Special Cine-Cast mini episode. Contributor Harrison Sherrod interviews local filmmaker Brian Ashby, editor and producer of THE AREA (David Schalliol, 2018). The film has a two-week engagement at the Gene Siskel Film Center continuing through September 27.
MARGARET TAIT: POEMS AND PORTRAITS (Experimental Revival)
Prominent Scottish poet and translator Edwin Muir described the singular dialect of the Orkney islands of Northern Scotland as “a soft and musical inflection, slightly melancholy, but companionable, the voice of people who are accustomed to hours of talking in the long winter evenings and do not feel they have to hurry." How marvelously the films of Margaret Tait translate—in delicate counterpoints of sound, word, light, and shadow—this gentle inflection. Although Tait, who was born 100 years ago this November, travelled widely, working in India as a medic during World War II and studying with the giants of Neorealism at Rome’s famed Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the early 1950s, she spent much of her life, and made much of her work, in Orkney; one of her many strengths as a poet and filmmaker was a fathomless ability to draw out worldly richness from the modest surfaces of provincial life. In the portraits, landscape studies, lyrical documentaries, and even hand-painted abstractions she made between the early 50s and her death in 1999, Tait traced the contours of a soul shaped by this geography, community, and language as effortlessly as her camera lens captured the region’s Northern light. In early work like A PORTRAIT OF GA (1952, 5 min), an intimate profile of the filmmaker’s mother set amidst the brilliant grasslands of the archipelago, Tait’s sense of place is acute, but so is that unhurried Orcadian sense of pace—an instinctual (or hereditary) gift for rhythm and meter that distinguishes her as cinematographer, editor, and poet. A pair of later films, the atmospheric nature study AERIAL (1974, 4 min) and the dazzling, sketchbook-like COLOUR POEMS (1974, 12 min) showcase these talents through more experimental, yet more elemental means. In the former, glimpses of shuddering grasses and wind-shaken leaves play out over ringing chimes, transporting us from barren winters to verdant springs as capriciously as the breeze. These sounds and images act as a kind of weathervane, revealing an invisible yet unassailable emotional current beneath them. Sharing this mercurial quality, COLOUR POEMS diverts the viewer instead through glorious sequences of direct animation, pensive poetic recitation, bucolic seaside reverie, and luminous still life. Simply by virtue of floating past her lens, mundane objects swell with history, fleeting phenomena assume a timeless aspect, grey faces blush with hue. While the longest film on this program, the astonishing WHERE I AM IS HERE (1964, 35 min), similarly seeks the hidden epiphanies of the everyday, it does so now in the cramped, monochromatic spaces of industrial Edinburgh. The result is a fascinating attempt to adapt her lyrical and pastoral techniques to more elegiac ends. Weaving numerous recurring threads and themes into seven stanza-like episodes, Tait marshals her sonic ingenuity, her curious, even quizzical camera, and her genius for bracing juxtapositions to recover moments of fragmentary beauty amidst the infernal, depersonalized scenes of city life. Like its haunting score—an adaptation of one of Tait’s poems—WHERE I AM IS HERE answers the harsh cry of the city with the soft, musical melancholy of the Orkney dialect, but its caustic scenes of stolid financial buildings, throttled nature and streets enflamed ultimately suggest an accelerating despair. Perhaps there’s simply no room in Edinburgh for those who do not feel they have to hurry. But it’s thanks to that lingering Orcadian sense of time that, even on the eve of her centenary, Tait's ability to invoke the revelatory power of film poetry to struggle against that alienation feels absolutely contemporary: when she is, is now. (1952-74, 65 min total, 16mm) MM
Agnès Varda’s ONE SINGS, THE OTHER DOESN’T (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
If I had to sum up the droll sagacity of Agnès Varda’s scintillating cinematic timbre, it would be this exchange from ONE SINGS, THE OTHER DOESN’T: a handsome man, a photographer, surrounded by pictures of women in various poses and states of undress, exits his darkroom to find a teenaged girl perusing his gallery. “Waiting for me?” he asks. “People sometimes give up.” The young woman replies: “So put up a doorbell,” referring to his lack of such a necessity. The delivery is pure Varda, capriciously pragmatic, as if the answer to every question—the benign and the momentous alike—is an obvious one. It’s also a hilarious inversion of art world tropes, the handsome male artist chided rather than celebrated for his gratuitous eccentricity. It’s an apt representation of Varda’s work as pointedly feminist art, of which ONE SINGS, a film that could be described as an abortion musical, is a perfect example. The aforementioned young woman is Pauline, a fiery redhead who stumbles into the man’s gallery to discover that one of his subjects, Suzanne—also his partner and the mother of his children—is a former neighbor. The two become close after Pauline, learning that Suzanne is pregnant, helps her to procure the funds for an abortion. A sudden tragedy, which I won’t reveal here, bonds them further. They meet again ten years later at a demonstration for reproductive rights, centered around the watershed Bobigny trial, where Pauline, now going by Apple, performs protest songs about abortion (the lyrics written by Varda herself), and Suzanne reveals that she’s opened a family planning center. Their reunion is joyful, albeit brief, and the rest of the film traverses the next several years of their largely long-distance friendship (the section set in Iran is especially wondrous). Flowing through the permeable narrative are delightful songs performed by Apple and whatever band she’s with at the time, the music political and avant-garde but still entertaining. (A soundtrack exists—I highly recommend it.) The film teems with Varda’s effortless ebullience, its world scooped from inside her head and thrown into the frame like paint onto a canvas. Speaking of which, Charles Van Damme’s cinematography is painterly à la the best of the Impressionists, and the production and costume design, both from Franckie Diago, imbue the women with even more sense of character, each having their own distinct style. All this in a new 2K DCP digital restoration; just as you should indeed have a doorbell, you should jump at the chance to see this on the big screen. (1977, 122 min, DCP Digital) KS
William A. Wellman’s OTHER MEN’S WOMEN (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) — Wednesday, 7:30pm
“Have you ever noticed that there’s a lot of rain in my movies?” asked William A. Wellman on the episode of Richard Schickel’s TV documentary series The Men Who Made the Movies that was devoted to his work. When pressed to explain why it rains so often in his films, Wellman shrugged and said he simply liked the way it looked. This lack of analysis on the director’s part doesn’t come off as evasive, but rather an honest reflection of Wellman’s intuitive artistry. Here was a filmmaker who thrived on instinctive, gut-level decisions, not only in his visual motifs, but also in his direction of actors. (He also had a tremendous knack for trusting the right performers at the right time, as evidenced by his providing such stars as James Cagney, Barbara Stanwyck, and Gary Cooper with their first major roles.) OTHER MEN’S WOMEN may not be the best of the five features Wellman directed in 1931—that would be either THE PUBLIC ENEMY or NIGHT NURSE—but it’s still a grand, highly flavorful entertainment, with performances that convey an ingratiating blue-collar bravado and a memorable climax set during, yes, a torrential rainstorm. The forgotten actors Grant Withers and Regis Toomey play Bill and Jack, lifelong best friends who work on the same freight railway line; Mary Astor, looking radiant, plays Bill’s wife Lily. After 20 minutes or so of delightful narrative vamping (in which Wellman sets the scene and grants some fun moments to supporting players Cagney and Joan Blondell), Jack and Lily realize they love each other. This being a Wellman film, the romantic conflict spawns not melodrama, but white-knuckle action, much of it taking place on moving trains. The story moves briskly in the fashion of the director’s best work—given his brackish sensibility and fast working methods, Wellman really was born to direct 70-minute pre-Code dramas. It feels good to see him in his element. Preceded by the Blackhawk Films short RAILROADING IN THE EAST: 1897-1906 (10 min, 16mm). (1931, 70 min, 35mm) BS
REELING: THE CHICAGO LGBTQ+ INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival, presented by Chicago Filmmakers, opened yesterday and continues through September 30, with thirty additional features and nineteen shorts programs. All screenings this week take place at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema (2828 N. Clark St.); the September 28-30 screenings take place at Chicago Filmmakers. In addition to the three programs highlighted below by Cine-File’s Associate Editor Kat Sachs, other programs of interest to a cinephile (or Cine-File) crowd include: ADONIS by Hong Kong filmmaker Scud (in person); longtime documentary filmmaker David Weissman’s CONVERSATIONS WITH GAY ELDERS: KERBY LAUDERDALE (with Weissman and Lauderdale in person); actor/director Rupert Everett’s Oscar Wilde biopic THE HAPPY PRINCE (with Everett in person); and Leilah Weinraub’s documentary SHAKEDOWN.
PJ Raval’s CALL HER GANDA (New Documentary)
In 2014, a 26-year-old Filipina named Jennifer Laude—her mother called her Ganda, which means “beautiful” in Tagalog—was murdered. Her killer? A 19-year-old Marine stationed in the Philippines, on break from duty. The reason? As he later told a fellow Marine, he'd discovered that Jennifer was a “he-she,” to use his vile language. PJ Raval’s CALL HER GANDA is about this case and the issues related to it, from transgender discrimination to the insidious aftereffects of colonialism. Raval assembles it deftly, elegantly weaving together these strains, presenting them as both important, independent narratives and an intricate system of cause-and-effect. Jennifer’s family and friends, some present the night that she died, illuminate her life (understandably tiptoeing around the fact that she may have been working in the sex trade) and mourn her tragic death; Raval also follows the case’s steadfast defense team and reporter Meredith Talusan, a Filipina-American transgender woman, who’s covering the story for American news outlets. He uses news footage and screenshots from social media posts to further exposit the crime in question, as well as archival news material to explain the Visiting Forces Agreement, which dictates how the Filipino government can preside over the cases of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel in their country. Though the Philippines gained independence from the U.S. in 1946, the agreement is a clear-cut sign of America’s steadfast colonialist urges. Through all of this, however, is footage of Jennifer herself, radiant with life but never immune to its horrors.(2018, 98 min, Digital Projection) KS
Michelle Memran’s THE REST I MAKE UP (New Documentary)
Some writers live like the rest of us—that is, in a state of normalcy far removed from the epical nuances of the written word. Others live as they write, the things they do and say never far from that which they commit to the page. Acclaimed avant-garde playwright María Irene Fornés, little known but formidable nonetheless, embodies the latter sort, as evidenced by Michelle Memran’s THE REST I MAKE UP, a heartbreaking and idiosyncratic documentary about Fornés that spans her extraordinary life and career while focusing on her recent struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Memran, a reporter based in New York City, is something of an accidental filmmaker, having met Fornés when she interviewed her in 1999; in 2003, using a Hi8 camcorder, she began filming Fornés while on an excursion to Brighton Beach. Interspersed between this footage, which covers the writer’s day-to-day life in New York and a trip back to Cuba (where Fornés lived until she was 15), are clips from performances of her plays and interviews with friends, family, and colleagues (among them playwrights Edward Albee and Paula Vogel, and La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club founder Ellen Stewart). The film touches on Fornés’ sexual orientation, specifically her affair with Susan Sontag, whom she describes as the love of her life. Its real distinction, however, and the source of its intense emotional affliction, is how it captures Fornés’ advancing dementia; though the film is never exploitative, it’s nonetheless unsettling to see her forget things that appeared onscreen just moments before. In this way, Memran uses the medium as a sort of warped memory play, reflecting events that its subject is soon to forget. These moments are not exploitative precisely because of the relationship between the filmmaker and her subject. As a portrait of a great artist (one that inspired me to learn more about Fornés—I hope to see her plays performed sometime), it’s incredibly stirring; as a portrait of a friendship—namely one between two women, one old, the other young—it’s an astounding work. Though it remains to be seen whether Memran will make another film (I hope she does), or if Fornés will write another play (something she grapples with throughout), THE REST I MAKE UP is a remarkable accomplishment for them both. Memran in person. (2018, 79 min, Digital Projection) KS
Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.’s BUDDIES (American Revival)
Heralded as the first feature-length drama about AIDS, landmark gay filmmaker Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.’s brisk 1985 film BUDDIES is still as poignant as ever. The film follows 25-year-old typesetter David (David Schachter) after he volunteers to spend time with an AIDS patient as a “buddy”; he’s assigned to Robert (Geoff Edholm), 31-year-old gardener who’s been abandoned by his family and friends in the midst of his illness. Both are gay, but they’re on completely different ends of the political spectrum: Robert is a full-fledged activist, while David, having always been accepted by his family and in a long-term monogamous relationship, is less inclined toward protesting oppression as he’s never personally experienced it. Over the film’s compact 81-minute runtime, the two buddies form an intense, romantically tinged friendship, illustrated via hospital visits and David’s diary entries, which are expressed in voiceover narration. Relatively straightforward in his aesthetic style, Bressan nevertheless employs a unique trick in only showing David and Robert straight-on, obscuring other characters such as David’s partner and hospital nurses from the back. It’s novel—if not somewhat gimmicky—but nonetheless effective in highlighting the emotional intimacy between the two men. Independently made on a super-low budget and scripted in only five days, its economic dialogue, while didactic at times, is powerful in both content and execution; Schachter and Edholm, working within the confines of a nine-day shooting schedule, breach the awkwardness of such a constricted timeframe to convey a beautiful connection between two humans. "Every once in awhile you get the chance to make a statement on film that has nothing to do with your career, with ego, with money,” Bressan is quoted as saying in Vito Russo’s book The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, “but only with the issues of life and love and death. If BUDDIES turns out to be my last film, it'll be a fine way to go." Sadly, Bressan died of AIDS in 1987—this was indeed his last film. (Edholm also died of AIDS in 1989.) Despite living in a day and age when HIV and AIDS are generally more treatable than they were thirty years ago, BUDDIES, which was digitally restored by Vinegar Syndrome after decades of unavailability, is a much-needed reminder about the power of interpersonal connection in the face of adversity. (1985, Digital Projection) KS
Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty’s THE ATOMIC CAFÉ (Documentary Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
During World War II and beyond, United States propaganda took many forms: from Disney and Warner Bros cartoons to radio ads and more. Covering the 1940’s and 1950’s, THE ATOMIC CAFÉ splices various media forms of propaganda to create a well-crafted, and far funnier than it should be, look at United States nuclear bomb usage. The film covers topics such as atom bomb usage in Japan during World War II, the Bikini Atoll tests, the advent of the “Red Scare” when the U.S.S.R. developed nuclear technology, and various U.S. armed forces training films. On top of all of this, throw in music from various artists including Bill Haley and the Comets concerning fallout shelters and anti-communist sentiments and what emerges is a clear picture that the propaganda was all meant to quell fears that the U.S. was ever in any real kind of danger from an atomic threat. Intermixed with these segments are pseudo-news segments that show the effects U.S. blasts have had on other places, and a dark hypocrisy can be seen. THE ATOMIC CAFÉ is essentially a near 90 minute montage that pokes fun at the paranoia, bigotry, and traditional American-values that the United States government and Atomic Energy Commission. The assembled pieces act as a time capsule of classic Americana that makes for enthralling viewing. Co-director Jayne Loader in person at the Sunday screening. (1982, 86 mins, DCP Digital) KC
70MM FILM FESTIVAL (Week Two)
Music Box Theatre – Through September 27
The Music Box’s 70mm Film Festival continues with its second week of larger than large. Week two includes our reviewed films (below) along with James Ivory’s 1993 film THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, Steven Spielberg’s 1989 film INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, Nicholas Meyer’s 1991 film STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, and Lawrence Kasdan’s 1985 western SILVERADO. Check the Music Box website for showtimes.)
Jim Henson and Frank Oz's THE DARK CRYSTAL (American Revival)
Saturday, 12:30pm, Sunday, 9:15pm, and Wednesday, 7pm
Though not as charming or funny as any of the GREAT MUPPET movies or its successor, LABYRINTH, THE DARK CRYSTAL is an impressive and immersive feature that still accomplishes a good bit of cinematic alchemy. Henson and Oz decided with this feature to shoot a somber, epic high-fantasy story with not a single human actor. It would be impossible to shoot a movie with Muppets and not inject a little silliness in here and there, though, and the credit for that silliness goes to the character designs and sensational voice acting (most notably by the Chamberlain, a sycophantic and especially grotesque villain). THE DARK CRYSTAL tells the story of Jen, a gelfling (i.e. an elf-like creature) who was orphaned by the evil skeksis, hilarious bird-like grotesques that rule the land since the dark crystal was sundered 1000 years ago. The costuming and character design of the skeksis are just perfect. Such an intricate amount of detail went into every nook and cranny of this film, but especially the wrinkles and hideous folds of the withered, avaricious faces of the skeksis. Though the prophecy foretold that a gelfling would bring about the end of the skeksis, they have tried to battle their fate by wiping out the entire race. Little did they know, Jen survived and was rescued by the mystics, many-armed and humpbacked creatures reminiscent of Buddhist monks. A convergence of three suns is foretold and the mystics send Jen on a journey to find the shard to repair the dark crystal and heal the land. Jen's journey takes him through magical landscapes that take full advantage of Brian Froud's art design and the then-flashy technique of optical printing to enhance the enchanting experience. Though the story is not very original, and the script is not witty like LABYRINTH or some of the other later Muppet movies, the charm and splendor of this movie really lies in the painstaking attention to detail. A very dear film from my childhood, as an adult I can return to it and appreciate the care and creativity and joy that was clearly expressed in creating fantastically weird and majestic Muppets, villages, castles, miscellaneous forest creatures and plants, backstory, mystical pictographic language and hieroglyphics, and hideous villains. Like many dark fantasies of the 1980s (RETURN TO OZ and THE SECRET OF NIMH jump to mind), THE DARK CRYSTAL struck a sharp contrast to saccharine Disney animations. Henson and Oz instead drew on the tone and archetypes of The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, and the result is horrifying and thrilling, as any traumatized 1980's child will testify. The mere fact that Henson was able to make Muppets terrifying and their tragedy heartwrenching is reason enough to watch this film, but the gorgeous detail in every frame is the real reason to watch it at the 70mm Film Festival. Bring your children with you so that you can traumatize a new generation of loyal Muppet fans. (1982, 93 min, 70mm) AE
Robert Wise’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC (American Revival)
Saturday, 6:30pm and Thursday, 7pm
Of all the epic musicals to emerge from 1960s Hollywood, THE SOUND OF MUSIC is arguably the grandest. The much-awarded film (five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Robert Wise) is based on the much-awarded stage production (five Tony awards, including Best Musical) that was the last collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Of the seven stage-to-screen adaptations of their works, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, shot on location in glorious 70mm Todd-AO color is the most successful transfer. Through the method Rodgers and Hammerstein invented, this film effortlessly tells the story of the real-life Von Trapp Family Singers through songs that advance the story and reveal the state of mind of its characters. The nuns foretell a different life for their lively postulant in “Maria,” Maria earns the trust of the obstinate Von Trapp children in “My Favorite Things,” and the family bids Austria good-bye in “So Long, Farewell.” In between, director Wise makes the most of Austria’s natural and built environments, a soaring opening shot of the Alps affirming the glories of the homeland lovingly proclaimed later in “Edelweiss” and snapshots of Salzburg accompanying Maria and the children as she teaches them to sing in “Do-Re-Mi.” There are wisps of another epic, GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), as Maria makes play clothes for the children out of curtains and war intrudes on a prosperous, aristocratic family. But the villains remain mostly offstage in this family film that seeks to inspire and gently provoke reflection about duty, loyalty, love, and sacrifice. (1965, 172 min, 70mm) MF
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (British/American Revival)
Monday, 7pm and Thursday, 2:30pm
For many, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is not simply a masterpiece, but the apotheosis of moviegoing itself. In no other film is the experience of seeing images larger than oneself linked so directly to contemplating humanity's place in the universe. Kubrick achieves this (literally) awesome effect through a number of staggering devices: a narrative structure that begins at "the dawn of man" and ends with the final evolution of humankind; one-of-a-kind special effects, the result of years of scientific research, that forever changed visual representations of outer space; a singular irony that renders the most familiar human interaction beguiling; blasts of symphonic music that heighten the project of sensory overload. It isn't hyperbolic to assert, as film scholar Michel Chion has in his book Kubrick's Cinema Odyssey, that this could be the most expensive experimental film ever made; it's certainly the most abstracted of all big-budget productions. As in most of Kubrick's films, the pervasive ambiguity--the product of every detail having been realized so thoroughly as to seem independent of an author—ensures a different experience from viewing to viewing. Much criticism has noted the shifting nature of "thinking" computer HAL-9000, the "star" of the movie's longest section, who can seem evil, pathetic, or divine depending on one's orientation to the film; less often discussed is the poker-faced second movement, largely set in the ultra-professional meeting rooms of an orbiting space station. Is this a satire of Cold War diplomacy (something like a drier follow-up to DR. STRANGELOVE)? An allegory about the limitations of scientific knowledge? Like the "Beyond the Infinite" sequence that makes up most of the film's final movement--an astonishing piece of abstract expressionist art every bit the equal of the Gyorgy Ligeti composition that accompanies it—one can never know concretely what it all "means," nor would one ever want to. (1968, 142 min, 70mm) BS
INGMAR BERGMAN X 2
Ingmar Bergman's CRIES AND WHISPERS (Swedish Revival)
Friday, 4pm, Saturday, 3pm, and Monday, 6pm
Sometimes the great works of art risk going too far. Ingmar Bergman's CRIES AND WHISPERS is, I think, that kind of film. It is an extreme and beautiful erotic poem, a dreamscape about death, a song of love and hate where love has the last word. The story is set around the turn of the century in a resplendently gothic manor house, festooned, famously, in red—walls, carpets, draperies, all of the interior crimson. The manor is set in a verdant park. Harriet Andersson plays kind Agnes, a woman of faith in her late thirties who is dying an agonizing death of cancer of the womb. Agnes's two sisters, cruel in their various ways, have come to her deathbed: the bitter, suicidal Karin (Inrid Thulin) and the false, adulterous Maria (Liv Ullmann). There is also Anna (Kari Sylwan), Agnes's good, Christian maidservant (and likely her lover), who had a baby who died. The movie is a vision in red, black, and white, with, as Roger Ebert notes in his Great Movies essay, the colors representing "their fundamental emotional associations, with blood, death, and spirituality." It is so red that Liv Ullmann even has red hair. Bergman even innovates with film punctuation, fading to red instead of to black. As Pauline Kael wrote, "The incomparable cinematographer Sven Nykvist achieves the look of the paintings of the Norwegian Edvard Munch, as if the neurotic and the unconscious had become real enough to be photographed...The film is emotionally saturated in female flesh—flesh as temptation and mystery...The effect—a culmination of the visual emphasis on women's faces in recent Bergman films—is intimate and hypnotic. We are put in the position of the little boy at the beginning of PERSONA, staring up at the giant women's faces on the screen." She positions Bergman as working here in the Expressionist dream-play mode of his hero, Strindberg. It's precisely this stylized fantasy mode—of memory and dream—that makes the film's breaks from sanity and reality work. Most startlingly, the dead Agnes seems to come back to life. This may be the very crux of the film, which is profoundly about the yearning for the comfort of the human touch. Kael again: "Touching becomes a ritual of soul-searching." This may fit into Bergman's own conception: the whole movie, he's said, probably "is something internal," that "ever since my childhood I have pictured the inside of the soul as a moist membrane in shades of red." There are stunning moments of intimacy: Anna loosening her bare breast so that it may pillow Agnes. Agnes's sisters bathing her. Anna cradling the dead Agnes in bed, forming a pietà that is one of Bergman's very greatest images. It also contains devastating moments of falseness. Maria implores hateful Karin to let down her guard. The estranged sisters caress and kiss, but instead of their words, we hear the Saraband from Bach's cello suite No. 5 in C minor. When Maria later acts as if the moment was imagined, it's terrifying. The final scene leaves me shattered and feverish on every viewing. Agnes, whose short life was consumed by pain and suffering, remembers a happy autumn day when her sisters visited. "All my aches and pains were gone. The people I'm most fond of in all the world were with me...I could feel the presence of their bodies, the warmth of their hands. I wanted to cling to that moment, and I thought, come what may, this is happiness...and I feel profoundly grateful to my life, which gives me so much.” (1972, 92 min, DCP Digital) SP
Ingmar Bergman’s THE TOUCH (American/Swedish Revival)
Saturday, 5pm and Wednesday, 7:45pm
Ingmar Bergman’s first film in English marries his ongoing thematic concern with suffering to reflections on infidelity and the legacy of the Holocaust. Bibi Andersson plays a Swedish housewife married to a doctor (Max von Sydow, in the last of his performances for Bergman); she enters into a tumultuous affair with a Jewish American archeologist (Elliott Gould) whose father died in a Nazi concentration camp. THE TOUCH divided audiences upon its initial release, with many viewers unimpressed by Gould’s performance. But for Molly Haskell, writing about the film in the Village Voice, Gould “is what raises the film from the relative banality of a housewife’s extramarital affair to the doomed and unfathomable passion the film actually chronicles.” She continued: “Whereas Andersson and von Sydow are the concrete accumulations of the meanings and idiosyncrasies Bergman has given them over the years, Gould is largely allegorical. He is the intrusion from the outside world, comparable to the concept of China in WINTER LIGHT, the TV atrocities in PERSONA and PASSION OF ANNA, and particularly the photograph of the little boy in the concentration camp in PERSONA. There has always been a horror film dimension in Bergman’s attraction and by extension his characters’ to the evil beyond understanding and the suffering beyond belief.” In a sense, THE TOUCH portrays an affair not between two individuals, but between people and their own suffering. Gould’s character all but defines himself by his father’s death, making it his de facto excuse for his bad choices in life, and it is this all-consuming pain that seduces Andersson. “Bergman suggests that what we seek is not happiness which (in the Bergman metaphysic, anyway) is the absence of pain, but suffering, which is the presence of feeling,” Haskell wrote. “In the apartment which David (Gould) has abandoned, Karin (Andersson) smashes a glass and presses her hand on the pieces: to feeling living pain rather than endure the numbness of death. In a world without God, suffering has becoming Bergman’s confirmation that he is alive.” As usual with Bergman’s later work, this features impressive color cinematography by Sven Nykvist, who avoids the heavy-handed color-coding that would make CRIES AND WHISPERS, released the following year, such a plodding experience. (1971, 115 min, DCP Digital) BS
F.W. Murnau's SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (Silent American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – 1 and 7pm (Free Admission)
One of the most imaginative films ever made and probably the greatest ever made about love—but that makes it sound like homework. Murnau's SUNRISE is as much a discovery now as it was in 1927, if not a greater one, as it's no longer common for serious films to believe in universal experience. (As Lucy Fischer noted in her excellent BFI Classics book, the film's subtitle implies that the feelings of men and women—or homosexuals and heterosexuals, for that matter—are essentially the same.) Murnau's compassion for the central couple seems ever-expanding: their every emotion seems to trigger some new stylistic innovation. The movie's first major passage—depicting the Woman from the City's attempt to seduce the farmer (George O'Brien) away from his wife (Janet Gaynor, adequately filling the role of the Eternal Feminine)—mixes naturalism and expressionism to bring the characters' inner lives vibrantly to life. Murnau famously instructed O'Brien to put lead weights in his shoes during these scenes; there is no mistaking the man's guilt. This section climaxes with a collage of superimposed images—several of them intentionally distended—that illustrates the woman's lure of "Come to... THE CITY!" It is a thrilling effect, principally because it requires the viewer's imagination to complete it: as one's eyes dart around the frame, trying to take it all in, the scene appears luxurious or terrifying depending on where they fall. (Directors of special-effects movies still have a lot to learn from Murnau.) The orchestration of detail is one of the film's many allusions to symphonic music, the most obvious being its three-movement structure, wherein key motifs of the first section (the farm-on-the-lake setting, the theme of love in peril) are contradicted in the second and brought to resolution in the last. The second movement, which could bring any viewer to swoon, may be the film's crowning achievement. It takes place in one of the most dream-like cities in cinema, a setting brought into being by the couple's re-avowal of their love. Here, Murnau's effects (which include a funny freeze-frame at a portrait studio and some great suspense involving a runaway piglet) invite the viewer to share in the characters' joy, reflecting their spontaneity and their astonishment. For all the marvels of the filmmaking, though, the film's transcendental power never seems to be for its own sake. It is Murnau's response to the universal capacity for feeling (and not just romance—but generosity and loyalty and courage) that drove him to create a monumental new art form using the greatest attributes of all the others. Live accompaniment by Dave Drazin. (1927, 94 min, DCP Digital) BS
David Schalliol’s THE AREA (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
David Schalliol’s THE AREA 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 along with other guests; check the Siskel website for details. (2018, 93 min, DCP Digital) HS
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Middle Coast Film Festival takes place at the Davis Theatre from Friday-Sunday. Full schedule at www.middlecoastfest.com.
ACRE (1345 W. 19th St.) hosts Moving_Image_00:04, a one-day festival (two programs) of local work, on Friday at 6:30pm.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema screens Han Jie’s 2017 Hong Kong film NAMIYA (116 min, Blu-Ray Projection; Free Admisison) on Tuesday at 6:30pm at the Claudia Cassidy Theater in the Chicago Cultural Center; and Bongkod Bencharongkul’s 2018 Thai film SAD BEAUTY (91 min, DCP Digital) on Wednesday at AMC River East 21 at 6:30pm, with director Bongkod in person.
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Kyle Henry’s 2018 film ROGERS PARK (87 min, DCP Digital) on Thursday at 7pm, with Henry and select cast and crew in person. Free admission.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Luis Oliveros’ 2017 Spanish film THE CHESS PLAYER (98 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Sanjay Rawal’s 2018 documentary 3100, RUN AND BECOME (79 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Gordon Parks, Jr.’s 1974 film THOMASINE & BUSHROD (95 min, Archival 35mm Print) is on Friday at 3:45pm and Tuesday at 6pm; and the Cortadito Showcase, a program of short films by local Latinx filmmakers, is on Saturday at 7:15pm, with filmmakers in person.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Panos Cosmatos’ 2018 film MANDY (121 min, DCP Digital) continues; John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1972 music documentary IMAGINE (83 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 5pm and Monday at 7:30pm; and Kenji Nagasaki’s 2018 Japanese animated film MY HERO ACADEMIA: TWO HEROS (95 min, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30pm.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Paul Weitz’s 2018 film BEL CANTO (102 min, Video Projection) and Judy Greer’s 2017 film A HAPPENING OF MONUMENTAL PROPORTIONS (81 min, Video Projection) for week-long runs.
Also at the Chicago Cultural Center: Teresa Constantini’s 2017 Argentinean film I TITA, A LIFE OF TANGO (124 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Paul S. Parco’s 1989 film PUCKER UP AND BARK LIKE A DOG (94 min, VHS Projection) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The Graham Foundation (Madlener House, 4 W. Burton Place) opens Martine Syms: Incense Sweaters & Ice on Wednesday (reception 6-8pm). The show runs through January 12.
Stan VanDerBeek is on view at Document Gallery (1709 W. Chicago Ave.) through October 27. The show features a 16mm installation of VanDerBeek’s 1967-68 film POEMFIELD NO. 7, a digital projection of his 1972 film SYMMETRICKS, and a selection of works on paper.
Currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago: Martine Syms' SHE MAD: LAUGHING GAS (2018, 7 min, four-channel digital video installation with sound, wall painting, laser-cut acrylic, artist’s clothes); Rosalind Nashashibi's VIVIAN’S GARDEN (2017, 30 min, 16mm on HD Video) is in the Donna and Howard Stone Gallery, through December 2; Dara Birnbaum’s KISS THE GIRLS: MAKE THEM CRY (1979, 6 min loop, two-channel video) is in the second floor corridor.
CINE-LIST: September 21 - September 27
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, Alexandra Ensign, Marilyn Ferdinand, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Harrison Sherrod