Read our interview with A QUIET PASSION director Terence Davies here.
Robert Altman’s POPEYE (American Revival)
What, exactly, was producer Robert Evans thinking? After Paramount lost the bidding for the film rights to the mega-smash Broadway musical Annie, he and his execs settled on producing a musical version of Popeye, to which the studio already owned film rights. But Popeye in 1980 was no Annie; E.C. Segar’s comic strip creation, which enjoyed wide popularity in newspapers and in the Fleischer brothers’ animated theatrical shorts in the 1930s, had become pure kid-stuff, lingering on only in comic books and television cartoons. Yes, the character had become culturally iconic, but who was the audience for this? Evans’ decision to move ahead with this project feels like the moviemaking equivalent of rebound sex. Still, it’s hard to argue with the results. Evans and team made a series of inspired hiring choices. Robert Altman as director was certainly a curious choice, but his felicity with ensemble casts, period filmmaking, and quirky characters, and his strong love of music served him well. Screenwriter Jules Feiffer turned in a nuanced script and songwriter Harry Nilsson crafted a set of lovely and eccentric songs; both carefully straddle the line between sincerity and playful parody. Cinematographer Guiseppe Rotunno brought his eye for filming busy, dark sets and mise-en-scene from his work for Fellini (including FELLINI’S SATYRICON and FELLINI’S CASANOVA) and Visconti (especially THE LEOPARD), and had just shot Bob Fosse’s ALL THAT JAZZ. Evans’ original casting choices, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, thankfully fell by the wayside. Instead, we got Shelley Duvall, who had been a frequent presence in Altman’s 1970s films, and Robin Williams, then in the middle of his star-making run on Mork and Mindy. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in these roles. Duvall’s waif-like appearance and lingering shell-shocked expressions from her experience shooting Kubrick’s THE SHINING are made-to-order for Olive Oyl. And, somehow, Williams contains his explosive energy but retains his considerable improvisational and mimicry talents in a deft, and moving, portrayal of Popeye. Both actors inhabit their characters with an uncanny physicality. The pieces all fit together. Evans lucked out. The film did well, earning less than hoped for but still three times its $20 Million budget. It received mixed reviews, but has only grown in esteem since its release, attracting some die-hard admirers along the way (yours truly included). And the film Paramount lost out on? The less said about the 1982 John Huston film ANNIE the better. Preceded by Dave Fleischer’s 1938 Popeye cartoon GOONLAND (8 min, 16mm). (1980, 114 min, 35mm Archival Print; Altman’s own copy) PF
Alan Rudolph's REMEMBER MY NAME (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 9:45pm
The first time I ever saw DOUBLE INDEMNITY, I assumed it would climax with the murder that's discussed, analyzed, and rehearsed at length by Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck; when that act occurred half-way through the picture, leaving the rest of the runtime to untangle the aftermath, I was surprised and overjoyed that I'd guessed wrong. It's so rare to encounter a film with such an organic and disciplined narrative logic, to admire a film for the wit of its construction alone, for the twists and turns that are unpredictable but wholly earned, consistent, and thought through. Alan Rudolph's Stanwyck-inspired domestic thriller REMEMBER MY NAME is like that, too. I'd suggest going into it cold, which shouldn't be much of a problem as it's practically a lost film. (Sony Pictures Repertory maintains an absolutely superb 35mm print, but the music rights to Alberta Hunter's blues score have allegedly kept REMEMBER MY NAME unreleasable on home video for the past four decades.) Right when a conventional movie would be grinding to a climax, you realize that Rudolph is only getting started and nowhere near done with these characters. Though REMEMBER MY NAME is set largely in confined, claustrophobic, and economically marginal spaces (alleyways, thrift stores, dank bars, prison cells), each character's fate remains expansive and unwritten. Produced by Rudolph's mentor Robert Altman while he enjoyed a particularly flexible deal with 20th Century Fox (which yielded the likes of QUINTET and HEALTH, alas), REMEMBER MY NAME is more disciplined, focused, and purposeful than anything that Altman had directed himself up to that time. (During the same stretch, Altman also managed to produce features from Robert Benton and Robert M. Young, so it was hardly an artistic rut.) All of the performances are good (Anthony Perkins strives earnestly to convince us he's a hard hat family man and almost pushes Norman Bates aside entirely), though Geraldine Chaplin's star turn as an ex-con is exceptional: fierce, frightening, and flammable. (1978, 94 min, 35mm) KAW
Lynne Ramsay’s MORVERN CALLAR (Scottish Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sunday, 7pm
Played magnificently by Samantha Morton, the title character of Lynne Ramsay’s second feature is an existential protagonist in the tradition of Albert Camus’ Meursault. She has no morality and no ambitions; she is capable of both friendship and betrayal, entering into either seemingly without motivation. Ramsay doesn’t attempt to probe the character’s inner life; rather she delivers a rich sensory experience that channels the excitement of Morvern’s moment-to-moment existence. The film is marked by mobile camerawork and vivid sound design (Ramsay’s use of music is especially strong), which draw viewers into the character’s perspective without revealing any psychological insight. This immersive style adds to the film’s sense of unpredictability—not only are you unsure of what Morvern will do next, you can’t see far enough beyond to immediate experience to guess. The film begins when the anti-heroine finds her husband’s corpse after he’s committed suicide. Rather than inform the police, Morvern hides the body, tells her friends her husband’s disappeared, then takes his recently completed novel and attempts to sell it to publishers as her own work. While all this is happening, she continues going to her job as a supermarket clerk during the day and partying hard at night; Ramsay finds mystery and wonder in both activities, presenting them as part of a continuous sensory flow. Nothing jars that flow, not even when the setting switches from urban Scotland to rural Spain, which is where Morvern and friend go on vacation with the money Morvern’s taken from her dead husband’s bank account. There are echoes of Antonioni’s THE PASSENGER in how Ramsay presents travel—the attractive imagery carries an undercurrent of disappointment, suggesting that no matter how far you go, you never get away from yourself. (2002, 97 min, 35mm) BS
Terence Davies’ A QUIET PASSION (New British)
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes
Substance aside, I remember three things from my early literary education: One, that William Shakespeare may not have written the classic plays attributed to him, and that other persons ranging from Christopher Marlowe to Queen Elizabeth could have in fact been the “real” Bard; two, that Charles Dickens allegedly wrote such long novels because he was paid by the word; and three, that noted poet Emily Dickinson was a notorious recluse who rarely left her home. To a young mind yearning to discover that fact is indeed stranger than fiction, these claims, now largely demystified, inspired as much interest as their subjects’ venerated oeuvres. Dickinson’s circumstances, however, beguiled me more than the others. Sure, a clandestine literary scandal and felicitous business acumen are intriguing, but her self-imposed sequestration resonated with my pre-teen self (“The Soul selects her own Society —/Then — shuts the Door —/To her divine Majority —/” she writes in Poem 303 circa 1862). And though the idiosyncrasies of her confinement are better understood thanks in part to a myriad of click-bait listicles with headlines like “Most Exaggerated/Bizarre/Just Plain Stupid Myths About Writers with Brown Hair” or whatever, critics still made a point of decrying Dickinson’s life as being inherently uncinematic when writing about Terence Davies’ A QUIET PASSION. On the contrary, her life is ripe for filmic rendering, and Davies succeeds in evoking the richness of an oft-ignored subject—a woman’s byzantine interior, wontedly suppressed beneath a slavish exterior. (Dickinson laments in Poem 764: “My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun - /In Corners - till a Day /The Owner passed - identified -/And carried Me away -.”) A biopic is an interesting choice for a director celebrated for his fiercely personal fixations, though all of his films since THE LONG DAY CLOSES (1992) with the exception of one (OF TIME AND THE CITY in 2008, his only documentary) have dealt with broader themes, having as their source an array of books (THE NEON BIBLE, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, and SUNSET SONG) as well as a play (THE DEEP BLUE SEA). Still, it’s clear that Davies chooses sources close to his personal interests; in addition to possessing a fervent love of poetry, Davies presents Dickinson, who’s played brilliantly by Cynthia Nixon in yet another of the director's’ perfect, albeit surprising, casting choices (Emma Bell as teenaged Emily is also amazing), as a feminist hero who rallied—sometimes with her voice, sometimes with her pen—against various forms of oppression. Two interludes in particular emblazon the film with his auteurist stamp: the first, the literal aging of the central characters, bridging the gap between Dickinson’s religiously rebellious childhood (another personal theme) and her later years initially spent in the company of family and friends, then finally alone in her house before she died at the age of 55 (the myth of her seclusion rooted in some legitimacy), and the second, an auspiciously disparate, documentary-style interlude about the Civil War, complete with music, colorized photographs and jarring death tolls. The former effect—and yes, it is quite an effect—is representative of Davies’ preoccupation with the passing of time, while the latter allows him to include an experience near to his own life—war. Dickinson lived during the Civil War—in fact, it was her most fruitful period, as she wrote almost half her poems over those years—but none of her work references it (in her foreword for The Essential Emily Dickinson, Joyce Carol Oates uses this fact to distinguish Dickinson from Walt Whitman, another 19th century poet, but one for whom the war was material rather than immaterial). This segment, then, serves to divide the film just as Dickinson’s life was seemingly divided between an earlier, more well-adjusted period, during which she had a relatively active social life, and her famed reclusiveness; the concept of life and self before and after war is present in most of Davies’ films, the ultimate human conflict an apt metaphor for any number of internal struggles. Striking widescreen cinematography further illuminates this conflict, but not without a hint of irony—does such a large frame befit a secluded life? Perhaps not, but it does befit a grand mind. Davies’ script complements Dickinson’s poetry, which is either read in voiceover or cleverly integrated into a scene (she reads Poem 260, of “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” fame, to her baby nephew upon meeting him for the first time), though it’s the witty banter, mostly invented by Davies with the writer’s letters as inspiration, that steals the show, revealing Dickinson as the furtive revolutionary she was. He handles her descent into reclusion and her eventual death as tactfully as her more vivacious years were depicted mirthfully; when she dies, we cry with her family, lamenting the loss not only of a great poet, but also a new friend. “And then – the size of this ‘small’ life –/The Sages – call it small –/Swelled – like Horizons – in my vest –/And I sneered – softly – ‘small’!” (Poem 271). (2016, 126 min, DCP Digital) KS
Victor Sjöström's HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (Silent American Revival)
Film Studies Center (Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Before Hollywood coalesced into the top-down production system that has survived in some form to this day, production roles tended to be quite fluid. Even seemingly straight-forward labels like "director," "writer," and "producer" implied very different responsibilities than they do today, and the duties performed don't always map cleanly onto our critical conception of those jobs. In the late 1910s and early 1920s, when Lon Chaney paid his dues in dozens of parts large and small, the actor was frequently the unitary figure, with the nascent star system dictating the style and pace of a picture, as well as its moral horizon. As Chaney became more prominent and bankable, his films became a genre unto themselves. It is astonishing to realize that many of Chaney's most characteristic films—THE UNKNOWN, WEST OF ZANZIBAR, THE PENALTY—were adapted from existing novels and plays; from a multitude of sources and authors, Chaney ferreted out all that was useful and kinky, and fashioned an oeuvre so consistent and coherent in its masochism that even the flourishes he appropriated and ransacked feel completely his own. They are, to a significant degree, the same film over and over again: humiliation, longing, revenge, love, the brittleness of human flesh, the fickleness of the human heart, the well-trodden path to Calvary. Chaney is always the author of his own destruction, and a knowing and tragic one at that; his willingness to harm himself, not out of self-loathing but instead an obsessive drive to perform society's injustice back onto his own body, is bottomless and richly affecting. Chaney's primary collaborator, Tod Browning, is responsible for directing many of the key films in this cycle, but equally essential efforts were signed by Wallace Worsley and Victor Sjöström. On the basis of its subject matter and relentless perversity, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED could easily be confused for a Browning film, but Sjöström's masterful sense of space and skill with simultaneous action rather exceed Browning's cruder (but still formidable) talents. HE WHO GETS SLAPPED was adapted from a celebrated Leonid Andreyev play that had enjoyed a six-month run at the Garrick, and thus represented the kind of prestigious project that Chaney's studio, the newly amalgamated Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, would consider a house specialty for the next three decades. And yet despite the obvious poetic touches—a clown who pops up in interstitial scenes, spinning a globe and cackling about the fate of the little people—this is still the kind of movie where a score is settled by unceremoniously unleashing a man-eating lion in a confined space. It is gleeful, soulful trash of the very highest order. All extant copies of HE WHO GETS SLAPPED derive from a single, wobbly nitrate print that was luckily passed by the Kansas State Board of Review. The censor's clean bill of health includes the memorable inscription, "Kansas Grows the Best Wheat in the World"—nothing in the feature that follows will compete with that upbeat message. Live musical accompaniment by Sun Woo Park. (1924, 80 min, 16mm) KAW
Robert Bresson’s THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 7 and 9pm
One of the only original screenplays written by Robert Bresson (all but two of his films being adapted from other works), THE DEVIL, PROBABLY is described by the director himself as his “most ghastly.” Told through the use of flashback from news reports, the film reconstructs the life of its young, intelligent protagonist Charles (Antoine Monnier), who has committed suicide. Charles serves as an analogy for the disenfranchised youth of France in the late 1960’s that staged protests at universities and factories. Weary of the opulence of every day life, Charles is left wondering what the point of it all is—even with education, drugs, philosophy, and other things to consider, what is the point of this existence? Many of these musings are pondered aloud to friends or loved ones and one such sequence aboard a bus discussing politics resonates strongly today given the current political landscape in both France and the United States. Bresson's penchant for minimalism pairs perfectly with the existential dread inherent in the film’s plot. Some of the commonplace actives of daily life are shot so matter-of-factly, with little to no camera movement, that it almost feels documentarian in nature. This added facet not only allows the audience to empathize with Charles’s exacerbations but also invites them to ponder their own lives in the grand scheme of things. Rainer Werner Fassbinder says of THE DEVIL, PROBABLY, “The questions Bresson asks will never be unimportant” and now 40 years later, its plain to see that this film maintains the integrity its auteur set out for so long ago. (1977, 96 min, 35mm) KC
Chih-Hung Kuei’s THE BOXER’S OMEN (Hong Kong Revival
Music Box Theatre – Friday and Saturday, Midnight
One of the Shaw Brothers’ most beloved forays into horror, THE BOXER’S OMEN is more silly than scary, but what inspired silliness! The low-budget special effects are genuinely effective, conveying a warped imagination that makes you buy into them in spite of the limited resources. The plotting is no less crazy or compelling. A Hong Kong boxer goes to Thailand to avenge a dirty trick that another boxer played on his brother after a bout. Once he arrives, the boxer is summoned by a Buddhist monk, who implores him to join the monastery and fight all the evil in the world. Our hero accepts, and within minutes he’s engaging in an all-night standoff with a wicked magician, who channels all his forces to beat him. The magic sequences of BOXER’S OMEN are spectacular gross-outs, cavalcades of creepy-crawlies, bats, crocodile guts, human mutilation, and snakes. Chih-Hung Kuei’s direction is fittingly hysterical—there are lots of zooms and swerving camera movements, both of which plunge you into the fantasy. And though the fight sequences don’t really impact the story in the end, they’re exceptionally staged and executed. (This is a Shaw Brothers production, after all.) What it all has to do with Buddhism is beyond me, though I can say that the film sometimes channels a kind of fervid delirium that’s comparable to a mad religious epiphany. The closest western equivalent may be John Boorman’s EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC. (1983, 99 min, 35mm) BS
Lina Wertmüller’s THE SEDUCTION OF MIMI and SUMMER NIGHT (Italian Revivals)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 6pm (MIMI); Saturday, 5:15pm and Monday, 6pm (SUMMER)
Lina Wertmüller’s THE SEDUCTION OF MIMI (1971, 121 min, DCP Digital) combines the wonderfully intriguing, albeit disorienting, albeitpolitical 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 following 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. In SUMMER NIGHT (1986, 94 min, DCP Digital), Wertmüller appropriates the dynamic between the central characters in her 1974 film SWEPT AWAY, except in reverse; this time it’s the woman, as haltingly beautiful and disgustingly rich as ever, who overpowers the man. Still, sex wins out in the end—desire, however problematic, being the great equalizer of her male and female characters. KS
Takashi Miike's 13 ASSASSINS (Contemporary Japanese)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 7pm
One of Takashi Miike's biggest international financial and critical successes, this neatly-bisected action movie—the first half following, in heist-movie style, a band of warriors as it assembles to ambush a renegade lord, the second depicting the resultant protracted showdown—finds the notoriously freewheeling filmmaker playing it more or less straight. Like his Stateside breakthrough AUDITION, 13 ASSASSINS sticks—almost perversely—to a conceptual structure, with the build-up a showcase of narrative expediency and hard-boiled dialogue, and the battle an exhaustive—though never exhausting—onslaught of inventive cartoon violence ("a fragmented, tapestry-like blur of death," per Daniel Kasman); still, Miike finds time for some of his trademark non sequitur flourishes, including a limbless CGI woman and the unexplained resurrection of a major character. As far as pure entertainment goes, this was one of 2011's finest stateside releases. (2010, 126 min, 35mm) IV
Vanessa Gould's OBIT (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
Vanessa Gould’s OBIT profiles the New York Times’ obituary department. The documentary posits the somewhat uncontroversial idea that, in fact, obits are all about life and those writers devoted to the craft are hardly the cadre of Zoloft-munching bummers you take them to be, thank you very much. Those that enjoyed Andrew Rossi’s PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES will find much to like about OBIT, and for similar reasons: It provides an entrée into the day-to-day operations of the venerable publication and an excuse to relive some of the Times’ greatest hits. At least a passing interest in the subject is a prerequisite, as talking head journalists rarely get as exciting as David Carr ranting at Shane Smith about Vice’s brand of poop journalism in PAGE ONE. OBIT’s visits with Jeff Roth, The Times morgue’s resident filer/re-filer, are worth the price of admission, though, for fans of journalistic traditions. (2016, 93 min, DCP Digital) JS
David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Friday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
I once knew a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who told me that David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME is the only film that ever really got it right. The way incest deranges you, the unprocessable betrayal, the PTSD. Describing her abuse, she said she'd had her own personal Freddie Krueger, and Lynch portrays Laura Palmer's final days as a horror movie—scarier than most, and truer. Critics missed the thrust of this baffler, calling it the worst thing Lynch ever did, if not one of the worst films ever made. Today, it looks like a flawed masterpiece, exhausting and exhilarating. It's a singular portrayal of "garmonbozia" (pain and sorrow), the cream corn of evil—with all the Lynchian disjunctures that sentence implies. It's abrasive at every level, from Lynch's screaming, whooping sound design to the punishing immersion into Laura's hell. But its extremism is the source of its hypnotic power, and Lynch's corybantic surrealism fits the theme. Sheryl Lee is astonishing as doomed, anguished Laura; Ray Wise is terrifying (and, in deranging moments, loving) as her molester father. Then there's that first 35 minutes, which play like a savage parody of the TV show, with Chris Isaak and Keifer Sutherland investigating a murder in Deer Meadow, a negative image of our favorite Pacific Northwest town. Here, the coffee's two days old, the diner is seedy, the small-town cops are jerks, and the dead woman is not exactly the homecoming queen. (One suspects that the cherry pie would be damn poor.) The "Lil the Dancer" scene is a delightful thumbnail illustration of semiotics, and Harry Dean Stanton is on hand as Carl, manager of the Fat Trout trailer park. Angelo Badalamenti's score is creamy and dreamy, mournful and menacing. Actually, I suspect that if you're not already well-versed in the lore of Bob, Mike, the One Armed Man, The Arm a.k.a. The Man From Another Place, Mrs. Tremond and her grandson, and the Owl Cave ring, then you might have stumbled upon this site by accident. I'd guess our readers share my excitement that the stars, and the passage of 25 years, have aligned so that we are actually poised to reenter the Black Lodge. (This Sunday!) If you haven't boned up on this prequel, then hie to Doc Films. (Or even if you have: you'll see something new every time.) Maybe the new series will reveal why Agent Jeffries (David Bowie) was not gonna talk about Judy? (1992, 135 min, DCP Digital) SP
Frank Capra's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7:30pm (Free Admission)
During the production of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, Claudette Colbert purportedly referred to Capra's slapstick opus as the worst picture in the world, a criticism she'd repeat until the film was lauded with all five major Academy Awards. It's a messy work, and it's easy to see how Colbert could have objected, but the intricacies of Capra's earnest patchwork (Thanks, Columbia) give the film its merit. Colbert and Clark Gable seem humbled but lovably obstinate, as their mild trepidations about the script bleed into the film itself (as do various inconsistencies in editing and continuity). But IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT never feels like a film that doesn't want to be made and seen. Capra moves in quick, broad strokes, so that small details get picked up by happenstance and only make themselves apparent on repeated viewings. Stepping back, the film's personality is almost perfectly crafted, and there isn't anything about it that doesn't come across as genuine. The same could be said of nearly all of Capra's work, but his surefooted pacing renders this his most immediately likable. (1934, 101 min, DCP Digital) JA
Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin's CHRONICLE OF A SUMMER (French/Documentary Revival)
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) – Thursday, 6:30pm
Part ethnographic survey, part theoretical discourse, part filmmaking free-for-all, this seminal gabfest takes a documentary gimmick—set up a camera and a microphone on the street and then ask random passerby whether they're happy—and breaks it apart; the result is not only a revealing and important document of a time and a place, but also a landmark examination of how people perceive themselves and of how cinema works. Describing the project as "self-reflexive" would be an understatement; co-directors Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin employ a discursive structure that blends the increasingly candid and probing interviews with in-depth discussions of the interviewees' responses and comments on the film as a work-in-progress, in effect expanding its scope from everyday French life circa 1960 to the broader question of whether cinema is even capable of tackling such a subject. With its extensive use of handheld cameras and direct sound, this film helped legitimize cinema verité as a genre, though it doesn't completely adhere to that—or any other—documentary technique; part of what makes this so enthralling as filmmaking is the way Rouch and Morin leap from approach to approach, seemingly willing to try anything in order to answer the ambitious questions they pose for themselves. Introduced by Judy Hoffman (University of Chicago) and Gordon Quinn (Kartemquin Films). Preceded by Miguel Silveira’s 2010 short MANBIRD (10 min). (1961, 85 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) IV
Shirley Clarke's PORTRAIT OF JASON (Documentary Revival/Oppositional Viewing)
Black Cinema House at the Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) – Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
In 1966, Jason Holliday was a 33-year-old black gigolo and aspiring nightclub headliner, a man of tremendous physical presence and sensuality. Shirley Clarke's fascinating documentary, made over the course of a grueling alcohol-fueled and drug-addled twelve-hour shoot, presents him as a loquacious, charismatic, self-described 'male bitch' projecting a stunning immediacy, as though every aspect of his life, his feelings, his tragedies and achievements is open to us without reservation, and he seemingly has nothing but desire to reveal to the camera the entirety of his history. Clarke filmed him in her apartment with a minimal crew and two 16mm cameras as he reminisced, drank, smoked joints the size of my thigh, and in general ripped into everyone and everything in his life with candor and glee. But the very first words spoken are to reveal that 'Jason Holliday' was not his real name, that he was born instead Aaron Payne, and a mere four minutes into the movie, Holliday announces his ambition in life: 'What I really want to do is what I'm doing now, is to perform.' And so, from the very start, PORTRAIT OF JASON is insistent that we remember all we see here is illusion and fakery. Performance is the major theme of Clarke's film: the performances of Holliday himself, both of the celebrities he impersonates at various points and, more deeply, of the Holliday persona itself; the stories Holliday tells of his employers, friends, lovers, and enemies, all in various crises of identity; the ambiguous presences of the off-screen Clarke and collaborator Carl Lee, whose voices are heard but whose faces are never seen; and that of the film itself, which has been crafted in the most artificial and patently alienating manner. Filled with jarring, out-of-focus compositions, perpetually mobile camerawork, zooming, panning, capturing and losing Holliday's face, PORTRAIT is a film of unparalleled artifice: there's not a moment that doesn't call attention to itself as constructed, as at least somewhat false, as deliberately foreign. Lauren Rabinovitz has claimed that Holliday's work in the film is done 'in order to make himself an object of art,' arguing that the film has two mutually-contradictory end-games in mind, both to endorse and enable Holliday's transmutation of the raw material of his existence into beauty and at the same time to reveal that very transformation to be founded on nothing but an elaborate network of fictions and deceit. His 'self-aware expertise at playing the victim and at manipulating his position,' she writes, 'puts in doubt his role as the unassuming object of the camera's gaze.' Indeed, there's nothing unassuming at all about Holliday. Within the film, he's a figure of almost purely unadulterated assumption: playing with our assumptions about what life as a gay black hustler would mean, playing with the conventions of the documentary form that lead us to assume his stories, his tears, his soul-bearing is all real. The film is incredibly moving throughout, a masterpiece of affective manipulation, and just as strongly is an elaborate self-critique, continually stressing at every turn that nothing we see is unadorned, no story we hear can be trusted, no sob not at the same time a back-handed chuckle. Has Holliday been lying all along? And would that really diminish the power of his words? The central triumph of the film is that it shows truth as something strange to itself, a side-effect of the narratives we concoct to make sense of our lives and a consequence of the incessant self-doubt that at every second threatens to collapse all those narratives into despair. Followed by discussion moderated by Jacqueline Stewart (professor, UChicago Cinema & Media Studies; curator, Black Cinema House) with Yvonne Welbon (filmmaker, producer, screenwriter and archivist of films by African American women directors), Viktor l. Ewing Givens (interdisciplinary found object performance artist), and Adam McMath (board member and director of programming, Black Alphabet Film Festival). (1967, 105 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) KB
Michael Dudok de Wit’s THE RED TURTLE (New Animation)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Saturday, 7 and 9 pm and Sunday, 4:15pm
Over the course of its thirty plus year existence, Studio Ghibli has been celebrated for its anime releases, but in that time, have never produced a non-Japanese film. Hayao Miyazaki was so impressed by Michael Dudok de Wit’s FATHER AND DAUGHTER that he had his studio reach out to the Dutch director to collaborate, and THE RED TURTLE was born. This taut, dialogue-free film depicts a shipwrecked sailor marooned on a tropical island. After a mysterious red sea turtle prevents his numerous attempts to flee the island, he flips the creature onto its shell and leaves it to bake in the sun on the beach. When the animal dies, the body is seemingly replaced with that of a red haired woman, and the man gains a companion. Many of the themes of THE RED TURTLE revolve around loneliness, acceptance, and man’s will to survive and, coupled with its basic narrative premise, draw an easy comparison to Robinson Crusoe. The film’s color palette is vibrant and lush and this brightness instills a sense of vitality and tranquility that invites the viewer to imagine the warm breezes rustling through the trees and the cool water lapping along the shores. There is a sense of whimsy that pervades the film and juxtaposed with the lack of dialogue, attunes the eye to the subtleties of the gorgeous animation and the mind to the minimalist, but affecting, story. (2016, 80 min, DCP Digital) KC
MORE OPPOSITIONAL VIEWING
The Gene Siskel Film Center screens Lilly Rivlin’s 2016 documentary HEATHER BOOTH: CHANGING THE WORLD (60 min, DCP Digital), about activist and community organizer Heather Booth, on Friday at 7:45pm and Saturday at 7:30pm, with director Rivlin and Booth in person at both shows.
The Chicago Cultural Center screens Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin’s 2016 documentary RIKKERS: AN AMERICAN JAIL (70 min, Video Projection), which looks at the current state of incarceration in the U.S. through the microcosm of Rikkers Island, on Saturday at 2pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Queer Film Society’s Cinema Q series screening of Gus Van Sant’s 2008 film MILK (128 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format), a biopic about the gay San Francisco Board of Supervisors member who was murdered in 1978, on Friday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
City Bureau hosts a rough-cut screening of Scrappers Film Groups new documentary CLOSING DE FACTO, about the issues that could force the closure of Chicago State University, on Thursday at 5:30pm at the Chicago Cultural Center. Following the screening is a discussion with one of the main subjects of the film, Chicago State University professor Philip Beverly, and with the filmmakers. Free admission.
The DuSable Museum screens D. Channsin Berry’s 2013 documentary ‘THE BLACK LINE” (A PROFILE OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN) PART 3 (75 min, Video Projection), which “explores the story of Black women in America,” on Sunday at 2pm.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Lampo Performance Series at The Graham Foundation (Madlener House, 4 West Burton Place) welcomes experimental musician and filmmaker Phill Niblock for a performance on Saturday at 8pm. Niblock will be performing a selection of recent compositions, accompanied by his films MEUDRONE1 (2014), AGOSTO (2014), DH *SAND-WATER (2014), VAIN4 (2015), and MEUDRONE2 (2014). Free admission. RSVP at www.eventbrite.com/e/lampo-phill-niblock-tickets-34286556012.
As part of its residency at the Chicago Cultural Center Sixty Inches from Center, “a non-profit online arts publication and archiving initiative,” presents The Chicago Archives + Artists Festival this weekend, with events running Friday-Sunday. The opening event, at 6pm on Friday, features a screening of a new collaborative work by Media Burn and On the Real Film titled FROM CELLUOID TO THE PIXEL: EXPLORING RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN DOCUMENTATION, TECHNOLOGY AND TIME. It will be followed by a discussion between On the Real Film’s Erin Babbin and Michael Sullivan and Media Burn’s Sara Chapman, moderated by Kate Hadley Toftness. Free admission. Full schedule at http://sixtyinchesfromcenter.org/chicago-archives-artists-festival.
Mana Contemporary Chicago (2233 S. Throop St.) hosts the Body + Camera Festival this weekend. More than 40 short works will be presented on Saturday and Sunday in short programs, installations, and live presentations. Full schedule at http://manacontemporarychicago.com/2017bodycamera. Free admission, but tickets are required: http://eventbrite.com/e/body-camera-festival-tickets-33824704602.
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1450) presents author Barth David Schwartz speaking about Pier Paolo Pasolini and the 2017 revised edition of his 1992 book Pasolini Requiem on Wednesday at 6pm. Followed by a book signing. Free admission.
DePaul University's School of Cinematic Arts Visiting Artist Series presents Paul Schrader Week from Tuesday, May 23 to Friday, May 26. Schrader’s 1985 film MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS (120 min, Video Projection) is screening on Tuesday at 7pm, and his 1997 film AFFLICTION (114 min, Video Projection) is screening on Thursday at 7pm. These are free, ticketless shows, taking place at DePaul University (LL105, 247 S. State St.). [The Friday, May 26 event, TAXI DRIVER with Paul Schrader in person, is ticketed and sold out.]
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series at the Park Ridge Public Library (20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) screens Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 film THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (118 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. Free admission.
Black World Cinema’s screening this week has not been listed as of our deadline. Check their blog site for updates: http://blackworldcinema.net/blog.
Also at the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: a Youth Film Festival is on Monday at 6:30pm, featuring a selection of work by local teens. Free admission.
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) presents a Student Film Festival on Friday at 6:30pm.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Brett Berns and Bob Sarles’ 2016 documentary BANG! THE BERT BERNS STORY (94 min, DCP Digital) and Paolo Virzi’s 2016 Italian/French film LIKE CRAZY (116 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; and Mikhael Hers’ 2015 film THIS SUMMER FEELING (106 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 6pm and Tuesday at 8:15pm, and Antonin Peretjatko’s 2016 film STRUGGLE FOR LIFE (104 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 3pm and Thursday at 8:15pm, both as part of the Young French Cinema series.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Trent Harris’ 1991 film RUBIN AND ED (82 min, 35mm) is on Monday at 7pm; and Jacques Audiard’s 2015 French film DHEEPAN (115 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Martin Rosen’s 1978 animated film WATERSHIP DOWN (91 min, 35mm) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am; local filmmaker Hart Ginsburg’s short 2017 film ON THE WAY (20 min, Digital Projection) is on Saturday at 2pm, showing with his 2016 short REFLECTIONS; and Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 Japanese animated film YOUR NAME. (107 min, Digital Projection; check website for subtitled vs. English-dubbed showtimes) is on Friday at Midnight and Saturday at 11:45pm.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Bas Devos’ 2014 Belgian/Dutch film VIOLET (82 min, Unconfirmed Format) and Paul Hildebrandt’s 2016 documentary FIGHT FOR SPACE (92 min, Unconfirmed Format) for week-long runs.
Also at the Chicago Cultural Center this week: a film screening (title not listed), showing as part of the Chicago Blues Festival, is on Monday at 6pm. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents a screening of short films curated by filmmaker Stephen Lanus on Wednesday at 8pm. Included are Alex Thompson’s CALUMET (15 min), Lanus’ LATRODECTUS (15 min), and an unannounced title (10 min). Filmmakers in person; and Daily Grindhouse Presents: Lucasploitation is on Wednesday at 10pm. The program about the history of STAR WARS rip-off films will be hosted by Daily Grindhouse assistant editor Mike Vanderbilt. Free admission for both.
Sinema Obscura at Township (2200 N. California Ave.) Svenghoulia's Super Scary Late Night Scare-o-thon’s screening of Anton Giulio Majano’s 1960 Italian horror film ATOM AGE VAMPIRE (87 min) on Monday at 7pm, followed by William Castle’s 1961 horror film MR. SARDONICUS (89 min) at 9pm. Both Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format.
The Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 200) screens Percy Adlon’s 1987 German film BAGDAD CAFE (108 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 6pm. Free admission.
Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Fernando León de Aranoa’s 2001 Spanish film MONDAYS IN THE SUN (113 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Gorton Community Center (400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest) screens Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 film FORREST GUMP (142 min, Video Projection) on Saturday 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 (Modern Wing Galleries) has Dara Birnbaum’s 1979 two-channel video KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (6 min) currently on view.
CINE-LIST: May 19 - May 25, 2017
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Julian Antos, Kian Bergstrom, Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, Scott Pfeiffer, James Stroble, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky