Two Films By Danny Lyon (Documentary Revival/Oppositional Viewing)
Chicago Film Society and the Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Co-presented by the Chicago Film Society and the Film Studies Center as part of the latter’s Direct + Present Documentary Experience series, this rare screening of esteemed photographer Danny Lyon’s film work puts into motion his percipient eye and incisive composition. The two films being shown, BORN TO FILM (1982, 33 min, 16mm Archival Print) and WILLIE (1985, 82 min, 16mm Restored Archival Print), share similarities in how Lyon uses new and old footage, either shot by himself or someone else, to interweave the past and the present. BORN TO FILM is an ambitiously personal work in which he combines footage of his young family with footage shot by his father several decades before, oftentimes explaining to his son who people are, what they’re doing or what happened to them. In one scene, two little boys mug for the camera—one is Lyon as a kid, the other is his friend. “You know what happened to him?” he asks his son. The friend smiles mischievously as Lyon explains, “He was killed on a plane.” In another scene, Lyon fixes his camera on their pet snake as it devours a mouse. Does the present devour the past, or is it the other way around? More than just autobiographical, BORN TO FILM is an ontological examination of the camera’s divine omniscience. Longer and less outrightly personal, WILLIE follows its eponymous subject as he goes in and out of prison, intercutting such scenes with footage of Willie as a young boy in Bernalillo, New Mexico, where Lyon and his family lived at the time. Lyon’s empathy towards his subject is evident throughout, most noticeably so during a scene where Willie, neatly dressed, sings and dances along to “Because” by The Dave Clark Five. This compassion extends to other inmates who Lyon talks to from behind bars. Known for his New Journalism photography, specifically his immersive work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and various motorcycle clubs across the Midwest, Lyon’s perspective transcends the inherent limitations of a single medium, broadening both his horizons and ours. Lyon in person. KS
Lois Weber's WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN? (Silent American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 3:30pm
The Film Center's invaluable retrospective of Lois Weber continues with a pair of works that highlight the filmmaker's expansive cinematic vocabulary and political limitations. Weber's celebrated one-reeler SUSPENSE (1913, 10 min, DCP Digital) is effectively an update of D. W. Griffith's THE LONELY VILLA, gussied up with a split-screen effect and a few choice camera angles. Even as the director herself stars as the wife imperiled by a vagrant, SUSPENSE registers more as an affirmation of the patriarchy than a tribute to Weber's multi-faceted talent. The sexual politics of WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN? are, if anything, more regressive, but shrouded in so many deflections and submerged assumptions to make the film continually fascinating and strange. (Nota bene: it's also impeccably constructed and staged in depth with skill far surpassing many of Weber's contemporaries.) Most modern accounts of WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN? focus on the film's seemingly contradictory political stances, simultaneously pro-birth control and anti-abortion. But this shorthand makes Weber's argument less legible by contorting a progressive era relic to better fit the political economy of our present moment. Even in 1916, Weber's notion of "birth control" was conceived much more narrowly than Margaret Sanger's: the birth control debate in WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN? isn't about the public dissemination of contraceptive methods and family planning advice, but a plea for eugenic order. With its vision of "ill-born" slum children stretching the social fabric to its breaking point, the only "birth control" method implicitly advocated by WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN? is forced sterilization. (Before we get up on our modern high horse about this antiquarian argument, recall that the "unwanted children raise the crime rate" theory advanced by WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN? was celebrated in this century when it was presented as a fresh data-savvy application of "rogue economics" in Steven Levitt's Freakonomics.) The true terror in WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN? is reserved for women who choose to abstain from motherhood, the linchpin of the broader social order. While Tyrone Power's eugenicist District Attorney hops the fence and wanders the park to admire other people's children, his wife Helen Riaume nibbles chocolate and nuzzles puppies, utterly content with her childless lifestyle. After a society woman obtains an abortion, an intertitle informs us that "One of the 'unwanted' ones returns, and a social butterfly is again ready for house parties." (Weber is often compared favorably to the hopelessly Victorian D.W. Griffith these days, but this sentiment is not so far removed from the infamous intertitle in INTOLERANCE which posits that "Women who cease to attract men often turn to reform as a second choice.") When we learn towards the end of WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN? that terminating a pregnancy permanently disqualifies a woman from taking on the "diadem" of motherhood, the seeming contradiction between the pro-birth control/anti-abortion politics appears rather less fractious. Anti-abortion activists raise this dubious assertion today, of course, and WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN? fits squarely with their program, down to its vision of a swaddling sea of unborn babes. Even the title, it turns out, is not an expression of maternal concern, but an assertion of paternal entitlement. That's a tell. With live accompaniment by David Drazin. (1916, 62 min, 35mm) KAW
Chantal Akerman's D'EST (From the East) (Documentary/Essay)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Thursday, 7pm
Chantal Akerman said she wanted to travel around Eastern Europe and shoot everything that moved her, so she did. The result, D'EST (From the East) is part ethnographic documentary and part neo-realism—a travelogue from East Germany to Moscow in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall. People watching is one of Akerman's many talents. In some scenes she is a flaneuse—a woman, hidden from view, who follows the paths of unknowing subjects through city streets; in others she is seen, and acknowledged by her subjects, although often its more of an unsurprised glance than an acting out for the camera. Despite all this watching, Akerman's eye is not oppressive; her gaze comes from below, elevating and empathizing with the people she shoots. D'EST is in many ways much like an exhibition of stunning photographs or perhaps a meditative and somber Jacques Tati film; the scenes Akerman captures are at times so perfectly choreographed that its hard to believe they are not planned and orchestrated. Maybe this is just another of Akerman's talents—the ability to compartmentalize the world into images both haunting and touching in equal measure. Unlike JEANNE DIELMAN, Akerman's three-hour masterpiece where audiences are forced to inhabit the oppressive tedium of one woman's daily routines, the everyday is anything but mundane in D'EST. Every image is more compelling than the previous one, proving that the more we look at one another, the more we want to look. Akerman's hope is that perhaps in looking we'll reach an understanding. (1993, 107 min, 16mm) BC
Alan Rudolph’s CHOOSE ME (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 6pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Alan Rudolph has fallen out of fashion since he stopped making movies in the early 2000s, which is a shame because he’s one of the most idiosyncratic directors ever to work in this country. His best films are unique amalgams of film noir atmospherics, screwball-style dialogue, sinuous camerawork reminiscent of classic musicals, and a profound sense of romantic longing. CHOOSE ME is not just Rudolph’s most characteristic film, but also one of the best American films of the 1980s, a romantic roundelay infused with mystery and danger. It shows the influence of Rudolph’s one-time patron Robert Altman in its juggling of multiple characters, who include a former prostitute-turned-bar owner (Lesley Ann Warren), a lonely housewife (Rae Dawn Chong) who suspects her husband of having an affair, and a radio talk show host who lives a double life (Genevieve Bujold). Keith Carradine plays the handsome, wide-eyed stranger who romances each of these women and whose true identity is the film’s central mystery. Is he a CIA agent, a mass murderer, or a pathological liar? (At times, he seems like he could be any of these things—or maybe all three.) Carradine’s wistfulness and boyish charm have rarely been put to better use. You can understand what makes the other characters fall for him in spite of (or perhaps because of) the risk of getting close to him. Even when he’s not onscreen, the film conjures an intoxicating, amorous mood, the bold neon colors and balletic camera movements evoking a world where love is always in the air. Alternately funny, seductive, and unnerving, CHOOSE ME channels the chaotic rush of emotions that comes with falling in love as few other movies do. Filmmaker and SAIC instructor Melika Bass lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1984, 106 min, 35mm) BS
Joseph Cates’ WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR? (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University - The Auditorium, Building E., 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) - Wednesday at 7:30pm (note the screening date has changed from the original Tuesday)
Norah (Juliet Prowse), a young twenty-something new to the city, is recently hired as a DJ at a New York nightclub. Shortly after beginning her job, she discovers that she has a stalker, who telephones her nightly to say increasingly sexual things. Her stalker is often filmed shirtless and from the neck down and solely in closeups, suggesting a kind of intimacy with Norah that could only be known by someone from her everyday life. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Madden (Jan Murray) is assigned to her case and shows a special interest in her situation due to his wife having been tragically murdered while walking home from the movies years prior. Released at a time when film censorship was loosening and the Hays Code nearly at its end, Joseph Cates’ film is able to tackle heavy subject material including both perversion and misogyny. Voyeurs, sadists, and fetishists are all examined from a lifestyle point of view as part of Madden’s investigation as well as serving as points of social commentary on the male-dominated world of the 1950s and early 60s. Women are not the only ones sexualized here; men receive their fair share of the treatment, especially Norah’s athletic co-worker, Lawrence (Sal Mineo, in a particularly striking role). Sensitive issues like sexual harassment and rape are commonplace talking points in TEDDY BEAR. It is a film unafraid to unearth the darker side of the human condition. A film full of mystery and red-herrings, WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR? is a sobering take on some of the seedier aspects of New York City and a Freudian-like exploration into the human sexual psyche. Preceded by the 1966 Coronet Films educational short ODYSSEY OF A DROPOUT (18 min, 16mm). (1965, 94 min, 35mm Archival Print) KC
Rowland V. Lee's BARBED WIRE (Silent American Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Tuesday, 7pm
The first thing to be said about BARBED WIRE is that it's a self-consciously modest movie—intimate in its scope and compact in its storytelling. If not for the presence of Pola Negri and Clive Brook in the leading parts, it might easily be confused for a B movie—and a very accomplished one at that. For a World War I film, it's decidedly light on combat footage, and what little there is serves mainly to reinforce the peril inherent in the title. Most of the story unfolds on a single set, a very convincing rendition of a French provincial farm commandeered to serve as a camp for prisoners of war. For audiences who had recently gorged on such war epics as King Vidor's THE BIG PARADE (1925), Raoul Walsh's WHAT PRICE GLORY (1926), Frank Borzage's 7TH HEAVEN (1927), and especially William Wellman's WINGS (1927), BARBED WIRE must have looked especially emaciated. It's mind-boggling to recognize that WINGS and BARBED WIRE were turned out by the same studio in the same year—not least because the former is an overblown work of war-mongering, jingoist junk, while the latter registers as a surprisingly sincere statement of pacifism. At heart it's a simple love story of a French woman and a German man that transitions seamlessly and comfortably into something more prophetic and durable, appending an Abel Gance ending onto a Clarence Brown body. The director responsible for melding these sensibilities is the underrated Rowland V. Lee, whose films include solid genre pictures like THE SEA LION and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and more consciously poetical excursions like ZOO IN A BUDAPEST. The small pleasures and quiet expressive coups of BARBED WIRE, totally devoid of artistic pretension, illustrate the range of aesthetic choices available to all but the most pedestrian of silent films: the opening sequence unfolds without a single intertitle with no discernible harm to audience comprehension, but later scenes balance trilingual titles and vary the placement and appearance of individual words to suggest a staccato verbal delivery. Individual close-ups are marvelous, particularly a late shot of Negri, in a three-quarter view that still looks disarmingly modern and immediate. Like the best Hollywood films of the 1920s and '30s, the whole grammar could be reconstructed from this single film if all other examples were lost to us. With live accompaniment by Dennis Scott. (1927, 75 min, 16mm) KAW
Pier Paolo Pasolini's MAMMA ROMA (Italian Revival)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) – Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
The most impressive sequences in Pier Paolo Pasolini's MAMMA ROMA (the filmmaker-poet-journalist-philosopher's second feature) are a couple of theatrical set pieces in which the title character—a veteran prostitute trying and failing to get out of the Life—walks the city streets, picks up strangers, and tells them parts of her life story. Presented in extended tracking shots, these passages are grandly nonrealistic, with Pasolini transforming the gritty locations into a mobile proscenium. (They're also a likely influence on the dolly-shot interludes in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's second feature, KATZELMACHER.) Anna Magnani's acting is as breathtaking as it ever was—Mamma Roma is at once larger than life and recognizably salt-of-the-earth, grandiose and vulnerable. Her performance aids enormously in Pasolini’s project of rendering the character on the level of myth (This is the level, of course, on which all of Pasolini’s best work operates; obsessed with the past and disgusted by the present, Pasolini aspired to older forms as a refuge from postwar reality.) “Mamma Roma’s attempt to give her son a better life has, thanks to Magnani grandiloquent acting, the flavor of tragic opera,” wrote Gary Indiana for the Criterion Collection’s DVD release. He continued: “It isn’t that Mamma is morally flawed—though Pasolini viewed her attempt to find a place in a rapidly changing society as an expression of moral decay, because of this new society’s consumerism and spiritual vacancy—she is socially doomed, and the forces that have made her life a bitter struggle for longer moments of joy than the few she gets to experience (teaching Ettore to tango, clinging to him as the motorcycle she’s bought him roars along the roadway) are the same that literally doom her son.” (1962, 111 min, 35mm) BS
Robert Bresson's PICKPOCKET (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Wednesday, 7 and 9pm
PICKPOCKET, a brief, existentialist date movie (filmed in the same Parisian Summer of 1959 as BREATHLESS) is—with its emphasis on glances, gestures, cafés, and other material ephemera—certainly a cinephiliac classic. Constrained by a truly minimal plot (with familiar elements from both Camus and Dostoyevsky), Bresson produces an extraordinary quality of dreamlike estrangement via deliberately awkward stage direction (to the usual assortment of unfamiliar non-actors); shots of doors and other passageways that linger just a little too long before and after the characters' entrance and exit; and (especially) an obsessive attention to sound design which heightens the impact of every slight movement, above a perpetually noisy background of urban clatter. The result is a laid-back erotic thriller (ironically set to the aristocratic Baroque compositions of Jean-Baptiste Lully) that sees everyday life under capitalism—for a movie director, or anyone else—as a sequence of audacious, small-scale robberies whose aggregate karmic debt must ultimately be repaid in appalling tragedy. The "erotic" aspect is, of course, derived from the pickpocket's perpetual state of being: an intimate touching, with or without explicit recognition—like two arms resting by each other in a movie theater. (1959, 75 min, 35mm) MC
Jim Jarmusch’s PATERSON (New American)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
Popular discourse would lead one to believe that the so-called “everyman,” a phrase used either pejoratively or with disconcerting sincerity, is as artless as he is virile, better versed in the doggerel of sports and manual labor than the nuances of literature. Hailing from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio (he later moved to New York City for college, where he’s lived ever since), Jim Jarmusch is likely familiar with this malcontent figure, though his work has largely dealt with subjects more interested in the esoteric and erudite. Poetry, for example, has always been integral to his films: Robert Frost and DOWN BY LAW, William Blake and DEAD MAN (literally and figuratively), Arthur Rimbaud and LIMITS OF CONTROL, a variety of poets and ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (this time even more literally—John Hurt plays Christopher Marlowe)—the connection grows even stronger when taking into account his frenetic love of music. Jarmusch’s 2016 film PATERSON is more conspicuous than the others in this regard, but it’s also the most subversive in its use of the beloved form. Similarly to DEAD MAN, the title character’s name is poetry adjacent: Paterson (Adam Driver), as in the Paterson of William Carlos Williams’ book-length poem, is a bus driver who lives in Paterson, New Jersey, with his endearing wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and their adorable dog, Marvin. The consummate everyman, Paterson appreciates all that which the GOP claims to value: hard work, steadfast routine, a charming housewife, cheap beer—he’s even served in the armed forces. Moreover, he’s also a poet, writing before and after work, as well as on his lunch break. The poems, written by New York School poet Ron Padgett, appear on screen as they’re read aloud in voiceover; they are ingenuous and winsome much like Jarmusch’s films. As Jonathan Rosenbaum observed in a write-up of the movie following its screening at the 65th Melbourne International Film Festival: “Jarmusch once said to me in an interview, ‘You go out to fucking Wyoming and go in a bar and mention the word poetry, and you’ll get a gun stuck up your ass. That’s the way America is. Whereas even guys who work in the street collecting garbage in Paris love nineteenth-century painting.’ This is what makes the central tenet of Paterson so provocative: the notion that everyday American life is not only imbued with poetry, but enhanced by the fact that all Americans are artists of different sorts, whether they know it or not.” Jarmusch doesn’t meditate on art’s transformative or restorative abilities, but rather a person’s ability to simply be an artist without even recognizing that fact. Rosenbaum also observes that as many of Jarmusch’s older films are dialectical to other films in his oeuvre—for example, BROKEN FLOWERS and THE LIMITS OF CONTROL, and possibly the reason why twins figure heavily into this one—PATERSON might be read as a dialect to his 2014 film ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, which many consider to be pretentious. Indeed, PATERSON may be his most refreshing contradiction, a self-edit that puts not only his ethos into perspective, but also the whole concept of what it means to be an artist. Perhaps this version of the everyman is too hopeful, divorced from both current events and contemporary reality, but it’s mightily preferable. (2016, 118 min, DCP Digital) KS
Hany Abu-Assad's THE IDOL (New Palestinian)
Gene Siskel Film Center (as part of the Chicago Palestine Film Festival) – Wednesday, 8:30pm
After witnessing the real life Mohammed Assaf's meteoric rise to fame on the television show Arab Idol, director Hany Abu-Assad set out to create THE IDOL, a fictionalized version of Assaf’s life. Set in turbulent Gaza, Abu-Assad distances the film away from the strife and political realities of the region. Instead, he opts to keep the story focused more narrowly on Assaf, his singing, and those around him. THE IDOL is divided into two nearly equal halves. The first takes place in 2005 when Assaf is a young boy wishing to pursue music. The second occurs in 2012 when he is a young man dreaming of leaving Gaza. The tone shifts drastically between these two parts, with the former being more of an interpersonal drama centered on his sister's terminal liver disease and their pact to be great musicians, and the later taking on an almost WILLY WONKA-esque Golden Ticket vibe when Assaf is selected to compete on Arab Idol. The singing is incredibly moving and vital to the film's themes and plot. Music is treated as an escape—an escape from daily pain and suffering. Music also serves as a sense of hope. There is power in the unity that Assaf's music creates. Abu-Assad seeks to explore those in the middle-to-lower class caught among the fighting, violence, and despair in Gaza, creating an empathetic portrait of a region and a people. THE IDOL is not a perfect film, but its strong first half and its triumphant finale (complete with footage of the real Mohammed Assaf) make for a captivating film that's hard to not root for. Preceded by Fidaa Nasr’s 2016 Palestinian short GRAFFITI (16 min). (2015, 100 min, DCP Digital) KC
Ousmane Sembene's BLACK GIRL (Senegalese Revival/Oppositional Viewing)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Tuesday, 7pm
Frequently cited as the greatest African filmmaker, Sembene was also a strike leader and novelist before working in cinema. His decision to begin making films grew out of his progressive politics, as he felt he could reach a larger audience with movies than with literature, especially in his native Senegal. Sembene's style was fittingly accessible, sometimes to the point of transparency: he often depicted controversial social issues in terms of everyday life, taking pleasure in human behavior and allowing larger themes to emerge organically from the characters' experiences. This is certainly true of his first feature, BLACK GIRL (LA NOIRE DE...), which broaches the subject of African labor in Europe by regarding the servant girl of the title as she accompanies her employers as they return to France to live. The film is based on one of Sembene's early stories; it exemplifies the concentration and eye for detail best associated with short fiction. Showing with Sembene’s 1963 short BOROM SARRET (20 min). (1966, 65 min, DCP Digital) BS
Alex Cox's REPO MAN (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 9:30pm
Before he made Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen into the punk rock Romeo and Juliet (and incurred Johnny Rotten's lasting wrath in the process), British director Alex Cox directed this cult classic comedy about an LA punk turned car repossessor. Emilio Estevez is convincingly apathetic as the title character in his first starring role, but it's the other repo men who steal the show (particularly Harry Dean Stanton and Sy Richardson) with their grizzled looks, erratic behavior, and desperation to impart wisdom. The first half of the film has some really authentic moments, some nice surreal touches, and some great music (including a hilarious cameo by The Circle Jerks as the washed up nightclub band). The second half devolves into a more typical everything-but-the-kitchen-sink 80s romp which either is your thing or isn't, complete with the paranormal HAZMAT team from E.T. and dull witted machine gun toting mohawk sporting bad guys in the Bebop and Rocksteady mold. (1984, 92 min, 35mm) ML
Mel Stuart's WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Saturday, 2pm
Even though the lackluster Peter Ostrum (who played Charlie and thankfully retired from the acting business to become a veterinarian) covers the film in a slimy, sentimental goo, Mel Stuart's exceptional but uneven WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY still remains a visual and rather perverse delight. Get past the interminable "Cheer up Charlie" song and the flimsy ending and you're left with some gorgeous color cinematography and the pleasure of watching half a dozen pre-pubescent miscreants get their comeuppances while Gene Wilder acts bewildered. Most of the musical numbers are quite good too, and the classroom scenes with David Battley as an inept grade school teacher are worth the price of admission alone. (1971, 100 min, 35mm) JA
Jafar Panahi's TAXI (Contemporary Iranian/Oppositional Viewing)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7:30pm (Free Admission)
Controversial Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is currently under a twenty-year ban from making movies in his home country, but despite this, he has managed to release three "secret" films in the last four years. TAXI finds Panahi playing a dramatized version of himself as he drives passengers (nontraditional actors whose identities are concealed in order to be protected from the government) around Tehran. Utilizing three cameras positioned in the cab plus an iPhone, the setting never leaves the confines of the vehicle. With this setup, the viewer is treated to some impressive long takes and minimal editing that highlight Panahi's skills at mise en scène. The tight quarters never feel too claustrophobic thanks to the bounty of ever shifting background images seen through the windows. TAXI manages to poke fun at its secretive, backdoor style when, at one point, Panahi picks up a passenger who specializes in procuring bootlegged copies of films and selling them in back alleys. TAXI never takes itself too seriously and at times is quite funny--it's part drama, part documentary, and part dark comedy. The film's overarching theme of repression is conveyed through a handful of vignettes, as fares come and go for Panahi. Sociologically, Tehran and its denizens are depicted as any other ordinary metropolis and populace, but with the always-present underlying fear of the oppressive regime that rules over them. TAXI is a creative stroke of resourcefulness that manages to encapsulate modern day Iran in an uncompromising way. (2015, 82 min, DCP Digital) KC
Barry Jenkins' MOONLIGHT (New American/Oppositional Viewing)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 4pm
The leitmotif of Barry Jenkins' lyrical, sensual drama MOONLIGHT is black masculinity as an imitated pose. Three chapters trace the identity formation of a shy, gay male at ages 9, 16, and 26. Growing up bullied amidst Miami's deadly drug economy, the boy endures abuse and neglect from his addicted mother. Male tenderness is a casualty of the burden of the front, though a few men drop the hard mask to allow for vulnerability and love—a neighborhood drug dealer with heart, a childhood friend whose cool, exaggeratedly sexist pose is just that. This is the story of a self being buried beneath layers of hurt. It could have been schematic, were the acting and writing not so natural and alive. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the movie's color palette is as evocative of the beauty of bodies and nature as that title. (2016, 110 min, DCP Digital) SP
Celine Sciamma's GIRLHOOD (Contemporary French/Oppositional Viewing)
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) – Tuesday, 6:30pm
Delivering on the promise of her 2007 Louis Delluc award-winning debut WATER LILLIES, and her impressive second feature TOMBOY, Celine Sciamma's GIRLHOOD is another lively snapshot from a singular French filmmaking talent about adolescent girls constructing their identities in the face of societal pressure. The film centers on Marieme (remarkable newcomer Karidja Toure), a black teenager living in the outskirts of Paris who is being raised, along with two younger sisters and a possessive older brother, by an overworked single mother. Marieme finds an alternative family when she is taken under the wing of a trio of brassy older girls who promptly rename her "Vic" and initiate her into a new world of shoplifting, street-fighting, and more glamorous fashions and hairstyles. While GIRLHOOD is an exemplary coming-of-age picture, it isn't quite the universal story that its English-language title implies. A more accurate translation of the original French title, "Band of Girls," would better capture the film's flavor since Sciamma is interested in exploring the dynamics of a group identity within a specific cultural milieu. Sciamma's focus on the "band" is underscored by a deft use of the now-unfashionable CinemaScope aspect ratio, which is conducive to grouping multiple characters together. This aesthetic choice pays dividends in the film's undisputed highlight: a scene in which the girls check into a hotel room for the sole purpose of dressing up, getting drunk, and dancing with each other while listening to Rihanna's "Diamonds." The feeling of sisterhood imparted by this sequence, bolstered by the buoyant performances and gorgeous blue-tinted lighting, makes it a far better showcase for the song than Rihanna's official music video. Even if it weren't any good, GIRLHOOD would be worth seeing just because its focus on the intimate lives of black female characters makes it something of an anomaly. Fortunately for movie lovers, the result also shines bright like a diamond in the firmament of contemporary cinema. Introduced by J.P. Anderson, Michigan Avenue Magazine. (2014, 112 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) MGS
Dinesh Das Sabu’s UNBROKEN GLASS (New Documentary)
Chicago Cultural Center – Saturday, 2pm (Free Admission)
UNBROKEN GLASS is a painstakingly intimate documentary in which its director, University of Chicago graduate and frequent Kartemquin crew member Dinesh Das Sabu, seeks to learn more about his parents, both of whom died when he was just six years old. The compact film explores a multitude of subjects respective to Sabu’s experiences: his parent’s marriage, his father’s illness and eventual death, his mother’s schizophrenia and her suicide, and his relationship with his siblings, as well as his background as a young Indian-American man. Its unpolished aesthetic befits the film’s informal approach, both of which are aspects of the film that set it apart from the profusion of overly slick and lumberingly personal documentaries that pervade film festivals and streaming queues alike. Shot over the course of several years, Sabu’s directorial debut is yet another solid handiwork borne from the venerable Kartemquin Films. (2016, 57 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) KS
Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (American Revival)
Park Ridge Classic Film Series at the Pickwick Theatre (5 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) – Thursday, 2 and 7:30pm
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's self-reflexive musical about the introduction of sound and, soon thereafter, singing, in Hollywood feature films is, hands down, one of the most inventive Hollywood musicals ever made. Sure, it's brash and brightly colored but, as far as mainstream Hollywood studio musicals go, it's not simply a rote number. To begin with, it pre-empts the popularity of post-modern strategies in Hollywood cinema even before Jean-Francois Lyotard had diagnosed the condition and it was also heavily inspired by Powell and Pressburger's THE RED SHOES (1948); the surreal and fantastical dream sequence for the song "Gotta Dance" undoubtedly borrows from the 15-minute long production of the Red Shoes ballet. Although SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is in many ways inferior, Donen and Kelly's desire to bring some of Powell and Pressburger's inventiveness to Hollywood was a courageous move. Comparisons aside, SINGIN' boasts its own impressive repertoire of brilliant performances, particularly Donald O'Connor's incredible physical comedy routines, sure to make even the most griping curmudgeon crack a smile. Although the most widely remembered scene in the film is Gene Kelly splashing around in the puddles and singing the title song, Debbie Reynolds' steals the show from him on more than one occasion--particularly her performance of "Good Mornin'" (which contrary to popular rumor she does sing herself). Throw in the fact that the Technicolor is stunning and the jokes still pack a punch 50 years later, and you have a clever, comic masterpiece. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is a theater-going experience not to be missed--watching it on TV just doesn't do it justice. (1952, 102 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) BC
Julia Ducournau’s RAW (New French Drama/Horror)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
In Julia Ducournau’s RAW, sixteen year old Justine (Garance Marillier) is the last of her vegetarian family of four to enroll in veterinarian school. This particular school has a rite of passage wherein the older students (including Justine’s sister, Alexia) haze the incoming students by dumping buckets of blood on them and forcing them to consume a raw rabbit kidney while taking a shot of liquor. This latter rite awakens a deep and primal hunger within Justine that not only acts as a catalyst in her coming of age but also triggers more predatory instincts. RAW is as visceral as they come. It takes bold chances with its script and subject matter that pay dividends to the viewer, but be warned this is not a film for those with a weak constitution. Much of the action centers on the sisterhood of Justine and Alexia. Their dynamic plays out as rebellious thanks to their implied strict upbringing, and the two share increasingly shocking moments as the film progresses. Ducournau draws influence from older body-focused horror films such as EYES WITHOUT A FACE as well as more modern stylized features including the works of Nicolas Winding Refn and Jeremy Saulnier. The driving, Europop score adds a frantic layer that attempts to simultaneously sharpen the horror and dull the viewer’s empathy. Haunting and unforgettable, RAW provokes strong reactions, mental, and for some, physical. Like a pack of lions on the prowl, it strikes at the most vulnerable of our senses. (2016, 99 min, DCP Digital) KC
Ceyda Torun’s KEDI (New Turkish Documentary)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
In Istanbul, Turkey, feral cats can be found everywhere; however, unlike the rats of our fair Chicago, these animals experience a peaceful co-habitation with the populace that, for some, borders on the reverential. KEDI packages Istanbul’s admiration for its felines in several vignettes and is meant for cat lovers and non-cat lovers alike. The stories told are uplifting. For some of the interviewees, these cats represent a tangential relationship between themselves and their beliefs in religious omnipotence. The cinematography found in KEDI is superb and beautiful. At times providing a cat’s eye view of the city, the camerawork bounces from rooftop to rooftop, scurries up trees, and dives down pathways that only the nimble footed could traverse. Combined with the staccato score, KEDI has succinct and upbeat tempo. The film follows seven cats’ lives and the nuances of their individual personalities are allowed to flourish on screen. Ceyda Torun explores the circumstances of how these animals came to become so prevalent in Istanbul and to paint a portrait of why their existence is a joyous thing for everyone. KEDI is the kind of film that gives essence to mankind’s love for cats and showcases all of the natural and urban beauty that can be found in Istanbul. (2016, 80 min, DCP Digital) KC
MORE OPPOSITIONAL VIEWING
The Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center presents a program of work by Austrian artists and filmmaker Valie Export (1968–2009, approx. 75 min total, 16mm and Digital Projection) on Thursday at 6pm. (Note that Export will not be in person, as was originally announced, due to personal reasons; SAIC professor Bruce Jenkins will introduce the screening.) Export, influenced by and working among the 1960’s and 70’s Vienna Actionists, is known for her provocative live performative actions and films that utilize the jarring, radical, and sometimes extreme gestures and approaches of the Actionists, but re-inscribing them within a deliberately feminist framework that calls attention to women’s bodies and social place. Screening are the early video and video documentation works BODY TAPE (1970), BREATH TEXT: LOVE POEM (1970-73), HYPERBULIE (1973), TAPP UND TASTKINO (1968), VISUAL TEXT: FINGER POEM (1973), and SPACE-SEEING SPACE-HEARING (1973-74); three of her 16mm films: INTERRUPTED LINE (1971-72), REMOTE…REMOTE (1973), and SYNTAGMA (1984); and the more recent video I TURN OVER THE PICTURES OF MY VOICE IN MY HEAD (2009). saic.edu/cate
Showing in the Chicago Palestine Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Maha Haj’s 2016 Israeli film PERSONAL AFFAIRS (90 min, DCP Digital; preceded by Pierre Dawalibi’s 2016 Lebanese/UAE short TODAY THEY TOOK MY SON) is on Saturday at 8pm; and Heidi Saman’s 2016 U.S. film NAMOUR (78 min, DCP Digital; preceded by Bruno de Champris’ 2016 UK/Palestinian short OCEANS OF INJUSTICE) is on Sunday at 5:15pm.
Lost Arts (1001 N. North Branch St.) presents Göran Olsson’s 2011 documentary BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1965-1975 (100 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Wednesday at 6pm. Hosted by the Chicago Design Museum; following the screening ChiDM founder, Tanner Woodford, will lead a discussion around Friedman and the social responsibilities within creative work.
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S Stony Island Ave.) presents an evening of discussion about a 2007 revisiting of the site of a 1967 Peace Corps school-building project in Venezuela. Excerpts from the 2016 documentary DR. WEBB EVANS VISITS VENEZUELA will be discussed by members of the 1967 Peace Corps project and of the 2007 trip.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Society and the Music Box Theatre present an advance screening of James Gray’s 2016 film THE LOST CITY OF Z (140 min) in 35mm and with the filmmaker in person. It’s on Sunday at 7pm and is free admission (RSVPs are full, but any unclaimed seats will be made available at 6:45pm).
Hidden Movies: An Intro to The South Side Home Movie Project is on Monday at 4:30pm at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture (5733 S. University Ave., University of Chicago). This presentation about the work of the South Side Home Movie Project features SSHMP founder and U of C Professor Jacqueline Stewart and SSHMP Project Manager/Archivist Candace Ming. Free admission.
Atlas Obscura presents Charles Brabin’s 1915 film THE RAVEN (approx. 59 min, DVD Projection) on Saturday at 6pm at Essanay Studio (1345 W Argyle St., St. Augustine College). Showing with the short films CHICAGO POLICE PARADE (Lumière Brothers, 1896) and AN AWFUL SKATE; OR, THE HOBO ON ROLLERS (Gilbert M. Anderson, 1907). Introduced by film historian Adam Selzer. Live accompaniment by violinist Alice Kraynak and pianist Emily Barrett.
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) presents Ripe Leeks: inner life on Saturday at 8pm. The shorts program features work by Chicago-based makers Amir George, Benji Sayed, Elena Ailes, and Irving Gamboa. Free admission.
Sinema Obscura presents Lindsay Denniberg's 2012 film VIDEO DIARY OF A LOST GIRL (96 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) and Luca Bercovici’s 1990 film ROCKULA (87 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Monday at 7pm at Township (2200 N. California Ave.). VIDEO is at 7pm and ROCKULA is at 8:30pm.
The Chicago Latino Film Festival opens on Thursday and continues through May 4. Visit http://chicagolatinofilmfestival.org for a complete schedule.
The Harold Washington Public Library (400 S. State St., Video Theater) screens Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN (207 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at Noon, followed by a discussion with Facet Cinémathèque programmer Charles Coleman. Free admission.
Black World Cinema (at the Studio Movie Grill Chatham, 210 W. 87th St.) screens Kasper Collin’s 2016 documentary I CALLED HIM MORGAN (92 min, Digital Projection) for a week long run. http://blackworldcinema.net/blog/
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Maggie Greenwald’s 1989 film THE KILL-OFF (110 min, VHS Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Part of Comfort Film’s monthly “Released and Abandoned: Forgotten Oddities of the Home Video Era” series. Hosted by Paul Freitag-Fey, writer for Daily Grindhouse. Free admission.
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Alberto Rodríguez’s 2014 Spanish film MARSHLAND (104 min, DVD Projection) on Thursday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1450) screens Ricky Tognazzi’s 2000 Italian film CANONE INVERSO - MAKING LOVE (107 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6pm. Introduced by Professor Clara Orban (DePaul University); and presents a lecture by Italian writer and journalist Lorella Zanardo entitled “Women's Bodies in Italian Television: In Search of Women's Identity” on Wednesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Werner Herzog’s 2015 film QUEEN OF THE DESERT (128 min, DCP Digital) and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2016 Japanese film AFTER THE STORM (117 min, DCP Digital), and Charlie Siskel’s 2016 documentary AMERICAN ANARCHIST (80 min, DCP Digital) all play for a week.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Dee Rees’ 2011 film PARIAH (86 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 7pm; Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 film WAKE IN FRIGHT (108 min, 35mm) is on Monday at 7pm; and George Miller’s monochromatic version of his 2015 Mad Max film, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (BLACK & CHROME) (120 min, DCP Digital), is on Thursday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s 2017 horror film THE VOID (90 min, DCP Digital) opens; Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 Japanese animated film YOUR NAME. (107 min, Digital Projection; check website for subtitled vs. English-dubbed showtimes) continues; Dan Savage’s Hump! Film Festival, a program of short contemporary sex-positive porn films, is on Friday and Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm; Fred M. Wilcox’s 1956 science fiction classic FORBIDDEN PLANET (98 min, 35mm) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30apm; Woody Allen’s 1973 film SLEEPER (89 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 7:30pm, as part of critic Mark Caro’s occasional “Is It Still Funny?” series; and Cheh Chang’s 1982 Hong Kong film FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS (107 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight
Facets Cinémathèque plays David Fairhead’s 2017 documentary MISSION CONTROL: THE UNSUNG HEROES OF THE APOLLO (101 min, Unconfirmed Format) and Ted Braun’s 2016 documentary BETTING ON ZERO (98 min, Unconfirmed Format) for week-long runs. Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital, will be in person at the Monday 8:30pm screening of BETTING.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Art Institute of Chicago exhibition Zhang Peili: Record. Repeat is on view through July 9. The artist’s first US exhibition features over 50 channels of video from 1989-2007. It is on view in Modern Wing galleries 186 and 289.
The Art Institute of Chicago exhibition Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium is on view through May 7. The large exhibition of work by the acclaimed Brazilian artist includes several films by him, and some related films. Included are Oiticica’s films BRASIL JORGE (1971), FILMORE EAST (1971), and AGRIPPINA IS ROME-MANHATTAN (1972); two slide-show works: NEYRÓTIKA (1973) and CC6 COKE HEAD’S SOUP (1973, made with Thomas Valentin); and Raimundo Amado’s APOCALIPOPÓTESE (1968) and Andreas Valentin’s ONE NIGHT ON GAY STREET (1975, 16mm).
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: April 14 - April 20, 2017
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Julian Antos, Beth Capper, Michael Castelle, Kyle Cubr, Mojo Lorwin, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael G. Smith