Robert Altman’s BREWSTER McCLOUD (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 4 and 8pm, and Thursday, 6pm
Let's pretend you're Robert Altman. After the boffo box office of M*A*S*H and its multiple Oscar nominations, what do you do next? Well, because you're a contrarian stoner, you make a deliberately off-putting fable about a peculiar young man (Bud Cort) whose dream is to take flight inside the Houston Astrodome using a giant pair of mechanical wings. And you fill the cast with members of your budding stock company (Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy, Robert Duvall, Rene Auberjonois, Bert Remsen) rather than any big Hollywood stars. And, because you're an avowed iconoclast, after you meet a striking local woman at a party (Shelley Duvall) you give her the female lead, even though she's not even an actress. (Also, you cast Margaret Hamilton; but then, because you consider her a pain in the neck on the set, during editing you excise most of her closeups.) You kick off the film with a marching band rendition of the national anthem (complete with a "Title song by Francis Scott Key" credit), interweave a murder investigation storyline that's one long shaggy dog joke, throw in an enigmatic guardian angel, and regularly interrupt the "action" with ornithology lectures. The end result? A film that still mystifies absolutely everyone nearly 50 years later, regardless of their cannabis intake. If only the Siskel included Altman's 1965 short film POT AU FEU on the program, which is a sort of Rosetta stone. (1970, 105 min, 35mm) RC
Radu Jude’s I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS (New Romanian)
Facets Cinémathèque – Check Venue website for showtimes
Director Radu Jude has cited German writer and academic W. G. Sebald as an influence on his filmmaking, and particularly on his most recent release, I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS, which probes Romania’s enthusiastic embrace of Nazi Germany and the Final Solution through a state-funded theater piece performed in Bucharest’s Revolution Square. The subject matter of the film is squarely in Sebald’s wheelhouse, and Jude, intrigued by the writer-scholar’s infusion of still photographs, ghostly blurring of fantasy and reality, and research-rich background into his fiction, has taken Sebald’s lead in constructing this deceptively straightforward assault on Romania’s collective amnesia. Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob), a fictional character who shares the name of a famous Romanian poet who was censored under the reign of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, is a director who hopes to raise awareness of and provoke a national reckoning with the racially motivated murder of some 380,000 Romanian Jews ordered by “Uncle” Adolf’s eager collaborator and utterer of the film’s title, Marshall Ion Antonescu, through a stylized presentation of one particular incident—a 1941 massacre in Odessa—that will be filmed for Romanian television. BARBARIANS is a very intellectually stimulating film, with a lengthy debate between Marin and city official Constantin Movila (Alexandru Dabija) that airs every conceivable dodge of responsibility, from what-aboutism and the Darwinian aspects of massacre (when does a massacre rise to the level of worldwide, or even national, outrage) to bourgeois liberals who decry atrocities over wine and cheese. In imitation of Sebald, Jude holds his camera for extended stretches on still photos of hanged and dead Jews while his characters carry on conversations in the background, and he has Marin read a famous passage out of Odessa-born Isaac Babel’s chronicle of atrocity, Red Cavalry. These strategies provoke the viewers of this film to understand the context in which the Romanian crimes were able to occur and stir feelings that may have faded through familiarity with these and other famous artifacts of Jewish genocide. He reinforces his acknowledgment of his film’s audience by having Iacob introduce herself at the very beginning of the film as an actor playing a role and then again at the end, when someone off-camera calls “Ioana,” thus preventing us from passing judgment on the various characters in the film whose anti-Semitism and anti-Roma feelings are on full display without acknowledging that we are witnesses as well who must take moral responsibility for the harm we continue to fail to prevent. The culmination of the film is the reenactment itself, and it is savage and sobering. Jude somewhat stacks the deck by instructing the extras who are playing bystanders watching the performance on the square to cheer Antonescu’s anti-Semitic rants and toss an escaping actor dressed as a Jew back into the pack being escorted to their deaths. Yet, we must acknowledge that such feelings persist, not only in Romania, but also in our own backyard. Antonescu and his ilk certainly are barbarians, but the unapologetic intelligence, compassion, and sublime artistry of Radu Jude works beautifully to awaken us to our better selves. Watching I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS is an act of supreme resistance against the barbarism of our time. (2018, 140 min, Video Projection) MF
Dorothy Arzner’s MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Wednesday, 7:30pm
Dorothy Arzner’s last film for Paramount before she started to freelance (a period that yielded some of the best films of her career, including CHRISTOPHER STRONG and DANCE, GIRL, DANCE), MERRILY WE GO TO HELL is equally jocose and affecting, the combination of which is difficult to achieve but here is executed successfully by way of Arzner’s willfully unvarnished direction. Frederic March and Sylvia Sidney, both phenomenal, star as Jerry, a Chicago-based newspaper reporter, and Joan, a packaged goods heiress, respectively. They meet at a party and fall in love, though their sweet romance is tempered by Jerry’s alcoholism, a holdover from a failed affair, and his reticence to say he loves Joan even after they’re married. Jerry is also an aspiring playwright, and, under Joan’s watchful-but-loving eye, he writes a new play that’s soon produced on Broadway. As it turns out, his former girlfriend, Claire Hampstead (Adrianne Allen), is the show’s star; Jerry accepts her advances and Joan, having discovered this and that Jerry has fallen off the wagon, begrudgingly decides that their marriage should be an open one and takes a lover of her own (played by Cary Grant in one of his first film roles). The film revels in mayhem—and the mayhem is decidedly pre-Code, sufficiently sexy and salacious where applicable—but it’s the emotion, after the couple separates and Jerry hits rock bottom, that impresses. It’s the subtlety, void of cloying melodrama, that makes the film so effective; MERRILY WE GO TO HELL, titled after Jerry’s favorite toast (and a cause for consternation amongst censors), is the most compelling Arzner film I’ve seen with regards to its emotional brunt. Known for being the only female director working in Hollywood between the 1920s and the 1940s, Arzner is often recognized for having helped launch the careers of several notable Hollywood actresses, including Katharine Hepburn (CHRISTOPHER STRONG) and Lucille Ball (DANCE, GIRL, DANCE). This gives one a sense of Arzner’s marked ability to direct actors, as March, Sidney, and even Allen shine. The ending is almost shockingly desolate, but it’s appropriate for a film whose pathos is likewise shocking. Preceded by Dave Fleischer's 1931 "Screen Song" cartoon RUSSIAN LULLABY (6 min, 16mm). (1932, 78 min, 35mm) KS
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's ALL ABOUT EVE (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre – Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
Joseph L. Mankiewicz, an ubiquitous presence in Hollywood thanks to some early string pulling by his brother Herman, was a screenwriter for Paramount and a producer for MGM before he realized his second-greatest ambition and became a director for 20th Century Fox (his first was to make it as a Broadway playwright). Ambition is written on the walls of ALL ABOUT EVE, Mankiewicz's sharp and ever-popular comedy of self-comment in which a dissembling fan (Anne Baxter) insinuates herself into the personal and professional life of an aging Broadway star (Bette Davis) until the sparks and epithets really begin to fly. A feeling of ersatz-ness reigns in much of Mankiewicz's cinema: Bette Davis seems to be impersonating Bette Davis, much as EVE is striving for the deeper themes of SUNSET BOULEVARD, released the same year. But Mankiewicz stuck bravely to his guns, impressing upon his actors the need to step outside their roles and acknowledge their theatrical conceits—and many an adoring fan has followed along. (1950, 138 min, 35mm) JB
Sameh Zoabi’s TEL AVIV ON FIRE (New Israeli/International)
You can tell a lot about a culture from the romantic comedies it produces. Hollywood has never been big on mixing comedy, romance, and political issues, which suggests that blind adherence to pure escapism is perceived to be the only way a romcom will succeed. In Sameh Zoabi’s award-winning TEL AVIV ON FIRE, a popular soap opera set just before the 1967 Six Day War that gave birth to the entrenched conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is the backdrop for a romantic comedy that makes more of a point than bringing two would-be lovers together. The film centers on Salam (Kais Nashif), a feckless Palestinian hired by his uncle (Nadim Sawalha) as a production assistant on his Ramallah-based soap opera Tel Aviv on Fire. A resident of Jerusalem, Salam’s Hebrew is better than the soap writer’s, and his correction of a word of dialogue changes his entire life, as he, a nonwriter, ends up penning the love story on the show through a strange series of circumstances. Zoabi has struck comedic gold in partnering Nashif with Yaniv Biton, who plays, Assi, an Israeli border captain who controls the storyline of the soap opera by holding Salam’s identity card. A running joke about hummus has a more serious side, and the opening title and soap opera scenes, with Belgian actress Lubna Azabal gamely playing an actress who is a Palestinian spy on the soap, are obvious in the best sense. There are shades of Martin Ritt’s THE FRONT (1976) and Woody Allen’s BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994), but Zoabi keeps the value of a TV series that is popular with both Palestinians and Israelis in perspective. Salam realizes that the soap opera lovers from opposite sides of the conflict cannot reconcile their warring brethren, but he grows as a person while opening Assi to possibilities beyond the borderline. TEL AVIV ON FIRE is a crowd-pleaser with a brain. (2018, 100 min, DCP Digital) MF
Tilman Singer’s LUZ (New German)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
“Lord in Heaven, why art thou such a dick?” This is the at times pessimistic, and oftentimes prophetic sentiment that rings through Tilman Singer’s debut feature like deafening church bells. LUZ, which takes its name from the film’s protagonist, follows a young cab driver (Luana Velis) as she grapples with an unsettling past that comes back to haunt her—namely an alluring and inescapable demonic force that infiltrates the body of an old girlfriend from Catholic school and starts to spread elsewhere. The notion of a typical possession story is turned on its head under Singer’s direction—elements of narrative and time are toyed with, re-written, and, at some moments, forgone altogether. Because of this major disruption of form, LUZ is hard to pin down and can be somewhat inaccessible, but this is balanced by a sense of familiarity—its influences remain clear as fragments of Argento, Cronenberg, and Fulci seep into each and every frame. The real standout element of LUZ is Singer’s masterful grasp of sound design; blending, echoing, and distorting the German and Spanish dialogue as well as creating a tense soundscape that evokes nails on a chalkboard. With LUZ, Singer is cementing himself as a director to watch very closely in the Midnight film space. (2019, 70 min, DCP Digital) CC
John Huston's THE MALTESE FALCON (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 7PM
Based on the novel by private detective-turned-writer Dashiell Hammett, John Huston's directorial debut not only launched the high-profile careers of Huston and star Humphrey Bogart but is widely considered one of the first examples of film noir. Bogart plays Sam Spade, a private eye who meets the enigmatic femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) and is then thrust into a world of mystery and intrigue on the search for a priceless ancient relic. The 'dingus' in question is a classic MacGuffin; the jewel-encrusted falcon statuette never appears on screen, and its value is far eclipsed by the pursuit. Spade is baffled by the maelstrom its rumored existence creates but goes along with the chase in search of vengeance for his murdered partner. Despite the onscreen turmoil, Huston fostered a stylistic continuity rare in any genre of filmmaking: except for a few night scenes, he shot the entire film in sequence, taking the viewer from Spade and Brigid's initial meeting to a bleak finale that anticipates the amoral quality of future film noirs. (1941, 101 min, 35mm) KS
Barbara Loden's WANDA (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm
Inspired by Jean-Luc Godard's BREATHLESS, the little-known, but very talented actress Barbara Loden wrote and directed her first and only film, WANDA, in 1970. Although she cast mostly nonprofessional actors for other roles, Loden herself stars as Wanda Goronski, a coal miner's wife who leaves her husband and children because she's "just no good." Put down as "Lover" and "Blondie" by other men she meets afterward, Wanda eventually takes up with a married bank robber (Michael Higgins) who tells her to call him Mr. Dennis, and they kill time on the road, running from the law through a landscape colored by distinctly American poverty. From a distance, the often expressionless, yet beautiful Wanda may appear like one of the lifeless mannequins that cinematographer Nicolas Proferes shoots in a department store; but Wanda is aware that she is a lost soul. Loden later described her partly autobiographical character: "She's trapped and she will never, ever get out of it and there are millions like her." Throughout this slow film of long takes, Wanda is always with some man or another, believing that she cannot take care of herself, that she is not a self. She finds herself in the hands of a criminal who only tolerates obedience, the same demand made of her by society. Loden's Wanda is both an impenetrable cipher and a fully embodied human being. She tells Mr. Dennis, "I don't have anything. Never did have anything, never will have anything." He bitterly responds, "That's stupid. You don't want anything, you won't have anything. You don't have anything, you're nothing. May as well be dead. You're not even a citizen of the United States." But while Wanda means nothing, it's not because she doesn't try. Society never gave her a chance. WANDA is a masterpiece of independent filmmaking that portrays what is rarely found onscreen—the true experience of a woman's life. (1970, 102 min, DCP Digital) CW
Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (New American)
Having finally arrived, Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD could not be any truer to its creator’s decades-long fascination and obsession with 1960’s and 70’s cinema, though it also feels slightly atypical for the director. Without giving anything away, the long blocks of back-and-forth dialogue that Tarantino usually indulges in have begun to give way to more preoccupation with staging, fourth-wall-breaking camera moves, and all around color, resulting in an ambling and evocative dreamscape rife with a whole host of characters. Atmosphere has never been so palpable and dialogue between characters so natural in a Tarantino film—there’s nary a monologue in sight. The film begins at the tail end of an era in Hollywood filmmaking in which rapidly-fading TV actor/cowboy “heavy" Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is seeing his career head towards Italy, specifically towards the cheap and fast genre films of Sergio Corbucci. Burt Reynolds went to Rome to work with Corbucci, Eastwood did the same for Sergio Leone, along with character actors like Lee Van Cleef, and so did one-time TV western stars like Ty Hardin (Rick Dalton is probably most similar to the latter). In the cases of Reynolds and Eastwood, their careers were revitalized by the Italian industry, but many others, like Hardin, were pushed further into obscurity. While watching his star power sputter out in what he perceives to be his twilight years, Dalton is accompanied by his sidekick/assistant/stunt man/reflective image Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who lives in a trailer behind a drive-in theater, while Dalton lives in a Benedict Canyon home (with pool, naturally). He lives next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and Manson family members are prowling around the streets of L.A., hollering at police officers and offering up blowjobs while they try to hitch back to their nesting grounds at the Spahn Ranch. Tarantino covers a lot of ground in ONCE UPON A TIME—an entire landscape of stories is on view, not dissimilar to something like Robert Altman’s NASHVILLE or even Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED. The film has a near three-hour running time, but three hours that have never seemed so short and compact in recent film memory. The movie has a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it pace, rare for a director who sometimes has a tendency to halt the rush of his work with overly bravura dialogue sequences. Tarantino seems to find fresh new ground within his already steadfast movie-making abilities, to let the scope of his powers extend further than previously thought possible. He barely pauses for the chance to show off his noted screenwriting abilities, and instead chooses to craft an ensemble work that somehow feels more epic than any of his films have ever felt; this is Los Angeles completely transformed back to the summer of 1969, in a way that only a very large budget and large talent could realize. It might possibly be one of the last times we see Hollywood bankroll such an ambitious project, by an auteur still powerful enough to retain final cut. ONCE UPON A TIME isn’t as cynical a look at Hollywood as other films have been (such as Altman’s THE PLAYER—even though it does share a curious opening shot). It’s more bittersweet nostalgia, and is perhaps Tarantino’s breeziest and best work to date; his entire career as a director bursts forth as both a marvelously crafted time-capsule and a fantasy-land-rendering of a mythical Hollywood, specifically the place where dreams, however real, are made. (2019, 165 min, 70mm/35mm/DCP Digital) JD
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) screens Matt Wechsler and Annie Speicher's 2019 documentary RIGHT TO HARM (81 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 7pm, with Wechsler and Speicher in person.
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 5 (2017-19, approx. 78 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 7:30pm. The curated program of local work includes films by Jennifer Boles, Jiayi Chen and Cameron Worden, Lonnie Edwards, Meredith Leich, Sebastián Pinzón Silva, Ashley Thompson, and Marisa Tolomeo.
The MCA Chicago screens an “extended director’s cut” of musician Solange Knowles’ 2019 film WHEN I GET HOME (Unconfirmed Running Time) on Saturday at 2pm. The film, produced in conjunction with Knowles’ recent album, was made with contributing directors Alan Ferguson, Terence Nance, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Ray Tintori. Free admission, but advance tickets are all claimed; limited additional walk-up tickets may be available.
The Rebuild Foundation at the Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Lamar Williams and Hugh King’s 1987 documentary BLACK AND BLUE (58 min), Eric Scholl, Cyndi Moran, and Peter Kuttner’s 1994 documentary THE END OF THE NIGHTSTICK (45 min), and the Newsreel collective’s 1968 short RIOT-CONTROL WEAPONS (NEWSREEL #9) (6 min) on Saturday at 7pm. Free admission.
PO Box Collective (6900 N. Glenwood Ave.) hosts the Korean Cinema Chicago screening of Yu Hyun-mok’s 1961 South Korean film THE AIMLESS BULLET (110 min, Video Projection) on Thursday at 7pm. Free admission.
The Beverly Arts Center screens Claudio Fragasso's 1990 film TROLL 2 (95 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 7:30pm.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Carlos Reygadas' 2018 Mexican/French/German film OUR TIME (177 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Thomas Lilti's 2018 French film THE FRESHMEN (92 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday at 2 and 6pm, Sunday at 2pm, and Wednesday at 6pm; and the Black Harvest Film Festival begins on Saturday at 7pm with the shorts program "A Black Harvest Feast." Also this week is Max Powers' documentary DON'T BE NICE, Jordan Riber's Tanzanian film FATUMA, Eric Friedler's German documentary IT MUST SCHWING! THE BLUE NOTE STORY, and the shorts programs "A Feast of Firsts" and "Family Matters." Check the Siskel website for details.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: William Dieterle's 1949 film THE ACCUSED (101 min, 35mm archival print) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Lynn Shelton's 2019 film SWORD OF TRUST (89 min, DCP Digital) and Andrew Slater’s 2018 documentary ECHO IN THE CANYON (82 min, DCP Digital) both continue.
The ReelAbilities Film Festival screens Jordan Melograna's 2019 documentary BOTTOM DOLLARS (55 min, Digital Projection) on Thursday at 6:30pm at Victory Gardens Theatre (2433 N. Lincoln Ave.). Followed by a reception/job networking. Admission is free. RSVP and more info at https://reelabilities.org/chicago.
The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Naoko Ogigami's 2007 Japanese film GLASSES (106 min, Video Projection) is on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
The Millennium Park Summer Film Series (at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion) presents two outdoor screenings this week: a kid's daytime screening of Pete Docter's 2015 animated film INSIDE OUT (102 min) is on Monday at 10:30am; and James Frawley's 1979 film THE MUPPET MOVIE (97 min) on Tuesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
CINE-LIST: August 2 - August 8, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Jeffrey Bivens, Rob Christopher, Cody Corrall, John Dickson, Marilyn Ferdinand, Candace Wirt