Tod Browning’s DRIFTING (Silent American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at the Music Box Theater) – Saturday, 11:30am
Courtesy of the National Film Preservation Foundation, a brand-new 35mm print of Tod Browning’s 1923 opium-melodrama DRIFTING is now in our midst for the first time ever. Eight years before Browning would make his classic DRACULA, he directed this silent tale about a woman doing what she can to get out of the dope game in Shanghai. Adapted from a story by the same author who inspired Josef von Sternberg’s THE SHANGHAI GESTURE, the film feels entirely seedy and appropriately titled, giving its floating ambiance wrapped around shots of opium pipes falling out of hands, as their users drifts silently in their bed, enclosed in a drugged-out mid-afternoon daze. Priscilla Dean, a Browning regular, plays a dual role as the dope smuggler, which prefigures the many crime-centric dual roles another Browning regular, Lon Chaney, would come to embody (and already had, in OUTSIDE THE LAW a few years earlier, also with Priscilla Dean). Dean’s poppy-peddling Cassie Cook, after finding herself in debt due to her business partner and local gangster Jules Repin (Wallace Beery) does what she can to stay afloat in the local drug game and also within her own moral fabric. Using her own wits and street-smarts, she embodies another character named Lucille Preston, in order to investigate her own shipments of drugs, as well as a local man who may also be a government agent hired to cripple her trade. One of Browning’s most beautiful silent features, its stunning imagery sets a contrasting background against the desperate attempts of its characters struggling to rid their tainted souls of certain improprieties, while shifting identities conceal and reveal the inner-workings of their morally-torn makeup. For a studio-bound film from this era, the atmosphere is surprisingly non-stifling or claustrophobic, with its Californian hills standing in for the pastoral hillsides and mountains of China. The legendary Anna May Wong appears in the role of a poppy-field owner’s daughter who falls for the undercover government agent; this was her second appearance in a Browning film, the first being an uncredited role in OUTSIDE THE LAW. Also uncredited is a young Leo McCarey in the role of assistant director, who would go on to direct his own amazing feature films almost 10 years later, while only being a few years away from purportedly discovering and creating the onscreen personas of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Browning had hired him several years before and taught the up and coming auteur everything he knew. This would be the last film Browning made for Universal for several years, until his sound-remake of OUTSIDE THE LAW with Edward G. Robinson brought him back to the studio, where he would make the immortal Bela Lugosi-horror classic just a year later. Never a man to not invoke a heavy atmosphere, Browning delivers this feature with high directorial flair and imagination. With live accompaniment by Dennis Scott. Preceded by the 1930 CineArts Production short THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA (7 min, 16mm). (1923, 82 min, Preserved 35mm Archival Print) JD
Vincente Minnelli's TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at the Music Box Theatre) – Monday, 7pm
Wherever there is a list of most beloved films, there will be one or two Vincente Minnelli MGM musicals from the '40s or '50s, especially MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and THE BAND WAGON. Yet Minnelli could also make Metrocolor melodramas like TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN, a scabrous, affected, rollicking CinemaScope classic. A movie about movies, it is a companion piece to Minnelli's 1952 Hollywood psychodrama THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. It can't help but be personal, as the actors role-play the fears and lusts, the petty grudges and grand passions, of moviemaking. Rome is the titular “town,” and the film takes us backstage at Cinecitta, "Hollywood on the Tiber." Indeed, with its atmospheric ennui, TWO WEEKS is occasionally not so far removed from what contemporaneous European directors were up to circa ’62, with decadent, rich party people passing out while Leslie Uggams sings "Don't Blame Me" (a tune Peggy King sung in THE BAD, incidentally). Minnelli drew sensitive, meaty performances from two of the great actors of the Hollywood era, Kirk Douglas and Edward G. Robinson. Douglas, 101 years old as of this writing, was around 46 when he played washed-up, lonely, lovesick movie star Jack Andrus, an Oscar winner who’s so wrecked, literally, that when we meet him he's strolling the grounds of a sanitarium. He'd crashed his car into a wall—whether because he was drunk or suicidal, he's not sure. A 69-year-old Robinson plays Kruger, a formerly great auteur and Andrus's onetime director. He's a dishonest, unfaithful, manipulative man, yet his art has all the integrity his life never did. A hardboiled film critic on the scene (James Gregory) calls Kruger "the prototype of the obsolete Hollywood talent now flourishing in Rome." He woos Andrus to Rome with the promise of work, even though the job turns out to be merely supervising the dubbing (which, at Cinecitta, "makes or breaks you.”) They hate/love each other, yet together they “made some great ones.” In one memorable scene, the cast and crew loll about watching Douglas/Andrus in THE BAD, "a movie that was made because we couldn't sleep until we'd made it," Kruger nearly spits at their "beancounter" producer. Robinson somehow makes us pity this deeply flawed man, and Claire Trevor plays his abrasive, shrewish wife with gusto. They seem bound by mutual hate—until a scene showing how much they need each other. Cyd Charisse does not dance, but she has great fun as Carlotta, Andrus's licentious, libidinous ex, draped in furs and green chiffon. And who can forget Rosanna Schiaffino as the diva Barzellli, stripping to her underwear preparatory to diving into the sea? A young George Hamilton plays unstable tyro Davie Drew, “dead in Hollywood at the age of 22,” because he ran away in the middle of shooting his last two pictures. There are lots of unsubtle insinuations of Davie's homosexuality—until he was able to fall in love with the beautiful and kind Veronica (Daliah Lavi). Problem is, Veronica and Andrus have embarked on a tentative, sweet friendship/romance, strolling over the Spanish Steps and Capitoline Hill and drinking lots of Vino Nobile. When Kruger suffers a heart attack, Andrus takes over the director's chair, vowing to finish the picture "the Kruger way.” Adapting a novel by Irwin Shaw, David Schnee contributed a cutting, witty script, overwrought and theatrical in a very entertaining way, and the movie crescendos to a truly maniacal climax. While watching TWO WEEKS, it’s fun to consider that Minnelli got his start designing display windows for Marshall Field, in Chicago. Yet while he loved color, costume, and decor—he worked as a costume designer and art director in the theater for years, before moving to Hollywood in 1940—James Monaco writes that "he never allowed those elements to freeze into static compositions. A master of changing patterns and complex movements, he filled his pictures with swooping crane shots, swirling patterns of fabric and light, with a skillful orchestration of background detail.” Don’t miss this rare chance to see one of Minnelli’s CinemaScope features presented properly in its original format. Preceded by a production featurette for Otto Preminger’s 1963 film THE CARDINAL (8 min, 35mm). (1962, 107 min, 35mm) SP
BARBARA HAMMER X 2
Barbara Hammer: Vital Signs (Experimental Revival)
The Nightingale (1984 N. Milwaukee Ave.) - Friday, 7pm
This is the first screening in a two-night celebration of experimental film veteran Barbara Hammer. Hammer's work was groundbreaking for it's explicit female-driven lesbian content, while very much of its time stylistically in the focus on materiality and process. STILL POINT (1989) is a knotted and angular exploration of life and how to live it, with the screen halving and quartering to fit as much beauty as possible into its brief runtime. It is a supremely confident mid-career film that might get lost in a retrospective, but is certainly one of the strongest in this program. ENDANGERED (1988) is tour-de-force of optical printing techniques that tells the self-referential story of its own making. The next three films are mediations on cinema and death, which became a major theme in Hammer's work for over a decade. OPTIC NERVE (1985) is an intense reworking of personal imagery focusing on aging and family, VITAL SIGNS (1991) takes a more colorful and poetic route to explore death, and SANCTUS (1990) is an established classic using X-Ray footage to directly couple the cinematic apparatus and death. Also screening are PSYCHOSYNTHESIS (1975) and SISTERS! (1974). (1973-1991, 84 min total, 16mm) JBM
Barbara Hammer’s WELCOME TO THIS HOUSE (Contemporary Documentary)
About midway through her now 50-year career, Barbara Hammer’s work shifted from the shorter, personal experimental films and videos she had been making since 1968 to longer-form documentaries that explored many of the same themes (biography, identity, lesbian sexuality and history, landscape, and more) that circulated in her earlier work. But her focus was often more outward, looking at the lives and work of well known and obscure lesbian and gay artists and writers, unmasking real and playfully imagined traces of gay culture in historical and popular archival material, exploring the work and politics of a Japanese documentary collective, looking at the historical moment in 1994 for South African gays and lesbians, as well as continuing with occasional short works and personal ones (including a film autobiography). In WELCOME TO THIS HOUSE, Hammer explores the life and relationships of poet Elizabeth Bishop. Hammer combines traditional talking head interviews with experts and friends and colleagues of Bishop’s, voiceover readings of her poetry, archival photos, and newly shot material of the places she lived, sometimes populated with stand-ins for Bishop as a young girl and as an older woman (Hammer plays this role). At times the imagery is layered, elliptical, unsettled, providing an impressionistic atmosphere of time and place. It’s most effective early on, recounting Bishop’s childhood, when it relies more fully on these impressionistic tactics, when it pushes more towards the avant-garde. It becomes somewhat more conventional as it continues, with the content rather than the form standing out. Still, it’s a fine introduction to those who know little of Bishop’s life and work. Hammer will discuss the film (via Skype) with U of C professor Jennifer Wild. (2015, 79 min, DCP Digital) PF
Ephraim Asili: Diaspora Suite (New Experimental)
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center – Thursday, 7pm
To describe Ephraim Asili's work as timeless is both an acclamation and an indictment. His aesthetic is rooted in the very stuff of film—not cinema, but film—while the themes that haunt his images are amaranthine, happily so in their ethnology but afflictive in their implications. The five films in this program examine various dichotomies of the black experience; the works are connected via a shared milieu, one that transcends borders and even time. The New York-based filmmaker and DJ began the series in 2011 with FORGED WAYS (16 min, digital file), culminating in 2017 with FLUID FRONTIERS (23 min, digital file)—these titles are cannily representative of the trajectory within and between them, the first a gradual move forward and the last a tacit recognition of the very tergiversation that characterizes both the work and that represented in it. Most of films oscillate between several locations: in FORGED WAYS, Harlem and Ethiopia; in AMERICAN HUNGER (2013, 19 min, digital file), Philadelphia, the Jersey Shore and Ghana; in MANY THOUSANDS GONE (2015, 8 min, digital file), Harlem, again, and Salvador, Brazil; in KINDAH (2016, 12 min, digital file), Hudson, NY and Accompong, Jamaica. FLUID FRONTIERS is the aberration, filmed exclusively along the Detroit River, but it grounds the series in a way that befits its finality. Some of the films (FORGED WAYS and MANY THOUSANDS GONE) revel in the culture of those respective cities, while the other three are more overtly political, with AMERICAN HUNGER and KINDAH integrating relics of slavery into otherwise exultant celebrations of day-to-day life. FLUID FRONTIERS merges these modes, featuring residents of the Detroit-Windsor region reading aloud poems from original copies of Broadside Press publications with titles like Think Black and Home Coming. The content and the recitations are cultural and political, solidifying the intent of the films to represent both using oblique methods of experimental cinema. All were shot in 16mm—the cinematography is gorgeous, evocative in its seemingly purified aesthetic. It also makes it difficult to discern when the films were shot; rationally, one knows they were filmed in recent years, but the grainy chroma strips away any obvious indicators of time. Their corporeal beauty is indeed timeless, but so, too, are the unfavorable themes—slavery, colonialism, and racism—that stare back at us through ethereal images on an apolitical screen. Asili’s methods entice and indict, utilizing the medium to reflect towards, backwards and at us, using the screen not as a shield but as a tool with which to chip away at the layers of an entire diaspora. KS
Wang Bing’s CRUDE OIL (Documentary Revival)
UChicago Arts at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry (929 E. 60th St.) – Friday, 5pm - Midnight (Part I) & Saturday, 9am - 4pm (Part II) (Free Admission)
The films of Chinese documentarian Wang Bing tend to get written about more often than they get screened, in large part because they’re so uncommonly long. But by the indication of ‘TIL MADNESS DO US PART (2013), which played in Chicago a couple years ago, they’re also uncommonly intrepid and immersive, taking viewers to places they wouldn’t likely travel and giving them a vivid impression of what it’s like to live there. CRUDE OIL, which runs 14 hours, follows a group of oil field workers in the Gobi Desert. Wang originally intended to make the film 70 hours long, with one ten-hour segment for each day of the week, but he decided against this after altitude sickness forced him to leave the production after three days of shooting. “Wang, working in something akin to real-time, alternates between spells of work (uptime) and leisure (downtime), though ‘leisure’ sounds much too pleasant for the hours of sitting around which evidently form the men’s rest periods,” wrote British critic Neil Young in 2014. “The latter affords Wang’s cameras endless opportunities for eavesdropping: litanies bewailing pay and conditions are the norm, with the division between permanent and temporary staff a particular source of discontent... But Wang is evidently less interested in agit-prop or investigative journalism than he is in exploring and recording the basic sensory realities of these men and their environments. […] In these sequences, protractedness becomes a joy rather than a pain: we have the rare privilege of joining expert workers on a platform high above a lunar desert, going about the messy business of getting oil out of the ground–this valuable substance a key engine of the still-booming Chinese economy.” Followed by a panel discussion on Saturday at 4:15pm. (2008, 840 min, DVD Projection) BS
Robert Aldrich's EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 7pm
"Hey Shack, you have as much chance as a one-legged man in an ass-kickin' contest!" This throwaway line—a taunt directed by a faceless hobo at Ernest Borgnine's bug-eyed railroad man—sums up everything distinctive about EMPEROR OF THE NORTH, a grubby, borderline illiterate that does and says exactly as it pleases. In different hands, EMPEROR OF THE NORTH could mine its Depression-era setting for political relevance or push the sentimental angle of the mentorship between Lee Marvin's grizzled train hopper and Keith Carradine's green wannabe. Instead we get a film that would surely arouse good-natured cheers at the shantytown picnic, an amalgam of reed-thin character motivations, relentless forward momentum, and bare-knuckled bloodshed. (Call it the bum's rush.) Not for nothing do its character boast names like A-No. 1, Cigaret, and Heehaw. In conventional dramatic terms, their aims are trivial: ride the train that never been rode, stay one step 'head of Johnny Law, claim the ever-elusive title Emperor of the North Pole. (The "pole" part was dropped from the marketing when Fox realized it was inadvertently selling an Eskimo adventure.) This isn't the kind of film that gets much ahead of its audience; in fact, it can be perfectly understood within a minute by any grindhouse patron rudely roused from his nap. Does that make its conflicts archetypal or just plain dumb? Who can say, but the Oregon scenery sure is pretty. (One especially inartful attempt to boil down the appeal of EMPEROR OF THE NORTH: the treacly Hal David-penned theme song, "A Man and a Train" that opens the picture. The spear tip of an anachronistic, all-over-the-place score by Frank De Vol, it's this song where Marty Robbins instructs us that "a man is not a train ... and a train is not a man / A man can do things ... a train never can.") This isn't just a movie that transcends critical justification; it looks askance at any high-falutin' claim for its own importance, derides it as empty book learnin'. It all comes down to a man with a chain whaling away at a man with a log and that's all you need to know. (120 min, 1973, 35mm) KAW
Liu Jian's HAVE A NICE DAY (New Chinese Animation)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
A labor of love over three years in the making, the hand-drawn HAVE A NICE DAY by independent Chinese animator Liu Jian debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017 like a bracing shot in the arm. Critics praised the feature—the second installment in Liu’s planned trilogy about contemporary China, after PIERCING I (2010)—as “both a visceral thriller and astute political statement about China’s place in the modern world” (Screen Daily) and called it “the most politically trenchant and artistically fresh thing” (The Guardian) at the festival. While many have accurately discerned the incisive political dimensions of the work (including its remarkable bypassing of Chinese censorship restrictions), what’s not quite conveyed in any English-language review I’ve come across yet is just what a fantastically good time HAVE A NICE DAY is, too—how vibrant, riotous, unexpectedly humanist, and evisceratingly clever it is, reveling as it does, over the course of its breezy 77 minutes, in the pleasures of deadpan wit. Stylish, sly, and politically risky, the film strikes a chord through its combination of political subversion with genre thrills. Like the best satires, it lands as something heavy and something light all at once. One of the first figures we meet in this world is a smug gangster who pats himself on the back for correctly recognizing the Fauvist influences in a painting as he tortures a rival. In the film’s centerpiece sequence, a tense elevator ride is broken up by a spectacular karaoke fantasia, brilliantly parodying propaganda posters from the Cultural Revolution. The story’s lurid set-up echoes the influences of Hong Kong triad flicks: a low-ranking mob driver named Little Zhang foolishly steals a bag filled with $1 million RMB from his boss, with the goal of fixing his girlfriend’s tragically botched plastic surgery job. A motley crew of hitmen, bumbling local opportunists, and self-aggrandizing, would-be start-up founders (the success stories of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are nauseatingly repeated as aspirational narratives) is soon on the trail after the dough. But Liu departs from standard genre fare from there, and effectively paints a portrait of the mundane day-to-day grind, social conservatism, and greedy ambitions that animate the residents of the overlooked, underdeveloped areas of modern China. Liu’s visual style and character designs seem to fall somewhere squarely between early Mike Judge and Satoshi Kon (the depressed urban landscapes of TOKYO GODFATHERS seem like an especially useful reference point). HAVE A NICE DAY impressively and wisely matches Liu’s style of heavily-limited animation to the film’s narrative flow (whereas classic anime traditionally shoots on the 8’s, Liu frequently lingers on the same drawing over several seconds at a time; as a one-man animation team, this must be mostly due to need rather than artistic choice, but it is a style nevertheless effectively employed here) to convey the sense of tedium and banality in his portrait of rural China. These style limitations are amusingly used to illustrate the awkwardness of a tense elevator ride, to elongate the seconds two lovers spend waiting to receive a response over chat messaging apps, or to show how a hitman kills time waiting for his target to turn up by—what else?—idly playing Fruit Ninja. And is there any more perfect location for crystallizing the economic stressors and disparities in modern China than the setting of an internet café as an oasis—any more salient representation of China’s longing for the modern world it doesn’t quite have access to? The original Chinese title of the film (which it played under during its run at the Chicago International Film Festival), 好极了(hǎojíle), is a common Chinese expression of exaggerated over-exuberance (like “awesome!” or “fantastic!”); the film is now circulating in Chinese under the title 大世界 (dàshìjiè), which can be translated as “big world.” Along with “have a nice day,” these alternate titles in combination with one another convey the ironic playfulness in Liu Jian’s bright, animated portrait of a paralyzed modern wasteland. (2017, 77 min, DCP Digital) TTJ
Seijun Suzuki’s THE FLOWERS AND THE ANGRY WAVES (Japanese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Tuesday, 7pm
“THE FLOWERS AND THE ANGRY WAVES marks a turning point in [Seijun Suzuki’s] twelve-year stint at Nikkatsu,” David Melville wrote for Senses of Cinema. Indeed—Suzuki made THE FLOWERS AND THE ANGRY WAVES a little more than midway through his tenure, right after YOUTH OF THE BEAST, THE BASTARD and KANTO WANDERER in 1963, all of which are more obvious forebears to his later, conspicuously bizarre films. He’s referred to YOUTH OF THE BEAST as “his first truly original film” and THE BASTARD as “the real turning-point”; all this augurs THE FLOWERS AND THE ANGRY WAVES as being perhaps the first of the Doc Films’ series to most truly resemble the apogee of his career at Nikkatsu. (It’s also—like FIGHTING DELINQUENTS and BLOOD-RED WATER IN THE CHANNEL from weeks prior—in color. I mention this because it’s not discernible from the black-and-white production stills on Doc’s website, and Suzuki’s use of color, especially in his rarer works, should be especially enticing.) Melville describes a peculiar plot: Akira Kobayashi, who’d previously appeared in KANTO WANDERER, stars as a young yakuza who kidnaps his boss’s fiancé, after which they hide out in Tokyo’s grubby underworld. “Here in Tokyo,” Melville writes, “two rival clans are fighting, not over some medieval notion of honour, but for the lucrative control of the city’s building trade. Our bandit hero is the leader of one such gang, while his ladylove works undercover as a bargirl.” This hints at a continuation of Suzuki’s preoccupation with dualities: between loyalty to one’s clan and loyalty to one’s self, between tradition and modernity (a timeworn theme of Japanese cinema). Here, parallels to be found across the ages, like that of samurai and yakuza, the traditional battlefield and the contemporary business meeting, are juxtaposed—what’s different is the same is different. It’s also the first of Suzuki’s films on which Takeo Kimura, who served as art director for THE BASTARD and KANTO WANDERER, received a screenwriting credit. About Kimura, Suzuki said that “[i]t was with Kimura that [he] began to work on ways of making the fundamental illusion of cinema more powerful.” There may be better examples of Suzuki’s stylistic shift from transitory experimentation to full-blown absurdity, but why not see them all and decide for yourself? (1964, 92 min, 35mm) KS
Michael Glover Smith's MERCURY IN RETROGRADE (New American)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 8:15pm (sold out), and Monday and Wednesday, 7:45pm
Two years ago, I praised Michael Glover Smith’s strong debut, COOL APOCALYPSE, for its subtle dissection of relationships in the inflexion point of their collapse. His sophomore feature, MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, builds upon and expands the earlier title’s strengths, presenting a nuanced and troubling portrait of six people who, over the course of a long weekend, quietly and privately reveal that they are in the process of exploding inside. It is a movie about three good-natured, loveable, charming men who each, in his own insidious way, is a manipulative, dehumanizing sexist, and the three spirited, jovial, smart women who have fallen for them. Built in two rough halves, the first part of MERCURY IN RETROGRADE shows us a deceptively idyllic group friendship, three couples who love one another, understand one another, and love being around one another. They eat, drink, joke, play, and seem to grow together as people. Everything feels wrong, but only with the second part in mind do the tension lines in the first become clear. An extended pair of alcohol-fueled conversations, one all-male at the cabin and the other all-female at a nearby bar, are intricately intercut and woven together, cutting away the pretense of kindness, decency, and equality that the characters have worked so hard to convince themselves of. Set almost exclusively in a palatial cabin in the Michigan woods, the movie’s roving compositions, highly mobile camerawork, and idiosyncratic editing keep placing characters in off-putting juxtapositions, dividing spaces, preventing the six principals from ever fully integrating with the natural world they’re surrounded by. Instead, following Smith’s title, they spin around and are trapped by one another like celestial bodies mere moments before collision. The phrase ‘mercury in retrograde’ itself comes from a term of pseudoscientific bullshittery that attempts to explain away misunderstandings and conflict by blaming it on the different orbital speeds of Mercury and Earth, and is a neatly symbolic way of signaling the viewer that the characters will both argue over important issues with one another and both misunderstand the nature of those arguments and be satisfied with papered-over illusions rather than actual resolution. Indeed, the narrative is awash in oddly revealing moments of internalized oppression and violence that are rationalized away as evidence of love: a throw-away comment one woman makes about convincing a partner to ‘let’ her have an abortion; another woman breaking out of a relationship of physical abuse only to pursue her abuser’s career path; a third whose desperate need to keep her history of violent exploitation, victimization, and addiction secret from her partner drives her to break years of sobriety. Many of the actors deserve special acclaim, especially Jack Newell and Alana Arenas, two local actors who play Jack and Golda, the one couple amongst the three to be married, inhabit their complex roles to a chilling degree. It’s one thing to play a dysfunctional couple, but another level entirely to play one that believes itself to be fully equal and loving. It is a trenchant, beautifully and disturbingly stylized look at misogyny and oppression, neither the first nor the last word on the subject by any means, but a modest and welcome addition to the conversation. Smith in person at all shows. (2017, 105 min, DCP Digital) KB
Abel Ferrara’s MS. 45 (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 7pm
In her first of two collaborations with director Abel Ferrara (the other being a writing credit on BAD LIEUTENANT), Zoë Lund plays Thana in the female revenge thriller MS. 45. Thana is a mute seamstress at a woman’s clothing manufacturer in New York City. On her way home from work one day, she is raped in an alley, only to have the same heinous act committed against her again when she returns home and discovers a burglar in her apartment. After she kills the man while he is distracted, it marks a staunch change in her personality as she transforms from being shy and timid into a self-confident, revenge-driven Little Red Riding Hood who is hell-bent on eliminating all those who mistreat women. Ferrara’s film is gritty and discordant. Drawing inspiration from TAXI DRIVER, his portrayal of New York as a sprawling urban wasteland with predators lurking juxtaposes well with Thana’s vigilante-style justice. Her character arc is fully-realized here, as the changes in her demeanor escalate from that of a skittish doe to a self-preserving lone wolf to prowling lioness. Combined with the grating score, there’s a oppressive atmosphere of uncomfortableness hanging over the film. This is exacerbated by DAWN OF THE DEAD-esque closeups and Thana’s non-verbal expressions. Ferrara’s focus on eyes helps distinguish terror, lust, and vindictiveness, and MS. 45 is quintessential Ferrara. It’s a bold, bloody, and brash revenge thriller an elemental film about the prey becoming the hunter, wrapped up in a taut, exploitation package. (1981, 80 min, 35mm) KC
Harmony Korine’s GUMMO (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Friday and Saturday, Midnight
Harmony Korine was just 22 years old when he made GUMMO, and the movie just spews youthful energy. The writer-director tries out all sorts of styles and techniques—Werner Herzog is clearly an influence, but so are vaudeville comedy and skateboarding videos—resulting in exciting shifts in tone that recall the 1960s films of Jean-Luc Godard. The film is alternately crass and tender, exploitive and loving; it revels in the sorts of contradictions that only cinema can engender. Certain images have stayed in my memory for decades: the stone-faced little boy eating spaghetti in a bathtub filled with green water; the black midget wearing a Hatikva t-shirt cheering on an impromptu fight club; a shirtless boy with cloth bunny ears loitering on an expressway overpass. These images are all weird and sad and distinctly middle-American; indeed the movie showcases a certain homegrown, regional decay one rarely sees outside of exploitation fare. Shot in derelict portions of Nashville, Tennessee (but set in post-tornado Xenia, Ohio), GUMMO evokes, to paraphrase Lisa Alspector’s rave review in the Chicago Reader, a climate in which there’s nothing to do except break social taboos. The preteen characters roam the streets, killing cats and sniffing glue; one man pimps out his developmentally disabled wife to two boys; a teenage girl dreams of becoming a stripper. Where the director’s sometime collaborator Larry Clark might adopt a sad, moralizing attitude toward such people, Korine throws a party with them—there’s a “let’s put on a show” quality to GUMMO that rivals the films of Busby Berkeley. Linda Manz, the indelible star of Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN and Hopper’s OUT OF THE BLUE, returned to movies for the first time in almost 20 years to play one of the boys’ loving, tap-dancing mom. She’s one of the few cast members with any professional experience—Korine found most of the players from his hometown and from daytime talk shows—yet everyone onscreen seems to jive with the director’s celebratory attitude. The inventive cinematography is by Jean-Yves Escoffier, best known for his work with Leos Carax. (1997, 89 min, 35mm) BS
Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD (New American)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
Note: PHANTOM THREAD has ended its 70mm run, and is now showing from DCP Digital.
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, DCP Digital) JD
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center presents Ephraim Asili: The Diaspora Series on Thursday at 6pm, with Asili in person. Screening are: FORGED WAYS (2011), AMERICAN HUNGER (2013), MANY THOUSANDS GONE (2015), KINDAH (2016), and FLUID FRONTIERS (2017). (2011-17, approx. 92 min total, Digital Projection)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) presents All-Consuming Shopping Worlds on Thursday at 7pm. The program is comprised of two of German filmmaker Harun Farocki’s documentary/essay films: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A CONSUMER (1993, 44 min, Digital Projection) and THE CREATORS OF THE SHOPPING WORLDS (2001, Germany, 72 min, Digital Projection). Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) and the Chicago Cinema Society present The Unrepentant Cinephile Book Release + New Exploitation Film Preservations on Saturday at 7pm. The screening marks the print publication of local film critic/writer (and CCS co-director) Jason Coffman’s The Unrepentant Cinephile. Coffman will introduce the two films: James Bryan’s 2016 horror/adventure film JUNGLE TRAP (72 min, Digital Projection) and the English-dubbed version of Natuk Baytan’s Turkish martial arts film THE SWORD AND THE CLAW [Kiliç Aslan] (1975/1982, English-dubbed U.S. release, 85 min, Turkey/UK, DCP Projection).
Everything Is Terrible! presents their 2018 compilation film THE GREAT SATAN (Unconfirmed Running Time, Digital Projection), a collage of Satan panic, religious extremist, and other pop-religion detritus video clips, on Tuesday at 8pm at Lincoln Hall (2424 N. Lincoln Ave.). The film shows in the context of a live presentation by EIT!
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E 70th St.) presents Oscar Brown Jr. Archives (Video Projection), a selection of archival footage and home movies of Brown, hosted by his daughter Maggie Brown, on Friday at 7pm. Free admission.
Chicago Media Project screens Bryan Fogel’s 2017 documentary ICARUS (121 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7:15pm at the Davis Theater (4614 N. Lincoln Ave.), with Fogel in person.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film THE PRESTIGE (130 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Monday at 7pm; and James Clavell’s 1967 film TO SIR, WITH LOVE (105 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Jonas Carpignano’s 2017 Italian film A CIAMBRA (118 min, DCP Digital) and John Trengove’s 2017 South African film THE WOUND (88 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; Ciro Guerra’s 2016 Columbian film EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (125 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 2pm and Monday at 7:45pm; Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film APOCALYPSE NOW (147 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 3pm and Tuesday at 6pm, with a lecture by SAIC professor Nora Annesley Taylor at the Tuesday show; Ali Asgari’s 2017 Iranian film DISAPPEARANCE (89 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 6pm and Sunday at 5pm; and Rambod Javan’s 2017 Iranian film NEGAR (100 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 film BLUE VALENTINE (110 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 1:30pm; John Carroll Lynch’s 2017 film LUCKY (88 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Alain Cavalier’s 1964 French film L’INSOUMIS (115 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9:30pm; and Guillem Morales’ 2010 Spanish film JULIA’S EYES (118 min, Digital Projection) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 Chilean film A FANTASTIC WOMAN (104 min, DCP Digital) continues; Marcel Camus’ 1959 Brazilian film BLACK ORPHEUS (100 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 11:30am; and Ivan Reitman’s 1993 film DAVE (110 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 2pm; and Takayuki Hamana’s 2017 Japanese animated film MAGICAL GIRL LYRICAL NANOHA: REFLECTION (111 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque screens Robinson Devor’s 2016 documentary POW WOW (72 min, Video Projection) and Aaron N. Feldman’s 2017 documentary POOP TALK (75 min, Video Projection) for week-long runs.
The Chicago Cultural Center and the DuSable Museum both screen Stanley Nelson’s 2017 documentary TELL THEM WE ARE RISING: THE STORY OF BLACK COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES (84 min, Video Projection) on Saturday. CCC at 2pm (followed by a discussion) and DuSable at 5pm (followed by a panel discussion that included director Nelson). Both free admission.
The DuSable Museum also screens Lynn Kessler's 2010 made-for-television documentary SEIZING JUSTICE: THE GREENSBORO 4 (47 min, Video Projection) on Sunday at 3pm. Free admission.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Juan Carlos Tabío’s 2001 Cuban film WAITING LIST (102 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Spertus Institute (610 S. Michigan Ave.) screens Rebekah Reiko’s 2016 documentary MANDALA BEATS (42 min, Video Projection) on Sunday at 2pm. Followed by a discussion with Northwestern University Professor of Ethnomusicology Inna Naraditskaya.
The Italian Cultural Institute screens Gennaro Nunziante’s 2016 Italian film QUO VADO? (86 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Sinema Obscura presents TV Party – “Monsters” on Monday at 7pm at Logan Bar (2230 N. California Ave.). Free admission.
The Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest (400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest, IL) screens Frank Capra’s 1934 film IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (105 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 7pm.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Art Institute of Chicago (Stone Gallery) has on view a show of two large-scale installation works by French artist Philippe Parreno. One of these, With a Rhythmic Instinction to Be Able to Travel beyond Existing Forces of Life (2014) includes a moving-image component.
DIGITAL FOUNTAIN, a video installation by Jarad Solomon, is on view continuously through the windows at Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) through Sunday, February 18 (ending at 6pm).
Also currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: 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.
CINE-LIST: February 16 - February 22, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kian Bergstrom, Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Tien-Tien Jong, Jb Mabe, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael W. Phillips Jr.