IN MEMORY OF ANDREA GRONVALL
Those of us at Cine-File were shocked and devastated to learn of the passing of long-time journalist, freelance Reader film critic, and former At the Movies producer Andrea Gronvall, who died of natural causes September 4. Andrea was a bedrock individual in the Chicago film community. Her career was marked by excellence, intelligence, and integrity, as well as tremendous respect from her colleagues. Andrea had an abiding love for film—she could write on any kind—and a deep and wide-ranging curiosity for many things beyond cinema. Others closer to her personally and professionally than I was have written better and more moving tributes (see Jonathan Rosenbaum’s notes on his blog and a remembrance by Andrea’s most recent Reader editor Aimee Levitt in the current issue), but we want to offer our own, however inadequate, thank you to Andrea, and to offer our condolences to those who were close to her.—Ed.
George Nierenberg’s SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY (Documentary Revival)
Music Box Theatre — Saturday and Sunday, 4pm
Come out and hear the good news! Come fly away. It's not every movie of which you can say that it can heal you, but George Nierenberg's 1982 documentary about African-American gospel music, SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY, is one of the most overwhelming, even ecstatic, filmgoing experiences. The film tells the story of two brave pioneers of gospel: Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of gospel music, in his 80s, and Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith, in her late 70s. And it documents two main events: a tribute concert to Mother Smith in St. Louis, and the annual National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses (held that year in Houston). This is the longest-running gospel singers' convention in the U.S., still going strong today, and Dorsey organized the very first one, at Chicago's Pilgrim Baptist Church in 1933. He thus provided a home for the discarded—we forget that preachers turned their backs on gospel singers, wouldn't let them sing that juke joint stuff in the sanctuary. In fact, one of the great services of this film is to remind us of just how controversial gospel music was when Professor Dorsey and Mother Smith started out. Dorsey's great innovation, as Mother Smith puts it, was to take the hymns and spirituals and pep them up, put a rhythm to them, and call it gospel. Dorsey himself began as a bluesman, playing piano with Ma Rainey, and he was one of the great, prolific writers, as well. (Heavy with years but absolutely unbowed, he is utterly captivating to watch, with his amazing expressions and conducting gestures.) As Mother Smith puts it, no one wrote songs as "hard-searching." He wrote "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" as a kind of prayer, "when he was discouraged and his spirit was broken," and Dorsey himself tells the shattering story of how this mighty song came to be, in the wake of the death of his wife and baby son. There are many wonderful musical moments along the way here, both formal and informal, ranging from around the dinner table to a storefront church on the South Side of Chicago. We also meet a younger generation of performers like Delores Barrett Campbell and the Barrett Sisters, Zella Jackson Price, and the O'Neal twins. They give the film the tone of a changing of the guard, of one generation passing the torch to the next, of one era being lost and another, uncertain one beginning. Nierenberg has said that Mother Smith in particular was really a co-collaborator on the film (she's almost a de facto narrator; we never hear or see Nierenberg). She welcomed him into her home, into her family. He got to know her kids and grandkids. This allows for some truly intimate moments, scenes of great warmth and humor. The trust he built up comes through onscreen. In planning the shoot, Nierenberg did a lot of preconceived set-ups. In contrast, his great cinematographers, Ed Lachman and Don Lenzer, come out of the in-the-moment, cinema vérité approach of the Maysles brothers. That meshing of tones—you might say of forethought and spontaneity—works its magic: the director has made sure the camera is in the right place to be a conduit for these stories as they unfold. We don't get many elegant crane or dolly shots, but what we do get is astonishing physical proximity to the performers. We feel their energy, the life force. Note how gracefully Nierenberg structures the film as interwoven stories, introducing characters and their struggles and family dynamics, who we then see intertwine during the musical performances. He gets priceless cutaway shots, moments of reaction and emotional connection and mutual love. Miraculously, he always has the sound he needs to go with them. Each camera had its own soundman, and it was all recorded in glorious 24-track. I love this movie. It stands with STOP MAKING SENSE and THE LAST WALTZ as one of the great American music films. It's a vision of survival and strength and community and strong women, and above all of just good people. "In my song, I try my best to lift the hearts of people," says Mother Smith. That inspired me. I needed it, particularly at a time when our faith in humanity gets tested on a daily basis. This is a celebration of the unconquerable human spirit, a movie to take you home, to fill and nourish your soul. Nierenberg and other guests in person at both shows. Each screening will be preceded by a live gospel performance from 4-4:30pm, with the film starting approximately 4:30pm. (1982, 100 min, DCP Digital) SP
Les Blank and Chris Strachwitz’s CHULAS FRONTERAS (Documentary Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 2pm, Sunday, 3pm, and Thursday, 8pm
A map showing the border towns along the Rio Grande, from El Paso/Cuidad Juarez in the west to Brownsville/Matamoros in the east, is how Les Blank and Chris Strachwitz stake out the territory that will be covered in their documentary CHULAS FRONTERAS (“beautiful borders” in Tejano slang). In filming another of his ethnographic musical journeys, Blank accompanies Strachwitz, a fan of the Norteña music of this region, to rallies, barbecues, cantinas, and concerts to record some of the practitioners of this narrative style, including Narciso Martinez, Flaco Jimenez, and Los Alegres de Teran. Norteña songs deal with love, work, and labor struggles (one centers on Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott of 1965-70). They often tell sad tales of police brutality and the homesickness of the migrant worker, yet there is a paradoxical joy in the singing and telling. Indeed, the women often get a kick out of the love songs where a faithless man gets his comeuppance. Blank films the son of a veteran accordion player learning to carry on the family tradition, a migrant worker who hopes his children will finish high school and lead a better life than he has, a woman picking the meat off of a cooked skull, a cockfight that ends when one of the birds runs away, and, always, dancing. I find that Blank’s films lift me up with their celebration of life honestly led and backgrounded by the authentic soundtrack of homegrown music. CHULAS FRONTERAS is very informative; more than that, CHULAS FRONTERAS is brimming with soul. Preceded by Blank and Maureen Gosling’s 1979 short DEL MERO CORAZÓN (29 min, DCP Digital), a deeper dive into Norteña love songs. (1976, 58 min, DCP Digital) MF
Rod Amateau’s DRIVE-IN (American Revival)
Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Wednesday, 7:30pm
As its title suggests, DRIVE-IN is centered on one of the eponymous outdoor cinemas, this one set in Texas, and follows the antics of various wacky individuals attending a screening of “Disaster ’76.” The film’s sprawling list of characters includes a young couple, two rival gangs, clergymen, an elderly mom with her son, and many others. However, all of these characters on screen are secondary to the film’s central goal: creating a loving homage to the moviegoing experience itself. Director Rod Amateau leaves no step in this process untouched; from the customers paying at the box office to the employees delightfully firing up the projector, DRIVE-IN reminds the viewer what a community event going to the movies used to feel like, especially in small towns and communities. Fittingly, it’s a film in which both everything and nothing happens. DRIVE-IN is full of delightful country hits and Texas vernacular, lending a certain regional charm. “Disaster ’76,” the film within the film, is the most exhilarating facet here, as it follows a man who just can’t seem to escape constant disasters befalling him: his plane is bombed, his boat overturned by a rogue wave, and a near-miss shark attack. It grips the attention of the customers, who remain oblivious to the hijinks taking place all around them. Consistently funny, although a little uneven at times, DRIVE-IN blends the nostalgia of AMERICAN GRAFFITI with small-town, Southern ambiance to create a love letter about going to the movies. Preceded by McQ: A CONDENSATION (c. 1974, 18 min, 35mm), by an unknown maker. (1976, 96 min, 35mm) KC
ABBAS KIAROSTAMI X 3 (Iranian Revivals)
Abbas Kiarostami’s HOMEWORK
Friday and Monday, 6pm
“It’s not really a film, more a piece of research.” So says an off-screen Abbas Kiarostami, with characteristic modesty, to an unseen passerby while filming the scene of children walking to school that opens this delightful and deceptively simple documentary. While Kiarostami is widely regarded as one of the giants of narrative cinema in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, his prolific side-career as a documentarian is less well-known due to the vagaries of international film distribution. This 1989 feature, which grew out of and serves as a companion piece to the director’s 1987 breakthrough masterpiece WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE?, is an ideal place for the uninitiated to start exploring his non-fiction work. The majority of the running time is devoted to direct-to-camera interviews with students from Tehran’s Shahid Masumi elementary school about the topic of homework; but the conversations between Kiarostami and his subjects gradually deepen so that the film eventually becomes an ethical inquiry into corporal punishment, poverty, illiteracy and the clash between tradition and modernity in post-revolutionary Iran. Kiarostami’s masterstroke here was to foreground the filmmaking process by occasionally cutting from close-ups of the children to “reverse angles” of the cinematographer who was filming them with a 16mm camera—and thus frequently reminding the viewer of exactly what these kids were seeing during the interviews. In a subtle but radical way, these “intrusive” shots invite us to empathize with the children, one of whom is terrified by the adult filmmaking team to the point of crying hysterically. That the film climaxes with an unexpectedly passionate recitation by this timid and reluctant interview subject is a testament to how Kiarostami was able to coax great performances out of children and non-actors alike. (1989, 78 min, DCP Digital) MGS
Abbas Kiarostami’s CLOSE-UP
Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 6pm
CLOSE-UP is an almost unclassifiable film: part documentary, part fiction, a film about fakery and the illusion of cinema, but an illusion that still resonates and weaves a story somehow that is deeply personal, moving, and tragic. An early Kiarostami work from 1990, CLOSE-UP revolves around a man named Hossein Sabzian who is obsessed with cinema, and especially with Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of the greatest directors of post-revolutionary Iranian cinema. Makhmalbaf's films THE CYCLIST and MARRIAGE OF THE BLESSED (the plot of which draws an interesting parallel to CLOSE-UP, which would require a much longer discussion) have made a deep impression on Sabzian. In a tale that is baffling and complex, Sabzian is mistaken for Makhmalbaf on a bus by Mrs. Ahankhah, a woman whose sons are both obsessed with the cinema as well. Sabzian bizarrely decides to impersonate Makhmalbaf and pretends that he would like to shoot a film starring the Ahankhah brothers, and is later found out and arrested. Kiarostami learned of Sabzian’s impersonation and his upcoming trial through a short news story and became obsessed. After a sleepless night, Kiarostami asked his producer if he could postpone his next film and shoot Sabzian's trial instead. Writing the script and designing the film concurrent with the 40 days of shooting allowed Kiarostami to create something that melds documentary and fiction in a way that calls into question the very limits and possibilities of cinema. We watch Sabzian on trial in extreme close-up for long, excruciating, vulnerable minutes, as he confesses his motives for impersonating Makhmalbaf, and the wounded Ahankhah brothers complain about their betrayal. Miraculously, Kiarostami got the judge to agree to let him film the trial, and in an especially fascinating turn, Kiarostami becomes an integral part of the trial, something of a prosecutor, asking probing off-screen questions interspersed with the judge's on-screen fact-finding. Before the trial we see re-enactments of Sabzian's arrest starring all of the real people involved, including the journalist who broke the story and the deceived family, and throughout the trial we cut to further re-enactments of Sabzian on the bus with Mrs. Ahankhah and in the family’s home. In an especially poignant scene closing the film, Kiarostami arranges for the real Makhmalbaf to meet Sabzian as he leaves the prison, but deliberately does not warn Sabzian in advance—Kiarostami's manipulation of actors in his films is a source of valid criticism, but elicits unforgettable cinematic moments, much like Dreyer's brutal treatment of Maria Falconetti in THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, a film I am always reminded of when I experience the intensity of CLOSE-UP on a big screen. Makhmalbaf drives Sabzian to the Ahankhah's house on his motorcycle (in a very long shot—the close-ups seem deliberately saved for Sabzian, not the real Makhmalbaf), and Kiarostami and crew follow in what seems to be the most verité-style shooting of the entire film. But with Kiarostami, nothing is ever what it seems: interviews with the filmmaker reveal that Kiarostami deliberately cut out the sound and masked the silence with a plot device, because Makhmalbaf's conversation was too "sentimental" and "ruined" the ending. Like all of Kiarostami's work, CLOSE-UP is at once a story about an individual and also a collective documentary-fiction about the nature and limits of truth and reality, class struggle, the role of the director and spectator in manipulating narrative...honestly, every time I watch this movie I find new themes emerge. The spiraling nature of the meta-narrative rewards every re-viewing. And much like his other works, CLOSE-UP is both beautiful to watch and beautiful to listen to: each frame and sound is thoughtfully orchestrated and considered. For the rest of his life, Kiarostami talked about CLOSE-UP as his most personal work, and one of his best. This reviewer agrees. (1990, 98 min, 35mm) AE
Also showing is Abbas Kiarostami’s 1984 documentary FIRST GRADERS (1984, 84 min, DCP Digital) on Saturday at 5pm.
Issa López’s TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (New Mexican Horror)
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes
After ten-year-old Estrella accidentally summons the ghost of her murdered mother using a piece of magical wishing chalk her teacher gave her as their class huddled on the ground during a shootout—no, wait. Let me back up. Mexican director Issa López is a huge success in her native land but is mostly unknown in the US. This is likely going to change with the critical and popular reception of her third feature, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID, which has garnered several festival awards and enthusiastic tweets from horror luminaries including Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro (the latter is producing Lopez’s next film). Those two are good touchstones for an understanding of approximately what you’re getting into with this film, a story of the bonds of childhood friendship tested by horrific human and supernatural events. Set against the very real horrors of the drug wars in Mexico, which have orphaned tens of thousands of children, the film follows a group of orphans—Lost Boys (and a girl) who never grow up because their parents have been murdered—on the run from drug dealers and vengeful ghosts through a hellish Neverland of industrial decay. The film careens between whimsy (graffiti that comes alive), gotcha moments punctuated by instrumental blasts, moments of wonder (the kids exploring an abandoned luxury apartment complex), and both mundane and supernatural threats as the gang members close in and the wishes of the undead become clearer. Narrative and thematic cohesion aren’t prominently featured on the menu, but there are frights aplenty, perhaps the biggest of which is that apart from the supernatural elements, the film probably doesn’t stray too far from reality for some kids. (2017, 83 min., DCP Digital) MWP
Dziga Vertov's THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (Silent Soviet Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 3:45 pm and Tuesday, 6pm
Wanna watch a conference of film scholars descend into fisticuffs? Raise your hand, and politely ask whether early film audiences really found the illusion of cinema so convincing that they ran away in terror at the image of an oncoming train on the screen. The siren song of the stupefied bumpkin—the useful and profound myth that cannot be disproved or killed—is on my mind again, having just seen Dziga Vertov's MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA for the seventh or eighth time. I finally recognized that this monumental documentary is almost designed for that bewildered spectator—it's a completely idiomatic explication of cinema theory, as readily understood by an illiterate kolkhoz dweller as a Westernized urban sophisticate. (Or, for that matter, a moderately socialized chimpanzee or an alien race from points beyond.) This is not just another way of saying that MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA disavows intertitles—an esthete conceit shared with other silent films like F.W. Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH and Arthur Robison's WARNING SHADOWS. No, THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA patiently, painstakingly demonstrates cinema from bottom to top—analogizing the camera lens with the eye, comparing an editing bench to a sewing machine, rhyming a vial of film cement with a bottle of nail polish, motion slowed down, motion stopped. We see the cameraman shooting a scene, then his footage in the raw, then the footage cut together to form a sequence—albeit not necessarily in that order and not without a few digressions. And yes, more than a few locomotives hurtle towards us—and with mounting, seizure-inducing rhythm as the movie concludes in an orgy of rapid cuts, flash frames, and call-backs. But by then, we're no longer the audience running away, but the train racing toward it. We've been absorbed into the machine, its logic naturalized, its violence merged with our own. THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA teaches us to think like a camera, to understand our own lives with greater exactitude and objectivity as we watch them projected back at us. Film critic and artist Fred Camper lectures at the Tuesday screening; live piano accompaniment by Dave Drazin also at the Tuesday screening. (1929, 68 min, DCP Digital) KAW
Richard D. Maurice’s ELEVEN P.M. (Silent American Revival)
“This story revolves around the strange imagination of a young writer,” promises an early title card of this late-period silent—one of the revelations of Kino Lorber’s Pioneers of African-American Cinema box set—and what follows definitely lives up to that assertion. ELEVEN P.M. flits between several sets of characters and across over a dozen years, yet the pieces are held together by a highly developed dream logic that at times suggests a proto-Buñuelian sensibility. Most people writing on the movie feel compelled to mention that it climaxes with the hero turning into a dog to exact revenge on his enemy, but what’s even stranger than this detail is how snugly it fits with the sincere melodrama and gritty urban portraiture. Writer-director Richard D. Maurice, a Cuban-born jack-of-all-trades who made a couple of features in 1920s Detroit, communicates a love of storytelling that makes any development feel appropriate, no matter how outlandish it may seem on the page; he also exhibits an ambitious visual sensibility that incorporates some of the most sophisticated techniques of 20s cinema. And by the evidence of this film, he was a rather good actor as well; his performance here—as an altruistic street musician named Sundaisy—is affecting without being cloying. Too bad Maurice’s only other known feature, NOBODY’S CHILDREN (1920), is presumed lost. ELEVEN P.M. reveals a perspective that’s not only unique to race movies, but to movies, period. Live accompaniment by Jay Warren. (1928, 56 min, Digital Projection) BS
Judith Helfand’s COOKED: SURVIVAL BY ZIP CODE (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes
As much as we’d like to think that we become unified—"one nation, under god"—when disaster strikes, it would seem, as evidenced by Judith Helfand’s insightful documentary, the Kartemquin-produced COOKED: SURVIVAL BY ZIP CODE, that we can’t even agree on what constitutes a disaster. The film puts into perspective, and ultimately contradicts, the seemingly undivided approach we take with regards to calamities, the responses to which, for better or worse (probably worse), have come to characterize our nation. Drawing inspiration from Eric Klineberg’s book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Helfand uses her family’s experience during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to consider the 1995 Chicago heat wave, when over 700 people, largely older minorities, died. She doesn’t pull her punches—that’s to say, she addresses the situation head-on, explaining the real reasons why so many people died during this little-recognized disaster, chief among them segregation and poverty. (Many of those affected didn’t have air conditioning or even windows, or, if they did have windows, were afraid to open them because of crime.) Far and above this disaster, Helfand examines how we as a nation address these events—including ‘disasters’ which are generally excluded from the definition, specifically those, such as segregation and poverty, that primarily affect non-white populations. Much like documentary-provocateur Michael Moore (but more humbly so), Helfand investigates the inanity surrounding the emergency management industry, one that makes millions, if not billions, of dollars catering to people for whom disaster is merely a hypothetical scenario, but who have the resources to prepare themselves against speculation. Also guilty of this is our own government, which likewise spends significant amounts of taxpayer money preparing for the most random disasters. Case in point: a painfully detailed training exercise Helfand stumbles across here in Chicago, testing out capabilities in preparation against… tornadoes. In and around Chicago—which, the film elucidates, kill on average one person per year. Meanwhile, federal and local governments continue to disinvest from rectifying or even preventing disasters affecting vulnerable populations. Helfand maps out—literally—how the most pervasive disasters, things like gun violence, school closures, and heart disease, affect certain areas, and how something as insubstantial as one’s zip code can be a matter of life or death. “If black people in Chicago had the same death rates as white people, 3,200 fewer black people, in just one year, would have died,” Steve Whitman, former Director of Epidemiology for the City of Chicago from 1990 to 2000 (and who quit because of said inequality), tells a group of people at a public health teach-in. “What number is 3,200?,” he asks. “A very prominent number, in currency, in this country.” Upon someone in the audience understanding his train of thought, he confirms: “The number of people who died on 9/11. Now just think about our response to 9/11. Literally billions, even trillions of dollars spent, and yet here’s 3,000 deaths in just one [year]. Ten years, that’s 32,000 deaths. Just from racism in the city of Chicago.” Whitman is one among several erudite interviewees who speak passionately about their respective area of expertise. Contrast any of them with Brigadier General John W. Heltzel, Deputy Commander of the Kentucky National Guard, who, after launching a full-scale earthquake emergency response exercise (and using the “bootstraps” adage without irony), says, perhaps insincerely, “Now, if you change the laws, and we get people to agree that we want to change the world we live in, kind of the holy grail, right? Go for it. I’m right behind you.” (Can a camera roll its eyes?) Helfand, having previously won a Peabody Award for her film A HEALTHY BABY GIRL, as well as being nominated for a host of other awards, organizes all the information expertly, with her own curiosity and fervor on display. Hers become an almost philosophical investigation into the concept of disaster, suggesting that those that affect us the most aren’t always natural, but rather man-made, disasters of our own making. (2018, 82 min, DCP Digital) KS
David Schalliol’s THE AREA (New Documentary)
Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.) - Saturday, 7pm
David Schalliol’s THE AREA follows community matriarch-cum-activist Deborah Payne as she crusades to save her neighborhood from mass demolition at the hands of the Norfolk Southern Railway corporation. The title refers to an 85-acre residential pocket of Englewood surrounding Payne’s home near 57th and Normal that’s scheduled to be bulldozed for the purposes of an intermodal freight hub, i.e. a glorified parking lot for shipping containers. Schalliol, a photographer and sociologist by trade who possesses a canny eye for architectural portraiture, is careful to eschew the ruin porn aesthetic in which dilapidated structures are treated as pure spectacle devoid of any contextual information about the socioeconomic forces that led to their demise. In one of the film’s most poetic shots, two houses are juxtaposed side by side: one in sound condition, the other abandoned, shuttered, and in the midst of dismantlement. It’s a stark contrast that symbolizes the conflicting perceptions of Englewood itself—there’s the nightly news caricature of Englewood, reducible to poverty and gun violence, and there’s the actual Englewood that’s home to a community of people. Indeed, THE AREA is deeply rooted in a sense of place, so much so that we’re often told the precise intersection or address where a scene is unfolding, and, like THE INTERRUPTERS and 70 ACRES IN CHICAGO before it, this is an urgent and compelling documentary about a dimension of city that’s rarely seen on the big screen. Though the scope here is hyperlocal, the themes of political apathy, corporate avarice, and the disenfranchisement of a minority community extend well beyond the parameters of the Area. Faced with the encroachment of the railroad company, some residents enthusiastically take buyouts; others want to stay, but aren’t given much of a choice. In order to execute their land grab, Norfolk Southern employs dubious tactics like enacting eminent domain, which allows the government to acquire private property and transfer it to a third party, and persuading at least one homeowner not to pay her mortgage in order to facilitate a “short sale.” Moreover, as a result of the entire neighborhood getting razed, residents are exposed to a slew of environmental hazards, including increased diesel emissions and gas leaks, bringing to mind Chicago’s recent pet coke scandal, the Flint, MI, water crisis, and countless other instances of environmental racism. At a town hall meeting, a Norfolk Southern representative argues that, “What we have to do is we have to balance the business imperative with our desire for the environmental need,” unaware or indifferent to the fact that these are diametrically opposed agendas. What bothers Payne most isn’t the inevitable railroad takeover, but the lack of respect for the families being displaced. Despite the efforts of a collective bargaining coalition and help from community organizations, homes inside the Area, which total around 400 at the outset, continue to dwindle until the film reaches its tragic conclusion. What’s missing, perhaps, is an in-depth interview with Norfolk Southern or 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran, who endorses the sale of land in an about-face, in which they are taken to task for the fallout from their actions; the documentary, however, is less concerned with hard-hitting investigative journalism and more with chronicling Payne’s personal struggle. On its surface, THE AREA might seem like a tale of defeat, but this is ultimately a story about resistance, resilience, and collectivism. As Payne reflects near the end, “I feel good that we stood up to people who thought they could do anything…I think that it made me a better person.” (2018, 93 min, Digital Projection) HS
Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (American Revival)
MCA Chicago - Friday, 7pm
The narrator of Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is more than just a character in the story—she’s a symbolic representation of the film itself. The unborn child who tells the tale of the Peazant family in their last days before migrating north is as much a reflection of the past as she is of the future; all that has come before her is as intrinsic as the blood in her relatives' veins, and it's that history which propels them along trying and changing times. The Peazant family are inhabitants of the southern Sea Islands and members of its Gullah culture, having preserved the identity of their African heritage in spite of institutional slavery and post-war oppression. Before the move, the matriarch of the Peazant family contemplates her native beliefs while the family's younger members overcome their personal struggles. Rape and prostitution afflict several of them, and scorn from both society and their own clan present the unique obstacles of African-American women within an already disparaged race. Beyond its plot, Dash brilliantly uses magical realism as a filmmaking device that’s reflective of the characters' ethereal culture. It was the first feature-length film by an African-American woman to receive theatrical release, and its historical context and female-oriented storyline set it apart from other films of the time and other films put out by fellow members of the L.A. Rebellion. (1991, 112 min, Digital Projection) KS
Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (New American)
Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes
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, 35mm—except for the 4:30 and 8pm Tuesday and Wednesday shows, which are DCP Digital) JD
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival opens on Thursday at the Music Box Theatre with Cédrick Govare and Maxime Le Gallo’s 2018 French comedy THE SHINY SHRIMPS, and continues through Sunday, September 29 at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema and Chicago Filmmakers. More info and complete schedule at https://reelingfilmfestival.org.
The Chicago South Asian Film Festival opens on Thursday and continues through Sunday, September 22, with screenings at the ShowPlace ICON, Venue Six10, and DePaul University. More info and full schedule at www.csaff.org.
The Chicago Film Society and the Music Box Theatre (at the Music Box) screen Sam Taylor’s 1926 silent Harold Lloyd comedy FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE (57 min, 35mm) on Saturday at 11:30am. Preceded by Hal Roach’s 1920 silent Lloyd short AN EASTERN WESTERNER (23 min, 35mm). With live accompaniment by Dennis Scott.
The Nightingale presents Nicolas Rey’s 2012 French experimental feature DIFFERENTLY, MOLUSSIA (81 min, 16mm) on Thursday at 7pm at Cinema Borealis (1550 N. Milwaukee Ave.), with Rey in person.
Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria St., UIC) and Universidad Popular (2801 S. Hamlin Ave.) each present a screening of Viktor Jakovleski’s 2017 Mexican/US documentary BRIMSTONE & GLORY (67 min, Digital Projection). It screens on Saturday at 10am at Universidad Popular and on Thursday at 6pm at Gallery 400.
The Rebuild Foundation at the Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.) screens Jimmy O’Halligan’s 2008 documentary ANGOLA 3: BLACK PANTHERS AND THE LAST SLAVE PLANTATION (109 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 4pm. Free admission.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema presents four screenings this week: Kang Hyeong-Chul’s 2018 South Korean film SWING KIDS (133 min, Digital Projection) is a free screening on Saturday at 2pm at the Illinois Institute of Technology; also free at IIT on Sunday at 10:30am is Zhang Yimou’s 2018 Chinese film SHADOW (116 min, Digital Projection); Huo Meng’s 2018 Chinese film CROSSING THE BORDER (94 min, Digital Projection) is on Wednesday at 7pm at River East 21, with Huo Meng in person; and on Thursday at River East 21 is Song Wen’s 2018 Chinese film THE ENIGMA OF THE ARRIVAL (112 min, Digital Projection), with Song Wen and actress Gu Xuan in person.
The Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema presents the world premiere of Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen’s 2019 French miniseries THE REAL ESTATE AGENT (Unconfirmed Running Time, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 7:30pm at the Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.), with co-director Keret in person. The event includes a reception and tickets are $36.
The Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Pickwick Theatre, 5 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) screens Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (149 min, DCP Digital) on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm, with actor Kier Dullea in person pre-show at 7pm. (a $75 meet-and-greet event with Dullea runs from 4:30-5:45pm.)
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Milko Lazarov’s 2018 Bulgarian film ÁGA (93 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Morgan Spurlock’s 2017 documentary SUPER SIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN! (93 min, DCP Digital) continues a two-week run; and Jeanine Isabel Butler’s 2019 documentary AMERICAN HERETICS: THE POLITICS OF THE GOSPEL (85 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 5pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Kirill Mikhanovsky’s 2019 film GIVE ME LIBERTY (111 min, DCP Digital) opens, with Mikhanovsky and co-screenwriter Alice Austen in person at the 7pm Friday show; Derrick Borte’s 2018 film AMERICAN DREAMER (93 min, DCP Digital) is on Monday at 7pm, with Borte, actor Jim Gaffigan, and producer Scott Lochmus in person; Peter Strickland’s 2018 UK horror film IN FABRIC (118 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 7pm; Shinichiro Ueda’s 2017 Japanese comedy-horror film ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (96 min, DCP Digital) is on Thursday at 9:45pm; David Butler’s 1953 Doris Day film CALAMITY JANE (101 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 11:30am; and David Schmoeller’s 1979 horror film TOURIST TRAP (90 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Lindsey Cordero and Armando Croda’s 2019 US/Mexican documentary I’M LEAVING NOW (75 min, Video Projection) has a week-long run.
CINE-LIST: September 13 - September 19, 2019
MANAGING EDITOR // Patrick Friel
ASSOCIATE EDITORS // Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal
CONTRIBUTORS // Kyle Cubr, John Dickson, Alexandra Ensign, Marilyn Ferdinand, Scott Pfeiffer, Michael W. Phillips, Jr., Harrison Sherrod, Michael Glover Smith