On episode #7 of the Cine-Cast, Cine-File associate editor Ben Sachs and content producer JB Mabe chat about Chicago movie-going in October, from the Johnnie To series at Doc Films to Conversations at the Edge at the Siskel Film Center; contributor Kyle Cubr interviews MINDING THE GAP director Bing Liu—the film plays again at Block Cinema at 7pm on Thursday, October 11, with Liu in person; Mabe talks with Julia Gibbs, assistant director of the Film Studies Center at the University of Chicago, about their fall schedule; and Sachs, Cubr, and contributor Michael Smith talk about the 54th Chicago International Film Festival, which runs October 10-21.
Listen here. As always, special thanks to our producer, Andy Miles, of Transistor Chicago.
Jessica Gorter’s THE RED SOUL (New Documentary)
Facets Cinémathèque — Check Venue website for showtimes
This utterly chilling documentary lays bare one of the essential contradictions of human society: faced with incontrovertible evidence, groups of people will still believe what they want to believe rather than what actually was. The case of masses of former Soviet citizens longing for the resurrection of Josef Stalin, a dictator whose death toll was only eclipsed by Mao Tse Tung’s, is especially disheartening as interviewees old and young question whether Stalin was really as bad as historians contend. Their reasoning usually involves outsider smear campaigns intended to put down or control what they see as the strength and greatness of the Russian people. To watch little old ladies insist that everyone put in one of the thousand or so gulags scattered over Soviet land deserved it and shouldn’t have been breaking the law will make one despair for the fate of our species. But the most lingering image in the film has to be that of a woman wandering through a forest, stooping over now and again to pick up human bones. Femurs, vertebrae, ribs, and other former parts of people litter the forest floor like fallen leaves. This forest, like many others in Russia, is the site of mass graves used to bury prison camp inmates—proof positive of the country’s genocidal recent past which a majority of its current citizens are unable or unwilling to come to terms with. (2017, 90 min, Video Projection) DS
Jacques Tourneur’s THE LEOPARD MAN (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 9:30pm
Anytime discussion of the magnificent and spellbinding filmmaker Jacques Tourneur takes place, someone always praises the pioneering CAT PEOPLE, made at RKO in 1942. As great as the movie is, it seems to always supersede his other horror efforts from that era, likely due to high praise by Martin Scorsese, its 80’s re-imagining by Paul Schrader, and recently, its induction into the Criterion Collection. Only one year later however, Tourneur would make two other films: I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and THE LEOPARD MAN. The former, though also famously lauded by Scorsese, still seems to evade popular audience acclaim due to the fact that it is hardly a “zombie” movie at all. Instead, it is a poetic musing on lives lived in error, with regret and sadness haunting the past as it moves from what was, into its static present. Its dialogue hardly registers as reality, opting instead to reach somewhere beyond the screen and into a dimension all its own. THE LEOPARD MAN, albeit a slightly different film, is no less stunning at conjuring its own distinct brand of cinematic poetry. This special and extremely ahead-of-it’s-time film from the extraordinary team of Tourneur and producer Val Lewton has been unduly hidden in the shadows of the two previous works. This would be the last film the duo would make together, but to regard it as a minor work, lesser than its predecessors, would be a negligent mistake. Under another director, the movie’s plot may have emerged as ordinary and trite with just enough room for little pockets of suspense, but under Tourneur, it soars above its budget and its means. Although the narrative structure of the film spirals in many mysterious directions, its core is a simple premise: a wild leopard gets loose in a small Mexican village and begins to kill young women, or something does, and a pair of amateur detectives attempt to solve the murders. The film doesn’t identify too closely with its characters, which may be what many have mistaken as its weakness. The perspectives leap around, seemingly at random, but with a closer look, expose an intricately linked chain connecting each character, passing its themes from one to another in a collective mapping of guilt and its transference. The narrative itself is less concerned with who or what is committing these murders, than it is with the quieter implications of its tertiary characters, who each collectively contribute, in tiny fated ways, to the film’s mounting sense of dread and carnal violence, and to the guilt that lingers after each of its victims has met their end. Not only does the movie boast spectacular moments of suspense, but it stays true to its own ambiguity, surrounded by the unknown forces of a country reeling from its blood-soaked past. In taking this film’s particular brand of character identification forward, one need only look at the games the film plays with the conventions of cinematic suspense. Seemingly ordinary tracking shots that follow a character for an unknown reason, presumably with death around the corner, reveal themselves to be not so, at least, not in the way we are accustomed to. Cuts that should link the close-up of a character’s face to an adjacent horror, cut away instead to medium shots of the character, the film’s viewpoint settling itself in the shadows and clouds of a more omnipresent force, possibly that of the viewers themselves? Mirrors and doublings of events, subtly reproduce scenes, sometimes inverted, sometimes not, but tacitly pushing the film into patterns of repetition, not unlike a dream. As one young victim muses on her fading childhood, another wants nothing more than to innocently meet up with her lover in private on her birthday, while a third victim, who at first seems to hover outside the pattern being set, is revealed to be nothing more than a double (a triple) of the previous two, weaving a tapestry of fate, a signature of the work of Tourneur. The coming and going of innocence, to guilt and regret, exist solely in the passing of time, or as one character remarks, “Time is strange, a moment can be as short as a breath, or as long as eternity.” Not only does this line of dialogue speak to the plot itself, but also to the very construction of a false reality made up of camera angles, tiny movements, and precise cuts. This film has been called clumsy and mismanaged more than once, but it really is an object of rich mystery, that not only does away with techniques of cinematic suspense developed in the medium’s then-recent infancy, but also, maybe more than any horror film pre-1960, it points towards the future, most notably the giallo genre that would spring up in the 1960s and 70s with Mario Bava, Sergio Martino, and Dario Argento. (1943, 66 min, 35mm) JD
Barbara Loden's WANDA (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 3:45pm, Saturday, 2:45pm, and Monday, 7:45pm
Inspired by Jean-Luc Godard's BREATHLESS, the little-known, but very talented actress Barbara Loden wrote and directed her first and only film, WANDA, in 1970. Although she cast mostly nonprofessional actors for other roles, Loden herself stars as Wanda Goronski, a coal miner's wife who leaves her husband and children because she's "just no good." Put down as "Lover" and "Blondie" by other men she meets afterward, Wanda eventually takes up with a married bank robber (Michael Higgins) who tells her to call him Mr. Dennis, and they kill time on the road, running from the law through a landscape colored by distinctly American poverty. From a distance, the often expressionless, yet beautiful Wanda may appear like one of the lifeless mannequins that cinematographer Nicolas Proferes shoots in a department store; but Wanda is aware that she is a lost soul. Loden later described her partly autobiographical character: "She's trapped and she will never, ever get out of it and there are millions like her." Throughout this slow film of long takes, Wanda is always with some man or another, believing that she cannot take care of herself, that she is not a self. She finds herself in the hands of a criminal who only tolerates obedience, the same demand made of her by society. Loden's Wanda is both an impenetrable cipher and a fully embodied human being. She tells Mr. Dennis, "I don't have anything. Never did have anything, never will have anything." He bitterly responds, "That's stupid. You don't want anything, you won't have anything. You don't have anything, you're nothing. May as well be dead. You're not even a citizen of the United States." But while Wanda means nothing, it's not because she doesn't try. Society never gave her a chance. WANDA is a masterpiece of independent filmmaking that portrays what is rarely found onscreen—the true experience of a woman's life. (1970, 102 min, DCP Digital) CW
Robert Greene's BISBEE '17 (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
The history of Bisbee, Arizona and its 1917 mass deportation of copper miners—the subject of Robert Greene’s BISBEE '17—gets you to near instant MAGA Bingo: In 1917 some 1,200 striking copper miners were run out of Bisbee, a U.S. town seven miles from the Mexican border, by an armed posse mobilized by the now defunct Phelps Dodge mining company. The predominantly foreign-born Mexican and Eastern European Bisbee miners were feared to be sympathetic to the anarcho-socialist Industrial Workers of the World and undermining the nationalistic war efforts, and thus run out of town in cattle cars hundreds of miles into the New Mexico desert. Over the ensuing century Bisbee took its lumps: Its last mine closed in 1975 and it has since fallen from one of the richest cities in Arizona to literally the poorest. Yet hope springs eternal amongst the Bisbee believers that the mining sector will rise again, and also maybe that Lou Dobbs will return to CNN prime time. Given that context, director Greene deftly utilizes present day Bisbee and seeks to recreate the shameful events of July 12th 1917 using local non-actors. The documentary functions as a feature length casting call, rehearsal, and final take for those residents that feel most connected to the town’s history. Within any given scene and without notice Greene maneuvers between traditional nonfiction interviews and scripted, borderline surreal vignettes. This fade-in and -out manages to both meaningfully conflate historical and present-day discourse around immigration, nationalism, and economic inequality, and feeds the very real impression that Bisbee is a ghost town. Greene’s formal risk-taking recalls not just his own recent experiments (2016’s KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE) but that of other unconventional documentaries such as Clio Barnard’s 2010 experimental biopic of Andrea Dunbar, THE ARBOR, and Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE ACT OF KILLING (2012). Oppenheimer’s film especially utilizes a similar gallows humor and historical distance to BISBEE '17 to raise uncomfortable questions of culpability. And while no Anwar Congo-level character exists in Greene’s collectivist film, the viewer is left to ponder whether it’s really as simple as one contrite Bisbee resident puts it: It’s a matter of “then values” versus “now values.” Green in person at the Friday 7pm screening, in a discussion moderated by Steve James. (2018, 118 min, DCP Digital) JS
54th CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The 54th Chicago International Film Festival opens on Wednesday and runs through October 21, with most screenings taking place at the River East 21. More information and full schedule at www.chicagofilmfestival.com. Check our list next week for additional coverage, and keep an eye on our blog for possible bonus items.
Christian Petzold’s TRANSIT (Germany/France)
Thursday 10/11, 6pm and Friday 10/12, 8:30pm
An antifascist German’s desperate flight from Paris to Marseilles as the Nazis start to overrun France becomes a metaphysical journey in which his very identity is subsumed to the needs of the wife (Paula Beer) of a writer who, unbeknownst to her, committed suicide when she abandoned him in Paris. The man (Franz Rogowski) assumes her husband’s identity and lets go of self-interest to secure her transit documents to escape Marseilles, where other refugees are waiting fruitlessly to be delivered from evil. There is much in TRANSIT that will remind viewers of CASABLANCA (1942), thus continuing director Christian Petzold’s riffs on cinematic history—Herk Harvey’s CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) and Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) are clear inspirations for his YELLA (2007) and PHOENIX (2014), respectively. However, Petzold’s source material is Anna Seghers’ Transit, a renowned 1944 novel based on her own experience as a German exile trapped in Marseilles in 1940–41. His recurring themes of the permeability of identity, betrayal, the complex nature of love, and the ghosts that haunt humanity are married to a sympathetic examination of the current refugee crisis in Europe by setting his film in the present and populating it with Arab refugees. By straddling the present and the past, he effectively renders history and our willful amnesia accomplices to atrocity. Franz Rogowski is scheduled to attend both screenings. (2018, 101 min) MF
Wanuri Kahiu’s RAFIKI (Kenya)
Thursday 10/11, 6pm, Saturday 10/13, 1:30pm, and Thursday 10/18, Noon
In 2007, Monica Arac de Nyeko became the first Ugandan to win the Caine Prize for African Writing for her lyrical short story “Jambula Tree.” Anti-gay sentiments were rising in Uganda and would culminate in the most severe anti-gay legislative proposals in the world. De Nyeko, based in Nairobi, Kenya, countered this hate with a heartbreakingly beautiful observation of lesbian love whose spirit has been sensitively adapted to the big screen by award-winning Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu, who also wrote the screenplay. RAFIKI (Swahili for “friend”) economically sets the scene in the Slopes neighborhood of Nairobi, where butch, soccer-playing teen Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), a feminine mass of rainbow braids, lock looks as a prelude to their grand passion. Their ambitions for their lives fill them with hope, but the realities of their world conspire to tear them apart and ensure they return to being “good Kenyan girls.” First-time actors Mugatsia and Munyiva make a very charismatic, attractive couple, and the bright colors and carefree nightlife in Slopes, where the couple does their courtship dance, heighten their experience of first love. An excellent supporting cast, especially Jimmy Gathu as Kena’s sympathetic, but conflicted father, rounds out this deeply humane film. (2018, 83 min) MF
Marcel Gisler’s MARIO (Sweden)
Thursday 10/11, 8pm and Saturday 10/13, Noon
Anchored by newcomer Max Hubacher’s quietly devastating performance, Marcel Gisler’s MARIO is a straightforward drama about two soccer players who come together on and off the field. Hubacher plays the title character, a young up-and-coming athlete, on the precipice of becoming a pro; he falls for Leon, his teammate, a striking striker from Hanover. Their romance and careers are threatened when another teammate discovers their secret. Despite its forthright narrative, the film’s emotional tenor strikes a chord—both Hubacher’s subtle display and the film’s serene editing hit all the right notes. Though certainly not the first film to portray the struggles of members of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s from a perspective not often depicted within the genre, that of the notably heteronormative sports world. What’s ironic is that Mario and Leon’s coaches, agents, and many of their teammates are not against their sexuality. Rather, it’s the fans and sponsors about whom the team leadership is most concerned, speaking to the lasting effect of public and corporate interest in private affairs, even in 2018. (2018, 124 min) KS
Roman Bondarchuk’s VOLCANO (Ukraine)
Thursday 10/11, 8:15pm, Friday 10/12, 8:45pm, and Monday 10/15, 3:45pm
Lukas (Serhiy Stepansky), a glassy-eyed translator for an intergovernmental organization, finds himself stranded in a strange Ukrainian outpost in VOLCANO, a not-altogether-convincing sideshow of regional eccentricities mapped onto a threadbare black-comedy plot. First-time feature director Roman Bondarchuk trades on his documentary experience, successfully evoking the arid landscape and anarchic frontier culture of the southern steppe. However, Lukas's unpredictable and often violent encounters with local crackpots, corrupt officials, and miscreant youths notwithstanding, VOLCANO never erupts into the grotesque frenzy of, say, WAKE IN FRIGHT. Instead, the film renders its episodes of backwater surrealism in a lingua franca of bemused arthouse cool. The more Bondarchuk embellishes the absurdity of the premise, the more he tempers it with impassive long shots, wry narrative ellipses, and the odd Roy Andersson-style sight gag—even a blinding allusion to ANDREI RUBLEV! All this suggests that, despite the film’s keen sense of place (and Lukas’s growing attachment to it), VOLCANO is ultimately produced for global export: a highlight reel of Eastern European social dysfunction packaged in the familiar wrapping of festival-ready world cinema. For a movie that tries very hard to be weird, I wish it were weirder. (2018, 103 min) MM
Jean Renoir’s THE RULES OF THE GAME (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm
Jean Renoir’s masterpiece remains the gold standard against which all ensemble dramas are measured. Renoir juggles a number of major characters and honors each one’s perspective, resulting in a group portrait in which every character is sympathetic while remaining poignantly fallible. Adding to the film’s polyphonic quality is the way Renoir moves so lissomely between tones. Even after multiple viewings, you may have trouble anticipating when Renoir will take a farcical or bittersweet approach to the material—his stance often evolves within scenes (or sometimes within shots). The liberty of the filmmaking anticipates the New Wave movements of the 1960s—not for nothing did Renoir dedicate his autobiography to the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, noting that their concerns were the same as his—though THE RULES OF THE GAME is also an extraordinary document of French high society on the eve of World War II. The romantic entanglements, the gossip, the general frivolity all have a despairing undertone, as one senses that the lifestyles portrayed herein are not meant to last. (The film’s tragic conclusion, however surprising, has an air of inevitability about it, which is precisely what makes it so devastating.) For almost two decades after its disastrous premiere, it seemed that RULES too wouldn’t last. The French government, claiming the film to be “bad for morale,” banned it a month after it came out; when the Nazis took over France, they banned the movie again. Over 20 minutes of footage were considered lost until 1956, when technicians restored Renoir’s original cut. By the start of the following decade, it rightly gained its reputation as one of the greatest films ever made. (1939, 110 min, 35mm) BS
Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai’s NEEDING YOU... (Hong Kong Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Tuesday, 7pm
NEEDING YOU... is notable for having launched a cycle of Johnnie To-directed romantic comedies starring Andy Lau and pop singer Sammi Cheng; some of their other collaborations include LOVE ON A DIET (2001), LOVE FOR ALL SEASONS (2003), and YESTERDAY ONCE MORE (2004). Comparable to the Rock Hudson-Doris Day comedies of the late 1950s, these films build on the stars’ chemistry to advance a lighthearted look at social mores and romantic rituals. And like the Hudson-Day features, they’re wildly popular in their home country—in fact, they’re more commercially successful than some of To’s action masterpieces. In NEEDING YOU... (codirected by To’s frequent collaborator Wai Ka-Fai), Lau and Cheng play coworkers at computer company who fail to recognize their growing fondness for one another. Will they act on their attraction before their exes win them back? Of course they will, but expect to encounter several twists along the way. I haven’t seen the film, but based on my experience of other Cheng and Lau vehicles, I anticipate that it’s full of good-natured humor and glorious mise-en-scene. Like Vincente Minnelli (the filmmaker whom he most resembles), To is virtually incapable of creating a shot that’s drab or inert. His love of cinema extends to all genres, the frothy rom-com not least of all. (2000, 101 min, 35mm) BS
Heather Lenz’s KUSAMA: INFINITY (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
At 89, Yayoi Kusama has had a life rivaling any artist’s in terms of creative output, cultural import, and sheer eventfulness. Although it took decades before she was properly recognized by the art world establishment, a reality sadly familiar to many a female artist, Kusama is now a veritable fixture of the contemporary museum scene, responsible for sold-out exhibitions around the world and work that sells for millions. Heather Lenz’s documentary serves as a succinct, perhaps to a fault, encapsulation of the maestro’s prolific career and the sundry psychological, economic, and social forces animating it. Tracing her formative years in pre- and post-war Matsumoto to her creative flowering and onset depression in New York and back again to Japan, the film depicts Kusama’s trajectory as a sort of circuitous journey toward popular approval, albeit one taken by an artist who displayed little interest in the status quo. Indeed, rejected by both her home nation and the patriarchal Western art world, Kusama paved her own polka-dot-limned path, creating large-scale works that often literally broke spatial barriers by inviting viewers inside their enveloping forms, and upsetting notions of high-art decorum by arranging naked "happenings" outside the Museum of Modern Art. Special attention is paid to the aforementioned polka dots, Kusama’s primary visual signature, and their emergence from dreams the artist had of being “obliterated” by flowers, dots, and orbs. This sense of overwhelming immersion to the point of absorption colors Kusama’s famed infinity rooms as well, mirror-paneled spaces that diffuse the spectator’s bodily autonomy in virtually infinite planes of fragmentation. Kusama, bewigged in a hot pink bob, anchors this biography with a placidity that belies a life full of personal hardship and feverish invention. (2018, 76 min, DCP Digital) JL
James Whale’s THE INVISIBLE MAN (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
James Whale's brilliant THE INVISIBLE MAN is as sexy and funny as it is nightmarish. Here, Whale continues his intricate exploration of the possibilities and implication of sync-sound horror by using the new technology to monstrously divide a man from his own voice. Deprived of visibility, mad scientist Jack Griffin (in an almost wholly vocal performance by Claude Rains) determines to rule the world through the combined dual-threat of his newfound expertise at murder and his total nudity. Shedding his (visible) clothes, the naked Griffin stalks, shivering, through the snowy countryside, throttling and sabotaging his way through high-class British society, and it is often difficult to tell whether his violence or the easy palpability of his penis is more alarming to his potential victims, one of whom is the great Gloria Stuart. (1933, 71 min, 35mm) KB
Sofia Coppola’s THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 7pm
Throughout her distinguished directorial career, Sofia Coppola has used her position as a Hollywood insider to examine the life of privilege and pleasure into which she was born and reveal the silly ordinariness that the envious masses rarely see. She particularly takes aim at the menchildren who don’t seem to know how to handle their good fortune or the women in their lives with any great degree of self-awareness or grace. The men in her films LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) and SOMEWHERE (2010) wear their fame and fortune variously with giddy wonderment, entitled hedonism, and wistful longing for youth—anything but maturity. But the first men on whom she trained her sights are the unreliable narrators of her directorial debut, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, which she adapted from the florid novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. In voiceover, the men recount the fateful year in high school when the five Lisbon sisters, renowned beauties in their Michigan suburb, became the stuff of legend when the youngest, 13-year-old Cecilia (Hannah Hall), killed herself. The boys become entangled with the sisters and their religious, clueless parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner) as witnesses to Cecilia’s demise, and then as companions the girls’ parents reluctantly allow to take them to the homecoming dance. The predictably disastrous results—cause for a two-week grounding in any normal family—becomes life in prison for the girls. The only way out, it would appear, is suicide. Coppola tells the story with a great deal of sympathy for the boys who remain marked for life by their encounters with the Lisbons, while nonetheless revealing their ongoing delusions with wit and insight. Edward Lachman’s lensing lends a light distancing to this mid-1970s period piece redolent of nostalgic music and corny sexual suggestiveness. Kirsten Dunst, Coppola’s muse through several films (MARIE ANTOINETTE , a cameo as herself in THE BLING RING , THE BEGUILED ) is first fetishized here as the most beautiful and provocative of the sisters, 14-year-old Lux. Coppola’s slo-mo, soft-focus shots of the enticing Lux offer the image that dances through the memories of the boys, especially the one boy, Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett/Michael Paré), who loved and abandoned her. I suspect that the unfortunate seducer in Coppola’s THE BEGUILED, once again disappointing Dunst, is Trip finally getting his comeuppance. (1999, 97 min, 35mm) MF
Dorothy Davenport’s LINDA (Silent American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 3pm
LINDA is directed by one of Lois Weber’s protégés, Dorothy Davenport, who also started her career as an actress and was similarly concerned with hazily egalitarian ideals. Another parallel between the two is the way they were credited: Weber’s husband, Phillips Smalley, was often listed as a co-director, even though such claims are debatable, and Davenport billed herself as “Mrs. Wallace Reid,” either to exploit the controversial circumstances surrounding her husband’s death or to redeem him via her enduring devotion, depending on the source (if the former, you almost have to admire the shrewdness). What LINDA lacks in observable technical aptitude, it makes up for in its lack of moralizing; Weber’s distinct brand of antithetical pontification was often suffocating, where LINDA is more complex and latitudinarian, and thus more capacious. The eponymous Linda (Helen Foster), a young country girl who yearns for an education, is forced by her father to marry an older man (Noah Beery, brother of Wallace) even though she’s in love with a young doctor. Despite this, she and her husband have an amiable relationship up until she discovers that he already has a wife and child—and that she’s pregnant. It takes a few unexpected turns before a predictable, albeit satisfying, ending, the overall result being a solid melodrama from an early film pioneer. Live accompaniment by Dave Drazin. (1929, 75 min, DCP Digital) KS
Michael Curtiz’s YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) — Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
“My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.” So ended each performance of the popular vaudeville act The Four Cohans, who entertained audiences across the United States with their singing, dancing, and clowning around in the late 1800s. So, too, do those words remain with me to this day as perhaps the most memorable line of the traditional 4th of July movie, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. James Cagney won his only Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of showbiz phenomenon George M. Cohan (1878–1942). Here was the intensity he brought to his gangsters—Tom Powers, Cody Garrett, Martin Snyder—in service of a tour de force performance of pure joy. His singing (not so hot, but expressive), his dancing (eccentric and strange to modern eyes, but masterfully entertaining and done in Cohan’s style), and, of course, his acting, which could turn from bravado to playful to soulful in just the right measure, all come together like a force of nature to tell perhaps the ultimate showbiz story. Michael Curtiz applied his considerable ensemble directing skills to a story that spans from Cohan’s birth, through his days with The Four Cohans and Broadway theatrical career, and on to wartime contributions and his late career. Along the way, we get heavy doses of cocksure Cohan charm, grand production numbers, and large slices of fictional hokum about George M.’s theatrical partnership with Sam Harris and his marriage to Agnes Mary Nolan (Joan Leslie), as well as his deserved reputation as a super-patriot. The dramatic moments in the film are generally fine, though Leslie and Cagney generate all the fire of a wet match. Some moments, however, are quite poignant. For example, sister Josie Cohan (Jeanne Cagney, James’ sister) and George talk at the family farm, and Josie tells him she is getting married and retiring. This scene actually took place between Jeanne and James, who were a vaudeville team, and thus, there is a personal note that I find moving. The flag waving goes into overdrive for the musical number that ends the film, “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” from George Washington, Jr., giving Curtiz a chance to thank his adopted land for granting him safe harbor with all the skill at his disposal. I’m sure that in an America embroiled in war, this film helped ease the pain of parted loved ones, wartime rationing, and social uncertainty. James Cagney holds nothing back in portraying an American patriot who wasn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. Give it a try. You just might feel a little bit better about America afterward. (1942, 126 min, DCP Digital) MF
Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP (New Documentary)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Above and beyond a prescience toward current events that makes his first documentary one of the year’s most crucial, Bing Liu also has the distinction of being what one might call a natural filmmaker. The consummate visual aesthetic of MINDING THE GAP often seems wane in light of the film's sociopolitical urgency, but it's a perfect example of how these components can work in concert. Produced by Kartemquin Films and shot over several years, the film follows a group of boys (now men) from Rockford, Illinois, through various obstacles in their respective lives. Though heralded as a skateboarding doc, the enduring burnout sport is really a narrative device by which the story glides, grinds, and even crashes. Liu himself is one of the young men in question, along with Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson—contrary to what the film would have you believe, only Mulligan and Johnson are childhood friends, with Liu an acquaintance who met both at different points in late adolescence and early adulthood. The men have more than skateboarding and their hometown in common: All three are intimately familiar with domestic violence, a theme that not only coheres the subjects, but the film itself. It’s perhaps as apt an exploration into toxic masculinity as I’ve seen of late, with firsthand insight into the hows and whys of the epidemic. The most difficult element of the film is Zach’s alleged abuse of his on-and-off again girlfriend, Nina, who’s also the mother of his child; Liu interviews both about the abuse and even plays a recording of Nina’s alleged retaliation. It’s comparable to a similar, but more graphic, sequence in Wang Bing’s BITTER MONEY (another one of the best documentaries to play in Chicago this year), the audience watching as these incidents unfold in real life rather than behind closed doors. As in the work of fellow documentary filmmakers Wang and Frederick Wiseman, Liu’s diplomatic observation of problematic circumstances seems necessary to one’s overall understanding of them—he presents domestic violence not as an incurable illness, but rather a treatable symptom, part of a larger societal framework in which almost everyone is a victim. His images, near masterful, do as much to convey this as the words forthrightly spoken by his subjects. Medium and regular close-ups delve into the subjects’ souls, and heedful compositions express more than words; consider the pivotal scenes where Liu interviews his mother, herself a victim of domestic violence, about his abuse at the hands of his stepfather. He isn’t filming these scenes, but Liu's exceptional direction, likely borne of his early career as a camera operator and cinematographer (he's credited as such on this film, as well as on Kartemquin's ALL THE QUEEN'S HORSES and AMERICA TO ME), is evident in the set-up, the camera equipment a noticeable divide between him and his mother, revealing both connection and artifice. Maybe less emotionally affecting, but still superlative, is the delightfully frenetic skateboarding footage and snowy shots of Rockford à la Pieter Bruegel the Elder's “Hunters in the Snow," all of which compounds one’s reception of Liu as a veritable aesthete. He's certainly one to watch—hopefully we’ll do so as thoughtfully as he does us. Bing Liu in person. (2018, 93 min, DCP Digital) KS
Phil Cox’s BETTY: THEY SAY I’M DIFFERENT (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 8:15pm
Betty Davis burned bright in the 60s and 70s, writing and performing raunchy funk songs, inspiring her then-husband Miles Davis to expand his musical vision, and paving the way for iconoclastic innovators like Prince and Janelle Monae to forge their own creative paths. Filmmaker Phil Cox has performed a valuable service by convincing the reclusive Davis to commit her voice—though not her face—to film. Davis and those close to her talk elliptically about the emotional and mental troubles that caused her to disappear from public view for the past 35 years. The contrast between her Nasty Gal stage persona and a sensitive, inward soul is a duality that many artists must reconcile, but, as this documentary shows, sometimes the only way forward is to walk away. Davis talks of a crow being her spirit animal since she was a little girl. But that bird abandoned her after the dissolution of her abusive marriage and the death of her beloved father. Cox unfortunately chooses to accompany Davis’ metaphorical self-mythologizing with cheesy graphics of an actual crow, cut-and-pasted flying through a limitless sky. There are also wilting flowers and other cloyingly obvious visual symbols used throughout which cheapen the work of a complex creative mind like Davis’. Thankfully, much of her music has been reissued in recent years so that a new generation of music lovers can introduced to this vital and underappreciated artist. Cox’s film will help spread the word as well. (2017, 56 min, DCP Digital) DS
Barry Jenkins' MOONLIGHT (Contemporary American)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Tuesday, 9:15pm
The leitmotif of Barry Jenkins' lyrical, sensual drama MOONLIGHT is black masculinity as an imitated pose. Three chapters trace the identity formation of a shy, gay male at ages 9, 16, and 26. Growing up bullied amidst Miami's deadly drug economy, the boy endures abuse and neglect from his addicted mother. Male tenderness is a casualty of the burden of the front, though a few men drop the hard mask to allow for vulnerability and love—a neighborhood drug dealer with heart, a childhood friend whose cool, exaggeratedly sexist pose is just that. This is the story of a self being buried beneath layers of hurt. It could have been schematic, were the acting and writing not so natural and alive. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the movie's color palette is as evocative of the beauty of bodies and nature as that title. (2016, 110 min, DCP Digital) SP
Andrei Tarkovsky's STALKER (Soviet Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) — Tuesday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Loosely based on the Soviet novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Tarkovsky's STALKER creates a decrepit industrial world where a mysterious Zone is sealed off by the government. The Zone, rumored to be of alien origin, is navigable by guides known as Stalkers. The Stalker of the title leads a writer and a scientist through the surrounding detritus into the oneiric Zone—an allegorical stand-in for nothing less than life itself—on a spiritual quest for a room that grants one's deepest subconscious wish. Tarkovsky composes his scenes to obscure the surroundings and tightly controls the audience's view through long, choreographed takes. Shots run long and are cut seamlessly. Coupled with non-localized sounds and a methodical synth score, sequences in the film beckon the audience into its illusion of continuous action while heightening the sense of time passing. The use of nondiegetic sounds subtly reminds us that this may be a subjective world established for the Stalker's mystical purpose. Where sci-fi films tend to overstate humanity's limitless imagination of the universe, Tarkovsky reappropriates the genre's trappings to suggest the cosmos' deepest truths are in one's own mind. STALKER posits—perhaps frighteningly—that, in this exploration of the self, there is something that knows more about us than we know ourselves. The writer and scientist, both at their spiritual and intellectual nadir, hope the room will renew their métier; the Stalker's purpose, as stated by Tarkovsky, is to "impose on them the idea of hope." But STALKER is a rich and continually inspiring work not for this (or any other) fixed meaning but rather for its resistance to any one single interpretation. (1979, 163 min, Unconfirmed Format) BW
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Bazin@100, a conference marking the centennial of French film critic and theorist André Bazin, takes place at the University of Chicago (Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.) beginning on Thursday and continuing till Saturday, October 13. The full schedule is at http://bazinat100.wordpress.com, and includes panels, a roundtable, and screenings of Jean Grémillon’s 1953 French film L’AMOUR D’UNE FEMME (104 min; Thursday at 7pm) and Pierre Hébert’s 2017 Canadian film BAZIN ROMAN (70 min; Friday at 7pm), based on an unrealized screenplay by Bazin. Free admission.
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) screens Jonathan Kaplan’s 1974 film TRUCK TURNER (91 min, 35mm) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Preceded by a reel of AIP trailers.
The Conversations at the Edge series (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) presents Stephen Varble: Journey to the Sun on Thursday at 6pm. SAIC professor David Getsy will screen and discuss excerpts from the late queer artist Varble’s sprawling, unfinished video JOURNEY TO THE SUN (1978-84, Digital Projection), of which approximately four hours survive.
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: the second of two programs of work by the late Argentinean filmmaker Raymundo Gleyzer on Friday at 7pm. Screening are his sole narrative film, THE TRAITORS (1973, 113 min) and the short documentary ME MATAN SI NO TRABAJO Y SI TRABAJO ME MATAN: LE HUELGA OBRERA EN LA FÁBRICA INSUD (1974, 21 min). With Juana Sapire, Gleyzer’s collaborator and biographer, in person. Digital Projection. Free admission.
The Block Museum (Northwestern University) hosts a talk in conjunction with their current exhibition Up Is Down: Mid-century Experiments in Advertising and Film at the Goldsholl Studio on Saturday at 2pm. Author Thomas Dyja and exhibition co-curators Amy Beste and Corinne Granof will discuss the cultural landscape of mid-century Chicago that saw the development of both artistic and industrial filmmaking. Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens Jon Silver's 2018 mockumentary THE CIVIL HOAX: CIVIL WAR DENIERS (52 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 7:30pm, with Silver in person; and hosts Gathering: Remembering Robert Todd (1999-2017, 106 min total, 16mm and Digital Projection) on Sunday at 7pm. This screening, co-presented by Chicago Filmmakers, the Chicago Underground Film Festival, and the Nightingale, features a selection of nine short 16mm films and one digital video by the Boston-based experimental filmmaker Robert Todd, who passed away in August. Free admission for the Todd screening.
The (In)Justice for All Film Festival began on Thursday and continues through October 13 at various locations. More information and full schedule at www.injusticeforallff.com.
The conference All About Bette: The Cultural Legacies of Bette Davis takes place Friday (beginning at Noon) and Saturday at Northwestern University. The conference is free, but registration is required. Full details are at https://bettedavisconference.com.
Jill Godmilow’s 1984 documentary FAR FROM POLAND (106 min, DVD Projection) screens at the Harold Washington Library (400 S. State St.) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema screens Yuichiro Sakashita’s 2016 Japanese film ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS [aka THE TOKYO WIND ORCHESTRA] (75 min, Blu-Ray Projection) on Saturday at 1pm at the Illinois Institute of Technology (MTCC Auditorium, 3201 S. State St.). Free admission but RSVP required; register at www.asianpopupcinema.org.
Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria St., UIC) presents Voices: Dani and Sheilah ReStack on Tuesday at 6pm. The event features the ReStack’s 2017 video STRANGELY ORDINARY THIS DEVOTION (27 min) and the performance work Shameless Light. Artists in person. Free admission.
Black Cinema House (at Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Sarah Maldoror’s 1972 South African film SAMBIZANGA (102 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 7:30pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Cristina Constantini and Darren Foster’s 2018 documentary SCIENCE FAIR (90 min, DCP Digital) begins a two-week run; Bo Burnham’s 2018 film EIGHTH GRADE (93 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Sanghoon Lee’s 2018 film BANANA SEASON (104 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm, with Lee in person; Thomas A. Morgan’s 2017 US/Lebanese documentary SOUFRA (73 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 8pm, with Morgan in person; Sanjay Rawal's 2018 documentary 3100, RUN AND BECOME (79 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 1pm; Walter Lang and (uncredited) Dorothy Davenport’s 1925 silent film THE RED KIMONA (78 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 4:45pm; and Gottfried Kolditz’s 1973 East German western APACHES (94 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 6pm, with a lecture by SAIC professor Jon Cates.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Miloš Forman’s 1964 Czech film AUDITION (82 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 1:30pm; Wes Anderson's 2017 animated film ISLE OF DOGS (101 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Mario Peixoto's 1931 Brazilian film LIMITE (114 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm [Note: due to a shipping error, the originally scheduled film, Glauber Rocha’s BARRAVENTO, will screen on next week and next week’s film, LIMITE, has been moved up to this week]; and Chantal Akerman’s 1974 French/Belgian film JE TU IL ELLE (90 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Kenny Ortega’s 1993 film HOCUS POCUS (96 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 1:30pm, in a “Hex-A-Long” version; Don Coscarelli’s 2002 film BUBBA-HO-TEP (92 min, 35mm) is on Monday at 7:15pm, featuring a conversation with Coscarelli; The Very Best of Hump!, a program of highlights from the 2008-17 amateur porn festival created by Dan Savage, is on Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm; Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren’s 2018 Finnish film HEAVY TRIP (92 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Thomas Casey’s 1971 film SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS (95 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Block Museum (Northwestern University) presents Up Is Down: Mid-century Experiments in Advertising and Film at the Goldsholl Studio though December 9.
Elastic Arts (3429 W. Diversey Ave., 2nd Floor) presents Intellectual Property: A solo exhibition of work by Julia Dratel though November 17 (open most evenings during public events, or by appointment through the artist—contact via her website: http://juliadratel.com/intellectualproperty. The exhibition includes photographs (digital and film), poetry, and two single-channel video/sound works: rehearsal 1.29 (2017-18, 2 min loop) and battery park city (excerpts: "a loyalty to the objects you know") (2009/2018, 6 min loop).
The Graham Foundation (Madlener House, 4 W. Burton Place) continues Martine Syms: Incense Sweaters & Ice through January 12.
The Renaissance Society (University of Chicago) presents Shadi Habib Allah: Put to Rights through November 4. In addition to video installation works, the show includes photographic and sculptural works.
Stan VanDerBeek is on view at Document Gallery (1709 W. Chicago Ave.) through October 27. The show features a 16mm installation of VanDerBeek’s 1967-68 film POEMFIELD NO. 7, a digital projection of his 1972 film SYMMETRICKS, and a selection of works on paper.
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes); Rosalind Nashashibi's VIVIAN’S GARDEN (2017, 30 min, 16mm on HD Video) is in the Donna and Howard Stone Gallery, through December 2; Dara Birnbaum’s KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (1979, 6 min loop, two-channel video) is in the second floor corridor.
CINE-LIST: October 5 - October 11, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kian Bergstrom, John Dickson, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jonathan Leithod-Patt, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Dmitry Samarov, James Stroble, Brian Welesko, Candace Wirt