Check out our blog to see “End of 2017” film (and other things!) lists by many of our contributors.
Canyon Cinema 50: Studies in Natural Magic (Experimental Revival/New Experimental)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Canyon Cinema began as a nomadic screening series that presented a mix of new experimental work, classic features, and random Castle Films flotsam in the backyards of Bruce Baillie and friends across San Francisco, the East Bay, and environs in 1961. Despite its gurgling beginnings in the post-beatnik, pre-hippie cultural wasteland of NorCal, Canyon eventually evolved to encompass a newsletter, a cinematheque, a so-called newsreel production unit, and, most enduringly, a distribution organization incorporated in 1967. Canyon's blissed-out, raunchy, and completely endearing history has been thoroughly documented in Scott MacDonald's invaluable Canyon Cinema: The Life and Times of an Independent Film Distributor, and the traveling Canyon Cinema 50 series serves as a stellar complement to that book. The Film Studies Center will be hosting four Canyon Cinema 50 programs over the next month, and each is essential. The series opens with "Studies in Natural Magic," which collects fourteen films produced between 1970 and 2017, all screening in 16mm prints. The title is no put-on: the films in this program manage to define cinema down in the best possible way, making the most elemental aspects of film grammar look new, mysterious, even charmed. The alchemical analogy is used too often, but sometimes it simply fits: these are works fully vested in the shock of seeing dead images move, animating and recombining forms to produce something new. Among the highlights that I managed to preview: A STUDY IN NATURAL MAGIC (Charlotte Pryce, 2013), a hand-processed roll of ghostly light patterns projected over plants, finds the soul of a stem. HAND HELD DAY (Gary Beydler, 1975) doubles down on the projection illusion in a witty and expansive way; seasoned avant-garde fanciers will be forgiven, at least at the start, for wondering whether Beydler achieved his deceptively simple composition of one sky inset inside another through optical printing or expert matte work. Instead, Beydler simply positioned a small mirror in front of the camera, and held it there over the course of a time-lapsed day. We see simultaneously the view in front of the camera and behind it, but the experience is richer than that—trapped between two axes, we occupy an intangible void as the clouds roll by. PORTLAND (Greta Snider, 1996) lacks that level of formal rigor, but makes up for it with an affecting cultural specificity. Recounting an ill-fated train-hopping adventure in the darkest reaches of the post-Twin Peaks Pacific Northwest (in the mid-90s, both an aspirational lifestyle destination and the locus of TV-bred conspiratorial nightmares), PORTLAND makes for one very bad trip. Pulling together accounts of the survivors and fragments of their home movies, PORTLAND analyzes its scraps of Super 8 footage as if they constituted some crustpunk Zapruder film. Also on the program: CATFILM FOR KATIE AND CYNNIE (Standish Lawder, 1973); Light LICK (AMEN) (Saul Levine, 2017); CIAO BELLA OR FUCK ME DEAD (Betzy Bromberg, 1978); SWISH (Jean Sousa, 1982); 28.IV.81 (BEDOUIN SPARK (Christopher Harris, 2009); REDSHIFT (Emily Richardson, 2001); STARLIGHT (Robert Fulton, 1970); DEGREES OF LIMITATION (Scott Stark, 1982); SHRIMP BOAT LOG (David Gatten, 2010); BOSTON FIRE (Peter Hutton, 1979); and ORCHARD (Julie Murray, 2004) (1970-2017, 79 min total, 16mm) KAW
Gabe Klinger's PORTO (New American/International)
Music Box Theatre - Friday and Monday, 7:15pm; and Saturday and Sunday, 4:30pm
PORTO, the first narrative feature directed by Chicago’s own Gabe Klinger, is a striking love story between Jake (Anton Yelchin), Mati (Lucie Lucas), the city of Porto, and celluloid (it was shot on 35mm, 16mm, and Super-8mm). PORTO presents the events of one night in three parts: the first segment is Jake's story, second is Mati, and third is Jake and Mati's shared experience. With each chapter, the viewer learns a little more about the story and each character, in a way breaking the frame of the script and opening it up to multiple truths, perspectives, and consequences. Klinger doesn't present much information on the lead characters, allowing the viewer to make decisions about Jake and Mati's paths leading up to the day that they experience together. The audience is also given the responsibility of deciding if this love story is at all realistic, or if it's a clouded and limited by the characters’ own perceptions. Moments of danger in the relationship shown towards the beginning of the film linger with the viewer, writing multiple outcomes for this romance that are not all happy endings. Similarly, the film utilizes time in a very interesting way; it shows us glimpses of events in each chapter, which we are tasked to add up, building a narrative in zigzags. As the film starts, quick cuts and glances show us little details of this story. By the final chapter, the camera lingers on every moment, long tracking shots capturing every breath and lust filled shameless confession. Exceptional performances from both Yelchin and Lucas bring this story to life, and stunning cinematography covers the film in an otherworldly haze. Although there are moments which bring up a sweet but perhaps clichéd honey-coated nostalgia, the camera work is varied enough to create changing moods throughout the film, keeping it timeless. As much as PORTO is a love story about two characters, it is a love story about the possibilities of cinema, both for the old classics and for the new and experimental. Klinger in person at the Friday-Sunday screenings. (2016, 76 min, 35mm) EE
Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD (New American)
Music Box Theater - Check Venue website for showtimes
More often than not, modern movies are endlessly clogged with flimsy and cardboard cutouts of the “classic love story,” a trend hopefully being seared away entirely, given that they seem more offensive in a cavernous last year of cynicism and bitterness. The genre has been in desperate need of a refurbishing to allow for a better understanding of what’s embedded inside its own fragile construction. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest and possibly greatest achievement isn’t without a mind of its own; it is a wonderfully conceived cinematic dream, wrapped in the lush, evergreen imagination of an artist working closely within the inner representation of his creations, much like Daniel Day-Lewis’ dress-making main character, Reynolds Woodcock. Anderson achieves something much closer to the actual emotions and feelings that echo throughout a relationship between two people, avoiding many of the stale and dry trends found in the modern romance movie. These lifeless morality lessons, usually soaked in a pale blue sadness, seem too bitter and lazy to have much real purpose and functionality, allowing Anderson to spin a delightedly deceptive chamber piece instead. Given the film’s advertising, championing PHANTOM THREAD as a brooding sure-fire contender in the race for awards-season gold, you might be surprised to discover a strange rom-com hiding in the lining of its framework. The plot involves a dressmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his closely-curated daily home and work life, right as another of his romantic relationships is beginning to dim out. As another unfulfilled and lifeless relationship goes, Woodcock decides to retreat to one of his favorite restaurants (it is here I’d like to heavily underline the film’s ideas about taste and hunger, given new literal and metaphorical life in a way that is shockingly unpretentious). It is at this place of dining that he meets Alma, played by newcomer Vicky Krieps, that leads to an intimate portrayal of love’s inherent mystery, built inside an almost hermetic world of imagination that conjures up visions of the classical Hollywood era, while simultaneously managing to subvert the work of “tradition.” straddling the lines of the modern and classical film structure/form with the skill of a master operating at the height of their creative abilities. Despite taking place in Great Britain, this is far from the British-ness on display in BBC dramas and endless droves of Oscar bait. Beginning with its suggestive point-of-view, then unwinding between not two points of view, but a shared point of view, the personal nature of this film for Anderson is evident, with Anderson not only writing the script, but also shooting nearly every frame of film himself (though he appears uncredited in that role). The everyday gestures, glances, embraces, arguments, and alluring atmosphere between two people seeps through every frame, delivering unexpected surprises carefully yet unabashedly. This is one of the few films in recent years that is really essential to witness in 70mm. The projection’s colors and light are captured in spellbinding luminosity, the sounds and images pushing forth the relationship of one woman and one fragile male ego, across a tapestry of sensual pleasures with hardly a hint of on-screen sex in sight. The results trace the lines around eroticism, rather than circling it directly, letting them blossom into a rare achievement in recent American cinema, a precious gift inside the fabric of it’s own design; one to keep close through the next several years. (2018, 130 min, 70mm) JD
Martin Scorsese’s WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR (American Revival)
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) - Wednesday, 7:30pm
Note: Spoilers! Originally starting out as a student short film while he was still attending NYU, WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR is Martin Scorsese’s first feature film, as well as Harvey Keitel’s, who would later collaborate with the esteemed director another four times. The decision to turn it into a feature only arose after it was suggested he include a sex scene with ample nudity so that the film could be sold as a sexual exploitation film. It is shot primarily in 35mm, with a few sequences shot in 16mm to allow greater camera mobility. Even at the onset of his career, Scorsese possesses the stylistic trademarks and that he has since become known for—overhead shots looking downwards like some omnipotent being, Catholic-guilt, Italian-Americans trying to make a name for themselves. J.R. (Keitel) is a young man living in New York. He spends his days paling around with his friends, drinking, and going to the movies. One day he meets a local girl (Zina Bethune) while waiting for the Staten Island Ferry and they form an instant connection while talking about John Wayne films. As their relationship furthers, he decides to abstain from having sex with her until marriage, as he believes her to be a virgin and doesn’t want to ‘spoil’ her. When she later reveals that she was raped by her former boyfriend, J.R. rejects her and returns to his former partying ways with his friends. The theme of Catholic-guilt plays very heavily throughout this film and its presence is felt subtly in nearly every scene, with Scorsese’s frequent use of Catholic iconography such as crosses and statues of Mary. This onslaught of imagery shows the viewer a glimpse into the inner workings of J.R.’s mind as he has a hard time reconciling his religious convictions with the more progressive nature of the world around him at that time. Clearly a film made by one who knows his craft and its history extremely well, WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR shows Scorsese at his most raw and unrefined but demonstrates the enormous wealth of talent that would later materialize as his career progressed. Preceded by a selection of vintage trailers for local film festivals (16mm, approx. 8 min total). (1967, 90 min, 35mm) KC
Jean Renoir’s THE CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANGE (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
I can’t recommend a Jean Renoir film without also recommending his autobiography, My Life and My Films. It puts the auteur in auteurism—he succinctly reminisces on a lifetime and a career in approximately 50 short essay length chapters totaling just under 300 pages. Early in the book, he discusses his love, realized when he was just five years old, of Guignol, the puppet protagonist of the popular French amusement dating back to the 18th century. Guignol, he wrote, “caused [him] to fear brutal contrasts” and “endowed [him] with a fondness for simple tales and a profound mistrust for what is generally called psychology.” This predilection for puppetry is evident in his 1931 film LA CHIENNE, which is a simple, albeit mercilessly abstract, story of a hapless love triangle that’s framed at beginning and end by a children’s puppet show. THE CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANGE is similarly framed by its title character’s girlfriend, Valentine, telling a gaggle of curious onlookers at an inn to where they’ve run away about the crime in question. Monsieur Lange is a clerk at a publishing company with aspirations of writing Western stories. His life, like that of his abutting compatriots, is simple, though his luck seems to be changing when his boss, the publisher Batala, impulsively opts to print his “Arizona Jim” serial. Batala is a reprobate creep of the Weinstein variety, though it’s undeniable that he is charming—Jules Berry is a superb villain, further evidenced by his performances in Marcel Carné’s LES VISITEURS DU SOIR and LE JOUR SE LÈVE. After Batala fakes his death following a train crash, Lange and his friends—among them the laundress Valentine and her spritely cohorts, the concierge and his family, and even the publishing company’s financier’s son—form a cooperative to continue publishing Arizona Jim. Their scheme is wildly successful, though not without some tension: Valentine’s friend, Estelle, who was also the object of Lange’s affection before he discovered the romance between her and the concierge’s son, becomes pregnant after being raped by Batala earlier in the story. The baby dies, but laughter prevails. It stops, however, when Batala seemingly returns from the grave, dressed as a priest but still as sinister as ever. MONSIEUR LANGE finds Renoir languidly tergiversating the exaggerated contrasts that characterize his early career: Batala is magnetizing (his secretary is passionately in love with him, and he counts Valentine amongst his previous conquests), and even the film’s tone strays from its ultimately jubilant spirit—see both the rape of Estelle and subsequent death of her child (the only glaring flaw of the film being that it glosses over these horrific events) and the titular murder, weaved seamlessly into the film’s rhapsodic fabric. These aberrant junctures evoke children’s entertainment that, like Guignol, blends these very elements—it was co-written by Jacques Prévert, whose poetic realist discernment recalls a similarly lyrical sense of morality. Critically and commercially successful, the film “placed [Renoir] in the category of left-wing film-makers, no doubt because it had to do with a workers’ co-operative,” as he details in his autobiography. “I believed that every honest man owed it to himself to resist Nazism,” he continues. “I am a film-maker, and this was the only way in which I could play a part in the battle.” Made in advance of the 1936 election of the Popular Front, it portends then-contemporary events in such a way that LA GRANDE ILLUSION augured World War II. In his earliest iterations, Guignol was a strident social commentator representative of the Lyonnais silk workers—Laurent Mourguet, his creator, began incorporating timely references into the routine in order to amuse his audience vis-à-vis ancillary political commentary. THE CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANGE, a once hard-to-find film presented in a new 4K restoration, complete with updated subtitles (the ones on the DVD I found of it were almost incomprehensible at times), avows a timeliness that, like Guignol, spans the decades. (1936, 81 min, DCP Digital Restoration) KS
David Lean's DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (UK/Italian/US Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sunday, 7pm
For many years my mom insisted that the Universal Studios tour used to include a walk through the Varykino "ice-palace" from DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, an apocryphal assertion I haven't been able to corroborate. If I had to guess I'd say she made the whole thing up, perhaps triggered by years of unpleasant piano lessons as a teenager when she was forced to learn to play "Lara's Theme" by Maurice Jarre. If it once balanced on the knife's edge of kitsch, somewhere between soapy romance and ambiguous Cold War commentary, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO has improved with age. Lean's superlative storytelling skills, which balance a marvelous sense of sweep and scope against a fine-honed depiction of personal cruelty, are aided and abetted by his gift for choosing just the right cast. Only Lean could cast an Egyptian as a Russian doctor and make it work. And then there's the editing, with some of the most exhilarating scene transitions in his filmography (such as the famous clank/streetcar edit singled out by Spielberg). Though Lean's latter films are studded with brilliant moments, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is his last great film. (1965, 192 min, 35mm) RC
Ralph Nelson's REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT is the perfect opportunity to see how star Anthony Quinn could dig deeply into a part and make it his own. Rod Serling's celebrated Playhouse 90 television drama, released about six years before the film, starred Jack Palance as "Mountain" McClintock, an over-the-hill boxer. Like many of Serling's most memorable characters, he's obsolete and at the end of his rope—too old to keep fighting, too out of date to be of any use to an indifferent world that's long since moved on. Palance portrays Mountain as a kind-hearted brute whose weariness barely masks an animalistic violence that's still intact after years in the ring. It's a searing performance, but Quinn takes a different tack. Whereas Palance's character still displays a tarnished dignity, Quinn's has been stripped of even that, of everything that has any value. Renamed "Mountain" Rivera for the film, his character is also saddled with society's casual yet unsubtle racism. Quinn's Mountain is so worn out and weighed down after a life spent fighting men both in and out of the ring, his brain can barely function. Even as he still looms tall over every other character (he's named Mountain after all), he lurches through life like a zombie. With his painful stoop, you can practically visualize the ton of bricks he's been heaving around his entire life. The fully-committed pessimism in his portrayal makes the downbeat ending seem inevitable. And the film is aided and abetted by two other top-notch performances. Jackie Gleason, as Mountain's parasitic manager, is supremely sleazy, as oily as the sweat that seems to ooze from every wall onscreen. Mickey Rooney's sympathetic trainer, well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful, is the perfect foil. Serling has still not gotten his due for his non-Twilight Zone writing, but it's impossible to imagine THE WRESTLER or even RAGING BULL without REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT. (1962, 95 min, 35mm) RC
Michelangelo Antonioni's L'ECLISSE (Italian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
L'ECLISSE concludes Michelangelo Antonioni's trilogy on postwar alienation, which also includes L'AVVENTURA (1960) and LA NOTTE (1961). Antonioni's muse Monica Vitti stars as Vittoria, a translator living in a Roman suburb who leaves her fiancé for reasons she does not know. Not long after, she begins seeing stockbroker Piero (Alain Delon), but she has second thoughts about him as well. Antonioni spends little time on this plot, preferring to follow Vittoria as she listlessly wanders through Rome and its suburbs. He focuses his camera on a very modern Italy and its almost futuristic aspects, whose unrecognizable qualities are disorienting for Vittoria. Antonioni captures history very infrequently and from a distance—an aerial shot of the Coliseum, an extreme long shot of one of the city's cathedrals. It is modern capital that primarily shapes Antonioni's Italy and the quintessential bourgeois lifestyle of Vittoria, which affords her the luxury to spend her days roaming through the streets and through her thoughts. In a society that reduces time to money, she has enough to prolong her ennui. When Antonioni's camera moves indoors, it often settles on the utter chaos of the stock exchange, populated with many actual stockbrokers rather than actors. In filming their behavior, he tries to capture what lies at the heart of capitalism. Whatever drives the market to go up or down in passing seconds is the cause of the modern world's experience of alienation and alienation from experience. L'ECLISSE is a fascinating portrait of a woman who tries to navigate the time and space in which she lives, recognizing that she will likely gain knowledge of neither. (1962, 126 min, 35mm) CW
Kelly Richmond Pope’s ALL THE QUEENS HORSES (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
The thing I appreciate most about Kelly Richmond Pope’s ALL THE QUEENS HORSES is the straightforward manner in which Pope presents the material. An associate professor at DePaul University, she's also a certified public accountant with a PhD in accounting; she participated in the inaugural Diverse Voices in Docs fellowship program at Chicago’s esteemed Kartemquin Films—all facts that likely contribute to the directness and socially minded perspective with which the subject matter is conferred. In 2012, Rita Crundwell, the comptroller and treasurer of Dixon, Illinois (a small town of just 16,000 people almost two hours west of Chicago), was arrested after it was discovered that she’d been embezzling from the city for more than 20 years—to the tune of $53 million. Although the details of Crundwell’s larceny were highly publicized at the time, Pope and her crew of KTQ-adjacent filmmakers present a deep dive into both Crundwell and Dixon’s worldviews, from the former’s penchant for expensive quarter horses and other such luxuries to the latter’s laissez-faire method of governing. Perhaps unintentional is the bitter irony to be found in the situation: Dixon’s former mayor Jim Burke not only described the small town as being “a kind of conservative county, in a way,” but it’s also the hometown of trickle-down mountebank President Ronald Reagan. Small government proves ineffective in the face of brazen avarice, taking all the queen’s horses (Crundwell’s stable was sold off to recoup what she stole) and all the more men (the city voted to restructure their local government, thus dividing responsibility between more departments), to put Dixon back together again. (2017, 71 min, DCP Digital) KS
Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA (Italian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 10pm
Dario Argento is one of Italy's greatest living artists, and his 1977 SUSPIRIA is one of his greatest achievements in both storytelling and visual design. Jessica Harper plays Suzy, a dance student who becomes embroiled in a plot by her ballet school's faculty (revealed to be witches) to unleash the forces of hell onto the world. The first in Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy (the subsequent features are 1980's INFERNO and 2008's MOTHER OF TEARS), SUSPIRIA may not be the director's most complex or visually stunning work, but it's perhaps the crux of Argento's canon, the film that firmly established him as an auteur worthy of international discussion and analysis. Loved by genre fans for its excessive violence and pulsating score by the rock group Goblin, SUSPIRIA is as much a testament to Argento's love for classical art, which can also be seen in 1987's OPERA and 1995's THE STENDHAL SYNDROME. Argento's genius is to set these films, all of them bloody and relatively sleazy, in the world of "high" art. By doing so, he not only satirizes the pompous nature of "connoisseurs" who dismiss cinema—particular genre films—as a "lower" form, but also recontextualize these "higher" forms to fit in the realm of "commercial" work. (1977, 92 min, DCP Digital) JR
Francis Ford Coppola's THE GODFATHER (American Revival)
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series at the Pickwick Theatre (5 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) – Thursday, 2 and 7pm
It's tough (or impossible) to summarize the impact THE GODFATHER has had. So, instead, only three points. Gordon Willis's brilliant cinematography—Rembrandt by way of Manhattan—made it acceptable for studio-made color films to be as shadowy and moody as the black & white noirs had been earlier. Where would classic paranoiac thrillers be without that added palette? Its flowing, epic structure, courtesy of Mario Puzo's screenplay and Coppola's subtle, no-nonsense direction, remains a model of classic storytelling. And finally, because of its amazing critical and commercial success, gangster movies have been continuously in vogue ever since. Utterly disgraceful then that, according to a New York Times article, the original negatives "were so torn up and dirty that they could no longer be run through standard film laboratory printing equipment, and so the only option became a digital, rather than a photochemical, restoration." Luckily Robert A. Harris, working with Willis and Coppola, stepped in to save the day. (1972, 175 min, Digital Projection) RC
Kent Jones' HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (Contemporary Documentary)
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) – Tuesday, 6:30pm
In 1962, François Truffaut held a weeklong interview with Alfred Hitchcock to discuss the latter's prolific film career. A condensed version of these conversations was later published as a book entitled Hitchcock/Truffaut. The film HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT is a biographical documentary encompassing the lives of both directors before, during, and after their famous meetings. Kent Jones deftly weaves portions of the audio recordings from the interviews, snippets from the book, and sequences from Hitchcock's films to create a history of The Master of Suspense's oeuvre. The heart of the film asks whether Hitchcock was an artist or an entertainer. The auteur theory is championed in Hitchcock's favor, as many of his iconic scenes are analyzed and praised through talking head interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Wes Anderson, among others. But it's the admiring relationship between Truffaut and Hitchcock and their honest, thoughtful, and unpretentious dialogue that is the strong core of the film. Jones presents the discussion in such a way that one almost feels present in the room, like an unspeaking fourth party sitting next to Truffaut's interpreter. Hitchcock's influence on Truffaut can be seen in some brief sequences from THE 400 BLOWS and JULES AND JIM, but what truly is highlighted in these moments, are their differences, Hitchcock's emphasis on his mise en scene and Truffaut favoring a more stylized approach to his directing. The editing in this film is quick and playful, shots never lingering too long on any one thing, keeping the subject engaging and accessible to both cinephiles and the casual viewer. HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT is a celebration of the friendship the pair forged back in 1962 and the love of cinema as an art form. Preceded by Todd Lauterbach’s 2015 short film I AM THE PASSENGER (7 min). Introduced by Mimi Plauché, Artistic Director of the Chicago International Film Festival. (2015, 79 min, Video Projection) KC
Spike Jonze's HER (Contemporary American)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
"I don't get this new world," quipped Benjamin Netanyahu. His subject was smart-phones. "Everybody's taking pictures. When do they have time to live? ... If you didn't take a picture, it's like you never actually lived it. I lived and didn't take a picture ... So I'm the only person here without all these electronic devices. And I'm a free man and you're all slaves. You're slaves to your gadgets." The Israeli prime minister is voicing a common sentiment, one that finds expression in St. Vincent's latest, self-titled album (especially the biting single "Digital Witness") and, much less artfully, in all those critiques of narcissistic millennials endlessly churning through the op-ed/think piece/click bait swamps. This zesty zeitgeist also threatened to swallow whole Spike Jonze's HER—a movie willfully misapprehended by many observers, pro and con. The standard rap on HER is that it's about our relationship to our gadgets and devices—a ready-made statement on How We Live Now, a sleek iMeditation on love and sex in a world that's outgrown face-to-face communication. Are we slaves to our phones, our tablets, our laptops, our e-mail, our social media feed? If we judge HER on these pressing questions, or the ones raised by critic Richard Brody about the movie's stealth consumerism, then it's an obnoxious, twee, feature-length evasion. I'd propose, however, that this interrogation misses the point of HER, reduces its complicated emotions and expansive horizons to the space of a hashtag. Ultimately, HER is a piece of superlative, speculative science fiction—an eternal story about consciousness and corporeality that sat in wait until technology caught up to it, made its premise plausible and relatable. On the plot level, it's about whether Joaquin Phoenix can develop a loving, rewarding, sexually fulfilling relationship with an operating system (Scarlett Johansson). Detractors scoff that this relationship is impossible and vaguely insulting—but even the most hidebound screenwriting manual would acknowledge that Johansson's Samantha qualifies as a full-formed, functional character: she has desires, needs, goals, problems, all quite independent of Phoenix's high-waisted pants and hipster glasses. The empathetic leap demanded by this movie is the recognition that HER is fundamentally about her. Samantha's story parallels Pinocchio's, though we never quite grasped his nebulous, essentially academic reasons for preferring fallible flesh to durable wood. Why should he want to be a real boy, anyway? In contrast, Samantha's yearning for a body—any body—reasserts the centrality of that vessel to the human (and superhuman?) experience. (HER also improves upon another Pinocchio descendant, A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, which contented itself with asking whether a computer can give sexual pleasure; HER radically asserts that a computer can receive that pleasure as well.) HER presents feeling in search of form, delicately and movingly suggesting the limits of both. And speaking of form: HER is one beautifully conceived movie, with K.K. Barrett's production design shouldering a significant narrative and emotional weight. Jonze, so long assumed to be a game but unobtrusive midwife to Charlie Kaufman's scripts, also proves himself to be a genuinely visionary filmmaker, seamlessly weaving together footage shot in Los Angeles and Shanghai to create an urban utopia comparable to Vertov's fusion of Moscow and Kiev in THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. (2013, 126 min, Video Projection) KAW
Showing as part of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movie Discussion Group meeting.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Chris Brown’s 2016 “fictumentary” THE OTHER KIDS (95 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 7pm, with Brown in person. Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.; Note new address) presents Seriously Swingin’ Women, a program of three documentaries by Greta Schiller and Andrea Weiss, on Saturday at 8pm (social hour at 7pm) as part of its monthly Dyke Delicious series. Screening are: TINY & RUBY: HELL DIVIN’ WOMEN (1988, 28 min), INTERNATIONAL SWEETHEARTS OF RHYTHM (1986, 30 min), and MAXINE SULLIVAN: LOVE TO BE IN LOVE (1990, 48 min).
The Chicago Women’s History Center presents Freida Lee Mock’s 2013 documentary ANITA HILL: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER (95 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 1pm at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema (1104 S. Wabash Ave., 8th Floor). Followed by a moderated discussion. Free admission, but the event appears to have reached its RSVP limit.
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E 70th St.) screens Anthony Green’s 2017 film LAST WORDS (Unconfirmed Running Time, Video Projection) on Friday at 7pm, with Green in person. Free admission.
Also at the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ 2017 film BATTLE OF THE SEXES (121 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 2 and 7pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Dome Karukoski’s 2017 Finnish/Swedish biopic TOM OF FINLAND (115 min, DCP Digital) concludes its two-week run; Pedro Rivero and Alberto Vázquez’s 2015 Spanish animated film BIRDBOY: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN (76 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Kyoko Miyake’s 2017 Canadian/UK/Japanese documentary TOKYO IDOLS (90 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Thursday at 6pm; and Yuri Ancarani 2016 French/Italian/Swiss documentary THE CHALLENGE (70 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 5:15pm and Monday at 6pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Asghar Farhadi’s 2011 Iranian/French film A SEPARATION (123 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 1:30pm; Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2017 film THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (121 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Seijun Suzuki’s 1956 Japanese film HARBOUR TOAST: VICTORY IN MY HANDS (65 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm and his 1956 film SATAN’S TOWN (79 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 8:30pm; and Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film JACKIE BROWN (154 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: James Franco’s 2017 film THE DISASTER ARTIST (98 min, DCP Digital) continues; and Drew Goddard’s 2012 film THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (95 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Jason Wise’s 2017 documentary WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH (85 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run; and screens Steve McQueen’s 2011 film SHAME (101 min, Video Projection; Free Admission) as a “Teach-In” event on Monday at 6:30pm, with a discussion led by Alexandra Fox, LCPC is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor.
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1450) screens Picone Ficarra’s 2017 Italian film IT’S THE LAW (92 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Introduced by University of Chicago professor Veronica Vegna. Free admission.
The Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest (400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest, IL) screens Tony Scott’s 1986 film TOP GUN (110 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 7pm.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
PRESENT ABSENCE, a five-channel video installation by Salome Chasnoff and Meredith Zielke that honors the lives of individuals killed by Chicago Police will be on view at Hairpin Arts Center (2810 N. Milwaukee Ave.) during public events in January and early February. Viewing times include (but may not be limited to): Friday, January 12, 6-10pm; Tuesday, January 23, 6-9pm; Friday, January 26, 6-10pm; Saturday, January 27, 12-5pm; Tuesday, January 30, 6-9pm; and Saturday, February 3, 6-9pm.
Pseudo- & Hetero-: A Dual Exhibition by Tao Hui and Barry Doupé is on view at Lithium (1932 S. Halsted, Ste. 200) through January 26. Opening reception today (Friday, January 12) from 6-9pm. On view are Tao’s videos TALK ABOUT BODY (2013) and THE DUSK AT TEHERAN (2014) and Doupé’s animated films PONYTAIL (2008) and THE COLORS THAT COMBINE TO MAKE WHITE ARE IMPORTANT (2012).
DIGITAL FOUNTAIN, a video installation by Jarad Solomon, will be on view continuously through the windows at Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) from Saturday, January 13 (starting at 5pm) to Sunday, February 18 (ending at 6pm).
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Elizabeth Price’s 2015 video installation K (7 min loop) in Gallery 186; Frances Stark’s 2010 video installation NOTHING IS ENOUGH (14 min loop) in Gallery 295C; and Nam June Paik’s 1986 video sculpture FAMILY OF ROBOT: BABY in Gallery 288.
The Graham Foundation presents David Hartt’s installation in the forest through January 6 at the Madlener House (4 W. Burton Place). The show features photography, sculpture, and a newly commissioned film.
CINE-LIST: January 12 - January 18, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Emily Eddy, Joe Rubin, Candace Wirt