Souleymane Cissé’s YEELEN (Malian Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Wednesday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Named by Jonathan Rosenbaum as conceivably the greatest African film, Souleymane Cissé’s YEELEN mixes realist and fantastical elements in inventive, ever-surprising ways. It takes place during the days of the Mali Empire and centers on a young man with magic powers. When his father receives a premonition that his son will cause his death, the hero takes off for the desert in search of aid. His journey takes a number of surprising turns involving talking animals, mystical transformations, and slippery alliances with different tribes. Cissé presents the story in a matter-of-fact manner that renders the fantastic elements all the more compelling—the film conjures up a world where magic is simply part of life and there is no separation between the everyday and the supernatural. Indeed YEELEN (which means “brightness” in Bambara) has the feeling of an unmediated folktale; to quote Dave Kehr’s assessment of A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, it is a movie that feels not made but found. For viewers unfamiliar with African folklore, the film can be at times impenetrable, yet this impenetrability is also the key to its greatness. YEELEN embodies the richness of Malian history and culture, with every detail reflecting some beautiful aspect of the civilization. (1987, 105 min, 35mm) BS
Joan Micklin Silver’s CROSSING DELANCEY (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Wednesday, 7:30pm
An alternate title for Joan Micklin Silver’s charming and wise romcom CROSSING DELANCEY could be “A Tale of Two Cities”—in this case the tony Upper West Side versus the Jewish Lower East Side of Manhattan. The city where Isabelle Grossman (Amy Irving) lives in her coveted rent-controlled apartment is full of young people on the make. Izzy works in a book store as a glorified secretary who arranges salon evenings with famous authors (“I have Isaac Bashevis Singer’s private phone number. I!”) and yearns for supercilious local author Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbé) and the romance of high literature. She has a married friend with benefits, grabs dinner at a salad bar, and commiserates with her single girlfriends who are looking for love or, failing that, having babies on their own. In the other city, Izzy’s grandmother, Ida Kantor (Reizl Bozyk), and Sam Posner (Peter Riegert), who runs a pickle stand inherited from his father, carry on centuries-old traditions of shtetl life transplanted to New York. CROSSING DELANCEY, like Micklin Silver’s HESTER STREET (1975), shows the clash of the Old World and the New and the need for and dangers of assimilation. HESTER STREET seemed to embrace assimilation, as its Jewish protagonist loses a husband to an assimilated Jewish woman but finds her own identity and independence in the New World. CROSSING DELANCEY has a much more cautionary attitude toward modern life, putting a point on Izzy’s snobbishness and embarrassment at Sam’s old-fashioned ways, only to be upbraided by him for thinking that his world is so small. The endearing and confident performance by Bozyk, a famed Yiddish theatre actress, got a lot of attention when the film was released, but I think Sylvia Miles as the matchmaker who brings Izzy and Sam together steals every scene she’s in. The buoyant score includes some catchy tracks by The Roches that you’ll be humming on the way out of the show. Preceded by Jerry Fairbanks' 1951 short THE BIG DELIVERY WAGON (11 min, 16mm). (1988, 97 min, 35mm) MF
Michael Curtiz’s THE CABIN IN THE COTTON (American Revival)
Music Box Theater — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
In the pantheon of great, even sublime, European filmmakers who immigrated to Hollywood between the late 1920s and early 1940s, Michael Curtiz is usually not viewed as a star example; he is barely ever mentioned in the same breath as, say, Fritz Lang, Douglas Sirk, or even Robert Siodmak. The reason for this could be the widespread critical dismissal of his work for years as workman-like, conforming his talents to serve whichever assignment he was handed from the top brass at Warner Bros. Everyone knows CASABLANCA, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, and MILDRED PIERCE, but what about lesser-known films like DOCTOR X, GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT, THE BREAKING POINT, THE SEA WOLF, MY DREAM IS YOURS, and FLAMINGO ROAD? Are these somehow less worthy than the aforementioned film studies/TCM-approved canon staples? I suppose it is up to the curious viewer to decide, but on any given day, those less-appreciated works could stand firmly on their own, well beyond his corny-but-lovable musicals YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and WHITE CHRISTMAS. His 1930’s work proves to be a terrific entry to his filmography and THE CABIN IN THE COTTON from 1932, has to be one of his most shining examples in a year where he also gave audiences DOCTOR X and 20,000 YEARS IN SING SING, with MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM following early the next year. What sets out to be a routine weepy plantation-set melodrama, ends up being a morally complex examination of the rights between landowners and tenants on a cotton farm, situated somewhere between standard early ‘30s Warner Bros. fare and D.W. Griffith’s A CORNER IN THE WHEAT. The images are sublime in spots, recalling the rural surrealism of Murnau, which should come as no surprise since the heyday of late-period silent films had barely left people’s minds. The Murnau and Griffith resonances extend well beyond the pictorial, with a plot that has very similar elements to SUNRISE and TRUE-HEART SUSIE, in that it involves a young man torn between two women, between his past and current life of poverty, and his not-so-far future towards prosperity, wealth, and an extremely fresh and horned-up Bette Davis, in one of her very first roles. Despite Curtiz’s initial misgivings towards Davis (he claimed she was too “sexless and lousy” for the role) the two of them wound up making seven more features together, with Davis obviously shooting straight into super stardom not long after. THE CABIN IN THE COTTON’s political leanings never overwhelm the plot, but they engage the drama beyond a boy needin’ to leave his swell ma for the big ol’ lifestyle of the rich. It’s curious needling right in between the two sides, the farmers and the owners, gathered together with its vivid formalism, help elevate this mid-day melodrama towards something complex and sometimes sublime. (1932, 78 min, 35mm archival print) JD
Arthur Penn's MICKEY ONE (American Revival)
While Arthur Penn's under-appreciated and ultra-rare MICKEY ONE was panned by critics upon its 1965 release, the film has aged well, and, since having been restored by Columbia in the 90s for a Penn retrospective in LA, is now commonly upheld as a misunderstood and forgotten masterpiece. The criticisms of MICKEY from the 60s are almost as interesting as the film itself. Time magazine called it a "failure" while praising Penn for coaxing "a snappishly smooth performance" from actor Warren Beatty, which they believed would, "raise him permanently from the ranks of man-tanned juveniles." Bosley Crowther of the New York Times remarked that MICKEY's impreciseness, as it skips around from scene to scene, is "most confusing and annoying—a dangerous weakness in the structure of the film." Penn, one of America's more European directors, was quoted as saying he just wanted to, "push American movies into areas in which Fellini and Truffaut have moved." Indeed, his movie is very much like something from the Nouvelle Vague, and it's even rumored that he was advised by Godard and Truffaut. The story follows Beatty, playing a comic hiding out from the Detroit mob in Chicago. Locals might enjoy spotting familiar locations (and wondering where some went), and everyone should appreciate Ghislain Cloquet's black and white cinematography, which is full of "terrible beauty" (Architecture Chicago Blog). (1965, 93 min, 35mm) KH
Edward Bland’s THE CRY OF JAZZ (Documentary Revival)
More than half a century after it was made, THE CRY OF JAZZ still feels audacious. It takes place at a small gathering on the south side of Chicago where about a dozen jazz aficionados—some black, some white—discuss the history of the music they love and get into a heated debate on American race relations. The subjects of music and black history are intertwined from the get-go, as the group pedant (who also serves as the film’s narrator) describes each development in jazz as it corresponds to a different aspect of black American experience. As he explains, the paradoxical nature of jazz—in which players improvise within and around a fixed musical structure—reflects the inherent contradiction of black American life. Because American culture denies blacks a sense of past and future, black life is, by definition, stagnant; yet the fact that it persists allows for moments of joy and celebration. Some of the whites in the room argue against the pedant, who believes that blacks have suffered more than anyone else in American history and that they represent the neglected conscience of white America. Co-writer-director Edward O. Bland privileges the narrator’s position, but he grants more than adequate time to the rebuttals, giving the film the flow of a genuine rap session. Implicit in this organization is that for any meaningful change to occur with regards to race relations, people of different races need to have more conversations like this. Bland’s editing is impressive as well, illustrating the musical and history lessons with a dense montage that alternates images of jazz musicians in concert with images of black poverty and other social ills. Though some of these images can be difficult to look at, the film’s overall effect is stirring. (1959, 34 min, Newly Restored 35mm Print) BS
Dónal Foreman’s THE IMAGE YOU MISSED (New Documentary/Essay)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Irish filmmaker Dónal Foreman's documentary essay film THE IMAGE YOU MISSED packs a lot into its brief 73-minute running time. At its heart, the film is about Foreman's exploration of the life and work of his estranged father, Arthur MacCaig, an American-born filmmaker of Irish descent who made a number of sympathetic, activist documentary films on the Irish "troubles" and the resistance of the IRA. MacCaig had moved to Paris by the time Foreman was born, and the two only saw each other a handful of times before MacCaig died in 2008. Foreman uses his father's film and photo archive, his uncle's home movies, and his own films (juvenilia and films made as an adult), along with newly shot footage, to excavate a portrait of his father and to draw connections between their lives. Along the way, Foreman raises a host of topics: the nature of an archive, the practice of image making, the possibilities and limitations of film in the service of politics, autobiographical and biographical construction, and the nature of family. MacCaig is a structuring absence for Foreman, who also became a filmmaker, gravitated to leftist political causes, and traveled and lived overseas, mirroring his father. And Foreman was largely a structured absence in MacCaig's life (Foreman did not find any images of himself among his father's belongings, and only one of his mother). The film paints a complex but unresolved portrait of a man he didn't really know (Foreman notes his father's assuredness about his films-—they were made in service to a cause, after all—and his uncertainty about his own filmmaking), implicitly questioning perhaps whether truth can really be found in an archive or told with a camera. (2018, 74 min, DCP Digital) PF
William Cameron Menzies’ THINGS TO COME (British Revival)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) – Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
H. G. Wells published his science fiction novel The Shape of Things to Come in 1933, a watershed year in world affairs during which the rise of the Popular Front signaled a strong advance of leftist ideology and fascism overran Germany with the election of Hitler as chancellor. You didn’t have to be Houdini to figure out that the real-world clash between these two ideologies would eventually end in a cataclysm of historic proportions, yet Wells is often credited with being particularly prescient in predicting it in this book. Producer Alexander Korda smelled box office and asked Wells to adapt his book for the screen. The result was THINGS TO COME, a singularly confused view of the future that incorporates a democratically elected world state that shares a lot in common with Stalinism, which Wells professed to reject. The film, constructed in three acts, spans 100 years. Act I begins Christmas 1940, when the residents of Everytown, which resembles London, come under attack and soldiers mobilize for war. In Act II, Everytown has been reduced to medieval squalor, as the destruction of industry during a modern version of the 100 Years War brought a complete breakdown of civilization—residents even wear animal skins. The city’s warlord, The Boss (Ralph Richardson), is a hothead who thinks only of getting his broken and fuelless air armada of 10 planes off the ground to crush the hill dwellers. But a group of scientists who call themselves Wings Over the World (WOW) bombard Everytown with the “gas of peace,” which puts the populace to sleep, possibly washing their brains of hostile impulses. Act III occurs in 2036. The world has been engulfed by progress—multilevel, automated cities enclosed from the sun, residents dressed like Greek gods, and a splinter group led by Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke) who say “enough” to progress once a “villainous” plan to send humans into outer space nears fruition. As one would expect, the film is at its best in both look and coherence during the first act. The bombed-back-to-the-Stone-Age second act is the most enjoyable part of the film, as Richardson is clearly having a gas playing the blustering Boss, rising through the ranks as a tough who shoots on sight Everytowners afflicted with the deadly, highly contagious “wandering sickness,” which appears to be a silly-looking form of zombie-ism, and may be included to convey Wells’ belief in eugenics. The production values of this film are strictly bargain basement, but director Menzies, cinematographer Georges Perinal, and film editors Charles Crichton and Francis Lyon spin a lot of gold out of straw. The camera angles are ingenious and the scenes well lit, creating some beautiful visuals that had me rather breathless at times. Menzies gives us a scene of great violence in Act I that foreshadows what London will experience during the Blitz—crumbled walls, dazed victims, dead bodies, all ending with a tragic shot of a child half-buried in the rubble, the former glory of the city now a broken skyline. For all its low-tech cheapness, it’s a sobering scene very well shot. He also stages a thrilling attack on the space cannon set to shoot a spaceship off to orbit the moon in Act III. The models mainly look odd and flimsy, and the modern Everytown looks amazingly like a Hyatt Hotel, but the strange airplanes sent by WOW are pleasingly reminiscent of pterosaurs. I’m with the Luddites in this film, as the idea of sending people into space has no logic behind it except that Man must keep pushing the envelope if it kills Him. And this further muddles the philosophy of the film for me: Do Wells and the filmmakers think that unfettered progress is good? Was killing all the protesters who got too close to the space cannon (“Watch out for the concussion!”) at firing all right? Frankly, the fascistic images, from an enormous Art Nouveau sculpture to a gigantic, heroically lit close-up of New Everytown leader Raymond Massey’s skeletal head spouting platitudes give me the willies. THINGS TO COME has been embraced over the decades by right-wingers of all stripes who, no doubt, understand these things better than I do. Screens with Jan Tichy’s six-minute THINGS TO COME, 1936-2012, a 2012 experimental reworking of footage by László Moholy-Nagy made for the 1936 film. Tichy in person. (1936, 100 min, Digital Projection) MF
Olivier Assayas’ NON-FICTION (New French)
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes
Olivier Assayas’ witty, deceptively simple NON-FICTION begins with a comically tense scene in which Alain, (Guillaume Canet), a suave book publisher, and Leonard (Vincent Macaigne), a Luddite author whose controversial novels are thinly disguised autobiography, argue about the virtues of Twitter. The seemingly meandering narrative that follows belies a clever structure that resolves itself 90-odd minutes later with Shakespearean symmetry when both men vacation together with their wives: Alain’s partner, Selena (Juliette Binoche), is a television actress ambivalent about her recent success on a cop show, and Valerie (Nora Hamzawi), Leonard’s wife, is a high-profile attorney and the breadwinner in their relationship. This quartet represents a spectrum of diverse attitudes towards globalization and humanity's slavish dependence on technology in an increasingly digital world yet it is to Assayas’ credit as a writer that they also always come across as fully fleshed-out characters, never mere mouthpieces for differing points-of-view. It’s the talkiest film Assayas has yet made though the dense dialogue scenes are cleverly edited in a brisk, Fincher-esque manner, and he often generates humor through the surprising way he ends scenes abruptly. It’s a substantial new chapter in an important body of work, one that illustrates the director’s philosophy that the role of the artist is to invent new tools to comment on a modern world that’s always changing. (2018, 106 min, DCP Digital) MGS
Marine Francen’s THE SOWER (New French)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes
Marine Francen’s accomplished debut feature invokes the realist paintings of Jean-Francois Millet to tell a fact-based story of the sort of people and places Millet often depicted. It takes place on a southern French farm in the early 1850s where all of the men have been imprisoned under Napoleon III’s crackdown on Republicans. Left to run the farm on their own, the women acquit themselves admirably, tending to the crops and animals as well as their children. Their biggest problem is that they miss men terribly, and their conversations frequently turn to sexual fantasizing. The women eventually agree that, if a man should come to their homestead, they would divide his attentions evenly among them. They get the chance to act out this plan when Jean, a mysterious stranger, arrives; too bad he falls in love with one of the women, the innocent Violette, and doesn’t want to share his affection with anyone else. Francen allows the story to unfold leisurely despite its sexually charged scenario, granting as much screen time to the gorgeous environments as to the psychological drama. Shooting in the Academy ratio and often with natural light, she creates images that seem not to belong to this century, and they create a fascinating tension with the dialogue, which is disarmingly frank for a 19th-century historical drama. This is a highly original work that shines new light on the experience of women during a tumultuous period of French history. (2017, 99 min, DCP Digital) BS
Nagisa Oshima's MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (Japanese/UK Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Tuesday, 7pm
At the 2014 MCA Chicago exhibition 'David Bowie Is,' there was a small room that held various artifacts from the British superstar's disparate acting career. It led to another room in which several of his performances were being projected in a loop—included was a scene from Nagisa Oshima's MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE in which Bowie, as Major Jack Celliers, a South African soldier who's been sentenced to death for participating in guerrilla warfare, mimes his way through some final "actions" leading up to his execution (which he inexplicably survives). Though Bowie studied miming under the great Lindsay Kemp, the scene is no mere shoutout to one of his (and subsequently Oshima's) more obscure influences; instead, Celliers' disaffected wit is a concise summation of the film's central theme, that of willfulness and Japanese repression of will through order and tradition. Plotwise, the film is about the dynamic among a group of men in a Javanese prisoner of war camp during World War II. More specifically, it's about the dynamic between two Allied prisoners of war and two Japanese prison camp workers. Next to Bowie, Tom Conti plays the titular Mr. Lawrence, a British POW who speaks Japanese and expresses a general understanding of the complex culture that's imprisoned him. The camp workers are Japanese soldiers Sergeant Hara and Captain Yonoi, the former a brutal guard who nevertheless makes friends with Lawrence and the latter a tradition-bound commandant who develops a fixation on the fair-haired Celliers. Much like Bowie the performer, MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE is often cited for its homoerotic undercurrent, an assessment heightened by the casting of Japanese electronic music star Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose androgynous beauty mirrors that of Bowie, as Capt. Yonoi. (In one scene, Sgt. Hara remarks that he had just been awoken from a dream featuring Marlene Dietrich, another high-cheekboned babe known for her transgressive sex appeal.) But just as Bowie's sexuality is often mistakenly taken at face value, so, too, is the film's homoerotic undercurrent often mistaken as its central theme. As Oshima himself has written, "homosexuality is the synthesis of friendship and violence: military men are attracted by their enemies, as men, in compensation for their frustration." Disregarding Oshima's problematic view towards homosexuality and sexual violence (rape is common in his films), it's evident that Yonoi's violent tendencies are brought about by the repression of his attraction to Celliers, which is an attraction that has as much to do with Celliers' willfulness as it does his physical beauty. Yonoi had been part of a coup to assassinate leading government officials and take control of the palace but was spared his life and restored to military standing, albeit at a low level, because he was out of the country during the actual attack. Thus, the repression of his will extends beyond sexuality and relates to both the oppression of his militarist ideology and the guilt he feels over not having been present at the insurgence. The film is widely considered to be one of Oshima's more accessible works owing to the cast, its similarities with other popular POW films (most notably David Lean's 1957 film BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) and Oshima's use of long shots and symmetrical framing. Based on Sir Laurens Jan van der Post's novel The Seed and the Sower, it differs from other similarly acclaimed POW films in that it's a film made by the "other," reflecting the wartime cruelty of his own people. And even Oshima's use of traditional filmmaking devices lends itself to his alternative viewpoint; long shots allow for all the characters to be equally represented and thus equally contradicted, an element of craft mirrored by Lawrence's assertion that "we are all wrong," and the symmetrical framing in many scenes is meant to reflect the traditionalism that Oshima challenges throughout. (He employed a similar visual motif in his 1971 film THE CEREMONY.) The film's score is another aspect that enhances its subtle unconventionality. Composed almost entirely by Sakamoto, it's a delicate blend of traditional-sounding melodies and his own synth-pop sensibility. Bowie sings a bit in the film, but it's Strafer Jack who's most off tune. (1983, 122 min, 35mm) KS
Jamie Babbit's BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Friday and Saturday, Midnight
Instead of rewatching BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER, a hilarious, if occasionally inexpert, sendup to John Waters in a hard, vinyl bubble gum palette that skewers gay conversion therapy, gay culture, and binary gender roles, among other things, instead I decided to read contemporary reviews of the movie (spoiler: most critics hated it). Having loved the movie so much that I've seen it a good half dozen times, I wondered what I was missing, or what those critics were missing, and then I realized no one seemed to be mentioning just how camp this movie is, and why it could not be enjoyed as anything else and still enjoyed. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post called it "dumb, heavy-handed satire." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly declared, "Any self-respecting lesbian should rear up in horror at [this movie]." (Spoiler: I didn't.) Gemma Files at film.com disparaged the film's "Ungainly sentiment and unnecessary stylization." (Emanuel Levy's moustache also hated the movie.) Did these critics watch the same movie as me? Or do they just not love camp? In lieu of tracking them down and asking why they hated the movie so much, I re-read Susan Sontag's popular essay from 1964, "Notes on 'Camp.'" Sontag admitted in her notes, "I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it." How presciently that hints at the enduring magnetism of PINK FLAMINGOES and the rest of Waters' glorious spectacles! Sontag also notes, "Many examples of Camp are things which, from a "serious" point of view, are either bad art or kitsch." ...much like BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER. The subject matter of Jamie Babbit's first feature film is, in many ways, so horrifying and traumatic in reality that the only way to properly tease out the absurdity, the trauma, and the brutally oppressive systems at play that sculpted these actual camps where fragile LGBT youth were sent to "pray the gay away" or learn how to properly conform to gender roles is through camp, in Sontag's definition of the term. The only way to process and analyze just what was at stake (and still is, by the way...this pseudoscientific "therapy" is only banned in 15 states today, and that only for minors), was through extreme stylization and aestheticization, devotion to overblown artifice, and "failed seriousness" that define camp. Sontag goes on to say, "The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious." "Camp is a solvent of morality. It neutralizes moral indignation, sponsors playfulness." Babbit's direction of BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER is crystal clear in this sense. She skewers each subject she tackles with "heavy-handed satire," or, as Sontag would put it, that feeling of "it's too much!" through fabulous actors like RuPaul as an "ex-gay" counselor who constantly displays his (failed) masculinity in a sort of reverse-drag performance, Clea DuVall as the brooding fellow inmate at camp who lures Natasha Lyonne's innocent cheerleader to the dark side of homosexuality, Dante Bosco (whom you may remember as Rufio from HOOK, an accidental, as opposed to deliberate, camp film), and of course, Cathy Moriarty as the seethingly angry director of "True Directions." Perhaps, now that I think about it, BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER isn't a good movie. Is it so bad that it's good? Or is it that gay conversion therapy is so morally repugnant you just have to laugh, have to make it playful? Perhaps it's just so camp that it doesn't have to be good. Camp is a sensibility that doesn't lend itself to traditional criticism. All I can say is that the first time I walked out of this movie I chuckled at remembered jokes, but I also felt seen and understood in a unique way that only queer, camp movies can do, and that it reached something beyond the comedy and made me feel quite tenderly about the earnest first love the teens experience in one of the few lesbian films from the 1990's with a happy ending. Because, as Sontag put it so well, "Camp is a tender feeling." UCLA Film & Television Archive curator and programmer KJ Reith in person. (1999, 92 min, 35mm archival print) AE
Zhangke Jia’s ASH IS PUREST WHITE (New Chinese)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7:30pm and Sunday, 4pm
Set over the course of nearly seventeen years (from 2001-2018) and taking place in three distinct periods, ASH IS PUREST WHITE is a gangland drama with an eye for romance and the rapidly-evolving modernity of China during that time. Qiao (Tao Zhao) is the girlfriend of highly respected Bin (Fan Liao), a mob boss in a small town in the Shanxi region. Although she does not consider herself to be jianghu (gangster, within the context of this film) like Bin and his cohorts, she crosses that line when she’s forced to fire a gun to save his life when a rival gang nearly kills him, sending her to jail for five years as a result. Once free from prison, Qiao sets out to rekindle her flame with Bin and must learn about the changes of nature within herself and their relationship dynamic. Zhangke Jia’s film is simultaneously patient yet breakneck. When viewing each segment as a whole, the narrative unfolds in a realistic fashion with each plot point flowing into the next. It’s only when the chapters are juxtaposed against one another that the daunting passage of time and all that it implies, both for the characters and the era of China being depicted, are realized. In addition to some more overt signs showing these time jumps, Jia plays with the film’s color hue to further signify the importance of these skips. Greens, yellows, whites, and other colors all help to invoke an emotional response from the audience and help to enhance our understanding of Qiao’s situation. The rubber band-like nature of Qiao and Bin’s relationship, in which neither can be too far from the other emotionally before snapping back, is what makes up the film’s core. Zhao’s performance alone makes for enthralling viewing; add in Jia’s finesse for detail and ASH IS PUREST WHITE stands tall as a modern take on the gangster film. (2018, 136 min, DCP Digital) KC
Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin's GIMME SHELTER (Documentary Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 9:30pm
The best documentary moments are those that ambush the intention of the maker, creating a wholly different work in the process. When asked to make a film about the Rolling Stones, Albert and David Maysles thrillingly obliged, accompanying the band to the now infamous free show at Altamont Speedway that the Stones headlined along with Jefferson Airplane, Tina Turner, and others. Lacking adequate security, the Hell's Angels were asked to help maintain order, creating an atmosphere of fear and near riot, and culminating in the death of four people as the band watched helplessly from the stage. What begins as a concert film much like D.A. Pennebaker’s MONTEREY POP (which Albert Maysles worked on) from 1967 becomes a document of the last days of hippydom. (1970, 91 min, DCP Digital) BC
Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Tuesday, 7pm
Like Steven Spielberg today, Frank Capra was associated more with reassuring, patriotic sentiment than with actually making movies; but just beneath the Americana, his films contain a near-schizophrenic mix of idealism and resentment. In this quality, as well as his tendency to drag charismatic heroes through grueling tests of faith, it wouldn't be a stretch to compare Capra with Lars von Trier. There's plenty to merit the comparison in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE alone: The film is a two-hour tour of an honest man's failure and bottled-up resentment, softened only intermittently by scenes of domestic contentment. Even before the nightmarish Pottersville episode (shot in foreboding shadows more reminiscent of film noir than Americana), Bedford Falls is shown as vulnerable to the plagues of recession, family dysfunction, and alcoholism. All of these weigh heavy on the soul of George Bailey, a small-town Everyman given tragic complexity by James Stewart, who considered the performance his best. Drawing on the unacknowledged rage within ordinary people he would later exploit for Alfred Hitchcock, Stewart renders Bailey as complicated as Capra himself--a child and ultimate victim of the American Dream. Ironically, it's because the film's despair feels so authentic that its iconic ending feels as cathartic as it does: After being saved from his suicide attempt (which frames the entire film, it should be noted), Stewart is returned to the simple pleasures of family and friends, made to seem a warm oasis in a great metaphysical void. (1946, 130 min, 35mm) BS
Penny Lane's HAIL SATAN? (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday, Noon
From the incredibly talented experimental documentarian who brought us the features OUR NIXON and NUTS, and notable shorts like THE VOYAGERS and (my personal favorite) THE COMMONERS, HAIL SATAN? is a delightful and surprisingly un-experimental documentary about the Satanic Temple. Not to be confused with the Church of Satan, the Satanic Temple is a nontheistic religious organization (think "secular humanism," but with cool tattoos and black t-shirts) that aims to illustrate, through wildly entertaining satire and literal interpretations of first amendment rights, what should be obvious: church and state should be kept separate, and Christianity is not the national religion. This, of course, drives the religious right nuts, and we get to watch the outrage unfold. Indeed, the subject matter of HAIL SATAN? is almost too easy to enjoy, and could perhaps have benefitted from a bit more of the pluralism the Satanic Temple asserts forms the core of our democracy. What do the atheists think? The (less fun) secular humanists? They don't seem to have a voice in HAIL SATAN?, but we do hear from lawmakers and protesters on the religious right who speak with passionate candor about how much they hate these damn Satanists. That is the only critique I have of this fantastic documentary, though—the tone is pitch perfect, as one would only expect from Penny Lane. Her expert interviewing skills draw out her subjects and animate the Temple's increasing media attention and civil actions with wry humor. Her creative use of archival footage is much less prominent than in her previous work, with so much content already at hand in archival news and phone footage, but vintage religious films and an irresistible clip of Tim Curry from LEGEND are always apt and quite funny. By the time the credits roll, HAIL SATAN? makes the Satanic Temple so disarmingly charming, you might very well end up wanting to join this quite reasonable non-religious crusade. Is there a mailing list I can sign up for? (2018, 95 min, DCP Digital) AE
Orson Welles' CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (International Revival)
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Park Ridge Public Library, 20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) - Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
A thoroughly thrilling experience, inspiring on every conceivable level, and one of the saddest films ever made. Welles made a life-long study of Shakespeare, adapting him on stage many times and making, in MACBETH and OTHELLO, two of his best movies. As a very young man, he attempted a mammoth adaptation he called Five Kings, combining scenes from the eight history plays revolving around the War of the Roses and The Merry Wives of Windsor, a project that here, transformed from a youth's ambition to a mature artist's melancholy, forms the seed for CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, a sprawling, strange, and deeply big-hearted melodrama of love and death, honor and betrayal, cowardice and duty, profligacy and desperation. In his films he has always demonstrated a fascination with texture, with visual patterning, with the complex choreographies of incoherent human figures made possible through spaces of grotesque and labyrinthine depth. This is nowhere more apparent than here. In a series of grand kinetic dances, Welles arranges haunting specters of death, swirling amongst and engulfing the lusty, hot-blooded, and immanently life-loving commoners and nobles that populate Shakespeare's version of history. There is no-one so ignoble not to deserve the adoration of Welles's camera, or the dignity of Welles's staging. As Hal, the wastrel son of the usurper King Henry IV, Keith Baxter deserves particular note: he is as affectionate and as cruel as can be borne by one mere character, and his masterful portrayal of Hal's contradictions mirror the contradictions at the heart of the film. No one for more than a moment here is what he or she seems, no space is wholly trustworthy, and no plot truly secret, for the most serious of all games, and the most pleasurable, is that which is played with one's own life as the stake and with no hope of surviving to collect the winnings save in the songs of our loved ones. In short, this film is magic itself, a celebration of cinema as the grandest of tricks, that which alone can transform the past into the present as palpably as memory, and the whole of the material world into the effervescence of poetry. The greatest film by the greatest director. (1965, 119 min, Digital Projection) KB
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Barbara Hammer: Declarations of Identity (75 min, total, new and restored 16mm prints) is on Friday at 7pm, with UCLA Film & Television Archive programmer and curator KJ Relth in person. Screening are: I WAS/I AM (1973), SISTERS! (1973), MENSES (1974), SUPERDYKE (1975), MULTIPLE ORGASM (1977), and AUDIENCE (1983). Free admission.
The MCA Chicago (in collaboration with Media Burn Archive and the Video Data Bank) present Home Video Day on Saturday from Noon-4pm. Bring your home video tapes to share or attend to find out tips on caring for and preserving your videos. Free admission.
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) presents Some Films: Stage on Saturday at 7pm. Screening is Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge's 1972 concert film ELVIS ON TOUR (90 min, Digital Projection), along with clips of Moor Mother, Kiss, and Public Image Limited (approx. 9 min).
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Pamela B. Green's 2018 documentary BE NATURAL: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ (103 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 2pm, Saturday at 4:30pm, Sunday at 6pm, and Tuesday at 7:45pm; David Morris and Jacqui Morris' 2018 UK documentary NUREYEV (109 min, DCP Digital), Todd Douglas Miller's 2019 documentary APOLLO 11 (93 min, DCP Digital), and Eric Khoo's 2018 Singaporean/Japanese film RAMEN SHOP (90 min, DCP Digital) all play for a week; and Cagan Irmak's 2005 Turkish film MY FATHER AND MY SON (108 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7:45pm and Tuesday at 8pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Arthur Penn's 1958 film THE LEFT HANDED GUN (102 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 1:30pm; Hideo Nakata's 2002 Japanese film DARK WATER (101 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 7pm; Satyajit Ray's 1971 Indian film COMPANY LIMITED (110 min, 35mm archival print) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9:30pm; and Jia Zhangke's 2015 Chinese film MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (131, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 7pm.
Also Doc Films presents Doc Films Festival on Saturday and Sunday. The two-day event includes screenings, live music, and catered lunch, and begins at 10:30am each day. The films showing include ALPHA MARE (with directors Mimi Wilcox and Victor Tadashi Suarez in person), STAGES (with director Judy Hoffman in person), Georgie Schaefer’s Cinema of Photodeath 16mm screening, and Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP, all on Saturday; and HUM 255 (with director Gordon Quinn in person), ALMOST THERE (with co-director Dan Rybicky in person), the regular matinee screening of Arthur Penn’s THE LEFT HANDED GUN, Georgie Schaefer’s Cinema of Photodeath 16mm screening, and Bill Siegel’s THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI, all on Sunday. Details at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Andrey Paounov's 2018 documentary WALKING ON WATER (100 min, DCP Digital) opens; Matteo Troncone 's 2018 documentary ARRANGIARSI: PIZZA... & THE ART OF LIVING (91 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7pm; and Gaspar Noé’s 2019 film CLIMAX (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at 11:45pm.
At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Alex Ross Perry's 2018 film HER SMELL (135 min, Video Projection) and Christopher Makoto Yogi's 2018 film AUGUST AT AKIKO'S (75 min, Video Projection) both have week-long runs.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Stephen Cone's 2017 film PRINCESS CYD (96 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Preceded by Ty Primosch's 2017 animated short CORKY (6 min). Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents an outdoor screening of local filmmaker Von Bilka's 2018 film GALAXY LORDS (96 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8:20pm, with cast and crew in person. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Michael Robinson’s 2015 video MAD LADDERS (10 min) is on view in the group show Shall we go, you and I while we can at the Carrie Secrist Gallery (835 W. Washington Blvd.) though June 15.
Local videomaker, artist, writer, activist, and educator Gregg Bordowitz is featured in a career retrospective exhibition, I Wanna Be Well, at the Art Institute of Chicago through July 14.
Also on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes).
CINE-LIST: May 24 - May 30, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kian Bergstrom, Beth Capper, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Alexandra Ensign, Marilyn Ferdinand, Kalvin Henley, Michael G. Smith