SAVE THE DATE
Come support our mission at a fundraising party being thrown by the Scrappers Film Group and Pentimenti Productions on Friday June 21 from 6 - 10pm at their shared space on 329 West 18th Street, Suite 607, Chicago, IL 60616.
$10 suggested donation at the door. RSVP or donate here.
Liz White's OTHELLO (American Revival)
South Side Projections (at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7pm (Free Admission)
This is crucial viewing, but don’t just take our word for it—in his article “Blackness Made Visible: A Survey of Othello in Criticism, on Stage, and on Screen,” scholar Philip Kolin declares Liz White’s OTHELLO, which was unavailable for preview, to be “a significant but inaccessible cultural icon.” As with many such icons, it’s largely defined by its ‘firsts’ and ‘onlies’: per Kolin, it was “the first film to employ an all-black cast, crew, cinematographer, and director,” as well as the only film adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy to be directed by a black woman and the first to star a black man, the incomparable Yaphet Kotto in his first major film role. The film premiered in 1980 but was shot over four years—specifically during the summer—starting in 1962; White, a longtime theatre worker who’d worn many hats over the course of her career, directed the play in 1960 and shot the film version at her own repertory theater company, Shearer Summer Theater, in Martha’s Vineyard, partly at the Shearer estate, which, according to scholar Peter Donaldson’s comprehensive article on the film for the 1987 edition of Shakespeare Quarterly, “had belonged to White’s grandfather, a former slave” and which “had for generations served as a resort for blacks when they were excluded elsewhere.” With regards to its source material, the Shakespeare play whose title character is a Moor, White took a revisionist approach with an even more provocative slant. In her film all the characters are Black, but according to Kolin, “Kotto’s Othello [is] a dark-skinned African dressed in flowing robes while Iago and the Venetians were presented as lighter, urban American blacks.” Donaldson specifies that Othello is “a young, passionate, and emotionally sensitive African, while the rest of the cast, all New Yorkers and lighter in color, sustain a tone of urban American sophistication”; he elaborates that White “takes ethnic pride and the cultural pro-Africanism of the 1960s as her point of departure.” In her article “Can the Subaltern Sing?,” scholar Courtney Lehmann asserts that, “[s]imultaneously… the film focuses on the treatment of women in Othello, linking their struggle—or lack thereof—to the double displacement of black women within the burgeoning civil rights movement,” and that “White’s musical offers a ‘countersentence’... that chronicles the historical process whereby women… become the vanishing mediators of social ‘progress.’” (To wit, Lehmann begins her essay by explaining that the film “is not a musical in the traditional sense of the term since… the on-screen characters do not perform the music that we hear on the soundtrack”; rather, it’s “White’s attempt to graft the musical form onto the narrative content of Shakespeare’s play [that] encodes the director’s subaltern perspective.” A program for the film’s 1980 premiere at Howard University describes it as having “a brilliant score of Afro-American Jazz,” and other sources mention Zulu music. World-music luminaries Hugh Masekela, Caiphus Semenya, and Jonas Gwangwa all participated.) The film was shot in color by documentary filmmaker Charles Dorkins, though according to Donaldson, “[m]uch of the film was shot after midnight: rich brown skin tones contrasting with the impenetrable blackness of the background.” Speaking of contrasts, any cinephile worth his or her weight in celluloid is likely thinking of Welles, both as a thespian and a filmmaker, but while such comparisons are unavoidable, it seems that White is approaching the material from a perspective then (and perhaps still) unrealized in cinema. Donaldson says it best: “Liz White’s OTHELLO is an altered version, to be sure (though her changes are less extensive than those… Welles [made] in MACBETH), but it is a rich mix of identification and repulsion. The film’s historical subtext, its concern with black ambivalence toward the African heritage, works finally to enrich the psychological and family dynamics of the play, foregrounding such issues as the fragility of self-esteem, the uneasy containment of masculine rage in marriage, and the dependence of that containment on adequate connection between men. Perhaps the central insight of this fine film, and the principal use to which its cultural contrasts are put, concerns the precarious grounding of human selfhood in the mirror reflection of a kindred but alien Other.” Followed by a discussion with Honey Crawford (Univ. of Chicago), James Vincent Meredith (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), and Ron OJ Parson (Court Theatre). (1980, 115 min, 16mm restored print) KS
Raúl Ruiz and Valeria Sarmiento's THE WANDERING SOAP OPERA [(La Telenovela Errante] (Chilean Revival)
Facets Cinémathèque — Check Venue website for showtimes
The filmography of Chilean director Raúl Ruiz is confounding and intimidating. Partly due to the sheer number of films he made between the 1960's and his death in 2011—more than 100—but also due to the diversity of the films themselves. Features and shots, experimental films, documentaries and essays, inscrutable modernist narratives, arthouse-friendly narratives, films made in his home country and abroad after he was forced to flee to Europe in 1973, and more. For the uninitiated, it's hard to know where to start (compounded by the unavailability of most of his films). For those of us with a glancing familiarity with his career, and a few key films in our "watched" column, it's still hard to know what to move on to next, and how to fit it all together. Curiously, THE WANDERING SOAP OPERA—shot by Ruiz in 1990 and left unfinished, then completed by his widow and later filmmaking partner, the director and editor Valeria Sarmiento in 2017—is not a bad place to start. It is a terrific example of two significant aspects of Ruiz's filmmaking: creative, non-linear storytelling and playing with slippery divisions of reality. The film is a parody of telenovas—soap operas—and is comprised of several loosely connected narrative episodes. Ruiz mines the popular form for its excesses in narrative and dialogue. He pushes both to ridiculous extremes; the film becomes absurdly circular, Dadaist wordplay, and narratively incoherent (reminiscent at times of Becket or Ionesco). It's both witty and laugh-out-loud funny. The various episodes are each their own soap opera world, and are rife with sexual, personal, and political intrigue, but intrigues that are tangled in deliberately nonsensical stories and conversations, and further complicated by the characters' self-awareness as soap opera characters. They're also aware of the competing programs; they act as viewers of, commentators on, and random visitors to these alternate fictions to their own fiction. Among all of this formal play and meta-construction Ruiz is also providing some pointed satire on Chilean politics and society. Much of this surely gets lost on non-Chilean viewers, but no matter. There's more than enough here to keep one engrossed (and scratching one's head). A welcome posthumous gift. (1990/2017, 80 min, Video Projection) PF
A Tribute to Bill Siegel
Music Box Theatre — Wednesday, 7pm (Weather) and 9:20pm (Trials)
A double feature screening in remembrance of the late Chicago filmmaker Bill Siegel is on Wednesday, with Siegel's 2002 documentary THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND (92 min, 35mm) at 7pm and his 2013 documentary THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (86 min, DCP Digital) at 9:20pm, with special guests for Q&A at each screening. Co-presented by Kartemquin Films.
Bill Siegel's THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (Contemporary Documentary)
Metaphors abound in reviews of Bill Siegel's THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI,and appropriately so. Not only does boxing provide limitless opportunities for allusion, but the subject himself, formidable athlete Muhammad Ali, was once a veritable pull-quote factory whose verbal fervor was as conspicuous as his physical acumen. Nevertheless, this critic will throw one more onto the pile by comparing not the film's subject or his out-of-the-ring battles to his in-the-ring prowess, but by comparing the film itself to the sport which Ali dominated. Much like a boxing match, Siegel's film, from Chicago-based production company Kartemquin Films, takes Ali's most significant conflict and presents it as a series of smaller conflicts, or "rounds," that result in the unceasing triumph of man over matter. Instead of focusing on Ali's physical accomplishments, Siegel focuses on the period of his life during which the boxer was as equally known for his political and religious rebellion as he was for his prodigious sportsmanship. In 1964, soon after becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, Ali joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name first from Cassius Clay to Cassius X and then famously—and finally—to Muhammad Ali. A few years later, during the height of the Vietnam War, Ali refused induction into military service on the grounds that his religious convictions prevented him from doing so. Ali soon found himself thrust out of the limelight and into the shadows as his boxing license was revoked and he was sentenced to five years in prison for draft evasion. Along the way, he was involved with a variety of cultural figureheads, including high-profile members of the Nation of Islam such as Louis Farrakhan, Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm X, and disparaged by similarly accomplished sports stars like Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis. The resulting struggle of this several-year period, arguably his most difficult fight, also produced his most important win; in 1971, the Supreme Court overturned his previous conviction in a unanimous ruling. Despite claims that the film focuses on an aspect of the boxer's mythology not often touched upon, such incidents from Ali's life were sufficiently acknowledged in Michael Mann's 2001 biopic ALI and the HBO film MUHAMMAD ALI'S GREATEST FIGHT (Stephen Frears). However, as a documentary, and an expertly paced one at that, it provides a happy medium between expansive legend and centralized nuance. Siegel already exhibited such skills as co-director of the Academy Award-nominated THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND (2002), and his representation of Ali as an activist calls back to that first film. The film also employs expert use of archival footage, as demonstrated by the much-lauded opening sequence which contrasts two clips that brilliantly set the tone: in one, Ali is criticized by television host David Susskind for his political dissidence, while in the other, taking place decades later, former president George W. Bush presents Ali with the Medal of Freedom. Like any great fight from history, the viewer goes into it knowing of how it began and how it ended, but this film covers the many rounds in between. (2013, 94 min, DCP Digital) KS
John Cassavetes’ FACES (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. — Wednesday, 7:30pm
An exhausting masterpiece and one of the most galvanizing experiences in American cinema, John Cassavetes’ FACES will never diminish in its power despite having influenced scores of lesser movies. Many have compared the film to a direct-cinema documentary, and it certainly resembles one in its gritty 16mm cinematography, rough editing, and ineloquent dialogue. Yet the documentary-like aesthetic was actually the result of scrupulous work by Cassavetes and his crew. The director had cinematographer Al Ruban light every corner of every room they shot in, allowing the actors to move about spontaneously; the actors also wore body microphones so that the crew could forgo a boom operator. Cassavetes wrote multiple drafts of the screenplay and engaged in lengthy workshops with his actors—the dialogue only sounds improvised. If the montage makes FACES resemble the shards of a much longer film, that’s because it is: the final draft of the script ran about 250 pages, and the rough cut ran about six hours. Cassavetes’ prodigious skill as a director of actors has justifiably overshadowed his innovations as an editor, but FACES demonstrates how he could masterfully manipulate the flow of a drama so that it consisted entirely of emotional climaxes. (Kent Jones has compared the sustained intensity of his films to the compositions of Gustav Mahler.) One of the most electrifying cuts occurs early on in the film, after middle-aged louse Richard Forst (John Marley) abruptly ends an argument with his wife Maria (Lynn Carlin) to shoot some pool in the billiard room of his home. After maybe a couple seconds of downtime, Cassavetes jumps ahead to Richard and Maria reconciling in bed, laughing nervously over his dumb jokes. Indeed there’s plenty of nervous laughter in FACES—it reflects the characters’ fear of their own feelings and their inability to articulate what bothers them—and Cassavetes uses it as dagger-like punctuation in dialogue comprised largely of false starts and interruptions. The narrative might be described as one grand interruption in Richard and Maria’s lives, following the characters as they attempt to assuage their mid-life crises by pursuing younger lovers (played brilliantly by Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel). Their rocky paths to self-realization culminate with a terrifying passage that sees one character at the brink of death. Cassel’s character interrupts that downward trajectory with one of the greatest monologues in Cassavetes’ filmography, an exhortation to feel more deeply that also describes the motivation behind the filmmaker’s aesthetic. “Cry! Cry! That’s life!” Preceded by an OPTICAL PRINTER TEST (2014, 2 min, 16mm). (1968, 130 min, 35mm) BS
Abderrahmane Sissako’s WAITING FOR HAPPINESS (Mauritanian/French Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Thursday, 7pm (Free Admission)
It’s fitting—and perhaps intentional—that the title of Abderrahmane Sissako’s 2002 film WAITING FOR HAPPINESS recalls that of Samuel Beckett’s seminal play. Much like the illusory Godot, here, too, happiness eludes the central characters, their waits a sort of existential meandering that beg more questions than they answer. Set in Nouadhibou on the coast of Sissako’s native Mauritania, WAITING FOR HAPPINESS seems to saunter as much as its characters, all of whom inhabit a transitory state similar to that of their seaside location, flanked on one side by water and the other by sprawling, insurmountable desert. Several such characters are a teenaged student waiting to emigrate to France, an incurious electrician and his impertinent young assistant, and various women, including the local gossips, a sex worker, and a little girl learning music—at least, this is what one might deduce from a rather ambiguous narrative, which oftentimes refrains from expositing its characters’ exact circumstances. All things considered, there are a great many themes to be gleaned from this subtle monument—perhaps the most significant being that of divide, both physically and culturally, between Africa and Europe—yet it manages to avoid strained directness. The film mirrors its inhabitants, the audience waiting to understand just as the characters wait for happiness, cinema yet again a projection in more ways than one. Screening from a rare 35mm print imported from Switzerland; much like its characters wait for happiness, you may be waiting a long time to see this one again on the big screen. (2002, 96 min, 35mm) KS
CHICAGO UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL
Logan Theatre – Wednesday through Sunday, June 9
The Chicago Underground Film Festival opens on Wednesday and runs through Sunday, June 9 at the Logan Theatre. The festival includes features and shorts programs, narrative, documentary, and experimental. We’ve highlighted two shorts programs showing on Thursday; check next week’s list for additional reviews of selected Friday-Sunday programs.
CUFF Shorts 1: Transverse Line
The title of the 26th Chicago Underground Film Festival’s opening shorts program, “Transverse Line,” suggests an intersecting path forged across parallel channels. It’s an appropriate figure to describe the task of curation, particularly in a venue like CUFF, whose territory cuts across risk-taking animation, narrative, documentary, and experimental moving image work from around the world. As an overture, “Transverse Line” passes through all of these modes, cleverly following the theme of intimate connections made, missed, and mediated between strangers, friends, and family. Sam Gurry’s WINNERS BITCH (2018, 7 min) briskly threads voice-over testimonials (actual and staged) together with hundreds of dazzlingly banal found photographs to form an animated portrait of Virginia Hampton–dog show judge, mother, and enigma. It’s a formally clever meditation on the traces we leave behind, and an audacious example of an artist taking extreme license in retracing the past according to their whims. Along with Gurry’s film, the strongest works in “Transverse Line” also aggregate unconventional materials to interrogate the ways that media structure personal relationships across time and space. In Olivia Ebertz’s desktop essay film RUSSIAN WINDOWS (2018, 15 min), the artist recounts (in charmingly inept Russian) her growing attachment to her online language tutor Varya, illustrating her fixation through both Google Chat hangouts and Google Earth stakeouts. Like Ebertz’s browser, RUSSIAN WINDOWS has a few too many tabs open, careening from abortive language lessons and Wikipedia junkets to digressions through Jem Cohen films and viral videos by Moscow singer Antoha MC. But it’s precisely through its lack of focus that the piece cultivates kind of intimacy that only emerges when people fail to get to the point. The program’s strongest entry is Lisa Danker’s FORECLOSED HOME MOVIE (2018, 8 min), an expertly-executed history lesson in the vicious cycles of Miami real estate. Shuttling between narratives of home foreclosure from 1930 and 2013, the filmmaker stages ingenious textural and textual relays—from news accounts to first-person testimony, from archival photographs to woodblock prints to passages of direct-to-film abstraction—across parcels of historical and personal tragedy. As in RUSSIAN WINDOWS and WINNERS BITCH, FORECLOSED HOME MOVIE embeds emotional truths in the unique sense of temporality, materiality, and texture afforded by specific mediums; the same might be said of CLAMS CASINO (2018, 10 min), Pam Nasr’s laudably garish parable of culture vlogging between two generations of affluent Latinas. But other highlights in this ample nine-film program instead evoke experiences of profound disconnection. Kathryn Lee’s FEEL GOOD (2018, 9 min) captures the dread of rehearsing one’s dysfunction for a new therapist; overflowing with innovative montage techniques, the piece imagines video as a refuge for private ideation. Fittingly, the program’s final short, FRONTIER WISDOM (2018, 5 min), an apocalyptically surreal work of animation by Jenna Caravello, imagines what might be coming at the end of the line. Also on the program: LARP: A LOVE STORY (Summre Garber, 2019, 10 min), a live-action/puppet hybrid documentary; WUNDERKAMMER (Jennifer Linton, 2018, 6 min), a stark, gothic animation that takes a lurid turn; and STREAKERS (Brielle Brillant, 2018, 11 min), a seriocomic fragment exploring divergent child psychologies. (82 min total) MM
CUFF Shorts 2: The Persistence of Memory
In a seminal 1927 essay on photography, the dyspeptic German cultural theorist Siegfried Kracauer wrote: “The flood of photos sweeps away the dams of memory.” Kracauer’s great insight into the medium was that, far from being a simple externalization of memory, photography’s affinity for the random and the happenstance actively undermined the role of human remembrance in making meaning out of experience. In a time of global upheaval, Kracauer construed the mass medium of photography not as a means of recording catastrophe, but as itself a kind of natural disaster like a flood or blizzard. In three key works in “The Persistence of Memory,” film and photography not only witness and preserve, but also unleash crises both personal and global. Andrew Norman Wilson’s KODAK (2019, 30 min), co-written by James N. Kienitz Wilkins, seems to unfold within the turbulent mind-space of Rich, an ex-Kodak employee blinded by an industrial accident, who mutters to himself while listening to audiotape recordings of George Eastman’s autobiography, occasionally mixing up his own memories with his former employer’s. On screen, images drawn from advertisements, corporate archives, and Wilson’s family albums float in and out of the darkness. Unabashedly engaged in a particular form of Smart People Art™, Wilson and Wilkins structure KODAK like a media archaeology seminar led by Samuel Beckett; the film narrates the transition from analog to digital photography over the course of Rich’s pee break between tapes. But both artists are also deeply invested in the history of American labor’s imbrication in technological and industrial change, particularly as registered at the level of image production. Photography may have undermined our collective ability to make meaning out of history, but for much of the 20th century, corporations like Eastman Kodak (where Wilson’s father worked for decades) also crippled the ability of American workers to define their worth outside the sense of identity bestowed by their employers. The film’s escalating sense of psychic distress, culminating in an infernal vision of Rochester as corrupted-data CGI hellscape, thus tracks both with the post-recession collapse of the American middle class, Kodak’s 2012 bankruptcy declaration, and the transition from digital to post-photographic image regimes. If that weren’t millenarian enough for you, Michael Morris’s stunning 35mm collage film ARK explores the fate of the photographic image in more explicitly biblical terms. Drawing from SMU’s Jones Film and Video Collection of 35mm prints, Morris corrodes familiar newsreel and Hollywood imagery through intensive contact printing and developing techniques. Found-footage filmmaking often exploits the spectacular toll that time and environment take upon the fragile pellicule of film, but Morris’ repeated invocation of the 1928 Michael Curtiz epic NOAH’S ARK here plays on the heightened threat of catastrophe that moving-image archivists confront in our specific era of climate change. In Kracauer’s terms: how to preserve “the flood of images” from a literal flood? Oddly enough, the playful climate-change catastrophizing of Scott Stark’s 35mm found-footage performance piece LOVE AND THE EPIPHANISTS (PART I) (2018, 30 min) offers a compelling answer: go surfing. Employing dependable underground techniques of appropriation and subversion, Stark recycles post-classical detritus of 90s and 00s Hollywood, violently reframing trailers for movies such as 1997‘s THE PEACEMAKER and 2005’s MUNICH to narrate a story of inequality and resistance after a near-future ecological collapse. Taking a trip down memory lane past the point of no return, Stark uses film to reveal how the future we dread might look uncannily like the fantasies we’ve already become nostalgic for. Even more explicitly than in ARK and KODAK, Stark imagines archival filmmaking as both history lesson and doomsday prep—and, most disturbingly, as a kind of waste management. Also on the program: Jenny Stark’s NEGATIVE 25 (2018, 3 min), which reimagines Julia Roberts’ SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY as a landscape film; Karen Yasinski’s VERA (2018, 7 min), an unfussy meal by a master chef; Damon Mohl’s NIGHT CLERK (2017, 2 min), a graphic sketch as striking—and as ephemeral—as a matchstick; Colin Russell and Alec Rodriques’ DANNY’S SUPER 8 (2018, 4 min), which unfortunately comes across like a Kickstarter video for its subject’s forthcoming coffee-table book; and Robert C. Banks Jr. and John W. Carlson’s DON’T BE STILL (2018, 4 min), which does not succeed in making a virtue of film-to-video interlacing artifacts. (86 min total, 35mm and DCP Digital) MM
Satyajit Ray’s THE MIDDLEMAN (Indian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
Viewers who associate Satyajit Ray with warmth and humanism may be shocked by the cynicism of THE MIDDLEMAN, which concludes with a lengthy and devastating depiction of prostitution. This passage, which runs at least 20 minutes, represents the culmination of Ray’s indictment of capitalism run amok in Kolkata and the resulting society in which everyone and everything is for sale. “I felt corruption, rampant corruption all around, and I didn’t think there was any solution,” Ray later said of his mindset at the time he made the film. “I was only waiting, perhaps subconsciously, for a story that would give me an opportunity to show this.” The filmmaker found that story in a 1974 novel by Moni Sankar Mukherjee, which resonated with him so strongly that he set about adapting it almost as soon as it was published. THE MIDDLEMAN tells the story of a recent college graduate named Somnath who, like the hero of Ray’s THE ADVERSARY, is looking for work when the movie begins. As in the earlier film, Ray details the difficulty of finding work in 1970s Kolkata, presenting Somnath as he submits his resume along with tens of thousands of other applicants to individual jobs, takes part in one humiliating interview after another, and waits in endless lines to receive attention at an employment agency. Somnath’s tribulations don’t end with his job search. Early on his girlfriend tells him she’s accepted a marriage offer from an older man who’s established himself financially; at home Somnath’s family scrapes to get by. A chance encounter with a self-made businessman inspires the hero to go into business for himself, selling goods from one company to another. His meetings with other businessmen account for much of the film’s second half, with Ray presenting a series of knowingly corrupt figures who take pleasure in forcing Somnath to compromise himself morally in pursuit of a deal. There’s a sense of black comedy to the hero’s degradation, and this too is unique in Ray’s filmography. THE MIDDLEMAN is a work of righteous anger made all the more powerful by the director’s steely control over form and tone. (1975, 131 min, 35mm archival print) BS
Bi Gan's KAILI BLUES (Chinese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 7pm
With his daring feature debut KAILI BLUES, Bi Gan doesn't just render the fluidity of the dreamworld onscreen, or give us the out-of-body experience of reading a good poem, though he does those things, too. Rather, he seems to be doing something a bit harder to pin down, akin to what John Jeremiah Sullivan, in his foreword to the Modern Library edition of Absalom! Absalom! describes as Faulkner's attempt to dramatize "historical consciousness itself." In Kaili, a city in remote southeastern China, a rural poet/doctor, Chen (Yongzhong Chen), embarks on a half-sleepwalking quest by train to his hometown of Zhenyuan. He's searching for his nephew, a little boy named Wei Wei (Feiyang Luo), who went off with Monk (Zhuohua Yang), an ex-gang leader who now runs a watch shop. Long ago, Chen went to prison for avenging the murder of Monk's son by a rival gang; Chen had borrowed money from Monk to help with his wife's illness, which proved terminal. Since he's going to Zhenyuan, Chen's close friend Guanglian (Daqing Zhao), an elderly fellow doctor who lost her own son in an accident, asks him to look up her old lover. She believes he can still be found playing the traditional Lusheng pipe music still practiced by the older rural Miao people (the young people have forgotten it, preferring to rock 'n' roll). Along the way, though, Chen gets sidetracked in a kind of dream zone, the fictional village of Dangmai, where the membrane between the living and the dead, past and present, seems to be porous. Here, we get the film's bravura centerpiece, an immersive, contrapuntal 40-plus minute traveling shot that must have been meticulously planned, yet retains the illusion of desultory freedom. The effect is vertiginously three-dimensional as we poke around the nooks and crannies of Dangmai. It doesn't feel like an empty show-off move, because it arises organically from the film's animating principle: the search to reunify somehow with what's been lost. Chen meets a hairdresser (Linyan Liu) who reminds him of his late wife. He meets a seamstress, Yang Yang (Yue Guo) who's from Kaili City herself, and who intends to go back there someday to be a tour guide. He encounters the missing Wie Wie, now a young man (Shixue Yu) who shuttles people around on a rickety motorbike. KAILI BLUES gave me the giddy sense of discovery I get when I'm traveling, exploring some faraway town. What's more, the oneiric happens to be one of my favorite registers in film, and Bi joins the ranks of the select few who can really pull it off. There are Easter eggs here for fans of Tarkovsky's STALKER, one of Bi's key influences, but for me the picture's connotations are actually more literary. Strangely, considering it's not even an adaptation of his work, KAILI BLUES evoked for me the experience of reading Kobo Abe, particularly a book like Secret Rendezvous. I must be thinking of the missing wife, the labyrinths and caves that seem to be a concrete expression of Chen's inner state (and where the Wild Caveman may always be lurking). And it really did make me think of something as singular as Absalom! Absalom!, what with its sense of collective memory, its transubstantiated revenants, its shifting frames of reference and identity. If the movie's notion of past, present, and future all happening at once flows from Buddhism, in ways that outsiders many not be able fully to grasp, still it taps into human emotions of love and loss, of mourning and memory, that are universal. (2015, 113 min, DCP Digital) SP
Sydney Pollack and Alan Elliott’s AMAZING GRACE (New Documentary)
In 1972, Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, decided to return to her musical roots with a live double-album of gospel music for Atlantic Records. Over two days in January, she lit up the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles with a holy thunder that has not and may never be bested. The result, Amazing Grace, won a Grammy in 1973, and is the top-grossing gospel album of all time, as well as Franklin’s best-selling album. Warner Bros. commissioned Sydney Pollack to film the concert, which it planned to release on a double bill with Gordon Parks’ SUPER FLY (1972), but Pollack failed to use a clapperboard to synch the sound with the action. With around 2,000 pieces of film without synch points, the documentary could not be finished. In 2007, Pollack, who was dying of cancer, turned the film over to producer Alan Elliott, who used to work at Atlantic and kept the project alive. Elliott solved the synching problem and finished the film, but it was held up by legal challenges from Franklin. Finally, nearly 50 years after the event, AMAZING GRACE has seen the light of day—and it was worth the wait. A reverential Franklin goes about the business of recording the album in a quiet, straightforward manner. Her powerful, pitch-perfect voice brought many in attendance to tears and caused dancing in the aisles treacherously laid with camera and sound cables. Alexander Hamilton, choir director of the spirited Southern California Community Choir, has a star-making turn in this documentary, and Pollack’s close-ups of Franklin dripping with sweat reveal her effort. Pollack trains his camera appropriately on gospel legend Rev. James Cleveland; on Franklin’s father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, speaking from the pulpit; and on her mentor, Clara Ward, sitting in the pews. But he can’t resist adding some additional star power to a film that doesn’t need it by focusing more than he should on Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, who found their way to the church from their L.A. recording session of Exile on Main Street. This unique concert film, guaranteed to cause gooseflesh, is a must for anyone who missed seeing Franklin when she was at the height of her powers. (2018, 89 min, DCP Digital) MF
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s BRIGHT FUTURE (Japanese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm
Kiyoshi Kurosawa will probably always be remembered for his horror films, given that masterpieces like CURE and PULSE have been canonized as modern classics as far as the real heads are concerned. Horror, though aptly applied to Kurosawa’s cinema, isn’t the only entryway. While his films do deal heavily with themes of encroaching dread, paranoia, and death, they don’t always resort to ghosts and serial killers to connect to any existential feelings of the grey kind. Bleakness reigns supreme and at face value; this seems like a radical change from the ghostly invasion-genre of his previous film, PULSE. However, BRIGHT FUTURE has more in common with the Internet phantoms than meets the eye. The plot concerns two young friends, Yuji and Mamoru, who work together in a factory, both suffering from the same dissatisfaction with their current lives. Yuji is trying to raise and breed an extremely poisonous jellyfish—a creature belonging to another time, a foreboding emblem of the past. Not only that, their high-ranking boss at the factory wants to hang out with them, meddling in their poor, downtrodden lives. Enraged, Yuji decides to murder the boss and the boss’ wife. At this point it would be understandable to assume that the story would go in the murder-trial direction, proposing a procedural investigation of the murders; but instead, the movie launches into a very different direction, with the jailed Yuji asking his friend to care for his jellyfish and help it acclimate from seawater to fresh water. In doing so, Mamoru accidentally loses the jellyfish in the floorboards of his home, and then discovers that underneath is a canal leading directly to Tokyo’s waterways. This puts Mamoru in connection with his Yuji’s father, Japanese veteran Tatsuya Fuji, last seen in Nagisa Oshima’s IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES and EMPIRE OF PASSION. The father and Yuji then set out to help the jellyfish adapt to the canals and sewers of the city, setting off something closely mirroring the beginnings of an apocalypse, or possibly something else entirely. The film edges fairly close to being like PULSE, but it’s tethered to the youthful disillusionment of BARREN ILLUSION and LICENSE TO LIVE. The film’s plot involving two characters trying to keep alive an ancient specimen of nature, that happens to be poisonous, also seems awfully close to CHARISMA. The closest it gets to any of Kurosawa’s other films, though, is probably TOKYO SONATA: both films showing a “present” not exactly tethered to reality, but closely linked to a future, or a hope in the future. Both of these films ask whether what we are seeing, despite bright musical cues, is not just some form of wish fulfillment by its characters. BRIGHT FUTURE is also one of the more formally unusual films by Kurosawa, who gives the movie a grimy digital shade of smudge, along with using handheld camera (more than one even), reminiscent of David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE among other films. Despite these formal diversions for the film’s director, Kurosawa has likely never been as acutely allegorical. The characters find it extremely hard to acclimate to their surroundings, yet the jellyfish find a way, and the final shot of the film, of youths in Che Guevara shirts marching down a street (not unlike the jellyfish in the canals) suggests a potential for revolution. However, the Target-purchased quality of the youth’s shirts symbolizing revolution signals the unfortunate possibility of their just belonging to a crowd watching a taping of Pod Save America or Bill Maher, jeering at painfully obvious jokes for the sake of trying to return to some sort of normalcy; a reasonable reaction, but also a hollow effort in ensuring a far left turn from an increasingly uncertain future. (2003, 92 min, 35mm) JD
King Vidor's DUEL IN THE SUN (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Monday, 9:30pm (Rescheduled Screening)
Not looking to reinvent the wheel, I’ll start by quoting Dave Kehr’s review of DUEL IN THE SUN for the Chicago Reader: “There's no doubt that it goes too far in almost every direction—but that touch of obsession is exactly what saves it.” Produced by David O. Selznick, who was then partnered with the film’s star Jennifer Jones, DUEL IN THE SUN was intended by the maverick producer to replicate the success of his 1939 record-breaker GONE WITH THE WIND—he actually spent even more on DUEL, making it the most expensive film ever made at the time of its release—though it’s less a historical odyssey than it is something altogether different, more sexual than even its predecessor, which pitted the fiery Vivien Leigh against the bawdy dynamo that is Clark Gable. Here it’s Jones with both Joseph Cotten and Gregory Peck; Jones and Peck especially simmer, sweat almost boiling on their sunburned skin. Jones stars as Pearl Chavez, a young Mestiza woman (her white father is played by Herbert Marshall), who goes to live with family members in Texas after her father is executed for murdering her mother over an affair. The family consists of her father’s cousin and former paramour, Laura Belle (silent film star Lillian Gish), her husband, Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore), and their two sons, Cain and Abel—er, Jesse (Cotten) and Lewt (Peck)—all inhabiting a sprawling estate called Spanish Bit. Jesse loves Pearl, whom the local priest deems to be a “full-blossomed woman built by the devil to drive men crazy,” while she’s drawn to the recalcitrant Lewt, at odds with the good and bad that war internal. The romantic relationships occur against a backdrop of great change in the west, specifically the development of the railway system, to which the Senator objects but open-minded Jesse welcomes. Selznick selected King Vidor to direct because of his experience with Westerns as well as women’s pictures—some of the close-ups recall those perfected in silent film, though it’s hard to say for sure if that’s owing to Vidor’s pedigree, as he was fired at some point due to artistic differences with Selznick, with William Dieterle finishing the film and Josef von Sternberg, William Cameron Menzies, and even the producer himself directing some scenes. Sometimes cheekily called “Lust in the Dust,” its sexiness is absolutely one of its most compelling traits, as the emotional tenor that Selznick struck, for better or worse, with GONE WITH THE WIND here falls flat. That said, its sexiness is reason enough to see it, specifically as put forth by Jones, whose energy always matches that of her auteur, who in this case was Selznick. Despite some problematic elements, specifically with regards to race and sex, Jones dominates—though it didn’t quite match GONE WITH THE WIND in either overall quality or box-office return, the film's complexity, largely owing to Jones' brave performance, is much more interesting. And the ending, yet another example of its ultimate unevenness, is pure cinema. Go for the phenomenal cast and the blazing Technicolor, and stay for a finale that’ll make “Lust in the Dust” sound like a compliment rather than a jab. (1946, 129 min, 35mm archival print) KS
Marlon Brando's ONE-EYED JACKS (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7 and 9:30pm and Sunday, 1:30pm
We should be happy Stanley Kubrick didn't get to direct ONE-EYED JACKS. Not that the work he would've produced wouldn't have been good, but we wouldn't have the singular film we have now. Kubrick had a tangle with Marlon Brando over the direction of the film, which would've been his only Western, and was promptly replaced by the star himself, who shot this, his only directorial work, as a sort of anti-Kubrick film—a movie that is precisely imprecise. Brando's cut ran five hours; the clarity of the version Paramount released only seems to reinforce the murk of the original. In no American Western do the genre's symbols seem so shallow; the Pacific ocean-side setting gives the film a sense of the terminal—it's a story at the end of the line. The sound (nowhere have spurs and guns jangled so much) only reinforces the doomed hollowness. It's a bleak film, possibly because, as an actor, Brando's sympathy lay with people and not with images. (1961, 141 min, 35mm) IV
BUSTER KEATON X 6
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Buster Keaton and Charles Reisner’s STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (Silent American Revival)
Few things make my heart stop like the iconic scene in STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. where the frame of a house, torn asunder by a cyclone, falls onto the perennially stone-faced Buster Keaton, the bulky structure just narrowly missing him. As they say, when one door closes, a window opens—or, in Buster’s case, when one door is closed, it’s a good thing the attic window was open, as it’s that precarious rectangular space that comes careening down on the impassive wastrel, sparing both the character and the comedian. It’s hardly news that Keaton did many of his own stunts, the fact of which still manages to amaze, especially in this day of underappreciated stuntmen and digital manipulation. Still, one can’t help but to be both impressed and uneasy over the thought, feelings that endure even 91 years and probably ten times as many critical analyses later. Keaton stars as the titular prodigal son, William Canfield, Jr., who’s just left college and is seeing his father, the original ‘Steamboat Bill,’ for the first time since he was a baby. Steamboat Bill, Sr. owns a paddle steamer that’s just gotten some competition, the man whose daughter is Jr.’s love interest. Suffusing the competition between the steamboat proprietors is Sr.’s disappointment with his son, who’s shorter (the actor playing Sr., Ernest Torrence, was conspicuously tall) and fancier, eschewing work clothes for first a beret and later a proper captain’s ensemble. (In another one of the film’s best moments, father and son are trying on a variety of new hats when the salesman hands Jr. a porkpie hat, Keaton’s signature chapeau. He looks at himself in the mirror—in this case, the camera and therefore us—quickly taking it off before his father can see, an unusual nod to Keaton’s real-life fame.) STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. was co-directed by Keaton and Chaplin collaborator Charles Reisner; Keaton said it cost around $330,000, almost as much as his 1926 film THE GENERAL, largely owing to the cyclone scene. It was the last film he made independently under the auspices of Buster Keaton Productions, the unit bequeathed to him by producer Joseph M. Schenck, who ‘presented’ much of Keaton’s best work; soon thereafter he signed with MGM, a decision he would later regret. Though he often played the infelicitous everyman, his turn as the disesteemed son, yearning to be appreciated, here seems especially fitting. Preceded by THE HIGH SIGN (1921, 20 min). (1928, 71 min, DCP Digital) KS
Buster Keaton’s SHERLOCK, JR. (Silent American Revival)
Following his series of films with comedian Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton started his own production company, Buster Keaton Productions, where he was able to exert complete creative control over his shorts and features for most of the 1920s. Although much of his output during this time has had a long-lasting influence on the medium, two films in particular from this period have had a profound impact on surrealism and self-reflexive comedy. In SHERLOCK, JR. (1924), Keaton plays a film projectionist/janitor who’s smitten with a woman, but his rival also has feelings for her and frames Keaton for a theft he did not commit. While running a detective film, he falls asleep and awakens in a world in which he is now the detective investigating a theft with the ‘film’s’ cast of characters made up of people from his real life. The film-within-a-film structure here is one of the most successfully realized in cinema, and its influence can be seen widely, most especially in Woody Allen’s THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO. In the 1921 short THE PLAYHOUSE, Keaton plays multiple characters watching a variety show and multiple characters in the show: from members of the orchestra to the audience, from men to women. The ingenuity here is the use of multiple exposures to have several iterations of himself appear on screen at the same time, perhaps an inspiration Peter Sellers and others playing multiple roles in a film. Both films feature tour de force physical performances from Keaton as well as one of his best ‘impossible gags,’ visual gags that only make sense within the two-dimensional world of the film frame. Preceded by THE PLAYHOUSE (1921, 23 min) and THE FROZEN NORTH (1922, 18 min). (1924, 45 min, DCP Digital) KC
Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman’s THE GENERAL (Silent American Revival)
Lauded by many as one of the greatest films, silent or otherwise, of all time, Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL (1926) is a masterwork of stunning physical comedy, lavish set pieces, and the culmination of all his directorial ingenuity from his years as an independent filmmaker. Based upon a true story set in Georgia, railroad engineer Johnnie Gray (Keaton) has two loves: Annabelle (Marion Mack) and his train, nick-named ‘The General,’ When the Civil War breaks out, Johnnie tries to enlist in the Confederate Army but is rejected due to the importance placed on his current job. Things don’t bode well for Johnnie as Annabelle and her father believe that he is shirking his patriotic duty. A year later, a series of events unfolds in which the General is stolen by the Union Army and Annabelle is taken prisoner. Johnnie takes chase after his two beloveds. THE GENERAL was one of Keaton’s highest budgeted works and it shows. Elaborate outdoor sets, functioning cannons, and nearly twenty freight cars, help to establish the fog of war as Keaton charmingly bumbles his way through. Keaton’s physical gags are in peak form here and feature some of his most dangerous stunts (this is the film where he broke his neck, not realizing it until years later), including a great one in which he sits on the cowcatcher of the General and throws a railroad tie at a loose one blocking the tracks. Sadly for Keaton, the film was not appreciated in its time and resulted in the cinematic wing clipping of his talents when he was made to sign a contract with MGM. Thankfully, nearly 100 years later, cinephiles old and young can still appreciate the majesty of what is arguably the Great Stone Face’s final masterpiece. Preceded by THE GOAT (1921, 24 min). (1926, 79 min, DCP Digital) KC
Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp's THE NAVIGATOR (Silent American Revival)
In Buster Keaton's heyday, his masterpiece THE GENERAL proved a financial disappointment and his soon-to-be-surrealist-classic SHERLOCK, JR. yielded critical indifference and ho-hum box office returns. But THE NAVIGATOR, Keaton's simple, narrowly sketched but marvelously choreographed adventure-comedy, became an enormous hit, the biggest of his career. Some aspects might give us pause today: the black island-dwellers, whose presence drives much of the action in the second half, are instantly and correctly assumed to be a fearsome gaggle of cannibals. It's a bit much to argue that THE NAVIGATOR advances an ideology of racism--but is a rote plot contrivance built upon racism any better? The best that can be said is that THE NAVIGATOR doesn't indulge in these tropes nearly as heavily as contemporaries like the ill-fated human sacrifice musical GOLDEN DAWN. One wonders, too, how Keaton's precisely organized sets and delicately engineered gags would fare today when the not-dissimilar dollhouse aesthetic of Wes Anderson simultaneously provokes thundering adulation and exhausted chagrin. (Both Keaton and Anderson favor fragmentary hijinks, capped off with a dispassionate, wide-eyed view of their elaborate constructions--an establishing shot in reverse.) The virtues of THE NAVIGATOR are very real, but tend to function in isolation; the picture lacks the emotional coherence of STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., or the socio-geographic specificity of OUR HOSPITALITY. Individual gags and shots are as witty as anything that Keaton ever produced--particularly the kludgy alterations to the vessel's enormous kitchen. The underwater scenes, which posed substantial technical and bodily challenges to Keaton and his crew, maintain an improbable frisson of spontaneity. And Keaton's co-star, Kathryn McGuire, is one game comedienne in a boyish sailor costume--though one wishes that more of the comedy grew out of her character, rather than simply acting upon it. Preceded by THE PALEFACE (1922, 25 min). (1924, 59 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Also showing are Keaton’s 1926 film BATTLING BUTLER (77 min), preceded by NEIGHBORS (1920, 20 min); and his 1925 film SEVEN CHANCES (57 min), preceded by COPS (1922, 20 min). All DCP Digital.
David Fincher's FIGHT CLUB (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Viewed without the constraints of political interpretation, David Fincher's FIGHT CLUB is one of the rare great films to come out of contemporary Hollywood—rare because it puts the regular luxuries of the blockbuster studio film at the service of provocative satire and a bottomless imagination. (On first release, its only real precedent was Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL.) It's also the rare film adaptation that actually improves upon its source material, imbuing Chuck Palahnuik's glib, sub-Vonnegut prose with a near-Joycean level of cross-references, allusions, and puns. The wealth of detail helped the film attract a devoted cult following, which made it one of the first true successes of the DVD era, but the density of Fincher's framing and sound design is best appreciated in a theater. Never arbitrary, Fincher's carefully assembled aesthetic overload captures perfectly the anxiety of the so-called Information Age even when the film's sociopolitical stance becomes muddled. As for that critical knot, tied either out of naivety or cynicism (and which Robin Wood attempts, fairly brilliantly, to untangle in his introduction to Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan... and Beyond), it manages to make the film linger in the mind regardless of one's interpretation. For what it's worth, this writer has overheard lengthy conversations about the moral costs of consumerism at nearly every screening of FIGHT CLUB he's attended. (1999, 139 min, 35mm) BS
David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am
Part mind-bending mystery, part hair-raising thriller, part tear-jerking break-up soapfest, David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE evokes an aura of nocturnal wonder and dread, a realm caught between the parameters of waking life and dreams, achingly poignant in its emotional core, absolutely hypnotizing in it’s formal ambiance, and sometimes-frustratingly labyrinthine in its thorny construction. Addressing the cult of personality that is David Lynch’s public persona, it’s hard to look past the hovering cloud that is his semi-comical presence as a cult figure. His fan base certainly gives the impression that Lynch has been, and will always be, the only director who can tap into the idea of dreamworlds and existential cinematic strangeness. Even though this is severely not the case, it isn’t enough to diminish an artist who frequently operates at the height of his powers behind the camera. MULHOLLAND DRIVE contains many elements of his previous work and re-contextualizes them into a concise, epic investigation into the landscape of a shifting personality, that moves with the weight of a person waking and falling into a series of dreams, contrasted with possible realities imagined and lived in. Naomi Watts plays “Betty,” who comes to Hollywood hoping to achieve stardom as an actress in the movies. She catches the attention of a young director played by Justin Theroux, who has been told by a shady, ultra-powerful group (led by Twin Peaks’ “The Arm”) to cast a different actress in his movie. This actress, first glimpsed being driven along the spiraling and ink-black road of the film’s title, suffers a near-assassination attempt, and is left an amnesiac. When she wakes, she believes her name is “Rita”, eventually running into “Betty,” where together they try to solve the mystery regarding “Rita” and her true identity, falling into a romantic obsession in the process. Over the course of the movie, the characters’ identities begin to shift, leading to possible alternate realities in the film’s story and timeline, where Lynch plays with the illusion of the cinema as a false construction that occasionally evokes deep emotional responses from those witnessing it. This idea is fleshed out in the “Silencio” scene, where the two women stumble upon a nightclub with a singer, Rebecca Del Rio, performing a Spanish version of a famous Roy Orbison song. As she sings, the two women begin to cry uncontrollably at the performance, which is eventually revealed to be false, as the singer isn’t even singing and the music is pre-recorded. When the music stops, so does the singer, as she collapses on stage and is dragged off. Lynch pulls a cinematic magic trick on his viewers, engulfing them in the emotions of these two women, who are witnessing something that is a construct and not real, while simultaneously being emotionally swept up in its power and beauty, crying to an illusion that is revealed to be false. One of the most powerful scenes of the last several decades, the rest of the film is a testament to a director operating at peak levels of his matured artistry. Twin Peaks: The Return has much in common with this bewitching work, even in its production history. MULHOLLAND DRIVE started originally as a TV pilot, later to become a series, but never actually materialized into one, so it was changed to a feature film, while Twin Peaks: The Return is a television show that feels more like a long movie in the spirit of Jacques Rivette (who once remarked that the feature film TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, very much the origin to MULHOLLAND, left the French filmmaker “floating” when he left the theater). Much like his recent work with Peaks, characters tend to appear and vanish without trace, while identifies twist and morph into sometimes wholly different characters. Like the devastating, yet cathartic ending of his recent 18-hour masterwork, digging deeper into an obsessive mystery can sometimes bring you further and further from the reality of what it is you began searching for in the first place. Includes a pre-show presentation by Daniel Knox. (2001, 147 min, 35mm) JD
Claude Chabrol’s LA CÉRÉMONIE (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 7pm
Centuries of crimes against humanity and a highly stratified society with clear divisions between nobility and peasantry have made the transition of European nations to bourgeois bastions of commerce stormy. Although they might like to turn away from this history, European artists living with so many tangible reminders of a long-ago past always seem to be caught in its web. Claude Chabrol is a particularly acute observer and critic of class hierarchies, ever ready to pounce on the bourgeoisie for their pretensions, condescension, and the often-unconscious cruelties they inflict. In this adaptation of A Judgement in Stone, a novel by Ruth Rendell based on a real incident that also formed the basis for Jean Genet’s play The Maids, Chabrol raises the specter of class conflict with the film’s very title, La Cérémonie, which is how the French refer to death by guillotine. The film begins with a simple transaction between Catherine Lelièvre (Jacqueline Bissett), a wealthy woman in need of a maid, and Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire), an applicant for the job. The women meet in a coffee shop, and Catherine insists on buying Sophie a cup of tea. It is Sophie who brings up the question of wages; a flustered Catherine proposes an increase of 500 francs over her previous wages. Done. At home, Catherine talks with her blended family over a dinner of mussels and wine—her second husband, Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassell), a music lover; her teenage son, Gilles (Valentin Merlet); and Georges’ daughter, Melinda (Virginie Ledoyen). Gilles thinks it’s degrading to call Sophie a maid. Georges defends the title as an honest and accurate one. It is easy to imagine philosophical conversations like this going on in posh households all over France, a very philosophical country with very bourgeois needs. On the appointed day, Catherine goes to meet Sophie. The 9 a.m. train comes, but Sophie does not appear. Only when the train pulls out of the station does Catherine see Sophie sitting on another platform. Sophie says she took an earlier train. Catherine again seems flustered by another break in decorum. Sophie seems peculiar—blunt, remote, and unpredictable. As they prepare to drive to the Lelièvres’ isolated home, they are waylaid by Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), the local postal clerk, who begs a ride to work. Jeanne and Sophie exchange investigative glances. Once Jeanne leaves, Catherine confides to Sophie that Georges can’t stand the woman. Apparently, Jeanne was implicated in the death of her developmentally disabled daughter, but exonerated for lack of evidence. We have all the elements of a conventional horror movie—remote estate, odd servant, suspected murderer in town. Chabrol’s genius is in locating horror in everyday life and resentments, not in physically creepy environs underlined with foreboding music and menacing stares. Chabrol creates an ironic denouement for this film as the Lelièvres watch a live broadcast of an opera by Mozart, the musician who brought opera to Germans in their own language instead of the elitists’ preference for Italian. Chabrol reserves judgment on the morality of both sides of the battle of the classes. The menace remains, and that’s the real horror. (1995, 112 min, 35mm) MF
Olivier Assayas’ NON-FICTION (New French)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Olivier Assayas’ witty, deceptively simple NON-FICTION begins with a comically tense scene in which Alain, (Guillaume Canet), a suave book publisher, and Leonard (Vincent Macaigne), a Luddite author whose controversial novels are thinly disguised autobiography, argue about the virtues of Twitter. The seemingly meandering narrative that follows belies a clever structure that resolves itself 90-odd minutes later with Shakespearean symmetry when both men vacation together with their wives: Alain’s partner, Selena (Juliette Binoche), is a television actress ambivalent about her recent success on a cop show, and Valerie (Nora Hamzawi), Leonard’s wife, is a high-profile attorney and the breadwinner in their relationship. This quartet represents a spectrum of diverse attitudes towards globalization and humanity's slavish dependence on technology in an increasingly digital world yet it is to Assayas’ credit as a writer that they also always come across as fully fleshed-out characters, never mere mouthpieces for differing points-of-view. It’s the talkiest film Assayas has yet made though the dense dialogue scenes are cleverly edited in a brisk, Fincher-esque manner, and he often generates humor through the surprising way he ends scenes abruptly. It’s a substantial new chapter in an important body of work, one that illustrates the director’s philosophy that the role of the artist is to invent new tools to comment on a modern world that’s always changing. (2018, 106 min, DCP Digital) MGS
Alain Resnais' LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
Fewer and further between than they once were, any screening of MARIENBAD is an always-welcome opportunity to revisit the site of the master provocateur Alain Robbe-Grillet's great denting of international popular culture. There is, of course, another Alain involved, director/collaborator Resnais; and if MARIENBAD is in many ways an inappropriate public face for posterity to have welded onto both these giants' oeuvres, it remains an object lesson in Robbe-Grillet's particular notions about the uses of cinema (seen mainly as a field of play for semi-ironic explorations of the seduction and/or exploitation of distant, unattainable objects of desire), in Resnais' then-ongoing exploration of chilly mise-en-scène and disjunctive chronology, and, strangely enough, in the mechanics of chic, which saw this inscrutable and forthrightly odd formal experiment take on a faddish cool that lingered and drew resentment for years (c.f. Pauline Kael). Leaving aside the frightening wealth of talent contributed by the Alains, however, Sacha Vierny's photography alone (which even on video tends to elicit gasps of astonishment from the uninitiated) means that every screening of MARIENBAD must be cherished. (1961, 94 min, DCP Digital) JD
Christian Petzold’s TRANSIT (New German/French)
An antifascist German’s desperate flight from Paris to Marseilles as the Nazis start to overrun France becomes a metaphysical journey in which his very identity is subsumed to the needs of the wife (Paula Beer) of a writer who, unbeknownst to her, committed suicide when she abandoned him in Paris. The man (Franz Rogowski) assumes her husband’s identity and lets go of self-interest to secure her transit documents to escape Marseilles, where other refugees are waiting fruitlessly to be delivered from evil. There is much in TRANSIT that will remind viewers of CASABLANCA (1942), thus continuing director Christian Petzold’s riffs on cinematic history—Herk Harvey’s CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) and Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) are clear inspirations for his YELLA (2007) and PHOENIX (2014), respectively. However, Petzold’s source material is Anna Seghers’ Transit, a renowned 1944 novel based on her own experience as a German exile trapped in Marseilles in 1940–41. His recurring themes of the permeability of identity, betrayal, the complex nature of love, and the ghosts that haunt humanity are married to a sympathetic examination of the current refugee crisis in Europe by setting his film in the present and populating it with Arab refugees. By straddling the present and the past, he effectively renders history and our willful amnesia accomplices to atrocity. (2018, 101 min, DCP Digital) MF
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Juggernaut Film Festival, featuring science fiction and fantasy films, is presented by the Otherworld Theatre Company on Saturday and Sunday at the Music Box Theatre. Info and full schedule at www.juggernautfilmfestival.com.
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Adirley Queirós' 2014 Brazilian film WHITE OUT, BLACK IN [Branco Sai, Preto Fica] (90 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 7pm; and Colin Higgins' 1980 film 9 TO 5 (109 min, DCP Digital) on Wednesday at 7pm. Free admission.
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) hosts an Open Screening on Saturday at 7:30pm. Bring work to screen (up to 20 minutes; Blu-Ray, DVD, or digital file) or just attend to watch. Free admission.
Documentary Production 2019 Film Screening is on Thursday at 6:30pm at the Logan Center for the Arts (915 E. 60th St., University of Chicago). The program features films made in the University of Chicago's Documentary Production course: LOVE, OUR DOCUMENTARY (by Catalina Parra, Joseph Rigal, Yooyeon Shim, and Alexandra Thompson), HOME AWAY FROM HOME (by Jon Poilpre, Emily Moos, and Ben Amandes), WELL-FED: BREAKING BREAD AT BOWERS CO-OP (by Arianna Hernandez, Kajol Char, and Samuel Tan), and SKATE FEVER (by Lebo Molefe, Elizabeth Myles, Asawari Luthra, Vansh Kalia, and Christine Ervin). Filmmakers in person. Free admission.
Cinema 53 (at the Harper Theater) screens Larry Clark's 1977 film PASSING THROUGH (111 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. Followed by a conversation between Fumi Okiji, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Seth Brodsky, Univ. of Chicago Associate Professor of Music and the Humanities. Free admission.
The Midwest Independent Film Festival (at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema) presents Sci-Fi and Futurism Night on Tuesday, with a program of four short films. The screening is at 7:30pm and is preceded by social period at 6pm and a producer’s panel at 6:30pm. Screening are works by Timothy Troy, Ryan R. Browne, Matthew Brdlik, and Ben Wolan, with the filmmakers in person.
Rebuild Foundation's Arts Bank Cinema (at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens the documentaries SAVING WALTER DYETT (2016, 13 min, Video Projection) and AGENTS OF CHANGE (2016, 66 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 4pm. Followed by a discussion. Free admission.
The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Rodrigo Triana's 2018 Columbian film EL REALITY (104 min, DVD Projection) on Friday at 7pm (6pm reception). Individual tickets are $20 for this Reel Film Club presentation.
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Pickwick Theatre, 5 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) screens George Lucas' 1973 film AMERICAN GRAFFITI (110 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Barak Goodman's 2019 documentary WOODSTOCK: THREE DAYS THAT DEFINED A GENERATION (96 min, DCP Digital) and Ash Mayfair's 2018 Vietnamese film THE THIRD WIFE (96 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; Giacomo Durzi's 2017 Italian documentary FERRANTE FEVER (72 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 5pm and Wednesday at 6:15pm; and Serdar Akar's 2019 Turkish film ÇIÇERO (126 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday and Tuesday at 8pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2003 Japanese film BRIGHT FUTURE (92 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 7pm; Michael Anderson's 1956 film AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (175 min, Digital Projection) is on Tuesday at 7pm; and D.A. Pennebaker's 1968 music documentary MONTEREY POP (78 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Andrey Paounov's 2018 documentary WALKING ON WATER (100 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 11:45am; and Gaspar Noé’s 2019 film CLIMAX (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Robert Thalheim's 2011 German film WESTWIND (89 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents an outdoor screening of Sergei Parajanov's 1969 Armenian/Soviet film THE COLOR OF POMEGRANATES (79 min, Digital Projection) on Tuesday at 8:30pm; and an outdoor screening of Alan Crosland's 1927 silent film THE BELOVED ROGUE (99 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8:30pm, with a live score by Clyde Moreau. Free admission.
The Millennium Park Summer Film Series (at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion) begins this Tuesday at 6:30pm with Ryan Coogler's 2018 film BLACK PANTHER (134 min). Free admission.
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 31 - June 6, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, Jeremy Davies, John Dickson, Marilyn Ferdinand, Michael Metzger, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael G. Smith, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky