Harun Farocki: Europe Is Burning (Documentary Revival)
Abbas Kiarostami's 24 FRAMES (New Iranian/Experimental)
Films by Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas (in New Docs: Shorts Program) New Documentary)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Friday, 7pm (Free Admission) // Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes // Block Cinema (Northwestern University) – Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Two established masters no longer with us—Harun Farocki and Abbas Kiarostami—and two talented newcomers—Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas—have work showing this week at two venues. All of their films explore, either in form or content, the ways in which media and technology affect the world around us.
The four films of German documentarian and film essayist Harun Farocki are all early ones, from the late 1960s. THE WORDS OF THE CHAIRMAN (1967, 2 min), THEIR NEWSPAPERS (1968, 17 min), and WHITE CHRISTMAS (1968, 3 min) are rarely-seen agit-prop works, films that take a sharply critical look at the political zeitgeist of the moment: the first, a parody of a commercial that features the Shah of Iran and his wife as paper-bag-masked caricatures, admonishes that the revolutionary words of Mao Zedong must be adapted to new contexts and that words need to be weaponized; the last two are indictments of the then-escalating Vietnam War, and the German media’s complicit support of the war. WHITE CHRISTMAS ironically counterpoints the Bing Crosby song with footage of the war; THEIR NEWSPAPERS includes a scene of a man attempting to immolate himself on the sidewalk by lighting on fire papers from the Springer press group. The masterpiece of the program is Farocki’s 1969 film INEXTINGUISHABLE FIRE (25 min), which mixes several different modes and moves the filmmaker more firmly into the essay film. Here, Farocki presents a savage attack on the Vietnam War and the U.S. government somewhat indirectly, by focusing on the manufacture of napalm. As he says in a direct-address prologue, he can’t show the effects of napalm on Vietnamese victims: "When we show you pictures of napalm victims, you'll shut your eyes. You'll close your eyes to the pictures. Then you'll close them to the memory. And then you'll close your eyes to the facts." Instead, the animal—a guinea pig set aflame—stands in for the human. This remove is carried over in dramatic scenes set in the Dow Chemical corporation, with actors performing in deliberately non-believable sets, affecting an emotionless, almost robotic, adherence to their roles in this weapons development, and with a structure that jumbles the dramatic, the documentary (footage of the war), and the expository (both recited and via text). As in all of his work, these films are concerned with the production of meaning, what gets told and how, the way entrenched systems of government, media, and industry dominate the dialogue, and the power of words and images and the necessity of wrenching control of them. (1967-69, 47 min total, Digital Projection)
24 FRAMES (2017, 114 min, DCP Digital) is the final film by the late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, left unfinished when he died in 2016 and completed through the efforts of his son. Here, Kiarostami has made one of the most experimental films of his career: it’s a series of twenty-four short (roughly 4 ½ minutes each scenes), or “frames,” of mostly landscapes. The first is of a Bruegel painting (he had originally intended to compose the film of various paintings) and the remaining ones are based on twenty-three of Kiarostami’s own still photographs. Kiarostami then manipulates the images digitally, compositing in various moving elements to imagine what was taking place immediately before and after the moment of stillness he captured with his camera. Particular visual themes recur: snowy fields, the seashore, cows and other farm animals, and birds. Lots of birds. Each frame is a minimalist miniature, carefully composed and strikingly shot. Or sort of shot, and that’s the point. What we are seeing didn’t really exist. These are creative constructions, based on reality but not real. They are imaginary, artificially constructed spaces, but ones that (with one exception) are believable. The level of Kiarostami’s fabrication is not entirely evident—though they all achieve an otherworldly quality that calls into question the truth of what we’re seeing. I could quibble at the margins (I might lose a few of the particular frames, and think perhaps the film is a bit too long), but overall the film is extraordinary and at times profoundly moving, even as Kiarostami displays some wry humor and makes some surprising, but effective, music choices.
The three films by Texas-based filmmakers Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas were all shot in Florida and are the most traditional of the works focused on here. They follow in the Direct Cinema/cinema verité lineage, shooting their subjects in an observational mode, but one that inherently seems to acknowledge their own intervention and the impossibility of capturing a completely objective view. The films are extremely good, the first two below reminding me of Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines’s SEVENTEEN (1985) and the much more recent work by Danish filmmaker Eva Marie Rødbro in their sensitive capturing of youth. THE SEND-OFF (2016, 12 min) is focused on the high school prom in the tiny, mostly black, rural town of Pahokee, Florida. Despite their obvious economic limitations, the parents spend lavishly on their kids. The event becomes spectacle, as the young couples show up in luxury rental cars, the girls dressed to the nines, and show off for the gathered townsfolk. THE RABBIT HUNT (2017, 12 min) follows one of the students seen in THE SEND-OFF as he and his family hunt rabbits, flushed from the nearby sugar cane fields during harvest, attempting to club them with sticks or stalks of the cane. The third film, ROADSIDE ATTRACTION (2017, 10 min), documents the gathering of locals and vacationers just at the fringes of the Palm Beach International Airport to gawk at the parked Air Force One (the airport used when he who shall not be named travels to Mar-A-Lago). Besides the Florida location, what ties these three films together is the ubiquity of cell phones. They become, more clearly so than in any films I can think of, tools for an almost obsessive mediation of the experiences of the subjects in the films. Parents and others photographing the prom couples, the prom goers taking selfies on the dance floor, and everyone taking selfies with Air Force One in the background, point to a culture that can't just live in the moment; it must be mediated or it’s nothing. Also showing on the program are two films by local filmmakers: Milad Mozari’s STANDING NYMPH AND MAN (2017, 17 min) and Rachel Pikelny’s GRACE (2017, 16 min). With Patrick Bresnan, Ivete Lucas, Milad Mozari, and Rachel Pikelny in person. (2016-17, 67 min total, DCP Digital Projection) PF
Lav Diaz’s THE WOMAN WHO LEFT (New Filipino)
Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
A virtuoso of slow cinema—that elusive style which challenges its viewers’ inherent understanding of it—Filipino director Lav Diaz has made three feature narratives in the years following his 2013 stateside breakout NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY. THE WOMAN WHO LEFT is the shortest of them (its runtime is 3 hours and 48 minutes), a divergence from many of his earlier films, which range anywhere from five to ten hours long. Compact though it may be by Diaz’s standards, it’s nevertheless an indefatigable examination of the moral quandaries that delineate his career. Inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s short story “God Sees the Truth, But Waits,” the film follows Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio, a Filipina actress turned executive who attended Harvard Business School—her corporate resume is as impressive as her acting talent) after she’s released from prison, having been exonerated once it’s revealed that a fellow prisoner committed the murder of which she was accused. She vows revenge on the man, a wealthy ex-boyfriend, who framed her, opening a restaurant close to his house so she can track him. The film is set in 1997, a year of great unrest in Filipino culture: Kidnappings of Chinese-Filipino businessman were on the rise following Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule; Gianni Versace was murdered by a Filipino American; Mother Teresa, an important figure in Filipino culture, died; and the Chiong murder case—involving two sisters being kidnapped, raped and killed by a group of seven men in Cebu City—unfolded. These events, communicated via diegetic radio reports, suffuse the central narrative with a sense of brutality that’s otherwise concealed within the characters’ intermittent monologues. It’s not just Horacia’s latent suffering that comprises the story, but also that of the people she meets, including a hunchbacked balut vendor, a mentally challenged homeless girl, and a transgender woman who moves in with Horacia after she’s brutally attacked. One waits for more overt violence, but it never comes; indeed, it's quite the opposite, with Horacia an almost saintly figure whose vengeful motivations are excusable vis-à-vis a litany of good deeds. Inaccessible as slow cinema may seem to those who believe it to forsake plot for form (medium shots and long takes are its hallmarks), it can actually behoove a richer moviegoing experience for those interested in story and character development; scenes that may seem incidental effectuate a cumulative result, further intensifying the purity of Horacia’s character. ‘Realism’ is often a word associated with Diaz’s films, a seeming corollary to the material nature of slow cinema. I’d argue that Diaz’s films, which often deal in experimental aesthetics and even bewilderingly mystical elements, are rooted more in moral exploration and its many forms than any sort of realism. This harkens back to Diaz’s affinity for Russian literature—in addition to THE WOMAN WHO LEFT being loosely based on a Tolstoy story, NORTE is a sort-of reimagination of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. As he said in an interview with Guernica magazine, “The novelistic attribute of my work is very much [like] the Russian way of creating novels. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky—their work has so many gaps, so many spaces that if you were a so-called postmodern editor, you could cut War and Peace in half. But for the reader, you cannot erase those gaps because they are important. They contextualize the whole struggle. My cinema is like that. There are so many spaces, but you cannot cut them.” Diaz is also the film’s co-producer, screenwriter, editor and cinematographer; impressive is the digital black-and-white cinematography, which Diaz uses at times to obfuscate the characters’ identifies, physical appearances or actions. This and the continual use of medium shots bedim any intimate specificity, thus allowing the obliquely moralistic elements to stand out. It may be slow and steady, but it doesn’t win the race; rather, it revels in the journey to the finish line. (2016, 228 min, DCP Digital) KS
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s SATAN’S BREW (German Revival)
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Wednesday, 7:30pm
For viewers unfamiliar with the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, SATAN’S BREW probably isn’t the best place to start. The characters are grotesques, the dialogue obscene, and the mise-en-scene grimy. Indeed the film feels even more brackish and punk than the writer-director’s flippantly affectless early features (e.g., LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH, KATZELMACHER, THE AMERICAN SOLDIER), with something to offend pretty much everyone. Walter Kranz (Fassbinder company member Kurt Raab in his only lead role) is a poet and self-proclaimed anarchist who lives to defy social conventions. He hangs out with prostitutes, openly cheats on his wife, allows his developmentally disabled brother (who lives with him) to sexually assault any woman who comes through the door, and, in one of the opening scenes, commits murder just for the hell of it. Walter believes that being an artist puts him above everyone and everything—consider how he tries to coax money from his publisher despite not having written a line for over two years—and in SATAN’S BREW, he sees just how much he can get away with. The film is clearly autobiographical: Fassbinder was notoriously tyrannical on-set and sadistically cruel with his many lovers; even he recognized that the only reason that many would put up with him was because he was a creative genius. Walter, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have much talent. The only poem of his we hear turns out to have been stolen from Stefan George; moreover, his fans (epitomized by Margit Carstensen’s maladroit virgin) are pathetic. Fassbinder wants viewers to have no sympathy for his stand-in, directing Raab to be loud, frenetic, and antagonistic (the movie also provides a good impression of how Fassbinder was affected by his cocaine habit), and employing (with regular cinematographer Michael Ballhaus’s) controlled and distanced camerawork that encourages us to regard this ugly specimen as if it were an insect in a jar. As cinematic self-portraits go, this is even more disparaging than Fassbinder’s own BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE. Ironically, it’s also one of the few of his films to have a happy ending. Preceded by Heinz Nagel’s 1976 German cartoon EIN STACHLIGES VERGNUGEN (9 min, 35mm; Unsubtitled). (1976, 106 min, 35mm) BS
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's THE QUIET AMERICAN (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 5:30pm and Tuesday, 6pm
"One could almost believe that the film was made deliberately to attack the book and the author," speculated Graham Greene, the author of the book from which Joseph L. Mankiewicz's THE QUIET AMERICAN was adapted. We can only get so far when excavating motives, but one thing's for sure: Mankiewicz's film version is a political tightrope act, taking a novel steeped in reflexive anti-American attitudes and spinning it, rather half-heartedly, into a lament for the misunderstood benevolence of American action abroad. Michael Redgrave delivers an outstanding performance as Fowler, the cynical British journalist stationed in Indochina whose ideological commitments are subservient to his sexual appetite. It's a sad, soulful turn, outwardly world-weary enough to justify the articulate but woefully incomplete introspection granted Redgrave's character. (Redgrave remains blithely oblivious to the needs of his Vietnamese mistress Phuong—and indeed, she's a near-literal projection of a white man's Orientalist fantasy, played here by the Italian actress Giorgia Moll in yellow-face.) The casting of war-hero-turned-matinee-idol Audie Murphy as The American, a foreign aid worker who serves as the cherub-cheeked avatar of boy scout imperialism, is a masterstroke; Murphy's limitations as an actor are legion, but Mankiewicz exploits them to serve the character. The shallow softness at Murphy's center can suggest callowness, naïveté, mendacity, or some combination of the three. Much of the movie exists in the uncanny valley of this ambiguity: is Murphy a cardboard embodiment of American secular values or a dark vessel of CIA sabotage? Does the "third force" that Murphy advocates (as an alternative to French colonialists and the local Communists) constitute a genuine will-to-power for the Vietnamese people or a heavy-handed attempt to impose a government from without? Could we even tell the difference? (The film ends with a sincere but pro-forma title card supporting the self-determination of Vietnam--the thing that every side of the conflict believes itself to be advancing.) It's a testament to the craft and patience of THE QUIET AMERICAN that this moral complexity survives in the final film, despite every effort to quash in it the last reel. While THE QUIET AMERICAN avoids the abject, open-mouthed stupidity of something like Samuel Fuller's CHINA GATE, it's not for lack of trying. "You know that it is a mistake to say that Communism is appealing to the mentally advanced," muses Claude Dauphin's Inspector Vigot, "I think it is only true when the mentally advanced are also emotionally retarded." This was the stuff that raised Greene's ire, and understandably so, for it grated a rote "Commie dupe" exculpation onto a left-wing critique of American adventurism. Yet the mechanically enunciated anti-Communist bromides never quite wash away the smarmy sunniness of Murphy's American; they change the lyrics, but the tune remains the same. Does that make THE QUIET AMERICAN a clandestine work of anti-anti-Communism? Hardly, but it remains its own ideological battleground, with a tragic undertow that vacillates between clear-eyed condemnation and resigned complicity. As a cinematic X-ray of Cold War America, it rivals MY SON JOHN. Even the film's champions sell it short. Jean-Luc Godard famously cited it as the best film of 1958, but his original review laments that "what is missing from THE QUIET AMERICAN is cinema. It has everything—brilliant actors, sparkling dialogue—but no cinema .... What a pity. What a fantastic film Aldrich—not to mention Welles—would have made of this fine script, which improves a hundred percent on Graham Greene's novel." Godard is indifferent to the photographic density of Mankiewciz's film. As shot by Robert Krasker, THE QUIET AMERICAN plays like a careful inversion of the strategy of the earlier Krasker-Greene film THE THIRD MAN. Whereas that classic emphasizes the dislocation of its American naïf by tilting the camera at every opportunity, THE QUIET AMERICAN plays no such tricks—all the scenes are staged in depth, an exotic playground with a textural richness that its characters are content to ignore. SAIC professor Nora Annesley Taylor lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1958, 121 min, 35mm) KAW
Seijun Suzuki’s BLOOD-RED WATER IN THE CHANNEL (Japanese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Tuesday, 7pm
One of seven films Seijun Suzuki made in 1961, BLOOD-RED WATER IN THE CHANNEL finds the urban-minded director in more provincial territory. Set in a small fishing village, “it’s about two brothers, one a coast guard member and the other a smuggler, who come into predictable conflict,” according to Tom Vick’s book about the director, Time and Place are Nonsense: The Films of Seijun Suzuki. “Urban settings also energize this born and bred Tokyoite’s work much more than rural ones,” he writes. “That energy is lacking entirely in [the film]....[i]t’s as if tranquility of the setting gave him nothing to react against.” Not exactly a glowing endorsement, but certainly an interesting prospect—there’s as much to be discovered in Suzuki’s failures as there is in his successes. Also interesting is that it was shot on location. Oft heralded for his stylized artificiality, I’m curious to see how the master of all things turgid and spurious contends with the intrinsic anarchy of nature. (84 min, 35mm) KS
Jiri Menzel’s CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS (Czech Revival) **CANCELLED - REPLACED WITH MYSTERY SCREENING**
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 7pm
A gem of the Czech New Wave, CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS is a droll, insightful look into the world of adolescence and sexual conquest set amidst the backdrop of European conflict. The film takes place in occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II by the Nazis, and the lead, Milos (Václav Neckár), is an apprentice stationmaster at a train station, intent on losing his virginity. Director Jiri Menzel deftly interweaves the ingenuity of youth and its resourcefulness concerning sexual conquests while also maneuvering an ever-changing and turbulent world. Milos desire to overcome his desires of the flesh whilst succeeding his father at his craft makes for delightful farce while handling heavy subject material. The world crafted by Menzel allows for identifiable motives most people have faced in their own sexual awakenings. His steady direction is even-handed; the film never reaches outright farce but instead maintains a sense of duty to the tasks at hand. The kind of groundwork laid by Menzel has been emulated many a time in standard, contemporary American sex-romp fair but those never quite achieved the adroit approach by their predecessor. (1966, 93 min, 16mm) KC
Huang Hsin-Yao's THE GREAT BUDDHA + (New Taiwanese)
Facets Cinémathèque - Check Venue website for showtimes
Huang Hsin-Yao's THE GREAT BUDDHA +, a jaundiced, compassionate look at hypocrisy and corruption in a Taiwanese village, begins like a playful, crass comedy. So how did it wind up stirring me so deeply? In 2017, this film won five coveted Golden Horses, including best new director and best cinematography, the latter for Chung Mong-hong's gorgeous deep-focus black-and-white imagery—stark and noirish. It plays at times like the missing link between the New Taiwanese Cinema of the '80s and Beavis and Butthead. It features the return of Pickle and Belly Button, the two middle-aged social discards who starred in Huang's 2014 short film THE GREAT BUDDHA. (Hence the "+" in the title: this is the expanded version.) Huang has three documentaries under his belt, apparently noted for their sardonic narration. It's an approach he's carried over into his fiction feature debut, starting with the opening credits, when he ribs his own producers for being "notoriously difficult." The effect is as if someone left the DVD director's commentary on. Luckily, what Huang has to say is usually drily funny, or curious, or poetic, or even useful. The kind, naive Pickle (Cres Chuang I-tseng), when he's not tending to his ailing, elderly mother, "works" as a night watchman at a factory which forges massive bronze Buddhas. It's run by the dissolute, mean-spirited Boss Kevin (Leon Dai Li-ren). Mostly, he hangs out with his best friend Belly Button (Bamboo Chen Chu-sheng), who scrapes together a living scavenging bottles and cans out of the trash. Perusing porn mags, the boys keep each other company on these overnight vigils, as the long-suffering Pickle endures his insecure friend's bossing and badgering. The factory's crafting a towering Buddha for the upcoming Dharma Assembly, and when the local Zen master and his monks pay a visit to examine the work in progress, their spokesman gets into a hilariously passive-aggressive exchange of stealth barbs with a corrupt pol, all punctuated by bows. The boys' other friends, rejects both, are Peanut, who works at the local grocery/arcade, and the mysterious Sugar Apple, who is an important presence in the film though he only has one line, a drifter who lives in an abandoned naval sentry post by the seaside. When the TV's busted one night, Belly Button pesters Pickle into retrieving the dash cam video from Kevin's luxury car, in the hopes it's captured his "horseplay" with women. (Indeed, there's a scene that, while visually above the waist, plays to the ear like porn.) These videos supply the movie's only color. Actually that's not quite true: if you watch closely, you'll spot Huang color a motorcycle pink, just for an instant. The boys' voyeurism gets them into big trouble, as they accidentally learn more about Kevin's nocturnal "good deeds" than they ever wanted to. At its best, this is as hilariously droll and deadpan as Huang's avowed influences, Aki Kaurismäki and Roy Andersson, though it also occurs to me that fans of Kevin Smith wouldn't feel like they're in the wrong place. (Whether that's a compliment or a putdown, I shall leave to your own aesthetic discretion.) There are indelible images: a shirtless band playing for an orgy in the thermal baths. Or the matter-of-fact way a dead bull gazes out from amidst a mountain of trash. Or Pickle, sitting forlornly in Belly Button's little UFO house, surrounded by his friend's stuffed animals and pinups—the pod itself a piece of Taiwanese cultural jetsam. Huang may refer to his outcasts as idiots, but we come to realize he thinks about them a lot, and may even love them. He hopes the arc of his story will bend towards justice for them, though he knows that for the poor and powerless, hope never had much of a chance. In the end, all he can do is watch. (2017, 103 min, Video Projection) SP
Anna Biller’s THE LOVE WITCH (New American)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 2pm, Monday, 8:15pm, and Wednesday, 6pm
THE LOVE WITCH is a remarkably dense pastiche, recreating elements of American melodramas, sexploitation comedies, and low-budget horror films from the 60s and early 70s with loving care and deadpan assurance. Writer-director Anna Biller (who also designed the sets and costumes) invokes Radley Metzger, Elizabeth Taylor vehicles like BUTTERFIELD 8, Stephanie Rothman’s THE VELVET VAMPIRE, George Romero’s SEASON OF THE WITCH, and likely many other cult films and filmmakers. The mise-en-scene is striking and loud, at times verging on Kenneth Anger levels of expressiveness; the sex is lurid and silly, the politics blunt and sincere; and Biller demonstrates such command over tone that even the odd pauses in the dialogue feel carefully considered. The heroine, Elaine, is a California witch living a life of leisure and looking for a man to love. While she manages to lures a number of men to her bed—employing a combination of sexual allure, magic spells, and burlesque dancing—she never lands on a lasting relationship. Part of the problem is that Elaine’s magic turns her lovers into pathetic devotees; another is that Elaine’s lovers keep dying on her. The lovers’ demises represent grotesque exaggerations of the ways in which women can feel disappointed by men; these scenes communicate a certain raw honesty that used to exist commonly in disreputable genres when filmmakers were given a high degree of creative freedom. THE LOVE WITCH is a tribute to that era and a provocation for ours, calling into question the expectations that women have of men, and vice-versa. (2016, 120 min, 35mm) BS
Alfred Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Sunday, 11:30am
Hitchcock was rarely, if ever, judgmental of his characters, but it seems the judgment he spared them was instead reserved for his audience. It's evident in many of his films as he forces the audience, along with the "innocents" of the stories, to identify with the criminal or the accused while likewise punishing them for doing so. This dynamic is particularly pronounced in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, a film in which one character, Guy, is harassed by another, Bruno, after he kills Guy's estranged wife in hopes that he'll return the favor and murder his domineering father. An element of condescension plays into both the plot and Hitchcock's assessment of those watching; at the beginning, Guy patronizingly tells Bruno that his idea of a "you-do-mine-I'll-do-yours" murder plot is okay, that all his ideas are okay. Guy is obviously dismissive of the idea, but Bruno takes his stooping agreement as confirmation that Guy is on board with his plan. In that scene, Hitchcock shows us just how grey the area is between good and evil, and how something as simple as a throwaway platitude can have such disastrous implications. Despite Hitchcock's sympathy for the killer, he allots sympathy to the victim as well, but only so far as he can use it to further indict the audience. In a telling scene, Barbara, the sister of Guy's love interest, remarks that his deceased ex-wife was a tramp, thus implying that her status as a "lesser person" justified her brutal murder. Barbara's father, the senator whom Guy hopes to emulate, tells her that the dead woman was also a human being. Considerably less wordy than Jimmy Stewart's impassioned epiphany at the end of ROPE, the scene is like a swift smack in the face from Hitchcock. Bruno's easygoing and almost infectious attitude towards murder is brought from the dark into the light—it's all fun and games until humanity becomes a factor. Another key motif that Hitchcock uses in several of his films is that of the rhetorical "perfect murder," scenes in which innocent characters participate with the real criminals in surmising how to commit a foolproof crime. During a party at the senator's house, Bruno convinces two elderly aristocratic ladies to indulge in fantasies of committing murder while Barbara looks on. The scene serves dual functions: It reveals the sinisterness that lurks beneath the genteel surface and, as Barbara notices Bruno staring at her, transfixed by her resemblance to Guy's wife, punishes her and therefore us for previously being so quick to dismiss the victim. That's Hitchcock reminding us that we could so easily be the killer or the one killed, exposing both our hubris and our fragility along with that of his characters. (1951, 101 min, 35mm) KS
Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA (Italian Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Friday and Saturday, Midnight
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
Billy Wilder's SOME LIKE IT HOT (American Revival)
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series at the Pickwick Theatre (5 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) – Tuesday, 2 and 7:30pm
Nobody's perfect. But it still might come as a surprise to some that this famous final line from SOME LIKE IT HOT was originally intended as a placeholder while co-writers Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond thought of something better before shooting the film's last scene. "Neither of us could come up with anything...so we shot that line, still not entirely satisfied," Wilder told The Paris Review in 1996. "But we just hadn't trusted it when we wrote it; we just didn't see it. The line had come too easily, just popped out." Equally prolific as both a screenwriter and director, it's certainly no surprise that Wilder could be as effortless with his words as he was with his direction. SOME LIKE IT HOT is the embodiment of screwball-comedy excellence, with a plot that works just fine and a cast against whose comedic timing you could set a watch. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play struggling musicians who accidentally take part in the infamous Saint Valentine's Day massacre and escape mob retaliation by acquiring jobs as players with Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators. This entails a bit more than just musical know-how, as Curtis and Lemmon don makeup and high heels, inventing themselves as Josephine and Daphne, in order to fit in with the all-female troupe. Aboard a train to Florida they meet Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), a down-on-her-luck, aptly-named beauty who walks like "Jell-O on springs" and is preoccupied with both ends of the lollipop. Monroe is often symbolized by the upskirt scene from Wilder's THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, but her performance as the sexy-goofy cynic certainly feels more true to life. Curtis and Lemmon marvel at the seeming easiness of female sexuality, and Monroe is surely the best representative of its actual complexity. Gender is certainly fluid in Wilder's farce, with norms and mores being challenged throughout. The film begins amidst pure machismo and ends with the above declaration of acceptance that could just as easily apply to Wilder as to the characters themselves. The laughs come easy, and complex issues of gender and sexuality pop out between mob chases and musical numbers. Showing as part of critic Mark Caro’s “Is It Still Funny?” series. (1959, 120 min, DCP Digital) KS
Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD (New American)
Music Box Theater – 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
Raoul Peck's I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (New Essay/Documentary)
Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) – Thursday, 6:30pm
If the role of the public intellectual is to speak truth to power, then James Baldwin was one of the greatest America ever produced. A searing and compassionate social critic, he was equally penetrating when he turned his novelist's gaze toward film, as this galvanizing, heartbreaking essay/documentary by Raoul Peck demonstrates. Its voiceover is in Baldwin's own words, the beautiful music of his language measured out by Samuel L. Jackson in an intimate spoken-word performance. In televised interviews and debates from the 1960s, Baldwin is pensive and incendiary, and the film cuts between his embattled times and our own. Baldwin investigated the mystery of the fathomless hatred of white Americans for blacks, and while his analysis was economic, it also involved a kind of psychoanalysis of the American psyche. This film's jumping-off point is Remember This House, his unfinished manuscript about the intertwining lives, and violent deaths, of his friends/foils Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers. Soon it turns to The Devil Finds Work, his earthy, shattering essay about growing up a child of the movies. Baldwin understood cinema as "the American looking glass," and he wrote with such lucidity, and such painful honesty, about what he saw reflected there, about himself, race, and his country. "To encounter oneself is to encounter the other," he wrote, "and this is love. If I know that my soul trembles, I know that yours does, too: and, if I can respect this, both of us can live." Viewer identification is complex: as a youngster whose heroes were white, who rooted for Gary Cooper, it came as a huge shock for him to realize "the Indians were you"—and these heroes aimed to kill you off, too. Peck has called his film an essay on images, a "musical and visual kaleidoscope" of fiery blues, lobotomized mass media, classic Hollywood, TV news, reality TV, and advertisements. He causes a government propaganda film from 1960 about U.S. life, all baseball games and amusement parks, to collide with the Watts uprising; a Doris Day movie meets lynched bodies. The point is not even that one is reality and the other is not. It's that these two realities were never forced to confront each other—and they must, because one comes at the other's expense. When Baldwin speaks of the "death of the heart," of our privileged apathy, of an infantile America, an unthinking and cruel place, he could be speaking of the Trump era. He feared for the future of a country increasingly unable to distinguish between illusion, dream, and reality. "Neither of us, truly, can live without the other," he wrote. "For, I have seen the devil...[I]t is that moment when no other human being is real for you, nor are you real for yourself." Let this movie inspire today's young dissenters, and let James Baldwin be our model of oppositional, critical thinking as we raise our angry voices against Donald Trump and everything he stands for. (2016, 95 min, Video Projection) SP
Kelly Richmond Pope’s ALL THE QUEENS HORSES (New Documentary)
Gorton Center (400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest) – Friday, 7pm
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, Pope is 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
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Cinema53 (at the Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave.) screens Barbara McCullough’s 2017 documentary HORACE TAPSCOTT: MUSICAL GRIOT (72 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 7pm, with McCullough and local musician Renée Baker in person. Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens C.A. Griffith & H.L.T. Quan’s 2010 documentary MOUNTAINS THAT TAKE WING: ANGELA DAVIS & YURI KOCHIYAMA – A CONVERSATION ON LIFE, STRUGGLES, AND LIBERATION (98 min, DVD Projection) on Saturday at 8pm, as part of its monthly “Dyke Delicious” screening series. Preceded by a social hour at 7pm.
The Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center presents Latham Zearfoss: Home Movies on Thursday at 6pm, with local videomaker, artist, and organizer Zearfoss in person. The program is a selection of his experimental videos from 2008-18, which merge personal, political, and community themes; two of the works will include live performative elements. Approx. 70 min total.
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) screens Raul Ruiz’s 1983 French/Portuguese film CITY OF PIRATES (111 min, Video Projection) on Sunday at 7pm.
Also at the Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) this week: Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman’s documentaries FAR OFF SOUNDS and THE SEASTEADERS (No Details Available) screen on Thursday at 7pm, with Hurwitz-Goodman in conversation with U of C professor Judy Hoffman. Free admission.
The Spertus Institute (610 S. Michigan Ave.) screens Robert Philipson’s 2017 documentary BODY AND SOUL: AN AMERICAN BRIDGE (58 min, Video Projection) on Sunday at 2pm. The event includes a discussion and mini-performance by Orbert Davis, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic.
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E 70th St.) screens Christopher S. Rech and Brandon Kimber’s 2014 documentary A MURDER IN THE PARK (91 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 7pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
The Chicago Public Library – Harold Washington Branch (400 S. State St.) screens Ines Sommer’s 2017 documentary IT IS NO SECRET: THE LIFE AND INSPIRATION OF REVEREND CLAY EVANS (38 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 6pm. Followed by a panel discussion. Free admission.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Alex Guimerà and Juan Pajares’ 2015 Spanish documentary ONE DAY I SAW 10,000 ELEPHANTS (80 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Andy Serkis’ 2017 film BREATHE (118 min, DCP Digital) on Saturday at 2 and 7pm; and Daniel Petrie’s 1961 film A RAISIN IN THE SUN (128 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free admission. www.northbrook.info/events/film
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2017 UK/Irish/US film THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (121 min, DCP Digital) screens daily (except on Tuesday); the 2016 multi-director omnibus Mexican/Polish film TALES OF MEXICO (118 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Jacob Feiring’s 2016 documentary SAMANTHA’S AMAZING ACROCATS (57 min, Digital File) screens on Friday at 8:15pm and Saturday at 3pm, with Feiring in person at both shows; and Sadaf Foroughi’s 2017 Iranian/Canadian film AVA (102 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 6pm and Sunday at 5:30pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Sean Baker’s 2017 film THE FLORIDA PROJECT (111 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Jonathan Lynn’s 1992 film MY COUSIN VINNY (120 min, 35mm) is on Monday at 9:30pm; Henri Verneuil’s 1969 French film THE SICILIAN CLAN (122 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9:30pm; Ridley Scott’s 1991 film THELMA AND LOUISE (130 min, 35mm Archival Print) is on Thursday at 7pm; and Sam Raimi’s 2009 film DRAG ME TO HELL (99 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:45pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 Chilean film A FANTASTIC WOMAN (104 min, DCP Digital) opens; Yasuharu Hasebe’s 1970 Japanese film STRAY CAT ROCK: SEX HUNTER (85 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; Holger Tappe’s 2017 animated film MONSTER FAMILY (96 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 5pm; Takayuki Hamana’s 2017 Japanese animated film MAGICAL GIRL LYRICAL NANOHA: REFLECTION (111 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 11:30am; Michael Curtiz’s 1942 film CASABLANCA (102 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 2pm (preceded by a Valentine’s-themed sing-along); and Rob Reiner’s 1987 film THE PRINCESS BRIDE (98 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7pm, showing in a “play-along” version and preceded by a costume contest.
Also at Facets Cinémathèque this week: Jason James’ 2017 film ENTANGLEMENT (85 min, Video Projection) plays for a week-long run; and Tony Gatlif’s 1993 French documentary LATCHO DROM (96 min, Video Projection; Free Admission) is on Monday at 6:30pm, showing as a “Teach-In screening with accompanying discussion.
The DuSable Museum screens Lynn Kessler’s 2010 made-for-television documentary SEIZING JUSTICE: THE GREENSBORO 4 (47 min, Video Projection) on Sunday at 4pm. Free admission.
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 9 - February 15, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Scott Pfeiffer, Joe Rubin