On episode #6 of the Cine-Cast, Cine-File associate editor Ben Sachs and contributor Scott Pfeiffer talk about the upcoming Black Harvest Film Festival and the ongoing Ingmar Bergman series at the Gene Siskel Film Center (Scott's a particularly devoted Bergman fan); contributor Mike Metzger and Julian Antos, erstwhile Cine-File contributor and executive director of the Chicago Film Society, discuss the film society's new 35mm print of Andrew Bujalski's 2013 film COMPUTER CHESS; contributors Metzger, Tien-Tien Jong, and JB Mabe chat about what's sure to be a legendary weekend at Doc Films (August 9-11), during which Hollis Frampton's ZORN'S LEMMA, Stan Brakhage's SCENES FROM UNDERCHILDHOOD, and Jonas Mekas's LOST, LOST, LOST will all grace the big screen on 16mm; and associate editor Kathleen Sachs interviews local filmmaker Casey Puccini, whose second feature-length film I DON'T CARE will screen at Chicago Filmmakers on August 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Listen here. As always, special thanks to our producer, Andy Miles, of Transistor Chicago.
David Schalliol’s THE AREA (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Thursday, 8:30pm
David Schalliol’s THE AREA, which makes its Chicago premiere at this year’s Black Harvest Film Festival, follows community matriarch-cum-activist Deborah Payne as she crusades to save her neighborhood from mass demolition at the hands of the Norfolk Southern Railway corporation. The title refers to an 85-acre residential pocket of Englewood surrounding Payne’s home near 57th and Normal that’s scheduled to be bulldozed for the purposes of an intermodal freight hub, i.e. a glorified parking lot for shipping containers. Schalliol, a photographer and sociologist by trade who possesses a canny eye for architectural portraiture, is careful to eschew the ruin porn aesthetic in which dilapidated structures are treated as pure spectacle devoid of any contextual information about the socioeconomic forces that led to their demise. In one of the film’s most poetic shots, two houses are juxtaposed side by side: one in sound condition, the other abandoned, shuttered, and in the midst of dismantlement. It’s a stark contrast that symbolizes the conflicting perceptions of Englewood itself—there’s the nightly news caricature of Englewood, reducible to poverty and gun violence, and there’s the actual Englewood that’s home to a community of people. Indeed, THE AREA is deeply rooted in a sense of place, so much so that we’re often told the precise intersection or address where a scene is unfolding, and, like THE INTERRUPTERS and 70 ACRES IN CHICAGO before it, this is an urgent and compelling documentary about a dimension of city that’s rarely seen on the big screen. Though the scope here is hyperlocal, the themes of political apathy, corporate avarice, and the disenfranchisement of a minority community extend well beyond the parameters of the Area. Faced with the encroachment of the railroad company, some residents enthusiastically take buyouts; others want to stay, but aren’t given much of a choice. In order to execute their land grab, Norfolk Southern employs dubious tactics like enacting eminent domain, which allows the government to acquire private property and transfer it to a third party, and persuading at least one homeowner not to pay her mortgage in order to facilitate a “short sale.” Moreover, as a result of the entire neighborhood getting razed, residents are exposed to a slew of environmental hazards, including increased diesel emissions and gas leaks, bringing to mind Chicago’s recent pet coke scandal, the Flint, MI, water crisis, and countless other instances of environmental racism. At a town hall meeting, a Norfolk Southern representative argues that, “What we have to do is we have to balance the business imperative with our desire for the environmental need,” unaware or indifferent to the fact that these are diametrically opposed agendas. What bothers Payne most isn’t the inevitable railroad takeover, but the lack of respect for the families being displaced. Despite the efforts of a collective bargaining coalition and help from community organizations, homes inside the Area, which total around 400 at the outset, continue to dwindle until the film reaches its tragic conclusion. What’s missing, perhaps, is an in-depth interview with Norfolk Southern or 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran, who endorses the sale of land in an about-face, in which they are taken to task for the fallout from their actions; the documentary, however, is less concerned with hard-hitting investigative journalism and more with chronicling Payne’s personal struggle. On its surface, THE AREA might seem like a tale of defeat, but this is ultimately a story about resistance, resilience, and collectivism. As Payne reflects near the end, “I feel good that we stood up to people who thought they could do anything…I think that it made me a better person.” Schalliol and Payne in person. (2018, 93 min, DCP Digital) HS
Channels – A Quarterly Film Series: Summer 2018
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) — Thursday, 7pm
One of the dumbest mottos in the history of film belongs to François Truffaut: “I don’t want one idea for every four minutes. I want four ideas for every one minute.” Clearly, these are not the words of an animator; any of the filmmakers in Thursday’s Channels program at the Nightingale would find that ratio unforgivably stingy. Even twenty-four ideas per second seems conservative—ideas aren’t metrical like footage. A stream of ideation, like light, is what shines through the film strip: ideas aren’t measured in frames, but in energy. That’s what occurred to me while watching Leslie Supnet’s THE PEAK EXPERIENCE (2018), one of more than a dozen strong-to-sensational recent animated films, all by women artists, in this installment of Erin Nixon and Josh Mabe’s vital quarterly showcase. Supnet’s film, it so happens, explores the idea of “channels” quite directly: the artist splits the viewer’s attention evenly between three image tracks and across the left and right speakers. On the soundtrack, a calming male voice draws out word after word in a guided meditation, but Supnet folds the voice-over onto itself to make a pseudo-therapeutic word salad. The visual triptych similarly invokes early-90s new-age imagery, but the intensity of visual and aural imagination defies the narrator’s enticements to slumber. The result, rather, is electrifying, a reminder that animation is often a question of channeling energies on both sides of the screen. Starting with the relative languor of Lilli Carré’s superb TAP WATER (2017) and building up to a delirious, color-coded coda with Caitlin Cragg’s ARE YOU TIRED OF FOREVER (2017), Nixon and Mabe prove themselves adept at quickening our pulse—and at taking the culture’s. A measure of their stark contemporary relevance, many of these films share a common theme of unruliness, whether it be the unruly bodies of Ali Aschman’s UNNATURAL GROWTH (2017) and the dependably outrageous Laura Harrison’s LITTLE RED GIANT, THE MONSTER THAT I ONCE WAS (2016), or the unruly social histories narrated in Kelly Gallagher’s MORE DANGEROUS THAN A THOUSAND RIOTERS (2017) and Martha Colburn’s WESTERN WILD...OR HOW I FOUND OLD SHATTERHAND (2017). Harrison, Colburn, and Gallagher, in particular, offer a welter of outside-the-lines delights. Colburn’s excitable style is unmistakable: WESTERN WILD’s portrait of eccentric German author Karl May adds another volume to her library of historical research projects run amok. But the shudders of personal candor (and political rancor) agitating her already blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pace seem pointedly of our moment. Similarly, Gallagher’s film blasts through a digest of the radical life of IWW cofounder Lucy Parsons, with a strong, au courant emphasis on her scathing rhetorical attacks against police. Like Parsons, Gallagher puts anarchy to work, patching together makeshift illustrations from far-flung images from old magazines, maps, and textiles, only to scatter them into abstraction with bomb-like spontaneity. Technical imperfection is a measure of vitality for Gallagher and Colburn, as if the films are coming up with ideas faster than hands can make them. As the dearly-missed animation scholar Hannah Frank observed about the idiosyncratic drawings of ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIONS, “one can, indeed, find meaning in even those lines that seem like mistakes; they bristle with energy. One takes this energy as an index of the human.” That’s the idea, anyway. Also screening are: Lauren Gregory’s GIRL FIGHT (2014), Kaitlin Martin’s COWBOY CASTLE (2018), Kelly Sears’ IN THE VICINITY (2016), Janie Geiser’s LOOK AND LEARN (2017), Nora Rodriguez’s, KNOT (2016), Annapurna Kumar’s MOUNTAIN CASTLE, MOUNTAIN FLOWER PLASTIC (2017). Select filmmakers in person. (2014-18, approx 80 min total, Digital Projection) MM
Nicholas Ray's JOHNNY GUITAR (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
The western is an odd beast, a genre bound only by location, easily shaped into something as desolate or as crowded, as stark or vivid, as is required. They come more varied than science fiction films, expanding the West into something more complex than outer space, and creating dozens of different landscapes out of the same mold—Anthony Mann's West, John Ford's West, Budd Boetticher's West. Nicholas Ray's West, at least as created in JOHNNY GUITAR, is one of the most bizarrely beautiful. From Peggy Lee's desperate title song and Victor Young's score, hanging over the film like a sympathetic vulture, to the unearthly two-strip Trucolor, which seems to bind the film's characters into their environment as if they're bleeding into one another, it's Ray's most aesthetic film. But it's every bit as personal as IN A LONELY PLACE or WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN. Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden don't seem fit for the west, and the same could be said of their gender roles, but it's their complete discomfort that gives the film its tense and uneasy beauty. Ray has a knack for finding poetry where others would surely fumble, and here he's at his most poetic. (1954, 110 min, 35mm) JA
Nicholas Ray's THE LUSTY MEN (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm
A bare synopsis of THE LUSTY MEN makes it sounds like a standard-issue sports movie: a head-strong wannabe with dreams of fame and fortune, a grizzled veteran itching to get back in the game, a love triangle that threatens everything inside and outside the stadium. Much of the rodeo footage comes from stock shots so poorly integrated that they may as well be kinescope discards. The screenplay is functional and nothing more, chiefly notable for its power to inculcate the audience with the conviction that 'rodeo' is a verb as much as a noun. And yet I know no one who has failed to come away from THE LUSTY MEN reporting anything less than total emotional devastation. THE LUSTY MEN possesses the power to inspire great and unassailable personal devotion. I once hung a lobby card for THE LUSTY MEN in my office and anybody who had ever seen the film remarked upon it automatically. THE LUSTY MEN exudes an anguished fragility, attributable to the sensitive direction of Nicholas Ray or to the heart-aching performances of Robert Mitchum, Arthur Kennedy, and, yes, Susan Hayward. Either way, it's a movie under perpetual threat of floating away, or perhaps of becoming one with the dirt. Lee Garmes' cinematography, one of the movie's major assets, captures trailer parks and dance halls with an unfussy solidity; they're present-tense ruins for a trio of stubborn ghosts. (1952, 114 min, 35mm Restored Print) KAW
NOIR CITY: CHICAGO 2018
Music Box Theatre — Friday-Thursday
We’ve got a healthy round-up of reviews of the offerings at the 2018 edition of Noir City: Chicago, which takes place this week at the Music Box and is presented by the Film Noir Foundation. Eighteen films are showing once each, all but two in 35mm (and a number are new restorations or archival prints). Also, the Opening Night screenings of ONE FALSE MOVE and DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS feature director Carl Franklin in person. In addition to the reviewed titles below, the following films are also showing (check the Music Box website for showtimes): CONFLICT (Curtis Bernhardt, 1945, 86 min, 35mm), ESCAPE IN THE FOG (Budd Boetticher, 1945, 65 min, 35mm), BLIND SPOT (Robert Gordon, 1947, 73 min, 35mm), BODYGUARD (Richard Fleischer, 1948, 62 min, 35mm), ALL MY SONS (Irving Reis, 1948, 94 min, 35mm), THE SPIRITUALIST (Bernard Vorhaus, 1948, 78 min, 35mm), THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF (Felix E. Feist, 1950, 81 min, 35mm), I WAS A SHOPLIFTER (Charles Lamont, 1949, 74 min, 35mm), THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA (John Sturges, 1951, 102 min, 35mm), and THE TURNING POINT (William Dieterle, 1952, 85 min, DCP Digital).
Carl Franklin’s ONE FALSE MOVE and DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS
Friday, 7pm (Devil in a Blue Dress) and 9:45pm (One False Move)
One morning when I was a junior in high school, a friend who knew I harbored secret ambitions of becoming a film director came up to me wanting to talk about a movie she had seen the previous night. I hadn’t noticed her, but when leaving the show she had seen that I had been in the audience, too. I told her I was disturbed, even alarmed, by the visceral, brutal violence that bookended the film and was troubled and uncomfortable with the tonal shifts throughout the work as it lurched from tense, graphic scenes of killing to suspenseful sequences of chase and detection to sensitive, generous pastoral comedy. Was this film even finished, I wondered? Already desensitized to movie violence from a decade’s worth of unsupervised childhood access to HBO, I was used to consequence-free action films with protagonists who quipped merrily while they massacred their anonymous enemies. This was the year of UNFORGIVEN, of RESERVOIR DOGS, of BATMAN RETURNS, BASIC INSTINCT, and BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, all movies that changed me deeply, but I don’t think any messed with my oh-so-sheltered and naïve self quite like this one, Carl Franklin’s great neo-noir ONE FALSE MOVE (1992, 105 min, 35mm). The brilliant, punishing script by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson is uncompromising in its humanization of evil people and its complication of those who believe themselves to be good, and Franklin’s direction, honed by years of apprenticeship under Roger Corman and a lengthy prior career as a prolific actor, cuts through gestures, through spaces, like the dagger the main villain in the film, Pluto, wields to such murderous effect. The film, though, is owned by Bill Paxton, delivering a career-best performance as a small-town policeman utterly unprepared for the monstrousness threatening his way of life. Franklin followed this film with an even more impressive work three years later with DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1995, 102 min, 35mm), an incisive, melancholic adaptation of the Walter Mosley novel. Both in plot and in style a subversion of classic Hollywood conventions, DEVIL flinches from nothing, stripping the dignity and malevolent grace away from film noir, showing the racism and depraved indifference to life that allowed for the existence of grand, clean narratives of Philip Marlowes and Sam Spades, sweeping the streets clean and finding moral high ground and romance all at the same time. Franklin’s detective, Easy Rawlins, is undermined, out-maneuvered, out-thought, and out-gunned at every turn, a tool to be used and discarded by elite racists who see him as just a disposable, inconsequential Black body alternative, useful and in the way of their barely-glimpsed plans. With these two films, Franklin established himself as one of America’s great directors of violence and history, an artist who used popular narratives and tropes against themselves to show the United States as a place in which whiteness, murder, and money were the societal building blocks. Sadly, one of the major talents to emerge in the 1990s was sidelined and neutered. Franklin’s work since these two films has been compromised at best, often forgettable, and he has mainly found work only as a director-for-hire on cable television shows. Revisiting these early films of his brings home just how much we have lost by not supporting his work more. Franklin in person. KB
George Marshall’s THE BLUE DAHLIA
Bitterness, disappointment, alienation, paranoia, corruption, wartime trauma, sexual anxiety and dysfunction, bad conscience: THE BLUE DAHLIA is as exhaustive an inventory of postwar American pessimism as you’re likely to find in the annals of film noir. Between the thin walls of cheap rooms, its characters leer, sneer, and snarl at one another with an almost rote viciousness; the tenor of cynicism here is exceptional even for a genre defined by it. Few but Raymond Chandler, who contributes his only original screenplay, could make such misanthropy so palatable, and the film’s most admirable quality is perhaps the degree to which every other aspect of cinematic expression, from set design to performance to staging and cinematography, takes a backseat to his verbal violence. The film was concocted, however, as a vehicle for star Alan Ladd, whom Paramount hoped to squeeze for one more hit before his Army service was set to recommence in 1945. Producer John Houseman rushed THE BLUE DAHLIA into production without a finished script, casting Ladd as a Johnny Morrison, a returning Navy pilot who finds his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) living it up in his absence. The setup resembles William Wyler’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES of the same year, not least for foregrounding the physical and psychological scars that veterans brought back from the battlefield, but THE BLUE DAHLIA works to open up wounds rather than to remediate them. Following an exceptionally cruel homecoming scene, Helen is murdered and Johnny is the police’s main suspect, but in the film’s fog of collective recrimination, it’s easy to imagine any one of its characters pulling the trigger—even Veronica Lake’s Joyce Harwood, the estranged wife of a slick nightclub owner (Howard Da Silva, wonderfully louche). Lake shines a dim romantic light in the darkness, but she’s mainly used to sugar the pill; even with her passable chemistry with Ladd, I’m amazed that a film this splenetic would have given Paramount such a hit. It’s in the figure of Buzz (William Bendix), rather, that the film delivers its most memorable character. A shell-shocked flyer with a plate in his head and an explosive aversion to jazz, Buzz may be the rawest and most frightening representation of PTSD in American cinema this side of John Huston’s LET THERE BE LIGHT. Like Huston’s documentary, Buzz’s portrayal—undoubtedly the film’s best, a quicksilver performance by William Bendix that summons rage, perplexity, and quick-witted bile in sudden bursts, masking its finesse with lurching intensity—ran afoul of military censors, who demanded changes to the script’s conclusion so drastic as to send Chandler into an alcoholic tailspin trying to figure it all out. Yet the solution to THE BLUE DAHLIA’s whodunit is perhaps even more powerful for seeming so arbitrary and perfunctory, confirming our suspicions not in the killer, but rather in our gut feeling that everyone around us is a hair’s breadth away from doing something terrible. In such a world, strangely enough, it’s the career criminals who come off best: at least, as one heel remarks, after sapping another with a blackjack, “there's ethics in this business, the same as any other.” That’s just a taste of how acrid and caustic things get—by the end of THE BLUE DAHLIA, you might find yourself, like Chandler and his characters, in search of a stiff drink. (1946, 96 min, 35mm) MM
Anthony Mann’s STRANGE IMPERSONATION
Dubbed by film professor Robert E. Smith to “surely [be] one of the cheapest films ever made by an important artist (always excepting Edgar G. Ulmer, of course), and the most impoverished film of [Anthony] Mann’s career,” STRANGE IMPERSONATION is a bewildering little noir that, like Ulmer’s own work, is almost avant-garde in its economy. Brenda Marshall stars as an ambitious scientist who becomes disfigured by an explosion during an experiment. The explosion is instigated by a friend who’s envious of Nora’s adoring fiancé; the friend also maneuvers to separate the engaged couple. Devastated by her fiancé’s abandonment, Nora assumes the identity of a woman she accidentally kills during a struggle, undergoing extensive plastic surgery to look like the ne’er-do-well who’d been trying to extort her after a car crash. There’s more to it than that—and to give Mann and screenwriter Mindret Lord credit where it’s due, I truly didn’t see the twist ending coming—but the film’s crowning curio is that the scientist, barring a few minor differences, looks almost exactly the same after her surgeries. Still, neither her fiancé nor her friend recognize her, enabling her to exact a rather temperate revenge. Presumably due to the film’s paltry budget, it’s a peculiarity that makes one question what they’re seeing. “Is that the same actress?” one wonders. “She kind of does look different.” Even if momentary, this bewildering delusion speaks to Mann’s artistry with even the barest of resources; his assured workmanship elevates this little-over-an-hour-long potboiler into something you won’t soon forget. (1946, 68 min, 35mm) KS
Michael Curtiz’s THE UNSUSPECTED
“It sounded too much like the truth to be true.” In Michael Curtiz’s THE UNSUSPECTED, art imitates life, murders accrue, and whodunit abounds as the film opens with the murder of “true crime” radio host Victor Grandison’s (Claude Rains) secretary, staged to look like a suicide at his home while he seemingly simultaneously tells a story on his program of the same case. Meanwhile Grandison’s wealthy niece, Matilda (Joan Caulfield), returns to the estate after having been thought dead when her cruise ship sunk and finds a husband, Steve (Ted North), she has no recollection of marrying. Grandison’s suave yet jealous doting on his niece brings about more death to those closing in on his secret, as he gathers more material for his program. Curtiz’s film noir maintains the style of the genre beautifully with looming shadows in doorways and characters puffing on cigarettes acting as a ‘smoking-gun’ of sorts, all the while foreshadowing ominousness with subtle wordplay and clever framing. “I rather enjoy playing God,” exclaims Grandison coyly, and the film’s actions exist in a world where he pulls the strings. More straightforward than MILDRED PIERCE, the domestic noir he made two years prior, THE UNSUPECTED (adapted by Curtiz’s wife at the time, Bess Meredyth, from a novel of the same title) is steeped in symbolism, jealousy, and refined pulp. (1947, 103 min, 35mm) KC
Byron Haskin’s I WALK ALONE
WALK ALONE stars Burt Lancaster (which is enough for me to stop reading and buy a ticket, but in case you need convincing…) as Frankie, a bootlegger recently released from prison after a 14-year murder stretch. He’s eager to get back in with old partners Dave (Wendell Corey) and “Dink” Turner (Kirk Douglas), who’ve gone legit in the intervening years with a nightclub—shutting Frankie out in the process. Hungry and radiating pent-up energy, Lancaster’s a perfect fit for the imposing but sentimental Frankie, baring his teeth in crackling scenes with Douglas and his soul in more inflated romantic interludes with Lizabeth Scott’s Kay, a nightclub performer whose infatuation with Dink starts to wane the moment Frankie shows up. Working with just a handful of sets, director Byron Haskin displays a good deal of visual imagination: through clever mobile framing and dynamic organizations of screen space the Regent Club appears alternately expansive and claustrophobic, bustling and intimate. In Dink’s swanky office, Haskin’s blocking and staging construct a matrix of power relations complex enough to reward a shot-by-shot reading. Haskin’s incisive, lucid style lacks the murky atmosphere of noir, but it’s perfectly suited to a film that is itself all about forms of reading. The film’s standout first third finds its characters all struggling to get a read on one another, often by proxy: Dink induces Kay to get a line on Frankie’s intentions, while Frankie gleans Dink’s duplicity by seeing through Dave’s apparent unease. Though he lost his stake in the club because he failed to read the fine print, Frankie’s prison stint has sharpened an ability to read people; in the last act, Dink’s blasé attitude leads him to misread, after a fashion, a pen for a sword. More broadly, the film’s emphasis on changing forms of literacy surely reflects the migration of criminal enterprise from the unsophisticated rackets of the pre-Prohibition era to the organized syndicates and incorporated shell companies of modern, corporate America. (Combining fierce intelligence and physical power, Lancaster was uniquely equipped to embody a devious, felonious vision of American success, from the same year’s SORRY, WRONG NUMBER to later triumphs in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and ELMER GANTRY.) But the question of reading also concerns a transformation in the crime film genre: as Martin Scorsese noted in a “guilty pleasures” column for Film Comment, “I WALK ALONE is a very intelligent movie about a man totally perplexed by the new postwar world. And this world became the new world of filmmaking, too. The gangster of the Thirties became the gangster of the Forties.” The difference, one might argue, has to do with interiority: while 1930s crime pictures had their share of anti-heroes, the film noir gives us gangsters with memories, backstories, and complexes. Noir presents the antihero as rebus, challenging the viewer’s narrative and psychological literacy. From his first film, THE KILLERS (1946), at least until THE SWIMMER (1968), some of Lancaster’s most enduring performances trade on the questions of decipherability; an avid reader, he was also a fascinating text, an actor who played gracefully between his deceptively brawny exterior and his hidden depths. At its best, I WALK ALONE offers a compelling early gloss on this inherent quality of both Lancaster and of noir, and a transparently worthy addition to the filmography of one of America’s great screen actors. (1948, 97 min, DCP Digital) MM
Hugo Haas’ PICKUP
This is a nasty little piece of work. Hugo Haas—a Czech Jewish refugee from Nazi Europe—directs and stars as “Hunky” Horak, a naive, lonely, middle-aged railroad worker who goes into town to get a new puppy to replace a dog that recently died, but comes back with a gold-digger named Betty (Beverly Michaels) instead. Made on a shoestring budget and reeking of an almost Old Testament-level deep-seated misogyny, the film is nonetheless compelling for the utter emotional commitment Haas invests in this material. There are scenes of woman-hatred throughout which rival Edvard Munch paintings in their despair at men’s plight as helpless victims of the fairer sex. The rickety plot has Horak temporarily losing his hearing, only to regain it in time to spy on Betty’s scheme to have him killed by a younger romantic rival. And yet, Betty gets all the best lines. “Never fails: young, handsome, and broke,” she grumbles when a guy she has hooked can’t afford to keep her in the lifestyle she aspires to. Her contempt for men and naked ambition to live the easy life are so out in the open that it’s hard to believe that even the dullest dolt could be taken in, but Haas’ pessimistic cynicism is such that, in the ugly world he’s created, the worst is not only expected but also taken as a matter of course. Both Horak and his rival improbably escape Betty’s clutches in the end and form a kind of bond, but by then the damage has been done. Will this pair live a happy female-free life with their new puppy, which conveniently shows up in the end? I have no doubt they believe it to the bottom of their hollow B-movie hearts. (1951, 78 min, 35mm) DS
Michael Curtiz’s THE SCARLET HOUR
Thursday at 9pm
Filmed in the twilight years of Michael Curtiz’s prolific career, THE SCARLET HOUR follows the unhappily married Paulie (Carol Ohmart) and the man she’s having an affair with, Marsh (Tom Tryon). While having a secret date on the hills overlooking Los Angeles, the secret lovers accidentally overhear a trio of jewel thieves describing their plans to rob a house while its occupants are away for a trip down to Mexico. Paulie coerces the hesitant Marsh to rob the robbers the night of the theft so that the two can run off and start a new life together. The night of, one of the film’s highlights occurs when Paulie arrives at a club to meet friends and witnesses a rather ominous and bittersweet performance of “Never Let Me Go” by Nat King Cole before departing to meet Marsh. As is traditional in film noir, things go greatly awry when Paulie’s jealous husband appears after following her, and the situation becomes even more complicated when Paulie and Marsh go on the run. Curtiz’s film rests strongly on his ability to create suspense and build upon it. The flash of a gun in a drawer, a secret recording of Paulie’s husband cutting her out of his will after becoming suspicious, and other weighty details only help to compound this feeling. The love triangle angle of the film reaches conclusions one would expect, and a cat-and-mouse game ensues with the police on the trail. Curtiz repackages motifs seen in his other film noirs but what sets this film apart is the nervy sexual tension that permeates throughout. Although a little rough around the edges, THE SCARLET HOUR is one of the most stylistically and thematically traditional film noirs in the director’s oeuvre, and one of the most successful because of that. (1956, 95min, 35mm) KC
Phil Cox’s BETTY: THEY SAY I’M DIFFERENT (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Sunday, 5:30pm and Monday, 8pm
Betty Davis burned bright in the 60s and 70s, writing and performing raunchy funk songs, inspiring her then-husband Miles Davis to expand his musical vision, and paving the way for iconoclastic innovators like Prince and Janelle Monae to forge their own creative paths. Filmmaker Phil Cox has performed a valuable service by convincing the reclusive Davis to commit her voice—though not her face—to film. Davis and those close to her talk elliptically about the emotional and mental troubles that caused her to disappear from public view for the past 35 years. The contrast between her Nasty Gal stage persona and a sensitive, inward soul is a duality that many artists must reconcile, but, as this documentary shows, sometimes the only way forward is to walk away. Davis talks of a crow being her spirit animal since she was a little girl. But that bird abandoned her after the dissolution of her abusive marriage and the death of her beloved father. Cox unfortunately chooses to accompany Davis’ metaphorical self-mythologizing with cheesy graphics of an actual crow, cut-and-pasted flying through a limitless sky. There are also wilting flowers and other cloyingly obvious visual symbols used throughout which cheapen the work of a complex creative mind like Davis’. Thankfully, much of her music has been reissued in recent years so that a new generation of music lovers can introduced to this vital and underappreciated artist. Cox’s film will help spread the word as well. (2017, 56 min, DCP Digital) DS
Olivier Assayas' IRMA VEP (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7 and 9:30pm
Olivier Assayas' feverish black comedy—about a film production whose star (Maggie Cheung) and director (Jean-Pierre Léaud) are visibly unraveling—grows more and more unhinged with each scene before exploding, in its final minutes, in a flurry of pure abstraction. Assays' sharp observations about film culture and globalization (a central theme in his later work) share space with loopy identity games and uncomfortable sexual tension; the result is a darkly funny look at creative minds sputtering under pressure. Eric Gautier's restless handheld camerawork contributes to the anxious, edgy vibe. (1996, 99 min, 35mm) IV
Ingmar Bergman’s SHAME (Swedish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 4pm, Saturday, 3pm, and Wednesday, 6pm
With SHAME, Ingmar Bergman challenged the received wisdom that crises bring out the best in people, inspiring them to set aside their differences and work together constructively. The protagonists, Jan (Max von Sydow) and Eva (Liv Ullmann), are an unhappy married couple living on a small, rural island. For the past four years, their country (which Bergman never identifies) has been in a state of civil war; the couple moved to the island after the orchestra they belonged to disbanded. They run a small farm to get by and to feed themselves (food being in short supply), and they try to preserve memories of their former lives while devoting themselves to farm work and ignoring the hostile political climate. Either this situation has brought out the worst in the couple or else exacerbated problems that always lay beneath the surface of their marriage; in any case, the two make each other miserable. From the start of the movie, Jan and Eva bicker, apologize, then pick at each others’ emotional wounds again—at times, SHAME feels like a test run for passages of SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, as Bergman dramatizes in precise detail how a relationship can go to pieces. But unlike the couple in SCENES—or, for that matter, in most other Bergman films—the characters’ problems aren’t entirely psychological or interpersonal. Jan and Eva must worry about the immediate threats of hunger, bombings, and persecution by soldiers; it’s sadly ironic that the couple’s failure to get along represents one of the last reminders of their humanity. Yet even that connection to personal identity gets severed over the course of the film, as the war intensifies and the couple finds themselves political prisoners and eventually refugees. In emphasizing psychology over sociopolitical conditions, Bergman individualizes the refugee experience, drawing on his rich understanding of human suffering to imagine how it feels to internalize the chaos of a war-torn society. (1968, 103 min, DCP Digital)
Ingmar Bergman's THE VIRGIN SPRING (Swedish Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 5pm and Monday, 6pm
In his first full-scale collaboration with cinematographer Sven Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman set the bar set pretty high when he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. More importantly, the film marks a turning point in the focus of Bergman's films, sharing both the moral questioning of earlier works, as well as the psychological examinations so prevalent in the films that followed. Adapted from a 13th century Swedish ballad, this tale of murder and revenge is as grim as if it had been penned by Kierkegaard himself, and the subjective camera's presence has a powerful ability to make us disgusted by the acts on screen. Though not graphic by today's standards, the film was nevertheless controversial upon its release, mainly due to the on screen depiction of a girl's rape and murder. Outside of the plot, it is also a visual turning point for Bergman, who utilizes vast, natural landscapes more organically than in his previous films, while keeping the implied allegory. The medieval manor house where much of the film takes place, and the historical costuming of the characters, are both treated without awe by the filmmaker, creating an understated backdrop for some heavy questioning of the human condition. (1960, 89 min, DCP Digital) J
Juan Carlos Tabio’s PLAFF! (Cuban Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 7pm
IMDB describes this early comedy from the director of GUANTANAMERA and STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE thusly: “A superstitious middle-aged woman falls in love with a taxi driver while trying to learn the identity of the unseen person tossing eggs at her.” Sounds like something you don’t see every day! PLAFF! (the title is an onomatopoetic term that refers to the sound of an egg hitting a hard surface) reportedly contains a number of self-reflexive gags that make light of the meager production values; it’s also said to poke fun at general living conditions in late-80s Cuba. Juan Carlos Tabio is one of his country’s most internationally recognized auteurs, so this 35mm revival of one of his lesser-known films should be worth a look. (1988, 110 min, 35mm) BS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) screens Alan Rudolph’s 1997 film AFTERGLOW (119 min, 35mm) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Preceded by Jules White’s 1952 Three Stooges short CORNY CASANOVAS (16 min, 16mm).
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) presents Creative Cypher Web Series Showcase, the first of two programs highlighting local web series, on Saturday at 7:30pm. This program includes SEEDS (episodes 1-5, 35 min), directed by C.J. Thomas and written by Deja Harrell; and LOW STRUNG (episodes 1-7, 79 min), created and written by Victoria Lee and Shervin Bain, and directed by Addison Wright and Lili Kryzanek. Select artists in person.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) hosts Public Art, Past & Present on Tuesday at 8pm. Presented by Pentimenti Productions and Media Burn Independent Video Archive, this event will include the documentaries THE MONUMENTAL ART OF MARC CHAGALL (1974) and CHICAGO’S MIRO (1981), along with three short works by local filmmaker Maria Gaspar: NOT JUST ANOTHER DAY (2015), STORIES FROM THE INSIDE/OUTSIDE (2015), and PARK (2016). Followed by a discussion between Gaspar and local filmmaker Ben Kolak; and on Wednesday at 8pm is 16mm Found Films from the Collection of Adam Paradis, with Paradis in person. Free admission.
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Pascale Lamche’s 2017 French/international documentary WINNIE (98 min, Video Projection on Friday at 7:30pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Ronald Neame’s 1969 UK/US film THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (116 min, DCP Digital) on Wednesday at 1 and 7pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: João Dumans and Affonso Uchoa’s 2017 Brazilian film ARABY (97 min, DCP Digital) and Brett Haley’s 2018 film HEARTS BEAT LOUD (97 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; and the Black Harvest Film Festival continues with: Juliane Dressner and Edwin Martinez’s 2018 documentary PERSONAL STATEMENT (88 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 4pm and Sunday at 3pm, with Dressner in person; Logan Hall’s 2018 film ANIMATOR (99 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 8:30pm and Tuesday at 8:15pm, with Hall and producer/screenwriter Roberta Jones in person; David Weathersby’s 2018 documentary THE COLOR OF ART (60 min, Digital Projection) is on Saturday at 5pm, with Weathersby in person; Phil Cox’s 2017 documentary BETTY: THEY SAY I’M DIFFERENT (see Also Recommended above); Gene Graham’s 2018 documentary THIS ONE’S FOR THE LADIES (83 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 6:15pm and Wednesday at 8pm; David Schalliol’s 2018 documentary THE AREA (see Crucial Viewing above); and the shorts programs Love African American Style is on Friday at 6:15pm and Saturday at 8:15pm; and Family Matters is on Thursday at 6pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Matt Tyrnauer’s 2017 documentary SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (97 min, DCP Digital) and Tim Wardle’s 2017 documentary THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (96 min, DCP Digital) both continue; Christoph Lauenstein, Wolfgang Lauenstein, and Sean McCormack’s 2018 animated German film LUIS AND THE ALIENS (83 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 11:30am; Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film THE ROOM (99 min, 35mm) is on Friday at Midnight; and Jim Sharman’s 1975 film THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (100 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at Midnight.
Facets Cinémathèque screens Mouly Surya’s 2017 Indonesian film MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS (93 min, Video Projection) for a week-long run.
The Chicago Cultural Center screens the WTTW documentary EXIT ZERO: AN INDUSTRIAL FAMILY STORY on Saturday at 2pm, followed by a discussion; and hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Antonio and Marco Manetti’s 2013 Italian film SONG ‘E NAPULE (114 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: John Miller's 2016 PowerPoint work RECONSTRUCTING A PUBLIC SPACE is in Gallery 295A; Cauleen Smith's single-channel video SPACE IS THE PLACE (A MARCH FOR SUN RA) (2001) is in the Stone Gallery through August 19; Gretchen Bender's eight-channel video installation TOTAL RECALL (1987) is in Gallery 289;
CINE-LIST: August 17 - August 23, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Julian Antos, Kian Bergstrom, Kyle Cubr, Jason Halperin, Michael Metzger, Dmitry Samarov, Harrison Sherrod, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
ILLUSTRATION / Alexandra Ensign