New episode! 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.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s THE THIRD MURDER (New Japanese)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
Misumi, a paroled double murderer, kills his boss with a wrench, then burns his body. Shigemori, a hotshot lawyer, is brought in by the defense to spare Misumi the death penalty. Everything that happens thereafter in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s meditation on fate and responsibility, masquerading as a cookie-cutter thriller/courtroom drama, is up for debate. Misumi keeps changing his story and the lawyers, witnesses, and victim’s family’s testimony is in constant flux. During jail visits, Misumi turns into a kinder, gentler Hannibal Lecter, beguiling Shigemori with riddles rather than answering his queries and confounding him with insights about the lawyer’s own human failings. Kore-eda is best known for nuanced family dramas, so on the face of it the murder-thriller genre might seem like an odd fit. But the ersatz plot is a perfect jumping-off point for exploring the resonances between these two men’s lives. When Shigemori’s father, a retired judge who spared Misumi’s life in a trial 30 years earlier, comes to visit, he reminds his son of a Chinese fable about two blind people who feel an elephant’s trunk and ear, then argue about which body part is which. That type of failure to truly understand anything beyond one’s own senses is at the heart of this beguiling film. Whodunit fans will be disappointed but Kore-eda knows that no true human mystery can ever really be solved. (2017, 124 min, DCP Digital) DS
Michael Curtiz’s FLAMINGO ROAD (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
In between numbers three (Max Ophüls’ LOLA MONTÈS) and five (Pier Paolo Pasolini’s SALÒ, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM) on the top ten list of his favorite films that Rainer Werner Fassbinder compiled a year before he died is an underappreciated Michael Curtiz noir called FLAMINGO ROAD. Starring Joan Crawford and billed as a follow-up to the director-star duo's 1945 Warner Bros. classic MILDRED PIERCE—one poster exclaimed “‘Mildred Pierce' does it again… and everybody tells!”—it makes sense why the German provocateur admired this filmic underdog; FLAMINGO ROAD is a little scuzzier, a little more boorish, and altogether just littler, a seeming afterthought following its more exalted predecessor. Curtiz was previously eyeing different fare, an adaptation of James M. Cain’s Serenade, the rights to which he’d purchased and Jack Warner had committed to producing. Producer Jerry Wald, who’d also had a finger in the MILDRED PIERCE pie, convinced Curtiz to make FLAMINGO ROAD instead, though the underestimated journeyman resented having to do so, to such an extent that his production company eventually released a statement saying the whole thing had been called off due to problems with the script. Still, he—and it—persevered. Based on both the eponymous novel by Robert Wilder and a stage adaptation by Wilder and his wife, FLAMINGO ROAD is impressively economical in its plotting. Crawford stars as Lane Bellamy, a carnival dancer stranded in a small southern town (one critic likened this aspect of the film to the beginning of Fassbinder’s FOX AND HIS FRIENDS—I also get a sense of Bergman from this outré plot point). She soon meets Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott, Monte in MILDRED PIERCE), a deputy sheriff who’s being groomed for a political career by his boss, Sheriff Titus Semple (noir heavyweight Sydney Greenstreet). Fielding falls hard for Lane, though Semple convinces him to marry a girl from the right side of the tracks (“Flamingo Road”) and forget his romance with the lowly dancer. But that’s not enough for the sheriff. In an attempt to run her out of town, he has Lane fired and framed on a prostitution charge. She later finds a job in the local roadhouse where political bigwigs go to do their dealing and meets businessman Dan Reynolds (David Brian, whom Crawford convinced to start acting); the two fall in together and marry. When Semple abandons Fielding and sets his sights on the governorship, all hell breaks loose between the interconnected characters, and Lane goes to great lengths to defend her honor and her man. It’s an interesting, if perfunctory, reflection on the perverse power of political influence, which can thwart even the purest intentions of those outside it. Greenstreet’s grotesque rendering of a small-town sheriff is deeply unsettling—his milk consumption is as ominous as that of Alex DeLarge in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, another character wholly disconnected from any real sense of law and order. Notice that Semple is almost always sitting, powerful even from below, a human Welles shot. Curtiz’s angular visual style, present in even his most assembly line efforts, here punctuates the disquieting narrative, the film’s brutal efficiency highlighting the political barbarity rather than shortchanging it. Consider the scene where Lane is arrested for solicitation; it’s wham, bam, you’re arrested, ma’am, with little ideological discourse. Eerily relevant in today’s society, the film briskly embraces the sense of futility that undergirds any good entry of its genre. Fassbinder called Curtiz “cruelly underrated” and “the anarchist of film noir”; FLAMINGO ROAD corroborates both sentiments. (1949, 94 min, 35mm) KS
Hollis Frampton's ZORN'S LEMMA (Experimental Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 7pm
Zorn's lemma as defined by set theory: Every partially ordered set contains one maximal totally ordered subset. With the birth of cinema came the emergence of a new form of communication and, although the likes of Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, and Pudovkin explored the medium's manipulative abilities, each acting as early cinematic linguists, Hollis Frampton was certainly the most successful, if not the first, at breaking this new language down to study its syntax and phonemes. Of Frampton's work, no better example of this analysis exists than ZORNS LEMMA, in which he aims to catalog cinema's inherent traits as well as dissect filmic language into its constituent parts. The film sets in place early a one-second pulse, used as a unit of measurement for his exercises, as he ties together language, grammar, and conceptual visual representations. An early American text teaching grammar and the alphabet is read over black leader and is followed by the establishment of the film's pulse as it cycles through the English alphabet with images of word that begin with each letter. As this middle sequence continues, Frampton makes visual the definition of writing: the graphic use of abstract characters to represent phonetic elements of speech. Words representing letters of the alphabet are eventually replaced with an image (ocean waves, a fire, etc.), sublimating any previous representation into a purely visual symbolic language—from now on, Frampton is telling us, we communicate with images; we write with light. The capstone of our conversion to a visual alphabet is a choral reading of medieval philosopher Robert Grosseteste's "On Light," which discusses the inherently problematic role that the nature of light plays in one's understanding of objective reality. Considering all three sections of the film, ZORNS LEMMA posits cinema as a new system of thought, complete with its own lexicon, capable of shaping and defining reality by way of its manipulation of light. (1970, 60 min, 16mm) DM
Melvin Van Peebles’ SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Friday and Saturday, Midnight
Released several months before Gordon Parks’ SHAFT, Melvin Van Peebles’ SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG is generally considered the film that kicked off the Blaxploitation cycle of the 1970s. Van Peebles employs the quick-and-dirty methods of exploitation cinema to consider issues facing black people in America. (To underscore the seriousness of his intent, Van Peebles credits “The Black Community” as the film’s star in one of the opening shots.) Sweetback (played by Van Peebles, who also wrote, directed, produced, edited, and co-composed the score) is a man who’d been groomed for prostitution since early adolescence. One night, some white cops bust into the brothel where Sweetback works; they offer to let the owners off the hook if they can arrest Sweetback on a minor charge to “make themselves look good.” As they’re bringing him in, Sweetback discovers that the cops intend to frame him for murder; he escapes, and the rest of the film follows his long, grueling run from the law. Sweetback’s journey grows increasingly abstract as it proceeds, reaching its climax in a trippy desert landscape that may remind you of Antonioni’s ZABRISKIE POINT. (Not for nothing is the film one of the major creative points of reference on Madlib’s Quaismoto LP The Unseen, one of the most phantasmagoric hip-hop albums ever.) Despite the prevalence of exploitation-style sex and violence, Van Peebles’ message is ultimately humane—one reason Sweetback is able to survive is that he gets help from a diffuse, but collaborative, community that includes various disenfranchised people (blacks, gays, sex workers) as well as the white counterculture (represented by a civically minded biker gang). Van Peebles also achieves some impressive effects with sound, with unpredictable bursts of voiceover narration, offscreen sound, and a rousing score that features Earth, Wind & Fire. (1971, 97 min, DCP Digital) BS
Soda_Jerk’s TERROR NULLIUS (New Experimental)
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago – Friday, 6pm
A brief history lesson: in 1770, British Royal Navy captain James Cook first landed on the south-eastern coast of Australia, claiming the continent for Britain through the specious principle of terra nullius (“no one’s land”). According to this framework, Britain’s claim to Australia was legitimate “on the basis of first discovery and effective occupation”—despite the presence of over a million Aboriginal inhabitants. This original sin of British colonization is at the center of Antipodean experimental filmmaking duo Soda_Jerk’s long-form mashup TERROR NULLIUS, billed as a “political revenge fable in three acts.” Comprised of sisters Dominique and Dan Angeloro, Soda_Jerk have mastered a pop-culture compositing technique, displayed to viral acclaim in 2016’s playful THE WAS (a collaboration with similarly sampladelic Aussie music collective The Avalanches, also screening), that rotoscopes characters from diverse sources into densely allusive widescreen tableaux. TERROR NULLIUS stitches together decades of Australian film and television—from staples like WALKABOUT and MAD MAX to Ozploitation fare like DEAD-END DRIVE-IN and tony prestige pics à la THE PIANO and RABBIT-PROOF FENCE—to rudely subvert national myths of masculinity and white supremacy. Even the most cinephilic American audiences are bound to draw some blanks among the myriad Aussie-specific references, but its counter-hegemonic cut ‘n’ paste strategy can be more universally lacerating, as when a gang of murderous women led by MAD MAX: FURY ROAD’s Charlize Theron, HOLY SMOKE’s Kate Winslet, TOP OF THE LAKE’s Holly Hunter, and GREASE’s Olivia Newton-John (!) collectively mutilate Mel Gibson to avenge his abuse of former partner Oksana Grigorieva. In such over-the-top collisions, the film’s vision of feminist, queer, indigenous, and cross-species solidarity transcends national boundaries, resonating with parallel revisionist projects in the US and beyond. TERROR NULLIUS gets a surprising amount of mileage from this central gag, and there’s plenty of mischievous wit, ingenuity, and raw indignation to keep its motor running, although I’m not quite sure the “three act” structure serves as anything more than a convenient way of breaking up its hour-long running time. Often, the film’s simplest interventions are its most inspired; the passage figuring THE BABADOOK as an allegory of gay panic is particularly delightful. While far more convincingly and radically intersectional, a comparison can be drawn with the recent work of Quentin Tarantino, in that TERROR NULLIUS also self-consciously deploys cinematic tropes as a way of accessing–and exacting retribution upon–historical trauma. Like DJANGO UNCHAINED and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, there’s something both cathartic and queasy in deconstructing racist old myths of redemptive violence in order to Frankenstein together new, albeit more inclusive ones. There may be limits to (and redundancy in) using FURY ROAD to critique THE ROAD WARRIOR, but TERROR NULLIUS is indeed genuinely subversive and politically threatening: upon release, Soda_Jerk had promotional support withdrawn by a major funder for being “controversial” and “un-Australian.” Of course, as the fallacy of terra nullius implies, Australia itself is un-Australian, a fiction of national identity built upon a legacy of indigenous oppression—one its cinema has largely worked to reinforce. That’s exactly the point of TERROR NULLIUS: perhaps only a lattice of appropriated fictions can reveal the tissue of lies upon which Australia has justified its centuries-long expropriation of Aboriginal lands. Preceded by Soda_Jerk’s 2016 short THE WAS (14 min, Digital Projection). Soda_Jerk in person. (2018, 54 min, Digital Projection) MM
INGMAR BERGMAN X 2
Gene Siskel Film Center
Ingmar Bergman's THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (Swedish Revival) — Friday, 4:30pm, Saturday, 3pm, and Wednesday, 6pm
No one could accuse Ingmar Bergman of being a realist, but, as is evident in many of his films, he's keen to depict madness in the everyday. THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY especially relishes in the duality of the benign and the bizarre; the original title, AS IN A MIRROR (SÅSOM I EN SPEGEL), is the Swedish translation of the well-known Bible verse from which the English-subtitled version takes its name, and it perhaps best represents this secondary motif. (The first, of course, is the God question that permeates several of his films, including the other two that comprise his seminal trilogy.) The film, which Bergman described as a chamber drama, opens on four figures emerging from the sea in a scene that's eerily similar to the Dance of Death sequence from THE SEVENTH SEAL. They're revealed to be a family: a father (Gunnar Björnstrand), his son and daughter (Lars Passgård and Harriet Andersson, respectively), and her husband (Max von Sydow). The daughter, Karin, is schizophrenic, and has recently been hospitalized; her brother, Minus, is conflicted about his relationship with her and their narcissistic writer-father, David. Just after all that's revealed, the four sit down to a seemingly normal family dinner. This dramatic dichotomy is reflected again at the end when, just after Karin's breakdown, Minus and his father are discussing Karin's condition and Minus suddenly asks if he can go for a run. "Off you go," David replies. "I'll make dinner." Bergman addresses the dilemma of his prominent God question in Images: My Life in Film, writing that, by the time he made THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, his "own conflict with religion was well on its way out." He said that the film "is mainly connected to [his] marriage to Käbi Laretei and their life together," a fact that casts it in a different light, one that's in fact more earthly than ethereal. (1961, 89 min, DCP Digital) KS
Also showing this week is Ingmar Bergman’s WINTER LIGHT (Swedish Revival) on Saturday, 4:45pm and Monday, 6pm.
Robert Schwentke’s THE CAPTAIN (New German)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
When it comes to World War II movies, film history has been rife with accounts from the Allied powers’ perspective. Films centered on Axis combatants’ points of view (especially the Nazis) are less common, but this exact viewpoint is explored in Robert Schwentke’s THE CAPTAIN, which is based on true events. THE CAPTAIN takes place during the winter near the end of the German war effort on the Western front, where solider Willi Herold has become separated from his unit (at a dangerous time for him, as deserters from the army are interned and often put to death). After fleeing some pursuers across the German countryside, he comes across a crashed car and discovers a German captain’s uniform, which he dons. Willi puts on a performance for himself where he pretends he is a Captain and during his private play-acting is discovered by another separated solider who immediately salutes ‘his superior.’ With this newfound power realized, Willi amasses a small regiment of similarly cut-off soldiers he comes across. Soon after, he gains entry to a nearby prison camp full of deserters, under the guise that he is there to inspect the situation on orders from the Führer himself. Conditions at the camp become increasingly extreme (think The Stanford Prison Experiment) under Willi’s leadership; Schwentke’s film gets to the heart of what it means to blindly follow a leader. Intentional or not, the film’s central themes resonate deeply with the current state of U.S. political affairs and the idea of complicity. The black and white cinematography adds a sense of distance while also subduing the film’s more extreme moments. The film is not a straight drama, however, as there are moments of dark humor borne out of the absurdities that occur as a result Willi’s ability to convincingly bamboozle. The morality and human decency of German soldiers is explored as people are pushed to their breaking points and some reconsider their orders. THE CAPTAIN’s exploration of the notion of ‘acting like you belong’ is taken to extremes and offers a unique vantage point into a fascinatingly bizarre German World War II story. Director Schwentke in person at the Friday 7:30pm screening. (2017, 118 min, DCP Digital) KC
Read contributor Kyle Cubr's interview with Schwentke on the blog.
Ferenc Török’s 1945 (New Hungarian)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check venue website for showtimes
Quick: name the recent subtitled film that's sold more tickets in America than prestige art house heavy-hitters such as Andrey Zvyagintsev's LOVELESS, Samuel Maoz's FOXTROT, Arnaud Desplechin's ISMAEL'S GHOSTS, Michael Haneke's HAPPY END, Xavier Beauvois' THE GUARDIANS, and Lucrecia Martel's ZAMA. Ferenc Török’s 1945 largely flew under the radar of secular cinephiles, but has played the Jewish festival circuit almost continuously for the past 18 months since bowing at the 2017 Berlinale. This rigorously constructed, morally expansive, and beautifully photographed work of Hungarian slow cinema has also been playing theatrically off-and-on since last November, building up very respectable grosses at South Florida multiplexes with altacocker clientele who don't know Bela Tarr from the LaBrea Tar Pits. (Nota bene: the Siskel Film Center Gazette lists their weeklong run as the Chicago premiere, but 1945 already played locally at CIFF, the Music Box, and Renaissance Place in Highland Park, where it ran for five weeks.) This exhibition history might sound like trivia—akin to the tent show tour of the 1945 “sex-hygiene” exploitation film MOM AND DAD or the reserved seat road show of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS—but, as those examples attest, a film's release, reception, and aesthetic are ultimately one and the same, an irreducible mass. In the case of 1945, this steady art house popularity in the face of minimal publicity and critical cachet suggests nothing less than a shadow cinema. It might be aptly (and literally!) summarized as the Return of the Repressed. Török's 1945 unfolds over an afternoon, but it encompasses a broader moment in time—the slow motion unease of post-war Europe, back from the brink but no less anxious in the face of salvation. We survived, but at what cost? The arrival of two Orthodox Jewish men at the train station of a small Hungarian village triggers a panic—will the Jews return en masse and reclaim the property that the petite bourgeoisie expropriated in the wake of their liquidation? Török could easily follow a rote suspense blueprint, but, fiery climax notwithstanding, 1945 is more concerned with implication than escalation; it's a story laid in negative space, its richest moments marked by silence and structuring absences. For all its abstract force, though, 1945 features a dozen memorable characters, who inhabit a perfectly sketched, rumpled milieu worthy of Miklós Jancsó. This fiercely intellectual movie seldom rises above the dirt on the ground, a roving spiritual inquest stuck in a stubbornly material world. Török's subject—the unanswerable gulf between the incontrovertible moral right of a displaced people and the unfathomable cost to the status quo when that right is asserted—is both the grand theme of Zionism and the kernel of its undoing. In 1945, what's been done can never be undone--it can only be acknowledged, contemplated, lived with, and buried anew. (2017, 91 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED (New American)
Facets Cinémathèque — Check Venue website for showtimes
Paul Schrader’s angry, austere new film stars Ethan Hawke as Ernst Toller, a tormented priest grappling with personal and ecological apocalypse. A pregnant parishioner offers Toller a chance at salvation, but forces him to confront the slow suicide that has been his life in the aftermath of a personal tragedy. Watching the movie I kept thinking of Robert Bresson's DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST and Schrader's own original screenplay for TAXI DRIVER. I have little use for religion in my everyday life but there is no way around the fact that a lot of my favorite art is consumed with faith. Schrader's belief feels genuine so I can accept it without having to buy into it for myself. The thing that sets this story apart from much of Schrader’s prior work is an acknowledgement of shades of grey, in place of his usual moral absolutism. That nuance is personified in the pastor of a megachurch (a perfectly cast Cedric The Entertainer), who might have been logically been the heavy here, but is instead presented as a fully dimensional, flawed but earnest, and responsible community leader. The hopeless, fanatical, often sin-filled and ugly longing for grace and meaning that has always been Schrader’s calling card is on full display, but the resolution he leaves viewers with offers some newly-found hope. Toller has a lot of Travis Bickle in him but manages to walk himself back from the annihilation fantasy that haunts them both. (2017, 113 min, Video Projection) DS
F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU (Silent German Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7 and 9:30pm
Like his contemporary Jean Vigo, F.W. Murnau died far too soon. His death in an auto accident cut short the career of a great talent who was reaching new artistic milestones after his arrival in the U.S. He died having directed only three films for Hollywood (not including TABU) and, while he is celebrated among auteurists and cinephiles, his popular reputation never reached the level of other European émigrés like Fritz Lang. David Thomson writes that Murnau had an unparalleled talent for "photograph[ing] the real world and yet invest[ing] it with a variety of poetic, imaginative, and subjective qualities. The camera itself allowed audiences to experience actuality and imagination simultaneously." In the case of NOSFERATU the result is a vampire story of startling realism. This is no fantasy, nor is it a lush period piece. This is mania, creeping fear, disease, and plague. Perhaps no film better illustrates the difference between dreams, which inhabit the margins of our world, and fantasies, which we each manufacture. Thanks to Murnau's pioneering style here and in later films, directors as diverse as Douglas Sirk and David Lynch have continued to practice a similar alchemy of melodrama, movement, desire, and fateful circumstance. (1922, 94 min, 16mm) WS
Robert Wiene's THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (Silent German Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm
This classic film begins with a young man named Francis (Friedrich Feher) telling the story of the eerie Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) to his friend. One day, Caligari (similar to Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse) arrives in the small town of Holstenwall to present his somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), who sleeps in a coffin-like cabinet, at their fair. When the fair ends, the first in a series of mysterious crimes occurs with the murder of the town clerk, and Francis determines to find the culprit. Not only is THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI the first feature horror film, but also it is the earliest key example in cinema of German Expressionism, deeply influential in the development of film noir. Designed by the exceptionally talented Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann, and Walter Rohrig, the film's studio sets, comprised of painted canvas backdrops, distort one's sense of space to heighten the fear and anxiety experienced by both the characters and audience. Wiene favors the iris shot in capturing the actors and their exaggerated actions, but he uses rectangles and diamonds in addition to circles, mirroring the fundamental shapes seen in the fantastical sets and costumes; these same shapes or combinations thereof appear in the images that the intertitles are set against. Also, the sets inform the stylization of acting, particularly by Krauss and Veidt who previously worked in Expressionist theater. In The Haunted Screen, film critic and historian Lotte Eisner perfectly described the greatness of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and the first films of Richard Oswald, "These works blithely married a morbid Freudianism and an Expressionistic exaltation to the romantic fantasies of Hoffmann and Eichendorff, and to the tortured soul of contemporary Germany seemed, with their overtones of death, horror and nightmare, the reflection of its own grimacing image, offering a kind of release." (1920, 80 min, 16mm) CW
Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) — Wednesday, 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
When Joan Fontaine died in 2013, Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA was referenced in most every write-up of the late actress's illustrious career, and for good reason. Hitchcock made the film under contract with producer David O. Selznick, who was working on REBECCA at the same time he was tying up loose ends on his legendary 1939 film GONE WITH THE WIND, and Fontaine competed for the leading role in a race similar to that of Selznick's search for the perfect Scarlett O'Hara. Fontaine even competed against Vivien Leigh, who eventually won out as Scarlett and was also married to actor Laurence Olivier, the man chosen over Ronald Colman to play the male lead in Hitchcock's first joint venture with the infamously controlling producer. Fontaine was selected, and she brings genuine curiosity to the unique role that's really two characters in one. The film, based on the eponymous novel by Daphne du Maurier, is about a young woman (Fontaine) who falls in love with a handsome widower and settles for a dull but privileged life in the shadow of his late wife, Rebecca. The young woman's husband, Maxim, rarely mentions Rebecca, but his friends, family, and even the household staff are deeply reverent of her memory and the impact her death supposedly had on Maxim. She never appears on screen, not even in a photograph or portrait, yet du Maurier's book and Hitchcock's film bear her name; just as ironically, the first name of Fontaine's character is never mentioned, and she's referred to only as Mrs. de Winter, just as Rebecca was called when she was alive. In an attempt to seem as lively and welcoming as the first Mrs. de Winter, Fontaine's character convinces Maxim to throw a costume ball like the one they used to have at Manderley (Maxim's estate) in gayer times, only to receive bad advice from the duplicitous housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (played by the infinitely intriuging Judith Anderson and considered to be Hitchcock's only lesbian character). Danvers suggests that she copies the outfit of an ancestor whose portraits hangs in the house, after which it's revealed that Rebecca had adorned the same costume at the previous year's event. The portrait is not of Rebecca (it's of Maxim's ancestor, Caroline de Winter), but it acts as a representation of the deceased woman, and in being both unnamed and eventually recreating Rebecca's costume, Fontaine's character is also a representation of the conflicting character whose name is as much a presence as her living counterpart. It's no wonder, then, that despite Maxim's later admissions of their marriage being a sham and his late wife having been a promiscuous sociopath, critic Kent Jones, in his essay for the Criterion DVD release, would consider Rebecca to be "the film's real heroine." The film subconsciously suggests that, both in Rebecca's lasting effects on those she knew when she was alive and those who came after her. Hitchcock's first American film was not entirely his own, with Selznick insisting upon as strict an adherence to the original material as censorship would allow, but scholar Robin Wood is correct when he declares this understated film as the "the most decisive single step both in Hitchcock's career and aesthetic evolution." Hitchcock would use similar themes in later films; Wood proclaims that "[s]kepticism about male-female relationships under patriarchy is central to Hitchcock's importance to us today," and that REBECCA is the first example of this enduring theme in the master's ouvre. Despite Hitchcock's tempestuous relationship with Selznick, REBECCA reflects a turning point in the iconic director's career that foreshadows some of his best films. (1940, 130 min, Digital Projection) KS
Frank Darabont's THE MIST (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Friday and Saturday, Midnight
As a 24-year-old child of Hungarian refugees at the beginning of his film career, Frank Darabont became one of the first of Stephen King's "Dollar Babies" when he adapted King's story "The Woman in the Room" as a short film. Thus began a decades-long association between the world's most beloved horror novelist and the most successful (for certain values of successful) adapter of his works for the screen. After Darabont's ambitious King adaptations THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE racked up Oscar nominations and divided critical opinions, he turned to King's bread and butter, the horror story, in the form of The Mist, a novella from King's second collection Skeleton Crew. The story, which Darabont adapts faithfully, concerns a monster-filled mist that envelops a small Maine town. A group of locals, along with some people From Away, hole up in a grocery store where demon creatures pick them off and a self-styled prophet riles up end-times sentiments among the survivors after each horrific attack. Darabont understands the RKO rule that there's more terror in a half-seen shape and a smoke machine than there is in any number of rubber or CGI monsters, so much of the film's first half builds toward the big reveal. The creatures, when they do arrive, are satisfactory even after a decade of development in CGI. Created by the FX company behind PAN'S LABYRINTH, they're inventive and weighty, their verisimilitude aided by the ever-present mist. When tension between the monsters inside the store and those outside comes to a head, the finale comes, and it is one of the greatest things to have appeared in any horror film, ever. Accompanied by the skin-crawly keening of Dead Can Dance's "The Host of Seraphim," a few survivors set out into the mist in a spotlight-laden Land Rover, like a lonely tugboat navigating foggy, hellish shoals, its searchlights picking out vague shadows of interdimensional behemoths and murderous dragonflies. They lurch underneath the only recognizable bit of actual Maine in the film (Portland Thru Lanes / Points South Right Lanes) toward an ending (the only major departure from King's novella) so nihilistic that despite knowing it was coming, I still felt sick. It's brutal, and it earns it: King and Darabont are both really good at some of the same things, among which is endearing us to characters through small, well-written scenes. They make us care, and that's why it hurts so much. Presented in the director's preferred black and white version. (2007, 126 min, DCP Digital) MWP
Ofir Raul Graizer's THE CAKEMAKER (New Israeli/German)
Facets Cinémathèque — Check Venue website for showtimes
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, Video Projection) SP
Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s RBG (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
Is there any figure whose opinions are more routinely ignored, discounted, or even ridiculed in our contemporary society than an old woman’s? And yet—even before 2018 would become a summer defined by grueling media attention on the Supreme Court—Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an exception, able to quietly command attention and reverence through every word she utters. The alluring mystery at the heart of the biography RBG is Ginsburg herself, as a representation of the increasingly rare, public figure still able to inspire thoughtful reflection and advocacy, against the tide of our culture’s worst instincts. This buoyant profile of Ginsburg lovingly emphasizes her significance in various career roles, first as a feminist icon (crediting her as the architect behind the ACLU’s strategy for the women’s movement in the 1970s), then as the Court’s most accomplished litigator, and finally—in modern, increasingly traditionalist years—as the Court’s most forceful and resolute dissenting voice. Although West and Cohen’s doc frequently takes on all the trappings of a glossy magazine profile rather than the incisive portrait surely deserved by one of the greatest intellects of our time, it nevertheless benefits immeasurably from the remarkable, rejuvenating presence of Ginsburg herself. The weirdness of our culture’s Internet celebritydom becomes a part of RBG’s story too, but compared with Ginsburg’s depth, this maddening new source of cultural power feels like an entirely false and estranging one. Still, in an age of inadvertent stardom, it’s comforting to have a figure like RBG to idolize. (2018, 98 min, DCP Digital) TTJ
Eugene Jarecki's THE KING (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Eugene Jarecki's stunning documentary THE KING examines the rise and decline of Elvis Presley as a metaphor for the rise and decline of America. Jarecki structures the film around that most romantic and mythic of metaphors for freedom, the American road trip. Driving across the U.S. in Elvis's '63 Rolls-Royce a year out from the 2016 election, he charts the life of the country via a road trip from Tupelo to Vegas, with stops in, among other places, Memphis and New York City. That is, he traces Elvis's, and the country's, journey from rebellious youth to the top o' the world, then to bloated, corrupt empire. There are detours: a stop in Bad Nauheim, a trip trough the Arizona desert on Route 66, where Elvis, unforgettably, once saw Stalin's face in a cloud. All manner of musician piles into the backseat of the Rolls along the way—the late Leo "Bud" Welch; the startling young Emi Sunshine; Emmylou Harris; students from the Stax Music Academy. Densely, richly, and playfully layered, both aurally and visually, the film contains interviews with the people you want to hear talk about Elvis, like Greil Marcus, Peter Guralnick, and Chuck D. (In my room back at school, I had a poster of Elvis Presley next to one of Public Enemy. This, I figured, was the dialectic.) Even seemingly random folks like Ethan Hawke, Mike Myers, Van Jones, and David Simon nonetheless have cogent, revealing things to say about the traps of American life, about American identity, class and race, happiness and addiction, and the destruction of our democracy by celebrity and money. This final stage reaches its apotheosis with the election of Donald Trump, the smirking goblin popping up throughout like the film's, and America's, curse. If, as Marcus suggests, Elvis was "the voice of America at its best and at its worst," then with Trump we've arrived at the embodiment of us at our absolute worst. A haunting, elegiac farrago, the film, like its subject, is rollicking and electrifying, frustrating and fascinating, endlessly contradictory and complex. By the time we get to Vegas, the film's controlling metaphor is so on-the-nose it hurts: Elvis is strung out on opiates, bloated, gruesome, demented. Yet, as he stumbles to the piano to sing a breathtaking Unchained Melody, he still somehow radiates endless, selfless love and generous good humor. From that chest and heart erupts that voice—a fireworks display so spectrally beautiful it might just make you cry, for what could have been, for what could still be—let loose over a montage of an America riven by dissension and corruption (Kiss, disco, cocaine, Wall St., OJ, Monica, Gulf War, George W., Barney, Twin Towers, Katrina, Native American resisters, BLM, Ferguson...and Trump). Then, with a glint in his eye, our unelected king's ghost is caught one last time in the camera, as if to say, I'll go on embodying and reflecting your contradictions forever. It's up to us to make of his story what we will, but the lesson seems to be it would have been better if we'd treated what we love with a bit more care. (2017, 109 min, DCP Digital) SP
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
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) and the Chicago Film Society present Curt McDowell’s 1972 experimental narrative PEED INTO THE WIND (60 min, Restored 16mm Print) on Saturday at 8pm. Preceded by McDowell’s short films KATHLEEN TRAILER (for Underground Cinema 12) (1972, 2 min, 16mm), A VISIT TO INDIANA (1970, 10 min, 16mm), RONNIE (1972, 7 min, 16mm), and TRUTH FOR RUTH (1972, 4 min, 16mm).
The Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) screens John Binder’s 1985 film UFORIA (93 min, 35mm) on Tuesday at 7:30pm. Preceded by Daina Krumins’ 1973 experimental short THE DIVINE MIRACLE (6 min, 16mm).
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents a program of Educational and PSA Films (Unconfirmed total running time, 16mm), from Comfort Film programmer Raul Benitez’s personal collection, on Wednesday at 8pm. Attendees are also welcome to bring their own 8mm or 16mm films to screen. Free admission.
The Midwest Independent Film Festival (at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema) presents Female Filmmaker Night on Tuesday. The event begins at 6pm. No details at press time, but usually it includes a reception and panel discussion, followed by a 7:30pm screening.
Black Cinema House (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Roy T. Anderson’s 2015 documentary QUEEN NANNY: LEGENDARY MAROON CHIEFTAINESS (59 min, Video Projection) on Friday at 7:30pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center: the Black Harvest Film Festival begins this week with the shorts program “A Black Harvest Feast” (sold out) on Saturday at 7pm. Additional programs in the festival this week include: Robert S. Bader’s 2018 documentary ALI & CAVETT: THE TALE OF THE TAPES (95 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 5pm (with Dick Cavett scheduled to be in person) and Monday at 8pm; Justin Warren’s 2018 film THEN THERE WAS JOE (102 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8pm; and the shorts program “International Visions” is on Thursday at 8pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: David Anspaugh’s 1993 film RUDY (114 min, Unconfirmed Format) is on Monday at 7pm, preceded by a panel discussion with the film’s subject, Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, and Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips and sports columnist Phil Rosenthal.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Gersh Kgamedi’s 2017 South African film SHE IS KING (100 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 3 - August 9, 2018
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, Tien-Tien Jong, Doug McLaren, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael W. Phillips Jr., Dmitry Samarov, Will Schmenner, Candace Wirt