Charles Burnett’s KILLER OF SHEEP (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7pm
Director Charles Burnett in person
Critic J. Hoberman proposed two types of film debuts that can perhaps unfairly overshadow a director’s entire career: First, debuts that are radically new and arrive seemingly fully-formed—think CITIZEN KANE and BREATHLESS—and second, works that have an innocence and rawness born of circumstances that can never be replicated, for which he cites Satyajit Ray’s PATHER PANCHALI, Jack Smith’s FLAMING CREATURES, and Charles Burnett’s 1978 masterpiece KILLER OF SHEEP. In Burnett’s case those lightning-in-a-bottle circumstances involved a shoestring budget and weekend-only shooting with mostly non-professional actors over the course of several years beginning in 1972, all in service of what was to be the young director’s MFA thesis at UCLA. Because Burnett initially had academic, not theatrical, aspirations for the work he never secured the rights to the 22 classic R&B, jazz, and soul songs on the soundtrack. For this reason the film never saw a wide release until 2007. The film takes place in post-riot Watts, Los Angeles and involves the day-to-day lives of families in the neighborhood. The main protagonist is Stan, an amiable slaughterhouse worker who toils mightily to support his wife and two children while maintaining his integrity. The rhyming of Stan’s lot in life—a powerless man conveyed from scene to scene by an overwhelming sense of inevitability—with his own methodical killing and processing at the slaughterhouse transcends the political. The depiction of black family life solely for the purposes of overt polemic is the type of cliché Burnett fought throughout his career. Ultimately, the film is too warm to be scathing. Instead, much like Stan, KILLER OF SHEEP feels innocent and unassuming. It’s a sincere statement by a young director that earns its comparisons to the classics of Italian neorealism. And like those classics, Burnett’s sense of realism is universal: The characters’ victories and defeats are all small—a stroke of the knee and a smirk, a flat tire, a scraped elbow—but feel earth shattering in the moment. We sense out of narrative habit redemption is coming in the end, but when art imitates life and it doesn’t we accept it like fate. Dinah Washington’s “The Bitter Earth,” which is played multiple times to increasingly devastating effect, perfectly encapsulates KILLER OF SHEEP. At once beautiful, fatalistic, despairing, in the end it leaves us only with hope: “I’m sure someone may answer my call, and this bitter earth may not be so bitter after all.” (1978, 81 min, 35mm) JS
Howard Hawks’ MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT? (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 5pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Often described as a quasi-remake of BRINGING UP BABY, MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT? finds Howard Hawks revisiting (some might say rehashing) the themes of that earlier masterpiece a quarter-century later. The dramatic stakes are lower and the farce never reaches the fever pitch as that in BABY, yet Hawks still elicits some wonderful chemistry from Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss, who play the Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn parts, respectively. Hudson is Roger Willoughby, a salesman of fishing equipment who has risen high in his field and has even written a book of fishing tips. His dark secret (which the film takes almost a half-hour to reveal) is that he’s never actually been fishing—he’s gained all his knowledge through hearsay. Prentiss is Abigail Page, one of the organizers of a weekend fishing competition that Roger’s boss has entered him in. Abigail is also a flighty kook who creates trouble wherever she goes; when the movie starts, she steals Roger’s parking space in front of the department store where he works and tells him to break into her car in order to move it... which inevitably gets notice by a passing policeman. Some of the other comic set pieces involve Roger nearly drowning when he attempts to fish, Abigail and her female assistant accidentally winding up seminude in public, and a wild bear going after Roger during another fishing excursion. This is the work of a veteran filmmaker with little left to prove; the most enjoyable thing about it may be its leisurely pace and the unforced nature of the comedy. The critic Jean-Pierre Coursodon once opined that Hawks’ farces were more cynical than his dramas and action movies in that they depicted the breakdown (rather than the reinforcement) of social bonds. MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT? may be the exception to that proves the rule—Roger may lose his fiancée and his job (and nearly his life), yet Hawks’ easy control over the material assures one throughout that everything will work out in the end. (1964, 120 min, 35mm) BS
Mary Curtis Ratfcliff of Videofreex (Documentary Revival)
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) — Wednesday, 7pm
The poignancy of the three videos included in this program, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the pioneering video collective Videofreex, lies both in how au courant they feel—as documents of a time and place in our domestic history—and in how momentous they still are all these years later, with topics that, then, were pivotally contemporary and now are almost the stuff of lore. Videofreex was co-founded in 1969 by Mary Curtis Ratcliff (who will appear in person), David Cort, and Parry Teasdale after the latter two met at the Woodstock music festival. The group, one of the first-ever video collectives and forerunners of the guerilla television movement, was hired by CBS to produce a program—meant to replace The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and titled Subject to Change—about the counterculture, a pilot for which was created but never aired. Two of the three videos in this program, CHICAGO TRAVELOGUE: THE WEATHERMEN (1969, 22 min, Digital Projection) and FRED HAMPTON: BLACK PANTHERS IN CHICAGO (1969, 24 min, Digital Projection), are comprised of footage perhaps intended for the show and are, appropriately, hyper-specific to Chicago. CHICAGO TRAVELOGUE finds Ratcliff and Cort interviewing young people who participated in the Days of Rage, three days of “direct actions” organized by the Weathermen, a faction of Students for a Democratic Society later known as the Weather Underground. During this time, 200-300 protesters (less than expected, which is a topic of conversation in the video) rioted in and around downtown Chicago. The Freex are unrelenting in their interviews, eliciting from their subjects a level of insight into their actions atypical of mainstream media. By engaging in the radical discourse, they create something that acts as a living document—not just a representation of, but rather a manifestation of, the times. It’s interesting to hear young, white radicals discuss their privilege and near-excitement over being arrested; one of the other interviewees challenges their grotesque idealism, resulting in a dialogue that’s relevant as ever. Acting in concert with, or perhaps in opposition to, CHICAGO TRAVELOGUE is FRED HAMPTON: BLACK PANTHERS IN CHICAGO, an intimate conversation with the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers, recorded just over a month before he was murdered by Chicago police. Contrary to the exuberant insubordination on display in CHICAGO TRAVELOGUE, Hampton lays bare a struggle that’s indignant but not self-righteously so, articulating inflexibly the subversive aims of the Black Panthers organization. In the book Videofreex: America's First Pirate TV Station, and quoted on the Video Data Bank website (the VDB houses and has digitized the entire Freex archive), Teasdale remarks on the at-times unwieldy camera movements: “If our crawling around to frame him from all different angles bothered him, he didn't let on. He had a message to impart and ignored the distraction." According to the 2016 documentary HERE COME THE VIDEOFREEX, the Freex, after being fired by CBS, stole back this footage, as well as footage of an interview with Abbie Hoffman. Last but certainly not least is CURTIS’S ABORTION (1970, 22 min, Digital Projection), a video likely made between the Freex’s stint with CBS and the formation of Lanesville TV, which occurred after they moved to a 27-room boardinghouse in Lanesville, New York, in 1971 and launched the first pirate television station. In the video, Ratcliff (with fellow Freex Nancy Cain on screen and Carol Vontobel behind the camera) details an abortion—her third overall, but her first legal one—that took place shortly after the procedure was legalized in New York. Ratcliff’s candidness with regards to how and why she sought the abortion are most captivating, especially considering that it took place years before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. It would be unwise to label these videos relics. Rather, they’re an ineffable combination of historical testimony and germane prescience, true now as then, and then as now. KS
Vincente Minnelli’s THE CLOCK (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) — Wednesday, 7:30pm
THE CLOCK is one of the great Hollywood movie romances, a film that simply exudes amorousness—to watch it is to fall in love with the leads as they fall in love with each other. The story is simple: an Army corporal (Robert Walker) on a 48-hour leave in New York City meets an office worker (Judy Garland) in Penn Station. He convinces her to show him around town, and over the course of their time together, love blossoms between them. Though the film was shot at MGM Studios, THE CLOCK is nonetheless one of the supreme urban love stories; like SUNRISE before it and THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE much later, it depicts the city as a giant playground for lovers, with the various sights and thoroughfares opening up worlds of possibility in the city at large and between the two protagonists. For me, the loveliest sequence takes place at night, when Walker and Garland meet a milkman at a bar and (as a result of circumstances I won’t reveal) have to take over his route: it’s a poignant metaphor for how love inspires responsibility, with the delivery of milk alluding to the domestic life the film’s lovers imagine themselves sharing one day. The movie isn’t a musical, despite the involvement of Garland, director Vincente Minnelli, and producer Arthur Freed (who collaborated the previous year on MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS), yet it’s the sort of film in which you expect people to start singing at any time—the world it creates is just that lyrical and exuberant. Minnelli’s direction is particularly musical, as he executes plenty of the balletic camera movements for which he was renowned; he also makes his leads seem radiant. THE CLOCK was made around the time Minnelli and Garland got married, and the star wholly earns the attention the director’s camera bestows upon her with a performance of disarming sincerity. One reason for Garland’s enduring appeal lies in the way her deep vulnerability as an individual complicated her assurance as a performer; this quality is a particular asset to THE CLOCK, as one feels Garland’s need to be loved in her interactions with Walker, not to mention her wrenching anxiety when she’s unexpectedly separated from him. The film’s climax is one of the most emotional passages in Minnelli’s filmography, a sequence of such powerful heartache that it borders on existential dread. Preceded by a 15-minute Judy Garland clip reel on 16mm. (1945, 91 min, 35mm) BS
Bill Duke’s THE KILLING FLOOR (American Revival)
South Side Projections (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7pm (Free Admission)
A rare American labor union drama centered on Black experience, THE KILLING FLOOR is a minor miracle of narrative history, succeeding as drama, as pedagogy, and as a model of independent, inclusive, collaborative, local, unionized filmmaking. Shot in Chicago in 1983 for PBS’s American Playhouse series—an indispensable platform for some of the best independent filmmaking of the era, and a haven for voices and stories far outside the Reagan-era mainstream—THE KILLING FLOOR tells the story of Frank Custer (Damien Leake), a Black sharecropper who travels north to work in a stockyard during World War I. Eager to improve his wages and to reunite his family in the “Promised Land” of Chicago’s flourishing south side, Custer defies the ridicule of fellow Black workers to join a scrappy, mostly-white labor union. When the war ends and white veterans begin returning to the workforce (and to zealously segregated neighborhoods), racial tensions inside the union and out boil over, resulting in the violent 1919 riot that left dozens dead and displaced thousands of mostly Black residents. Producer and co-writer Elsa Rassbach, with a perspicacity uncommon today (let alone in the 1980s), found her way into this frayed historical knot through a footnote in William Tuttle’s book on the riot—a reference to a court record of a labor dispute between Custer and “Heavy” Williams (portrayed in the film by Moses Gunn), a Black stockyard worker whose vocal distrust of white unionists helped the packing company disrupt union organizing across racial lines. Thanks largely to director Bill Duke’s handling, what could have been a binary conflict between Williams’ pessimism and Custer’s idealism becomes remarkably nuanced—after all, Custer has justifiable misgivings of his own, and the film’s central dramatic question is whether his belief in the union can withstand the corrosive racism of its membership. Duke weighs Custer’s ambivalence through performance and point of view, as demonstrated in Frank’s first visit to the Union hall. Taking in the hectic air of jubilation and multilingual speechifying, Leake’s darting eyes register the white faces and powderkeg atmosphere with both wariness and enticement, his voiceover comparing the gathering to a Southern prayer meeting. In this sequence and throughout, THE KILLING FLOOR draws on familiar tropes and narrative conventions, but lends them a charge by introducing an alienated Black gaze to typically white spaces, pointedly validating the cultural knowledge that Black southerners bring as spectators to both the union hall and the historical drama. Celebrated dramatist Leslie Lee’s screenplay further makes virtues of archetypes and blunt expository dialogue; such immediacy is critical to the film’s educational economy, which captures the riot’s myriad underlying causes—the Great Migration, the First World War, the growth of organized labor, the European diasporas, and the centuries of exploitation and disenfranchisement of African Americans—in broad yet affecting strokes. But the film is also rich in detail and atmosphere, a quality starkly revealed in this new digital restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, making its international debut just in time for the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Chicago riots. The renewed digital clarity also exposes some rough edges, of course—that’s to be expected from an ambitious historical drama funded largely by labor unions and populated with volunteer extras (including many from the Harold Washington mayoral campaign). Seen today, that roughness reminds us that THE KILLING FLOOR wasn’t so much a product of its time as a renegade in it—and a treasure in ours. Followed by a panel discussion with producer and co-writer Elsa Rassbach, community and labor activists, and historians. (1985, 118 min, DCP Digital) MM
Frank Borzage's HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 7pm
The quintessential Frank Borzage film, HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT is what most screenwriters seem to have in mind when invoking the romanticism of The Movies. The story takes place among the wealthy and in the bohemian paradise of what Ernst Lubitsch called "Paris, Hollywood." Hard social realities seem not to exist; all that counts is whether good-hearted people find love—a matter of life-and-death significance for Borzage. The film is most often remembered for its climax (inspired by the sinking of the Titanic)—a sequence that still generates tension and disbelief in equal measure. But there are moments of light comedy, melodrama, and slapstick just as grandly conceived: Indeed, few films better recreate how all emotions are felt more intensely upon falling in love. On the run from her jealous tycoon husband (Colin Clive, James Whale's Dr. Frankenstein), Jean Arthur shares an enchanted evening in Paris with maitre d' Charles Boyer. A spate of complications keeps the spirited couple from reuniting for more than a year; and when they finally do, it's on board that fateful ocean liner. The film contains numerous changes in tone more reminiscent of the early talkies than what Hollywood was regularly making at the time (though the nuanced cinematography, by David Abel and an uncredited Gregg Toland, looks forward to certain technical breakthroughs of the 1940s); given the fluidity of transition and the overall poetics, perhaps the 19th-century symphony would be a better point of reference than any film. The three leads, incidentally, were never better, so comfortable in their performances as to make all the narrative curveballs feel perfectly tenable. (1937, 97 min, 35mm) BS
Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (New American)
Having finally arrived, Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD could not be any truer to its creator’s decades-long fascination and obsession with 1960’s and 70’s cinema, though it also feels slightly atypical for the director. Without giving anything away, the long blocks of back-and-forth dialogue that Tarantino usually indulges in have begun to give way to more preoccupation with staging, fourth-wall-breaking camera moves, and all around color, resulting in an ambling and evocative dreamscape rife with a whole host of characters. Atmosphere has never been so palpable and dialogue between characters so natural in a Tarantino film—there’s nary a monologue in sight. The film begins at the tail end of an era in Hollywood filmmaking in which rapidly-fading TV actor/cowboy “heavy" Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is seeing his career head towards Italy, specifically towards the cheap and fast genre films of Sergio Corbucci. Burt Reynolds went to Rome to work with Corbucci, Eastwood did the same for Sergio Leone, along with character actors like Lee Van Cleef, and so did one-time TV western stars like Ty Hardin (Rick Dalton is probably most similar to the latter). In the cases of Reynolds and Eastwood, their careers were revitalized by the Italian industry, but many others, like Hardin, were pushed further into obscurity. While watching his star power sputter out in what he perceives to be his twilight years, Dalton is accompanied by his sidekick/assistant/stunt man/reflective image Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who lives in a trailer behind a drive-in theater, while Dalton lives in a Benedict Canyon home (with pool, naturally). He lives next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and Manson family members are prowling around the streets of L.A., hollering at police officers and offering up blowjobs while they try to hitch back to their nesting grounds at the Spahn Ranch. Tarantino covers a lot of ground in ONCE UPON A TIME—an entire landscape of stories is on view, not dissimilar to something like Robert Altman’s NASHVILLE or even Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED. The film has a near three-hour running time, but three hours that have never seemed so short and compact in recent film memory. The movie has a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it pace, rare for a director who sometimes has a tendency to halt the rush of his work with overly bravura dialogue sequences. Tarantino seems to find fresh new ground within his already steadfast movie-making abilities, to let the scope of his powers extend further than previously thought possible. He barely pauses for the chance to show off his noted screenwriting abilities, and instead chooses to craft an ensemble work that somehow feels more epic than any of his films have ever felt; this is Los Angeles completely transformed back to the summer of 1969, in a way that only a very large budget and large talent could realize. It might possibly be one of the last times we see Hollywood bankroll such an ambitious project, by an auteur still powerful enough to retain final cut. ONCE UPON A TIME isn’t as cynical a look at Hollywood as other films have been (such as Altman’s THE PLAYER—even though it does share a curious opening shot). It’s more bittersweet nostalgia, and is perhaps Tarantino’s breeziest and best work to date; his entire career as a director bursts forth as both a marvelously crafted time-capsule and a fantasy-land-rendering of a mythical Hollywood, specifically the place where dreams, however real, are made. (2019, 165 min, 70mm/35mm/DCP Digital) JD
Barbara Rubin's CHRISTMAS ON EARTH (Experimental Revival)
Chuck Smith's BARBARA RUBIN AND THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
Shot by eighteen-year-old Barbara Rubin over the summer of 1963 in a Manhattan loft painted bleach white, CHRISTMAS ON EARTH (1963, 30 min, Digital Projection) would emerge as the purest product of the New American Cinema. If Jack Smith's FLAMING CREATURES locates nirvana in a lascivious Orientalism-by-way-of-von-Sternberg trash pail aesthetic, Rubin's movie orgy is comparatively free of clutter, an abyss rather than an homage. With its simple, contrasty compositions, elemental couplings, and giant close-ups of genitalia rendered with the stupefying literalism of a medical filmstrip, CHRISTMAS ON EARTH remains Cinema Year Zero. (COCKS AND CUNTS, the working title of this prehistoric stag film, would have been wholly accurate, too.) The deceptive artlessness of Rubin's assemblage is belied by the expansive promise of its presentation. Three decades earlier, Joseph Cornell had projected ROSE HOBART through colored glass and substituted the roar of the soundtrack for some Nestor Amaral samba records. Rubin's key contribution in CHRISTMAS ON EARTH is the refusal of fixed form altogether: the projectionists are encouraged to pass colored gels before the lenses at random while the silence is filled by a radio with its dial tuned to "a nice cross-section of psychic tumult like an AM rock station, turned on and played loud." Most famously, the two reels are meant to be projected one inside the other, "literalizing the film's interest in penetration" in J. Hoberman's aptly clinical observation. I've only had the privilege of seeing CHRISTMAS ON EARTH once in 16mm, but each screening is a unique experience—a cosmic confluence that exists for that moment and then drifts back away. (And yet, Rubin's notes on the can end with an earnestly uptight post-script: "PLEASE PROJECT MY FILM IN THE IMAGE IN WHICH IT WAS CREATED– i.e. EXACTLY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROJECTION INSTRUCTIONS! –B.R.") In a moment when the underground's male vanguard regarded film as a perfectable plastic art, a table setting for interior anguish, a playground of classical archetypes, or a pseudo-mathematical means of translating the music of the spheres into a sequence of frames, Rubin treated cinema not as an end in itself but as a portal to destinations unknown. Her example remains radical because the movie is the least important part. Can we recover its spark? In 1964 in one of his 'Movie Journal' columns, Jonas Mekas cited CHRISTMAS ON EARTH as one of several prominent works that existed only as an original object, their makers wary of striking multiple prints and undercutting the 'Spiritualization of the Image.' Thankfully, and seemingly against her wishes, Rubin's film has been preserved (by Mekas yet!) and can still be projected in 16mm. (Ironically, like Warhol's CHELSEA GIRLS and other dual-projector works from the era, it remains simple to present on lowly a pair of tabletop Eikis or Pageants, but is technically daunting to project on archival workhorses like the Kinotons.) And yet, here we are, with a digital presentation of CHRISTMAS ON EARTH that revamps the film's raison d'etre and assimilates its ragged ass into the 21st century. The occasion is the local premiere run of Chuck Smith's engaging and enlightening doc BARBARA RUBIN AND THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND (2018, 78 min, DCP Digital). In sketching the outline of Rubin's brief life, Smith finishes up with CHRISTMAS ON EARTH within the first twenty minutes, leaving ample room for Rubin's other film work, her role as a counter-cultural matchmaker, her frustrated relationship with Allen Ginsberg, and her conversion to Hasidic Judaism. The all-too-brief glimpses of Rubin's other films and undistributed fragments clarify the aesthetic of CHRISTMAS ON EARTH—Rubin's experiments with in-camera superimpositions in the earlier work gave way to in-projector superimposition in her teenage magnum opus, a gesture of democratic faith that moves the artist to the sidelines. Alas, she would stay there. Although she introduced Ginsberg to Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol to the Velvet Underground, Rubin was much more than a scene-maker: as Smith makes painfully clear, Rubin was a woman who volunteered the emotional labor that the men in her life could scarcely appreciate. (Paul Morrissey, the doc's fleeting villain, comes closest to recognizing Rubin's powers.) It's Rubin's social instinct that makes her devotion to Ginsberg so tragically moving: this preternaturally perceptive woman refused to understand that the gay man she loved had no interest in becoming the father of her children. In her last act, she became Bruche Rubin, tutored in Orthodoxy by a rabbi in Far Rockaway, to the consternation of her hippie contemporaries. Even five decades later, the friends who had no compunction about fucking for Rubin's camera wince at her spiritual subjugation. "Whereas mysticism and Buddhism—all of that was really cool," offers one deadpan interviewee, "Judaism ... was ... not cool." Yet it's to his credit that Smith finds room for Jewish voices, too, tracking down Rubin's yeshiva classmates and interrogating every available angle of Rubin's multifaceted and unfinished legacy. Smith in person at the 8:30pm Friday show. KAW
Howard Hawks' BRINGING UP BABY (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 4:30pm, Saturday, 3pm, and Thursday, 6pm
A box-office flop when it was released in 1938, Howard Hawks' screwball comedy has since gained classic status. Cary Grant takes a nerdy turn as David Huxley, a klutzy paleontologist reluctantly wooed by flaky socialite Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn). The baby is, of course, a pet leopard that unwittingly brings the two together. As is typical of the genre, the pair is mismatched, the banter is rapid-fire and full of double entendres, and the plot leads to a variety of slapstick situations in WASPy locales (the Connecticut countryside). Stanley Cavell likens the structure to a "comedy of equality" in its refusal to exclusively identify either of its leads as the hero or the "active partner" in quest. There's some truth to that sense of romantic parity, but more simply, what we have here is a kooky woman relentlessly pursuing a straight-laced man. Call it the anti-KNOCKED UP. Here, love equals the triumph of the quirky and childlike over the proper and adult. Also of note: reputedly, Grant's ad-libbed line, "I just went gay all of a sudden!," is among the first filmic usages of the word in a homosexual context. (1938, 102 min, 35mm) MS
Fred F. Sears’ THE GIANT CLAW (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday, 4:45pm
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the 1950’s saw the rise of the giant monster movie. From some of the more beloved releases like THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, featuring special effects from esteemed SFX artist Ray Harryhausen, to Ishiro Honda’s indomitable GODZILLA, the decade saw a cavalcade of creature features, mostly in the form of B-movies and usually concocted as metaphors for the Cold War or dangers of the atomic age. While 1954’s THEM! reigns as one of the pinnacles of this variety and era, Fred F. Sears’ THE GIANT CLAW is another title that stands out. While performing a radar test at the North Pole, pilot and aeronautical engineer Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow) spots what he believes is a UFO. As the film unfolds, this object reveals itself to be a giant bird—“bigger than a battleship” and “faster than a jet plane”—that the US army determines has come from an antimatter galaxy (the only natural conclusion—a strong suspension of disbelief is highly recommended in viewing this film). The main interest when viewing 50s monster films comes down to the visual effects used for the creatures and/or for the wanton destruction that occurs. There’s an endearing charm in the disjointed puppet that forms the giant bird, complete with visible strings on screen. THE GIANT CLAW revels in its B-movie origins and serves as veiled propaganda for the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Not as well known as some other films of the decade, the film had some limited influence (see Larry Cohen’s 1982 cult film Q – THE WINGED SERPENT). For fans of films featuring giant monsters/kaiju or of ones that simply allow the viewer to turn off their brains for a short while, THE GIANT CLAW is a perfect crowd pleaser. Jon Kitley, author of the new book Discover the Horror, in person. (1957, 75 min, 35mm) KC
John Cameron Mitchell’s HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Friday and Saturday, 11:15pm
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH is a magnificent, glam rock, genderbending film adaptation of an off-Broadway musical by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask. Mitchell and Trask co-wrote and produced the songs together, and the soundtrack is electric, emotive, cinematic, and unforgettable. Mitchell wrote, directed, and starred in HEDWIG as the titular transgender woman from East Berlin. Hedwig grew up daydreaming about David Bowie and Lou Reed in dreary communist housing with her single mother. A failed misfit at university, Hedwig (then Hansel) is swept off her feet by American Sgt. Luther Robinson, a smooth-talking man who convinces Hansel to leave a little...something...behind in order to get married and emigrate to the US, which had been Hansel's dream. One botched sex change operation and failed relationship later, Hedwig finds herself in a singlewide trailer in the midwestern prairie wondering just what to do with her life. The number "Angry Inch" describes her operation to the extreme discomfort of unsuspecting patrons at the seafood restaurant chain where Hedwig regularly performs with her band, followed by "Wig in a Box," a fantastic number about the iconic women who inform Hedwig's feminine persona as she picks herself back up again. Hedwig's life changes dramatically when she begins babysitting an angsty 17-year-old who becomes Tommy Gnosis under her careful tutelage. They fall in love, Tommy catapults to fame, and he leaves his co-writer and lover in the dust. Hedwig has to pick herself back up once again, re-examine her Platonic ideals (her obsession with Greek and German Idealist philosophy shines through the song "The Origin of Love" and her dissertation title: "You Kant Always Get What You Want"), and figure out what she really wants to do with her life and career. HEDWIG shifts from comedy to pathos with masterful ease, despite this being Mitchell's first movie. He workshopped the script at the Sundance Labs and went on to win a string of awards, including three at Sundance Film Festival. It's not difficult to see why, with the fabulous score, cinematography, acting (Miriam Shor is especially wonderful as Yitzshak, Hedwig's disgruntled, scruffy present-day husband who yearns to don drag himself), and a beautiful animation sequence by Emily Hubley. In the 17 years since I was in high school, when I drove two hours away to Madison, Wisconsin to see HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH and left the theatre feeling exuberant, understood, thrilled, and wonderfully alive, this movie has shaped my understanding and appreciation of the film musical. I am happy to say that it still holds up. After seeing many more musicals since HEDWIG, I am convinced that it is one of the most skillful, gorgeous, and effective film adaptations of a stage musical ever made. This may seem ambitious, but I would count this wacky cult classic alongside FUNNY GIRL and CABARET as successful adaptations that use elements specific to the medium of film to amplify powerful moments within the drama and intensify the intimate connection we as audience feel with the protagonist. Like Barbra Streisand's first semi-sarcastic look in the mirror ("Hello, gorgeous!"), Hedwig's semi-panicked-but-pleased look in the mirror after she dons her Farrah Fawcett wig speaks to something tentative and tenacious in us as we don tenuous personas to tackle our quotidian lives. Though Hedwig's experience is strange and unusual and a general audience may not relate to her particular gender odyssey, the intimacy created by the most cinematic and theatrical moments of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH makes her quest for self-realization magnetic and compelling. Much like Minnelli's musicals, HEDWIG even seems to veer into the protagonist's mind in the final sequence, bringing an actualized self to life through music. I dare you to watch the final number of this movie and not feel chills. (2001, 95 min, DCP Digital) AE
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Experimental Sound Studio (5925 N. Ravenswood Ave.) presents Brett Naucke + Manuela De Laborde, Deborah Stratman Screenings on Thursday at 7pm. A sound performance by Brett Naucke (with Natalie Chami and Whitney Johnson) is followed by a screening of two short experimental films: Manuela De Laborde's AS WITHOUT SO WITHIN (2016, 24 min, Digital Projection) and Deborah Stratman's XENOI (2016, 15 min, Digital Projection). Showing outdoors in ESS’s back garden.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Fan Films Before YouTube on Wednesday at 8pm. The program will feature a selection of fan films made from 1969 on. Digital Projection. Free admission.
The ReelAbilities Film Festival screens Sarah Barton's 2019 Australian documentary DEFIANT LIVES (83 min total, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 5:30pm at Access Living (115 W. Chicago Ave.). Followed by a panel discussion. Admission is free. RSVP and more info at https://reelabilities.org/chicago.
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Eduardo Guillot's 2018 Peruvian film ALL CAN FALL (98 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Ron Mann’s 2018 documentary CARMINE STREET GUITARS (80 min, DCP Digital), Ralph Fiennes’ 2018 UK film THE WHITE CROW (127 min, DCP Digital), and Benjamin Naishtat’s 2018 Argentinean film ROJO (109 min, DCP Digital), all play for a week; and Hu Bo’s 2018 Chinese film AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (234 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 1pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Hiroyasu Ishida, 2018 Japanese animated film PENGUIN HIGHWAY (118 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Lynn Shelton's 2019 film SWORD OF TRUST (89 min, DCP Digital) continues; and Andrew Slater’s 2018 documentary ECHO IN THE CANYON (82 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Sunday at 12:30pm.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Richard Billingham's 2018 UK film RAY & LIZ (108 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Federico Godfrid's 2016 Argentinean film PINAMAR (83 min, Video Projection) is on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
The Millennium Park Summer Film Series (at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion) presents an outdoor screening of Denzel Washington's 2016 film FENCES (139 min) on Tuesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
CINE-LIST: July 26 - August 1, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Alexandra Ensign, Michael Metzger, Martin Stainthorp, James Stroble