Frank Borzage’s THE MORTAL STORM (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
One of Frank Borzage’s “indisputable masterpieces” (per Kent Jones’ masterful 1997 essay), THE MORTAL STORM is also one of the first Hollywood films to attack Nazism head-on, opening in the U.S. a full four months before Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR. The film chronicles a year in the life of a German professor (Frank Morgan) and his extended family, beginning as a moving portrait of family life (one of the opening scenes, of the professor receiving a career achievement award, is among the most touching in Borzage’s monumental career) and evolving into a harrowing story of how that family is destroyed by the Nazis. That the professor is Jewish but his adult stepchildren are not is one of the film’s masterstrokes, as it condemns Nazism as a crime against humanity and not merely the Jews. (It should also be noted that the filmmakers—who included two expatriate German writers, Hans Rameau and George Froeschel—took this position while the U.S. government still claimed neutrality in the European conflict.) But what makes the film endure as something more than a work of propaganda is Borzage’s bottomless feeling for human kindness, not only in his depiction of the central family, but of the love story between the professor’s stepdaughter (Margaret Sullavan) and star student (James Stewart). According to Jones, THE MORTAL STORM builds its ultimate attack on Nazism as “an enemy of love”—perhaps the greatest evil in the eyes of this great Romantic. Jones continues: “More than poverty, more than war (in the abstract), more than physical separation or even death, the phenomenon of Nazism posed a real danger to love because it threatened to overshadow and replace it with a manmade, negative paternalism. But finally even Nazism succumbs to the power of love, blown into the snowdrifts that pile up by the family home…” (1940, 100 min, 35mm) BS
Gastón Solnicki’s KÉKSZAKÁLLÚ (New Argentinean)
Facets Cinémathèque – Check Venue website for showtimes
Gastón Solnicki’s mesmerizing KÉKSZAKÁLLÚ is less a narrative than a flowing of short, minimal, cryptic scenes given coherence by a common set of characters—well-to-do Argentinean girls who become victims of the changing economic circumstances in Argentina—but that is not made explicit in the film. After a seventeen-minute long pre-credit sequence that takes place at a resort in Uruguay (a bravura set of one stunning shot after another), focused on the girls’ casual activities and seeming general ennui, the set-pieces shift to Argentina and to the girls’ entry into a wider world: school, factory jobs, changing relationships and living situations. We intuit more than fully understand what is happening at any moment. The film is loosely—very loosely—inspired by Bartok’s opera Bluebeard. This isn’t yet another adaption of that story, though. Solnicki is more interested in Bartok’s approach to his version of the classic tale. In an interview with Film Comment, Solnicki states: “Bartok talks about this new idea—a third way of doing—which is not re-creating or imitating or adding initial or concluding phrases, but rather being immersed in the atmosphere of that music.” It’s just this immersion in atmosphere that Solnicki is after in his film. Don’t be overly concerned about following any hints of story; rather allow yourself to be caught up in the atmosphere of the film, the subtle, changing moods Solnicki creates throughout, which are strange, slightly menacing, enthralling, confounding, and calm by turns. Be sure to pay attention to the stunning shot compositions, which figure as a primary means by which Solnicki creates mood. He has a magnificent eye for framing: His use of symmetry, empty space, and strong but simple geometrical arrangements demonstrates a strong command of style (in many ways these aspects of the film are reminiscent of Antonioni’s RED DESERT). He allows his camera to linger on these shots, with long takes and almost no camera movement. Characters are often framed dead-center, or are framed just off-center in an otherwise symmetrically composed shot—both strategies creating a visual unease, one because it’s too perfect, the other because it creates an unsettling imbalance in the perfection. This shift, between perfection and imbalance, often boarding on the imperceptible or recognized belatedly, is perhaps a good general description of what the film achieves. It’s a beautiful film of unease. (2016, 72 min, Video Projection) PF
Busby Berkeley’s GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Wednesday, 7:30pm
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, the first film on which Busby Berkeley received director credit, takes place at a luxury hotel designed in the beautiful art deco style of its day. Where art deco architecture often suggests visual music—the soaring lines evoking crescendos, the repeated geometric patterns evoking frozen arpeggios—Berkeley’s choreography suggests architecture in motion, with bodies and objects combined and recombined in stunning visual patterns. The architectural beauty of Berkeley’s work (as well as the glory of First National Pictures’ design department) is on full display during the final two musical numbers of this film, “The Words Are in My Heart” and “Lullaby of Broadway.” The first of these features dozens of women seated at dozens of pianos on a moving, cascading staircase that brings to mind a heavenly music showroom; the staircase image gives way to a shot of the same women and pianos making incredible figures across an expansive soundstage floor. “Lullaby of Broadway” climaxes with dozens of male and female tap dancers working their magic on an expansive, multi-tiered platform that looks like it could go on forever. These two numbers constitute some of Berkeley’s most imaginative work—the movie is worth seeing just for them. The rest of GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 is good fun too, though it feels a bit like an extended set-up for those final sequences. Dick Powell (the perennial leading man of Warner Bros.-First National musicals) stars as a hotel concierge who gets hired to chaperone flypaper heiress Gloria Stewart as she lives it up before marrying a middle-aged snuffbox tycoon played by Hugh Herbert. Naturally, Powell and Stewart fall in love, but only after they go on a shopping spree in the hotel’s lavish department store. (And naturally, they end up getting cast in a big musical revue that’s being staged at the hotel.) The spectacle of said spree, much like the hotel itself, is a consumerist fantasy designed to astonish Depression-era viewers, though the filmmakers also acknowledge the hard work of the hotel employees who keep the fantasy running. GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 opens with a spiffy montage of the various employees getting the hotel to tip-top shape; in its dynamic editing and camera angles, the sequence feels like a capitalist variation on early Soviet filmmaking. Preceded by Earl Duvall’s 1934 cartoon HONEYMOON HOTEL (8 min, 16mm). (1935, 95 min, 35mm) BS
CRUCIAL VIEWING – NOIR STYLE
Music Box Theatre – Friday-Thursday
The Music Box welcomes back the Film Noir Foundation for their annual presentation of “Noir City.” This time around, the focus is not on noir films proper, but some noir-adjacent films—crime movies, with an emphasis on heists, robberies, and capers. In addition to the films reviewed below, the series includes Jack Webb’s DRAGNET (1954), Richard Quine’s DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD (1954), Michael Cimino’s THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974), Quentin Lawrence’s CASH ON DEMAND (1961), William Friedkin’s THE BRINK’S JOB (1978), Joseph Pevney’s SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS (1955), John Huston’s THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), and John Francis Larkin’s QUIET PLEASE: MURDER (1942). And all in 35mm
Curtis Hanson’s L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (American Revival) - Friday, 7pm
Like some of the other best films about Los Angeles (CHINATOWN, LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF, BOYZ 'N THE HOOD), L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is strong on conviction and tells a story of the area's underbelly that is, to use a phrase from Danny DeVito's writer in the film, "hush hush." Looking back, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL neatly fits into the long line of film-noirish masterpieces that came before it, from DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) to THE LONG GOODBYE (1973) to BLADE RUNNER (1982). It seems to confirm the idea that to make a great movie about L.A. you have to make people believe that it's full of skeletons in the closet. And it does the job well. Directed by Curtis Hanson (8 MILE) and written by James Ellroy (THE BLACK DAHLIA), it also follows the lineage of the great director/great writer combo that preceded it: Billy Wilder/James M. Cain, Ridley Scott/Philip K. Dick, Robert Altman/Raymond Chandler. It's a masterfully done production that we have been and will be hearing about for years to come. Author James Ellroy in person. (1997, 138 minutes, 35mm) KH
Phil Karlson's KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (American Revival) - Saturday, 2:30pm
KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL is fierce fun, a vehement B movie. A tough-talking boss (Preston Foster) offers three hoods in a jam a last chance to "get out from under." The plan is to stick up an armored truck and frame a flower delivery guy, who happens to be an ex-con (John Payne, formerly known as a '40s musical-comedy crooner and star of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET). What they didn't count on is, their patsy don't frame so good, see. They've created a desperate man, and Payne turns up in Borados, Mexico, where they've gathered to split the cash, bent on getting even. The mastermind also didn't count on the appearance of his daughter (Coleen Gray), an independent-minded, sharp young woman studying for the bar, who knows her father only as what he appears to be: an honest ex-police captain. (Satisfying genre skin prerogatives in an egalitarian way, both Payne and Gray appear in their bathing suits.) What follows are crude, violent events played out against a lurid demimonde. In other words, just what you want when you step into the nighttime world of noir: hats, guns, shadows, sin, cigarette smoke, low angles, and a tangled plot that would dissolve under close scrutiny. This is ardent, vigorous filmmaking from Karlson, who fills the screen with sweaty close-ups of his three underworld grotesques. Watchfully scary, Neville Brand chews gum constantly; wired, pathetic Jack Elam's ashtrays are always overflowing. Bantering with sultry Dona Drake, ladykiller Lee Van Cleef exudes the charismatic malevolence that Sergio Leone would make iconic in the '60s. While it lacks the doomed cynicism and inner demons that mark the very finest noirs, this film boasts black and white photography by George E. Diskant, who also lensed Nicholas Ray's classic noir THEY LIVE BY NIGHT. It's got delicious hardboiled dialogue by George Bruce and Harry Essex, and music by low-budget maestro Paul Sawtell. Plus, you've got to admire Payne's portrayal of a basically good guy "leading with his chin" and "moving blind," yet always keeping his cool under pressure. Karlson would go on to treat the revenge theme in popular '70s fare like WALKING TALL. (1952, 99 min, 35mm) SP
Claude Sautet's CLASSE TOUS RISQUES (French Revival) - Saturday, 7pm
[Note: Spoilers!] Although Claude Sautet directed his first feature film BONJOUR SOURIRE! in 1956, he aptly chose CLASSE TOUS RISQUES to mark the beginning of his career. Adapted by Sautet, Jose Giovanni, and Pascal Jardin from Giovanni's novel, CLASSE TOUS RISQUES stars Lino Ventura as Abel Davos, a wanted criminal who hopes to return to Paris in order to escape the Italian police closing in on him. Travelling with his wife Therese (Simone France), two young children, and friend Raymond Naldi (Stan Krol), Davos first reaches the small city of Menton on a gloomy French Riviera. Ambushed by border patrol, Davos and Naldi engage in a gunfight that ends with the death of Naldi as well as Therese. Eventually, a kind stranger, Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo), drives Davos and his children to Paris, but once there, Davos must contend with his former partners who turn on him in addition to the police. According to Giovanni's close friend and collaborator Bertrand Tavernier, all of his novels and screenplays center on the connected themes of survival and the dread of compromise or betrayal. In CLASSE TOUS RISQUES, the existential protagonist only lives while on the run through cities beautifully realized through Sautet's preferred Italian Neorealist lens. Davos can no longer face the victims of his crimes; he does not want to remain a criminal, but he is unsure of where to go and what to do. So, he stays on the run to nowhere until he realizes his own literal nothingness. In a recent essay on CLASSE TOUS RISQUES, Tavernier praised Sautet's new crime film, "Like Jacques Tourneur, Sautet renew[ed] the genre, profoundly, from the inside, instantly turning dozens of contemporary films into dusty relics... [He] succeeded in infusing his action scenes with absolute authenticity, breathing such an incredible sense of real life into them that it is said they won him the admiration of Robert Bresson." (1960, 110 min, 35mm) CW
Fabián Bielinsky’s THE AURA (Argentinean Revival) - Saturday, 9:15pm
Fabián Bielinsky’s THE AURA, the follow-up to his 2003 film NINE QUEENS (now regarded as something of a classic and remade as CRIMINAL, produced by Steven Soderbergh, in 2004), is a rare serious film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. “The idea of film, of narration and stories on the screen, is made out of pleasure,” the late director (he died from a heart attack in 2006 at just 47 years old) told PopMatters in an interview—despite the downbeat tone of the film, a contrast to its buoyant predecessor, watching it is still an immensely pleasurable experience, a much-needed antithesis to recent neo-noir fare, which almost punishes its viewers for thinking there’s any enjoyment to be had, instead focusing on the perverse gratification of an onerous resolution rather than reveling in the journey to that destination. (Case in point: True Detective.) Its plot is preposterously farfetched, each point a path cleanly paved to the next, its twists and turns a sophisticated roller coaster optimized for maximum thrill at minimum risk. There’s no guilt, either in one’s curiosity or in the character’s motivations; Esteban Espinosa (Argentinean superstar Ricardo Darín) is an epileptic taxidermist who fantasizes about committing the perfect crime. He gets his chance on a hunting trip after he accidentally shoots the Patagonian resort’s shady proprietor, thus inheriting the man’s scheme to intercept a local casino’s profit haul. His eidetic memory, another quixotic aspect of the film, comes in handy as he simultaneously covers up his own crime and pretends to know the new one. It’s the kind of movie during which the viewer is completely aware it’s just that, a con of perception rather than deception. Much like Espinosa, you can get lost in it, but you’ll always find your way out—and that’s the fun of it. (2005, 134 min, 35mm) KS
Raoul Walsh’s HIGH SIERRA (American Revival) - Sunday, 2:30pm
There’s a scene in Raoul Walsh’s HIGH SIERRA that perfectly encapsulates the maverick director’s unique ability to blend seemingly disparate—and, not intended pejoratively, effeminate—emotions under the guise of masculine brio. On the lam from the law following a heist at a resort hotel in the Sierra Nevada, Roy (Humphrey Bogart) and Marie (Ida Lupino) argue about money and how much the bad luck befallen on them could be owed to a jinxed but beloved dog. The fight is tense; could their newfound romance already be on the rocks? When Roy’s wound, the result of a shootout during the aforementioned theft, flares up, the tone shifts. Tending to him, Marie rebuffs the joking suggestion that she turn him in and collect the reward. They kiss, the music brightens, and the camera cuts to the dog, Pard, as he sweetly observes his new owners from afar. Brilliantly acted under Walsh’s direction, Bogart and Lupino nimbly oscillate between the jaded Weltschmerz of their previous lives and the hopeful, albeit cautious, enchantment of their new one. Referred to as both a gangster film and a noir, the film’s amorphousness mirrors the very man who made it, both as iconoclastic as they are indefinable. To further impart the vagueness of its classification, the script was written by noir heavyweight John Huston from a book by W.R. Burnett, who crafted the screenplays for the irrefutable gangster classics LITTLE CAESAR and SCARFACE, and Bogey excels at bruiser bravado while Lupino’s forlorn charm is nothing if not noirish, though whatever line the film toes, even if unintentionally, is steadied by Walsh’s confident navigation. “We wouldn't know for certain whether the twilight of the American gangster is here,” critic Bosley Crowther wrote, perhaps snidely (it’s hard to tell), adumbrating the beginning of noir as we traditionally know it, for the New York Times when the film was released. “But the Warner Brothers, who should know if anybody does, have apparently taken it for granted and, in a solemn Wagnerian mood, are giving that titanic figure a send-off befitting a first-string god.” Among other aspects, the bleak ending, a result of the Production Code’s stubborn insistence that a dog should never have its day, befits the retroactive noir label, even if fatalistic by circumstance rather than design. (1941, 100 min, 35mm) KS
Hubert Cornfield's PLUNDER ROAD (American Revival) - Sunday, 4:45pm
The unheralded producer Leon Chooluck was responsible for many of the most intelligent and resonant genre films of the late 1950s—Andre de Toth's DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1958), Irving Lerner's MURDER BY CONTRACT (1958) and CITY OF FEAR (1959), Budd Boetticher's RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND (1960), and this slender trucker noir directed by Hubert Cornfield. Running a scant 72 minutes, PLUNDER ROAD announces itself as a low-budget effort almost immediately; the handful of characters are outfitted with motivations so stock that they arrive still shrink-wrapped. The narrative effort gets pretty threadbare in spots, with superbly constructed suspense sequences build up to payoffs which seemingly got lost somewhere between script and final cut. (In one sequence, a truck loaded down with $3.5m worth of stolen gold must pass through a weigh station and evade law enforcement—and right as the screws begin to tighten, the scene ends and we hear about the result over the radio. That's some frugal editorial corner-cutting!) The primary interest of PLUNDER ROAD is that it shouldn't exist in the first place; made at a time when B-movie production techniques were rapidly migrating to television and studios were backing fewer (but more expensive) features than they had a decade prior, PLUNDER ROAD was one of those movies that slipped almost unnoticed under the studio gate. At this time Twentieth Century-Fox had a policy of reserving its CinemaScope branding for color productions while passing off the black-and-white widescreen efforts like PLUNDER ROAD as "Regalscope." It's the first, nearly wordless ten minutes that show the format to its best advantage, depicting a heist with graphically precise, sharply economical shots that verge on abstraction. The aftermath is more rote, plot-wise, but the sense of hostile space—free-floating, vengeful, deceptively expansive—prevails throughout. (1957, 72 min, 35mm) KAW
Paul Schrader’s BLUE COLLAR (American Revival) - Sunday, 9pm
I don’t much care for Paul Schrader’s films, but goddamn if BLUE COLLAR, his 1978 directorial debut, isn’t a bona fide masterpiece. It’s not just subversive, but radical—a true indictment of a capitalist system that divides to conquer. (And if that isn’t enough of an endorsement, consider that it’s one of Bruce Springsteen’s favorite films. Surprising, I know. The Promised Land did come out the same year…). Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto star as Detroit autoworkers, each short on cash, who plan to rob their crooked union. Though technically a heist film, the theme for this year’s Noir City, it’s less about the money or even the crime—the execution of which is actually pretty underwhelming in the grand scheme of cinematic larceny—than it is the conditions under which such desperation materializes. Inspired by the Lordstown Strike of 1972, Schrader said that “[a]ll the workers were under twenty-five, they were not interested in what the union had done for dad and grandpa. What it had done for them was nothing.” Along those lines, in an article about the strike, a writer describes how “union procedures aggravate the powerless situation of the worker on the line. If a worker has a grievance, say against a foreman...once the committeeman has been called, the aggrieved worker has nothing more to do with the case, which is handled through the highly bureaucratized and slow-moving grievance procedure. The case often takes several months to resolve, by which time the matter is often irrelevant.” This is evident in the film, as workers struggle to resolve even the most minor issues, ranging from a broken locker to a faulty soda machine; at the beginning, Pryor establishes his as a standout performance when he presents his grievances during a union meeting almost like a stand-up routine, a shrewd tactic by the film’s writers (Schrader and his brother Leonard) that aligns sympathies while presenting a seemingly anti-union worldview. Make no mistake, though—this is no scab screed. Rather, it acknowledges the insurmountable hurdles erected by the establishment, any kind of establishment, whether corporate or not, against the working man—they literally have no one, not even the people intended to protect them, yet another iteration, even if a de facto one, of Schrader's fascination with lone-wolf types. (And forget about cops. It’s sadly relevant and a good reminder that shit hasn’t changed when Pryor and Kotto’s characters explain to one of their white coworkers why they can’t just call the cops. Toward the end of the film, Pryor’s Zeke tells Keitel’s Jerry, “You’re my friend, but you’re thinking white,” a statement that’s almost poetic in its probity.) Having recently read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, I found myself glibly wondering whether it was possible for the text, like Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, to be adapted for either screen or stage. Barring a dedicated effort to do so, BLUE COLLAR suffices as both an accurate portrayal of a segment of American history detailed in Zinn’s book, during which working people were fed up with all the bureaucracy above them while simultaneously being pitted against each other, typically in regards to race (the film is figuratively black and white; its final moments are not shocking, but canny, a question mark where there should be a period), and a representation of the dissent—and, sometimes, surrender—that defines our history. In his somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Guide to Film Noir Genre,” Roger Ebert wrote that a film noir is “[a] movie which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.” A cruel pastiche of society, there might be no better example of that than this one. (114 min, 35mm) KS
Carol Reed's ODD MAN OUT (British Revival) - Monday, 7pm
It seems improbable at this late date that Carol Reed should still need rescuing from his own accomplishments with erstwhile screenwriter Graham Greene—namely, THE FALLEN IDOL (1948), THE THIRD MAN (1949), and OUR MAN IN HAVANA (1959)—but due in part to the undeniable deliciousness of this trio, and the fact that they are the only Reed films to generally see revival, the rest of his oeuvre typically gets dismissed on the strength of lukewarm reviews and career summaries that highlight the unevenness of his overall output. As such, it is all the more imperative to treasure the occasional screening of that ugly duckling of Reed's visible (at least insofar as home video) corpus, 1947's ODD MAN OUT: a work of unvarnished Catholic pessimism about the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, and almost as discomfiting a mixture of religious allegory, poetic realism, and hardboiled thriller as Frank Borzage's loopy STRANGE CARGO (1940)—albeit never crossing the line into outright fantasy, and with a profoundly hopeless cosmology, by comparison. "I know no other film which conveys such utter despair," wrote documentary editor and novelist Dai Vaughan in his excellent BFI monograph on ODD MAN, and it's true that there are few films—with or without allegorical baggage—to treat their protagonists (in this case, James Mason, though often subsumed by the rest of Reed's superb ensemble) with so casual a fatalism. This odd and portentous hybrid will never go down as easy as the Greenes, but that's all the more reason to pay attention and give it, and Reed, their due. (1947, 115 min, 35mm) JD
Don Siegel's CHARLEY VARRICK (American Revival) - Wednesday, 5 and 9:30pm
Perhaps Don Siegel's most underrated gift was his understanding of middle-aged malaise, particularly that of long-toiling men whose loneliness and cynicism were alleviated only by the knowledge of the integrity they brought to their work. When directing the right actor at the right point in his life—such as Eli Wallach in THE LINE-UP, Richard Widmark in MADIGAN, or Walter Matthau in this—Siegel could articulate this theme with a brusque clarity worthy of Hemingway. In the films that surround these great portraits, the action sequences have the rare virtue of seeming to extend from the character of their heroes. There's a tautness to Siegel's pacing, a precise spooning-out of detail, that gives the action a feeling of inevitability, or at least an absorbed-to-the-bone professionalism. (Of course, these sequences are plenty thrilling in their own right, as Siegel was among the most skilled directors ever to work in the action genre.) Matthau plays the eponymous Varrick, crop-duster pilot and small-time bank robber who must rely on his wits when he accidentally takes a huge score intended for the Mob. It's a breathtaking performance, making full use of Matthau's working-poor background. Born in 1920 to Russian immigrants on the Lower East Side, Matthau chased jobs as far as Montana during the Great Depression, taking up work as a forest ranger and boxing coach before joining the Army Air Corps in World War II. A very real sense of stubborn self-reliance inflects Varrick's every move. (1973, 111 min, 35mm) BS
Joseph Sargent's THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (American Revival) - Wednesday, 7:15pm
Let's start with all the things that the 1974 version of TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE is not. Unlike A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, it's not a film that romanticizes anti-social violence; the PELHAM hoods are middle-aged, dejected men who hijack a subway train out of a fog of desperation that they themselves regard as pathetic and low. Nor is it a DIRTY HARRY or FRENCH CONNECTION, burnishing the results of warrior cops who step outside the law; Walter Matthau's police lieutenant scarcely fires a shot and spends the movie in a plaid button-up with a bright yellow tie, the squarest law enforcement figure this side of Jack Webb. PELHAM never drills too deep on sociological details, and consequently lacks the political depth and impassioned edge of THE INCIDENT, Larry Peerce's neglected subway heist thriller from seven years prior; the hostages are so generic that they're simply referred to as "The Homosexual," "The Spanish Woman," "The Hippie," "The W.A.S.P." and whatnot in the credits. If they represent a cross-section of society, circa 1974, PELHAM is not the vehicle to bring them together and reveal a common Americanism under duress; indeed, the movie is rife with ethnic slurs fired in every direction and a pervasive sense that the melting pot will boil long into the good night. So if THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE is a great movie—and it is—that's largely because it subsists on its own special sense of funk and friction, a ruthless piece of work that churns in every direction and finds garbage all around. As a time capsule of mid-'70s New York, its only rival is TAXI DRIVER; PELHAM is the more coherent satire, laser-focused on the procedural rot of Lindsay-era NYC. Though the Metropolitan Transit Authority denied PELHAM the right to film in its subway, Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting eagerly backed the project—a favor repaid with an unmistakable and deeply unflattering stand-in for Hizzoner himself, played by Lee Wallace as a meek, needy man who invokes John Lindsay's infamous complaint that he possessed the "the second toughest job in America" while sitting in bed watching a television game show. (Lindsay had been replaced by Abe Beame by the time PELHAM hit theaters, which made the movie a premature wake for a vision of New York hardly dead yet.) Despite its thundering threats and last-minute rescues, PELHAM never plays like a melodrama; instead it feels like just another day, just another damn thing, something else to muddle through and walk away from. (1974, 104 min, 35mm) KAW
Mario Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (Italian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 4:45pm and Monday, 6pm
Considered to be the start of giallo filmmaking, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is a pulpy, thriller oozing with influences from Alfred Hitchcock. American tourist and murder mystery novel enthusiast Nora (Letícia Román) flies to Rome to visit her sick aunt, who passes away on the first night. Upset by the ordeal, Nora flees to the Spanish Steps where she is promptly mugged and awakens sometime later to witness a murder transpire, only for Nora to pass out again from shock. Upon being roused in the morning, no trace from the murder seems to be left, leaving her to question whether what she saw was truly real or a hallucination from one of her books. Mario Bava’s film lovingly pays homage to some of Hitchcock’s staples, such as the blonde protagonist, a mysterious murder committed by knife, and unnerving suspense that bubbles the length of the film—with PSYCHO being his main muse. Unlike his next giallo film, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, Bava incorporates wholly likable characters with which the audience can empathize. Nora’s character arc is compelling due to her transformation from a naive fish out of water to an inquisitive, Nancy Drew-esque sleuth resolved to unravel the mystery. As always, Bava’s use of light and shadow is paramount. His framing and lighting provide a sense of claustrophobia that teeters on madness, like the protagonist’s state of mind, and then snaps to clarity when a realization is uncovered. Less of a horror film than one might expect from one of the Italian masters of the genre, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is Bava’s most American film and an exhilarating entry point for those unfamiliar with his work. (1963, 86 min, DCP Digital) KC
Herbert J. Biberman's SALT OF THE EARTH (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 7 and 9pm
Produced independently by Hollywood Blacklistees—who were inspired to make a pro-labor film as a way of getting even with HUAC—SALT OF THE EARTH is a landmark act of civil disobedience and the rare film that's entitled to masterpiece status without having to be any good. Thankfully, its artfulness is commensurate with its conviction. A docudrama about a lengthy miners' strike in New Mexico, shot on location and featuring many of the actual miners as extras, it's also one of the few American films of the period comparable to the Neorealist masterpieces made in Italy around the same time. Arguably, the makers of SALT OF THE EARTH went even further than Roberto Rossellini in developing an artistic process that reflected their collectivist ideals: The script was frequently revised according to input from the miners and their families—most notably, to devote more attention to the role played by wives and mothers in organizing the strike. (Jonathan Rosenbaum has called this ahead of its time in its feminist sentiment.) Telling the miners' story in their own words often gives this the stolid feel of community theater; but on the other hand, it lends the film a certain no-bullshit authenticity that separates it from slicker—and ultimately patronizing—stuff like NORMA RAE. It's also plenty suspenseful. A sort of moral inversion of the hostage-standoff movie, the prolonged strike sees the workers' community become more unified as pressure increases from bosses and police. (1954, 94 min, 16mm) BS
John Akomfrah and Black Audio Film Collective's HANDSWORTH SONGS (Experimental / Essay Film Revival)
Black Cinema House at the Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) – Friday, 6pm (Free Admission)
1980's Britain was a time of economic malaise, political turmoil, and racial strife; it was also a time that saw the burgeoning of a radical, engaged, and aesthetically conscious group of young black filmmakers, reacting to the inequalities and lack of representation and media misrepresentation they saw around them. Mainly organized into two primary groups, the Black Audio Film Collective and Sankofa, these artists created a body of work over the next decade that sought to engage, question, and deconstruct the dominant cinema and media and generate a new, radical (in form and content) way of speaking about class, race, gender, and sexuality. John Akomfrah's HANDSWORTH SONGS (made at the Black Audio Film Collective) was one of the earliest and most complex of these new works. It is a multi-faceted film: essay, analysis, reportage, and more. Okwui Enwezor writes: "In the aftermath of the protests in Handsworth, the film inhabits a different order of things: it is as much about elsewhere as about Britain. That elsewhere is the broader post-colonial world. This feeling of disjuncture is reflected not only in the jump cuts of the film's narrative discontinuity - moving between archival photographs, newsreel fragments, media reportage, and on-site interviews - it is also deeply anchored by the sombre aural pulse, the disjunctive syncopation of the snare drum beat, the mournful reverb of the dub score that sustains a quiet rage. Though ostensibly addressing the issues of policing, HANDSWORTH SONGS reflects more profoundly the agency of the oppressed; it narrates their stories, not purely from the point of view of the event from which it derives its name, but equally through an archaeology of the visual archive of minoritarian dwelling in Britain." (1986, 60 min, Unconfirmed Format) PF
Ivan Reitman's GHOSTBUSTERS (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7:30pm (Free Admission)
Upon its original release, the 1984 summer blockbuster GHOSTBUSTERS wittily inscribed a bourgeois, rationalist ideology onto a inestimable cross-section of Generation X. Amateur occultist Dan Aykroyd's screenplay, a contemporary updating of the corny Abbott & Costello and Bob Hope comedy-horror features of his youth, is sustained by an ingeniously savvy understanding of Reaganomic mythology that makes Frederic Jameson look like Dave Barry. The titular expelled Columbia University parapsychology postdocs get in on the ground floor of an emerging urban economy: the containment of the psychic energy of investment capital, sublimated into ludic, phantasmic form. Manifesting in historic arenas of the old-money upper class (Ivy League libraries, Upper West Side apartments, posh turn-of-the-century hotels), these gilded ghouls rise from the grave to celebrate industrial deregulation and income-tax cuts (Slimer in particular representing a ravenous and futile hyperconsumption), but unsurprisingly bring chaos to the liberal, environmentalist enclave of Manhattan. As the protagonists' success ushers in an era of celebrity entrepreneurship, the infantile collective Ghostbusters id repeatedly transgresses the demands of a variety of old-fashioned academic, bureaucratic, or municipal-juridical superegos to now-classic comic effect. GHOSTBUSTERS is suffused with a particular heteronormative, ascetic intellectual machismo from start to finish. Feminine promiscuity, for example, is definitively linked here to demonic possession, and the absurd Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man (unleashed by the secular unconscious as a direct result of the Ghostbusters' attempt to physically mediate between an empirical positivism and occult theology) is defeated only through the violation of a puerile "stream-crossing" taboo, with our heroes simultaneously jizzing nuclear-powered laser beams into the glammy, gender-ambiguous Gozer's icy ziggurat. A very serious diversion. (105 min, 35mm) MC
MINGUS: CHARLIE MINGUS 1968 (Documentary Revival)
Black Cinema House and the Chicago Film Archives at The Muffler Shop (359 E. Garfield Blvd.—Outdoors) – Friday, 8:30pm (Free Admission)
Jonathan Rosenbaum has compared the great Charles Mingus to both James Joyce and Jean-Luc Godard; and indeed, all have created dense collage art out of creative references, philosophical musings, and bursts of willed experimentation. But of the three, Mingus came as close to madness as he did to genius. He was briefly institutionalized in the early 1960s (Upon release, he famously recruited his in-patient psychiatrist to write the liner notes for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady) and he was given to erratic behavior throughout his life. In this harrowing documentary, Thomas Reichman (a longtime friend) films the composer—courageously, unblinkingly—at one of his worst periods, though it is in no way an exploitive film. The footage comes primarily from the night before Mingus would be evicted from his loft/studio in New York City; it finds him ranting about politics, fondly recalling past experiences, playing with his young daughter, and, in an especially frightening moment, showing off a loaded rifle. Intercut with these scenes are clips from a small-club concert held a few weeks earlier, but this monologue is easily the greater performance. Mingus transitions fluidly from humor to anger, near-gibberish to salient points about racism: It's like watching the nascence of one of his major creative works. At times, he seems to be rehearsing for an unrealized musical by John Cassavetes, so sympathetic, even towering, does he register in his desire to feel every moment of his life as deeply as possible. (1968, 58 min, Unconfirmed Format) BS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
At Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) this week: Marc Huestis’ 1982 film WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SUSAN JANE (60 min, Digital Projection) is on Wednesday at 8pm in the “Released and Abandoned: Forgotten Oddities of the Home Video Era” series. Free admission.
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Coleman Zurkowski’s collaborative film project ZERO (70 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 8pm. The film features a score by musician/composer Zurkowski and visual “chapters” by nine filmmakers. Zurkowski and contributing filmmaker Jimmy Schaus in person; and Heat Situated/Necessary Accessories: New Work by Shala Miller on Thursday at 8pm. Miller will present four recent film/video works (THE ECHO, LET'S GET IN THE DARK, LULLABY FOR THE FALLING/A SPELL, and SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE HEAD AT THE TAIL) and read a selection of new poems.
Chicago Filmmakers and Women and Children First (5233 N. Clark St.) present Magic, Media + Moving, a presentation of and discussion about local filmmaker Lori Felker’s online digital video project MOVING on Monday at 7:30pm, with Felker and select subject from her project in person. Free admission.
Lost Arts (1001 N. North Branch St.) hosts Destroy Your Art on Friday at 8pm. The event entails a one-time-only screening of new short works by local filmmakers, with the films then being destroyed immediately afterwards in front of the audience. Tickets available at www.destroyyourart.com.
The Art Institute of Chicago presents a screening of Carl Th. Dreyer’s 1928 film THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (114 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Friday at 8pm, with live accompaniment by local band Joan or Arc and live visual processing by video artist brownshoesonly. The screening takes place outdoors in the North Garden (enter via Michigan Ave.). It is free, but registration is required; and on Thursday at 8pm, Joana Ascensao’s 2006 Portuguese documentary INHABITED PAINTING (56 min, Unconfirmed Format) screens in the Price Auditorium at 6pm. Free with museum admission (which is free for Illinois residents on Thursdays), but registration is required.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Francisco Márquez and Andrea Testa’s 2016 Argentinean film THE LONG NIGHT OF FRANCISCO SANCTIS (78 min, DCP Digital) and Aisling Walsh’s 2016 Irish/Canadian film MAUDIE (115 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; Mario Bava’s 1971 Italian horror film A BAY OF BLOOD (84 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 3pm and Tuesday at 6pm; and the Black Harvest Film Festival enters its final week with the feature films DIVA DIARIES, ON THE SLY: IN SEARCH OF THE FAMILY STONE, FLOYD NORMAN: AN ANIMATED LIFE, and LOVE JONES, a program of two short documentaries, THE CHICAGO WAY and BLUEPRINT FOR BRONZEVILLE, the shorts programs “Made in Chicago II” and “International Visions,” and a “Master Class with Floyd Norman,” former Disney animator. Check the Siskel website for complete details.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Norman Taurog’s 1961 film BLUE HAWAII (102 min, 16mm) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:15pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film DUNKIRK (106 min, DCP Digital) continues, but in digital-only screenings; Joshua Z Weinstein’s 2017 film MENASHE (82 min, DCP Digital) also continues; Roger Watkins’ 1977 horror film THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (78, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; and Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film THE ROOM (99 min, 35mm) is on Friday at Midnight and Jim Sharman’s 1975 film THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (100 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at Midnight.
Also at Facets Cinémathèque this week: Michael Almereyda’s 2016 film MARJORIE PRIME (99 min, Video Projection) plays for a week-long run.
At the Chicago Cultural Center this week: Cinema/Chicago presents a screening of Roger M. Sherman’s 2016 U.S./Israeli documentary IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE (120 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
Sinema Obscura at Township (2200 N. California Ave.) presents Matt Storc’s 2015 film TAKE BACK THE KNIFE (80 min, Video Projection), with Storc and members of the cast and crew in person, on Monday at 7pm. Free admission.
Also at the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Bill Condon’s 2017 film BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (129 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 2 and 7:30pm; and Perri Peltz’s 2017 television documentary WARNING: THIS DRUG MAY KILL YOU (59 min, Video Projection) is on Monday at 7pm, followed by a discussion. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
At the Art Institute of Chicago, British artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen’s video installation work END CREDITS (2012-ongoing), which is currently comprised on nearly 13-hours of footage and 19-hours of soundtrack, is on view until October 1.
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: August 25 - August 31, 2017
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Michael Castelle, Kyle Cubr, Jeremy Davies, Kalvin Henley, Scott Pfeiffer, Candace Wirt