We at Cine-File mourn the passing last Saturday of Milos Stehlik, cofounder and longtime Executive Director of Facets Multimedia. We won’t replicate the many touching tributes and comments, the list of accomplishments, and the long and rich history published over the last several days, in print and online, in outlets local, national, and international. But it’s fair to say that each of us at Cine-File, current contributors and past, have benefited in ways large and small from Facets’ many and varied activities. Milos was a visionary whose legacy is more than a building on Fullerton Avenue; it’s a diffuse and incalculable nurturing of the love of cinema among so many people over so many decades in so many different ways.
Mitchell Leisen’s EASY LIVING (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 5pm and Tuesday, 6pm
The entire screwball subgenre could be encapsulated by two comedic set pieces from Mitchell Leisen’s EASY LIVING: first, a food fight set at an automat (a type of low-brow restaurant once called “the Maxim's of the disenfranchised" by Neil Simon); and second, a flirtatious slip-and-slide in a luxury bathtub the size of a kiddie pool, with embellishments to rival even the most ostentatious sculpture garden. These scenes embody the explorations of class and sex (or the conspicuous lack of it) that comprise the most effective screwball comedies—this certainly being one of them—complete with jocose humor and straight-up slapstick to sweeten the deal. Jean Arthur stars as Mary Smith, a beautiful, young, down-on-her-luck woman who has a fur coat fall in her lap whilst on the top level of a bus. Seeking its owner, she meets J.B. Ball (Edward Arnold), a bullish banker (the Bull of Broad Street, to be exact) who had thrown the coat, belonging to his spend-happy wife, from the roof of their penthouse apartment. Mary accepts the coat and a hat—and a lesson about interest—though what seems like merely a fortuitous meeting turns into something more. As with any screwball film, detailing its labyrinthine plot is an exercise in joyful futility, but it should go without saying that Mary meets a guy, in this case J.B.’s son, John (Ray Milland), who’d left the nest to seek financial independence by working at the aforementioned automat. Also in the mix is a French hotelier who attempts to evade foreclosure by housing Mary, J.B.’s supposed mistress, in his luxury hotel, where she and John then attempt to figure out the aforementioned bathtub. Preston Sturges wrote this Depression-era Cinderella story, somewhat early in a career that would become synonymous with screwball; the dialogue is appropriately daft and sometimes heedful, as when a disgruntled chef tells J.B., “Go and fry yourself in lard, you dirty capitalist!” Jean Arthur’s is my favorite performance of the bunch—is there an actress whose literal voice better exemplifies the screwball tone? She and Arnold provide the foundation out of which the other actors’ performances grow, the supporting characters—and even lead Milland—benefitting from their commitment to respective extremes. That said, Leisen’s direction is what really sets the film apart, specifically his commitment to the more cosmetic aspects of the mise-en-scene; I can’t imagine any other director putting the same level of focus on a tour of a luxury hotel room, Leisen having started out in the art and costume departments before moving into the director’s chair. It’s reported that he personally oversaw Arthur’s hair and wardrobe, and that her lavish furs and jewelry were genuine, elements that seem incidental but lend an air of elegance to the inanity. (All this may go against the genre’s inherent subversiveness with regards to depictions of class, but gosh, it sure is pretty.) It’s also reported that this attention made the notoriously nervous Arthur more comfortable on set, likely contributing to her exceptional performance. All told, winsome absurdity and unexpected sophistication, informed by Leisen's attention to detail, make this a screwball gem rather than a diamond in the rough. (1937, 89 min, 35mm) KS
Spike Lee’s MO’ BETTER BLUES (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) —Wednesday, 7:30pm
Ironically the Spike Lee films most typically described as minor (e.g., CROOKLYN, GIRL 6, SHE HATE ME, RED HOOK SUMMER) tend to be the most overstuffed, the ones in which Lee tries to pack in too many visual ideas and thematic concerns for one movie. These are the films built on “thin” premises; they “don’t hang together” like conventional narrative movies do. I’d argue that these are some of Lee’s most characteristic works, and that they speak to why he’s such a valuable film artist. Like his colleague Jim Jarmusch, Lee is one of the only genuine poets in contemporary American cinema; his movies represent a sort-of free verse in which the filmmaker draws on his feelings about a range of subjects to create snapshots of the world as it exists at the moment the movie was made. MO’ BETTER BLUES, probably the best of Lee’s “minor” films, finds the director thinking about the cultural legacy of jazz, the economics of being a working artist, sexual politics circa 1990, sports, and his own position as a Black American filmmaker. The way Lee riffs on these subjects—exploring them more directly here, keeping them in the background there—suggests the influence of jazz and an affinity with Jean-Luc Godard, who’s always structured his movies in a similar fashion. Lee creates a conduit for his various concerns in the protagonist of Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington, in the first of his collaborations with Lee), an openly polyamorous trumpet player who lives in Brooklyn and leads a moderately successful jazz quintet. Bleek considers himself independent as an artist and in his sexual life; nothing can tie him down. Yet one of his lovers, Indigo (Joie Lee), hints at wanting more of a commitment; his manager, Giant (Spike Lee), is a ne’er-do-well friend who can’t do his job well; and his saxophone player, Shadow (Wesley Snipes), wants to break away and start his own band, forcing Bleek to take more of a heavy hand in managing the group. Lee rotates through the various subplots as he does the themes, connecting them all with brilliant camerawork and colorful visual design that sometimes recalls the paintings of the Harlem Renaissance. This was the fourth of Lee’s six collaborations with cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, and it shows the two at the height of their partnership: Dickerson gets to exploit his love of 40s and 50s musicals in his swooping movements (there are crane shots in MO’ BETTER BLUES that rival Minnelli’s) and try out new ideas. It’s the first movie where Lee employed his trademark move where the actors appear to be floating, a technique he’s used since to express everything from elation to dread. The movie would be crucial viewing for that reason alone. Preceded by Bruce Baillie’s 1966 experimental short ALL MY LIFE (3 min, 16mm). (1990, 130 min, 35mm) BS
Jennie Livingston’s PARIS IS BURNING (Documentary Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Almost three decades have passed since the release of PARIS IS BURNING and Jennie Livingston’s poignant documentary is still deeply relevant. Following drag queens and performers in the New York City ballroom scene, Livingston gives her subjects the space to do the bulk of the talking, walking, and posing. It’s both intimate and unobtrusive—managing to strike an exceptionally difficult balance for a debut documentary feature. PARIS IS BURNING captures the enthusiasm and character of “house” balls: from the many kinds of performance competitions, to the costumes, and the energy that exudes from everyone in front of the lens. But PARIS IS BURNING does not paint an overly gaudy portrait, either. There is glitz and glamour, sure, but there is also immense pain—often from the loss of loved ones to the AIDS crisis and transphobic, homophobic violence. While PARIS IS BURNING has been critiqued over the years, it is still a fundamental text in the queer cinematic canon; both as an authentic documentation of queer life and as an introduction to vital fragments of queer history and culture that should not be forgotten. (1991, 71 min, DCP Digital) CC
Yara Travieso’s LA MEDEA (New American)
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago — Friday, 7pm
According to the website for director/choreographer/multimedia artist Yara Travieso’s LA MEDEA, “The pervasive figure of the wild foreign woman who vengefully murders her own children is shattered in this genre-bending multidimensional dismantling of an ongoing toxic myth.” Not quite. Although Travieso has packed LA MEDEA with hallmarks of contemporary culture—the plight of immigrants; inclusivity, with not only the entire dance cast being Latinx, African American, and gender-neutral, but also a multicultural audience participating in the show; and a purported live broadcast worldwide with possibly made-up tweeted questions—technology, forced communalism, and topicality have no interpretive powers on their own. They are certainly not up to the task of unraveling and destroying the Medea myth, which has ancient and obscure origins and speaks to our irrational core. What we have, then, is an evocative retelling of the story through well-realized dance sequences performed by Rena Butler, Tiffany Mellard, Erick Monres, and Sol Koeraus to an inspired suite of original songs written by Sam Crawford and performed by vocalists Liz de Lise, Zeb Gould and the rest of the musicians in Jason and the Argonauts. I thought the handheld camerawork was especially good given the difficulties of moving through a crowd, and editing by Travieso of this live studio performance and shoot at BRIC in Brooklyn was tight. The opening art piece reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica was a great visual touch, and using two neutral observers—camera operators—to play Medea’s children was an inspired idea. Travieso in person. (2017, 80 min, Digital Projection) MF
La Politique des Autres: Short Films by Agnès Varda, Program II (French Revivals)
Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) — Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Agnès Varda’s aptitude for empathetic, exploratory human portraiture carries with it the enviable ability to avoid the kind of touristic objectification that trips up so many other artists. At the same time, she manages a deft self-awareness of her subject position, and all the limitations—racial, cultural, economic—it entails when venturing into the space(s) of other social groups. That being said, SALUT LES CUBAINS (1963, 30 min), one of the most purely rhapsodic things she’s ever made, is also among the most unabashedly romantic. A montage of post-revolutionary Cuban society created entirely through still photographs, the film revels in the music, fashion, and sheer energy of a country basking in the afterglow of its liberation. Varda’s staccato editing rhythms, matched to a fulgent soundtrack, make the nearly 1,500 static images dance to intoxicating life. It’s perhaps one of the few times the director has so fully allowed herself to become seduced by the allure of her subject, but with historical hindsight, it’s an idealized perspective that’s productively tempered by the knowledge of how short-lived Cuba’s celebratory mood was to be. More formally conventional but also more sobering as political treatise, BLACK PANTHERS (1968, 28 min) examines the stirrings of revolution with a tenor closer to objective reportage. Narrated with a flat, just-the-facts intonation and featuring interviews with several Black Panther members, the film attains a blunt, lucid power through its insistence on telling us the “truth” about a movement the media had vilified. Of course, its veneer of objectivity is a rhetorical method for building a counter-narrative that damns the official records of the racist institutions the Panthers were fighting against; the only threats here are the white oppressors and an uninformed populace. Moving across continents to a nation in the calm before the storm of its own revolution, THE PLEASURE OF LOVE IN IRAN (1976, 6 min) is an abbreviated but sensuous meditation on the interrelations between people and the places they inhabit. Moving around its canoodling lovers, Varda’s camera lovingly surveys the cupolas, arches, and arabesques of the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, directly linking the architecture with an erotics of the human body. Varda’s clear enthusiasm for aesthetics, and not just this aesthetic, largely disarms the potential orientalism of the project. No such risks are present in ELSA LA ROSE (1966, 20 min), which is firmly rooted in the cultural territory of the Nouvelle Vague. Focusing on famed French poet Louis Aragon’s relationship with his wife Elsa Triolet, the film juxtaposes Aragon’s effusive encomiums to Triolet (spoken by Michel Piccoli) with her own more measured words and memories, revealing how one’s perception of another is inevitably mediated by a skein of projections and idealizations. By recognizing this and expressing it in her relation to her own art, Varda proves that there’s nothing she’s unwilling to ponder, and no pondering that’s ever complete. (1963-76, 84 min total, Digital Projection) JL
Mathieu Kassovitz’s LA HAINE (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7pm
“Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good… so far so good… How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land.” Hubert’s (Hubert Koundé) opening monologue in Mathieu Kassovitz’s LA HAINE sets a strong tone for what will unfold over the next twenty-four hours for three French teenagers in the wake of a destructive riot in the suburbs of Paris that left one of their compatriots severely injured and hospitalized. Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui), and Hubert each have varying sentiments about the police, ranging from utter disdain to pacifistic restraint, but are all united against the officers’ abuse of power that has frequently lead to authoritarian violence against the youths of the neighborhood. Kassovitz made the bold choice of shooting the film in black and white to stress the disparity between the citizens and the police, good and bad, and the morally gray areas that pervade the film. This color palette not only adds a crispness to the parts of the image shot in focus but creates a looming sense of foreboding to the people left in the out of focus areas, recalling a sort of fog of war like the clouds of tear gas shown during the film’s opening montage sequence of real riots that occurred in France during the 1980’s and 1990’s. One of the most fascinating aspects to this film is the internal struggle each of the three principal characters face about who they really are and what they hope to be perceived as. “The World Is Yours” and an image of planet Earth are seen plastered on several billboards the characters travel past. This motif not only recalls Howard Hawks’ SCARFACE but also emboldens the trio’s more compulsive, and often volatile urges. The film’s use of violence and, sometimes more importantly, the threat of violence creates a sense of a powder keg ready to explode in any given scene. Again, the “so far so good” line comes to mind in these instances. Will this be the scene they finally “land” or will they continue to “fall”? LA HAINE broaches the familiar notion of youth in revolt but finds deep complexities within the characters’ internal dilemmas and their longing to bring about a change in the world, whether it is altruistic or narcissistic. (1995, 98 min, 35mm) KC
Charles Lamont's ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7 and 9:30pm
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is reputedly the favorite movie of a five year-old Quentin Tarantino—domestic auteurism's ultimate man-child. While this supposedly humorous, reflexive pastiche of 30s Universal horror icons (re-played by Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr.) might be said to be an influence on Tarantino's own supposedly humorous pastiches, what the film (among others in its vein, e.g. ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY) most prominently presages is the seemingly novel genre interpolations of 1984's GHOSTBUSTERS—which effectively alternated between pure comedy and suspense/horror scenes almost entirely via the use of eerie string-section cues in the latter. But while GHOSTBUSTERS cleverly transposed the stale Gothic villains of its progenitors into a threateningly pantheistic Mesopotamian occultism (and opposed that in turn to an empiricist entrepreneurship), FRANKENSTEIN is uninterested in making said villains remotely relevant to postwar politics, and more fascinated with generating stylistic bouillabaisse from the studio's corpus of available sets and costumes. Most strikingly, the potentially whimsical psychological dichotomy of the leads is constrained by Bud Abbott's unyieldingly stern sobriety. An idealized, infallible superego if there ever was one, he perhaps represents the solemn, patriarchal voice inside Tarantino's head that manages to generate in perpetuity his form of adolescent, discriminatory rebellion. Like many of those works, this is a legitimate historical curiosity as a theatrical screening, but I wouldn't go on a date. (1948, 83 min, 35mm) MC
Ivan Reitman's GHOSTBUSTERS (American/Cult Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Wednesday, 7pm
Upon its original release, the 1984 summer blockbuster GHOSTBUSTERS wittily inscribed a bourgeois, rationalist ideology onto a inestimable cross-section of Generation X. Amateur occultist Dan Aykroyd's screenplay, a contemporary updating of the corny Abbott & Costello and Bob Hope comedy-horror features of his youth, is sustained by an ingeniously savvy understanding of Reaganomic mythology that makes Frederic Jameson look like Dave Barry. The titular expelled Columbia University parapsychology postdocs get in on the ground floor of an emerging urban economy: the containment of the psychic energy of investment capital, sublimated into ludic, phantasmic form. Manifesting in historic arenas of the old-money upper class (Ivy League libraries, Upper West Side apartments, posh turn-of-the-century hotels), these gilded ghouls rise from the grave to celebrate industrial deregulation and income-tax cuts (Slimer in particular representing a ravenous and futile hyperconsumption), but unsurprisingly bring chaos to the liberal, environmentalist enclave of Manhattan. As the protagonists' success ushers in an era of celebrity entrepreneurship, the infantile collective Ghostbusters id repeatedly transgresses the demands of a variety of old-fashioned academic, bureaucratic, or municipal-juridical superegos to now-classic comic effect. GHOSTBUSTERS is suffused with a particular heteronormative, ascetic intellectual machismo from start to finish. Feminine promiscuity, for example, is definitively linked here to demonic possession, and the absurd Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man (unleashed by the secular unconscious as a direct result of the Ghostbusters' attempt to physically mediate between an empirical positivism and occult theology) is defeated only through the violation of a puerile "stream-crossing" taboo, with our heroes simultaneously jizzing nuclear-powered laser beams into the glammy, gender-ambiguous Gozer's icy ziggurat. A very serious diversion. (1984, 105 min, DCP Digital) MC
Luis Buñuel’s LOS OLVIDADOS (Mexican Revival)
Comfort Film at Comfort Station (2759 N. Milwaukee Ave.) — Wednesday, 8pm (Free Admission)
Writing about Luis Buñuel’s documentary LAND WITHOUT BREAD, André Bazin once argued that the point of the film wasn’t that humanity was debased, but that humanity could become so debased and that this reflected the inherent unpredictability of our species. Buñuel’s Mexican feature LOS OLVIDADOS teaches a similar lesson in its portrait of juvenile delinquents in Mexico City. Perhaps the most pitiless film ever made about childhood, it presents its young protagonists as violent, impulsive, and deceitful and doing the most shocking things. Buñuel creates sequences that burn themselves into your memory: the attack on the blind street musician, the robbery of the paraplegic (during which the young assailants steal the cart the man had used to push himself around), Jaibo’s murder of the former friend he thought had betrayed him to the police. This may be one of the least surreal films in Buñuel’s canon, yet what makes it so powerful as a realist statement lies in the director’s surrealist preoccupation with the perverse. Beginning with a voice-over introduction explaining that every modern city contains its blighted underbelly, LOS OLVIDADOS goes on to explore how blighted life can be. Buñuel is most attentive to detail, studying the precocious manner of the film’s delinquent boys and how it inures them to criminality. His mise-en-scene, a sort-of minimalist squalor, is memorable as well. The cinematography is by Gabriel Figueroa, one of the most respected cameramen in the history of Mexican cinema; the movie brilliantly undercuts its documentary-style realism with subtle stylization. (“It’s real life, only more so” is how Dave Kehr described it.) Buñuel sometimes cuts away from the delinquents to look at animals (perhaps the film’s most overt reminder of the director’s surrealist pedigree), and his approach to delinquency might be described as zoological. He’s interested in the tribalism, survival instincts, and mating habits of his characters; to realize that societies create conditions in which human beings can be studied like animals is deeply unsettling. (1950, 80 min, 16mm; outdoor screening) BS
Peter Parlow’s THE PLAGIARISTS (New American)
Facets Cinémathèque — Check Venue website for showtimes
This almost irritatingly clever movie is both a satire of mumblecore and lo-fi indie filmmaking and a love letter to the written word and the limitations of cinema. Shot in a retro aspect ratio with a retro TV news camera, THE PLAGIARISTS notably critiques race relations, AirBnB and other modern-day conveniences, precious white hipster culture, and the inability of cinema to reach an intimate immediacy with the audience as individual. The movie begins with what at first seems like an overdone plot device: a couple's car breaks down in the country on their way back from a friend's house in upstate New York, and they are helped by a friendly bystander, played by Michael "Clip" Payne of Parliament Funkadelic. Their gratitude for his generosity in connecting them with a cheap mechanic and letting them spend the night at his house is tempered by their uneasiness about his race and the fact that an unexplained white child is present in the house. The couple are comprised of a novelist (Lucy Kaminsky) who has yet to publish her first novel but still considers herself a novelist, and a young cinematographer (Eamon Monaghan) who refuses to call himself a filmmaker because all he as ever done is write a draft of a screenplay. Instead, he makes his living shooting commercials and TV spots. The film manages to explore the couple's racial unease, and their unease with each other, in a refreshingly nuanced way, and after the viewing I learned that one method the filmmakers used to achieve this disconnect was by shooting the two white main characters separately from Michael Payne, who is named "Clip" in the movie—one of the many extratextual references that make the film more interesting and complex than it at first appears. Apparently the actors never met before or during the shoot. The tone of the movie shifts dramatically when Clip delivers a poetic monologue about childhood memories to the novelist, and his monologue clearly has a dramatic effect on her. I won't spoil the plot that twists both the meaning and critique of the movie around on a meta-dime, because the surprise made the viewing much more interesting to this particular viewer, but it does revolve around this beautiful monologue delivered by Clip. Russian satirist Nikolai Gogol often prefaced his aptly written descriptions by deprecating the written word. In one scene of Dead Souls, he wrote, "Oh, if I were a painter, how magnificently I would depict the night's charms!" He then went on to poetically describe a magical night scene in a way that a painter never could. In many ways, THE PLAGIARISTS mimics (but does not plagiarize!) the funny, razor-sharp tone and wit of Dead Souls and Gogol's devilish method or disavowing the medium and disarming the audience, which only charms them and entangles them more deeply in the web of appreciation for this slippery, absorptive, tricky art form. THE PLAGIARISTS also recalls some of the recurring themes of the late auteur Abbas Kiarostami, both in the unadorned, deliberately banal cinematography and questioning of what is real, what is fiction, what is original, and what is fake, and whether cinema is even capable of tackling such epistemological questions. If you go see this movie, be sure to stay through the credits and read them closely. (2019, 76 min, Video Projection) AE
Alex Holmes’ MAIDEN (New Documentary)
Landmark Century Centre Cinema — Check Venue website for showtimes.
There is probably not a woman alive who hasn’t encountered skepticism and ridicule for wanting to do something women aren’t supposed to want to do. Some women wither under the pressure, but many simply become more determined than ever. So it was with Tracy Edwards, an English sailor who was tired of being shoved into the galley to cook for the “real” boatmen and decided to skipper an all-woman team in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race. Alex Holmes’ documentary, MAIDEN, after the name of the racing yacht Edwards and crew sailed in the race, gloriously relies mainly on footage shot by crew member Jo Gooding and archival news coverage, giving viewers an exciting, firsthand account of the trials and triumphs of living at close quarters for some nine months piloting a 58-foot aluminum sailboat through rough waters, bad weather, and frustratingly windless doldrums to cross the finish line in Southampton, England. Younger viewers may be nonplussed by the condescension of sexist journalists Bob Fisher and Barry Pickthall, Edwards’ initial insistence that she was not a feminist, and the fuss about the women pulling into port after one leg of the race wearing one-piece bathing suits. Others may be surprised by the crucial role Jordan’s King Hussein played in Maiden’s voyage. In talking-head interviews with Holmes some 30 years later, the women who made this historic passage are honest about their experience—confessing their fears, airing their conflicts, and affirming the strong friendship they developed on the way. Most impressive is the exhilaration all of them still feel about doing exactly what they set out to do despite the opposition they faced. (2019, 97 min, DCP Digital) MF
Leo McCarey's THE AWFUL TRUTH (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 4pm, Saturday, 3pm, and Thursday, 6pm
Cary Grant and Irene Dunne play an insecure couple whose impending divorce sets in motion all manner of mix-ups and highjinks, largely improvised under the careful direction of Leo McCarey. Having worked with personalities as diverse as Harold Lloyd, W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, and the Marx Brothers, McCarey was no stranger to comedy (Grant's casually urbane screen persona was an alleged imitation of him), but upon receiving the Best Director Oscar for this film, he famously quipped that he deserved it more for the same year's heartfelt tearjerker MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW. Between this and TOPPER (1937), Grant quickly became the quintessential Hollywood leading man, a position he cemented with a flurry of indelible screwball followups, and seems in no danger of losing. (1937, 92 min, DCP Digital) MK
Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman’s THE GENERAL (Silent American Revival)
City Newsstand (4018 N. Cicero Ave.) — Friday, 7:30pm (Free Admission)
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. Live accompaniment by Jay Warren. (1926, 80 min, Digital Projection) KC
Olivier Assayas’ NON-FICTION (New French)
Gene Siskel Film Center — 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
John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
High concept and low class, John Carpenter's 1981 sci-fi/action film premises itself on a paranoid endgame scenario: what if crime just keeps going up? Carpenter settles on the conservative trajectory of 400 percent and cedes Manhattan to the most violent criminals, turning it into an island prison and letting it go to ruin. Only the most hardened offenders are sentenced there—new prisoners are given the option of cremation before arrival—making it a particularly bad place for the President (Donald Pleasance) to crash land. Charged with fishing him out within 22 hours, the police commissioner (Lee Van Cleef) offers a full pardon to incoming convict 'Snake' Plissken (Kurt Russell), a former Special Forces operative-turned-criminal—but only if he can successfully recover the President. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is a wild ride that is at times clever and at other times surprisingly dull. Most interesting is not the search-and-rescue but the creative depiction of a ruined New York and its ad hoc city-life, circumscribed by extreme danger. An old acquaintance, Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine), watches an all-convict Broadway production before making his way uptown with Molotov cocktails at the ready. Shot mostly in darkness, Carpenter succeeds in creating a closed-off atmosphere that is both somehow dingy and futuristic. These touches, along with several solid performances, breathe life into the rote barrel fire-pocked landscape, and Snake himself. (1981, 99 min, DCP Digital) BW
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (New Documentary)
Music Box Theatre — Check Venue website for showtimes
Toni Morrison is a great writer, full stop. She could almost be considered the creator of a genre of fiction, one that surveys with blazing originality and honesty the lives of African-American girls and women. Therefore, predictably, attempts to marginalize her, ignore her, change her, and ban her have dogged her from the moment her first novel, The Bluest Eye, debuted in 1970. Being the highly intelligent, imaginative, and socially committed person that she is, Morrison has triumphed over her detractors, eventually winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Now we are able to share a bit in her journey through Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ documentary TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM, a film that focuses probingly, and almost exclusively, on her working life and accomplishments. We are edified about how Morrison used the early morning hours to turn out her stellar debut novel with two young sons to raise and provide for, and how now the world always looks better to her at dawn. We learn how, as an editor for Random House, she was able to bring other African-American voices into the world. We see her fun-loving side and her clear-eyed compassion. The documentary is packed with talking-head admirers, but really, Morrison can tell her own story perfectly well without them, as she has for 50 years. TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM is a competent portrait of a life well lived. (2019, 120 min, DCP Digital) MF
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens Jon Silver's local 2019 short DINNER IN HYDE PARK (22 min) on Saturday at 7pm. Also showing are Meghann Artes' SLEEPY STEVE (4 min), Bobby Richards and Avery Lee's BOBBY & IZA (10 min), and Gustavo Martin's FUPA (9 min). Digital projection. Select filmmakers in person.
The Windy City International Film Festival opens on Thursday at the Victory Gardens Theater (2433 N. Lincoln Ave.), and continues through Sunday, July 21. Full schedule at http://windycityfilmfest.com.
The ReelAbilities Film Festival presents Disability Shorts: Life Stages (56 min total, Digital Projection), the first of six programs running through August 22, on Thursday at 6pm at the Chicago Public Library’s Sulzer Regional Library (4455 N. Lincoln Ave.). Admission is free. RSVP and more info at https://reelabilities.org/chicago.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Judith Helfand’s 2018 documentary COOKED: SURVIVAL BY ZIP CODE (82 min, DCP Digital) begins a two-week run, with Helfand and members of the production team in person at various showings (check the Siskel website for details); A.B. Shawky’s 2018 Egyptian film YOMEDDINE (97 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Michael Lahey’s 2019 documentary SHELF LIFE: THE STORY OF LANZI CANDY (88 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 3:45pm, Saturday at 8pm, and Wednesday at 7:45pm, with Lahey in person at each show; Pierre Schoeller’s 2018 French film ONE NATION, ONE KING (121 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 6pm and Sunday at 5pm; and the New Breed Film Showcase (53 min, Digital Projection) is on Monday at 6pm, with short films by Patrick Wimp, Sanicole, Derek Dow, and Lonnie Edwards. Followed by a Q&A with Wimp, Sanicole, and Edwards and a reception.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Charles Stone III’s 2002 film PAID IN FULL (97 min, Unconfirmed Format) is on Saturday at 9:30pm; and G.W. Pabst's 1934 film A MODERN HERO (71 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Nietzchka Keene's 1990 Icelandic film THE JUNIPER TREE (78 min, 35mm on Friday and Saturday; and DCP Digital afterward; film preservationist Ross Lipman in person at the 7:15pm Friday show) opens; Andrew Slater's 2018 documentary ECHO IN THE CANYON (90 min, DCP Digital) continues; Lynn Shelton's 2019 film SWORD OF TRUST (89 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7 and 9:30pm, with actor Marc Maron in person for a Q&A at the early show and an introduction at the later show; Steven Cantor's 2019 documentary BETWEEN ME AND MY MIND (100 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 9:45pm; Looney Tunes on 35mm is on Saturday and Sunday at 10:30am; Peter Strickland and Nick Fenton's 2014 UK concert film BJORK: BIOPHILIA LIVE (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:15pm; Tim Pope's 2019 music documentary THE CURE: ANNIVERSARY 1978-2018 LIVE IN HYDE PARK (137 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 9:15pm; and George Miller's 2015 film MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (120 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Dónal Ó Céilleachair's 2018 Irish documentary THE CAMINO VOYAGE (90 min, Video Projection) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
The Cultural Service at the Consulate General of France in Chicago hosts an outdoor screening of François Truffaut's 1959 French film THE 400 BLOWS (99 min, Video Projection) on Saturday at 8:15pm at Montgomery Ward Park (630 N. Kingsbury St.). Free admission.
The Millennium Park Summer Film Series (at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion) presents an outdoor double feature screening of Barry Jenkins' 2016 film MOONLIGHT (111 min) and Guillermo del Toro's 2006 Mexican/Spanish film PAN'S LABYRINTH (118 min) on Tuesday at 6:30pm (PAN'S LABYRINTH begins after a 15-minute intermission). Free admission.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
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: July 12 - July 18, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Michael Castelle, Cody Corrall, Kyle Cubr, Alexandra Ensign, Marilyn Ferdinand, Mike King, Jonathan Leitold-Patt, Michael G. Smith, Brian Welesko