Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, JAN. 23 - Thursday, JAN. 29 ::

BLOG UPDATE: We've posted a link to our friends at Stop Smiling magazine and their collected 2008 film coverage. Be sure to check it out!


Kenneth Anger's MAGICK LANTERN CYCLE (Experimental)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Friday, 8pm
Between lacking the funds to complete his projects, lost and destroyed footage (some by labs for "obscenity," some by his own hand), and his frequent reediting of his films, it is, sadly, an impossibility to offer a "complete" program of Kenneth Anger's work.  Still, the work that does survive has existed in its current state for decades and Anger's MAGICK LANTERN CYCLE is his own grouping of his classic early films, through the 1980 LUCIFER RISING. Anger's dual obsessions with occult mythology and pop culture combine in exceptional permutations throughout, be it the high-gloss, saturated Kodachrome images of SCORPIO RISING (1963) and KUSTOM KAR KOMMANDOS (1965), or the esoteric mysticism of INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER (1969) and INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME (1954). This screening is part of Block Cinema's synergistic series tied to the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Block Museum.  Anger's work is a fitting choice for the series because he was not only a pioneer of experimental film but also of queer cinema, and his fantastic "debut" FIREWORKS (1947)--his earliest extant film--is an excellent meditation on gay male desire. Also screening are PUCE MOMENT (1949), EAUX D'ARTIFACE (1953), and RABBIT'S MOON (1972). (160 min total, 16mm) DM
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Stan Brakhage's SONG 23: 23rd PSALM BRANCH (Experimental)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Monday, 7pm
One of the great masterpieces of avant-garde cinema (hell, of all cinema), Brakhage's feature length film--originally made in 8mm as part of his "Song" cycle and later blown up to 16mm--is one of his most pointedly political works. Made in 1966, Brakhage is addressing the Vietnam War directly and man's seemingly unchangeable need to wage war in general. This is not the wordy didacticism of anti-war documentary, though. Rather, as one would expect from Brakhage, he allows the power of the images--and more specifically the combination and juxtaposition of those images--to make his point. It is a raw, visceral work of great beauty and power. The intimacy of the 8mm format--with it's grubbier appearance, visible splices, and distinctive grain--survives well in the 16mm version; as does Brakhage's degraded images shot off of television and some of his earliest use of handpainting. It is this sense of intimacy and handcrafting that contributes greatly to the power of the film: it is the accretion of small elements and gestures that allows the viewer to slowly absorb and discern meaning. The program will be introduced by local film critic and artist Fred Camper, who is one of the true experts on Brakhage's work and has been writing and lecturing on Brakhage for 40 years. (1966-67, approx. 60 min, 16mm) PF *Still Courtesy of the Estate of Stan Brakhage and Fred Camper.
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Youssef Chahine's CAIRO STATION (Retrospective/Egyptian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Sunday, 3pm, Monday, 8pm, and Thursday, 6pm

Above all, Youssef Chahine loved the movies. As an idea, as a history, as a vernacular language, as a way to see, feel and describe the world. And to shape it. He understood that there was no right or wrong way to make a movie, just a series of choices, and the choices he made were completely free from the limiting traditions of "consistency"--tone, genre, "style." This is the freedom that makes CAIRO STATION, made half a century ago, so astounding. And it will continue to be astounding half a century, a century from now, even when the society it depicts is a distant memory. Chahine himself plays a homely vendor at the titular train station who obsesses over an indifferent beauty. Screening from a restored print as part of the Siskel's brief Chahine retrospective, the film will be preceded by CAIRO AS SEEN BY CHAHINE (1991, 23 min, video), a short about Egypt's capital by the director, a life-long Alexandrian. (1958, 79 min, 35mm) IV
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Films by Miklos Jancso: Week Two (Retrospective/Hungarian Revival)
Facets Cinémathèque - Showtimes noted below
Miklos Jancso is the man with X-ray eyes. He sees past the skin and the heart and the brain, right through to the skeleton: to history. History is the tough, unseen bone that shapes our bodies. It strips lives of the meaningful by striving to give itself meaning. When we begin to think of a head as a skull we stop thinking of it as a face; when we begin to think of something as an historical event, we cease to think of it as a human one. Miklos Jancso's THE RED AND THE WHITE (1967, 92 min, 35mm; Saturday 3pm and 5pm) is "historical" in the sense that it's tuned to history, in the same way that a group of medical students can look at dead person and think of them as a dead body, tuning their brains to anatomy. It's cruel because history, like medicine, is and must be cruel. It's a film about emotions seen through the language of textbooks, of little hopes doomed by the inevitable, in which Hungarian soldiers caught up in the Russian Civil War--history's bloodiest--struggle anonymously towards death. With long takes and post-synced dialogue that gives equal volume to every voice, it's heartbreaking because it's heartless. Few films can have the word "cut" applied to their editing more literally: every rare edit is severing something or making a deep, irreversible incision. RED PSALM (1971, 87 min, 35mm; Sunday 3pm and 5pm) consists of only twenty-six shots, its cuts even rarer, more monumental; it's also THE RED AND THE WHITE's opposite: a film about history tuned to culture, to pieces of ordinary life and tradition that don't disappear, but just change position, coming to the forefront or receding as life dictates. Songs and bits of folk imagery react to the 19th century peasant revolt Jancso takes as his plot; they are the real characters, and the actors are here to take their turns embodying them. With its non-tactile and largely apolitical color, it's an inversion of Jancso's earlier work--and his most beautiful film. IV
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Resnais' PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES (French Contemporary)
Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm
With Eric Rohmer recently announcing his retirement from features (see next week for his apparent last film), Alain Resnais, 86, is now the world's second-oldest Great Filmmaker (though he's got a ways to go to catch the oldest: Manoel de Oliveira just turned 100). Resnais even has a new film, LES HERBES FOLLES, in post-production, a minor miracle considering he was preparing to retire after PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES (a.k.a. COEURS). But Resnais couldn't pass up the offer to direct again, since the unexpected success of PRIVATE FEARS attracted a larger budget and more creative freedom than he'd seen since the height of his popularity in the 1960s.  In retrospect, this all seems perfectly natural, as PRIVATE FEARS is so moving (and never mawkishly so) that it leaves a lasting impact on all who see it. Another reason for Resnais' popular success is his choice of material, which is some of the most accessible he's ever adapted: a roundelay drama about middle-class types in the Noël Coward tradition.  But the cast (including Sabine Azema, Andre Dussolier, and Pierre Arditi, whom Resnais has come to know as intimately as family) brings such depth to their roles that even the most clichéd moments feel lived-in.  Also, Resnais' theatrical use of lighting, performance and visual space amplifies the underlying feelings of intimacy and confinement; in very little time, the light material comes to feel like a slim cover for the greatest despair. (If the farcical elements of Resnais' underrated I WANT TO GO HOME [1989] were an ode to THE RULES OF THE GAME, then this is his update on that film's tragic final act.) It's only after the film sinks in that the wisdom of Resnais' 84 years weigh so heavily on it: Here is a filmmaker who understands hopelessness--both public and private--at its essence and therefore can see it in anything.  The mobile 'Scope camerawork is by Eric Gauthier, a regular collaborator of Olivier Assayas and Arnaud Desplechin; the haunting score is by THE X-FILES' Mark Snow, whom Resnais requested based on his admiration for the series. (2006, 120 min, 35mm widescreen) BS
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Howard Alk: A Life on the Edge - Week 3 (Retrospective/Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center and Chicago Cultural Center - Showtimes noted below
As part of the Chicago Film Archives continuing retrospective on Howard Alk, the Siskel presents AMERICAN REVOLUTION 2 (1969, 85 min, 35 mm; Friday, 8pm), directed by Alk and Mike Gray. 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. Maybe in the shadow of this week's tentative optimism, this forty-year-old film may find renewed relevance. Filmmaker Jones Cullinan will introduce. On Wednesday (7pm) at the Chicago Cultural Center are two very different but equally fascinating films. SEARCH FOR THE LOST SELF (1966, approx. 50 min, video), directed by Murray Lerner and edited by Alk, is a heartbreaking look at the League School for disturbed children in Brooklyn. THE CRY OF JAZZ (1959, 35 min, video), directed by Ed Bland and edited by Alk, is about black identity and features early footage of Sun Ra and his Arkestra. Filmmaker and composer Ed Bland will be in person. CL
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In the Realm of Oshima: Week 4 (Retrospective/Japanese Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Showtimes noted below
MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (1983, 122 min, 35mm; Saturday, 3pm and Tuesday, 6pm) is Nagisa Oshima's best-known film outside of Japan, largely due to its featuring David Bowie in a supporting performance. But the movie was also intended as a response to Western genre filmmaking--the POW movie in general and David Lean's BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI in particular. Bowie plays a British soldier held in a Japanese camp near the end of World War II; between his exotic good looks and undisclosed military secrets, he becomes a well of fascination for the men running the camp. Oshima's satirical victory here is in depicting military loyalty (so integral to the genre) as repressed homoeroticism--a theme he would take even further in his final film, TABOO (1999). But where that work aspired to the ambiguity of Melville's Billy Budd , MR. LAWRENCE also succeeds as a traditional war-time melodrama; as with the 80s output of his contemporary Shohei Imamura (BALLAD OF NARAYAMA [1983], BLACK RAIN [1989]), the former iconoclast embraced mainstream filmmaking to show how his anti-establishment themes had been there all along. Also playing this week is THE CATCH (1961, 97 min, 35mm widescreen; Saturday, 5:30pm and Monday, 6pm), Oshima's first film as an independent director. Similar to MR. LAWRENCE in its premise (it's also about a Western soldier's experience in Japan during World War II), it's presumably more hysterical in tone, seeing as it comes from Oshima's trailblazing early period.  But few U.S. critics know for sure: Of all the titles in this traveling retrospective, it's one of the very rarest. At the very least, you can expect an eyeful, since this exciting phase of his career boasts some of the most inventive use of 'Scope framing of this era. BS
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Chicago Filmmakers - Saturday, 8pm
FOUR FILMS BY KIM LONGINOTTO, a series co-presented by Chicago Filmmakers and the Nightingale will highlight the work of the highly celebrated and rarely screened British documentarian. Her work is mainly interested in groups who, by choice or force, live outside of traditional societal systems, and nurture their own communities on their own terms.  Two of her films, DIVORCE IRANIAN STYLE (1998) and SISTERS IN LAW (2005), have won international acclaim and her latest film, ROUGH AUNTIES (2008), is screening this month at the Sundance Film Festival. The first program of the series includes two of Longinotto's movies filmed in Japan. SHINJUKO BOYS (1995, 53 min, video) and DREAM GIRLS (1993, 50 min, video) both follow groups of women living outside of traditional subservient gender roles common in Japanese marriages. SHINJUKU BOYS exposes American audiences to Japanese Onnabes--women who dress as men and work as male hosts to female guests at karaoke bar, Club Marilyn. These hosts provide Japanese women with the fantasy of the ideal male companion but they do not always self identify as transsexual or even lesbian in their private relationships. DREAM GIRLS follows the rigorous training of the all-girl Takarazuka Music School in Japan that produces lavish musicals for all-female audiences. The few girls that are accepted live a highly disciplined and reclusive lifestyle in order to become a musical theater star; they must choose to play either male or female roles throughout out their careers.  Both of these films display Longinotto's trademark extraordinary access to two very closed communities and the Japanese locales provide interesting counterpoints to the often-limited view of gender depicted in American cinema. CL
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WALTZ WITH BASHIR (New Narrative/Animation)
Landmark Century Center - Check Reader Movies for showtimes
WALTZ WITH BASHIR is a movie that doesn't need to be live action because it doesn't set out, like so many others, to impress us with how movies can make war look real and scary, or as in THE THIN RED LINE, beautifully and disorientingly unreal. It's a movie that uses animation to bring us into characters' memories, to bring us back to places that may never have been real to begin with, and that would never have been recreated accurately in live action anyway. It wants us to consider the human element of war rather than the strategies, the numbers, the visceralness, the characters that it can create. Director/writer Ari Folman (writer of HBO's therapy show IN TREATMENT) stars as himself, an Israeli survivor of the Lebanon War in the early 80s trying to remember what he experienced by talking with his friends and fellow survivors. Through this form of therapy he learns of memories he can't remember, but that he can imagine; he learns that memories are living things that change as we change. He is haunted by one memory that no one else seems to remember and we are reminded how everyone copes differently with traumatic experiences. Some suppress it, others replace it, and, most notably, that from a human's perspective, war is never how it objectively looks on camera. (2008, 90 min, 35mm) KH
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Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Reader Movies for showtimes
It's been 38 years since a plane carrying 45 passengers--the friends, family, and members of a Uruguayan rugby team--crashed in the Andes mountains en route to Chile, killing all but 16. It took 72 days for these men to be rescued and, by that time, they had to resort to cannibalizing the remains of their loved ones in order to survive. It's a true story familiar to most everyone, documented in a 1974 book and a 1993 film adaptation. Why, then, is this documentary being made now, so long after the incident and even 15 years after Ethan Hawke pretended to have frostbite? The answer is simple and obvious: after nearly 40 years to reflect on the event and their actions, the survivors are now able to speak openly and profoundly about their experience. These men have spent this time wrestling with the demons of memory and guilt about the actions they had to take to survive: in their interviews several of them associate their cannibalism with partaking in Holy Communion as a means of reconciliation. While the intermittent dramatic recreations can at times be a bit awkward, STRANDED is a compelling document of an event that continues to fascinate us. (2008, 126 min, 35mm) DM
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Also at Doc Films this week are Mike Leigh's HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (Saturday and Sunday); THE LADY AND THE BEARD in the early Yasujiro Ozu series (Sunday); Leo McCarey's devastating masterpiece MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (Tuesday); the Coen Brothers' THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Wednesday); Henry King's 1933 version of STATE FAIR (Thursday, early); and the grindhouse flick THE TAKING OF CHRISTINA (Thursday, late).

Block Cinema has the Beatles' film A HARD DAY'S NIGHT on Wednesday in their Rock and Roll series and Todd Haynes' POISON on Thursday in the Robert Mapplethorpe series.

The weekend matinee film this Saturday and Sunday at the Music Box is BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID; the midnight films are THE CROW and THE WRESTLER, which is also continuing in an extended run. Opening Friday is the highly acclaimed THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN, a new French film by Abdel Kechiche.

The 1934 Ray Enright and Busby Berkeley musical DAMES plays Saturday at the Bank of America Cinema. Did we mention we love Dick Powell? And Ruby Keeler? We do.

Facets Cinémathèque has the U.S. Theatrical premier of the music documentary MADE IN JAMAICA, playing for a week.

Also showing at the Film Center is Preston Sturges' CHRISTMAS IN JULY (Friday and Wednesday) and, as a double bill with the Sturges film on Wednesday, Edgar G. Ulmer's Poverty Row masterpiece DETOUR. In the Stranger Than Fiction documentary series this week is ICE PEOPLE and KILLER POET (with Publisher David Gecic, Puddin' Head Press, and poet Shelley Nation present for audience discussion on Sunday).

The Portage Theater continues to be Chicago's one-stop shop for all films horror on Saturday with a quadruple bill of THE WOLFMAN (1941), FRANKENSTEIN (1931), DRACULA (1931), and the odd-duck out film on the bill THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO (1964).

Steven Soderbergh's CHE continues this week at the Landmark's Century Center Cinema. Check last week's list for our write up.

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CINE-LIST: January 23 January 29, 2009


CONTRIBUTORS / Kalvin Henely, Doug McLaren, Christy LeMaster, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky

DESIGN / Darnell Witt

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