Sergei Paradjanov's THE LEGEND OF SURAM FORTRESS (Retrospective)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3:15pm & Monday, 6:15pm
With recent news of Russia taking military action on its neighbor (and former territory) Georgia, Sergei Paradjanov's 1984 ode to Georgian war heroes now has an unexpectedly timely and pressing resonance. After spending the previous fifteen years in and out of prison, Paradjanov managed to put together a kind-of sequel to COLOR OF POMEGRANTES. It shares some of its ideas and images, but comes across somewhat darker on both fronts. While Russia's intentions remain murky, its military has already started to weaken Georgia's infrastructure and, despite the call for cease-fire, there are reports of tanks advancing to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi. In relation to this, THE LEGEND OF SURAM FORTRESS, based on an ancient folk tale, could be seen as a surreal dream, as it is often characterized, or as a portal into one country's history and spirit. It's a boon to all Chicagoans that this series is being offered at such a time in history. (1984, 82 min, 35mm) KH
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ALSO PLAYING THIS WEEK: Paradjanov's early feature UKRAINIAN RHAPSODY (1961, 1961, 35mm; Saturday, 5pm & Sunday, 3:15pm), about two separated lovers during World War II.
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More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Summer Revivals at Doc Films (Classic Revival)
The programmers at University of Chicago's Doc Films have outdone themselves yet again, with another wholly crucial week of rarely-revived work by four monumental artists.
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Douglas Sirk’s ALL I DESIRE – Wednesday, 8pm
Roberto Rossellini’s THE FLOWERS OF ST FRANCIS – Saturday, 7pm & 9pm
Those who associate Douglas Sirk’s melodramas solely with hysteria and the “subversive” dismantling of middle-American values are encouraged to check out ALL I DESIRE (1953, 79 min, 35mm), one of the director's most sincere works. Barbara Stanwyck plays a woman who returns to her family after abandoning them years earlier to become a stage actress. The film charts their uneasy reconciliation with deep sympathy for every character (Stanwyck’s proto-feminist career woman, her resentful husband and children) as well as for location (small-town America in the early 20th century). An even greater reservoir of sensitivity can be found in Roberto Rossellini’s THE FLOWERS OF ST FRANCIS (1950, 83 min, 35mm), a neorealist fantasy based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. The film is a purely materialist depiction of Catholic divinity—focusing on St. Francis’ daily routines and convivial relationships with his followers—which makes it a rewarding experience for devout and free-thinking viewers alike. BS
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Alfred Hitchcock's FRENZY – Friday, 7pm & 9:30pm
Budd Boetticher's THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND – Thursday, 8pm
Even when they are at their most affable, Alfred Hitchcock's films always carry an undercurrent of darkness and perversity. So when he throws off the restraint of Hollywood for his first R-rated film, things get downright brutal. FRENZY (1972, 116 min, 35mm) is Hitchcock's hardest and coldest film. It's a misanthropic nightmare in then-modern London that is as harsh in its clinical study of "humanity" as anything written by Zola. Perhaps not great or as psychologically complex as VERTIGO or as emotionally wrought as REAR WINDOW, it is nonetheless a terrific late-career work by a master. Hitchcock evokes a world of isolation and entrapment through his cramped, angular framings—a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces don't fit—and with his high angle shots of characters squeezed by the narrow London streets and alleyways. Sinuous tracking shots create a sense of people lost in a maze (a stunning reverse-tracking shot out of a building in complete silence is as good as anything he's done). After a string of western masterpieces in the 1950s, Budd Boetticher switched gears with the gangster film THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND (1960, 101 min, 16mm). Little seen compared to the classics that immediately preceded it, DIAMOND is a chance to see Boetticher lighten his touch in this semi-fictional portrait of the charismatic Prohibition-era mobster. PF
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More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
Stanley Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON (Classic Revival)
Music Box – Saturday & Sunday, 11:30am, Wednesday, 1:30pm
The Music Box’s ongoing tribute to great cinematography continues with BARRY LYNDON, certainly a milestone in this field. It’s well known that this was the movie for which Stanley Kubrick developed a new lens that would enable filmmakers to shoot by candlelight; noted less often are the surrounding artistic accomplishments to which the invention contributed. Borrowing many of the 18th century costumes directly from European museums and selecting his score from (allegedly) every piece of 18th century music ever recorded, Kubrick created an unprecedented level of verisimilitude for a costume drama. But rather than revel in historical detail as so many Viscontian art objects, Kubrick creates the eerie effect of the past existing autonomously from us as something like an alien planet—which may explain why Jonathan Rosenbaum sees the film as of a piece with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. He has also written that “John Alcott[’s] slow backward zooms… distance us, both historically and emotionally, from its rambling picaresque narrative.” One should note as well the contribution of Michael Hordern’s clinical narration—which often explains the action before it occurs—to the film’s distancing effect. (What makes it especially strange is that it’s really a sort-of double-dissociation; the Thackeray novella on which the film is based is actually a parody of 18th century literature, written almost 100 years after the story’s events take place.) Somewhere within all of this is a poignant rags-to-riches tale, but the fact that we must look so hard to find it exemplifies Kubrick’s great theme: the tragedy of human beings trying to identify themselves against systems beyond their control. (1975, 184 min, 35mm). BS
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More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.
John Ford’s STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND (Classic Revival)
Bank of America Cinema – Saturday, 8pm
If anyone ever asks you what "American" art is, you could give them Faulkner's If I Forget Thee Jerusalem, play them Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited or take them to one of the movies John Ford made with Will Rogers. DOCTOR BULL, JUDGE PRIEST and STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND (playing this week at the B of A Cinema) are inescapably American. STEAMBOAT is everything beautiful and ugly about American culture treated with equal affection: Rogers' "slow wit," the Mississippi Delta, commodified religion, medical quackery, Stepin Fetchit, mob rule, capital punishment. It grows like summer heat and moves along like a lazy afternoon, going from scene to scene at walking speed. Front porch cinema, you could call it.
(1935, 81 min, 35mm) IV
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More info at www.cine-file.info/venues/lasalle.html.
The Experimental Comedy Video Show (Special Event)
Heaven Gallery – Saturday, 9pm
Soon-to be resident of Berlin and longtime Heaven Gallery Video Curator Clara Alcott makes her sendoff program (subtitled the "superfuntasticexperimentalcomedyshortexplosion") a fast and furious mix of experimental video shorts culled from the avant-comic talent of Chicago, NY, LA, and beyond. Including work by Animal Charm, Paper Rad, The Pretty Things, Eric Fensler, and Leslie & The Lys, among literally dozens of others, the artists represented use experimental video techniques to produce pieces with a comedic edge. After the screening, experimental anti-stand-up duo Kill Comedy will tear at the fabric of comedy performance as we know it with their scientific analysis of straight man-funny man symbiosis. (90 min, video) CL
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More info at www.heavengallery.com.
YARD WORK IS HARD WORK (New Animation)
The Hideout (1354 W Wabansia Ave) – Thursday, 9:30pm
YARD WORK IS HARD WORK is the simplest kind of wonderful. Lately, many American filmmakers (arguably, a whole generation) have been aspiring to depict the "everyday," but none of them have managed to capture "ordinary affection" as well as Jodie Mack in her 16mm animated short. A song suite is combined with a stream of animated cut-outs and it's not a wedding, but a marriage. It's a half-hour that's worth more than a half-dozen features. But maybe the most exciting thing about it is that it leaves you eagerly anticipating the next Jodie Mack film. (2008, 28 min, 16mm; $8 cover) IV
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Full details at www.hideoutchicago.com.
Aditya Assarart's WONDERFUL TOWN (New Thai)
Facets Cinémathèque – Check Reader Movies for showtimes
Not quite the GUMMO of Thailand, this more restrained debut feature is set in a coastal town devastated by the 2004 tsunami. A visiting architect falls for a local hotel manager, but trouble soon begins to surface. Assarat has been likened to a more conventional version of his compatriot Apichatpong Weerasethakul (TROPICAL MALADY, SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY) and critics have generally agreed with this film's leisurely pace and graceful style. (2007, 35mm, 92 min) MS
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Full details at www.facets.org.
This Week at the Portage Theater
The Portage hosts an onslaught of wonderfully eclectic film events this week. The Silent Film Society presents a Friday night revival of Raoul Walsh's exotic 1928 silent SADIE THOMPSON (91 min, 35mm; 8pm), with live organ accompaniment by Dennis Scott. Local filmmaker Rusty Nails' Movieside project unspools Terror in the Aisles!, a thirteen-hour weekend marathon that includes horror classics (including gimmick-meister William Castle's THE TINGLER and Wes Craven's original THE HILLS HAVE EYES), the new documentary SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY, a couple recent schlock flicks, and the cult-classic (and Chicago-made) HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, with director John McNaughton in person (Saturday, 12pm-1am). The Portage's own weekday matinee series has a revival of Busby Berkeley's DAMES (1934, 91 min, 35mm; Wednesday, 1:30pm). Things culminate with the Fractured Lens Video Festival, a showcase of work by local videomakers drawn from an open call for entries (Thursday, 8pm & 10pm). PF
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More info at www.portagetheater.org.
The 14th Annual Black Harvest Film & Video Festival: Week 3
Gene Siskel Film Center – Showtimes noted below
In the third week of the Film Center's Black Harvest Festival, Chicago filmmakers represent the bulk of the programming. SUBTLE SEDUCTION (2008, 88 min; Friday, 8:15pm & Tuesday, 8:30pm) is the story of a vicious femme fatale chased by competitive cops and THE OPPOSITE OF LIFE (2008, 88 min; Sunday, 5pm & Tuesday, 6:15pm) tells the story of couples deciding what to do in the face of unexpected pregnancies. Chicago short filmmakers show off their skills in a group program entitled "Shorts: Chicago Connected" (2007-8, 90 min; Monday & Wednesday, 8:15pm). The week is rounded out by two movies made outside of Chicago: BONGOLAND II: THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME (2008,100 min; Friday, 6:15pm & Wednesday, 6:15pm) is a satire that finds the series protagonist, Juma, leaving his adopted state of Minnesota and returning to Bongoland (Tanzania), where he tries to introduce American corporate management tactics in his new job as a supervisor; in festival hit, KINGS OF THE EVENING (2008, 99 min; Saturday, 8:15pm & Thursday, 7:30pm), Homer Hobbs reacclimates to life as a free man after years of prison in small town, Depression-era Texas. CL
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More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Leo McCarey's AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (Classic Revival)
Chicago Outdoor Film Festival (Grant Park) – Tuesday, 8:15pm (FREE)
Leo McCarey's superb AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER is the perfect reminder that still waters run deep. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are as cool a romantic couple as you can have—for much of the film they are awkwardly trying to ignore their feelings for one another. Their careful and reserved manner is complimented by McCarey's subtlety and formal restraint. He realizes that a quick glance or tiny gesture can be more emotionally devastating than tear-jerking bombast. It is through this simplicity of style and performance that McCarey builds a raw, palpable tension between Grant and Kerr that becomes near-anxiety for the audience—the waiting game for some kind of resolution is almost unbearable. Finally, when emotions are allowed to break free, it is cathartic and achingly right. (1957, 119 min, 35mm) PF
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More info here.
GHOSTBUSTERS (Cult Revival)
Music Box – Saturday & Sunday, midnight
If you came of age in the 80s, it's nigh impossible to be objective about Ivan Reitman's 1984 blockbuster, the first so-called multimillion dollar "special effects" horror comedy. What makes it different from its many imitators (such as MEN IN BLACK and DEATH BECOMES HER) is that despite souped-up technical trappings like extensive matte work, puppetry, and optical printing, the ensemble is able to maintain a very human looseness and spontaneity. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson play off each other like an easy-going Rat Pack for the Me Generation, unfazed by green ghosts or drooling demons. Murray has a wry quip for every situation. Sigourney Weaver breaks free of ALIEN-badass typecasting as an uptight cellist who turns vamp after she's possessed by an evil spirit. (1984, 105 min, 35mm) RC
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More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.
Bike-In Cinema: BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! & E.T. (Outdoor Screening)
"Reba Rar Rar's Side Yard" (1441 W Cullerton) – Wednesday, 9pm (FREE)
An alien being, seemingly from another planet, appears as if by magic and enriches our lives in ways we couldn't possibly imagine. Yes, of course I'm referring to Guy Maddin, the wonderfully bizarre mastermind behind BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! (2006, 95 min, DVD). In BRAND, Maddin does what he does best, sensationalizing stories about his family to the point of absurdity, using the style of silent melodramas as a means of exploring all the perverse sexual repression those films relegated to subtext. Though the film originally toured the country with an assortment of narrators, foley artists, and an orchestra, it was recently released on DVD with a host of narrative options including tracks by Isabella Rossellini, Eli Wallach, and Maddin himself. No matter which audio track is shown at this "Bike-In" engagement, you can bet that this screening of BRAND will be an all-out assault on the senses, leaving you laughing uncomfortably right up until E.T. (1982, 115 min, DVD) begins, and you retreat to a security blanket named Steven Spielberg. You coward. CS
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More info at www.myspace.com/bikeincinema.
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (Classic Revival)
Beverly Arts Center – Wednesday, 7:30pm (FREE)
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN shouldn't be as good as it is: it glorifies Hollywood, during the silent era at that, is drenched in nostalgia, packed to the gills with dated songs, and all dressed up around a slapdash plot. Popular maybe, but good? Well, the plot is crazy, but crazy like a fox. Forced, as much as writers on contract can be forced, to build a movie around songs that were hits twenty years ago, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green crafted a skeletal story about two silent stars' transition to the sound era and fleshed it out with a robust irreverence for progress, success, and Hollywood. (Not to mention, Gene Kelly is singing in the rain in Los Angeles. They can't be sincere.) But then the movie ends up in the hands of perhaps the most earnest folks in show business. Could anyone doubt Donald O'Connor means it when he says, "Make 'em laugh"? There are countless other examples, but collaborations between diametric opposites have lead to many great movies. Hooray for the studio system! Hooray for collage in giant Technicolor! Hooray for SINGIN' IN THE RAIN! (And apparently, hooray for Medicare?! There seems to be a pitch for health insurance preceding this otherwise FREE screening.) (1952, 103 min, format unknown) WS
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More info at www.beverlyartcenter.org.
MORE SCREENINGS & EVENTS:
The Music Box extends its run of Aleksandr Sokurov’s beautiful ALEXANDRA. Previous coverage here. See Reader Movies for showtimes.
A Ukrainian woman finds employment with a rich Italian family in THE UNKNOWN WOMAN (2006), a pulpy thriller from director Giuseppe Tornatore (CINEMA PARADISO, MALENA) that makes its Chicago debut at the Film Center. Questions of child abuse, human trafficking, and prostitution emerge (largely through flashbacks) as the mystery deepens. The ageless wonder Ennio Morricone provides a score that's been described as "aural prosciutto." MS