Lois Weber's WHAT'S WORTH WHILE? (American Silent Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm
All of the Lois Weber features screened so far in the Film Center's retrospective have been readily available on home video or in active theatrical distribution, so it's fitting that the series closes with a pair of genuine archival rarities unavailable elsewhere. The Library of Congress reconstructed and preserved WHAT'S WORTH WHILE? back in 2004, but it's not reached Chicago until now. The first reel is still missing, with explanatory titles filling in most, but not all, of the gaps. (Why is that man wearing a leopard skin apron?, the new film historiographic lacuna that we deserve.) The source material has some damage and nitrate decomposition built in, but the lab work is excellent and the contrast ravishing. (In that sense, this screening also serves as an unofficial tribute to LoC's obsessive and probably superhuman quality control supervisor, James Cozart, who passed away last month.) As for the film itself, WHAT'S WORTH WHILE? is a curious independent production, a kind of Pygmalion-in-reverse that sees a Southern belle (Claire Windsor) successfully sculpting a rough-and-ready cowpoke (Louis Calhern) into an emblem of English refinement, a sterling representation of their imagined lineage. You can identify WHAT'S WORTH WHILE? as late period Weber by its restraint: midway through the film, Windsor wonders what her ancestors would have thought of Calhern, but we're denied a scene of the cavorting, genteel specters that would have been de rigueur for the disarmingly literal Weber of the mid-1910s. There's still a moral, but it's less explicit. You can see the dilemma—do modern women really want husbands to be their neutered equals or do they secretly prefer hairy he-men?—coming a few reels in advance. It's a regressive scenario—not so much because WHAT'S WORTH WHILE? valorizes traditional gender roles but because Calhern's essence is contested, mysterious, and dramatically freighted while Windsor's isn't. That focus speaks to the difficulty of pinning down Weber's work; the Film Center describes her as a 'Pioneer Progressive Filmmaker,' which correctly places Weber in the broader American social context of her era but somewhat simplifies the contradictory impulses, unexpected sympathies, and frequently nutso politics underlying her cinema. The desire to promote Weber as a progressive paragon is understandable, as her films were marginalized or attributed to her husband, Phillips Smalley for decades. The couple is seen together on screen in their co-directed short FINE FEATHERS (1912, 14 min, 35mm Archival Print), where Weber plays the model and muse to Smalley's striving painter and self-promoter. A coincidence? Like much of Weber's work, FINE FEATHERS turns on the simplest and most consequential question in narrative cinema: whose story is this, anyway? Live piano accompaniment by David Drazin. (1921, 58 min, 35mm Archival Print) KAW
Jeff Kreines and Joel DeMott's SEVENTEEN (Documentary Revival)
Film Rescue at the UIC Screening Room (400 S. Peoria St., Room 3226) – Monday, 7pm (Free Admission)
For a director who has devoted decades (and hours upon hours of screen time) to recording American institutions, Frederick Wiseman has captured remarkably few American lives. In the early 1980s, documentary teams like Nick Broomfield & Joan Churchill and Joel DeMott & Jeff Kreines adopted Wiseman's formal rigor and subject matter and, by shifting the scope from macro to micro, created films at once more radical and more human. For an illustration of the value in considering the individual within the institution, contrast BASIC TRAINING with SOLDIER GIRLS, or better yet, HIGH SCHOOL with SEVENTEEN. Commissioned by PBS as part of the Middletown Film Project, a Wiseman-esque, six-pronged exploration of life in Muncie, Indiana (which also included direct cinema pioneer Richard Leacock's powerful COMMUNITY OF PRAISE), SEVENTEEN indelibly tracks the interracial love life and social circle of foul-mouthed high school senior Lynn Massie. With mind-boggling coverage and astonishing intimacy (achieved over the course of an 18-month shoot), DeMott and Kreines cultivated a seemingly telepathic rapport with their subjects, and their dedication shows in the film's dense characterizations. In accordance with its subjects, SEVENTEEN is unabashedly emotional, and it's to the filmmakers' great credit that Lynn and her classmates come across as hilarious, irritating, charming, irresponsible, surprising, obnoxious, exuberant, heartfelt, and contradictory—often all at once. Due to its casual portrayal of typical high school behavior like teen drug abuse, pregnancy, and racism, the film was deemed unfit for broadcast in the American homes in which these same activities were taking place. Any Midwesterner will recognize this chaotic parade of home ec classes, keggers, cars, and parking lots as surely (and mortifyingly) as their own yearbook. (1983, 120 min, 16mm) MK
Robert Bresson's LANCELOT DU LAC (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Wednesday, 7 and 9pm
The best way to describe Bresson's intense, stilted adaptation of the concluding book of Le Mort le Roi Artu is essentially as an unfunny version of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. For the first two minutes of LANCELOT DU LAC are truly alarming: unnamed Knights of the Round Table, in awkward forest battle, decapitate and bludgeon each other, resulting in fountains of stage blood. Returning to a humble, tented Camelot, the knights shuffle around with loudly clanking armor, and other sound effects (such as a whinnying horse) are repeated until they become obviously artificial to the viewer. What was for Bresson intended as sources of poetic estrangement became in the hands of Terry Gilliam groundbreaking middlebrow ensemble comedy. The plot, if you're unfamiliar with late Arthurian legend, is not exactly well-telegraphed: Bresson is even more concerned than usual with a relentless experimentation in framing and editing which prefers movement, sound, and details of objects to any particularly coherent narrative exposition. (This becomes highlighted in a central jousting sequence that tries as hard as possible to break all the rules of sports television.) It is ultimately a film suffused in temporal paradox: while Bresson's typically catatonic dialogue and repetitious cadences might seem a postmodern invention, in LANCELOT DU LAC they tend to sound closer to the original medieval rhetoric than anything else. (1974, 85 min, 35mm) MC
Arthur Ripley’s THUNDER ROAD (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at The Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) –Wednesday, 7:30pm
Long considered a cult classic, particularly in the South (it regularly saw screenings at drive-in theaters into the 70’s and 80’s), THUNDER ROAD is the kind of film that makes the bootlegging trade seem sexy. Freshly home from the Korean War, Lucas “Luke” Doolin (Robert Mitchum) is a transporter for his family’s moonshining business, delivering gallons of the stuff to different distribution points in his souped up 1950’s Ford. When the Feds begin closing in on one side and another kingpin tries to take him down on the other, Luke is faced with increasingly tough moral and ethical quandaries in his fight to support his family. Arthur Ripley’s film features a dazzling amount of car crashes; The stunt driving, in juxtaposition with the smooth panning camera work, teeters and totters in real time with the viewer in their seat, as if their own leaning might somehow keep the cars from flying perilously out of control. Many of THUNDER ROAD’s themes are a reflection issues arising immediately after the Korean War. Focusing in on clandestine operations and the notion of protecting one’s own property in the face of outside opposition, Ford cars and whiskey serve as analogs of American interest. The dynamic between Luke and his younger brother Vernon (a role initially written with Elvis Presley in mind but unrealized due to the outlandish fees his agent wanted) is yet another example of wanting to protect the younger generations from dangers, whether domestic or foreign. THUNDER ROAD is the perfect film in these months of transition from the cold to the spring; a fun chase movie whose nostalgia for the 1950s has a bit of something for everyone. Preceded by Wade Novy’s 1964 short META-FOUR (14 min, 16mm Archival Print). (1958, 92 min, 35mm) KC
David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective (American Revivals)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for schedule and showtimes
People tend to remember when they saw their first David Lynch film. Mine was on the evening of Sunday, April 8, 1990, on network television, and it wasn't a "film" at all. I happened to read an article in the Rocky Mountain News about an "offbeat" new series due to premiere on ABC. The article said its creator was David Lynch, a film director who for some reason had decided to make a TV show. I was 14 and only vaguely knew who he was. It sounded interesting though so I tuned in. In the first few moments of the show a deputy kneels before a corpse, steadiest his camera to take photos of the crime scene, and then begins to weep. With crystal clarity I remember the exact moment when, soon to be deliciously repeated throughout the series, and many times thereafter as I steadily made my way through his oeuvre, I first experienced that uniquely Lynchian type of dislocation, the disquieting yet thrilling realization that all the usual bits of context one uses to guide oneself through a narrative are suddenly useless, and all at once you're not quite sure where the hell you are or how the hell you got there. A deputy kneels before a corpse, steadiest his camera to take photos of the crime scene, and then begins to weep. The Music Box's monumental retrospective, heroically curated by Daniel Knox, would be welcome any old time. But coming just before the hotly anticipated new season of Twin Peaks (premiering May 21 on Showtime) it's nothing short of crucial, a golden opportunity to see everything (or, very nearly everything) by America's most essential living filmmaker. Yes: that's my claim, and I'm sticking to it. Surely, other American filmmakers have had greater influence; definitely, others have made more money. But in his unwavering curiosity about what "America" means—its myths, landscapes, disorders of the psyche—and his wholly one-of-a-kind approach to exploring it, David Lynch is without equal. His first feature was ERASERHEAD (1977, 89 min, 35mm), created over a period of several years. It's a nightmare in tactile black and white, yet there are placid moments, and hilarious moments, and sound design so gorgeous it makes listening to the nightmare a queasy pleasure. Hollywood, in the unlikely form of executive producer Mel Brooks, came calling a few years later with THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980, 124 min, 35mm). Arguably his most compassionate film, anchored by John Hurt's extraordinary performance, in it he takes pains to depict the grime and smoke and ugliness of Victorian London. Because, of course, all of it fascinates him. He was swallowed whole into producer Dino de Laurentiis' maw and agreed to make DUNE (1984, 137 min, DCP Digital), which, unfortunately no matter how many times you rewatch it, never seems to get any better. On the other hand there's always something cool to gawk at, especially the many members of Lynch's stock company making early appearances. Despite DUNE's failure, Dino kept his word and allowed Lynch to make BLUE VELVET (1986, 120 min, 35mm). Holy smokes. Like every genuine masterwork, it deepens upon repeat viewings. Dorothy's eye makeup, a neon THIS IS IT sign, the look on Ben's face as he utters the word "fuck": the film's myriad details, drawn from a mixture of our collective memory and Lynch's imagination, cohere into a haunting mosaic of small town Americana that floats free of any specific time. Then, after he got Twin Peaks going, came WILD AT HEART (1990, 125 min, 35mm), a brutal, tender, beautifully ugly journey to Oz by way of the Deep South. Making the film led him to one of his most simpatico collaborators, Barry Gifford, a natural born storyteller adept at using absurdist humor for flavor and perfectly at home with Lynch's style of dark ambiguity. They co-wrote LOST HIGHWAY (1997, 134 min, 35mm), a perennially underrated horrorshow that includes a number of Lynch's most terrifying moments. "Ask me." He next took the kind of bizarre detour that would be a WTF moment for any other filmmaker...besides Lynch. A G-rated Disney film, THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999, 112 min, 35mm) is wonderfully warm towards its characters and in rapture over the rural vistas. Thank you, Freddie Francis. It's a heartfelt exploration of what it means to grow old and worn out, to experience loss and regret; and it's free from any cynicism whatsoever. And wouldn't you know, the thing works. Then, just as abruptly, Lynch shifted back to his obsession with shape-shifting personal identity, making the wildly acclaimed MULHOLLAND DR. (2001, 147 min, 35mm) and the widely ignored INLAND EMPIRE (2006, 180 min, 35mm). One is meticulously polished and the other is meticulously ragged. Both are essential big screen experiences whose worlds seem to expand in scope with new viewing. Expansive indeed: we're now at the cusp of Lynch's next offering, which, he insists, is not series television at all. Twin Peaks, Season Three, is “a feature," he told the New York Times. "An 18-hour feature, broken up into 18 parts.” In fact, he co-wrote and directed the whole darned thing. Who except a 71-year-old filmmaker named David Lynch would even attempt such a thing? The retrospective also includes a shorts program, his INDUSTRIAL SYMPHONY NO. 1 (1990, 50 min, Digital Projection), his 2012 documentary MEDITATION, CREATIVITY, PEACE (71 min, Digital Projection), the 1992 feature TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (135 min, 35mm), Jon Nguyen and Rick Barnes’ 2016 documentary DAVID LYNCH: THE ART OF LIFE (93 min, DCP Digital), as well as sly promises of pre-show goodies before each feature film screening; Lynch's B-sides are often rare and always interesting, making these additions unmissable. RC
Lee Lockwood’s THE HOLY OUTLAW (Documentary Revival/Oppositional Viewing)
South Side Projections at the Br. David Darst Center (2834 S. Normal Ave.) – Sunday, 4pm (Free Admission)
Father Daniel Berrigan, among whose métiers include Jesuit priest, influential (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) anti-war activist, and poet, passed away in April 2016. In honor of his life and legacy on the one-year anniversary of his death, South Side Projections and the Br. David Darst Center will screen the rarely seen 1970 documentary THE HOLY OUTLAW. Directed by Lee Lockwood for National Educational Television, a precursor to PBS, this compact doc was made after Berrigan temporarily evaded arrest following prosecution for his role as a member of the Catonsville Nine, a group of activists who, in 1968, broke into a Catonsville, MD, draft office and burned files using homemade napalm. Berrigan went “underground” after being sentenced to four years in prison, bravely delivering an offhand sermon in Philadelphia and speaking with Lockwood for the film in spite of the risk. Lockwood makes the most of the film’s 58 minutes, interspersing Berrigan’s impassioned testimony with his empyrean poetry and similarly figurative shots, footage from Vietnam (Berrigan had spent time in Hanoi several months before the incident), and interviews with a variety of people, including his mother, historian Howard Zinn (who went to Hanoi with Berrigan), another Jesuit priest whose respectful disagreement with Berrigan’s methods adds an element of appurtenant objectivity, and a few churchgoers who were at the Philadelphia sermon. The result is a well-rounded meditation not just on the event in question, but also of Berrigan’s overall philosophy, one that intertwines aspects of religion, pacifist activism, and poetry. Even posthumously, his spirit imbues one with a desire to do better, be better. “His is the kind of heroic witness that I wish I had the courage to do,” explains one of the churchgoers interviewed after the impromptu sermon, “but which seems to very removed from the kind of thing a person can do and still function in middle-class society. A brave witness, indeed.” The interviewer points out that it’s Berrigan’s very intention to persuade that same middle-class society to “go one step further,” to which the man honestly replies that he’s made a conscious decision to work within the system, though he adds that it’s possible he, too, should aspire to such fortitude. The same goes for us, modern-day viewers content to placate our inner-pacifists by liking, commenting and sharing rather than acting, caring or even burning. A passion might be ignited, but will anything else? Post-screening panel discussion with author Rosalie Riegle and activists Thom Clark and Bill Sell, the latter two of whom participated in similar draft record destructions. (58 min, 16mm) KS
Michael Mann's HEAT (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 9:15pm
By 1995, Michael Mann was already one of the most formally accomplished directors of modern Hollywood. His TV series Miami Vice brought a new style to the police procedure genre: streamlined, fixated on technological detail, and coolly—even inhumanly—detached from its characters. His previous theatrical features, MANHUNTER and THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, married these qualities to a rich visual language that drew from centuries of American painting. But HEAT was a new breakthrough: the introduction of a relentlessly inquisitive film style, willing to sacrifice focus and even spatial orientation in order to capture the most stimulating detail of any given moment. (It was perhaps the first pointillist action movie.) Mann's gifts as a visual artist would be superficial, though, if he weren't so thoroughly educated in his subject matter. The obsessiveness of Al Pacino's Lt. Vincent Hanna in arresting a master thief was inspired by one of Mann's friends in the Chicago Police Department; and equally important to the film's power is the near-documentary explication of almost every bit of surveillance equipment and artillery we see. (As in his later COLLATERAL and MIAMI VICE , Mann had much of the cast undergo professional weapons training before production.) Mann's eternal subject is the shark-like grace of the career professional; this film conveys, in an epic accumulation of detail, the challenge of keeping up with him. It also reflects on the professional's struggle in keeping up with himself. Pacino's Hanna and Robert DeNiro's Neil McCauley (Hanna's criminal doppelganger) are similar cases of middle-aged regret, worn down by decades of living by professional code, but Mann never paints them schematically. This isn't a film about the futility of law and order, but the codependence between law and crime. It's also an awe-inspiring portrait of contemporary Los Angeles, as striking a postmodern (in the architectural sense) piece of art as any of Antonioni's 60s films. (1995, 171 min, 35mm) BS
Deborah Stratman's THE ILLINOIS PARABLES (New Documentary)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) – Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
When I was in the second semester of my senior year of high school, drenched with that special hyperactive glee that can only come from being a teenager about to change the world through the power of having read very serious books by very dead people, I came across an unhinged and hyperbolic profile in the New York Times of a young writer of prodigious passion, voluminous productivity, and dangerous proclivities. He had embarked, the author of the article said, on a multi-novel project that set out to do nothing less than reconstitute the history of the European conquests in the North American continent, from the Viking settlements to the present day, through myth, autobiographical recreation, vividly poetic deconstruction, and obsessive archival research. The man being discussed was William T. Vollmann, arguably the greatest novelist in America today, and his cycle of books about America, 'Seven Dreams,' had its fifth volume published just last summer. As I was watching, and obsessively rewatching, Deborah Stratman's beautiful new film, THE ILLINOIS PARABLES, I was unavoidably reminded of the gargantuan ambition and microhistorical approach that Vollmann has taken in his series. Stratman's lyrical documentary takes the form, not of dreams, but of parables, eleven of them, each a loving, sometimes poignant and often terrible, frozen moment from Illinois' past. A parable, in contrast to a dream, is a tale that encapsulates a spiritual truth, a way through story to teach a difficult lesson about a higher, better way of life, a grander, more virtuous kind of world, and how we might find a way to deserve those. THE ILLINOIS PARABLES is about the land of Illinois as much as it's about the people who live here. Stratman shows it as a grand, expansive place, a landscape of fecundity and cruelty and catastrophe. Each of the parable-sections of the film offers a miniature meditation on an event from Illinois history, lushly photographed in gorgeous, complex shots combined in mesmerizing patterns. We see a wilderness, a pre-Columbian ruin, a snow-drowned dirt road, a crime scene recreation, a close-up of a painting, of a monument. The lives that once inhabited and once brought life to these images have been expelled: by the force of nature, by the force of racism, by the force of religious bigotry, by the force of greed, by the force of police assassination. Over the dense soundtrack, the sounds of nature form a peculiar and funereal music, punctuated only by the recitations, in voice-over, of unforgiving and blunt first-person narratives culled from our state's past. The heart of the film for me is parable 9, an exploration of the Macomb Poltergeist, one of the most notorious poltergeist hauntings in American history. In the film, a young girl sits alone in a room. Slowly, a small spot appears on the wallpaper opposite her. It darkens, spreads, begins to glow hot. Small tongues of flame start to lick up out of the growing hole. Stratman cuts to found footage of a house mid-conflagration, moments away from collapsing entirely. The incomprehensible has become the palpable. The ineffable has descended to flesh. But the mystery has only deepened, and the state of emergency, the state of Illinois, is always just about to burst into fire. Stratman, like Vollmann, gives us each moment as a vision of how a place, how a person might have been, and what that possibility can mean to us now as we glacially awaken from our long nightmares into an incandescent present. Stratman in person. (2016, 60 min, 16mm) KB
Anna Rose Holmer’s THE FITS (New American)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday, 7 and 9pm
Despite its quiet peculiarity, Anna Rose Holmer’s THE FITS is a veritable “hysterical text,” as once written about by critic Susan Morrison and expanded upon by Robin Wood in his essay on Vincente Minnelli’s MADAME BOVARY. This makes its laconism even more pronounced, setting it apart from other similarly burnished contemporary films that rely on silence to convey meaning that’s as imperceptible as it is mute. The young protagonist, Toni (played by auspiciously talented newcomer Royalty Hightower), is also quiet, shy in a way that only preteen girls can be, though that doesn’t stop her from joining the drill team at her community center after watching them from afar while helping out around her brother’s boxing gym. What initially posits itself as a straightforward coming-of-age story soon becomes something of a psychological thriller after members of Toni’s squad start experiencing inexplicable convulsions. They keep happening to more and more of the girls—just the girls, not the boys—until the unaffected begin to wait their turn, patiently, almost enthusiastically. It’s hysteria in the every sense of the word, and even the sexist implications of the condition are referenced; Toni’s brother tells her not to worry, that it’s all in their heads, even singling out one of the older girls as being “the craziest one out of all of them.” Wood aptly observes that “[b]roadly speaking, hysteria...in its more wider, popular sense than in its strictly psychoanalytic one...can be seen as a response to the frustration of the desire for power—the power, at least, to make one’s own decisions, control one’s destiny, achieve a measure of personal autonomy.” (Because he’s writing about Minnelli’s MADAME BOVARY, Wood connects these underpinnings of female hysteria to a particularly feminine sort of melodrama; THE FITS is most certainly a hysterical text but definitely not a melodrama, at least not in the traditional sense. This is another way in which the film sublimates unfair categorization.) His assessment is especially poignant in light of whose story THE FITS is telling. Toni and her friends are young African American girls whose economic situations are hinted at as being less than desirable. Naturally, their frustration would be understandable on many levels, even when it’s suggested that some of the girls may be faking it; unlike Madame Bovary, it’s not their inherent creativity that’s being stifled, but their very personhood. In keeping with the references to Minnelli’s underrated masterpiece, one must note the final dance number that’s comparable to musical numbers from his better-received work, though it’s not hysterical so much as it is ecstatic. Just one more thing that will stay with you after watching this singular film. Also as impressive as the story and performances is the mise-en-scene; Holmer is no mere stylist—she’s an emerging auteur. (2015, 72 min, DCP Digital) KS
Alejandro Jodorowsky's EL TOPO (Cult Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Monday, 7pm
"I ask of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs," said Mexican-Chilean-Jewish writer/director/actor/iconoclast Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1970. "The difference being that when one creates a psychedelic film... he needs to manufacture the pill." For the psychedelic concoction that is EL TOPO, Jodorowsky combines Bunuel, Leone, and Chinese mythology in a brew seasoned with blood, sex, and cryptic maxims. At the time of its release, the film was not shown at all in its native country because "All Mexico was against it, they wanted to kill me--they thought I was making a black mass!" And indeed, EL TOPO's characters seem capable of anything no matter how lurid, from covering a corpse in dead rabbits and playing Russian roulette in a church to forcing a mime and a dwarf to put on a live sex show. One viewer who was not turned off by the depravity was John Lennon whose intense advocacy for the film led to a lucrative distribution deal between Jodorowsky and Apple Records impresario Allen Klein. The relationship soured quickly, by one account because the director discovered feminism (EL TOPO is decidedly pre-feminist) and refused to work on an adaptation of Pauline Reage's masochistic novel The Story of O, by another account because he insisted that George Harrison show his asshole to a hippopotamus in his next film. (1970, 125 min, 35mm) ML
Kelly Reichardt's RIVER OF GRASS (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 5pm and Tuesday, 6pm
RIVER OF GRASS may be my favorite film by Kelly Reichardt, besting even the exquisitely bleak MEEK'S CUTOFF. Set in a small town near the Florida Everglades (Reichardt herself is from Miami), it follows Cozy, a disenchanted stay-at-home mom, and Lee, an apathetic ne'er-do-well, as they embark on a life of crime after accidentally shooting a man with Cozy's policeman father's gun. Said "life of crime" turns out to be much like their actual lives, full of confusion, disappointment, and ennui. Described by Reichardt as being "a road movie without the road, a love story without the love, and a crime story without the crime," it succeeds insomuch as Cozy and Lee fail— they're something of an antithesis to the Bonnie and Clyde mythology that's inspired generations of road-hungry filmmakers. RIVER OF GRASS also contains Reichardt's signature brand of idle suspense that characterizes her oeuvre to date. The “twist,” so to speak, is more so a culmination of simmering uncertainty than an unexpected action meant to catch viewers off guard. The performances are similarly melancholic—particularly Lisa Bowman as Cozy and Dick Russell as her dad—and the 16mm cinematography lends itself to the fatigued tone. It’s worth seeing for reasons more than just being a popular contemporary director’s first film—it provides further insight into her career-long examination of aimless exploration and pathetic apostasy. Filmmakers and SAIC instructor Melika Bass lectures at the Tuesday show. (1994, 81 min, Digital Projection; New Restoration) KS
Kenji Mizoguchi’s UGETSU (Japanese Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
For most Western moviegoers, UGETSU is the best-known film by Kenji Mizoguchi, as its awesome tracking shots (which connect past and present, fantasy and reality, in single movements) are regularly presented in introductory film courses as exemplifying the form. This ubiquity has brought some cinephiles to underrate it in recent years (much as they underrate the similarly masterful and over-taught CITIZEN KANE), but its power remains undiminished. Adapting a pair of popular ghost stories from the 19th century, Mizoguchi created a personal statement on some of his favorite subjects: greed, spiritual transcendence, and women’s capacity for selflessness. Formally, it is indeed close to flawless—besides the aforementioned tracking shots, the film’s mise-en-scene demonstrates limitless imagination in evoking the feudal era—so if you haven’t seen this on a big screen, you owe it to yourself to go. (1953, 93 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) BS
Olivier Assayas' PERSONAL SHOPPER (New French)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
PERSONAL SHOPPER continues to explore themes that run throughout Olivier Assayas' oeuvre, especially CLEAN (2004) and CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (2014). Much like CLEAN, which starred Maggie Cheung, the film centers on an isolated, inward-facing character recovering from trauma in the city of Paris. Much like CLOUDS, the film stars Kristen Stewart, who plays a personal assistant (specifically in this case, a personal shopper) to a glamorous actress entrenched in the world of celebrity and fashion. Unlike CLOUDS, however, PERSONAL SHOPPER delves into the world of the assistant, and the single-name celebrity, Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), is seen rarely. Kristen Stewart commands almost every second of screen time, much like Maggie Cheung does in CLEAN. Drawing comparisons among these three films is helpful in finding more depth and meaning in PERSONAL SHOPPER, which suffers in some ways from a meandering, underdeveloped screenplay that elicits accidental laughs and does too much juggling of tone to strike a resounding emotional chord. Assayas called the movie a "collage," but unfortunately the collage is uneven in execution, despite an incredibly impressive performance from Stewart. Apart from the unevenness of the screenplay, the movie has many interesting aspect, and one of the most inspired is allowing Kristen Stewart to do things without being highly sexualized and without speaking. She emotes in a subterraneously explosive manner, indicating the enormous tension within her character without overtly emoting. It's surprisingly captivating. PERSONAL SHOPPER vacillates between several genres, from dark comedy to coming-of-age to psychological thriller, and lastly to horror. The reason the film vacillates so much is due in part to the actual plot: Maureen (Stewart) is a personal shopper by day, and a medium on nights and weekends, mourning her dead twin brother who said he would send her a sign from beyond. She is in Paris for an indefinite amount of time, putting off her own life, and existing as something of a ghost herself, just waiting. Because the movie accepts the existence of ghosts as a given, it turns into a psychological thriller (revolving around an exchange of text messages with an unknown number who may or may not be Maureen's brother...it gets old, fast, watching text messages pop up on a screen), and then a spooky horror (by far the weakest element of the movie), while exploring elements of Maureen's character in quieter, sadder, less suspenseful scenes, hinting at depths the movie never quite reaches. Critics have disagreed widely in their reviews of the film, and it is easy to see why, but it is still highly recommended to see the film for yourself and wonder what this could have been with a stronger screenplay, given how fascinating it is to watch already. (2016, 105 min, DCP Digital) AE
Jia Zhang-Ke's STILL LIFE (Chinese Revival)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) – Saturday, 7pm
The people of Fengjie scramble to salvage what they can as their surroundings are submerged by water displaced by the Three Gorges Dam; there're the sensations of walking across rubble, of soup-steam getting in your face, of cheap labor and unheated rooms. STILL LIFE is a poem and a survey by director Jia Zhang-Ke, his actors, cinematographer Yu Lik Wai, the 21st century, digital video, and China's landscapes. (Social landscapes as well as geographic ones / the architecture of interactions as much the architecture of bridges and the building-ghosts of razed cities / great spans of distance across gorges and between people seated side by side.) It is tactile, aromatic, romantic, simple and final. A document of China's break-neck growth that tells us more about the present than most films that would call themselves documentaries. It's a lunar expedition to a familiar place: a Neo-(Sur)Realist film written by world economics like Jia's THE WORLD and UNKNOWN PLEASURES, and a (modern) history lesson like his debut PLATFORM. The film has more in common with a photograph than the painting its title suggests, capturing an instant in a rapidly changing world. It stresses the passage of time to express a feeling for life. A focus on time brings a focus to life. (2006, 111 min, Digital Projection) KH, IV
MORE OPPOSITIONAL VIEWING
The First Nations Film and Video Festival opens on Tuesday, May 2, and continues through May 10 at several Chicago locations, as well as additional screenings in Evanston and Kenosha, Wisconsin. Complete schedule at http://www.fnfvf.org.
The DuSable Museum (740 E. 56th Pl.) and South Side Projections present Christine Dall’s 1989 documentary WILD WOMEN DON’T HAVE THE BLUES (58 min, DVD Projection), about pioneering women blues singers in the early 20th century, on Tuesday at 7pm. Free admission.
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) presents REEL Black Filmmakers Short Film Series on Friday at 7pm. Screening are David Weathersby’s GOT THE LOVE, about independent soul musicians in Chicago, and Derek Grace’s ON THE FRONTLINE, about gun violence and its aftermath. Weathersby and Grace in person. Co-presented by Community Film Workshop. Free admission.
Screening in the Chicago Palestine Film Festival this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center: Heidi Saman’s 2016 U.S. film NAMOUR (78 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 8pm (Preceded by Bruno de Champris’ UK/Palestine short OCEANS OF INJUSTICE (12 min); and Elia Youssef’s 2016 Lebanese/Nepalese/U.S. film THE SEVENTH SUMMIT (66 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 8pm (Preceded by Unai Aranzadi’s 2016 Palestinian/Spanish short NEVERTHELESS, AL QUDS (30 min); and Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp’s 2016 U.S. documentary THE OCCUPATION OF THE AMERICAN MIND (84 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 8:15pm.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) hosts the symposium The Cinema of Chantal Akerman: Time, Borders, Politics on Friday beginning at 2pm. Organized by the Northwestern Image Lab and the Department of French and Italian.
The 33rd Chicago Latino Film Festival continues through May 4 at the AMC River East 21. Visit http://chicagolatinofilmfestival.org for more information and a complete schedule.
The Midwest Independent Film Festival (at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema) presents an Animation Showcase at their monthly series on Tuesday at 7:30pm. The evening begins at 6pm with a reception, followed by a Producers Panel at 6:30pm. Screening are a slate of regional animated shorts and animated music videos by Carter Boyce, Hannah Raye White, Ben Kaufmann, Ron Fleischer, Robert Carnilius, Matt Marsden, Minneapolis design studio Make, Anne Beal, Julian Grant, Caleb Wood, and Drew Dir; followed by Joel Benjamin’s 2017 animation WHEN IT FLOODS (47 min).
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Machinima Report, a program of “works of animation created through the real-time graphics engines of video games” curated by Video Game Art Gallery, is on Wednesday at 8pm. Free admission.
The Sci-Fi Spectacular takes place at the Patio Theater (6008 W. Irving Park Rd.) on Saturday. Screening are: Walter R. Booth’s 1911 silent short THE AUTOMATIC MOTORIST at 11:45am; George Roy Hill’s 1972 SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE at Noon; Ishiro Honda’s 1964 MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA at 2pm; Sam Raimi’s 1990 DARKMAN at 3:45pm; shorts and 50s Trailer Contest entries at 5:30pm; George Miller’s 1981 THE ROAD WARRIOR [MAD MAX 2] (with actor Vernon Wells in person) at 6:20pm; Alex Cox’s 1984 REPO MAN at 8:30pm; Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 TOTAL RECALL at 10:15pm; and David Cronenberg’s 1983 VIDEODROME at 12:15am. All Digital Projection.
Metro Chicago (3730 N. Clark St.) presents Ben Morse’s 2016 documentary GET BETTER: A FILM ABOUT FRANK TURNER (96 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 8pm, with musician Turner in person.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens William A. Seiter’s 1942 Fred Astaire/Rita Hayworth musical YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (97 min, DCP Digital) on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm. Free Admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Robert Berliner’s 2015 Brazilian film NISE: THE HEART OF MADNESS (106 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Asghar Farhadi’s 2016 Iranian/French film THE SALESMAN (125 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm; Nadine Labaki’s 2007 French/Lebanese film CARAMEL (95 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 7pm; Andrea Segre’s 2011 Italian/French film SHUN LI AND THE POET (102 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm; Adam Wingard’s 2011 film YOU’RE NEXT (101 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 Japanese animated film YOUR NAME. (107 min, Digital Projection; check website for subtitled vs. English-dubbed showtimes) continues; Sean Byrne’s 2015 film THE DEVIL’S CANDY (79 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight and Sunday-Thursday at 9:30pm; and Tatsuya Oishi and Akiyuki Shinbo’s 2017 Japanese animated film KIZUMONOGATARI PART 3: REIKETSU (83 min, Digital Projection) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am.
At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Kirill Serebrennikov’s 2016 Russian film THE STUDENT (118 min), Jonathan Barré’s 2016 French/Belgian film MAX & LEON (98 min), and April Mullen’s 2016 Canadian film BELOW HER MOUTH (92 min) all have week-long runs (check Facets’ website for individual showtimes); and Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary SICKO (123 min) is screening on Monday at 6:30pm as a free Teach-In event, followed by a discussion led by David Edelberg, M.D., co-founder of WholeHealth Chicago.
Sinema Obscura at Township (2200 N. California Ave.) screens local filmmaker Marc Wilkinson’s 2016 film SUNSET ROCK (Unconfirmed Running Time) on Monday at 7pm, with Wilkinson in person, followed by Randy Moore’s 2013 film ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (90 min) at 8:30pm. Both Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format.
The Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest (400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest) screens James Steven Sadwith’s 2015 film COMING THROUGH THE RYE (97 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 7pm.
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 28 - May 4, 2017
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kian Bergstrom, Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, Alexandra Ensign, Kalvin Henley, Mike King, Mojo Lorwin, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky