Interview with Christina Rice – Author of “Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel”

April 24th, 2014 by Patrick

June 23 and 24, the Northwest Chicago Film Society and the Park Ridge Classic Film Series present two classic films starring Ann Dvorak, with Dvorak’s biographer Christina Rice on hand to discuss her new book, Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. On June 23 at the Patio Theater (6008 W. Irving Park Rd.), the Northwest Chicago Film Society present a 35mm print of Michael Curtiz’s 1932 pre-code crime drama THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN <http://cine-file.info/list-archive/2014/APR-14-3.html> , and June 24, the Park Ridge Classic Film Series (at the Pickwick Theatre, 5 S Prospect Ave, Park Ridge, IL) will show Howard Hawks’ 1932 classic SCARFACE.

We spoke with Christina Rice about her book, her continued fascination with Ann Dvorak, and what could’ve been for the forgotten rebel had she played it safe.

Kathleen Sachs: Over the past year I’ve written about HEAT LIGHTNING and MASSACRE for Cine-File, and I was also very taken with Ann Dvorak. In your book, you mentioned how and why you got into her. Would you care to go more in-depth as to what it was about Ann in particular that made you fall in love with her?

Christina Rice: The first film I ever saw of hers…this was gosh, maybe 1995…was THREE ON A MATCH. I checked it out from my local library hoping to spend an hour watching a fun film, and that would be it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so blindsided by a performance the way I was with Ann. I subsequently watched her in SCARFACE and G MEN with James Cagney not realizing she was in those, but there she was. I kept running into this actress who was just beautiful and her acting seemed more contemporary and I was curious as to why she wasn’t a bigger star. At the time I very naively assumed every film actor had a book written about them because anytime I wanted to read about Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Errol Flynn, they all had books about them. When I went to find a book about Ann, there wasn’t anything. So eventually, I decided if nobody’s going to research this actress, then I should be the one to do it. Never guessing it would take me 15 years to actually accomplish that, but it did.

KS: What is your favorite role of Ann’s, and if not the same as the role you think is her best, which would you think is her best and why?

CR: My personal favorite is THREE ON A MATCH because that was the role that introduced me to her. That’s usually the one I recommend for people. I think that’s probably my personal favorite. As far as her best….I think Cesca Camonte in SCARFACE. That’s actually a really strong role. And Mary Ashlon in a 1950 MGM film, A LIFE OF HER OWN. She’s in it for about 10 minutes and she really walks away with that movie. I honestly think that’s the one film she should have gotten an Oscar nomination for.

KS: Per your book and your blog, you have an impressive collection of Ann Dvorak memorabilia. What has it been like amassing a collection of memorabilia for an actress who, as your book title suggests, has unfortunately been largely forgotten by film history?

CR: That was actually how I really got started. I was interested in Ann, but I also realized that I could afford to collect on her. I couldn’t afford to collect on the Marx Brothers, but I could afford to collect on Ann because nobody else was. It didn’t matter how low-budget the movie was, there was still a ton of memorabilia that was produced- lobby cards, photos, posters. For me to amass the collection that I have really wasn’t that difficult because I never had much competition. At this point it’s pretty substantial. I have over 1500 pictures of her, hundreds of posters and lobby cards. I don’t find stuff as much as I used to, but even though the book’s done, I’m still buying stuff whenever I find it.

KS: I went through your blog and saw that even after the book was published, you were showing some photos you found after the fact, so it seems like there’s still so much out there. And also about Ann’s mother, Anna Lehr, it seems like every so often there’s a new discovery with her. [Ann’s mother, Anna Lehr, was also an actress who notably appeared in Will Rogers’ first film, LAUGHING BILL HYDE.)

CR: It’s not as often as I’d like, being a collector. Being a collector is kind of a weird, defensive thing. It’s almost like being a junkie, I guess. I’m dying to find new things, and I don’t find as much as I used to, but yeah, I also do what I call my fringe collecting by buying thing related to Anna Lehr, her mom.

KS: As detailed in your book, Ann certainly had a very interesting life and even if she sometimes sacrificed her career to live it, it makes her different than most other starlets in that her professional life wasn’t so glamorous, but her personal life was lived to the fullest. It’s not a question persay, but I’d like to get your input on what it was like for an up-and-coming starlet to lose out on fame and fortune because she instead chose to have a fulfilling personal life. [This question mostly references Ann’s first marriage to actor Leslie Fenton, who starred with her in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN. During their 13-year marriage, Ann walked out on her contract with Warner Bros. to take an extended honeymoon in Europe and later joined Fenton overseas when he enlisted in the British Royal Navy during World War 2.]

CR: Ann started off as a chorus girl at MGM, and she did that for about two and a half years and grew very frustrated with it and wanted to move up and have better roles. MGM didn’t give her anything, but the first big role she did end up getting was SCARFACE. But I think she’s different from a lot of those starlets in that she had this kind of A-list spotlight role right out of the gate. And even though she worked her tail off as a chorus girl for a couple of years, I don’t know if maybe fame and some legitimacy as an actress made it seem a little bit too easy for her, which is why she didn’t have a problem turning her back on it. If I could ever ask Ann a question, that’s one I’d ask: was it worth it? Was it worth cashing in your professional career to have this offscreen life? That was something I never thought I would have the opportunity to have answered, but in that same collection of items I bought that included the honeymoon scrapbook, there was a journal from 1977, which was about two years before Ann died, and there was only one entry in this journal, but in it she is looking back at her life and actually expresses a great deal of regret at not having the career she should have had. It was definitely a tradeoff. I don’t know if it was a great tradeoff, I don’t know if she thought it was a great tradeoff, but it was the trade off that she made. It made for very good storytelling as well. At least there was that. Ann wasn’t boring, that’s for sure.

Visit Christina Rice’s blog (http://www.anndvorak.com/) on Ann Dvorak.

Cine-List – 11/15 – 11/21/2013

November 15th, 2013 by Patrick

11/15/2013-11/21/2013

CRUCIAL VIEWING

Cine-Manifest’s NORTHERN LIGHTS (American Independent Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3:15 and 7:45pm; Monday, 6pm
We usually assume that American radicalism reached its cultural peak in the late 1960s. Certainly that moment’s rapid breakdown of the sexual, racial, and political status quo merits prolonged study, but the aftermath too often receives short shrift. We treat the 1970s as a blinkered hangover on the road to Reaganism—a retreat that saw the hard hats put the feminists back in their place while the hippies themselves discovered the bourgeois pleasures of sobriety and the corporate boardroom. To judge by my record collection—which includes such contemporary artifacts as the Lesbian Concentrate compilation, the pioneering proto-rap of the Watts Prophets and the Last Poets, the awesome debut LP from Red Shadow (The Economics Rock ‘n’ Roll Band), and a number of albums from explicitly anti-capitalist labels like Paredon and Rounder—this era has been misapprehended. While the forces of reaction were indeed gaining strength, the period also saw a remarkable amount of grassroots activism and left-wing art-making. The slogans and psychedelia of the ’60s yielded a political vocabulary that had become quietly commonplace at church basements, union halls, community workshops, film societies, and dinner tables in the ’70s. Newly normalized feminist, Marxist, and post-colonial modes of analysis helped millions of people better grasp their everyday lives before these frameworks became the almost-exclusive province of academe. Which brings us, in a roundabout fashion, to NORTHERN LIGHTS—the absolutely essential independent feature that resurrected the history of North Dakota’s turn-of-the-century Nonpartisan League, the socialist farmer’s group spearheaded largely by poor Scandinavian immigrants. That a San Francisco-based collective managed to scrounge up public monies to reignite this particular Prairie Fire further testifies to the ideological complexity of the late ’70s. Screened on public television and projected extensively around the Midwest, NORTHERN LIGHTS epitomizes this forgotten chapter of unassuming radicalism. Although it somewhat resembles its contemporary DAYS OF HEAVEN in its milieu and its awe, NORTHERN LIGHTS is a closer descendant of the European strain of materialist period cinema exemplified by Bresson’s LANCELOT DU LAC, Brownlow and Mollo’s WINSTANLEY, and Rossellini’s history films. Like those films, NORTHERN LIGHTS treats historical milestones with present-tense aloofness, with the stirrings of revolution embroidered into the unremarkable daily slog. Few serious-minded films possess the confidence to interrupt their history lessons with scenes of yesterday’s heroes pawing at each other like horny greyhounds, but again, NORTHERN LIGHTS is something special. (1978, 95 min, Newly Restored 35mm Print) KAW

More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.

 

Sex, Love, Pain: Works by Jennifer Chan (New Media)
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) – Saturday, 8pm
Jennifer Chan’s work is for everyone, in as much as the internet is for everyone. The ten pieces screening in the Sex, Love, Pain program run the gamut from commentary on international economics in INFINITE DEBT to explorations of art history in NEW AMERICAN CLASSIC to a literally two-word joke in CAT EARS, and roll through references at a breakneck pace. The work is eminently enjoyable, and easy to watch, but really processing it is surprisingly difficult. The cheesy editing, conspicuous consumption, and sexual navel-gazing that are the substance of much of the internet serve as trappings in Chan’s work, obscuring the ideas she is focused on, while illustrating them perfectly. It’s as though we’ve seen so much internet chaff that we can no longer consider the possibility that any wheat remains; we can hardly remember that wheat was once the object of our sowing. This anticipation of video uselessness finds its fullest voice in YOUNG MONEY, an eight-minute send-up of internet dudes: their pizza-loving, bong-smoking, horndog-ness that has so many substantive jokes it’s actual content is nearly as limitless as its veneer. Yet the film starts with a record of a glitchy Skype conversation (about pizza and weed, natch) that feels so natural (or realistic, since nothing on Skype feels natural) that it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting your eyes glaze over and accept the reality of what you see. This is one of Chan’s many strengths: letting the medium specificity of the internet work its insidious magic so that her work can be seen as either the smart critique that it is, or as an odd example of one of the tropes it sends up. Seeing this work out of its context (say, projected live in a screening with other viewers) is an ideal way to focus on the slippery nature of what it’s trying to tell you, and with Chan in-person (as she will be on Saturday) this is a great opportunity to ask her at least what one of her own videos asks: “Is your work sexy and dumb enough?” Chan in person. (2010-13, approx. 55 min total, Digital Projection) CAM

More info at http://nightingalecinema.org.

 

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI (Taiwanese/Japanese Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Monday, 7pm
Is it surprising that Hou Hsiao-hsien should pivot from a series of films exploring the reverberations of Taiwanese history (CITY OF SADNESS; GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN) to one of the most insular, claustrophobic, and beguiling period films ever made? Set in a high-end brothel towards the end of the 19th century, FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI refuses assimilation, refuses any convenient context or trajectory. (To paraphrase Joyce, history is a nightmare from which no one particularly cares to awake.) Perhaps its true place is alongside the virtuoso, set-bound films of earlier era: Sternberg’s THE SHANGHAI GESTURE and ANATAHAN, or Fejos’ BROADWAY. Despite its languorous obscurity, FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI exercised a profound influence over the festival cinema of the decade that followed: Wong’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE abandoned the hyperkinetic style of Christopher Doyle for the slow-burning ambiance of cinematographer Mark Ping Bin Lee, the place-bound rigor echoed throughout Tsai’s GOODBYE DRAGON INN and Nolot’s PORN THEATER, and Bonnello’s L’APOLLONIDE was essentially an R&B remix. Viewed today, FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI also seems like a particularly stubborn tribute to the hard physicality of celluloid itself—a delicately choreographed reverie of 19th century wonder with a world of unspeakable sex and violence just outside the frame. (1998, 125 min, 35mm) KAW

More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.

 

 

ALSO RECOMMENDED

VANISHING NEIGHBORHOODS
Comfort Station (2579 N Milwaukee Ave) – Tuesday, 7:30pm (Free Admission)
Vanishing Neighborhoods is a program of three short films from the 60s and 70s, each dealing with issues of gentrification, demolition, and neighborhood change in Chicago. Kartemquin Films’ NOW WE LIVE IN CLIFTON (1974, 26 min, 16mm) is a documentary that explores the encroachment of DePaul University into surrounding West Lincoln Park through the perspective of children who are being displaced by the expansion. The kids speak with a surprising clarity about the radical changes happening around them. (Collectively directed by Jerry Blumenthal, Alphonse Blumenthal, Susan Delson, Sharon Karp, Peter Kuttner, Gordon Quinn, and Richard Schmiechen.) Stewart Hagmann and Maria Moraltes’ KALI NIHTA, SOCRATES (Good Night, Socrates; 1963, 34 min, 16mm) is a short narrative lamenting the destruction of a block in Greektown. The film features beautiful black and white photography of no longer existing sections of the area and a bizarre and unintentionally funny early 60s narration. DeWitt Beall’s A PLACE TO LIVE (1968, 28 min, 16mm) is the odd man out in the trio: a film sponsored by the Department of Urban Renewal which sings the praises of slum clearance and relocation. “Vanishing Neighborhoods” is co-presented by Preservation Chicago, the Chicago Film Archives, and Kartemquin Films. (1963-74, 88 min total, 16mm) ML

More info at www.chicagofilmarchives.org.

 

Todd Haynes’ I’M NOT THERE (American Revival)

Doc Films (University of Chicago) – Thursday, 9:15pm

I’ve long felt locked out of Bob Dylan’s enchanted garden, prevented from entering by the quality of his voice that’s a little like having your nose hairs pulled, and by the imposing bulk of his catalog. It always seemed I’d have to be a dogmatic digger if I was going to be a lover of Dylan. That is, until I accepted Todd Haynes’ generous invitation of a film, I’M NOT THERE. Haynes has always bravely followed his own idiosyncratic taste, trusting that his enthusiasm for cryptic public figures and suffering housewives will welcome viewers to places they wouldn’t find alone. Instead of telling The Story of Bob Dylan, Haynes uses his own mastery of the Dylan discography and biographical trivia as a starting-off point to dream, riff, theorize, and tinker with the mechanics of a pop-culture myth. He offers six flavors of narrative, each its own aesthetic world, ranging from a Behind-the-Music send-up with cameos by Julianne Moore and Kim Gordon to a baroque country-western hallucination that conjures gruesome lyrical metaphor as reality. Ambiguous sexuality, a bigger theme for Haynes than for Dylan, propels the film throughout, from Cate Blanchett’s stunning lothario Dylan to the girl-dog named Henry. An interrogated character named Arthur Rimbaud (BRIGHT STAR’s Ben Wishaw) performs a list called “seven simple rules for life in hiding,” the last of which is “never create anything. It will be misinterpreted. It will chain you and follow you for the rest of your life. And it will never change.” I’M NOT THERE is a gleeful explosion of this grumpy outlook; Dylan’s entire public life is the raw material, but Haynes uses his own passions and fascinations to free both Dylan and viewer from the burden of ‘the truth,’ and welcome them into a bigger world. (2007, 135 min, 35mm) JF


More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.

 

Mike Gray and Howard Alk’s AMERICAN REVOLUTION 2 (Documentary Revival)

Intuit (756 N. Milwaukee Ave.) – Thursday, 6pm

Early footage of the violence of the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests turns to the comparatively quieter world of revolutionary discourse, capturing the wide array of progressive talk in groups large and small in neighborhoods around Chicago. From Black Panther gatherings to house parties and Young Patriots rallies, Alk and Gray document some of the different communities who, in response to severe police brutality, were ready to meet violence with violence. A detailed and intriguing look at the people who wanted a new America desperately, how they tried to build it, and the language they used to envision it, the film displays the often rough and chaotic ways disparate groups of the engaged left aimed to unite themselves into one committed voice of dissent. Alk is unafraid to let long takes expose the complex arguments that arise when Black Panthers speak to an awakening middle class at a council meeting, or when a circular disagreement about Vietnam takes over an apartment party. AMERICAN REVOLUTION 2 assumes its audience is as engaged in these ideas as its subjects. Co-presented by Chicago Film Archives. Film Group member Bill Cottle, who served on the crew for AR2, in person. (1969, 85 min, DVD Projection) CL

More info at www.art.org and www.chicagofilmarchives.org.

 

Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN (American Revival)

Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday, 6pm and Saturday, 5:15pm

Who would have predicted that DAYS OF HEAVEN would be the most influential American film of the past ten years? A number of movies would be almost impossible without its influence—THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, THERE WILL BE BLOOD (which tipped its hat by employing DAYS’ ingenious production designer, Jack Fisk), most of the work of David Gordon Green—that Malick’s unprecedented approach has come to seem almost familiar. But seen in a theater, DAYS OF HEAVEN is forever new. Malick’s poetic sensibility, which combined an absurdist fascination with the banal with an awestruck view of open landscapes, renders the past era of pre-Dust Bowl Heartland America a gorgeous, alien environment. The film is structured around his lyrical observations, jutting forward in unexpected sequences like a modernist poem. More than one set piece (including the locust infestation and the bizarre entry of a flying circus troupe) has become a little classic in itself; it’s easy to forget the primal romantic tragedy, which Ray Pride once likened to a Biblical fable, that gives the movie its towering structure. It is this feeling for eternal narratives—rooted, perhaps, in Malick’s study of philosophy—that distinguishes the film from any of its successors, which could never replicate Malick’s spiritual orientation. (1978, 95 min, 35mm) BS

More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.

 

Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s A TOWN CALLED PANIC (New Animation)

Logan Square International Film Series at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) – Wednesday, 8:30pm (Free Admission)

2009 witnessed a welcome pushback against the traditional children’s movie with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson’s THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Both films rely heavily on nostalgia, using well-loved children’s books for content and outmoded techniques to create their visual worlds. The resulting films are clever and engaging but they are films for adults that children might like. The ingenious A TOWN CALLED PANIC also partakes in this pushback but its real strength lies in its divergence. The zany world of this film is a constant chaotic chase. The plot takes absurd nonsensical shifts that resemble more a story told by a child rather than winking adult irony. It is reinless, funny, and whimsical. Commonplace plastic toys Horse, Cowboy, and Indian are the main characters. They are roommates who inadvertently bring their small town to the brink of destruction and must scramble to save it. The solution takes them to wild house parties, an underground ocean, and arctic landscapes where mad scientists travel in giant mechanical penguins, and back again. (2009, 75 min, DVD Projection) CL

More info at www.facebook.com/squarelogan.

 

FESTIVALS

The Polish Film Festival in America continues at Facets Cinémathèque and other venues through November 24. Full schedule at www.pffamerica.org.

The Logan Center for the Arts (University of Chicago, 915 E. 60th St.) presents the Global Health Film Festival on Saturday from Noon to 11pm. Schedule available at http://arts.uchicago.edu.

 

MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS

The Black Cinema House (6901 S. Dorchester Ave.) and the Chicago Film Archives present Gordon Parks: Start of Motion, a rare screening of Parks’ first films, on Sunday at 4pm. Screening are Josef Filipowic’s 1968 documentary DIARY OF A HARLEM FAMILY (20 min, 16mm), which Parks narrated and photographed; and Parks’ own films FLAVIO (1964, 12 min, 16mm) and WORLD OF PIRI THOMAS (1968, 60 min, 16mm). Free admission, but seating is limited; RSVP at the BCH or CFA websites.

FVNMA Media Archeologies Institute at SAIC presents Nick Briz: Piracy for Posterity “how to make your own net art archive” on Wednesday at 4:30pm at SAIC’s Flaxman Library Special Collections (37 S. Wabash Ave., 5th Floor). Free admission.

 

Museum of Contemporary Photography (600 S. Michigan Ave.) presents Video Playlist: Gravitational Pull on Wednesday at 6pm. The program will include work by Basma Alsharif, Cameron Gibson, David Oresick, Kera Mackenzie, Ana Vaz, and others. Free admission.


The Northwest Chicago Film Society (at the Gene Siskel Film Center) presents Mitchell Leisen’s 1943 film NO TIME FOR LOVE (83 min, 35mm) on Sunday at 11:30am. Note new location, day, and time.

 

The Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) presents Interiors and Exteriors on Friday at 5:30pm at the Logan Center for the Arts (915 E. 60th St.). The program features Jacques Baratier’s 1950 documentary DESORDRE (Disorder, 18 min, 35mm) and Maurice Lemaître’s 1969 film MAI 68: SOULEVEMENT DE LA JEUNESSE (May 68: Youth Uprising, 28 min, 16mm). Free admission.

 

The Museum of Contemporary Art screens Sarah Morris’ 2011 documentary CHICAGO (Unconfirmed Running Time and Format) on Tuesday at 6pm, followed by a conversation between Morris and MCA curator Dieter Roelstraete.

 

Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) screens Al Santana’s 1985 documentary VOICES OF THE GODS (60 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 7:30pm; and again on Wednesday at 6:30pm at Columbia College’s Ferguson Theater (600 S. Michigan Ave.). Screening as part of the Blacklight Cinema Series.

 

The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Adrian Lyne’s 1987 film FATAL ATTRACTION (119 min, 35mm) on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm. Independent filmmaker Reid Schultz will discuss the entire Women Over the Edge film series after each screening. Free admission. www.northbrook.info/events/film

 

The Chicago Cinema Society presents Andrew J. Morgan and Nicholas Nummerdor’s 2013 documentary VANNIN’ (60 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 7pm at the Patio Theater, with filmmakers Morgan and Nummerdor and vanners Howard Furtak and David “Matchstick” Brooks in person. http://chicagocinemasociety.org

 

The Chicago Palestine Film Festival presents a screening at Moraine Valley Community College (9000 W. College Pkwy., Palos Hills) on Wednesday at 6pm. Screening are the 2012 short NATION ESTATE and the 2012 documentary feature THE WAR AROUND US.

 

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Megumi Sasaki’s 2008 documentary HERB & DOROTHY (91 min, HDCam Video) is on Friday at 6pm and Saturday at 5:15pm and Sasaki’s 2013 follow-up documentary HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 (87 min, DCP Digital Projection) plays for a week, with Sasaki in person at the 8pm Friday and 3pm Saturday screenings; Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 Brazilian film CITY OF GOD (130 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7:45pm and Tuesday at 6pm, with a lecture by Lawrence Knapp at the Tuesday show; Claire Denis’ 1994 film I CAN’T SLEEP (112 min, Archival 35mm Print) is on Sunday at 3pm and Thursday at 8pm; and Denis’ 2001 film TROUBLE EVERY DAY (101 min, New 35mm Print) is on Sunday at 5:15pm and Monday at 8pm.

 

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 film THE WRESTLER (109 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7, 9:15, and 11:30pm and Sunday at 1pm; Ryan Coogler’s 2013 film FRUITVALE STATION (85 min, Unconfirmed Format) is on Saturday at 7 and 9pm and Sunday at 4pm; Gus Van Sant’s 1995 film TO DIE FOR (106 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 7pm; Miguel Gomes’ 2012 film TABU (118 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm; John Cassavetes’ 1976 film THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (135 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9:45pm; and we’re informed that Olivier Assayas’ 1997 documentary HHH: A PORTRAIT OF HOU HSIAO-HSIEN (91 min, DVD Projection) is on Thursday at 7pm (despite PARIS AT DAWN still being listed on the Doc website at press time).

 

At the Music Box Theatre this week: Jem Cohen’s 2012 film MUSEUM HOURS (107 min) opens; Randy Moore’s 2013 film ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (90 min) and Bill Siegel’s 2013 documentary THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (94 min) both continue; Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 film THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (152 min) is on Monday at 2pm; Mark Robson’s 1971 film HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE (105 min) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am; and the Midnight films are VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (73 min, Imported 35mm Archival Print) on Friday only, Mike Mendez’s 2013 film BIG ASS SPIDER! (80 min) on Friday and Saturday, and Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film CLUE (94 min) on Saturday only. All Unconfirmed Format except where noted.

 

Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Trent Harris’ 2000 film THE BEAVER TRILOGY (83 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Friday at 7pm. Originally announced in person, Harris is unable to attend.


The Logan Theatre screens Jerry Zucker’s 1990 film GHOST (127 min, Digital Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Friday, Saturday, and Monday at 10:30pm; and John Huston’s 1948 film THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (126 min, Digital Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 10:30pm.

 

The Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave. Suite 200) screens Kurt Maetzig’s 1947 film MARRIAGE IN THE SHADOWS (105 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm.

 

The Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Wim Wenders’ 1989 documentary NOTEBOOK ON CITIES AND CLOTHES (79 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6:30pm.

 

The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave.) screens Alessandro Angelini’s 2009 film RAISE YOUR HEAD (87 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6pm.

 

Sentieri Italiani (5430 N. Broadway Ave.) screens Ferzan Ozpetek’s 2012 film MAGNIFICA PRESENZA (105 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 4pm.

 

The Patio Theater hosts WTTW’s “Wild Chicago” Digital Release With Ben Hollis In Person on Sunday at 3pm.

 

The Chicago Cultural Center screens Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini’s 2013 documentary THE STATE OF ARIZONA (90 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 2pm. Free admission.

 

The Chicago Public Library (West Town Branch, 1625 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Suree Towfighnia’s 2006 documentary STANDING SILENT NATION (53 min, Video Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 6pm. Free admission.

 

The DuSable Museum screens Janks Morton’s 2012 documentary HOODWINKED (87 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Friday at 6:30pm, followed by a Q&A with Morton.

 

The Logan Square International Film Series at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents a double feature of James Frawley’s 1976 film THE BIG BUS (88 min, DVD Projection) and Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s A TOWN CALLED PANIC (75 min, DVD Projection), see More Screenings above, on Wednesday at 7pm (BUS) and approx. 8:30pm (PANIC). Free admission. www.facebook.com/squarelogan

 

ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS

 

Iceberg continues an exhibition of work by local filmmaker and artist Melika Bass on through December 16. Showing is the “immersive multi-channel video installation” Slider Chamber.

 

UPDATES/CLOSURES

 

The Portage Theatre remains closed for the foreseeable future.

The Patio Theater has discontinued its regular programming and seems to only be hosting irregular special events. Note that the Northwest Chicago Film Society screenings for the remainder of 2013 have moved to Sundays at the Gene Siskel Film Center (11:30am or 7:30pm – check the NWCFS website for details).

 

CIFF 2012: SOMETHING IN THE AIR

October 13th, 2012 by tristan

Olivier Assayas’s SOMETHING IN THE AIR (New French)

AMC River East – Sunday, 3:30pm and Wednesday, 8:20pm

Olivier Assayas’s latest is a free-spirited and evocative tribute to youth, following a cast of characters who are coming of age in the latter days of the Parisian student riots. SOMETHING IN THE AIR hits the ground running, and the film opens with all the violence and idealism associated with the era cascading toward you, assuring a swift and total immersion into the world these characters inhabit. Central to the story is Gilles, an aspiring artist and activist who after his girlfriend Laure departs indefinitely for London, finds his footing with like-minded high school revolutionaries. The film, not unlike this revolutionary sentiment, is easy to get swept up in, and Assayas romanticizes to some degree, but he also inserts several brutal wake-up calls, leaving enough room for doubt amongst the general fervor. Gilles, aspiring filmmaker that he is, serves to highlight the growing disillusionment with the movement – he would rather create art than political statements – and his life of seemingly meaningful contributions to political unrest is contrasted at the end with his gig on a surreal Pinewood set, odds are not quite the kind of art he envisioned himself creating all those years before. Assayas does well with a largely unknown cast (though you may recognize Lola Créton from Catherine Breillat’s minimalist BLUEBEARD adaptation) and it’s their presence more than anything that gives the film its charge. There’s also a lush selection of songs to set the mood, and that mood is, in one word, intoxicating. SOMETHING IN THE AIR may not be Assayas at his most inventive or most relevant, but it does find him at his most personal, and he leaves little wonder as to how anyone could be as taken with these times as he once was. (2012, 122 min) TJ

 

CIFF 2012: WAR WITCH

October 13th, 2012 by tristan

Kim Nguyen’s WAR WITCH (New Canadian)

AMC River East – Saturday, 1:45pm; Monday, 5:45pm; Wednesday, 3:00pm

It would be impossible to skirt the harrowing major themes of Kim Nguyen’s WAR WITCH – that of the plight of the child soldier, and subsequently of the lengths one must go to as atonement for such atrocities – but to sell the film solely as an against-all-odds survival narrative set in war-torn Africa would overlook one of Nguyen’s quieter preoccupations: the role which storytelling plays, not in the best of times, but in the worst. WAR WITCH recounts the young life of fourteen-year-old Komona (Rachel Mwanza, who netted Best Actress awards at Berlin and Tribeca), framing it as a story she tells to her unborn child and sparing none of the blood-chilling details. Simple in structure and vivid in imagery, this truly is a tale told by a child; Mwanza, with considerable help from Nguyen’s firm grasp on limitations, strikes a voice for Komona that is by circumstance wise-beyond-her-years while not immune to sensationalism here and there. This is, after all, a story that features her conjuring painted, familial ghosts, setting up a blissfully romantic quest for a white rooster, and conceiving an especially ill-advised, but horrifyingly effective ploy for revenge. These are not flights of fancy, but defense mechanisms for Komona, and they remind us that while she is seeing things no child should ever have to, she is still seeing them through the rash, imaginative, guilt-ridden gaze of youth. And in acknowledgment of what she has learned and must leave behind, when Komona tells her story, it is not to inform, inspire or entertain, but to cleanse the child within her of all the horrors she has taken in. (2012, 90 min) TJ

 

CIFF 2012: BEYOND THE HILLS

October 12th, 2012 by tristan

Cristian Mungiu’s BEYOND THE HILLS (New Romanian)

AMC River East – Friday, 8:15pm and Monday, 8:30pm

Two twenty-something girls – old and dear friends and, as it soon becomes apparent, something more than that – reunite at a train station before journeying out to a remote convent in the Romanian hills. It is this monastic community that raven-haired Voichita calls home, and where the ungrounded Alina has planned a short visit before the two are set to elope on an extended vacation. But of course it never comes to that. Alina’s mental health, fragile even from the get-go, takes a turn for the worse, and a series of well-intentioned interventions on the part of the sisters devolve into a skittish, dangerous fervor. As their visitor comes to represent a threat not only to Voichita’s devotion, but to the sanctity of the entire convent, one course of action becomes clear amidst the panic: Alina will have to be exorcised. Despite appearances, Cristian Mungiu’s BEYOND THE HILLS is all less a crossbreed of BLACK NARCISSUS and THE EXORCIST than it is a stark and brutal drama in the mold of his wildly acclaimed 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. This too is a film defined by a procedure of sorts, though there is more lead in time in this case, as Mungiu teases out the possibilities of forbidden love and romantic escape before finally throwing up the walls that box Alina in for good. Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur won twin Best Actress awards at Cannes for their portrayals of Voichita and Alina respectively, and Mungiu garnered Best Screenplay honors there as well. The accolades do not lie, and if you’re looking for a strong start to your CIFF experience, pencil this one into your schedule. (2012, 150 min) TJ

 

 

Decoding Political Themes in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

August 31st, 2012 by Patrick

Decoding Political Themes in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

by Harrison Sherrod


“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES attests yet again to how Hollywood blockbusters are precise indicators of the ideological predicament of our societies.” —Slavoj Zizek


 

SPOILER ALERT

Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES has drawn much attention for its ambivalent use of politically charged subject matter. The themes of revolution and anti-capitalism are at its forefront, and despite Nolan’s insistence that the film is not a thinly veiled allegory for the Occupy Wall St. movement, it’s impossible not to notice the similarities; but, at the same time, there’s a glaring disparity between this fictional portrayal of revolt and its real world counterpart. As Occupy Wall St. organizer Harrison Shultz puts it, “[Bane's] occupation of Gotham City was waged by highly disciplined terrorists and the violent criminals [he] freed from Black Gate Prison, who were all heavily armed with futuristic-looking firearms, tanks, and a big nuclear bomb. They in no way resemble the comparatively impoverished, peace-seeking protesters who armed themselves with signs, sleeping bags, tents, and iPhones at best in their attempts to fight for social justice.” The DARK KNIGHT RISES evokes this specific, explosive political moment, but disallows any direct identification with it. Thus, the question arises: How can we decode the film’s blatant yet ambiguous use of Occupy imagery? One answer requires us to situate our reading vis-à-vis one of today’s political focal points, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Some commentators, including Rush Limbaugh, have claimed that Bane is intended to represent Romney, pointing out that the character’s name is a homophone for his investment firm, Bain Capital. (This opinion is easily negated by the fact that Bane has existed in the Batman comics since 1993.) Aside from this coincidence, the overlap between Romney and Bane is unclear—in fact, if Romney is represented by any character in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, it’s Batman. This provides us with an opportunity to rethink the duality of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character. We always consider Batman to be the hidden alter ego of Bruce Wayne, but what if it was actually the other way around? Bruce Wayne is a billionaire industrialist who makes money by speculating on stocks (this is how Bane engineers his financial demise) and producing high-tech weaponry—in other words, he is the epitome of the 1%. From this vantage point, it’s easy to read the THE DARK KNIGHT RISES as Mitt Romney’s twisted superhero fantasy, with Bruce Wayne/Batman standing in as his ego ideal: a billionaire investment banker who moonlights as a vanquisher of threats to democracy and is ultimately glorified as a Christ figure.

If we view the film through this lens, its distorted representation of Occupy Wall St. becomes crystal clear. Bane and his band of loyalists are what the Occupy Wall St. movement looks like through Romney’s eyes in a worst-case scenario: socialism disguising totalitarianism disguising all-out anarchy. As Washington Post reviewer Sonny Bunch states, “Bane is the ultimate Occupier: His goal is to ‘return control of the city to the people,’ freeing ‘the oppressed’ from prison while stripping the haves of their property and privilege.” But Bane is only one half of the equation. We must remember that he’s merely the devout pawn of Talia al Ghul, the true mastermind of the terrorist plot. In turn, as she reveals at the end of the film, Talia is carrying out of the wishes of her late father, Ra’s al Ghul, who appeared in BATMAN BEGINS. If we dissect Ra’s al Ghul’s identity, we begin to realize that he (and by extension, Talia and Bane) represents a very different threat—one that’s particularly pervasive in the minds of xenophobic, jingoistic Republicans. Ra’s al Ghul is an ambiguously middle-eastern supervillian of devout faith whose mission is to wipe out Gotham (a fictional stand-in for NYC) via suicide methods because of its corruptness. Thus, Bane and Ra’s/Talia exemplify the two greatest (ironically antithetical) fears of Mitt Romney and right-wing ultraconservatives: anti-capitalism and Islamic fundamentalism. In one sense, Batman and Ra’s are two sides of the same coin: both characters are fueled by their deep-rooted belief. Batman believes that Gotham can be saved from its wickedness whereas Bane views the city as a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah that must be destroyed. Similarly, there’s parallel between Romney’s zealous Mormonism and the extreme faith of Islamic fundamentalists. In fact, Batman’s final act can be viewed as the inverse of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

If Batman and Bane sit on opposite ends of the spectrum, Selina Kyle/Catwoman exists somewhere in between. Much like Batman, Catwoman has always practiced a sort of moral relativism: she’s a rouge thief who operates outside of the system, but only at the expense of those who abuse it, i.e. the wealthy (a not so subtle source of friction between herself and Wayne/Batman). In THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Catwoman is initially in collusion with Bane, stealing Wayne’s finger prints and assisting in Batman’s capture; however, she also purports to share a similar ideological perspective. Both claim to champion a Robin Hood-esque redistribution of wealth and share in their attempt to undermine the capitalist status quo. But as the film goes on, Catwoman realizes that Bane’s vision is too extreme and thus becomes the disenchanted Occupier. As she wanders aimlessly through a lavish home-turned-communal crash pad, her friend reminds her, “There’s a storm coming, remember? This is what you wanted.” But instead of providing power to the people, Bane has turned Gotham into the very opposite of a democracy—a Stalin-esque city-state. Ultimately, Catwoman joins forces with Batman, redeeming herself by killing Bane. If there is any hint of the real Occupy Wall St. movement in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, it exists in Catwoman’s early outlook: change is necessary, but it cannot be achieved through violent means.

Even if we interpret THE DARK KNIGHT RISES as a parody of Occupy Wall St. or a caricature of Romney’s paranoia and wish fulfillment, there are moments that, if removed from narrative context, reveal the film’s subliminal message, or to use psychoanalytic terminology, unconscious. This is most notable during the scene in which Bane and his henchmen take the New York Stock Exchange hostage. Here we see one of the most overtly political images in the film: a group of trembling Wall Street brokers (a shield for Bane’s escape) held at gunpoint by the police. Of course, the police are after Bane, not the bankers, but for a few seconds Nolan spotlights the true criminals as we witness symbolic retribution for the crimes that lead to the economic collapse. Similar images include Batman watching his entire stock portfolio vanish before his eyes, or Bane holding Wayne Corp’s board of executives captive. Therefore, without compromising our earlier reading, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES exhibits the capacity to be decoded as a pro-Occupy film, albeit on a subterranean, microscopic level.

15th EU Film Festival: BEYOND SATAN

March 23rd, 2012 by Candace Wirt

 

Bruno Dumont’s BEYOND SATAN (France)

Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday (3/24), 2:45pm and Wednesday (3/28), 6pm

In an unknown rural town along the coast, Guy (David Dewaele) kills Girl’s (Alexandra Lematre) stepfather who frequently abused her.  Guy goes on to perform both good and bad deeds, including a miracle that concludes the film.  With BEYOND SATAN, writer/director Bruno Dumont wants the audience to actively participate within the film.  Dumont creates the character of Guy for the viewer to interpret only through his actions; Dumont does not share the thoughts and feelings that drive him.  The camera does linger on Guy’s face and the beautiful coastal landscape at which he often stares, but each appears unreadable in its own distinct way.  Guy’s actions suggest that he is religious and possibly beyond human.  He disobeys society’s law as well as God’s law, however he may also be beyond our particular conceptions of good and evil.  In this way, Dumont encourages the viewer to speculate on the emergence of such conceptions and how they change over time.  It does appear that Guy and possibly Girl are a type of pilgrim, because they spend the majority of the film walking toward somewhere.  For Guy, his journey is to save Girl.  In an interview on the film last spring, Dumont said, “There is no God.  I am an atheist.  It is up to us to become God.  We need to be elevated, to become saints.  God alienates people from themselves.  Yes, my films are mystical, to make people feel the mystery, to inspire them to experience for themselves the miracle of existence.”  In BEYOND SATAN, the viewer can contemplate this miracle of existence and in particular how it forms (in) his or her mind.  (2011, 110 min, 35mm)

15th EU Film Festival: Gerhard Richter Painting

March 17th, 2012 by Patrick


GERHARD RICHTER PAINTING

Gene Siskel Film Center

Sunday, March 25 at 2:45pm and Wednesday, March 28 at 8:15pm


GERHARD RICHTER PAINTING, directed by Corinna Belz, is a rare opportunity to witness the methodology of arguably the most prominent working painter today. The film has a languid pace that respects Richter’s meditative process, which seems at once random and exact. His newer abstract paintings are created by continually applying coats of paint to the canvas and using an oversized squeegee to smudge and scrape away at the surface to reveal the layers beneath. Richter treats his paintings as organic creatures that evolve on their own, and it’s intriguing to view the pieces at different stages of their development. Though Belz refrains from psychoanalyzing her subject, the film does give us some glimpse into Richter’s past, including his estrangement from his parents in East Germany; however, the intention of the film is spelled out in its title, and Richter is no less of an enigma at its conclusion. Known for being elusive and taciturn, and there are moments when it’s clear that Richter is perturbed by the camera’s presence. This touches on the irony of making a documentary about an artist whose work asks essential theoretical questions about photography, and by extension cinema.

Richter’s photo-paintings comment on the fallibility of the photographic medium, specifically its inability to accurately convey a scene or an event. In keeping with Susan Sontag’s writings on the subject, Richter is expressly concerned with the forces that exist outside the frame. At the same time, it’s precisely the verisimilitude of the medium that makes it so dangerous, thus Richter’s (literal) blurring of the image. This idea is illustrated to an almost absurd degree by Richter’s grey paintings, which instead of resembling a poorly developed photo become entirely “overexposed.”  Richter’s reticence throughout the film reflects a similar apprehension with the camera, a concern with the permanence of such a portrait. Interestingly, themes of memory and the passage of time are just as central to Richter’s more recent abstract paintings as his photorealistic work. It’s difficult to think of a contemporary artist whose early and late periods are so aesthetically inconsistent, yet thematically interconnected. Betz displays this diversity with handheld tracking shots that survey a series of paintings that function as a physical timeline of Richter’s work.

Richter himself did produce one film, titled VOLKER BRADKE (1966)— unsurprisingly, it is out of focus. Thankfully, GERHARD RICHTER PAINTING is not. (2011, 97 mins, HDCAM video)  -  Harrison Sherrod

15th EU Film Festival: UNFORGIVABLE

March 16th, 2012 by peterraccuglia

André Téchiné’s UNFORGIVABLE

GENE SISKEL FILM CENTER

Saturday, March 17, 7:00pm
Wednesday, March 21, 6:00pm

UNFORGIVABLE opens at a press conference, where an older man (André Dussollier) quotes Schopenhauer into a bank of microphones: “As I sit here, as the man my friends know, I cannot grasp the origin of my work, just as a mother cannot grasp the origin of the child in her womb.” The man, we quickly learn, is a bestselling novelist (“the king of neo-Gothic thrillers”) who is in the grip of a lengthy dry spell. He has relocated from Paris to Venice hoping for a period of productive solitude. Instead, he marries his much younger real estate agent, his daughter disappears with a drug-trafficking aristocrat, and he hires a young ex-convict to follow his wife, whom he suspects of infidelity. The plot moves with the rapidity and repertoire of the author’s chosen genre, with restlessly active camerawork capturing a rapid accumulation of events and characters. Yet, as the dense, centrifugal storylines threaten to become overwhelming, a tight thematic and symbolic weft of the film unfolds. UNFORGIVABLE takes the epigraphic Schopenhauer quote literally, spinning out the unfathomable events that precipitate the writer’s next work, and the equally unfathomable relationships among parents and children. An original and incisive treatment of the Kafkian theme of guilt and the literary work, UNFORGIVABLE takes its place among the finest of Téchiné’s films. (2011, 108 min, 35mm) PR

15th EU Film Festival: AITA

March 16th, 2012 by Candace Wirt

 

Jose Maria de Orbe’s AITA (Spain)

Gene Siskel Film Center – Sunday (3/18), 5pm and Monday (3/19), 6pm

Several years ago, the Spanish artist and filmmaker Jose Maria de Orbe inherited his family’s ancestral home in the Basque country, dating back to the thirteenth century, from his father.  Working with nonprofessional actors and without a script, De Orbe focuses on the castle’s elderly caretaker, Luis Pescador, and his upkeep in addition to the caretaker’s conversations on dreaming and death with the local priest, Mikel Goneaga.  However De Orbe’s protagonist is the home itself, and he mixes fact and fiction to capture its history in his family and a larger public sphere.  Aspiring toward the depiction in the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo’s “No One Lives in the House Anymore,” De Orbe and cinematographer Jimmy Gimferrer bring the home alive again through light.  Using high definition video, they explore the nature of light as it moves through this space, questioning its source and potential meaning.  Ultimately, AITA is the filmmaker’s “tribute to light” and “legacy to [his] son.”  Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum will introduce and discuss the film at Monday’s screening. (2010, 85 min, 35mm)