Dziga Vertov's THREE SONGS ABOUT LENIN (Soviet Revival)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) – Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Dziga Vertov: now there was a guy. Walkin' around with a tripod on his shoulder, working like a journalist, thinkin' like a composer. With his cinematographer brothers Mikhail and Boris Kaufman (Vertov himself was born Denis Kaufman) in tow, the onomatopoeically-self-named director/thinker toiled away the 1920s assembling increasingly abstract agit-prop; by the 1930s, what just half a decade earlier had been a concrete future reality had already become romanticism. For a man who only made political films and is nowadays as likely to get called a "theorist" as a "filmmaker," Vertov was remarkably unconcerned with the specifics of political theory: what appealed to him, what he could latch on to and focus his sense of the world through, was the core of the political idea. The trees, houses, and rivers all sang the same thing, and to Vertov it sounded like "Lenin." But by the 1930s, two things were certain: Lenin was dead, and Vertov's Marxism had crossed over from everyday application into a sort of sublime and intangible truth. Had he been one of the aesthetes he despised (like Eisenstein, whose BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN Vertov considered manipulative crap), he would have simply called it "beauty." The paradox of the Eisenstein-Vertov "rivalry" is that Eisenstein's tendency to think of himself as a public artist brought him closer to the tastes of the workers (and made some of his films popular), while Vertov's positioning of himself as a film-worker pushed him further and further into personal art and obscurity. One works for him or her self, but always makes art for others to see. THREE SONGS ABOUT LENIN has very little to do with the political reality of Soviet life in 1934, and everything to do with the rhythms, textures and movements of its people and places. Grubby faces, busy hands, women's work songs, dirty snow, dusty marketplaces, foggy nights in the city. They're not really "THREE SONGS"--more like THREE CANTOS, 'cause Dziga is not a populist, as much as he wants to be one. He tries to sing in the voices of others and ends up singing of himself, and the beauty he experiences. In short, the Walt Whitman of Soviet cinema. It's what Godard has Belmondo tell us in PIERROT LE FOU: "Not to write about people's lives anymore, but only about life—life itself. What lies in between people: space, sound, and color." (Three years later, of course, Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin would co-found their own political filmmaking collective: Groupe Dziga Vertov). (1934, 61 min, Imported 35mm Archival Print) IV
SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE: EXPERIMENTAL VISIONS —1960s ROCK & ROLL (Experimental Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
This program, the first of two presented in conjunction with the Block Museum’s current William Blake-themed exhibition, takes as its organizing principle the shared ecstatic sensibilities of Blake’s artwork and the rock and roll scene of the 1960s (and that of various experimental filmmakers who used rock music in their films). Kenneth Anger is widely celebrated for his use of rock and pop music, but in INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER (1969, 11 min) the soundtrack is deliberately abrasive—a droning Moog synthesizer score by Mick Jagger that adds a critical edge to Anger’s visual pastiche of drugs, sex, violence, and the occult—things that have psychic power for Anger. Jud Yalkut’s TURN! TURN! TURN! (1966, 10 min) continues the exploration of media and medium deconstruction as seen in his collaborative works with Nam June Paik. Here, Yalkut films light and electronic sculptures to create pseudo-psychedelic visuals; pretty, but not especially interesting. What is much more interesting is the soundtrack, a fragmented and looped version of The Byrds’ titular song, overlayed with the sound of motorcycles and snatches of media art collective USCO’s “No Ow Now” mantra. As great as the Anger film is, the two highlights of this program are the films by Thom Andersen and Malcolm Brodwick and by Andy Warhol. The Warhol is a curious choice for a rock and roll show, considering that it is silent (perhaps one of his sound Velvet Underground films might have been a better choice, length not withstanding). But Warhol more than any other experimental filmmaker of the 1960s lived a rock and roll lifestyle in many ways, and circulated among the musicians of the era. On its own merits, his JILL JOHNSTON DANCING (1964, 19 min) is a fascinating work that captures the feminist writer and critic (at the time a dance critic for The Village Voice) in five complete camera rolls (edited only in-camera) in a raw studio space, moving about and “performing” similar kinds of experimental, minimalist choreographed domestic and work actions (spreading a tarp and holding paint cans, sweeping the floor, mopping, eating and smoking) that were being utilized at the time in the dance performances of Yvonne Rainer and others. The mundane quality of Johnston’s on-screen actions is of a piece with many other Warhol films (EAT, SLEEP, HAIRCUT NO. 1). The ringer of the program is Thom Andersen and Malcom Brodwick’s --- ------- (aka THE ROCK N ROLL MOVIE) (1967, 12 min), an early work by the essay filmmaker Andersen. The film is a propulsive, heavily-edited combination of images of concerts, record stores, jukeboxes, record-manufacturing, street life and youth culture, and music fans—a compendium of the youth-centric music scene of the early 1960s. Each shot, most lasting under ten seconds, is coupled with a fragment of a song, again serving as a cataloging of the moment: doo-wop, Motown, British Invasion, rockabilly, even some legit blues. It lacks the more overt essayistic qualities of his later films (LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF, etc.), but in its dozen minutes it says more about its subject than any 10-part Ken Burns-ish documentary could. The final shot, a close-up of Mick Jagger’s dancing feet paired with The Penguins’ “Earth Angel” speaks volumes. Also showing is Pat O’Neill’s COMING DOWN (1968, 4 min). (1964-69, approx. 56 min total, 16mm) PF
Frederick Wiseman’s EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
Writing about the latest Frederick Wiseman film is like auteurist Mad Libs: “The __-year-old documentarian’s __(th/st/nd/rd) film is about ________ in _________.” The 84-year-old documentarian’s 38th film is about the University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, California. The 85-year-old documentarian’s 39th film is about the National Gallery in London. The 86-year-old documentarian’s 40th film is about Jackson Heights, Queens in New York City. TK: Address how much he hates the phrase “observational cinema” while simultaneously describing his style as such. Fly on the wall, etc., etc. Repetitive? Sure. Unnecessary? Like most criticism, probably. Gratifying? Ab-so-lut-ely. EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY is no different; the 87-year-old documentarian’s 41st film is about the New York Public Library in New York City, providing yet another exhaustive examination of a formidable public (or, as his subjects are wont to remind us, public-private) institution. And, as for whether or not Wiseman is a fly on the wall apropos of observational cinema, he says, “As far as I know, flies are not conscious.” But wait: “I’m not saying that I’m that conscious,” he continues in the interview with Vanity Fair, “but I’m more conscious than a fly. And these movies are constantly involving choices: what to shoot, how to shoot it, how long to shoot it, whether to shoot it, when to stop, who to shoot. And then: do you use it? How do you cut it? How do you compress it? Blah, blah, blah. It’s endless.” Indeed, as endless as I’d wish for Wiseman’s career to be, as well as any of his individual films. Coming in at over three hours, EX LIBRIS is at once straightforward and ambiguous, clearly presenting its subject matter while obscuring any discernible slant. The film focuses as much on big-money issues as it does the more community-minded initiatives; job fairs and after-school programs across the library’s 92 locations are given equal weight against talks from the likes of Richard Dawkins, Elvis Costello, and Patti Smith. One thing that sticks out in EX LIBRIS, though not unique to this film in particular, is his extensive use of close-ups of people engaging with culture, be it a dense lecture on slavery or an informational session about loanable mobile hotspots. Trite as it may sound, everyone looks resplendent through Wiseman’s lens, their faces alight with rich human emotion. They’re often a welcome distraction from the more business-focused elements, both that which is depicted on-screen and that which is not; in the Vanity Fair interview, he acknowledges that there were some meetings he couldn’t shoot, emphatic that “they have a right” to discretion. It’s an oblique reference to the numerous problems that have plagued the New York Public Library in recent years, including the controversial Central Library Plan. Eschewing organizational politics in favor of a more philosophical consideration of the library’s place within its community is a bold stance for a filmmaker whose earlier films, such as TITICUT FOLLIES, LAW AND ORDER, and even the more recent AT BERKELEY, were almost antagonistic to a fault, but it’s radical in its own way, a kind of calculated passivity that exposes the political implications of everyday life. Once again, he ends the film with a beautiful piece of art, this time music—a tendency that can either be construed as optimistic or resigned. It’s the punctuation at the end of that fill-in-the-blank sentence, but whether it’s a period or a question mark is up to you. (197 min, DCP Digital) KS
Martin Scorsese’s AFTER HOURS (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Sunday, 7:30pm
AFTER HOURS conveys, like nothing else in the director’s body of work, the sheer joy that Martin Scorsese derives from making movies. It’s funny, playful, and invigorating, with a style that positively whooshes you through the action. Working with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (best known at the time for his run of films with Rainer Werner Fassbinder), Scorsese executes breathtaking camera movements indoors and outdoors alike, creating a sense of furious activity that betrays the film’s limited playing space. Most of it takes place in the Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo, where Griffin Dunne’s lonely office drone goes to meet the alluring woman (Patricia Arquette) whom he picked up at a cafe. Searching for easy sex, Paul winds up in a nightmare. His long night consists of one misadventure after another, as he gets bounced around the neighborhood (and into other parts of the borough) like a pinball; the story culminates with Dunne getting mistaken for a wanted criminal and hunted down by an angry mob. As twisty and as witty as Scorsese’s direction, Joseph Minion’s script (originally written for an NYU screenwriting class taught by Dusan Makavejev) operates under a calculated illogic that many have compared to the writing of Franz Kafka. And like a Kafka protagonist, Dunne has the misfortune of living in a universe that just doesn’t like him; his bad luck seems almost cosmic in nature. Adding to his misfortune, almost everyone Dunne meets is some kind of kook, and the colorful supporting cast plays those kooks for all they’re worth. Of special mention are Teri Garr, who plays a flaky artist, and John Heard, who reveals a deep reservoir of angst in his brief turn as a bartender. Showing as part of critic Mark Caro’s “Is It Still Funny?” series; Caro will introduce the film and lead a discussion afterwards. (1985, 97 min, 35mm) BS
Susan Seidelman’s SMITHEREENS (American Independent Revival)
Unlikeable protagonists—even those that have the additional bad luck of not being male—are nothing new, yet there’s still something refreshing about the vainglorious antihero of Susan Seidelman’s cult classic SMITHEREENS. Her lack of discernible artistic talent in spite of lofty music ambitions is a common talking point amongst both Seidelman and those critiquing the film; one interviewer notes that the protagonist, ironically named Wren (described as being a “plain brown bird with an effervescent voice,” something Seidelman’s character surely is not) is “a precursor to this era of being famous for being famous.” It’s not untrue: the film opens with Wren stealing a pair of stylish checkered sunglasses before hopping onto a train and pasting xeroxed posters of her face on most any surface she can find. “Who is this?” it asks. Good question. Wren (Susan Berman) is a determined twenty-something who’s as brash as she is lithe, her distinct style and beauty obfuscated by a grating New Jersey bray. Still, she’s got a certain sort of charm that attracts a bevy of other New York City-dwelling misfits, some of whom are good but most of whom navigate the world with a similar anti-social bullheadedness that informs an air of procacious nonchalance. On the train she meets Montana-born Paul, an artist who lives in a spray-painted van he refuses to sell to his neighborhood pimp; in a bar she meets gritty Eric (Richard Hell), who styles his hair with beer and once belonged to a punk band called the Smithereens. Paul is enamored by Wren’s autonomy, frustrating though it may be, while Eric sees in her perfidious nature something that he can exploit. Indeed, Wren embodies both those things: independent and naive, ruthless and jejune, as willing to use people as she is susceptible to being used. But even though she doesn’t appear to have any talent of her own, she’s far from being just a groupie (though I’d argue that’s an art form in and of itself). “At that age, you are kind of looking for what you felt like your life should be, this life you imagined,” Seidelman, who produced SMITHEREENS independently on a shoestring budget—largely with an inheritance her grandma had saved for her future wedding and with help from her NYU film school friends—told Vogue in an interview last year. “You know there’s something more interesting out there somewhere.” This speaks not only to Wren’s intrepidness, but also to the undeniable fact that a woman is owed these things in spite of what she has to offer the world, beautiful and talented—or not. (It’s fitting that, after Eric reveals himself to be a creep, Wren and his wife discover that he’d promised them both a job managing his new band. Hollow as the offer is, it’s not so unbelievable that either of these steadfast women could handle a group of entitled man-children.) After SMITHEREENS, which was the first American independent film to compete for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982, Seidelman would go on to make the wildly popular DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN three years later, followed by several features of varied distinction; she also directed the pilot episode for HBO’s Sex and the City (the checkered glasses came from Patricia Field’s punk clothing store on East 8th Street). She cites films such as Blake Edwards’ BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and Federico Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, as well as filmmakers Billy Wilder and Lina Wertmüller, as inspirations, their influence more evident in SMITHEREENS than most of her other films—Wren’s unapologetic narcissism recalls all four in various ways, different as they seem. Fittingly, the soundtrack features several songs by The Feelies (who Seidelman was connected to by a friend-of-a-friend named Jonathan Demme) and Hell’s band, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Also fitting is how the new 35mm print of the film (which was shot, again fittingly, on grainy 16mm) came to be; Seidelman said she had the last known print of it under her bed and was devastated when it had turned out to be “pickled” due to disintegration following years of un-temperature controlled storage. She then found out that a negative existed at the DuArt Film Lab, after which independent film activist Sandra Schulberg submitted it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who preserved the negative and made the new print. But like anything punk, even fresh celluloid can’t erase the visual stench of early-80s NYC, and thank goodness for it. Preceded by Maggi Carson, Juliusz Kossakowski, and Fredric A. Shore’s 1979 film PUNKING OUT (25 min, Restored 16mm Print). (1982, 89 min, 35mm) KS
William A. Seiter's SONS OF THE DESERT (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 4:45pm and Monday, 6pm
If in a thousand or so years all that is left of twentieth century film culture is SONS OF THE DESERT, anthropologists and historians will either scratch their heads and wonder why all of us cinephile losers even bothered, or exclaim that watching Stan Laurel eating Mrs. Hardy's wax fruit, or our two heroes huddle up in a leaky attic to avoid their wives, is about as good as life gets. A keystone of domestic violence in cinema and an important document of the modern married life, Stan and Ollie's magnum opus also features the best plate-smashing sequence ever committed to celluloid. It isn't just another travel picture, though, or even a domestic drama, it's got a song and dance number as well. The scrumptious "Honolulu Baby" sequence had a (paid) dance director, David Bennett—the jury is out, however, on whether or not the musical number had a cinematographer. Preceded by Lewis R. Foster’s 1929 Laurel and Hardy short BERTH MARKS (19 min, Restored 35mm Print). (1933, 68 min, Restored 35mm Print) JA
Ernst Lubitsch's TROUBLE IN PARADISE (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 6pm
Wes Anderson has made no secret of the influence Ernst Lubitsch had on his 2014 film THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. He's openly cited several of the German-born director's films as direct inspiration, including one of Lubitsch's first non-musical pre-Code comedies, TROUBLE IN PARADISE. Upon seeing THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, Lubitsch's influence is obvious—in one scene, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) advises his elderly lady love, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), on her choice of nail color. In another, as Madame D. lays in her coffin, Gustave sees that she changed it just before her death. Both are reminiscent of similar scenes from TROUBLE IN PARADISE, in which the lovable crook Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) critiques Madame Mariette Colet's (Kay Francis) choice of lipstick and powder; in another scene, he notices that she's taken his suggestions to heart. In Anderson's film, other characters speculate as to Gustave's sexuality, oftentimes in a way that is more derogatory than humorous. In Lubitsch's film there's no doubt that Gaston is heterosexual, but the important distinction between the films isn't one's perception of a character's sexuality—it's that, in Lubitsch's world, those very qualities are synonymous with refinement, the essence of a sophistication that comprises what is known as ‘The Lubitsch Touch,’ a certain je n'ais se quoi that is now largely absent from American cinema. His fourth collaboration with screenwriter Sam Raphaelson, derived as usual from underwhelming source material, it's the story of two love-struck crooks and the target who comes between them. At the beginning of the film, in the midst of a robbery, Gaston meets and falls in love with Lily (Miriam Hopkins), another thief from his side of the tracks. Together they leave Venice and travel to Paris, where they become entangled with Madame Colet, a widowed perfumier The film's title refers to the disruption brought to their relationship by Gaston and Mariette's newfound infatuation, a riff on the phrase often used to described marital discord, though it could also be applied to the tenuous economic times in which the characters are operating. Though hardly a political director, Lubitsch includes one scene in which a disheveled Communist berates Madame Colet for her exorbitance, which acts, in addition to Gaston and Lily's low social class, as an acknowledgment of the financial depression that was then affecting the Western world. Such inclusions don't detract from one's enjoyment of the luxury and frivolity for which Lubitsch is primarily known, but instead act as a metaphor for moviegoing itself. It's not necessarily the escapism, but the divorce from reality that makes this untraditional rom-com a shining example of ‘The Lubitsch Touch,’ and definitely one from which any contemporary director can learn a thing or two. Preceded by Dave Fleischer’s 1932 animated musical short DINAH (7 min, Restored 35mm Print). (1932, 83 min, Restored 35mm Print) KS
Haile Gerima's SANKOFA (African Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Monday, 4:30pm (Free Admission)
Casually described as a masterpiece in the UCLA Film & Television Archive's program notes for their recent touring “L.A. Rebellion” series, SANKOFA has provoked passionate devotion from African American audiences while barely making a dent with the white critical establishment. The acknowledged landmarks of the L.A. Rebellion, such as KILLER OF SHEEP, BLESS THEIR LITTLE HEARTS, and Gerima's thesis film BUSH MAMA, cultivated their reputations through non-theatrical play—classrooms, academic conferences, community screenings and the like. Other filmmakers like Jamaa Fanaka made inroads through traditional exploitation and teenpic frameworks in urban grindhouses. By contrast, SANKOFA played in competition at the Berlin Film Festival but found no distributor in the US. Gerima wound up releasing it ad hoc through his own Mypehduh Films—renting out movie theaters in African American communities, partnering with local groups to spread word-of-mouth, maximizing box office through personal appearances. It screened to sell-out crowds and ultimately grossed $3.5 million. Essentially continuing the four-wall "race films" strategy pioneered by Oscar Micheaux, SANKOFA brought the tent-show tradition to its psychotronic, politicized conclusion. When SANKOFA came to Chicago in September 1994, the Hyde Park Herald promised that it would screen "exclusively in Loews Hyde Park Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave., until people stop going to see it." By the time of that declaration, it had already been playing for three weeks and showed no signs of dropping off. (It even performed well on Monday nights—typically the slowest slot for any theater.) That Gerima's film achieved this level of business while playing alongside FORREST GUMP and TIME COP (!) in a neighborhood movie theater marks SANKOFA as something fundamentally out-of-time—a grassroots, showbiz phenomenon in the shadow of ever-deafening Sundance hype. That SANKOFA received new attention via the UCLA-sponsored screenings at the moment when pundits everywhere described 12 YEARS A SLAVE as the finest movie made on the subject (and implicitly, the only real contestant) was surely no accident. (1993, 125 min, 35mm) KAW
With Haile Gerima in person, and followed by a panel discussion also featuring Gerima at 7pm; showing as part of the “Black Arts International: Temporalities & Territories” conference.
Music Box Of Horrors (24-Hour Marathon)
Music Box Theatre - Saturday, Noon to Sunday, Noon
It’s that time of the year again, when the Music Box holds its annual 24-hour film festival of horror films, forcing its attendees to do everything they can to stay awake for the entire marathon. This year the festival kicks off with William Girdler’s THE MANITOU (1977, 104 min, 35mm) a movie where a doctor (Tony Curtis) does everything he can to help rid his girlfriend of a demonic Native America spirit that is growing out of her back. The camp is cranked up to 11, setting the stage for an evil medicine man to do his worst against the powers of good, making it a nice and cheesy intro to kick the festival into high gear. The late George Romero’s LAND OF THE DEAD (2005, 93 min, 35mm) is next, deepening the horror-socio-political themes of Romero’s earlier films, and updating them for the post-9/11 Bush years of America. Most of the story takes place in and around a utopia created by the ultra-rich, as the wealthy fat cats sit in air-conditioned, capitalist luxury, while the poor are left to combat the still walking dead in the outside world. The high-rise, which a wealthy business man (Dennis Hopper) owns and in which he resides, echoes the mall from DAWN OF THE DEAD while widening its meaning into sometimes fairly obvious metaphors, but Romero’s blunt and exact editing-style remains on display, while Hopper’s character parallels wonderfully (and horribly) to our current sitting-President. This is the movie that really started bringing back zombies into the current mainstream conscious, while also being the virtual blueprint for the television show The Walking Dead. The screening will function as a larger tribute to Romero. Following the proletariat-zombie-onslaught is the silent and still creepy thriller THE CAT & THE CANARY (1927, 108 min, 16mm), accompanied by a live score from Evan Hydzik. Its director Paul Leni, a largely-underrated German-immigrant filmmaker from the 1920’s, uses lighting schemes and set designs that he and his fellow countrymen practically invented, letting doors and windows take on grotesque shapes that eschew all reality, laying the groundwork for the “old-dark house murder mystery” trope that was so popular from the 1920s to the 40s at Universal and other studios. The story concerns a group of relatives gathering for the reading of a will in a dark mansion during a storm, while outside (and possibly inside) lurks an escaped murderer called “The Cat,” who stalks relatives from the dark corners of the foreboding house. But when the lawyer of the late relative dies before the heir is declared, the mystery deepens within the nightmarish visuals, but paired with a soft touch of light humor. Next is the largely forgotten DARK WATERS (1993, 94 min, Digital Projection) presented in its original cut, with its director, Mariano Baino, in attendance. The film follows a young woman who travels to the mysterious island where she was born after her father dies. When she gets to the island, she discovers a coven of evil nuns, who hold satanic rituals in the catacombs beneath the island, where they might also be hiding something even more horrifying. Horror master Tobe Hooper died earlier this year, so the Music Box is giving him a special tribute, as well as showing THE FUNHOUSE (1981, 91 min, 35mm). What starts as sort of a De Palma-esque deconstruction of horror movie tropes (brilliantly tipping its hat to three defining generations of horror in its opening scene), morphs slowing from terrifying artifice, to terrifying reality, as a group of teenagers sneak into a carnival after hours, discovering a sinister family deep within the walls of the spooky funhouse, who could possibly be related to the family from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. A film largely neglected for years, the fact this is being shown on a big screen is a treat for any horror lover and anyone curious enough to explore beyond the permanent fixtures of Hooper’s oeuvre and into his more forgotten treasures (such as SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, LIFEFORCE, THE MANGLER, DJINN, etc). Next up is a real head-spinner from the legendary John Carpenter, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994, 95 min, 35mm). Sam Neill stars as an insurance investigator bent on tracking down a famous author of horror novels who has gone missing, though believed to be in the town that serves as the setting for all of his books. As the investigator gets closer to the evil little New Hampshire town, things begin to happen to him that seem straight from the pages of the missing author’s novels. This is top-shelf Carpenter, using shifting perceptions and realities, while becoming an incredibly self-referential commentary on the filmmaker himself and his previous films, equipped with jittery monster effects reminiscent of the creature in THE THING, ghostly apparitions like the vengeful ghosts in THE FOG, and murderous mad-men like the Shape in HALLOWEEN. The ending itself is one of the funniest and most chilling endings in all of Carpenter’s career. Next up, everyone’s favorite pin-riddled Hell minion will make an appearance in Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER(1987, 94 min, 35mm). This is the beginning of Pinhead and his Cenobites’ reign of terror, as a young woman discovers that her father and his wife have been secretly engaging in sadistic sex rituals and have uncovered a puzzle box straight from the pits of Hell. When the puzzle is solved, the evil is unleashed and her father begins to roam around her house completely skinless, as the wife lures young men to the house for her bloodied husband. But Pinhead and his crew linger close by, with different plans in store. John Fawcett’s GINGER SNAPS (2000, 108 min, 35mm) focuses on two sisters, on a night where one of the sisters gets her first period and then is viciously attacked by a wild creature, presumably a werewolf. Her wounds miraculously heal overnight, but soon she is realizes she isn’t quite the same person she was, as she does everything to save herself and her sister. Rusty Cundieff’s TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995, 98 min, 16mm) wraps up its tales of urban-set terror into a nice little anthology film, in the manner of TALES FROM THE CRYPT or CREEPSHOW, where three armed robbers break into a mortuary run by a creepy old man, who they believe has drugs. Once inside, the mortician regales them with four stories involving crooked police officers killing a black activist who later returns from the grave, a kid whose drawings can turn deadly, a possessed voodoo doll that stalks a southern senator who used to be in the KKK, and the story of a drug dealer and those who took his life, culminating quite possibly with the Devil himself. Rachel Talalay’s FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991, 89 min, 35mm) finds the dreamscape murderer in his not-so final outing, chasing another group of teens around, but this time he is after his supposedly long-lost daughter and her friends, who are the last remaining children from Elm Street. Sporting a number of cameos from Roseanne, Alice Cooper, and even Johnny Depp, this entry in the series takes a decidedly more comedic approach, with Freddy actually using a Nintendo Power Glove to off one of his victims, while earlier flying around like the Wicked Witch on a broomstick. This would be followed by the much more serious WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, which goes the meta-route and served as the sketching grounds for SCREAM. Regardless of its campiness, FREDDY’S DEAD is incredibly entertaining. Jalmari Helander’s RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010, 82 min, 35mm) follows a young boy as he discovers what he believes to be the final resting place and remains of the cheery Christmas entity known as Santa Claus. Once reindeer begin dying and children start to disappear, its assumed that this isn’t the Santa from children’s storybooks, but an evil and monstrous version of the Yuletide gift-giver. Mixing elements of humor and horror into a chilly seasonal brew, this Finnish movie can now join the ranks of other Christmas horror romps, like the utterly masterful BLACK CHRISTMAS, the strange and disturbing CHRISTMAS EVIL, and the infamous video-nasty SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. Andrew Fleming’s THE CRAFT (1996, 101 min, 35mm) closes out the festival, along with finally earning its due among modern-day audiences. Mildly praised in its time, it’s become a cult classic and a so-called “rite of passage” for many young women who grew up with it in the 90s. This movie follows a troubled young woman who meets three other young women with darker-than-usual backgrounds, who act as wannabe witches, regularly getting together to perform spells to little success. After one of their spells actually works, members of the group become power-mad as they unleash their newfound witchcraft on their enemies at school. Neve Campbell, fresh from starring in Wes Craven’s hugely successful horror revival/parody SCREAM, delivers a fantastic performance, along with the rest of her cast members, which does away with many clichés of the teenager-horror genre. The festival is guest programmed by Will Morris, Assistant Programmer at Los Angeles’ American Cinematheque. JD
Andrzej Żuławski’s ON THE SILVER GLOBE (Polish Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Tuesday, 7pm
ON THE SILVER GLOBE is an overwhelming, frequently disorienting film, party by design, partly by circumstance. Begun in the late 1970s, it was intended to be Andrzej Żuławski’s return to Polish cinema following the suppression of THE DEVIL (1972) and his self-imposed exile in France (where he made L’IMPORTANT C’EST D’AIMER in 1975). After the director shot about two-thirds of it, however, Polish authorities halted the production and destroyed most of the sets and costumes. Żuławski returned to the material he shot a decade later, editing the footage and filling in the gaps with narration describing the unshot scenes over images of contemporary Poland. The finished product is, by the filmmaker’s admission, disjointed and incomplete, yet what’s there is so astonishing and downright scary that one can easily accept the film on its own terms. Indeed the shambolic structure adds to GLOBE’s effectiveness as a fever dream, as one’s mind constantly races to assemble to disparate pieces. Adapted from a trilogy of sci-fi novels by Żuławski’s uncle, the narrative involves the disastrous colonization of an alien planet by overzealous individuals. It kicks into gear a few generations after the first colonists arrive and their descendants form a primitive, brutal, and cult-like society in the absence of positive moral examples. An astronaut from Earth arrives to check in on the colony’s progress; he’s treated like a god before the alien society turns on him in the worst way. Żuławski realizes the strange civilization as a vivid nightmare, with innumerable extras acting crazy, freakish decor, unhinged performances, and (as is often the case in the director’s work) wildly roving camerawork that suggests the storyteller has lost the grip on his own story. As an epic vision of Christian society turned upside down, the film feels at times like the evil twin of Tarkovsky’s ANDREI ROUBLEV or a precursor to Alexei German’s equally hellacious and disorienting HARD TO BE A GOD. (1988, 166 min, DCP Digital) BS
Rupert Julian's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Silent American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Wednesday, 7:30pm
One of the most financially successful and frequently revived films of the silent era, the 1925 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has always suffered from a bit of a bad rap. Even in the 1950s and 60s, the relatively uncritical corpus of 16mm film society program notes took aim at PHANTOM. ("Older people remember it fondly and speak of it in reverent tones," noted a representative example published by the Wisconsin Film Society in 1965. "If the film [upon] being rescreened does not quite deserve the praise lavished upon it by the nostalgic, it still merits some analysis.") The film will never win over auteurists; the director of record, Rupert Julian, is chiefly remembered as the scab who took over MERRY-GO-ROUND from Erich von Stroheim. Julian famously clashed with Lon Chaney on PHANTOM and the two stopped speaking midway through, giving grist to Chaney cultists who would prefer to elevate their beloved icon to co-director. It even became something of a sport to make the case for who would've done a better job with the film: Tod Browning, Alan Crosland, Maurice Tourneur, even James Whale, still several years away from the start of his directorial career. One needn't draft an apologia for Julian—and, indeed, his plainly pedestrian 1926 version of the stage melodrama SILENCE, recently restored by San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Cinematheque Française, gives no reason to declare him "#actually an underrated director"—to recognize that the '25 PHANTOM is still a fine film and very much the best version of the story to reach the screen. The 1943 remake is roughly nine parts opera to one part phantom, a forgettable Nelson Eddy movie that owes its longevity to its tangential association with the earlier film. Joel Schumacher's 2004 version with Gerard Butler is scarcely mentioned these days, and the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical from which it derives has seen its already shaky reputation slip since Donald Trump appropriated "Music of the Night" as a campaign rally opener. (Yes, really, look it up.) So the Julian/Chaney PHANTOM, almost in spite of itself, sustains an alchemical fusion of grandeur and Grand Guignol, plodding melodrama and sophisticated visual storytelling. Credit, perhaps, should really go to cameraman Charles Van Enger and especially set designer Ben Carré, both veterans of Maurice Tourneur's stock company, who made the catacombs of the Paris Opera a more dynamic and memorable character than anybody on screen, save for Chaney. This PHANTOM was the first silent film I ever saw; it's hardly the best extant silent, but it's also an honorable and atmospheric introduction to the form—and a gateway drug into that most lowly of catacombs, the film archive. The PHANTOM that comes down to today is practically as scared as Chaney—a mash-up of the original 1925 release version, the 1930 sound reissue with added scenes, new actors, and replaced intertitles, and a 1930 silent version edited to match the continuity of sound version. A full restoration of the 1925 version remains achievable, even if the results would probably be optically underwhelming to most casual viewers. Until then, the music of the night remains strong. With live organ accompaniment by Dennis Scott. (1925/1930, 93 min, 35mm) KAW
Francis Ford Coppola's RUMBLE FISH (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Monday, 9:15pm
Written during production of THE OUTSIDERS and filmed immediately after with much of the same cast and crew, Coppola's lesser-known RUMBLE FISH surpasses his more conventional adaptation of S.E. Hinton's work. Criticized upon release for its heavily stylized and indulgent aesthetic, RUMBLE FISH is nonetheless mesmerizing to watch. Its affected acting and dusty, noirish atmosphere are used to evoke the existential no-man's land of Matt Dillon's Rusty James, a gang leader lost in his older brother's influence and reputation. His brother, The Motorcycle Boy (played by Mickey Rourke), is detached and world-weary from gang life, appearing to the townsfolk as crazy and to Rusty James as something like a mystic. The plot, what little there is, proceeds gently. And the mood of each scene, so carefully crafted, attenuates the action and dialogue. Beautifully shot in black and white—save for the Siamese fighting fish referred to in the title—RUMBLE FISH makes its fading, dusty industrial locale look both recognizable and unfamiliar. The film does not leave us with much substance to grasp, but that seems to be the point. By immersing the audience in rich visuals and music, RUMBLE FISH evokes a sense of timelessness and being lost, beckoning us to go deeper in. (1983, 94 min, 35mm) BW
Manfred Kirchheimer's STATIONS OF THE ELEVATED (Documentary Revival)
South Side Projections at the Hyde Park Art Center – Sunday, 1:30pm (Free Admission)
Shot in 1977 and already something of a period piece by the time it premiered at the 1981 New York Film Festival, STATIONS OF THE ELEVATED documents the bygone world of graffiti-covered subway cars and the outer borough world they ruled. Call it the Koch sublime. By 1981, Basquiat was one of New York's most celebrated artists and the aesthetic value of graffiti art was enshrined in gallery shows and academic journals. Kirchheimer's film isn't just a late-breaking celebration of the form, but a conscious throwback—a scrappy Ektachrome city symphony that seeks communion with Ruttmann's BERLIN (1927), Steiner and Van Dyke's THE CITY (1939), Agee, Levitt, and Loeb's IN THE STREET (1948), and Brakhage's THE WONDER RING (1955). Shot silently but layered with convincing Foley effects of trains clattering and whirring, STATIONS OF THE ELEVATED eschews narration but conveys Kirchheimer's aesthetic hierarchy loud and clear through its montage, which strikes an unfavorable comparison between the billboards polluting the Bronx to the exalted galleries-on-wheels racing down the tracks. (Kirchheimer would cite Walker Evans' photographs as an influence, but STATIONS OF THE ELEVATED is more uptight and judgmental than Evans' '70s Polaroids. Evans' "Color Accidents" series embraces a more expansive sense of the vernacular, barely distinguishing between hand-painted signs, traffic signals, and corporate graffiti.) People are ultimately incidental in STATIONS OF THE ELEVATED, their conversations overhead between snatches of the Charles Mingus score. In the final sequence, when the soundtrack switches to Aretha Franklin, the film finally earns its ecstatic title. Followed by discussion with local graffiti artist Gabriel "Flash" Carrasquillo, Jr. (1981, 45 min, Video Projection) KAW
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s GODS OF THE PLAGUE (German Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sunday, 7pm
As a young filmmaker, one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ambitions was to “out-do” Jean-Luc Godard by making more movies in a short period than his hero ever did. Fassbinder achieved this goal remarkably early—by age 25, to be exact, when he completed ten feature films between April 1969 and November 1970. These films vary in terms of quality (how could they not?), but they all reveal a young cineaste’s active engagement with the medium; their complicated long-takes, interpolations of current events, and compulsive movie references reflect a love of cinema and its potential to take on the world. GODS OF THE PLAGUE, Fassbinder’s third feature, finds the writer-director expanding on the self-aware movie world he developed in his first, LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH. The same fixations are here: American crime movies, anomie (conveyed entrancingly by the Warholian anti-performances), a Genet-like fetishization of moral torpor, and a skeptical view of love as a form of social control. But GODS contains even more movie references than its predecessor and a more intricate style to boot. The camera moves more frequently here than in the first film, and there are numerous chiaroscuro effects; moreover, the inclusion of a cabaret number shows the growing influence of Josef von Sternberg. The story begins when Franz Walsch (played in the first film by Fassbinder, played here by Harry Baer) gets released from prison; he seeks out his former lover, Joanna (Hanna Schygulla), and also gets involved with another woman, Margarethe (played by future director Margarethe von Trotta). But more significant than either of these relationships is Franz’s friendship with Gunther, a fellow criminal with whom he hopes to rob a grocery store. Michael Koresky, writing about GODS for the Criterion Collection, notes the homoeroticism of this central relationship, and indeed the film contains seeds of the homosexual themes Fassbinder would explore explicitly in later films like THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT, FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, and IN A YEAR WITH 13 MOONS. This isn’t one of Fassbinder’s best films—it lacks the melodramatic component that gives his better work its intensity—but its attitude is intoxicating. (1970, 92 min, 35mm) B
South Side Film Festival
Studio Movie Grill (210 W. 87th St.) – Friday-Sunday
Films for The People presents the South Side Film Festival, a three-day event featuring contemporary films set and/or shot in Chicago’s South Side. The festival opens with Columbia College graduate Theodore Witcher’s feature debut LOVE JONES (1997, 108 min; Friday, 6:30pm), which has since garnered a cult following despite its underwhelming box office performance upon its initial release. In an illuminating oral history for the Los Angeles Times, cast and crew discussed the unique challenges they faced making a film about the given demographic. Referring to its lackluster financial performance, Witcher said, “Maybe the movie is pretentious. That's for somebody else to decide. But it's about a bunch of young, artistically minded black people, what we would now call a ‘creative class,’ and there was spoken word poetry in the movie. This is not a completely mainstream concept.” Executive producer Julie Chasman noted that it featured “the sort of striving artist that we were so used to seeing in white movies.” Indeed, much like Kathleen Collins’ seminal film LOSING GROUND, it’s notable for the fact that “[t]here's no lewd sex, there’re no people drinking 40s, there's no drive-bys,” as cast member Isaiah Washington pointed out during the interview, contrasting it against movies like MENACE II SOCIETY and BOYZ N THE HOOD, both also released in the 90s. (Discussing the studio’s misguided marketing efforts, Chasman said, “If LOVE JONES was more like a Woody Allen film than it was like MENACE II SOCIETY, then let's look at the marketing for Woody Allen or any warm, romantic, intelligent film of the time [and emulate that].”) The film follows photographer Nina (Nia Long) and spoken-word poet Darius (Larenz Tate) after they meet at a poetry club; she’s just gotten out of a long-term relationship and he’s surrounded by a group of friends decidedly less optimistic about the possibility of true love, with the general ups and downs of their relationship providing the film’s central drama. If it appears more somber than the romance in question, that’s undoubtedly due to the fickle Chicago climate; it reportedly rained so much that it had to be written into the script, a fact that displeased test audiences. Regardless of these hurdles, some bigger than others, Long aptly summed up how its success should be measured twenty years later, saying, “You just gotta trust that successes can be defined many different ways, and in my opinion it's a huge success because we're still talking about it.” The second day of the festival features Berry Gordy’s MAHOGANY (1975, 109 min; Saturday, 12pm), Michael Schultz’s COOLEY HIGH (1975, 107 min; Saturday, 2:30pm), and Andrew Davis’ STONY ISLAND (1978, 97 min; Saturday, 7pm). Writing about MAHOGANY, Roger Ebert said that “Diana Ross inspires great fantasies even when they don't add up to anything,” which is as much as could be said about most any movie, really; it also stars Billy Dee Williams. COOLEY HIGH and STONY ISLAND are more rooted in reality, the former a twist on George Lucas’s AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and the latter “a film about youthful dreams, race, and class, and captures a moment in Chicago’s history when music served as a transcendent force,” to quote an old Film Studies Center write-up about it. Documentaries and shorts take over the third day, with Kartemquin-produced films THE INTERRUPTERS (2011, 125 min; Sunday, 11am) and HOOP DREAMS (1994, 170 min; Sunday, 2:30pm), both directed by Steve James, and a shorts program (Sunday, 6:30pm) featuring three films by South Side filmmakers (these include BEYOND THE SOLE, RISE, and ALL KIDS GO TO HELL, produced by Derek Dow, Akili King, and Chaz Bottoms, respectively). There’s not much left to be said about James' films; they’re veritable classics, of both their genre and Chicago-specific cinema, and any chance to see them on the big screen ought to be seized. The same goes for all these films. KS
Home Movie Day (Special Event)
Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark St.) – Saturday, 11am-3pm (Free Admission)
This yearly, worldwide celebration of home movies is absolutely essential viewing for anyone who cares a whit about motion picture art, history, sociology, ethnography, science, or technology. Anyone who loves the sound of a projector. Anyone who loves deep, luscious Kodachrome II stock that is as gorgeous as the day it was shot. Anyone who loves dated, faded, scratched, and bruised film—every emulsion scar a sacred glyph created by your grandfather's careless handling 60 years ago. Anyone who wants to revel in the performance of the primping and strutting families readying for their close up. Anyone who wants to see what the neighborhood looked like before you got there. So find your 100 foot reels of 16mm you just had processed from your sister's Quinceañera or your grandfather's thousands of feet of Super 8mm from your uncle's Bar Mitzvah in 1976 or that 8mm your great aunt shot from Dealey Plaza in 1963 and come out for Home Movie Day. Just walk in with your films for staff and volunteers from the Chicago Film Archives and the Chicago Film Society to inspect your home movies that day! Select films will be screen throughout the day. Co-Presented by the Chicago Film Archives and the Chicago Film Society. JB
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR (Contemporary Thai)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 8pm and Monday, 7:45pm
It's a fitting choice for a director whose films feel like reveries to set his latest in a clinic for soldiers who are unable to wake up. Likewise, the hallucinatory gradient glow of lamps placed beside the patients' beds to calm their dreams are analogous to the particular narrative and stylistic approach that makes Weerasethakul's work so unique and immediately recognizable. The protagonist, Jenjira (played by Jenjira Pongpas), is a volunteer at the hospital who "adopts" one of the soldiers as her own son. Outside the few hours he is awake, her main channel of communication is a medium whose skill allegedly once garnered a job offer from the FBI. The agents of the soldiers' malady are dead kings--disturbed by a government project to lay a fibre optic cable near their graveyard--enlisting their spirits to wage otherworldly wars. The loose narrative structure that propels the film forward is just as concerned with detailing Jen's life experiences as it with resolving the soldiers' situation, unspooling in leisurely sequences that can feel both casual and monumental. By the end, you realize how much personal and temporal ground you've covered without even noticing as it was happening. The elements of the story certainly encourage metaphorical readings, engaging Thai history up to the present day. For all the enigmas of Weerasethakul's cinema, in the context of the 2014 coup and continued military control of the country, the final five minutes of CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR feel remarkably explicit. What is political cinema? Let us hope that, as opposed to the myriad Sundance-anointed "issue films" coming soon to a theater near you, it's something like this. (2015, 122 min, DCP Digital) AK
Jim Trainor's THE PINK EGG (New Experimental Narrative)
Jim Trainor, a longtime animator and associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, once said, “If my films were live-action, I’d probably be jailed.” We'll see, because his first live-action feature, the whimsical, eerie comedy THE PINK EGG, is here. It's a delightful, virtually wordless “fact-based horror film” about the bizarre life cycles of insects. Humans in unitards portray bugs molting, growing, killing, devouring, and fornicating (or at least sharing vats of bug sperm). The film put me in mind of Karl Pilkington, who used to share his fanciful, anthropomorphized ideas about insect life on the old Ricky Gervais Show podcasts. As Karl tells it, there exists a parasitic wasp that looks for a certain type of spider, lands on its back and injects it with a maggot. The maggot lives off the spider, who thinks, oh, I've got something to take care of now, and makes a web for it. When the maggot gets to the web, it eats the spider. So, Karl wants to know, when did they all get together and work this arrangement out? Laughing, Ricky explains that whereas human behavior is characterized by thought and free will, behavior in lower life forms bypasses any form of consciousness. It's the kind of story you'll see in THE PINK EGG, with the dark humor arising from the blunt truths of evolution and natural selection. In a scene about the bug dating process, we're in a kind of weird insect nightclub. Female honeybees, we learn, may choose the gender of their offspring: watch them turn the blue eggs pink. The film is scrupulously researched (there's even a bibliography!), but playful. The colorful wooden sets and the digitally textured backdrops make my eye happy. The electronic keyboard music, by Caroline Nutley, is jaunty, haunting, and poignant. Chirping cicadas and crickets comprise a big part of the soundscape. Trainor seems to share a sense of existential horror (and ambivalent love) in the face of the natural world with Werner Herzog, who once famously characterized the vaunted "harmony" of nature as one of "overwhelming and collective murder." Yet for all the murder on display here, the film has a sense of childlike wonder and a homemade feel. Trainor in person. (2016, 71 min, Digital File) S
David Lowery’s A GHOST STORY (New American)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sat at 7 & 9pm, Sun at 4pm
Fresh off his first studio film with last year’s PETE’S DRAGON, David Lowery’s returns to his indie roots with the poignant A GHOST STORY. Lowery reunites Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck (who both starred in Lowery’s 2013 film AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS), the film finds the pair living the suburban life somewhere in Texas before everything is thrown asunder when C (Affleck) is killed in a car accident right in front of the house. The audience sees M (Mara) weep over her deceased husband’s sheet-covered body in the morgue before walking away, only for C to rise from the table, dressed as the simplest of ghosts possible. C’s spirit is restless and still yearns for M, so he returns home where he longingly, silently watches his wife, but unable to communicate with her. Lowery’s film is a deep meditation on life, love, death, and time. As the action progresses, it is discovered that C is bound to his former home but in a sense that seems to transcend a normal timeline. Instead, C exists within the past, present, and future of the space he used to call home. This allows the audience to see all the joy, pain, and general existence of everyone that has ever been there, a private view into the lives of so many others. Essentially a modern silent film (with the exception of a handful of moments of dialogue), Lowery forces the audience to look at the notions of loss on a more cosmic scale. Beautifully and quietly shot, A GHOST STORY offers audiences a more thoughtful approach than the standard ghost story and expands on the idea of what haunting can really be all about. (2017, 92 min, DCP Digital) KC
Jan Svankmajer's ALICE (Czech Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Sunday, 5:30pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Looking back on his first feature film, ALICE, over twenty years later, the great Czech animator Jan Svankmajer said, "So far all adaptations of Alice, including the latest by Tim Burton, present it as a fairytale, but Carroll wrote it as a dream. And between a dream and a fairytale there is a fundamental difference. While a fairytale has an educational aspect—it works with the moral of the lifted forefinger (good overcomes evil), dream, as an expression of our unconscious, uncompromisingly pursues the realization of our most secret wishes without considering rational and moral inhibitions, because it is driven by the principle of pleasure. My Alice is a realized dream." Inspired by rather than adapted from Lewis Carroll's classic of English literature, ALICE very loosely follows Carroll's plot or any plot at all. In her phantastic dream, the precocious Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) narrates her adventures with living and dead animals, dolls, puppets, cutouts, and objects constructed from bric-a-brac, all of which Svankmajer brings to life through stop-motion. As Alice delves deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of space and time, she realizes that this otherworld tries to stop her. In order to enter new openings that spontaneously appear, she eats cakes and mushrooms or drinks ink, transforming from a child into a doll and back again in various shapes and sizes. Svankmajer imbues his ever-changing Alice and Wonderland's objects, refashioned from those found in her bedroom, with the full weight of the surreal. The once ordinary and often old or discarded objects become unfamiliar and menacing in Alice's dreamscape; she acts out against the newly animate things and they also come after her. Recalling the project of the philosopher and enthusiast of Surrealism, Walter Benjamin, Svankmajer's ALICE is a work of art that reconstructs an extraordinary world out of all the rubble from his past. Film scholar Donald Crafton lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1988, 85 min, ProRes Digital File) CW
Jean-Luc Godard's LE GAI SAVOIR (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 6:30pm, Sunday, 5pm, and Tuesday, 8pm
An improbable fusion of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Frederich Nietzsche, LE GAI SAVOIR finds Godard at the crossroads: a parade of fifteen (mostly) narrative features behind him, the grind of several collectively-signed agitprop efforts still ahead. WEEKEND announced the end of cinema, and so LE GAI SAVOIR serve as a gnarly defibrillator apparatus: the defeated patient lies unconscious on the operating table, periodically shocked back to life, a trickle of images escaping the void. This is cinema ground zero—a conversation between one Émile Rousseau (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and Patricia Lumumba (Juliet Berto) in an empty television studio, two human forms illuminated against a black background. Though Godard's avowed cinematic reference points are Dziga Vertov and Glauber Rocha, LE GAI SAVOIR more directly fulfills the aspirations of F.W. Murnau, the Weimar-era director who once expressed the desire to make "a motion picture of six reels, with a single room for setting and a table and chair for furniture. The wall at the back would be blank, there would be nothing to distract from the drama that was unfolding between a few human beings in that room." Godard has no need for tables or chairs, but LE GAI SAVOIR fulfills another Murnau pronouncement, the dictate that cinema should "photograph thought." That might be the premise of the whole Godard corpus, but it's the sole and very literal aim of LE GAI SAVOIR, a film object that updates Rousseau's 1762 novel Émile by suggesting that a man of the twentieth century will find his enlightenment not in the academy, but through cinema. LE GAI SAVOIR plays like a companion piece to, and a reversal of, TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER, with scenes of the city glimpsed fleetingly, as if to illustrate an isolated idea rather than allow the ideas to emerge from a present-tense archeological accumulation of urban detail. Yet for all the miserly control and the sensory-deprivation affect, LE GAI SAVOIR shares certain strategies with Godard's earlier, more narratively-oriented works such as MASCULINE FEMININE and LA CHINOISE, with Berto and Léaud shouting slogans and reciting advertising jingles as if reading a poem. If the psychological veneer of a rounded, dramatic character is missing, that's mostly the point—what else can you expect in a movie that diagrams a sunbathing woman as equal parts FREUD (her head) and MARX (her vagina)? (The collage of pornographic clippings and juvenile graffiti throughout confirms, if we didn't know already, that Godard is perhaps the most chauvinist major filmmaker this side of Sam Peckinpah. Big dick—err, big ideas.) Originally pitched and funded as a television production tailored to France's cultural patrimony model, LE GAI SAVOIR was shot in December 1967 and January 1968, but finished after the tumult of May '68—a structuring absence that makes all the talk, talk, talk of revolution ring hollow. Promptly exhibited at the Berlinale and the New York Film Festival, but unreleased in France until 1977, LE GAI SAVOIR soon took on a perverse and somewhat unearned cinephile halo. (James Quandt called it "Godard's watershed film," though Richard Roud probably came closer to the mark when he praised Godard's craftsmanship by comparing LE GAI SAVOIR to a shampoo commercial.) It now reappears every ten years or so. Before the new DCP from Kino, LE GAI SAVOIR was issued stateside in a poorly subtitled DVD from Koch, a release so indifferent that the first iteration of the box art rendered the film as "LE GAI SAVIOR." Godard ain't our savior, but perhaps he's our holy fool? (1969, 92 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Jean-Luc Godard’s LA CHINOISE (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
LA CHINOISE, "a film in progress," simultaneously heralds and mocks the coming triumph of didacticism in Godard's work, giving us a nouvelle vague film par excellence—with primary color Raoul Coutard photography, a damn fine radical chic pop song and accompanying anti-video ("Mao Mao," by Claude Channes), further exploration of the onscreen uses of text and comic-book iconography, and adorable performances by darlings Jean-Pierre Léaud, Juliet Berto, and Anne Wiazemsky (in her only substantial role for then-husband Jean-Luc)—but also a mini-thesis on the painful confluence of hopelessness and idealism Godard had reached by the conclusion of TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (released earlier the same year). Knowing the probable end results of bourgeois radicalism, but still needing to step into the ring and say something, Godard and/or LA CHINOISE seem undecided as to whether they ought to admire their band of pretty, myopic, wanna-be terrorists, or consign them finally to the oblivion of slapstick. Never afraid of addressing his own contradictions, ignorance, or anxieties in his work, LA CHINOISE can just as well be read as an attack by Godard on fashionable militancy as a prescient autocritique. It is probably both. (1967, 96 min, DCP Digital) JMD
Lina Wertmüller’s THE SEDUCTION OF MIMI (Italian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Monday, 7pm
Lina Wertmüller’s THE SEDUCTION OF MIMI combines the wonderfully intriguing—albeit disorienting—political nuances of Italian cinema with a sort of broad comedy that has at its center Giancarlo Giannini’s Chaplinesque charm. Wertmüller’s breakout hit follows Giannini’s Mimi, a Sicilian laborer, as he goes north to find work after a run-in with the mafia, having voted communist out of disdain for the status quo. There he finds a better job, and a better lover, his own wife refusing to have sex with him while his mistress pledges herself only to him. In true tragicomic fashion, it’s all downhill from there. Wertmüller, who also wrote the script, rewards Mimi for his conviction but then punishes him when he begins to experience happiness by virtue of traditionally bourgeois ideals. He’s not so much a character, much less a man, as he is Wertmüller’s lab rat, put to test in a political maze that rewards principles with cheese and hypocrisy with poison. (1971, 121 min, DCP Digital) KS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria St., UIC) presents a talk by experimental filmmaker Christopher Harris on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Copernicus Center (Annex Room, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.) screens Abraham Ravett’s 2017 documentary HOLDING HANDS WITH ILSE (93 min, Video Projection) on Monday at 7:30pm, with Ravett in person. Free admission.
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Quickening: Experimental Animations by Mothers (approx. 75 min, Unconfirmed Formats) on Saturday at 6pm. Screening are works by Lindsay Arnold, Shira Avni, Lisa Barcy, Heather Freeman, Georgie Flood, Ariana Gerstein, Megan Hildebrandt, Anna Hrachovec, Emily Hubley, Faith Hubley, Debbie Lee, Marjoire Lemay, Jennifer Levonian, Maria Lorenzo, Allison O’Neil, Vanessa Sweet, Selina Trepp, and Karen Yasinsky; and New Works From the Echo Park Film Center (approx. 65 min total, Video Projection except where noted) is on Tuesday at 8pm, with filmmakers and EPFC founders Paolo Davanzo and Lisa Marr in person. Screening are: QUANTUM IDENTITY POLITICS (Miko Revereza), THE BURNING OF LOS ANGELES (Cosmo Segurson), FROM BROOKLYN TO BROADWAY (Brenda Contreras), ANGELUS NOVUS (Gina Marie Napolitan), A BEAUTIFUL TRAGEDY (Sharmaine Starks), PALIMPSEST (Penelope Uribe-Abee), BEAUTIES (Lisa Marr), WORLDS BELOW, OR: LOS ANGELES BREAKS ITS MOTHER’S BACK (Emett Casey, 16mm), and AVANTI POPOLO (PEOPLE MOVE FORWARD) (Paolo Davanzo, 16mm Dual Projection).
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) and The Film Culture present Quintessence of Vibrancy (approx. 50 min, Digital Projection) on Sunday at 8pm. Screening are Olivia Engobor and Claire Dobbs’ PLZ BE CAREFUL, Amir George’s DECADENT ASYLUM, and DaNiro Elle Brown’s SOFT.
Also presented by the Chicago Film Society this week: Larry Peerce’s 1964 film ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO (83 min, 35mm) screens on Wednesday at Northeastern Illinois University (The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.). Preceded by The Film Group’s 1966 documentary CICERO MARCH (8 min, Restored 16mm Print). http://chicagocinemasociety.org
At the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Boris Sagal’s 1971 film THE OMEGA MAN (98 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm. Free admission. www.northbrook.info/events/film
The Chicago Film Archives (329 W. 18th St., #610) participates in the citywide “Hidden Stories in the Archives” day on Wednesday from 5:30-7pm, with a screening of films from the Archives’ collection.
Asian Pop Up Cinema screens Ann Hui’s 2017 Hong Kong film OUR TIME WILL COME (130 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7pm at AMC River East 21.
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Sonia Lowman’s 2017 documentary TEACH US ALL (80 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 7pm. Free admission.
South Side Projections and the Logan Center for the Arts (915 E. 60th St.) present a program of family-friendly Architecture Films on Saturday at 3:30pm, as part of the Logan Center Family Saturday. Screening are: Musa Syeed’s 2013 Yemeni film THE BIG HOUSE (5 min), Robert Löbel’s 2013 German film WIND (5 min), Jacob Wyatt’s 2011 US film METRO (5 min), Rolf Hellat’s 2012 German film MAXIMUM BOOST (5 min), plus more. Free admission.
South Side Projections, Reel Black Filmmakers, and Community Film Workshop (Harris Park, 6200 S. Drexel Ave.) present Cauleen Smith: CAL -> CHI -> CAL on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Smith will screen and discuss a selection of her films, including selections from THE WAY OUT IS THE WAY TWO (2010-12), SOLAR FLARES ARKESTRAL MARCHING BAND #1 (2010), and SONGS FOR EARTH AND FOLK (2013). Total program approx. 60 min. Free admission.
Also at the Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) this week: Nina Paley’s 2008 animated film SITA SINGS THE BLUES (82 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at 7:30pm. Free admission.
The Wilmette Theatre (1122 Central Ave., Wilmette) screens the Manhattan Shorts Film Festival on Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 5:30pm, and Sunday at 2pm. The program, which runs approximately 2 hours, is comprised of ten shorts from the US, Georgia, Italy, Latvia, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, Syria, and the UK.
The monthly Pride Film Festival presents a program of short films on Tuesday at 7:30pm at The Broadway (Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway). Screening are six shorts: ABOUT A FATHER (Roman Nemec, Czech Republic, 30 min), MARIO, KIKE Y DAVID (Miguel Lafuente, Spain, 20 min), A MEAL WITH DAD (Brittany Alsot, USA, 15 min), PENNY & DEE (Jamie Dack, US, 6 min), SWIMMING POOL (Carlos Ruano, Spain, 10 min), and WHAT ABOUT SHELLEY? (Kyle Reaume, Canada, 13 min).
The Reel Abilities Film Festival continues through Sunday. Full schedule at http://chicago.reelabilities.org/films-and-events.
The Chicago International Film Festival opens on Thursday at 7:30pm (and additional screenings at 7:45 and 8pm) with Reginald Hudlin’s 2017 film MARSHALL at the AMC River East 21 (322 E. Illinois St.). For information on ticketing and related events visit www.chicagofilmfestival.com. The festival runs through October 26.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: William Wyler’s 1949 film THE HEIRESS (115 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7 and 9:15pm and Sunday at 1:30pm; Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film THE GODFATHER, PART 2 (200 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 7pm; Nicholas Roeg’s 1971 film WALKABOUT (100 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and Richard Kelly’s 2001 film DONNIE DARKO (113 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 9:15pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: John Carroll Lynch’s 2017 film LUCKY (88 min, DCP Digital) opens; Jennifer Reeder’s 2017 film SIGNATURE MOVE (80 min, DCP Digital) continues; Found Footage Festival: Volume 8 is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm, with curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher in person; and the Shortcut 100 International Film Festival is on Sunday from 1-6pm.
At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Julia Solomonoff’s 2017 Argentinean/US/Brazilian/Colombian film NOBODY’S WATCHING (102 min, Video Projection), Nanfu Wang’s 2017 documentary I AM ANOTHER YOU (80 min, Video Projection), and Griff Furst’s 2016 film COLD MOON (92 min, Video Projection) all play for week-long runs; and Chris Peckover’s 2016 Australian/US film BETTER WATCH OUT (85 min, Video Projection) is on Friday at 4:30pm and Saturday at 11:30pm.
Sinema Obscura at Township (2200 N. California Ave.) Torin Langen’s 2016 indie horror film 3 DEAD TRICK OR TREATERS (73 min, Video Projection) on Monday at 7:30pm.
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Berni Goldblat’s 2017 French/ Burkinabe film WALLAY (84 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 11am; and Océanerosemarie and Cyprien Vial’s 2017 French film EBRASSE-MOI! (90 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 1:30pm, with co-director Océanerosemarie in person.
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio) screens Ventura Pons’ 2013 Spanish film IGNASI M. (87 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The SAIC Sullivan Galleries (33 S. State St., 7th Floor) presents Apichatpong Weerasethakul: The Serenity of Madness through December 8. The show features many short films and video installations by the SAIC graduate, along with a selection of photography, sketches, and archival materials.
The Graham Foundation presents David Hartt’s installation in the forest through January 6 at the Madlener House (4 W. Burton Place). The show features photography, sculpture, and a newly commissioned film.
The Art Institute of Chicago (Modern Wing Galleries) has Dara Birnbaum’s 1979 two-channel video KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (6 min) currently on view.
CINE-LIST: October 6 - October 12, 2017
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Julian Antos, Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, Jeremy M. Davies, John Dickson, Alex Kopecky, Jb Mabe, Scott Pfeiffer, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Brian Welesko, Candace Wirt