On episode #2 of Cine-Cast, Cine-File managing editor Patrick Friel and associate editors Ben Sachs and K.A. Westphal discuss upcoming screenings and the Music Box Theatre's recent Steven Spielberg mini-retrospective; contributor JB Mabe rounds upcoming experimental screenings in April, including the Nightingale Cinema's 10th anniversary celebration and two 3-D films by Toronto-based filmmaker Blake Williams screening at the Film Studies Center; Ben talks with contributor John Dickson about the Lucrecia Martel series at the Siskel Film Center in April, which includes the local premiere of her new film ZAMA and in-person appearances by the director; and contributor Tien-Tien Jong interviews current Doc Films programming chairs Antonia Glaser and Alexander Fee, as well as one of next year's chairs, Alex Kong, about this quarter's calendar, which includes Michael Haneke and Elia Kazan retrospectives.
As always, special thanks to our producer, Andy Miles, of Transistor Chicago.
Lucrecia Martel’s LA CIÉNAGA and THE HOLY GIRL (Argentine Revivals)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 8pm and Monday, 6:15pm (Ciénaga) and Saturday, 8:30pm and Tuesday, 6pm (Girl)
LA CIÉNAGA (2001, 103 min, 35mm) is one of the most distinctive directorial debuts in cinema, standing alongside CITIZEN KANE, BREATHLESS, THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT, and SWEETIE. Every shot announces a fully developed authorial voice and a mastery over the medium—there was never anything quite like it before, and even Lucrecia Martel’s subsequent films don’t repeat its singular power. It’s a film about the seductive allure of inertia, following two privileged families in the remote Argentine town of Salta (where Martel herself is from) as they laze away a summer. Everyone lives on top of each other, often only half-clothed, in a vaguely sexualized sloth; and since Martel doesn’t make it clear for most of the film how the characters are related (a narrative strategy that defines all four of features), you’re often unsure whether the relationships are truly or only metaphorically incestuous. The film’s structure is elusive as well. I’ve seen the film several times now, and I’m always surprised by how it develops—every event, every revelation of character comes as a surprise, because Martel carefully maintains the illusion that nothing’s happening. “Rather than building up to a dramatic crescendo,” she wrote in a director’s statement, “the film proceeds through an accumulation of innocuous situations, which often lead to nothing but sometimes end fatally.” Martel’s camera often snakes around and through the locations, making it feel as though the moments are being stolen and granting the insights—about sex, family, and class privilege—a certain stinging power. The settings are immersive yet vaguely alien. “All the characters in LA CIÉNAGA feel extremely uneasy in the presence of nature. I wanted to film landscapes that had no picturesque qualities. The natural surroundings are neither pleasant nor welcoming. I refuse to accept the commonly held romantic idea that nature rhymes with harmony... The film depicts a society that has lost its traditions but which cannot afford the security that could make up for it.” Martel’s second feature, THE HOLY GIRL (2004, 106 min, 35mm), builds on numerous themes from her first and is in some ways even better. It centers on a family that owns and lives in a hotel, again in Salta. Amalia, the teenage daughter of one of the owners, attends Catholic education classes and seems to take her lessons seriously, but she also possesses a natural curiosity about sex. When she’s rubbed against by a middle-aged doctor who’s staying at the family hotel for a medical convention, Amalia makes it her mission to save the man’s soul, even if it means ruining his life in the process. Meanwhile Amalia’s single mother (who still acts like a child when she’s around her brother) develops a crush on the poor doctor as well. Martel mixes notion of religion and perversity with a probing wit worthy of Buñuel (the film is often wryly funny), while her meticulous visual compositions and vivid sound design recall the work of Robert Bresson. Yet the warm characterizations, which transcend the sharp humor, are unmistakably Martel’s. THE HOLY GIRL preserves one of the greatest strengths of LA CIÉNAGA, which is the director’s ability to convey, through touching and other signs of physical intimacy, the complex, unspoken relationships that exist between family members and people who have known each other for a long time. The scenes between Amalia’s mother and uncle or those between Amalia and her best friend display a disarming knowingness about human interaction. No matter how many times you see THE HOLY GIRL (and you should see it as many times as you can), these moments lose none of their power to surprise. BS
Travis Wilkerson’s DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check venue website for showtimes
Some of the most important recent American documentaries have looked to our nation’s past to find antecedents and parallels to our tumultuous present. Like Lee Anne Schmitt’s PURGE THIS LAND (which screened at Conversations at the Edge earlier this year), Travis Wilkerson’s DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? is concerned with past episodes of racially motivated violence and the ways they haunt the present. The director narrates the film, framing the contents as a sort of confession or exorcism. At the beginning of GUN, Wilkerson, who is white, informs us that in 1946 his great-grandfather murdered a black man in cold blood in small-town Alabama and never served time for his crime. What follows is an investigation into the lives of Wilkerson’s great-grandfather and the man he killed, interspersed with profiles of the director’s living relatives. (One particularly alarming subplot involves Wilkerson’s aunt, who belongs to a Southern Nationalist group and who may or may not have sent men to intimidate Wilkerson out of filming in her town.) The filmmaking is engaging and unsettling, as Wilkerson combines photographs, old film footage, text, and interviews to craft a portrait of the U.S. where racism and violence are never far from view. (2017, 90 min, DCP Digital) BS
Takeshi Kitano's A SCENE AT THE SEA (Japanese Revival)
The Chicago Film Society (at the Music Box Theatre) – Monday, 7pm
Sports movies often fit together nicely with love stories because their plotlines build off of one another in a crucial way: the drama of each depends on characters recognizing the most advantageous moment, and striking while the iron is hot. The third feature by Takeshi Kitano (director of SONATINE and OUTRAGE), A SCENE AT THE SEA, is a very surprising film, in part for its curious deviation from this well-trod formula in favor of telling a different kind of sports/love story. It is returning this week to Chicago for the first time in over 20 years for a rare screening—on an exquisitely vibrant 35mm print imported from Japan—with long landscape shots of sea, sky, and urban blight, all saturated in the director’s signature “Kitano-blue.” Even though there are scenes set at surf contests too, A SCENE AT THE SEA is an odd sports movie that never really shows much interest in the competition or psychology of its participants, but instead turns its focus to the mystery, transformative power, and rigorous beauty of surfing itself, as a solo endeavor with an uncertain endgame. A deaf teenager named Shigeru (Claude Maki) works as a garbage man. He leads a life of peaceful routine, going to work in the morning, followed by dates with a lovely, kindred spirit named Takako on spare afternoons. In-between, he gazes out at the brilliant blue sea. One day, after salvaging a surfboard from the trash, he decides to become obsessed with surfing. He surfs every day—all the time, and never enough—and with this simple decision, we see his life irreversibly change. Watching Shigeru surf, I found myself in bodily sympathy with him on-screen—an intense and special form of cinematic identification that happens with much less frequency than standard narrative identifications. Let me clarify: I have never surfed before—I’ve never even seen the sea in-person or gone swimming in a large body of water—but watching the trancelike surfing sequences in this film brought me back viscerally to the sensation of learning to dance ballet, and all the corresponding feelings of both trauma and transcendence that define those early memories. Kitano’s film is uncanny in its emotional power, and surprising in the way that it transmits with unusual directness a seldom publicly expressed, painful truth about many sports (and definitely ballet): the process of training for it requires getting used to the idea that this activity you have grown to love more than anything else is also the thing that will ultimately disfigure and maim your body. This is an inescapable part of what it will take to master the thing, to continue to do it at all. Just as dancing ballet will mean learning to love bleeding through your pointe shoes, surfing may mean learning to love the waves, even when the water gets choppy and deadly, darkly cold. One day, you will accept these things as normal. But there is another layer to the figure of Shigeru well worth considering too, as a character already labeled with a disability, who society doesn’t otherwise make much space for. Agnes de Mille (niece of Cecil B.) wrote in her beautiful book Dance to the Piper that ballet “represents the body as we wish it were, not one of our bodies well used, but a dream body liberated from trouble.” It is the dream body that we see Shigeru tirelessly, obsessively strive towards in A SCENE AT THE SEA. Kitano does not ever show this perfected body directly, but we can imagine it reflected in the reaction shots on Takako’s face, as she shines with an inner light from her position watching him on the beach. Shigeru’s surfing body resonates, sublimely, as the body he can make available for public display without shame; through surfing, a new, more tolerable way of moving through the world opens up to him, not necessarily defined in relation to his deafness. (While A SCENE AT THE SEA is not a film that engages articulately with representational issues of disability, it does suggest the discrimination that Shigeru and Takako face, and stands out as a striking exception in ‘90s East Asian cinema, which routinely disregarded or tokenized the experiences of differently-abled characters). Vivid and haunting, the film reverently observes Shigeru’s love for surfing, even as it preserves its essential mystery. Merce Cunningham’s insight was, “You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.” The synth score by Joe Hisaishi—composer for animator Hayao Miyazaki, whose films often portray transcendent moments when characters take to the sky—helps connect Shigeru’s surfing to the hopefulness of taking flight. Preceded by the short STUDY IN WET (1964, 9 min, 16mm) directed by Homer Groening—father/muse to Simpsons animator Matt. (1991, 101 min, Imported 35mm Print) TTJ
Philippe Garrel’s LOVER FOR A DAY (New French)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
There’s a casual mastery to latter-day Philippe Garrel that reveals a filmmaker who knows his craft inside and out and knows how to achieve the maximum effect with the simplest means. Even a shot of three characters sitting around a kitchen table (of which there are quite a few here) becomes a rich study in human interaction under Garrel’s gaze; and as for the closeups, they are, as usual, painterly, probing, and mesmerizing. The plot of LOVER FOR A DAY is nothing new, even for Garrel: a college student (played by Garrel’s daughter Esther) returns home after a messy break-up to find that her professor father is living with a young woman her own age. The characters love, comfort, and betray one another, yet they always have their reasons for doing so—one of the film’s many splendors is its even-handed sympathy that privileges no one character over another. (2017, 76 min, DCP Digital) BS
Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson’s THE GREEN FOG (New American)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
Although many of his films have featured significant influences from German Expressionism and silent film styles more generally, Guy Maddin (and his co-directors, Brothers Johnson) takes a totally different approach in THE GREEN FOG, a creative retelling of VERTIGO using clips from nearly 100 different films (and a few TV shows) that take place in or near San Francisco. This condensed homage is broken into three sections: a prologue featuring a green fog rolling into the city and two chapters that are marked by some shifts in their respective editing styles. Much of the film is devoid of dialogue and intentionally edits conversation out of its source sequences to only show the characters’ inhalation or exhalation before or after their lines would have been spoken. Instead, Maddin’s narrative utilizes visual elements to recall VERTIGO’s plot points, such as the music video for NSYNC’s “This I Promise You” which takes place in the Redwood National Forest or Mel Brooks falling in HIGH ANXIETY. The film quickly becomes a game of ‘I Spy’ for the viewer as one mentally runs VERTIGO’s story in one’s mind and try to align the original with the scenes happening on screen. Maddin’s trademark avant-garde style blends well with this film’s intriguing concept and its editing is truly clever. Prior knowledge of Hitchcock’s masterpiece is not required to appreciate the artistry here, as it is a film that feels like it’s made for those who love movies of all eras. At times pure cinema and at others a montage on steroids, THE GREEN FOG showcases Guy Maddin as one of the finest working in experimental cinema. (2017, 63 min, DCP Digital) KC
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s THREE COLORS: RED (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 7pm
One of the culminating films of the 20th century, RED not only brings Krzysztof Kieslowki’s “Three Colors” trilogy to a grand close, but stands at the summation of one of the great careers in modern European movies. Kieslowski and his longtime co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz symphonically interweave their major themes (fate, coincidence, the possibility of transcendence in modern life), creating a story that’s remarkable for being both dense and flowing. Where BLUE was inspired by the idea of liberty and WHITE by the idea of equality, RED tackles the concept of fraternity, inviting viewers to contemplate how individuals are connected to one another in society at large. It centers on the relationship between a burgeoning fashion model (Irène Jacob) and the retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) she meets by chance after she hits his dog with her car. The young woman wants to do good by the judge, but doubts her mission as she gets to know him; the old man turns out to be a misanthrope and a voyeur who uses audio surveillance technology to spy on his neighbors. Kieslowski and Piesiewicz counterpose this story with one about an aspiring young judge who comes to suspect his lover of being unfaithful, and while this tale is more comic in nature, it gains resonance from its parallels with the principal narrative. Like few other directors, Kieslowski was able to suggest the perspective of a compassionate deity looking out on humankind, and in RED, he uses that gift to advance a perspective that’s at once intimate and broad. These characters could be anybody (Kieslowski’s camera could have followed any telephone wire from that opening montage, could have landed on any subject); that they experience individual desires and moral aspirations inspires wonder with the depth and variety of human existence. Piotr Sobocinski’s cinematography, with its emphasis on deep reds and blacks, adds to the film’s inviting power. This is a movie you want to envelop yourself in. (1994, 99 min, 35mm) BS
CHICAGO PALESTINE FILM FESTIVAL (Gene Siskel Film Center)
Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine’s GAZA SURF CLUB
The genesis of passion interests me. How and why do people become absorbed in the things that light their soul on fire amid a dreary, weary world? Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine’s GAZA SURF CLUB, a paradoxically congenial and politically charged documentary about a group of Palestinian surfers from the Gaza Strip, provides uncommon insight into this very conceit. The film opens with a helpful synopsis of the turmoil, with text on screen explaining that Gaza is “almost sealed off from the rest of the world, since Hamas came to power after their election in 2006.” Gnadt and Yamine then follow several of the surfers as they grapple with personal and political struggles, often one and the same: Abu, the oldest at 42, gives the history of Gaza’s surf culture and laments his confinement in the gridlocked region; Ibrahim, 23, the most fortunate of the three, summarizes the current state of things with respects to the titular club, then travels to Hawaii on a hard-won visa; and Sabah, a 15-year-old girl unable to continue swimming or surfing now that she’s no longer a child due to unspecified cultural conventions. It’s beautifully shot, the aestheticized depiction of Gaza and its picturesque beaches elegantly servicing the film’s mission, which is to reflect beauty of spirit and place in an altogether ugly situation. The widescreen format, somewhat unusual for a documentary, is skillfully employed, each frame artfully composed—the filmmakers waste no space. The editing is considerably ambitious as it weaves the three central stories together, transitioning from one to another with no fanfare; this daringness sets it apart from other, more conventional documentaries of recent years. It’s altogether an engaging film, ripe in both entertainment value and political import. The passion of its subjects will leave one feeling more hopeful about a seemingly hopeless world. If, in the midst of certain chaos, there are those who can still yearn for such a chaotic thrill, one that's a veritable metaphor for what it means to truly live, then all is not lost. Preceded by Ahmad Saleh's short AYNY (2016, Germany/Jordan/Palestine, 10 min). KS
Raed Andoni's GHOST HUNTING
As the years go by, I find I'm less and less able to stomach torture scenes. Perhaps you feel the same way. Why, then, do I say you really must see Raed Andoni's intense, quietly cathartic GHOST HUNTING, which takes as its subject the Al-Moscobiya interrogation center in Jerusalem, which deploys torture in all its guises: sensory deprivation, standing torture, isolation, dehumanization? Because this movie, which won the first-ever best documentary award at Berlinale 2017, is a form of exorcism: Andoni's project is to create an experience that can purge the pain and trauma with acting and laughter. He put out a casting call for ex-detainees: almost everyone involved in this film was an inmate at Al-Moscobiya, or a similar prison. They gather in a warehouse in Ramallah to rebuild that jail, reconstructing their own cells. They're really building their own world, where they can think, remember, bond, and act out the roles of prisoner and guard, often switching off. The final result is not the planned dramatic movie, though Ramzi Maqdisi (WRITING ON SNOW), the only professional actor, has recurring scripted scenes. Instead, we get a candid documentary about the ex-prisoners themselves. In the beginning, we hear a door clang shut and see an animated figure chained in a chair, with a bag over his head. The real Andoni steps into the cartoon and lifts the bag to reveal...himself, 30 years ago, when he was an inmate. Later, as the man who really lived through the experience looks on, the film recreates the day soldiers forced him to piss himself, then used his bound body to mop it up. Playing the prisoner, Maqdisi actually pees his pants; the "soldiers" really use him as a rag. Suddenly, the survivor shouts out something remarkable: he tells Maqdisi to laugh. Afterwards, when the "soldiers" leave, he gets down close to the shackled man on the cold ground, and tells him to sing a little song. ("We are telling a story," he sings softly, "that shows your real faces.") When asked afterwards how he laughed at that moment, the man points to his head and says, "Strength is here." These men have developed fine, dark senses of gallows humor. As they pretend to mistreat each other, the scenarios they reenact crack them up, as if at the cosmic unfairness of it all. "Humor is a weapon," as one man puts it. While watching, I thought of a villain like U.S. General Geoffrey Miller, who ran the Guantanamo detention center as a "behavioral science laboratory." Andoni, whose demeanor is gently steely, is interested in exploring that dynamic, and the movie becomes an auto-critique. Wadee, his assistant director, castigates him as a control freak, and Maqdisi accuses him of "trying to have a new experience in our skin." To be fair, Andoni puts himself through everything he asks of his actors. At one point, Wadee suddenly cuffs and blindfolds him, and Maqdisi repeatedly smashes his bagged head against the wall. (This leads to an astonishing moment when the cartoon Andoni hallucinates his own tears hitting the ground as fireworks.) When asked why he's doing the movie in the first place, Andoni finally replies, "What's inside you, either you beat it or it beats you." Late in the film, a man reads a heartrending poem about the impact of torture on his life. The next moment, though, he's thinking about his upcoming wedding, "a moment of joy in life." "I'm making my own happiness," he tells us. "Love is beautiful. There is nothing better." The next thing we know, they're staging "a wedding party in the tie-down room," cast and crew dancing and clapping in celebration. They sing and hug each other and kiss. I recall also a revealing moment when a set painter shares how his brother "committed suicide" in Al-Moscobiya; later, he confides that when he was in his prison bed, it was remembering the smell of his baby that got him through. By the time Andoni transforms their mock prison into an art gallery and opens it up to the cast's children—including that man's little boy—we understand what this extraordinary project's really been about: survivors—not victims—transmuting their experiences into something positive by making them into a film. The door clangs open, and cartoon Raed and real Raed—the older man alongside his younger self—walk out together into the open air. Preceded by THE PARROT (Darin J. Sallam and Amjad Al Rasheed 2016, Germany/Jordan, 18 min). (2017, 94 min, DCP Digital) SP
Mohanad Yaqubi’s OFF FRAME: REVOLUTION UNTIL VICTORY
Compiled mostly from films produced between 1970 and 1979 by the Palestine Film Unit, Mohanad Yaqubi’s OFF FRAME: REVOLUTION UNTIL VICTORY is a document of Palestinians’ attempts to create and present their own images of themselves in the decades following their expulsion from their homeland by the new nation of Israel in 1948. It’s also a document of the suppression of these images, as the PFU’s archive was lost or destroyed when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. In a heroic feat of archival sleuthing, Yaqubi pieced OFF FRAME together from prints that played international festivals. He eschews title cards, narration, and identifying information; although a rough chronology eventually becomes clear, and major figures like Yasser Arafat are immediately recognizable, the scenes often flow by hypnotically, merging into a picture of perpetual conflict punctuated by scenes of a people trying to go about their lives in exile. At times the clips reminded me of Dziga Vertov’s socialist-realist “poetic documentaries” like THREE SONGS ABOUT LENIN; others were firmly in Newsreel (the radical filmmaking collective of the 1960s-70s) territory, and indeed, the end credits revealed that one of Newsreel’s films is excerpted here. Vanessa Redgrave makes an appearance, as does Jean-Luc Godard in clips from his and Anne-Marie Miéville’s HERE AND ELSEWHERE, which itself is partially constructed from REVOLUTION UNTIL VICTORY, which Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin produced as part of Groupe Dziga Vertov. Circles within circles. There are segments from international news broadcasts to remind us of what Israeli, US, and most European outlets thought of the Palestinians, and some footage is inserted for what almost seems like comedic value: a French news anchor asks a pipe-smoking philosophy professor what events like the Black September attack on the Munich Olympics "mean." (He responds, "These events inspire diverse thoughts.” Exactly.) Given the lack of narration, title cards, dates, and locations, this will disappoint viewers looking for a traditional documentary about the Palestinians’ fight for their homeland, but Yaqubi is reaching for something different than that. We see him three times, though always semi-obscured: loading a film print onto a Steenbeck, operating a microfilm reader, standing behind a portable projector. (There may be more: whose voices do we hear discussing the last moments of a cameraman’s life as they look at the footage he was shooting when he was killed?) Each instance operates as a perfectly timed nudge, a reminder that we’re watching something that someone constructed, that documentary isn’t the same as reality, that it’s when a documentary seems to flow seamlessly that you should be the most alert. He seems to be reminding us by extension that the "official," pro-Israel story that has been the dominant voice for the past seventy years is equally constructed. Preceded by ONE DAY IN JULY (Hermes Mangialardo, 2015, Italy, 2 min) and 100 BALFOUR ROAD (Palestine Return Center and Balfour Apology Center, 2017, UK/Palestine, 11 min). (2015, 80 min, Digital Projection) MWP
Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 2pm and Saturday, 1:15pm
Despite its massive popularity and canonization as the classic film, VERTIGO remains one of the most insidious, disturbing movies of all time, particularly as it relates to the tortuous labyrinth of the psyche. Out of all the films in the Hitchcock oeuvre, VERTIGO resonates with the most Freudian overtones. Indeed, there exists a strong thematic thread between the two men: both are essentially concerned with peeling back the facade of normalcy to reveal something perverse lurking underneath. As with psychoanalysis, nothing is as it seems in VERTIGO. The story—about Scottie (James Stewart), a former detective being lured out of retirement to investigate the suspicious activities of Madeleine (Kim Novak), his friend's wife—is a pretense for an exploration into the (male) creation of fantasies, a subject that's integral to how we experience movies on the whole. From the very beginning of the film it's almost as if Scottie is subconsciously aware that Madeleine is an unattainable illusion. When he gazes at her in the flower shop, it feels as if the two are situated in different realms of reality. Even when Scottie and Madeleine are at their most intimate, he's kept at a distance by the enigma of her femininity. It's precisely because of this Delphic quality that Madeleine is elevated to the status of fantasy object after her death. In fact, her death only enhances her desirability, the notion that sex/Eros and death/Thanatos are intimately intertwined being one of Freud's most groundbreaking theories (though partial credit should be given to Sabina Spielrein, as David Cronenberg's A DANGEROUS METHOD suggests). Scottie's transformation of Judy into Madeleine in the second half of the film suggests that male desire hinges on the alignment of fantasy and reality; however, Judy is complicit in her metamorphosis from her true self into a fantasy object, evoking John Berger's supposition that "Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at." The famous silhouette shot of Judy in the hotel room emphasizes the bipartite nature of the female psyche—a woman might love you, but she'll simultaneously take part in a nefarious murder plot at your expense. In the end, Judy/Madeleine is anything but a certified copy—she's tainted, corrupt, and cheapened. VERTIGO suggests that one cannot (re)create something that never truly existed in the first place. As Slavoj Zizek puts it: "We have a perfect name for fantasy realized. It's called nightmare." (1958, 128 min, 35mm) HS
Elia Kazan's BABY DOLL (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
No single production has done more to advance the misconception that Tennessee Williams was a psychological realist than Elia Kazan's movie of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Had that play been filmed by, say, Robert Aldrich or Alexander Mackendrick (who responded to the language of Clifford Odets with instinctive stylization), perhaps Williams would be more commonly remembered as the great baroque poet he was. Those movies may exist in a parallel universe, but at least ours still has BABY DOLL. An allegory penned with righteous anger, Williams' black comedy invokes rape, pedophilia, and arson to mirror the economic degradation of the American South; it remains a film that must be seen to be believed. Karl Malden plays a white-trash cotton gin owner driven mad by two things: the persistent virginity of his child bride (According to his arrangement with her parents, he can't consummate the marriage until she turns 20) and the economic ascendancy of his rival, a Sicilian immigrant played by Eli Wallach. The film incited a scandal upon its release in 1956, but as Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote of Billy Wilder's KISS ME, STUPID, "its undisguised contempt for the American hinterlands and the success ethic makes the sexual element seem dirtier than it actually is." Kazan's masterful use of real locations (perhaps his most consistent strength as a filmmaker) heightens rather than detracts from the writer's poetics; the neglected landscapes make a perfect backdrop for Williams' lost souls. Malden and Wallach are great enough to imbue their caricatures with human depth, but caricatures they remain, and it's fascinating to watch their outsized performances clash with Kazan's realistic tendencies. (1956, 114 min, 35mm) BS
Lee Chang-Dong’s OASIS (Korean Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Sunday, 7pm
Lee Chang-Dong’s OASIS is one of the riskiest gambles in contemporary melodrama, striving to find real emotional catharsis in material easily susceptible to sentimentality or facile politicization--the romance between a mentally ill ex-con and a woman with severe cerebral palsy. Cannily plotted, the film gradually builds familiarity with the characters, allowing them to operate on their own terms after an introductory stretch of uncomfortable moments. (The ex-con’s disability, though never explicitly identified, is unpredictable enough to register with those with first-hand experience with the mentally ill. Or, as layman Michael Atkinson wrote in the Village Voice, “[I]t's apparent that Jong-du is simply one of those people: He stands too close to strangers, never says the right thing, and can't help defiling social norms…”) After its lovers become three-dimensional human beings and no longer embodiments of their respective disabilities, OASIS becomes as funny, romantic, and heartbreaking as any great movie about “normal” characters. Many critics have noted, with implicit head-scratching, that writer-director Lee went on to become South Korea’s Minister of Culture under the reformist government elected in 2003. In retrospect, his career move seems foreshadowed by the film: Few other recent filmmakers have dared to present love as a social necessity. (2002, 132 min, 35mm) BS
David Cronenberg's DEAD RINGERS (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Tuesday, 9:30pm [Rescheduled Screening]
David Cronenberg is the master of squeamishness. DEAD RINGERS is possibly his most exquisitely balanced film. It's the place to start for a novice, containing all of his most cherished themes. The preoccupation with biology, most particularly the shape and function of body cavities; the examination of the way personal identity can be permeable; the meticulous exploration of the ways substances alter perception. What cements the equilibrium is the sober, almost clinical way Cronenberg frames the action, no matter how bizarre the story gets. It's about twin gynecologists and their psychic imbalance, so his tone is entirely appropriate. And because Jeremy Iron's dual performances are so spot on, you'd barely know that special effects were involved at all. Carol Spier's art direction doesn't get nearly enough credit in Cronenberg's oeuvre: DEAD RINGERS is preoccupied with color - the blood red surgical gowns (iconic) contrast brilliantly with pale skin tones and the gray Toronto winter. Details like these do a lot of the heavy lifting. By this point Cronenberg was not a horror filmmaker any longer, if he ever really had been. There's relatively little actual gore onscreen because he's much more interested in heightening our discomfort. He does this by telling rather showing (an extended description of a vagina is both hilarious and unsettling) and by amping up our expectations of witnessing something horrific (as during the lovingly through examinations of gleaming gynecological instruments). And through dialog, of course. You can't beat a line like "Pain creates character distortion. It's simply not necessary." (1988, 99 min, archival 35mm) RC
Robert Altman's NASHVILLE (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7 and Sunday, 1:30pm
"You go get your hair cut! You don't belong in Nashville!" "Mary and I camp in one room, Tom camps in many rooms." "I've been busier than a puppy in a room full of rubber balls." As much as any Altman film, NASHVILLE is filled to the brim with things to watch. But it's equally dense with things to hear, encouraging the viewer to fully be a listener as well. The soundtrack is integral to NASHVILLE's mosaic structure, bursting with brilliant dialog (scripted? improvised? does it matter?) that can't possibly be taken in all at one sitting. In other words, if you've seen NASHVILLE once you've only experienced one version of the film. So keep a-goin' and head down to Doc. (1975, 159 min, DCP Digital) RC
John Carpenter's CHRISTINE (American Revival)
ArcLight Chicago – Tuesday, 7:30pm
With its precise control of perspective, midway reversal of sympathy, and mordant humor, this thriller about a boy and his psychic car is the John Carpenter movie that most thoroughly shows the influence of Alfred Hitchcock on the director. A bullied teenager (Keith Gordon, a dead ringer for C-F's own Ben Sachs) pours all of his time and money into restoring a sinister 1957 Plymouth Fury that then proceeds to help him realize his repressed urges; Carpenter's use of ironically-placed pop songs, editing, a superb supporting cast (including lifelong old coots Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Prosky, and Roberts Blossom), color, and rain machines turns this Stephen King-originated story of ordinary folks confronting absolute evil (embodied largely by lens flares and the color red) into a battle of formal elements. (1983, 110 min, Digital Projection) IV
Paul Thomas Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD (New American)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Venue website for showtimes
More often than not, modern movies are endlessly clogged with flimsy and cardboard cutouts of the “classic love story,” a trend hopefully being seared away entirely, given that they seem more offensive in a cavernous last year of cynicism and bitterness. The genre has been in desperate need of a refurbishing to allow for a better understanding of what’s embedded inside its own fragile construction. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest and possibly greatest achievement isn’t without a mind of its own; it is a wonderfully conceived cinematic dream, wrapped in the lush, evergreen imagination of an artist working closely within the inner representation of his creations, much like Daniel Day-Lewis’ dress-making main character, Reynolds Woodcock. Anderson achieves something much closer to the actual emotions and feelings that echo throughout a relationship between two people, avoiding many of the stale and dry trends found in the modern romance movie. These lifeless morality lessons, usually soaked in a pale blue sadness, seem too bitter and lazy to have much real purpose and functionality, allowing Anderson to spin a delightedly deceptive chamber piece instead. Given the film’s advertising, championing PHANTOM THREAD as a brooding sure-fire contender in the race for awards-season gold, you might be surprised to discover a strange rom-com hiding in the lining of its framework. The plot involves a dressmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his closely-curated daily home and work life, right as another of his romantic relationships is beginning to dim out. As another unfulfilled and lifeless relationship goes, Woodcock decides to retreat to one of his favorite restaurants (it is here I’d like to heavily underline the film’s ideas about taste and hunger, given new literal and metaphorical life in a way that is shockingly unpretentious). It is at this place of dining that he meets Alma, played by newcomer Vicky Krieps, that leads to an intimate portrayal of love’s inherent mystery, built inside an almost hermetic world of imagination that conjures up visions of the classical Hollywood era, while simultaneously managing to subvert the work of “tradition.” straddling the lines of the modern and classical film structure/form with the skill of a master operating at the height of their creative abilities. Despite taking place in Great Britain, this is far from the British-ness on display in BBC dramas and endless droves of Oscar bait. Beginning with its suggestive point-of-view, then unwinding between not two points of view, but a shared point of view, the personal nature of this film for Anderson is evident, with Anderson not only writing the script, but also shooting nearly every frame of film himself (though he appears uncredited in that role). The everyday gestures, glances, embraces, arguments, and alluring atmosphere between two people seeps through every frame, delivering unexpected surprises carefully yet unabashedly. This is one of the few films in recent years that is really essential to witness in 70mm. The projection’s colors and light are captured in spellbinding luminosity, the sounds and images pushing forth the relationship of one woman and one fragile male ego, across a tapestry of sensual pleasures with hardly a hint of on-screen sex in sight. The results trace the lines around eroticism, rather than circling it directly, letting them blossom into a rare achievement in recent American cinema, a precious gift inside the fabric of it’s own design; one to keep close through the next several years. (2018, 130 min, DCP Digital) JD
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Society (at at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) screens William Wyler's 1936 film DODSWORTH (101 min, 35mm) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Preceded by Jacques Tourneur's 1938 film YANKEE DOODLE GOES TO TOWN (25 min, 16mm).
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) and Chicago Film Archives present Out of the Vault: Anywhere But Here – Experimental Animation on Saturday at 8pm, with Lillian Somersaulter-Moats and Michael Moats in person. Screening are: THE EGGS (Yōji Kuri, 1967, 9 min), CHROMOPHOBIA (Raoul Servais, 1966, 10 min), THE BUTTON (Yōji Kuri, 1963, 3 min), INTERGALACTIC ZOO (Mort and Millie Goldsholl, 1958, 3 min), PLUS VITE (Peter Foldes, 1966, 9 min), J.P. SOMERSAULTER’S PREMIERE CARTOON CARTOON (Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter, 1975, 6 min), OPERA CORDIS (Dušan Vukotić, 1968, 10 min), and YO YO THE CLONE, TOO (Somersaulter-Moats and Somersaulter, 5 min). All 16mm.
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Works by Joshua Gen Solondz (2007-17, 57 min) on Monday at 7pm, with Solondz in person. The program of experimental works includes: AGAINST LANDSCAPE (2013), PERFECT FANTASY (2014), IT’S NOT A PRISON IF YOU NEVER TRY THE DOOR (2013), KERATIN RESERVE (2009), LAPSE (2014), BURNING STAR (2011), PRISONER’S CINEMA (2012), LUNA E SANTUR), DEVIATIONS FROM THE WHEEL (2007), and NIGHTMARE ARSON FIRE (2017).
The Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) presents Seeing with the Mind's Eye: 3D Works by Marc Downie and OpenEndedGroup on Friday at 7pm, with Downie in person. Screening are: AFTER GHOSTCATCHING (2010-11, 13 min), STAIRWELL (2010, 8 min), LOOPS (2001-13, 13 min), and SACCADES (2014, 36 min); and presents a lecture by Noam Elcott (Columbia University) titled “Genealogies of the Screen: Surface/Canvas/Scrim” on Thursday at 4pm. Free admission.
The Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 200) screens Alexander Kluge’s mammoth 2008 documentary film NEWS FROM IDEOLOGICAL ANTIQUITY – MARX/EISENSTEIN/THE CAPITAL (570 min, Video Projection) on Tuesday at 10am; and Christian Tod’s 2017 Austrian/German documentary FREE LUNCH SOCIETY (95 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at Noon. Preceded by Bob Godfrey’s 1978 short MARX FOR BEGINNERS (7 min). Free admission.
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) presents Hale Ekinci: The Gün (aka Gold Day) on Saturday at 6pm. The program features two short films by Hale Ekinci, plus a discussion and food.
The Windy City Horrorama festival takes place Friday-Sunday at the Davis Theater. Full schedule at www.windycityhorrorama.com.
DePaul University presents the conference A Celebration of Slashers on Saturday from 9am to 6pm at their loop campus (247 S. State St). Free registration at www.eventbrite.com/e/a-celebration-of-slashers-registration-39261257478.
Scrappers Film Group is screening their 2007 documentary THAX: THE MOVIE (78 min, Video Projection), directed by Alex MacKenzie, on Thursday at 7:30pm at Constellation (3111 N. Western Ave.).
Asian Pop-Up Cinema presents Yukiko Mishima’s 2017 Japanese film DEAR ETRANGER (127 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7pm at AMC River East 21. www.asianpopupcinema.org
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E 70th St.) screens the first episode of Donna Deitch’s 1989 television miniseries THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE (Unconfirmed Running Time, Video Projection) on Friday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Anatole Litvak’s 1940 film ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO (141 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free admission.
The Midwest Independent Film Festival takes place on Tuesday at the Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. There is a 6pm reception, a 6:30pm producer’s panel, and a 7:30pm screening, Comedy Shorts Showcase.
On Sunday at 7pm CIMMFest presents Pether Lindgren and Lisa Nordström’s 2017 Swedish music film SONICA SEQUENCE (55 min, Video Projection) at Elastic Arts (3426 W. Diversey Ave.). Followed by a performance by Nordström and Lindgren, and Chicagoan Tim Daisy. Ticket information at www.eventbrite.com/myevent?eid=45312098707.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts CHA/DePaul Documentary Film Screening on Wednesday at 6pm (5pm reception). The program features short documentaries by teen female residents of the Chicago Housing Authority, made with the support of DePaul University faculty and grad students. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and First Nations Film and Video Festival screen Kevin Bacon Hervieux’s 2017 Canadian documentary INNU NIKAMU: CHANTER LA RESISTANCE (96 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Preceded by the short films SUN AND THE GREAT FROG (Joseph Erb, 2017, 5 min) and THE IMPORTANCE OF DREAMING (Tara Audibert, 2017, 11 min). Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco’s 2002 documentary DAUGHTER FROM DANANG (83 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 4:30pm and Tuesday at 6pm, with a lecture by SAIC professor Nora Annesley Taylor at the Tuesday show; and the Palestine Film Festival continues with 1948: CREATION AND CATASTROPHE, THE JUDGE, and our selections above.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Sarah Polley's 2012 Canadian documentary STORIES WE TELL (108 min, 35mm) is on Monday at 7pm; Mary Lambert’s 1989 horror film PET SEMATARY (103 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 9:30pm; Michael Haneke’s 2001 Austrian film THE PIANO TEACHER (131 min, DCP Digital); Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s 1993 film SUTURE (96 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9pm; Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 Italian/French film CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (132 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm.
At the Music Box Theatre this week: Chloë Zhao’s 2017 film THE RIDER (104 min, DCP Digital) and Sophie Fiennes’ 2018 British documentary GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI (115 min, DCP Digital) both open; Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s 2017 film THE ENDLESS (111 min, DCP Digital) continues; Mark Robson’s 1967 film VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (125 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7pm, with Bill Jankowski, co-author of actress Patty Duke’s memoir, in person; Alex Proyas’ 1998 film DARK CITY (100 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; and Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (118 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 11:30am.
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Jamie Meltzer’s 2017 documentary TRUE CONVICTION (84 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 7pm, with Meltzer and subject Christopher Scott in person. Free admission.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Erik Ljung’s 2017 documentary THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP (90 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run, with Ljung in person at the 3, 5, and 7pm Saturday screenings.
Sinema Obscura presents neewollaH, a program of horror shorts and trailers, on Monday at 7pm at the Logan Bar (2230 N. California Ave.). The event also includes an art show and live music.
The Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest (400 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest, IL) screens Jack C. Newell's 2017 documentary 42 GRAMS (82 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm, with Newell in person.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago has artist Paul Pfeiffer’s two-channel video installation Three Figures in a Room (2016, 48 min looped) on view through May 20.
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.
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: April 27 - May 3, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, K.A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, Rob Christopher, John Dickson, Tien-Tien Jong, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael W. Phillips Jr., Harrison Sherrod, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky