Bi Gan’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (New Chinese)
AMC River East 21 — Check Venue website for showtimes
When Luo Hongwa (Huang Jue) sits down in a movie theater and puts on a pair of 3D glasses about 70 minutes into LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, finally triggering the title card, you know you’re in for a ride. Of course, this is already the expectation for those coming to Bi Gan’s sophomore feature aware of its buzzy 60-minute unbroken traveling shot, but it’s at this precise, narratively and phenomenologically pivotal moment that the spectator feels the real stirrings of anticipation. It’s a leveling up, an invitation to cross the threshold from the film’s splintered and largely static first section to its oneiric second, a transition that entails not only an aesthetic movement into the more immersively tactile realm of 3D but also a somatic movement on the part of the audience. As we put on our glasses, mimicking Luo, we immure ourselves yet further into the darkened space of the theater, and by extension into his/our mental space, entering a point of no return. The ensuing long take is a virtuosic (and perhaps inevitably self-regarding) marvel of choreography, less impressive for the post-converted 3D than for its astonishing logistical feat, as the camera wends its way from a mineshaft down and through a neon-lit village, changes between character vectors, and at one point lifts off into the night sky in an edit-less switch from third- to first-person perspective. Bi Gan, who came out of the gate already rigorously exploring the capabilities of the long take with his debut KAILI BLUES, here deepens his structuralist preoccupation with onscreen time in a cyclical narrative that assumes the shape of an unending lucid dream. The moment in the theater effectively cleaves the film into two parts, although the chronology of said parts is compellingly unfixed. In the first part, Luo has returned to his hometown of Kaili following the death of his father. He is haunted by two other disappearances: that of his friend, Wildcat (Lee Hong-chi), who was killed by the gangster Zuo Hongyan (Chen Yongzhong), and most pertinently that of Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), Zuo’s kept woman and Lou’s former flame. Luo searches for Wan as he remembers their summer together, yearning after her and everything else that has been lost in the crumbling Kaili. Although this section takes place in ostensible waking reality, its scrambled timeline and frequently surreal imagery, accompanied by self-reflexive comments from Luo and Wan about the relations between movies, memories, and dreams, place it somewhere far more liminal. By the time the second part comes along, cleverly reworking the elements of the first in ways both more dreamlike and more tangible, it’s not clear if either section should be considered “real.” Like many of his noted long take forebears and influential contemporaries—Tarkovsky, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Tsai Ming-liang among them—Bi is interested in how film manipulates time and reorients subjectivity, how it can induce perceptual states that challenge our naturalized temporal regimes. Bi may still need some work finding his own voice outside the shadows of those giants (a glass slowly trembling off the edge of a table and a four-minute shot of a man tearily eating an apple are especially explicit nods to two of them), but his prodigious formal invention is a gift to anyone excited by the aesthetic and technological possibilities of this ever-evolving art form. (2018, 140 min, DCP) JL
Shinji Aoyama’s EUREKA (Japanese Revival) and Lou Ye’s PURPLE BUTTERFLY (Chinese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 6pm (Eureka) and Thursday, 7pm (Butterfly)
This week Doc Films is presenting 35mm revivals of two ambitious Asian films from the early 2000s—anyone interested in art cinema from that continent is strongly encouraged to go. Screening first is EUREKA (2000, 218 min, 35mm imported print), a black-and-white, widescreen meditation on trauma and grief by Japanese writer-director Shinji Aoyama. Named after Jim O’Rourke’s experimental rock album (itself an allusion to a Nicolas Roeg film) and inspired by John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS in addition to the music of O’Rourke and Sonic Youth, the film divided viewers on its initial release for its lengthy, wordless scenes that all but force the audience to ruminate on the themes at hand. EUREKA begins with the minimalist depiction of a bus hijacking that leaves several people dead; the story goes on to consider the repercussions of this act of random violence. Aoyama devotes much of the film’s narrative to what happens two years after the attack, when the survivors—the bus driver and two young siblings—move in together after the children lose their father in a car crash and their mother abandons them. As these victims of trauma try to start a new life, a serial killer begins preying on women in their community, and local police suspect that the bus driver is the culprit. Though Aoyama incorporates elements of mystery, horror, and family films, his movie is as much about creating a contemplative zone as it is about developing character or narrative. “EUREKA is arguably richer emotionally than standard-issue character-centered fare, which puts individual feeling and will at the center of reality,” Fred Camper wrote in the Chicago Reader in 2001. “Aoyama doesn't deny individual feeling. He even cuts between close-ups of characters looking at each other, but this occurs only at carefully selected moments. We also see characters interact in complex long takes, where the camera seems to have a will of its own, acknowledging the larger world.” Where EUREKA encourages detached contemplation, Lou Ye’s Chinese feature PURPLE BUTTERFLY (2003, 127 min, 35mm) is about sweeping viewers up in the action. The title refers to an underground anti-Japanese resistance group in occupied Shanghai in the 1930s; the heroine (Zhang Ziyi) is a member of the group who’s out to avenge the death of her journalist brother, who was murdered by Japanese imperial forces. Zhang’s life is complicated when she discovers her old lover (a Japanese man who had studied in China several years earlier) is back in town and is now a spy for his native country. Who will sabotage whom first? The complex plot also involves another romantic couple, double-crosses, and flashbacks; the most common criticism leveled against the film was that it was too convoluted to follow. Regardless of whether you can grasp the entire narrative, Lou offers plenty for your eyes to feast on. PURPLE BUTTERFLY abounds with luscious set design, exciting camera movements, and a seductive atmosphere that draws you into the film’s time and place. Writing in the Reader, J.R. Jones likened this to Hitchcock’s wartime thrillers, while other critics suggested the influence of Wong Kar-wai in Lou’s ravishing approach to the past. BS
Mary Harron’s CHARLIE SAYS (New Canadian)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
Most people know the sensational climax of the Charles Manson story—gruesome murders that revealed the strange family largely composed of young women whose devotion to Manson offered a dystopian version of the hippie culture that had captured the popular imagination. Most people, however, don’t know the beginning, the part the three women who are the focus of Mary Harron’s masterful CHARLIE SAYS call “BC, before the killing, when it was all about love.” Harron, a director whose relatively few feature films tend to center on female outsiders and social deviance (I SHOT ANDY WARHOL , AMERICAN PSYCHO , THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE ), knocks it out of the park once again with this insightful look at the young, confused, love-starved women and men who believed that Manson was a beautiful man who would give them everything they always wanted. Partially based on the book The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten by social scientist and activist Karlene Faith, the film gets at the inner workings of the Manson cult through episodic flashbacks, as convicted murderers Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkle (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon) are interviewed by Faith (Merritt Wever), a graduate student in psychology, in the prison where the trio will spend the rest of their lives. As Van Houten, whose point of view is the focus of the narrative, Murray conveys disarmingly innocent wonder at the sexually free atmosphere and unconditional love offered by the family; starstruck worship of Manson, whose friends included Beach Boy Dennis Wilson; and psychological deterioration under Manson’s control. Matt Smith does nothing to glamorize Manson—indeed his portrayal under Harron’s direction shows the cult leader to be as shallow as her protagonist in AMERICAN PSYCHO; he would be laughable if he weren’t so destructive. The period detail and cinematography by Swedish DP Crille Forsberg are remarkable, offering a real you-are-there experience of 1960s Southern California. The slow accumulation of abusive behavior—giving members new names, forbidding them to carry any money (“not even a penny”), pimping the girls out to visitors to the compound—and the constant refrain from Manson to “let go of ego” build a persuasive picture of how a cult is made. (2018, 104 min, DCP Digital) MF
Elaine May's ISHTAR (American Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Woe is the big budget comedy that flaunts its eccentricity, its individuality. In that at least it's possible to trace a line from Tati to May. But whereas PLAYTIME was a purposefully complex creation, a vast machinery of comedy writ large, May perversely, stubbornly sticks with the low key, the loosely wound. Rumored to have cost $40-50 million dollars, it's hard to spot most of that money on screen; there aren't any expensive set pieces, a la GHOSTBUSTERS. Aside from a famous camel, the comedy derives from the characters. Like many a flop before it, ISHTAR has been more widely derided than actually seen. RC
Affectionate towards its idiot characters and vicious towards its political targets, Elaine May's improvisatory satire is one of the ultimate Hollywood films maudits—a massive critical and commercial flop that seems to get funnier and sharper the further its disastrous release recedes into film history. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty play two absolutely awful songwriters who get booked to play in North Africa and then find themselves mixed up in a confusing political conflict; that the intrigues are almost painfully stupid is part of the point, as is the ease with which Hoffman and Beatty's bungling boobs stumble into international matters. This is both a wryly-fond portrait of ugly Americanism and a bleak condemnation of American foreign policy. (1987, 107 min, 35mm) IV
André De Toth’s RAMROD (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
A western called RAMROD—one can’t help but to have certain expectations with a title like that. Certainly, unbridled (but ultimately compromised) masculinity, immediately brought to mind before even an image settles the screen, is on display in André De Toth’s first western, based on a story by genre writer Luke Short, though the film is conspicuously more subtle than its name. Joel McCrea stars as Dave Nash, the ramrod in question, who’s taken on as foreman by Connie Dickason, played by De Toth’s then-wife Veronica Lake, after her father and a local cattleman named Frank Ivey scare away her fiancé. Connie’s father had hoped she’d marry Frank, and both men are livid that the couple intended to bring sheep into cow territory. The execution is subtle, but the plot is surprisingly complex, its nuances standing out more than even the action scenes and executed just as deftly. Most interesting is Connie, something of an open-plain femme fatale (appropriate considering the film is often likened to a noir, another genre in which De Toth was an iconoclast), whose motivations are driven by a desire to simultaneously be free from and dominate the men in her life. Serving as her foil is the local dressmaker Rose Leland, who’s won over the town’s men, including Nash and his friend, Bill, another of Connie’s hangers-on, largely due to her good nature rather than her (still present) good looks. Despite the obvious dichotomy between the two women—one a mother figure, the other a proverbial whore—this difference is played so subtly as to be almost inoffensive considering the inherent odiousness of such a divide. The film, largely shot on location in Utah (the rugged beauty of which imbues the Hungarian director’s unpretentious economy with a sense of purposeful grandeur), was the first production out of Enterprise Studios, co-founded by actor John Garfield and producers David L. Loew and Charles Einfeld; it was distributed by United Artists in the States and MGM worldwide. Frequent Howard Hawks collaborator Russell Harlan shot the film, and its cinematography is similar to that of another subtle masterpiece he worked on, Robert Mulligan’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD—the camera movements are steady, the cuts elegant. Appropriately, RAMROD doesn’t quite live up to the lurid implications of its name, promises of egregious masculinity broken for something less figuratively suggestive but more literally so. (1947, 94 min, 35mm) KS
Werner Herzog and André Singer's MEETING GORBACHEV (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
"Please allow me to explain myself. I am a German, and the first German that you met probably tried to kill you." Thus does a clearly thrilled Werner Herzog begin his interlocution with, in his words, "one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century," Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. The documentary that results, MEETING GORBACHEV, which Herzog co-directed with his longtime collaborator André Singer, is thoughtful, moving, and rather fascinating, if somewhat straight by Herzog standards. In Moscow, Gorbachev and Herzog sit for three conversations. At 86, Gorbachev's features have softened, but he is instantly recognizable by that iconic birthmark on his pate. He is quite a raconteur, feisty, decent, and democratic. What Herzog calls his gift for establishing immediate rapport with people is made evident again and again throughout the film. This is the man who ended the Cold War (at least for a time). His "perestroika" (that is, a complete restructuring of society) and "glasnost" (openness and transparency) caused, in Herzog's words, "an avalanche that eventually swept away the entire system." From a little house with blue shutters in a village in the Caucasus, Gorbachev excelled as a boy farmer, and then as a student. He took the helm of General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, as a bold reformer in a time of decline. Chernobyl led him to reach out to Reagan to ban nuclear testing, leading to their breakthrough meeting at Reykjavik. He was dead serious about ridding the world of nuclear weapons (and so, it must be conceded, was Reagan). He set off great independence movements. There is stunning footage of an endless human chain connecting three Baltic states: hands across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. In Hungary, Miklos Nemeth, prime minister at the time, remembers cautiously beginning to dismantle the barbed wire along the "Iron Curtain" between Hungary and the West, after Gorbachev assured him there would be no repeat of the repression of '56. And then there is the fall of the Berlin Wall, with "millions of East Germans suddenly free," as Herzog puts it, "an overwhelming manifestation of the human longing for freedom and unity." That yearning is really what this film is about, and why it sung to me. One reason this project is so personal for Herzog, who famously walked across Germany as a young man when it was still divided, is that Gorbachev, working with Helmut Kohl, allowed the reunification of his country to take place peacefully. For this, Herzog tells Gorbachev that he loves him. He's also a somewhat tragic figure. He didn't get to see his vision through, and Raisa, the love of his life, died long ago, in 1999, of leukemia. The segment devoted to her gets off to a rocky start, as Herzog fumblingly attempts to get his quarry to open up about her. He finds a way, however, to make the segment into a tender elegy, deploying stirring footage by Vitaly Masky of Gorbachev in 2000, remembering Raisa and going back to his little village. While this is perhaps a more conventional documentary than Herzog usually gets up to, I wouldn't overstate by how much. He still subjects the archival footage to his usual incisive, whimsical eye for the absurd, and we get glimpses of the strange, beautiful poetry he customarily makes of his raw materials. In fact, within the strictures of a film presumably intended for a more general audience, who might be more interested in the subject than in Herzog, this is as personal as it could be. To witness Gorbachev's singular talent for connecting with other people is to be reminded of just how important the personal can really be to history. The Friday 7pm screening with Herzog in person for a Q&A is sold out; he will also introduce, but not do Q&A for, the 9:40pm show. (2019, 92 min, DCP Digital) SP
John Berry's HE RAN ALL THE WAY (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) — Wednesday, 7:30pm
From Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (2009): "The remote control units were bolted to the ends of the beds, and cycling through all the choices seemed to take longer than whatever you wanted to see was likely to stay on, but somehow about the time Doc's thumb muscles went into spasm, he happened onto a John Garfield Marathon that had been in progress for, he gathered, weeks now. And there about to begin was another John Garfield movie that James Wong Howe had also been DP on, He Ran All the Way (1951), not one of Doc's favorites, to tell the truth—it was John Garfield's last picture before the anti-subversives finally did him in, and it had the smell of blacklist all over it—Dalton Trumbo wrote the script, but there was another name on the credits. John Garfield played a criminal on the run who picks up Shelley Winters at a public pool and proceeds to make life disagreeable for her family, obliging them at gun point, for example, to eat a gross-looking prop turkey ('Ya gonna eat dis toikey!'), and for his miserably misspent life he ends up, literally, dead in the gutter, though of course beautifully lit. Doc had been hoping to drift to sleep in the middle of it, but the last scene found him up and staring, sweat freezing in the air conditioning. It was somehow like seeing John Garfield die for real, with the whole respectable middle class standing there in the street smugly watching him do it." Surprisingly, Pynchon doesn't mention in this otherwise fantastic description that HE RAN ALL THE WAY was directed by John Berry, who had recently made a short documentary called THE HOLLYWOOD TEN and would soon be blacklisted himself for doing so. Preceded by Wilding Picture Productions' 1950 documentary short IN OUR HANDS, PART 1: HOW WE GOT WHAT WE HAVE (21 min, 16mm). (1951, 77 min, 35mm) BS
Yasujiro Ozu's DRAGNET GIRL (Silent Japanese Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Wednesday, 7pm
A record shop decorated with porcelain dogs; in the listening booth, a dapper young man mechanically smokes a cigarette. A row of typists in soft focus. A clock strikes on the wall, a fedora falls from the hat rack on to the floor. A cramped gym full of amateur boxers. A beautiful woman takes a revolver out of her coat pocket. A dingy room illuminated by a single light bulb. DRAGNET GIRL is always a discovery: for those familiar with his Ozu's work, it's like a secret code, a confirmation of what they'd previously only suspected about the director; for first-timers, it's a dream life, a reminder that there's no such thing as a silent image. Every vivid shot in DRAGNET GIRL makes an accompanying sound seem superfluous—who needs Foley effects when we can already see the floorboards creaking, the fists thudding, the billiard balls clicking against each other? Who needs voices when you have faces like these? And when you can feel the sweat cooling on your neck, smell the spilled alcohol and tipped-over ashtrays, feel the sticky and dusty surfaces of tabletops. Amongst all this, a girl tries to get her crooked boyfriend to go straight. This is the most unfairly neglected of Ozu's pre-war films; its place in the director's filmography is the stuff of a much longer and more complicated piece of writing. A crime film that, like Jean Renoir's equally neglected NIGHT AT THE CROSSROADS and Louis Feuillade's serials, turns the audience into detectives through the tactile mystery of its images. (1933, 100 min, 35mm) IV
Accompanied by a live score performed by Coupler.
Nancy Schwartzman’s ROLL RED ROLL (New Documentary)
Facets Cinémathèque — Check Venue website for showtimes
Any time I forget how so many people could vote for a candidate who was caught on tape describing how sexual assault is part of his nature, all I’ll have to do is watch ROLL RED ROLL again. Here, in graphic detail, is a portrait of rape culture in Steubenville, Ohio—a community like so many across the country and around the world that prizes feeling like a winner above all else. Big Red, the Steubenville High School football team, is the squad of virile young men whose athletic feats form the glue that holds this small, economically depressed town together. When word filters out through social media that some players on the team raped a drunk-to-unconscious 16-year-old girl, the town soon finds itself embroiled in a controversy so incendiary that it makes news around the world, even earning an intervention from the international hacktivist group Anonymous, which makes a video of the rape public. In her first feature-length documentary, Nancy Schwartzman covers a lot of ground—chilling recordings of the calls the boys made to each other, text messages and social media posts, footage of police interrogations of the boys involved in the crime, and especially the work of real crime blogger Alexandria Goddard, who captured all of the fast-moving activity online before it could vanish into the ether. Schwartzman’s interviews with townspeople, girls who knew the victim, and friends of the perpetrators show a town completely in denial about the seriousness of the boys’ actions and working hard to blame the victim for her predicament so as not to tarnish the local heroes. ROLL RED ROLL lays bare what society values and considers expendable, training boys to find monstrous behavior acceptable and teaching girls that they are wholly responsible for any sexual predation they attract. This film, by turns fascinating and horrifying, is vital watching for all, but especially for parents, who have the power to model better attitudes and actions for their impressionable children. (2018, 80 min, Video Projection) MF
Ada Ushpiz’s VITA ACTIVA: THE SPIRIT OF HANNAH ARENDT (Contemporary Documentary)
Spertus Institute (610 S. Michigan Ave.) — Monday, 7pm
German philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt has found her moment in time again, with totalitarian regimes threatening and overtaking democratically elected governments and millions of refugees fleeing everything from war to climate change. Arendt, a keen observer of the rise of fascism and a refugee herself from Nazi Germany, wrote frequently about both phenomena, yet her fame—and infamy—rests largely on her controversial book Eichmann in Jerusalem, a chronicle and critique of the show trial of Adolf Eichmann, a key functionary in making the Final Solution possible. Veteran Israeli documentarian Ada Ushpiz chooses to begin her look at Arendt’s life and work in the middle with the Eichmann book. This strategy certainly is an attention-grabber in a way a chronological, straightforward telling of the life might not have been, but Ushpiz intends all along to give us the life from start to finish, using Arendt’s experiences to coordinate with some of her ideas. As a biography, VITA ACTIVA is serviceable, drawing on archival footage, some oddly selected interview subjects, and correspondence between Arendt and the men in her life. The latter feels a bit like a peep show, as the language is that of intimates—one interviewee says Arendt and her teacher, Karl Jaspers, had one of the great relationships of the 20th century (strange that her dear friend and literary executor, American novelist and critic Mary McCarthy, doesn’t even rate a mention). Visually the film is a bit of a hash, though there is considerable footage of Nazis and Jews that was new to me, a not inconsiderable feat. Where the film really shines and why it is worth seeing is in its explication of Arendt’s theories, rescuing her much-malappropriated phrase “banality of evil” with a clear and profound explanation of her views and stressing Arendt’s conviction that pluralism—what we call diversity today—is the real hope for sustaining democracy. Ushpiz’s matches of Arendt’s theories with images of the Nazi era are well-realized and very difficult to watch. (2015, 125 min, Video Projection) MF
Ruth Beckermann’s THE WALDHEIM WALTZ (New Documentary)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Saturday, 1pm (Free Admission)
Using archive footage from the 1970’s and 80’s as well as footage shot by director Ruth Beckermann herself during protests, THE WALDHEIM WALTZ follows the story of Kurt Waldheim and his journey after being U.N. Secretary for ten years to his eventual Austrian presidency. Damning evidence revealing Waldheim’s involvement with the Nazis during World War II emerges. The film juxtaposes Waldheim claiming innocence, that he like many others of that era were involuntarily drafted into the Nazi army, with the World Jewish Congress presenting more information to the contrary, including a photograph of him in uniform. Utilizing a percussive and free-flowing jazz score underneath that seamlessly transitions one scene into the next, Beckermann’s film eerily resonates with modern politics, especially the events of Charlottesville and in the rise of the alt-right both in America and abroad. THE WALDHEIM WALTZ offers a candid look through Beckermann’s eyes as an activist and juxtaposes the moderate with the far right of Austria. (2018, 93 min, DCP Digital) KC
Niels Bolbrinker and Thomas Tielsch’s BAUHAUS SPIRIT: 100 YEARS OF BAUHAUS (Germany/Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
BAUHAUS SPIRIT: 100 YEARS OF BAUHAUS is a documentary that focuses more on the ideas and principles than the straightforward history of the Bauhaus, a fitting approach to celebrating a school that encouraged innovation, interdisciplinary approaches, and a distinct aesthetic to art and design in many ways, but most notably through architecture and industrial design. The film begins with a window into the origins of the Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany, in 1919, founded by Walter Gropius. In its heyday, the Bauhaus boasted instructors Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and Mies Van Der Rohe. (Chicagoans will be particularly familiar with the aesthetic of the latter—Van Der Rohe emigrated to Chicago after the rise of Nazi Germany and founded a new Bauhaus school here, in addition to designing several iconic, severe, minimalist buildings throughout the city.) Rather than focusing solely on historical narrative, however, BAUHAUS SPIRIT is divided by principle and displays with elegant superimposed animations how the Bauhaus aesthetic can inform modern dance, an experimental Swedish elementary school, affordable housing, and urban design. The films creates an interesting tension around the inevitable short-sightedness of the Bauhaus philosophy, which excelled at anticipating every need and streamlining interior space (vividly demonstrated in a kitchen designed by Le Corbusier), but could not predict the societal needs of urbanization (shown with a panorama of shuttered storefronts in an under-utilized apartment complex in a French suburb). The film closes with a segment on the Urban Think Tank, an organization that aims to bring sophisticated, socially-integrated urban planning to low-income residents in exploding cities in South America, an innovation very much in the spirit of the Bauhaus. (2018, 90 min, DCP Digital) AE
Robert Aldrich’s WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
Two of the most revered actresses in their era, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, come together in Robert Aldrich’s WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, a film that brought the duo’s real life feud to the silver screen in a transformative way that encapsulates their respective careers during the 1960’s. With it having been nearly ten years since either actress appeared in anything noteworthy, the film served as a springboard for each that led to a renaissance for them in the years that followed. As a child in the late 1910s, Baby Jane (Bette Davis) was lauded as a star of the stage while her sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) always watched from the wings. As the pair grew older, Jane’s charm and talent faded as she became a drunk while Blanche moved on to Hollywood and became a successful film actress. When Blanche becomes paralyzed from the waist down after an auto accident in her driveway (presumably with Jane vindictively running her over for having a better career), the bickering sisters are forced to live with one another with Jane caring for, but mostly tormenting, the paraplegic Blanche. Aldrich’s film oozes a menacing ambiance with the bulk of the film transpiring in the aforementioned home. Aiding this aesthetic are the frequent musical cues that call back to Jane’s most famous song when she was younger but have taken on a more sinister tone, as well as menacing lighting that casts ominous shadows like a predator lying in wait. The dynamism between Davis and Crawford is vitriolic and hostile. This quality and, in particular, Davis’s role as the spiteful, washed-up former star hungry for just one more taste of fame make for an enthralling viewing. An interesting look on a seriously dysfunctional sisterly relationship, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? sees Davis and Crawford back at the top of their game in a movie that shows sometimes art truly does imitate real life. (1962, 134 min, 35mm) KC
David Schalliol’s THE AREA (New Documentary)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
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, Payne, and producer Brian Ashby in person. (2018, 93 min, DCP Digital) HS
Billy Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Tuesday, 7pm
Raymond Chandler shepherds his procedural style to the screen in Billy Wilder's quintessential noir, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, helping to bring the genre to a boil. Ironic, given that its placement in the canon of Hollywood cinema is attributable to a chilly murder plot by two frozen-souled conspirators. Told in flashback from his desk and in a bloody suit, insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) narrates how, while an on a routine sales visit, he falls for Mrs. Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), a femme fatale housewife plotting her husband's demise. Fully seduced, Neff uses his knowledge of his industry to foil investigators and kill Mrs. Dietrichson's husband "accidentally"--invoking a clause in the policy that pays double. Mrs. Dietrichson's dark past crops up to break the spell on Neff--who even then stays in it too long--as Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), fellow insurance agent and confidant, sniffs out their scheme. With so many imitators, DOUBLE INDEMNITY shines with wonderful idiosyncrasies: Neff on crutches imitating a broken-legged Mr. Dietrichson, the unabashed sexiness of Mrs. Dietrichson, the authentic bare bulb dialogue, and so many venetian blinds. Without them, the murder and investigation might become overly flat. But through its methodical telling, Wilder's film allows us to contemplate the significance of what is essentially a fatalist's cynicism--after all, we know the ending the whole time--" killed him for money, and for a woman. I didn't get the money, and I didn't get the woman." Preceded by a discussion between critic Mark Feeney and UofC professor Allyson Nadia Field. (1944, 107 min, 35mm) BW
Penny Lane's HAIL SATAN? (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
From the incredibly talented experimental documentarian who brought us the features OUR NIXON and NUTS, and notable shorts like THE VOYAGERS and (my personal favorite) THE COMMONERS, HAIL SATAN? is a delightful and surprisingly un-experimental documentary about the Satanic Temple. Not to be confused with the Church of Satan, the Satanic Temple is a nontheistic religious organization (think "secular humanism," but with cool tattoos and black t-shirts) that aims to illustrate, through wildly entertaining satire and literal interpretations of first amendment rights, what should be obvious: church and state should be kept separate, and Christianity is not the national religion. This, of course, drives the religious right nuts, and we get to watch the outrage unfold. Indeed, the subject matter of HAIL SATAN? is almost too easy to enjoy, and could perhaps have benefitted from a bit more of the pluralism the Satanic Temple asserts forms the core of our democracy. What do the atheists think? The (less fun) secular humanists? They don't seem to have a voice in HAIL SATAN?, but we do hear from lawmakers and protesters on the religious right who speak with passionate candor about how much they hate these damn Satanists. That is the only critique I have of this fantastic documentary, though—the tone is pitch perfect, as one would only expect from Penny Lane. Her expert interviewing skills draw out her subjects and animate the Temple's increasing media attention and civil actions with wry humor. Her creative use of archival footage is much less prominent than in her previous work, with so much content already at hand in archival news and phone footage, but vintage religious films and an irresistible clip of Tim Curry from LEGEND are always apt and quite funny. By the time the credits roll, HAIL SATAN? makes the Satanic Temple so disarmingly charming, you might very well end up wanting to join this quite reasonable non-religious crusade. Is there a mailing list I can sign up for? (2018, 95 min, DCP Digital) AE
Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT (American/British Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center —Wednesday, 6pm
Seen in any version (there are at least seven), BLADE RUNNER is a monstrous mess—a mélange of film noir, Philip K. Dick, action-heavy cineplex sadism, and horny chinoiserie. A critically-derided flop upon its initial release, BLADE RUNNER carries the uncanny suggestion that its story not only revolves around androids, but may actually have been conceived and shaped by non-human intelligence—a quality it shares with that other misunderstood Summer of '82 sci-fi spectacular, TRON. When viewed alongside director Ridley Scott's prior effort, the masterfully controlled and minutely calibrated terror show ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER feels programmatic and kludgy, as if all decisions about staging, atmospherics, and rhythm were simply fed into an overheated circuit board. (The original ending—an improbably sunny coda repurposed from second-unit outtakes from THE SHINING—plays like the product of an inelegant Surefire BoxOffice algorithm.) It's not so much that art direction, set design, cinematography, editing, music, and acting are working at cross-purposes—instead, they're merely zipping along semi-autonomously, without being shaped into a grammatical whole. So, it's odd and kind of touching that Ridley Scott has repeatedly re-asserted his authorship of this unruly, seemingly author-less masterwork—first in a hastily-produced 'Director's Cut' in 1992, subsequently in a 'Final Cut' released in 2007. (If Scott follows Oliver Stone's example with ALEXANDER, the 'Final Cut' need not really be final; there's always the promise of an 'Ultimate Cut' peeking out over the smoggy horizon.) It now takes on the impossible grandeur of a medieval saga, a lumbering epic embroidered and corrupted by countless textual variants. Most of the major changes were performed for the so-called Director's Cut: Harrison Ford's sleepy voice-over is gone, an origami unicorn rhymes with and undercuts a re-inserted dream sequence, and the freak ending is excised. The Final Cut, by contrast, services superfans, correcting gaffes imperceptible to the uninitiated: matte lines are cleaned up, lip sync is fixed with lines re-dubbed by Ford's son, Joanna Cassidy's face is digitally plastered over the body of a stunt double, Rutger Hauer treats his father more decorously. I still prefer the original 1982 theatrical cut above all others—it really heightens the contradictions, as the student Marxists used to say. But the Final Cut is still queer and ungainly enough to slosh around in. (1982/2007, 117 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Followed by a reception. This event is a fundraiser for education programs at Chicago Public Library; tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door (if available).
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Film Studies Center (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) presents Frame by Frame: A Tribute to Hannah Frank on Friday at 7pm. The event features films and presentations in memory of animation scholar Hannah Frank, who received her PhD from the UofC in 2016 and passed away unexpectedly in 2017. Copies of Frank's posthumously published book Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons will be on sale. Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) presents May Shorts on Saturday at 7pm, as part of the monthly Dyke Delicious series.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 5 (2017-19, approx. 78 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. The curated program of local work includes films by Jennifer Boles, Jiayi Chen and Cameron Worden, Lonnie Edwards, Meredith Leich, Sebastián Pinzón Silva, Ashley Thompson, and Marisa Tolomeo. Free admission.
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Pickwick Theater, 5 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) screens Peter R. Hunt's 1969 James Bond film ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (142 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm; and Ingmar Bergman's 1957 Swedish film THE SEVENTH SEAL (96 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 7pm at the Park Ridge Public Library (20 S. Prospect Ave.). Free admission for SEAL.
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) presents Some Films: Portraits of the Artist on Saturday at 7pm. The program includes Thomas Reichman's 1968 documentary MINGUS IN GREENWICH VILLAGE (58 min, Digital Projection) and Peter Liechti's 1989 documentary KICK THAT HABIT (45 min, Digital Projection). Introduced by series curator Adam Sonderberg.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Asghar Farhadi's French/Spanish/Italian film EVERYBODY KNOWS (133 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Semih Kaplanoğlu's 2017 Turkish/German/French film GRAIN (129 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 5pm and Tuesday at 8pm; Oliver Chan's 2018 Hong Kong film STILL HUMAN (115 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 8pm, with Chan and actor Crisel Consunji in person; Stephanie Wang-Breal's 2018 documentary BLOWIN' UP (98 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 8pm; and the final two of four days of SAIC Film, Video, New Media, Animation Show programs of student work are on Friday (5pm, 7pm, 8:45pm) and Saturday (3:30pm, 5:15pm, 7pm, 9pm). The SAIC shows are free admission.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Hong Sang-soo's 2019 South Korean film HOTEL BY THE RIVER (96 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday at 4pm; Claude Chabrol's 1985 French film CHICKEN WITH VINEGAR (110 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm; Satyajit Ray's 1970 Indian film DAYS AND NIGHTS IN THE FOREST (115 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9:30pm; and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's 2014 UK film 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Hiroyasu Ishida's 2019 Japanese animated film PENGUIN HIGHWAY (118 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 9pm and Monday at 7pm; an audience-participation screening of Phyllida Lloyd's 2008 film MAMMA MIA (108 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 2pm; Helma Sanders-Brahms' 1980 German film GERMANY PALE MOTHER (149 min directors cut, DCP Digital) is on Tuesday at 7pm; Patrick Creadon's 2018 documentary HESBURGH (104 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 11:45am; Tommy Wiseau's 2003 film THE ROOM (99 min, 35mm) is on Friday at Midnight; Jim Sharman's 1975 film THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (100 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at Midnight; and Lukas Feigelfeld's 2017 German film HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE (102 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Michael Robinson’s 2015 video MAD LADDERS (10 min) is on view in the group show Shall we go, you and I while we can at the Carrie Secrist Gallery (835 W. Washington Blvd.) though June 15.
Local videomaker, artist, writer, activist, and educator Gregg Bordowitz is featured in a career retrospective exhibition, I Wanna Be Well, at the Art Institute of Chicago through July 14.
Also 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).
CINE-LIST: May 10 - May 16, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Rob Christopher, Kyle Cubr, Alexandra Ensign, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jonathan Leithold-Patt, Scott Pfeiffer, Harrison Sherrod, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Brian Welesko