On episode #5 of the Cine-Cast, Cine-File associate editor Ben Sachs and contributor JB Mabe talk about the upcoming Ingmar Bergman series at the Gene Siskel Film Center; Ben and contributors Kyle Cubr, John Dickson and Dmitry Samarov discuss the Doc Films summer schedule; Mabe interviews Raul Benitez, film programmer for Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square and lead programmer for the Chicagoland Shorts Volume 4 for Full Spectrum Features; and Ben and contributor Harrison Sherrod chat about the Bill Gunn films GANJA & HESS and PERSONAL PROBLEMS, as well as cult-classic LIQUID SKY, all of which played at the Film Center in June.
Listen here. As always, special thanks to our producer, Andy Miles, of Transistor Chicago.
International Media Mixer (New Experimental/Special Event)
Chicago Film Archives and DCASE at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (Millennium Park) — Tuesday, 6:30pm (Free Admission)
Six years into their wildly generative Media Mixer project—an annual series of commissions bringing local filmmakers and musicians together to build new works of creative appropriation—Chicago Film Archives has gone global for the International Media Mixer, opening up its vast celluloid coffers to Italian artists Federico Francioni, Yan Cheng, and Giuseppe Boccassini. Conversely, a partner archive in Italy, Lab 80 film/Cinescatti, has made newly digitized archival films available to Chicago makers Lori Felker and Domietta Torlasco; curators Michelle Puetz and Karianne Fiorini paired each filmmaker with a musician from the opposite country to compose a soundtrack. Each of these ingenious cross-cultural couplings results in an inspired cinematic assemblage; as a suite, they amount to a real curatorial feat, and one of the season’s essential moving-image events. Between the four, the Italian films drawn from the CFA tend more towards density and dispersal, gathering clips from across a cinematic spectrum that includes industrial films, home movies, scientific films, political documentary, and avant-garde abstraction. Giuseppe Boccassini’s TEMPLE OF TRUTH (2018, 15 min) is particularly restless; a stunning mosaic of iridescent, pulse-quickening fragments. Thanks to Boccassini’s keen eye for graphic matches and contrasts—and to Alex Inglizian’s attentive electronic score, which swings ably between illustration and abstraction—these fugitive images miraculously begin to cohere into elemental clusters of energy, space, and texture. The urgency of Boccassini’s montage erupts through snippets of war, race riots, and natural catastrophe: unlike many archival films, TEMPLE OF TRUTH seems less preoccupied with history than with the social and climatic convolutions of the present. Lori Felker and Domietta Torlasco’s films, on the other hand, respond to the Italian archival material with a strong sense of retrospection. Torlasco’s PARALLAX DASH (2018, 8 min) casts amateur footage in elegant split-screen juxtapositions that feel less analytical than poetic. Conjoining domestic interiors with expansive mountainous regions, Torlasco visually dramatizes her own work of reanimating private lives at vast geographic and temporal removes, discovering different modes of seeing between proximity and distance. Along with its images, the film’s evocative text fragments and Stefano Urkuma De Santis’ diaphanous lowercase score fall somewhere between parallel and counterpoint—something that could also be said for the relation of PARALLAX DASH to Felker’s MEMORIA DATA (2018, 12 min), which culls many of the same shots to vastly different effect. The most conceptually concise of these four works, MEMORIA DATA mines home movies from the Italian archive to single out moments when on-screen subjects—some family members, some merely faces in the crowd—turn their eyes back to the camera. Combined with Patrizia Oliva’s soft incantations and lulling loops, the effect is rapturous, if slightly unnerving. In the accumulation of awkward gazes, the gravitational pull of the lens comes to feel all-devouring, and Felker’s edit certainly exposes the uneven gender dynamics of male cameraman and female object. But MEMORIA DATA moves far beyond critique to recover the emotional layers of trust, play, and social performance in these exchanges. Through precise gradations of slow motion and stillness, the past on screen pierces the present, recalling an observation by Laura Mulvey: “In the cinema, time as it passes becomes palpable, not in the fleetingness of a halted second but in the fleetingness of sequence in process, an amorphous, elusive, present tense, the immediate but illusory ‘now’ that is always experienced as fading into the ‘then’.” Whereas Felker’s film meditates on the inevitable, Federico Francioni and Yan Cheng’s OCTAVIA (2018, 14 min) seeks to capture the ineffable. Its dreamlike superimpositions and delicate strands of narrative continuity, threaded between divergent sources, beckon viewers into a visual labyrinth—one whose coordinates transform with every turn. As with TEMPLE OF TRUTH, OCTAVIA incorporates foley and sound effects alongside Tomeka Reid’s affecting score, adding vital substance to its mirages without intruding on its essentially speculative nature. Named after a floating “spider-web city” described in the film’s closing monologue by Italo Calvino, the work imagines found-footage filmmaking as a high-wire act between raw materiality and untethered imagination. Calvino wrote that “each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.” The four remarkable films making their U.S. premiere in this program prove that the same must be said about film archives as well. For this screening, all four films will be screened outdoors at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion (as part of the summer screening series presented by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events) with live soundtracks performed by the composers. MM
Andy Warhol's POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL (Experimental Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 7pm
One of Andy Warhol's best films, POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL is a profoundly moving portrait by accident: while filming his subject, the mesmerizing Edie Sedgwick, Warhol did not realize that the entire 33 minutes of footage he shot was out of focus. When he saw the result, he "reshot" the film of Edie lounging in her hotel room, talking on the phone, eating, and dressing. Then, in what is a great moment of cinematic inspiration, he decided to combine the two reels—the out of focus one followed by the "corrected" one. Sedgwick's manic qualities, her compulsive talking, her scattered thinking, and her charm all seem to be magnified by the visual obscurity. When we do finally get to see her properly, we are also "seeing" her in a new light, informed and transformed by our inability to see her in the first half. (1965, 67 min, 16mm) PF
Edgar G. Ulmer’s THE STRANGE WOMAN (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7 and 9:30pm
By the ultra-thrifty standards of legendary poverty-row filmmaker Edgar G. Ulmer, 1946’s THE STRANGE WOMAN is a lavish affair, a dressed-up period noir tailor-made by independent producer Hunt Stromberg for its star, the priceless Hedy Lamarr. After her contract with MGM expired in 1945, Lamarr specifically requested fellow Viennese expatriate Ulmer to helm THE STRANGE WOMAN for United Artists. Though in fact made on a modest budget, the film nonetheless gave the Ulmer the biggest canvas of his career; a master of turning shoestrings into lace, he was perfectly suited for this lurid tale about female social mobility, artificial virtue, and the economics of desire. Set in the wild North of 1820s Maine, this arch-Freudian GONE WITH THE WIND follows Lamarr’s Jenny Hager as she frees herself from the abuse of an alcoholic, lay-about father by marrying a wealthy older merchant—only to set about seducing his young son. Viewed as a fantasy of unbridled female power, the film crackles with feminist appeal: watching Jenny rise in wealth and station as she ties feckless men in knots is simply thrilling, even if we know an inevitable “comeuppance” looms ahead. When Jenny’s control starts to slip, the fabric of frontier society begins to unravel as well, figuring all of Bangor as an expressionistic shadow of her psychic distress. Does this violence signal the power of women’s desire to overturn a fragile masculine civic order, or is it just a pretext for the third act’s grotesque spasms of biblical repression? Seemingly cut from the same gynophobic cloth as other tales of stifled female sexuality (think John M. Stahl's 1945 LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN—adapted, like THE STRANGE WOMAN, from a novel by Ben Ames Williams), THE STRANGE WOMAN in fact depicts Jenny not as a murderous psychopath, but as a deeply conflicted domme, driven alternately to piety and perfidy. Ulmer’s unparalleled modulation of darkness and light casts Jenny in surprisingly complex moral shades, but it’s Lamarr who deserves the credit for fashioning such a beguiling character. Her performance is a model of deceptive legibility: precisely rendering each internal calculation with arched eyebrows and widened eyes, her real achievement is nonetheless in preserving Jenny’s fundamental opacity, demanding her conquests (and the viewer) project the nature of her motivations for themselves. Such delectable flickers of illumination and obscurity, at the heart of every great Ulmer picture, demand to be seen on film; thankfully, Doc Films will be threading up THE STRANGE WOMAN in 16mm. (1946, 100 min, 16mm) MM
Raoul Walsh's THE ROARING TWENTIES (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm
A manic Looney Tune, where soldiers hop into trenches like rabbits and two men can be knocked out with a single punch, transforms into a post-Expressionist drama (watch out for the METROPOLIS references!) charting the rise and fall of Jimmy Cagney, a bootlegger who uses a taxi service as a front. Raoul Walsh's Tommy Gun opera has the distinction of being funny enough to qualify as a comedy and epic enough to qualify as a tragedy. Conceived by Warner Bros. as a throwback to their scuzzy pre-Code gangster pictures, this pastiche (literally: some of B-roll shots are outtakes from the studio's early '30s movies) functions both as a downer the-world-moves-on ending to the genre and, aesthetically, a new beginning for both Walsh and American cinema (Martin Scorsese's filmography, for one, seems unimaginable without it). Jarring changes in tone, deep-focus shots, sight gags, rushing dolly-ins: this is primal, potent Walsh. The cast is pretty gully, too; third-billed Humphrey Bogart's image is so firmly entrenched in his later cynical good-guy roles that seeing him play an irredeemable douchebag packs a wallop. (1939, 104 min, 35mm Archival Print) IV
Boots Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (New American)
Boots Riley’s debut feature about a black man who can only become a success in America by using a white voice at his bottom-feeder telemarketing gig is a trenchant, by turns hilarious and horrifying take on the state of our country. Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) can’t make headway interrupting people’s lives on the phone until an older coworker (Danny Glover) shows him how to use a white man’s voice to project confidence and trust, enabling him to become the star of the office. But his newfound talent and riches come at the cost of losing his girlfriend and friends, who are all battling an economic system that is literally turning citizens into chattel. Riley uses conspiracy theories and surreal horror to illustrate the very real situation many Americans, but especially African-Americans find themselves in—trapped in a cutthroat system which values profit over basic human decency at every turn. While Armie Hammer’s evil mogul may be an ugly caricature, he will not be unfamiliar to any halfway-informed resident of 2018 United States of America. His company, Worry Free, which offers food and shelter in exchange for freedom, is like a funhouse mirror version of gig economy juggernauts like Uber or AirBnB. They offer a cheerful illusion of independence as they’re robbing their customer/workers of basic rights. By the time the horse-people appear I was ready to accept about anything Riley threw in front of me because his feel for setting and tone is so assured that even the most out-there moments fit the overall premise. He has created a parallel world not unlike the ones found in the work of Gogol, Kafka, or Paul Beatty’s great 2015 novel, The Sellout, where people are turned into monsters and do outrageous and reprehensible things and no one bats an eye. Much of what he shows has already come to pass and the rest will as well unless we fight like hell against it. (2018, 105 min, DCP Digital) DS
Michael Powell’s THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (British Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) — Wednesday at 7:30pm
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is an early major work directed by Michael Powell, who would go on to make, with Emeric Pressburger, some of the greatest British films (THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING!, THE RED SHOES). It takes place on a small Scottish island in the last days of its inhabitability, observing the stoic residents as they engage in a centuries-old way of life. Powell makes commanding use of the island’s rocky landscapes, particularly during a sequence where two men attempt to settle a personal dispute by racing up the face of a mountain. This passage anticipates some of the brilliant suspense set pieces that occur throughout Powell’s career while maintaining an ethnographic sense of ritual and place common to early documentary filmmaking. The film presents people living at the mercy of their environment, rendering nature at once majestic and forbidding. Powell’s perspective animates not only the race up the mountain, but also a later motif involving a young woman trying to send letters furtively by hiding them in small wooden boats and floating them around the island. The climax, which concerns the islanders’ evacuation of their homeland, is a little masterpiece of tension and release, a fleetly edited sequence that moves between the inhabitants’ preparation to leave and the heroic efforts of the sailors who brave dangerously tall waves to rescue them. Preceded by Powell’s 1941 short AN AIRMAN’S LETTER TO HIS MOTHER (5 min, 35mm). (1937, 74 min, 35mm) BS
Hong Sang-Soo’s THE DAY AFTER (New Korean)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
Art Institute of Chicago alumnus Hong Sang-Soo wrapped up an extremely prolific 2017 with his third film of that year, THE DAY AFTER. One very early morning, Bongwan (Kwon Hae-hyo) heads to the publishing house he runs after evading his wife’s questions on why he has arisen so early. On his walk to work, he somberly reflects upon the affair he had with a coworker which ended only a month prior. Meanwhile, his wife finds a love note from his former lover at home and confronts Areum (Kim Min-hee), Bongwan’s brand-new secretary, accusing her of being the object of her husband’s desire. Hong playfully showcases themes of mistaken identity and its unintended side effects while blurring them under the veneer of ample alcohol consumption. Male misery has been somewhat of a specialty of in his films, and we come to find Bongwan openly invites these troubles into his life as he laments to Areum about the two women in his life. Unlike his other film that played at Cannes in 2017, CLAIRE’S CAMERA, THE DAY AFTER was shot in black and white, which not only amplifies Bongwan’s melancholic state of mind but also imparts a sense of romanticism while juxtaposing it with morally gray decision-making. A slice-of-life film steeped in familiarity, THE DAY AFTER rounds out an impressive year of filmmaking for Hong Sang-Soo. (2017, 92 min, DCP Digital) KC
Ingmar Bergman X 2
Ingmar Bergman’s SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT (Swedish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 3pm and Thursday, 6pm
Falling on the lighter side of Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT is unlike his darker, religiously symbolic films that followed. Deeply personal with sexually frustrated undertones, it alternates between comedy and romance. Lawyer Fredrick Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand) lives with his much younger, virginal second wife, Anne (Ulla Jacobsson), his seminary school-enrolled adult son, Henrick (Björn Bjelvenstam), and their promiscuous maid, Petra (Harriet Andersson). Fredrick’s former mistress, Desiree (Eva Dahlbeck), comes back into his life, and the two quickly rekindle their old flame. It's revealed that she is currently the mistress to another married man, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Jarl Kulle). All of the characters come together at Desiree’s mother’s house for a dinner party where a tangled web is woven. SUMMER NIGHT calls to mind Renoir’s THE RULES OF THE GAME wherein their respective high society aristocrats frequently cheat on one another and everyone wants to be with someone else—they are the antithesis of what is expected of them. Fredrick and Malcolm’s terse rivalry pits the two against one another for Desiree’s affections. Both men’s virility is compared to an animal—Fredrick, an old wolf, and Malcolm, a tiger. Their prey are any of the nubile women around them, and both men are ravenous. A crescendo occurs at the film’s climax when a game of Russian Roulette is decided upon as the only way to solve their quarrels. Bergman brilliantly likens sexual release to the gun firing, as one man lands the object of his affections and the other is left emasculated. SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT is a masterwork on sexuality, interpersonal relationships, and virtue versus vice; it is the embodiment of summer turning to fall. (1955, 108 min, DCP Digital) KC
Ingmar Bergman’s SECRETS OF WOMEN (Swedish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 5:15pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Thematically and formally similar to Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, Ingmar Bergman’s SECRETS OF WOMEN centers on a group of upper-middle-class wives vacationing at the summer home they share with their families. As they wait for their husbands to arrive, the women share stories about personal crises, and these tales, illustrated in flashbacks, comprise the bulk of the picture. It’s hardly as despairing as Bergman’s later SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, although it addresses some of the same topics: infidelity, sexual incompatibility, and the pent-up frustrations spouses hide from each other for the sake of preserving complacency. The first story is by far the most pessimistic. In this one, Rakel (Anita Björk) reluctantly agrees to sleep with her childhood sweetheart in hopes of finding sexual satisfaction, which she doesn’t get from her husband. She quickly regrets the decision and confesses to her husband; the news drives him crazy, and he holes himself up in a shed with his shotgun. Bergman delineates the progression from order to chaos with a sure hand, and his firm control over the material highlights the messiness of the characters’ emotions. The film gets steadily lighter from there: the second story follows a young idealist played by Maj-Britt Nilsson who manages to land a happy marriage with a Swedish artist after she has a baby out of wedlock with an American soldier; and the third looks at a middle-aged couple (Eva Dahlbeck and Gunnar Björnstrand) who are forced to examine their problems when they’re trapped all night in a broken elevator. This final segment is a rare example of Bergman working in a comic register, and while comedy may not have come naturally to the famously brooding filmmaker, his masterful direction of actors makes the material flow more smoothly than it probably should. The whole film is marked by its earthy eroticism—a consistently impressive feature of Bergman’s 50s work—and by Gunnar Fischer’s confident cinematography, which achieves some gorgeous deep-focus effects. (1952, 108 min, DCP Digital) BS
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s THE MURDERER LIVES AT NUMBER 21 (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 2:15pm, Sunday, 3:15pm, Monday, 6:15pm, and Wednesday, 8pm
The Siskel presents a new digital restoration of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s directorial debut. Made while France was under Nazi occupation, this is a lighthearted whodunit full of whistling-past-the-graveyard humor. Pierre Fresnay—who would go on to star in Clouzot’s much darker LE COURBEAU (1948)—is Wens Vorobeychik, a detective charged with catching the mysterious serial-killer Durand, who literally leaves a calling card at the scene of his crimes. Vorobeychik (which is Russian for sparrow) is alternately aided and hampered by his aspiring songbird girlfriend, played by the irrepressible Suzy Delair. Every person the pair encounters is an oddball of one kind or another, which keeps the movie bouncing along to its merry conclusion. Nothing Clouzot would make hereafter would be quite as buoyant, save perhaps for QUAI DES ORFÈVRES (1947), which was also anchored by Delair’s lust-for-life screen persona. Not unlike many of the best American screwball comedies this film was doubtless patterned after, the crime plot is mostly an excuse for a series of sharp verbal and visual gags. The undercurrent of dread, doubtless unavoidable from the circumstances under which Clouzot had to work, is mostly pushed to the margins of the viewer’s consciousness by a cast and camerawork bent on delivering rapid-fire zingers to prevent maudlin wallowing. Still, it is abundantly clear that no one involved is free to truly speak their mind or live as they'd like to. All any of them can do is laugh at bizarre predicament they’ve found themselves in, which is a message as useful then as it is today. (1942, 84 min, DCP Digital) DS
Ofir Raul Graizer's THE CAKEMAKER (New Israeli/German)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes (week one of a two-week run)
In Berlin, a soft-spoken baker, Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) becomes lovers with a married Israeli, Oren (Roy Miller), who visits his cafe just for his wonderful cookies. When Oren dies in an accident in Jerusalem, Thomas moves there, befriending Oren's widow Anat (Sarah Adler) and young son, baking for her cafe, and, eventually, becoming her lover. All the while, he keeps his life with the late Oren a closely guarded secret. A personal, understated tale of doomed love, THE CAKEMAKER, the first feature by Israeli-born, Berlin-based filmmaker Ofir Raul Graizer, is not earth-shattering, but it's worth seeing—for the uniformly fine performances, especially, but also for the precise, canny modulation of Graizer's storytelling, his pleasing way with a curvilinear narrative line. There's careful attention to detail: note the toy train in the dead man's box. The actors, especially Kalkhof and Adler as Thomas and Anat, say a tremendous amount non-verbally, through expression, glance, gesture, touch. (Notice how deftly the film toggles between their points of view.) Many shots are wordless. Already, Graizer grasps an essential strength of the medium: it gives us the human face as canvass for an internal life which, forever the province of the novel, must remain mysterious to us. Grazier wants to explore the problem of identity—the disorienting feeling of always living in between worlds: religious and secular, Israel and Germany, gay and straight. How hard it is for a human to stand alone, to not be defined by nation or sexuality. The movie's very title existentially restricts Thomas's identity to the one role he has carved out for himself: he's the cake-maker, and that's how he expresses his connection with other people. Thomas is essentially a big kid, who's probably never felt like a "real" anything in his life. He's always isolated, gazing from the outside at visions of community, the rules and traditions of which the film sees as both nurturing and suffocating. When he's absorbed in his work, kneading the dough, he's happy. His work is his comfort and his company. His cookies, cakes, and pies make people happy—so good Anat has to lick the plate. There's a dark side to the film, as well. In a certain light, Thomas is faintly creepy. Especially when Grazier intercuts scenes of him making love to both Oren and Anat, the betrayal of Anat feels so intimate it's faintly incestuous. Yet it seems the faithless Oren did truly love Anat, in his way. Is the film's point that, absent community strictures, Oren could have been himself in the first place? Or is his sexuality beside the point, and he simply fell in love with someone else—with Thomas? How, finally, should we see these two men? There's a moving shot of Anat, again wordless, that seems to offer a clue. Her visage reads, to me at least, like a vision of forgiveness, and even mercy. Graizer's made a slight but special film, a quiet debut about the mysteries of other human hearts, and our own. (2017, 105 min, DCP Digital) SP
Michael Patrick Jann’s DROP DEAD GORGEOUS (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Friday and Saturday, Midnight, and Wednesday, 9:30pm
Imagine my surprise when I went to research the film and discovered that not only was DROP DEAD GORGEOUS a commercial flop, but that it was also panned by critics at the time of its release. Surely, I thought, everyone loved the film as much as I did when I was a preteen, wearing out the hot pink-sheathed VHS on a small TV in my bedroom, relishing its perverse takedown of people and places eerily similar to those of my own Midwestern upbringing—but they didn’t. “Broad, obvious and thuddingly unfunny!” wrote John Hartl for the Seattle Times. “As mean-spirited as movies come!” declared Susan Stark for Detroit News. “The ideas are funnier than the images,” demurred Robert Ebert, no exclamation point. I wondered how my understanding of the film’s reception could have been so distorted, but then I remembered: it was 1999, and people learned about films through large-scale advertising campaigns and half-page reviews in the newspapers that still hit their doorsteps every morning, neither of which I cared much about at the ripe old age of 11. And we didn’t have the Internet as we now know it, with digital advertising and social media and the like, to inform our opinions, or, should those be unshakeable, at the very least our awareness of a film’s success or failure. Back then, movies like DROP DEAD GORGEOUS seemed to exist in a silo, or better yet, seemed to belong only to us, the kids sitting in our rooms alive with the delight of discovery, wishy-washy moviegoers and curmudgeonly critics be damned. (Oh, the irony.) I almost can’t imagine what it’ll be like watching it in a theater with a crowd, though I can say that, a few egregiously off-color jokes aside, it holds up. To Ebert’s point, DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, directed by Michael Patrick Jann and written by Lona Williams (herself a beauty pageant survivor), isn’t filled to the brim with laugh-out-loud moments. Really, it’s more clever than anything, exaggerated enough to be amusing and infinitely quotable, but still disconcerting in its authenticity. (Kudos to production designer Ruth Ammon for capturing the existential malaise that is a small-town parade...or a small-town anything.) For those not cool enough to have watched it a million times throughout the early aughts, the film is a mockumentary à la Christopher Guest about a teen beauty pageant in Mount Rose, Minnesota. Quaint though it may seem, the competition is fierce: Becky Leeman (Denise Richards), daughter of the town’s richest family, is a shoe-in to win, figuring that her mom (Kirstie Alley) is head of the pageant organizing committee. The crowd favorite, however, is Amber (Kirsten Dunst), whose origins are decidedly more humble; her mom (Ellen Barkin) does hair out of their trailer, and family friend Loretta (Allison Janney) is around to curse people out as needed. Still, Amber dreams of being a beauty queen like her idol, Diane Sawyer. Things go awry after a contestant is killed in a freak farming accident. From there, people start dropping like flies, and it’s obvious who’s behind the calamity—but the show must go on. At the risk of intellectualizing a movie that perhaps doesn’t warrant it, it’s among a handful of films that makes tangible the emotional violence of being a young woman. Yes, beauty pageants are dumb and hardly worth the drama, but try telling that to a 17-year-old girl who’s been taught that beauty and popularity are synonymous with success and respect. It’s a film that makes you take it seriously, even as you’re sniggering to yourself over its wry cuts and quippy one-liners. The performances are superb; it’s Michael Patrick Jann’s only feature-length film (he was a cast member on MTV’s The State and directed the majority of its sketches—he now directs television), but he proves himself adept as a director of actors in larger-scale projects. No talent goes wasted, from Dunst’s girl-next-door charm to the unbridled je ne sais quois of the late Brittany Murphy, who plays another contestant along with a young Amy Adams. The standouts, though, are the moms and their unruly friends: Alley is truly horrifying as a god-fearing helicopter parent, and Barkin delivers as a down-on-her-luck hairdresser who literally becomes stuck to her ever-present beer can. But, of course, Janney is the real scene-stealer; if I cared about the Oscars, I’d say her win for last year’s I, TONYA was influenced by the greater of the two outstanding performances. (Janney says she's approached more about this film than she is about The West Wing.) Whether you're revisiting DROP DEAD GORGEOUS or seeing it for the first time, it’ll be the “most smartest” decision you’ve made in awhile. (1999, 98 min, 35mm) KS
Lorna Tucker’s WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Lorna Tucker’s tribute to iconoclastic fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is probably not exactly what the filmmaker or its subject hoped it would be. Westwood’s reticence to cooperate with Tucker is palpable throughout and the haphazard pace and editing of the film indicate that Tucker struggled to find an adequate form for the portrait she was making. Still, she manages to capture enough of the spirit of the cantankerous designer to make this documentary worthwhile for anyone interested in the fashion business and in the inherent tensions between art and commerce which are central to every creative industry. Tucker does not provide enough context for a novice to grasp Westwood’s historical importance in her field but the wealth of archival footage featuring luminaries such as Malcolm McLaren, Christina Hendricks, as well as countless supermodels, designers, and financiers make clear that her work is worth celebrating. The activist part of the film is the most problematic. Westwood has publicly denounced Tucker’s film for minimizing Westwood’s abiding passion for promoting environmentalism and other leftist issues in favor of revealing her professional and personal squabbles. Yet the designer looks most tone-deaf and out of touch in the clips where she’s rallying crowds for the causes she holds dear. There’s something grotesque in seeing this haute couture creature act as if she’s leading the masses to storm the palaces of power, no matter how sincere and righteous her beliefs may be. Westwood’s struggle to be taken seriously by the fashion establishment is a leitmotif throughout so it’s a bit ironic that she mostly makes a fool of herself when she’s away from her craft. Whatever image filmmaker and subject were striving to put forth, on screen Westwood is a fierce, irascible force of a woman who, well into her seventies, has no intention to stop kicking against the pricks. (2018, 83 min, DCP Digital) DS
Abbas Kiarostami’s THE TRAVELER (Iranian Revival)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) — Monday, 8pm
NOTE: Spoilers! Abbas Kiarostami considered THE TRAVELER to be his first "true" feature, and it was also the first film where he worked "alone with [his] actors, without scripted dialogue," as he once told critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. It’s also the last film he shot in black and white. If you’re anything like Qassem, the young protagonist of this compact work, not even an exhausting combination of perpetually-departing-just-as-you-arrive buses and trains would deter you from getting to a screening of it. But it’s not a film that Qassem hopes to see; rather, it’s a soccer match in Tehran. He raises the money for his bus fare by stealing from his mother, pretending to take photos of his classmates, and selling his friends’ soccer equipment. Once in Tehran, he waits several hours to buy his ticket and then another few hours for the game to start. Sadly—and ironically—he misses it after he falls asleep outside the stadium. Considered by Rosenbaum to be Kiarostami’s first masterpiece, it introduces motifs that appear in many of his later films, such as oblique journeys and inconclusive conclusions. THE TRAVELER is about a child, just as most of his early films were about children, something he wouldn't make a film about again after HOMEWORK in 1989. One might say that Kiarostami’s career matured just like a child going into adulthood, with the themes of his films progressing accordingly. Yet Kiarostami’s camera here is indiscriminate; Qassem’s quest is treated as seriously as Mr. Badii’s in TASTE OF CHERRY, the plight of the child given as much weight as that of the adult. The former’s determination is admirable despite his underhanded tactics, though such machinations result in a guilt-induced nightmare. This dream sequence is unique in Kiarostami’s work, and it’s perhaps even out of place in a film that borders on neo-realism. In CLOSE-UP, Hossain Sabzian, the man whose arrest for impersonating Mohsen Makhmalbaf is the basis of the film, remarks that he’s the child from THE TRAVELER who’s left behind, in retrospect adding further gravitas to Qassem’s ill-advised tenacity. Showing with an unannounced short film. (1974, 70 min, Digital Projection) KS
William Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) — Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
Relentless. Gene Hackman's sensational turn as Popeye Doyle only works because of his foils: jaded, unflappable Roy Scheider and bourgeois, urbane Fernando Rey. And New York City, as much a character as any human being on screen. Friedkin thrusts us into the middle of a hellish, grubby, chaotic city, a place where the glass of beer sitting on the bar gets drugs, cigarette butts, and junkie's works dumped into it so Doyle can mix up his patented milkshake. Handheld, documentary-like camerawork, working hand in glove with jagged, quick cutting; the car chase may never be duplicated for sheer adrenaline, but the little offhand details are what make the film a fully formed world. The bicycle in Hackman's apartment, ugly wallpaper in Weinstock's living room, orange drink in the subway, nighttime steam rising from the pavement. Don Ellis' soundtrack is also key to the atmosphere, rife with spooky horns and percussion. The shootout in a dripping, ruined warehouse serves as an abrupt, almost existential ending. It seems to pose the question: "Is that all there is ... to life?" (1971, 104 min, DCP Digital) RC
Tim Wardle’s THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Note: Spoilers! Playing like an unholy amalgam of THE TRUMAN SHOW, a human-interest puff-piece, and the Stanford Prison Experiment, this documentary about three identical twins separated at birth is a fascinating tale in an imperfect package. When three 19-year-old New Yorkers in 1980 accidentally discover each other they become instant celebrities, making appearances on the Phil Donahue Show and the like, and living it up at hotspots like Studio 54. But when their three sets of adoptive parents go searching for answers this feel-good fairytale quickly goes very dark. The Jewish adoption agency that placed the triplets with three families of different classes seemed to be using them and other twins to run a study to determine the effects of nature versus nurture. After one of the brothers commits suicide, his survivors are even more intent on learning the circumstances of their adoption but their efforts are frustrated by bureaucratic red-tape. The brothers and the only families they’ve ever known are justifiably outraged to have been treated like lab rats. The study they were part of was never published and most of those who ran it are dead or keeping mum about their intentions. The fact that a Jewish organization sponsored a program such as this less than twenty years after the Nazis’ eugenics experiments is equal parts baffling and horrifying. One junior staffer, now a distinguished elderly woman with sparkling eyes, insists they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. At times, Wardle needlessly inserts reenactments and slo-mo cinematography to tart up his movie; this has become de rigueur since Errol Morris revolutionized the look and feel of documentaries, but these flourishes can’t obscure the power of the story Wardle is telling. More questions are raised than answered, as is often the case in actual life rather than fairytales. (2017, 96 min, DCP Digital) DS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Society (at the Music Box Theatre) screens Derek Burbidge’s 1981 UK music documentary URGH! A MUSIC WAR (96 min, 35mm) on Monday at 7pm. Preceded by M. Henry Jones’ 1977 short THE FLESHTONES IN “SOUL CITY” (2 min, 35mm Archival Preservation Print).
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens John Bolton’s 2016 Canadian documentary AIM FOR THE ROSES (102 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 7:30pm.
The Twisted Oyster Film Festival takes place Wednesday-Friday, July 18-20. More info at www.twistedoysterfilmfestival.com.
Black Cinema House (at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, 1456 E. 70th St.) screens episodes from two web series: Angela Dugan’s THE CAT LADY CHRONICLES and Justin Casselle and Adam Lieberman’s WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME? on Friday at 7:30pm. Free admission.
The Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 200) screens Fatih Akin’s 2007 German/Turkish/Italian film THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (122 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 6pm. Free admission.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Iciar Bollaín’s 2010 Spanish film EVEN THE RAIN (105 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 7pm. Free admission.
Also at the Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) this week: Andrew Haigh’s 2017 UK film LEAN ON PETE (121 min, DCP Digital) is tentatively scheduled for Saturday at 10:30am (open captioned), 2pm, and 7pm (not confirmed by our deadline; check their website for any update); and Guillermo del Toro's 2006 film PAN’S LABYRINTH (118 min, Unconfirmed Format) is on Thursday at 7pm, as part of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movie Discussion Group. Free admission.
ArcLight Chicago screens Ang Lee's 2000 film CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (120 min, DCP Digital) on Tuesday at 7:30pm.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Michael Mayer’s 2018 film THE SEAGULL (98 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; and Marta Nováková’s 2017 Czech Republic/Slovak film 8 HEADS OF MADNESS (107 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 5pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Christopher Dillon Quinn’s 2017 documentary EATING ANIMALS (94 min, DCP Digital) opens; George Dunning’s 1968 animated film YELLOW SUBMARINE (85 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; Looney Tunes on 35mm (approx. 3 hours, 35mm; free admission) is on Saturday at Sunday at 10am; and Terry Gilliam’s 1991 film THE FISHER KING (138 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 7pm.
At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Mila Turajlić’s 2017 Serbian/French/Qatari documentary THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING (100 min, Video Projection) and Jeannie Gaffigan’s 2018 stand-up comedy film JIM GAFFIGAN: NOBLE APE (70 min, Video Projection) both have weeklong runs; and Jonathan Hacker’s 2018 documentary PATH OF BLOOD (92 min, Video Projection) has a single screening on Saturday at 10pm.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Wei Te-sheng’s 2017 Taiwanese 52HZ, I LOVE YOU (110 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents an outdoor screening of Clifford Smith's 1925 silent western THE WHITE OUTLAW (50 min, Video Projection), with live musical accompaniment by Mkot Pt., on Wednesday at 8:30pm. Free admission.
Sinema Obscura presents TV Party (s2e7) on Wednesday at 7pm at the Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.). The program includes a selection of shorts and trailers, followed by local filmmaker Lew Ojeda and Tyler Pistorius’s 2018 film DONALD J. TRUMP: A VERY WHITE HOUSE CON JOB.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Cauleen Smith's single-channel video SPACE IS THE PLACE (A MARCH FOR SUN RA) (2001) is in the Stone Gallery; Gretchen Bender's eight-channel video installation TOTAL RECALL (1987) is in Gallery 289; Joan Jonas’ MIRROR PIECES INSTALLATION II (1969/2014) is in Gallery 293B; 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: July 13 - July 19, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Dmitry Samarov, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky