance from the male protagonist, resulting in a different (but equally complex) portrait of tortured heterosexual relations. As usual with the director’s work, the film isn’t without sympathy for its characters, but you have to work to find it—much like one must disentangle the psychology of Proust’s narrator from his self-justifying narration. This is one of the rare instances where a great work of literature inspired a great film. (2000, 113 min, Imported 35mm Print) BS
Oakton Community College (1600 E. Golf Rd., Des Plaines) — Tuesday-Friday, November 27-30 (Free Admission)
Organized by Cine-File contributor Michael G. Smith, the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival begins on Tuesday and features a screening each day through Friday, November 30.
Josephine Decker's MADELINE'S MADELINE (New American)
Imagine participating in one of those intense acting workshops. You've stripped yourself to the bone, taking that truth inside you that can’t be said, and finding a way to say it. Then, you discover you've put yourself in the hands of a director who's gradually trying to colonize your story. Going down this black hole of betrayal is essentially what happens to the teenage girl in Josephine Decker's MADELINE'S MADELINE, a playful, daring, occasionally annoying, extremely personal piece of work, and certainly one of the most knowing self-critiques a director has served up. Decker is a conceptual artist, musician, and actress, as well as the director of the dark, stream-of-consciousness features BUTTER ON THE LATCH and THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY. Currently, she has the potential to bring experimental film into the mainstream like no one since Terrence Malick. The movie gives us a fractured vision of New York City, reflecting the subjective impressions of young, gifted Madeline, who has an unspecified mental illness, and who's played by the remarkable 15-year-old newcomer Helena Howard. She finds her joy with a local theater troupe, role-playing a cat, for instance, and Decker seems to conceive of the process of acting as therapy—but also as play, which strikes me as a healthy vision. Miranda July is well cast as Madeline's game if overprotective mother. Molly Parker, spot-on, plays Evangeline, the troupe's patronizing director. Evangeline isn't necessarily malignant. Rather, she walks a line I imagine all directors tread, especially directors like Decker who presumably wish, at least on some level, to shake the audience up. Evangeline may err on the side of exploitation, but it's a continuum, and one that's perhaps only truly being scrutinized today. She must be everything Decker fears she might be, or become, and so Evangeline's occasional self-indulgence and puerile pronouncements play like self-parody. As for Decker's cinematic language, anyone who's taken an Intro to Underground Film class won't find it all that disorienting, and the blurring of boundaries between characters and actors has been around long enough to merit its own adjective, Pirandellian. Decker taps into an insight that also occurred to Ingmar Bergman, who saw that, in David Thomson's words, "the basic human predicament had a marvelous metaphor in the way that an artist treated his subject and his collaborators... that everyone was not a solid identity but an actor trying to play the self." On the level of rhythm and movement, as an almost dance film, this picture really shines. "Moving in unison is one of the most connecting things that people can do, and our culture has lost that," Decker has said. The movie is exhilarating, and occasionally wearying, as an immersive, intimate sensory experience, a claustrophobic barrage. Martín Hernández’s layered sound design is jarring and abrasive. Ashley Connor, the excellent cinematographer, is both documentarian and poet in her use of focus, shadow, and texture. Decker co-edits her own footage; she's described her breakthrough, when she broke with straight editing in order to find her voice, which is "fluid, more dream-like and nightmarish." At heart the movie is a showcase for the talent of fierce, funny Helena Howard, who shows a remarkable amount of trust in both herself and her director. Unlike the film's Madeline, Howard has put her good faith in good hands. For all its imperfections, this film is alive. Followed by a discussion with discussion with Oakton lecturer Tina Fakhrid-Deen and Michael Smith. (2018, 90 min, Digital Projection) SP
Lori Felker’s FUTURE LANGUAGE: THE DIMENSIONS OF VON LMO (New Experimental Documentary)
Most modern documentaries about eccentrics, forgotten geniuses, and cult heroes are about as adventurous as a Disneyland jungle cruise. Suffocated by voice-overs, clogged by talking heads, and bloated with cloying AfterEffects photomontages, they aspire to a one-size-fits-all competence that evacuates the strangeness of their subjects even as they turn that strangeness into a commodity. Conceivably, such films will one day be made entirely by algorithms and a few Wikipedia links. But FUTURE LANGUAGE: THE DIMENSIONS OF VON LMO is the only documentary that could be made about Frankie Cavallo, aka VON LMO, irrepressibly bent noise musician and space refugee from the planet Strazar—and Chicago-based filmmaker Lori Felker is the only person who could have made it. Ask LMO why it had to be Felker, and he might talk about their shared “extraterrestrial hybridity,” or about their past lives together, perhaps as two ingredients in an 18th-century salad. The filmmaker certainly has gift for entering what Steven “Laserman” Cohen, VON LMO collaborator and inventor of the “Gimbaled Laser Bongo,” describes as a “mindlocked brainfuck” with the post-punk icon: throughout FUTURE LANGUAGE, Felker tunes us to station WLMO by way of pixel-frying video effects, Martian-time-slip montage, and sheer sonic attack. Something of a stylistic factotum in her experimental film and video work, Felker’s got enough technique to be exactly as weird as she wants to be, maneuvering between interviews, candid camera phone footage, animation, live performances, and blizzards of CRT noise with exhilarating confidence. Clearly her subject is impressed: after seeing one of his acid trips woozily brought to life in Mike Lopez’s cartoon recreations (sequences which serve as color-coded act breaks in an otherwise very freewheeling film), VON LMO lets out an unbridled shout of recognition that conveys as much joy on screen as I’ve seen in eons. In these moments when FUTURE LANGUAGE circles back on itself, revealing the seven (hundred?) year process of portraying a bizarre and troubled life, we see Felker’s fandom take on the gravity of real friendship, but this film is really an extended dialogue between two artists, and only an artist of her ingenuity and idiosyncrasy could slingshot around this “intergalactic superstar” without burning out. Though an undeniably affectionate, sometimes awestruck tribute, the film wisely describes a more elliptical orbit around its subject than most rock profiles—over the years, VON LMO seems to come in and out of focus not only to Felker and to us, but to himself. Her trajectory not only helps shield the filmmaker from her subject’s sometimes disturbing volatility, it also lends FUTURE LANGUAGE a peculiar rhythm, one that mirrors the flux of its own making. Most importantly, her ability to step back preserves the quantum of VON LMO’s essential strangeness, which utterly confounds conventional rise-and-fall-and-rise biographical structures anyway. Thrilling and sometimes frightening up close, the dimensions of VON LMO become both more spooky, and more affecting, at a distance. Felker in person. (2018, 84 min, Digital Projection) MM
Michael Glover Smith's RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO(New American)
At a time when our leaders prey on, and feed off, the worst parts of ourselves, it couldn't be a more necessary time for an homage to Éric Rohmer. That's just what my friend, Cine-File's own Mike Smith, has given us with his third feature, the sweet, delightful, humanistic rom-com RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO. It celebrates love and intelligence—that is to say, the best in us. Smith has taken the basic form of Rohmer's RENDEZVOUS IN PARIS—three sketches united by their setting in one of the world's great cities—and added his own original agenda, which encompasses feminism and a pro-gay vision. He's even shot the movie in Rohmer's favored boxy Academy aspect ratio. Smith's script, based on stories he dreamed up with Jill McKeown (his wife and also a friend), shows his knack for the simple yet elegant structure: the three chapters correspond to the beginning, middle, and end of love, respectively, with the end cycling back into the beginning. Coming out of acting retirement after 37 years, Haydée Politoff, from Rohmer's touchstone LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (1967), performs a place-setting Hyde Park prologue. She's the faculty adviser to U of C doctoral candidate Delaney, wittily played by Clare Cooney. The first vignette, The Brothers Karamazov, takes place in a little candlelit wine bar. If I say it's a bit of a Kubrickian/Lynchian antechamber, that belies how cozy it actually is. It's a lonely Sunday night and whip-smart Delaney is working on her thesis. Suddenly, she finds herself being hit on, not entirely unwelcomed, by the only other patron: none other than Paul, the likably pretentious aspiring writer from COOL APOCALYPSE, Smith's debut. (Amusingly, when we get a glimpse of what Paul's writing, it's the end of MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, Smith's second feature.) Once again, Paul is played by the funny Kevin Wehby, who's emerging as Smith's Jean-Pierre Léaud, or Kyle MacLachlan. Delaney proposes a naughty little game, which quickly hoists Paul with his own male petard. The second sketch, Cats and Dogs, is my favorite. Achieving an effortless Linklater-ian tone, it follows a gay couple, Andy and Rob, as they walk from their Rogers Park home to the shores of Lake Michigan. Smith sets the scene with glimpses of the Essanay and Selig Polyscope buildings, nods to Chicago's rich film history, a subject on which he literally wrote the book. We know, but Andy doesn't, that Rob has a question to pop, but look out—as they meet the neighborhood's dogs, it emerges that Andy's more of a cat person, whereas Rob's a dog guy! As Andy and Rob, respectively, Rashaad Hall and Matthew Sherbach are so natural, charming, and funny that I not only wanted them to be a real couple, I wanted to be their friend. They run into Tess from COOL APOCALYPSE (Chelsea David), who's out walking Sophie the Shih Tzu, playing herself in a flawless method performance. When the gents get to the beach, there's a moving homage to the immortal "Lake Shore Drive" by the late Skip Haynes, to whom the film is dedicated. The third sketch, The End Is the Beginning, is the most minimalist. It features Nina Ganet, back as Julie from COOL APOCALYPSE. After a sudden, tumultuous rom-com breakup with Wyatt from MERCURY IN RETROGRADE (Shane Simmons), Julie finds herself alone again, but for us. Warming to us, she begins to fall in love with the camera itself: that is to say, with you and me. Since she's played by the sunny, freckle-faced Ganet, how can we resist falling in love back, at least a little? It's a remarkably benign, even celebratory, view of "the gaze." As Julie takes us in her arms to dance, we spin round and round, dizzy on the cusp of new love. As an Ohio boy who's lived in Chicago for 25 years now, I love the idea of doing for my adopted city what Rohmer did for Paris. My personal feeling is that the magic is always there in Chicago: you just need to know how to look. Perhaps the most valuable thing RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO did for me is to renew that feeling, after all these years. It's a vision to treasure: heaven might just be a beach on the shores of Lake Michigan, lolling away the afternoon with someone you love, in Chicago, Illinois. Smith, producer Layne Marie Williams, and select cast in person (moderated by Cine-File Associate Editor Kathleen Sachs). (2018, 69 min, Digital Projection) SP
Experimental Shorts Program
Friday, November 30, 12:30pm
Writing about the depictions of bodies and objects in her film CREATURE COMPANION (2018, 31 min), Chicago filmmaker Melika Bass asks, “what do these images and surfaces contain inside, what remains unknown, concealed underneath?” Experimental cinema exists to pose precisely these kinds of questions of a medium that can just as easily be a veil—or a blindfold—as a window. In her various films and installations, Bass works as a kind of occultist, conjuring the uncanny from the banal. With CREATURE COMPANION, she invites performers Selma Banich and Penelope Hearne to invent a series of domestic rituals—odd convulsions and exaggerated gestures that unsettle the placid suburban bubbles around them. Recalling Chick Strand’s MUJER DE MILFUEGOS and the early videos of Cecilia Condit (whose BENEATH THE SKIN might have provided a good alternate title), CREATURE COMPANION doesn’t so much tell a story as channel a restless, carnal energy, which Bass and her collaborators can contain for only so long before unleashing in delightfully unpredictable outbursts. Also showing are Maggie Scrantom’s ATOMS OF ASHES (2017), and Haley McCormick’s DANCER (2017). Bass, Scrantom, and McCormick in person. MM
BUSTER KEATON X 4
Buster Keaton’s SHERLOCK, JR. and THE PLAYHOUSE (American Revival)
Friday, 2:45pm and Sunday, 5:45pm
Following his series of films with comedian Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton started his own production company, Buster Keaton Productions, where he was able to exert complete creative control over his shorts and features for most of the 1920s. Although much of his output during this time has had a long-lasting influence on the medium, two films in particular from this period have had a profound impact on surrealism and self-reflexive comedy. In SHERLOCK, JR. (1924), Keaton plays a film projectionist/janitor who’s smitten with a woman, but his rival also has feelings for her and frames Keaton for a theft he did not commit. While running a detective film, he falls asleep and awakens in a world in which he is now the detective investigating a theft with the ‘film’s’ cast of characters made up of people from his real life. The film-within-a-film structure here is one of the most successfully realized in cinema, and its influence can be seen widely, most especially in Woody Allen’s THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO. In the 1921 short THE PLAYHOUSE, Keaton plays multiple characters watching a variety show and multiple characters in the show: from members of the orchestra to the audience, from men to women. The ingenuity here is the use of multiple exposures to have several iterations of himself appear on screen at the same time, perhaps an inspiration Peter Sellers and others playing multiple roles in a film. Both films feature tour de force physical performances from Keaton as well as one of his best ‘impossible gags,’ visual gags that only make sense within the two-dimensional world of the film frame. (1924/1921, 46 min/24 min, DCP Digital) KC
Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman’s THE GENERAL (Silent American Revival)
Saturday, 3pm, Wednesday, 6pm, and Thursday, 8pm
Lauded by many as one of the greatest films, silent or otherwise, of all time, Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL (1926) is a masterwork of stunning physical comedy, lavish set pieces, and the culmination of all his directorial ingenuity from his years as an independent filmmaker. Based upon a true story set in Georgia, railroad engineer Johnnie Gray (Keaton) has two loves: Annabelle (Marion Mack) and his train, nick-named ‘The General,’ When the Civil War breaks out, Johnnie tries to enlist in the Confederate Army but is rejected due to the importance placed on his current job. Things don’t bode well for Johnnie as Annabelle and her father believe that he is shirking his patriotic duty. A year later, a series of events unfolds in which the General is stolen by the Union Army and Annabelle is taken prisoner. Johnnie takes chase after his two beloveds. THE GENERAL was one of Keaton’s highest budgeted works and it shows. Elaborate outdoor sets, functioning cannons, and nearly twenty freight cars, help to establish the fog of war as Keaton charmingly bumbles his way through. Keaton’s physical gags are in peak form here and feature some of his most dangerous stunts (this is the film where he broke his neck, not realizing it until years later), including a great one in which he sits on the cowcatcher of the General and throws a railroad tie at a loose one blocking the tracks. Sadly for Keaton, the film was not appreciated in its time and resulted in the cinematic wing clipping of his talents when he was made to sign a contract with MGM. Thankfully, nearly 100 years later, cinephiles old and young can still appreciate the majesty of what is arguably the Great Stone Face’s final masterpiece. With live accompaniment by Dave Drazin at the Saturday show. (1926, 80 min, DCP Digital) KC
Peter Bogdanovich’s THE GREAT BUSTER (New Documentary)
Check venue website for showtimes
The life and career of Buster Keaton are celebrated in Peter Bogdanovich’s new documentary. From his formative years as a vaudeville performer with his family, to his initiation to film as a protégé under Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, to his shorts, features, and later life, no stone lays unturned in this portrait of the lauded silent era star. The film is full of talking-head interviews from stars new and old—Mel Brooks to Bill Hader—that showcase Keaton’s influence on comedy over the past century. Bogdanovich does not shy away from less-glamorous parts of Keaton’s life and career, such as his struggles with alcoholism and ill-advised time with MGM. The archival images and sequences utilized provide a candid look at the daily life and provide a humanizing aspect. Bogdanovich’s narration provides a sense of his deep reverence and admiration. It is as thorough a documentary on Keaton’s complete body of work as could be. A must see for Buster Keaton fans everywhere, THE GREAT BUSTER captures the zest for life, innovation, and supreme talent of one of early Hollywood’s greatest pioneers. (2018, 102 min, DCP Digital) KC
Also showing this week is Charles F. Reisner and Buster Keaton’s STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928, 71 min, DCP Digital) on Friday and Monday at 6:15pm.
Luchino Visconti's LA TERRA TREMA (Italian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Sunday, 2:30pm
In 1947, with over 2.3 million members, the Italian Communist Party (PCI) was at the height of its influence, on the eve of a general election that could give them nationwide control the following year. That April, a surprise Communist electoral victory in Sicily touched off a political massacre and signaled the strategic importance of the region to the CIA, who mounted an expensive influence campaign aimed at stemming a red tide in Italy. Suddenly, the plight of impoverished workers in the Italian south became a matter of international significance. It is into these Cold War waters that Luchino Visconti—the great director of films, plays, and operas; an aristocrat and man of leisure; a member of the anti-Fascist resistance and lifelong Marxist—waded to make LA TERRA TREMA (1948). The PCI approached Visconti with an offer to direct a documentary about Sicilian fishermen to be used as campaign agitprop; the director instead envisioned this epically grim lesson in hardship. Adapted from a 19th century novel, the story follows the Valastro family, led by the young, idealistic fisherman ‘Ntoni, desperate to get out from under the crushing heel of market exploitation. ‘Ntoni mortgages their ancestral home to buy a boat, but before he’s able to repay the debt and build his business, nature and the cruelty of local power-brokers conspire to ruin him. Already a prime architect of Neorealism with his previous film OSSESSIONE (1943), Visconti takes the form to its extremes here: shot on location in the tiny fishing community of Aci-Trezza and acted entirely by its villagers (billed collectively) in their native dialect, LA TERRA TREMA claims a documentary veracity and aesthetic austerity that outstrips anything in Rossellini or De Sica. Its use of direct sound, almost unprecedented for Italian cinema, captures the real sounds and songs of the village as they resonate through its all-too-porous walls and over its stony beaches. This soundtrack, like the film’s many exceptional sequence shots and deep-focus compositions, acts like a fisherman’s trawl, capturing a staggering bounty of cultural and environmental detail. Though brined in the harsh and salty textures of the region, LA TERRA TREMA strives for universality—which explains the sometimes head-smackingly redundant voiceover. At times, Visconti’s Marxist pedantry clouds the flinty poetry of the film, expressed in images of mute endurance and in language-transcending exchanges of laughter, consolation, and romantic yearning. But both the beauty and the bluntness of LA TERRA TREMA made it a touchstone not only for subsequent works of Neorealism in Italy, but for a suite of powerfully humanistic and visually exceptional films from around the world. From Margot Benacerraf’s ARAYA (1959) in Venezuela to Kaneto Shindo’s THE NAKED ISLAND (1960) in Japan and Paolo Rocha’s MUDAR DE VIDA (1966) in Portugal, filmmakers seeking to visualize the dignity and the despair of human labor drew heavily on LA TERRA TREMA for both its poetry and its politics. “The sea is the same all over the world,” ‘Ntoni tells his brother in one of the film’s most indelible scenes, “outside our harbor are strong currents and disaster.” Though rooted in the stories and struggles of Sicily, LA TERRA TREMA’s nakedly partisan call for collective action made it both a product of, and an agent in, a global history of resistance and resilience—and as moving a piece of propaganda as the cinema has ever produced. (1948, 160 min, DCP Digital) MM
Kelly Reichardt's MEEK'S CUTOFF (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 5:30pm and Tuesday, 6pm
The story goes that cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa had taken a very long time to set up the shot. He carefully framed the furrows of the road and the mountains and the sky just so, with plenty of clouds in the shot to lend added texture. It was gorgeous. Finally Luis Buñuel came on the set. He took a look through the viewfinder, then swung the camera around so it was pointing at just the road and an empty field of dirt. The point was that Buñuel was not interested in just creating pretty pictures for the actors to move through; to him, human beings were the most important things in any shot, and he wouldn't allow anything to distract from them. The importance of Reichardt's decision to shoot MEEK'S CUTOFF in the boxy Academy ratio instead of widescreen cannot be underestimated—it's a format that privileges the human face over the expansive scenery. As she explained during the Sundance screening's Q&A, "The square really helped keep me in the moment with them." For a perfect contrast, one would have to look to Raoul Walsh's 1930 film THE BIG TRAIL. In fact they even share a few sequences (crossing a river, lowering the wagons, etc.); but where Walsh favors jaw-dropping spectacle, Reichardt hones in on intimacy. It's only one way in which she and screenwriter Jon Raymond take a hackneyed genre and strip away the clichés. There are no gunfights, no saloons, no cowboys, and no whorehouses in this Western. Just ordinary folks trying to make a new life for themselves, at the mercy of an indifferent environment and their own doubts. (2010, 104 min, 35mm) RC
Göran Hugo Olsson’s THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 (Documentary Revival)
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) — Friday, Noon*(Free Admission)
Misinformation about the civil rights/black power movements in the United States is rampant among both opponents and supporters. That’s why THE BLACK POWER MIXTAP 1967-1975 is an unusual and valuable look from an outside source—Sweden. During the years mentioned in the title, Swedish television journalists covered aspects of the movements that occurred both in the United States and abroad, providing a more in-depth and generally sympathetic look at the Black Panther Party and its allies than could ever have been produced domestically at the time. Revisiting this footage gave director Olsson and the film’s producers, including actor/director/political activist Danny Glover, the very bright idea of offering today’s audiences a window on the past, as well as give contemporary African-Americans a chance to reflect on the effect of this legacy on their lives and careers. The film begins with a look at impoverished African-Americans and segues into extensive footage of Stokely Carmichael, a handsome, educated, articulate spokesperson for black power. Carmichael is shown meeting with foreign dignitaries, including the king of Sweden, but his most affecting moment is in his mother’s apartment in Chicago. He grabs the microphone from the Swedes and interviews her about the cramped living conditions in which the Carmichael family struggled, teasing out with question after question the reasons for their poverty. Finally, his mother asserts that her husband was always the first laid off because he was “colored.” The film takes a top-down view of the black power movement, focusing on such leaders as Carmichael, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, and Bobby Seale, and making some unfortunate factual errors, such as giving the incorrect dates for the murders of Medgar Evers (1963, not 1967) and Fred Hampton and Mark Clark (1969, not 1968). The film gives little time to the “survival programs” that were part of the Panthers’ 10-point program—the free breakfast program, self-defense classes, free medical clinics and first-aid training, political and economic education, and other services—that made the Panthers a bulwark in the African-American community and prompted J. Edgar Hoover, founder of the dirty tricks infiltration of perceived subversive organizations Covert Intelligence Programs, or Cointelpro, to call the programs “the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for.” Following up with contemporary commentary from the likes of Melvin Van Peebles, Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, and hip-hop artist and poet Talib Kweli continues this high-profile approach, though the remarks are off-camera and worth listening to. In the usual sensationalistic look at “ghetto” violence, the film shows a Panthers’ class in which the youngsters chant “take up the gun” repeatedly. When the journalists bring up the topic while interviewing Angela Davis in her prison cell, it results in a takedown of epic proportions. An angry Davis recalls in harrowing detail the day four African-American girls she knew during her childhood in Birmingham were blown to bits by a racist’s bomb, an incident probed in Spike Lee’s documentary 4 LITTLE GIRLS (1997). The horror that invades her eyes is memorable and fully explicates the need for the armed neighborhood watch that resulted to prevent further violence against African-Americans. While the documentary is somewhat superficial, THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 gives contemporary audiences back a piece of their history, not only setting some records straight, but also offering the passion of past activists as inspiration to a new generation. A Harlem bookstore owner in the film mentions how some young people came into his store one day talking about black power. He told them, “Black is beautiful, but knowledge is power.” (2011, 100 min, Digital Projection)
* Showing as part of a day-long set of screenings. Individual start times were not available. Also showing are: John Singleton's HIGHER LEARNING (1995, 127 min), Spike Lee’s MALCOLM X (1992, 207 min), and a selection of footage about the Black Panther Party.
Working Women of Color: Three Films
South Side Projections at Chicago Women in Trades (2444 W. 16th St.) — Wednesday, 6pm (Free Admission)
There’s a clever dream sequence in Dawn Jones Redstone’s SISTA IN THE BROTHERHOOD (2016, 20 min) where the protagonist, an African-American carpenter's apprentice named Lenise, runs to the bathroom after being verbally harassed by her white, male boss and encounters, via an assured transition to said dream sequence, a black Rosie the Riveter. After she dispenses her wisdom to the downtrodden young woman, Rosie says, “Just one more thing.” Her protégé imitates the iconic Rosie the Riveter poster, flexing her arm and asking, apprehensively, “We can do it?” “What kind of nonsense is that?” Rosie replies. “We been doin’ it! Which is why I expect no less from you.” A skillfully acted scene in a solid short film, it also sums up the entire program, which includes Jesus Contreras’ short documentary WARRIOR WOMAN (2017, 7 min) and Connie Field’s documentary feature THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ROSIE THE RIVETER (1980, 65 min). SISTA IN THE BROTHERHOOD depicts several hours in one day of Lenise’s career, during which she leaves her young child with a babysitter, goes to a job site where the crew consists entirely of white men, and then helps a fellow apprentice with a difficult task, resulting in the aforementioned harassment—her boss, who calls her “Quota,” had relegated her to doing things like moving 2X4s and retrieving supplies. Redstone, a former union carpenter, co-wrote the film, which was inspired by the doctoral thesis (“My Walk Has Never Been Average: Black Tradeswomen Negotiating Intersections of Race and Gender in Long Term Careers in The United States”) of one of the film’s producers, Dr. Roberta Hunte. The two met while working at Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., a non-profit that connects women with training and careers in trade industries. WARRIOR WOMAN, a documentary vignette examining a similar subject, albeit via the non-fiction mode, profiles Vanessa Enos, a member of the Umatilla tribe and a journey-level tradeswoman in Northwest Oregon. Similarly, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ROSIE THE RIVETER is a remarkable document that made quite a splash when it premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1980, though it takes a broader approach, specifically with regards to women who did so-called “men’s jobs” during World War II. Field features five women—three black, two white—who talk about their experiences as welders, riveters, and the like. Intercut between their testimony is archival footage from that time, including patronizing recruitment films and maddeningly presumptuous March of Time segments. Despite the proliferation of Rosie the Riveter’s image during and after the war, Field’s film is a staunch reminder that while women could indeed do it, they were often not respected while doing it or prohibited from continuing to do it once male workers came home. But to echo Rosie’s assertion, we been doin’ it, as is evidenced by the location of this screening. Followed by a discussion with members of Chicago Women in Trades. KS
PJ Raval’s CALL HER GANDA (New Documentary)
Facets Cinémathèque — Check venue website for showtimes
In 2014, a 26-year-old Filipina named Jennifer Laude—her mother called her Ganda, which means “beautiful” in Tagalog—was murdered. Her killer? A 19-year-old Marine stationed in the Philippines, on break from duty. The reason? As he later told a fellow Marine, he'd discovered that Laude was a “he-she,” to use his vile language. PJ Raval’s CALL HER GANDA is about this case and issues related to it, from transgender discrimination to the insidious aftereffects of colonialism. Raval assembles the film deftly, elegantly weaving together these strains, presenting them as both important, independent narratives and an intricate system of cause-and-effect. Laude’s family and friends, some present the night she died, illuminate her life (understandably tiptoeing around the fact that she may have been working in the sex trade) and mourn her tragic death; Raval also follows the case’s steadfast defense team and reporter Meredith Talusan, a Filipina-American transgender woman, who’s covering the story for American news outlets. He uses news footage and screenshots from social media posts to further exposit the crime in question, as well as archival news material to explain the Visiting Forces Agreement, which dictates, to an unnerving degree, how the Filipino government can preside over the cases of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel in their country. Though the Philippines gained independence from the U.S. in 1946, the agreement is a clear-cut sign of America’s persisting colonialist urges. Through all of this, however, is footage of Laude herself, radiant with life, but, sadly, vulnerable to its horrors. (2018, 98 min, Video Projection) KS
Alonso Ruizpalacios’ MUSEO (New Mexican)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for showtimes
I don’t know how closely Alonso Ruizpalacios’ engrossing and stylish heist-gone-wrong flick hews to the real-life 1985 museum robbery on which it is based but that doesn’t matter one bit. Because, though it goes through the motions required of any self-respecting crime caper, this film’s true subject is the portrait of a young man who believes he is destined for greatness but is sadly mistaken. There are also worthwhile questions raised about cultural plundering and the overall role of museums in society, but, at heart, this is a character study. In Juan, Gael Garcia Bernal has found perhaps his perfect role. Juan is a conceited little man convinced he’s special. He’s been given every chance to succeed by a loving and supportive family but repays them by hatching an absurd criminal scheme, dragging his best friend into it, and watching the whole mess slowly unravel. He has what he thinks are the noblest aspirations but all his energy and talent are completely misdirected. Ruizpalacios tells Juan’s story through elliptical layers of image and text with an ample dose of ironic humor. The film has a combination of dreaminess and gravity not evident from a mere synopsis of its plot. In the end there is no answer why Juan decided to steal some of his country’s most precious artifacts, nor should there be. But there’s no doubt Ruizpalacios is asking the right questions. (2018, 129 min, 35mm) DS
Tom Volf’s MARIA BY CALLAS (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check venue website for showtimes
In the glittering, overblown world of opera, there are many divas, both female and male. But to most opera lovers, Maria Callas is the very definition of the word “diva.” Even people with barely a nodding acquaintance with opera recognize her striking Greek features and glamorous wardrobe, and know of her reputation for temperament and her long-term affair with Aristotle Onassis that ended when he threw her over to marry Jacqueline Kennedy. Although MARIA BY CALLAS touches on these and other personal and professional moments in her highly publicized life, its focus, thankfully, is on her artistry. The film is comprised of film clips of performances, television interviews, home movies, and still photos, supplemented by actor Joyce DiDonato reading Callas’ private letters, thus allowing her to tell her own story. The generous samplings of her performances in Verdi, Bizet, and especially the bel canto repertoire she helped popularize—Bellini’s Norma figures prominently—are glorious and perfectly capture Callas’ emotional connection with the music and her audiences, even when she misses more than a few high Cs. French director Tom Volf, a photographer turned documentarian, is mesmerized by Callas’ allure and convincingly ensures she is never upstaged by the many famous admirers he shows attending her performances, including Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother, Anna Magnani, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. MARIA BY CALLAS is a moving tribute to a great opera star. (2017, 113 min, DCP Digital) MF
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's THE RED SHOES (British Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
Powell and Pressburger were the Wes Anderson of their day, constructing dark fairy tales for adults with a museum's worth of references (both classical and private) and the most scrupulous mise-en-scene imaginable. THE RED SHOES, which remains the most beloved of their works, is a tart melodrama about a world-famous ballet company and an Impressionist dream of the beauty it creates. Besides appealing to dance aficionados, the film owes its popularity to an inspired 15-minute sequence depicting the titular ballet, a feat of Total Cinema that brings together the movie's themes and draws on all other art forms for its unique spectacle. (This is not hyperbole: Powell recruited painter Heins Heckroth for the art direction, operatic composer Brian Easdale for the score, and professional ballerina Moira Shearer for the lead; and cinematographer Jack Cardiff is famous for taking inspiration from Romantic painting and theatrical set design.) Most remarkably, all of the justly famous effects here—the slow-motion camerawork, Expressionistic sets, et cetera—bring the viewer closer to understanding the movie's heroine. That woman is a ballerina torn between the love of her composer husband and the rough demands of her profession—represented by Anton Wolbrook as a kingly choreographer. It's a simple premise rendered ornate through dense characterization (Pressburger's script accumulates psychological detail the way Powell delights in visual tricks), making THE RED SHOES one of those rare films as rich for adults as it is for children. (1948, 133 min, DCP Digital) BS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Assia Boundaoui’s 2018 documentary THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED (86 min, DCP Digital) on Wednesday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Chicago Film Archives presents Creative Broadcast: Communication, Commercials, and Advertising (approx. 60 min, Digital Projection) as part of their “Designed to Be Seen” series on Tuesday at 6pm at the Chicago History Museum. Introduced and post-screening discussion by SAIC professor Michael Golec. Screening are a selection of television commercials and advertising films created by Goldsholl Design and Film Associates and by Mike Gray Associates, Inc. between 1963 and 1979. The Goldsholl titles continue their focus on design elements and more complexly structured works (including a hilarious narrative spoof on The Honeymooners); the Mike Gray Associate films are clever but more straightforward and simple in their focus, not surprising considering they were made just before and concurrently with his stunning verité documentaries (THE MURDER OF FRED HAMPTON; AMERICAN REVOLUTION 2). Free admission.
The new not-quite-officially-open DIY screening space Enjoy the Film (6431 S. Cottage Grove Ave.) presents Coming Soon – Reel 1 on Thursday at 5:30pm. Screening are a selection of 35mm film trailers.
Cinema 53 has organized several screenings and presentations on Saturday and Sunday as part of Connect South Shore, a larger arts and culture event. Groups participating include Cinema 53, Arts Bank Cinema, the Chicago South Side Film Festival, Black World Cinema, Sisters in Cinema, and Collected Voices. The screenings take place at 2226 E. 71st St. Free admission. More info at schedule at www.connectsouthshore.org.
Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (756 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens the San Francisco Bay Area episode (2018, approx 60 min) of the television program Art in the Twenty-First Century on Thursday at 7pm. Free admission, but registration required at www.art.org.
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Carlos Osuna’s 2017 Columbian film THE CONTESTANT (86 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Beverly Arts Center (2407 W. 111th St.) screens Hal Hartley’s 1990 film TRUST (107 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Preceded by Hartley’s 1991 short AMBITION (9 min). Introduced by local filmmaker and Northwestern professor Spencer Parsons.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Alison McAlpine’s 2017 Chilean/Canadian documentary CIELO (78 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ 1963 Brazilian film VIDAS SECAS [BARREN LIVES] (103 min, Archival 16mm Print) is on Monday at 7pm; Jaromil Jireš’ 1970 Czech film VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (85 min, Imported 35mm Print) is on Thursday at 7pm; and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 1963 French film L’IMMORTELLE (101, Blu-Ray Projection) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
At the Music Box Theatre this week: Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 film SUSPIRIA (152 min, DCP Digital) continues; The Director’s Cut of Lars von Trier’s 2018 film THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (153 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 2 and 9:30pm; Justin MacGregor’s 2018 film BEST F(R)IENDS: VOLUME 2 (93 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7pm, with writer/actor Greg Sestero in person; Abby Epstein’s 2018 documentary WEED THE PEOPLE (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7pm (sold out) and Thursday at 4:30pm; The Sound of Music Sing-a-Long is on Friday and Saturday at 1 and 7pm and Sunday at Noon and 6pm; Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 animated Japanese film AKIRA (124 min, 35mm; English-dubbed version) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; Naoko Yamada’s 2018 Japanese animated film LIZ AND THE BLUE BIRD (90 min, Digital Projection) is on Monday at 5pm; Jason Wise’s 2018 documentary SOMM 3 (87 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7:30pm, with Wise and several cast members in person; George Seaton's 1947 film MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (96 min, DCP Digital; a benefit screening for The Chicago Help Initiative, with $20 tickets) is on Thursday at 7pm (with pre-show entertainment beginning at 6pm); and Neil Breen’s 2018 film TWISTED PAIR (89 min, Digital Projection) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens James Merendino’s 1994 film THE UPSTAIRS NEIGHBOR (90 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm in their “Released and Abandoned: Forgotten Oddities of the Home Video Era” series. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria, UIC) presents Chicago New Media 1973-1992 through December 15.
The Block Museum (Northwestern University) presents Up Is Down: Mid-century Experiments in Advertising and Film at the Goldsholl Studio though December 9.
The Graham Foundation (Madlener House, 4 W. Burton Place) continues Martine Syms: Incense Sweaters & Ice through January 12.
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Gretchen Bender’s 1985 24-moniter, 3-screen video installation TOTAL RECALL is currently on view; Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes); Rosalind Nashashibi's VIVIAN’S GARDEN (2017, 30 min, 16mm on HD Video) is in the Donna and Howard Stone Gallery, through December 2; Dara Birnbaum’s KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (1979, 6 min loop, two-channel video) is in the second floor corridor.
CINE-LIST: November 23 - November 29, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, Marilyn Ferdinand, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Dmitry Samarov, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky