Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, FEB. 12 - Thursday, FEB. 18 ::


Roberto Rossellini's STROMBOLI (Italian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 7pm

Rossellini's trilogy of WWII-related films (1945-48) was a historical necessity, movies that bore witness to the reality of war-ravaged Europe while generating sympathy for war's victims through the power of fiction. But the movies he made directly afterwards were no less integral to the development of cinema. Continuing to blend documentary and fiction in unpredictable ways, Rossellini went further in the direction of melodrama, not only in plotting but in his embrace (often literal) of movie stars. The result did not negate the imposing truths that defined Rossellini's major work - stark locations, markers of social inequality - but rather elevated melodramatic sentiment to the level of spiritual importance. After the experimental diptych AMORE (1948), this new approach yielded its first breakthrough with STROMBOLI, a film that feels biblical in its fable-like directness and opacity of meaning. Ingrid Bergman plays Karin, a Lithuanian woman who marries an Italian fisherman to get out of a refugee camp. She's taken to the small island for which the film is named - a forbidding, sparsely populated place marked by poverty and religious superstition. As an outsider, Karin raises suspicion almost immediately; and her resistance to the island's patriarchal ways results in escalating persecution. As in the second segment of AMORE or the final third of EUROPA '51 (his next collaboration with Bergman), Rossellini creates a scenario of terrible suffering to imagine what sainthood might look like in modern, even secular, terms. For some, Bergman's plight in STROMBOLI looks more like martyrdom than sainthood (The film culminates, famously, on top of an active volcano), but the film's underlying moral seriousness cannot be mistaken. Although Doc will be screening the infamous Howard Hughes edit of the movie, which is a full 25 minutes shorter than Rossellini's version, these images remain crucial viewing. (1950, 81 min, 16mm) BS
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Frank Borzage's HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (American Revival)
Bank of America Cinema - Saturday, 8pm

The quintessential Frank Borzage film, HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT is what most screenwriters seem to have in mind when invoking the romanticism of The Movies. The story takes place among the wealthy and in the bohemian paradise of what Ernst Lubitsch called "Paris, Hollywood." Hard social realities seem not to exist; all that counts is whether good-hearted people find love - a matter of life-and-death significance for Borzage. The film is most often remembered for its climax (inspired by the sinking of the Titanic) - a sequence that still generates tension and disbelief in equal measure. But there are moments of light comedy, melodrama, and slapstick just as grandly conceived: Indeed, few films better recreate how all emotions are felt more intensely upon falling in love. On the run from her jealous tycoon husband (Colin Clive, James Whale's Dr. Frankenstein), Jean Arthur shares an enchanted evening in Paris with maitre d' Charles Boyer. A spate of complications keeps the spirited couple from reuniting for more than a year; and when they finally do, it's on board that fateful ocean liner. The film contains numerous changes in tone more reminiscent of the early talkies than what Hollywood was regularly making at the time (though the nuanced cinematography, by David Abel and an uncredited Gregg Toland, looks forward to certain technical breakthroughs of the 1940s); given the fluidity of transition and the overall poetics, perhaps the 19th-century symphony would be a better point of reference than any film. The three leads, incidentally, were never better, so comfortable in their performances as to make all the narrative curveballs feel perfectly tenable. (1937, 97 min, 16mm) BS
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Yvonne Rainer's A FILM ABOUT A WOMAN WHO... (Experimental Revival)
Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm

If you haven't seen the movie, the title might make you ask, "who does what?" Fair question; movies are, after all, almost always about people doing something. What director/dancer Yvonne Rainer's film is about, ultimately, is the actual women inhabiting any plot description. It's not so much about what comes after its title ("who does what"), but about the woman who does anything ("about a woman whoà"). The focus is being reclaimed from the action and given back to the woman doing it; it's saying that action may be more filmable, but what about the person doing those things? Rainer's interests lie in how women are represented in media and also what they are thinking and feeling, rather than they how they look and what they do. For instance, in bed she doesn't show the sex because she's not interested in how sexy a woman's body can look naked; rather she informs us of the woman's thoughts as she lays next to a man with a sheet fully covering her. The woman thinks, "Oh Christ, now he'll never screw me again," after asking the man to hold her, but then, since emotions, especially repressed emotions, aren't that simple, she realizes she actually just wants to "bash his fucking face in." Always self-reflexive, Rainer then inserts on-screen text that reads "(do you think she could figure her way out of a paper bag?)." Part-and-parcel to her approach of disorienting viewers is to alienate them. Often you'll be shown something, but the voice-over will be leading you in another direction. A scene will start textually but then end visually, or vice versa, implying that there's an equivalency and sameness between the two. But, since each technique has its own capacity, a friction is created that breaks up any sense of smoothness, causing us to reflect on the differences between words and images, imagination and the real thing. As Acquarello points out on the Strictly Film School website, a silent scene where we are shown a family getting ready to pose for a happy picture at the beach "illustrates the deliberateness and artifice of the idealized image. It also underscores the act of performance in creating the illusion of happiness." When we are shown a woman awkwardly being stripped down to nothing by a man for an extended period of time, we are seeing a reversal of decades of images of women being denuded for the pleasure of the male gaze. The scene works like a would-be trick, like when a man is lured to the house of a young girl on the show To Catch a Predator only to find out he's been busted in his philandering tracks. Presented by the Experimental Film Club at the U of C (1974, 105 min, 16mm) KH
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Jacques Tati's MON ONCLE and TRAFIC (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Showtimes noted below

Filmmakers often speak of movies as their children. Fassbinder slept around and populated the cinema with his bastards (he was a spendthrift and probably didn't pay child support.) Jacques Tati's parenthood was much more planned, though his career was marked by miscarriages (the never-filmed CONFUSION and THE ILLUSIONIST) and an unplanned pregnancy: TRAFIC (1971, 96 min, 35mm; Saturday, 5:15pm and Monday, 6pm). Just because TRAFIC came about by accident (or rather, out of economic need) doesn't mean it wasn't raised with love; forced to bring back his popular Monsieur Hulot (whom he considered killing off in CONFUSION) by the financial disaster of PLAYTIME's original release, Tati made a film as simple as the early Hulot pictures, but as beautiful as the masterpiece that had preceded it. Instead of PLAYTIME's open-ended examination of the mid-20th century West, TRAFIC hones in on car culture, with Hulot an automobile designer traveling to an auto show with his prototype. PLAYTIME was proof that the movie is greater than the novel; TRAFIC is a surpassing of the novella, a runt (shot in Academy ratio with mono sound, in contrast to PLAYTIME's 70mm images and six-track stereo) that's capable of taking on its long-winded bullies. Also screening in the Siskel's Tati retrospective is MON ONCLE (1958, 117 min, 35mm; Saturday, 3pm; Sunday 6pm), Tati's second Hulot film, and his first in color. The elements of all of Tati's early films and many of his later ones are at play here. A complex bit of entertainment to rival Chaplin, it remains the best introduction to his work. IV
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Hakim Belabbes' IN PIECES (New Documentary/Essay Film)
Eye & Ear Clinic (SAIC, 112 S. Michigan Ave, Rm. 1307) - Wednesday, 6pm

Hakim Belabbes' IN PIECES intimately documents the artist's complex, and sometimes uneasy, relationship with his family and culture in Morocco. These are home movies made by a professional; vignettes structured through the use of "intertitles" that serve as textual markers for the events and realizations that orient one's decisions over the course of a decade. IN PIECES is part essay film, part cinema verite, sans the illusion of objectivity. It demonstrates inflections of narrative - a family drama without the easy resolutions of most feature films. Belabbes in person. (2010, 91 min, DVD) BC

David Cronenberg's CRASH (Canadian Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm

Looking at pictures, we're naturally drawn to human figures. We're people, and we like, above all, to watch other people do things. It's difficult to equate a machine and a person in a moving picture. You can do it through editing, but within a single shot, it's difficult to pull off. It's the sound in CRASH that does it. That, and the dispassionate way all of the actors talk, as though making notes into a tape recorder for themselves, like medical examiners. Every sentence seems to have been recorded separately. It sounds less like we're listening in on conversation than that a particular sort of noise made by people is being played for us, like a Chris Watson recording of some forest. And, as when recording animals one inevitably catches the sound of rustling leaves and rain (it is, after all, the animals and the trees together that form a "forest"), it's inevitable that when recording "society," one should have both human voices and city sounds at equal levels. Above all the other elements of the film - the pharmaceutical composition of its images, the clinical editing, Howard Shore's machine shop music - it's the sound mix that makes CRASH David Cronenberg's most fully realized film. Taking the story of a group of people who confuse sex and car crashes (or moans and squealing tires) to its formal extreme, he creates something more effective than the most gruesome special effect - with nothing more than some microphones and a mixing board.  (1996, 98 min, archival 35mm) IV
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Antonio Campos' AFTERSCHOOL (New Narrative)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Friday, 7pm

With its prep school setting and dead-eyed violence, Antonio Campos' AFTERSCHOOL suggests a heavily narcotized take on Lindsay Anderson's IF... Embodying all of Mick Travers's unfocused rage with none of his charisma, Rob's (Ezra Miller) social skills have been blunted by prescription meds and streaming pornography. Already a three-time Cannes veteran at 25, Campos has a better handle on how young people communicate than indie paterfamilias Gus Van Sant (his closest correlate), and his slow-burn takes ensure more awkward silences than actual lines. The camerawork is often as disconnected from the action as the protagonists: characters wander off into the anamorphic margins, and rigidly fixed pans casually lop off actors' heads rather than tilt up. Rob witnesses the overdose of a set of popular twins, allowing Campos to divide his time between the far reaches of adolescent alienation and the frenzied overreaction that isolated traumas often spark in stunned bureaucracies. (2008, 107 min, 35mm) MK
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www.blockmuseum.northwestern. edu.

Films by Tom Palazzolo & Morton Heilig (Doc / Narrative Shorts Revival)
Chicago Filmmakers - Friday, 8pm

If the name Tommy Chicago doesn't ring a bell, you better ask somebody. Since he moved to the city in the early '60s to study at the Art Institute, Palazzolo has made work that captures the diversity (read: ethnic enclaves), characters, and quirks of the Midwestern Metropolis. An accomplished painter and photographer with wit to spare, he's never tried to imitate the tropes of costal experimental film stalwarts. Instead he's used (and reused) his heartland footage to craft films with joie-de-vivre and irreverence. Palazzolo edits by intuition rather than theory, and even when his technique seems crude his heart makes up for it. Tonight's program, titled Gone Rogue: An Iconoclastic Look at Church and State, features four of his shorts and what he says is his favorite film about the early sixties. If counterculture is what you're after, then CAMPAIGN (1968/2009) will provide you with the recommended daily allowance of Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsburg. The original Mayor Daley battles hippies and chaos, and gleefully sends his goons to keep the peace. Advantageously shot during the '68 Democratic convention, it ranks right up there with MEDIUM COOL as an accidental comment on the generational divide the event reinforced. Less political is TATTOOED LADY (1967/2009). Covering the long-since defunct Riverview Park, the camera lets the real freaks perform and enrapture us into believing that, even in 1967, this north-side amusement park wasn't downtrodden. The most recent film showing is a comedic collaboration with Second City, VATICAN WORLD (1992), and features Jon Favreau (credited as Favro) in his film debut. Favreau plays a young, near-sighted pope who enlists a PR man to increase the market share of Catholicism. Also screening is Palazzolo's HEY GIRLS (1990), based on a Heather McAdams cartoon, and Morton Heilig's ASSEMBLY LINE (1961), which has a tone reminiscent of classic 50's educational films. An optimistic young factory worker goes downtown to blow his weekly earnings but, instead of fun and camaraderie, he finds scams and loneliness and ends up at home with one more rung in the ladder of his banal industrial life. Palazzolo in person. (1961-92, approx. 70 min total, 16mm and DVD) JH
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Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday and Tuesday, 6pm

Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's self-reflexive musical about the introduction of sound and, soon thereafter, singing, in Hollywood feature films is, hands down, one of the most inventive Hollywood musicals ever made. Sure, it's brash and brightly colored but, as far as mainstream Hollywood studio musicals go, it's not simply a rote number. To begin with, it pre-empts the popularity of post-modern strategies in Hollywood cinema even before Jean-Francois Lyotard had diagnosed the condition and it was also heavily inspired by Powell and Pressburger's THE RED SHOES (1948); the surreal and fantastical dream sequence for the song "Gotta Dance" undoubtedly borrows from the 15-minute long production of the Red Shoes ballet. Although SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is in many ways inferior, Donen and Kelly's desire to bring some of Powell and Pressburger's inventiveness to Hollywood was a courageous move. Comparisons aside, SINGIN' boasts its own impressive repertoire of brilliant performances, particularly Donald O'Connor's incredible physical comedy routines, sure to make even the most griping curmudgeon crack a smile. Although the most widely remembered scene in the film is Gene Kelly splashing around in the puddles and singing the title song, Debbie Reynolds' steals the show from him on more than one occasion - particularly her performance of "Good Mornin'" (which contrary to popular rumor she does sing herself). Throw in the fact that the Technicolor is stunning and the jokes still pack a punch 50 years later, and you have a clever, comic masterpiece. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is a theater-going experience not to be missed - watching it on TV just doesn't do it justice. Virginia Wright Wexman lectures at the Tuesday show. (1952, 102 min, 35mm) BC
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James Ivory's MAURICE (British Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) Saturday, 2pm

How refreshing to watch an Edwardian period drama in which what's queer is not relegated to the subtextual. MAURICE, the 1987 adaptation of E. M. Forster's posthumous novel, is the definitive coming-out blockbuster. For sixty years, Forster never felt the time was right to publish his work about an insuperable "congenital homosexual" (it was published in 1971, a year after his death). But seventeen years later the stars aligned for Merchant Ivory Productions' film. It's as stylish and sexy as PRICK UP YOUR EARS or the BBC's BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, but concise and without the hammer fall or the lifetime of melancholy. It remains one of the few mainstream queer-topic films from that era that doesn't feel dated (even today there is no abundance of movie men resolutely climbing through each other's windows). James Wilby plays the title character, a guileless lummox whose incapacity for subterfuge lands him in a radical position. The expansion of his consciousness begins with a tentative advance from a classmate, Clive (Hugh Grant). Behold Grant's first major performance; he's uncommonly subtle as the apprehensive lover and then as the shell into which he disappears. As Maurice grows surer of himself and Clive retreats behind his moustache, Clive's under-gamekeeper, Scudder (the unspeakably charming Rupert Graves), appears, bringing Maurice's first taste of class struggle with him. Maurice falls between A ROOM WITH A VIEW and HOWARD'S END in Merchant Ivory's E. M. Forster trilogy, and is the only film of the three not screen-written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. This is the boy's club, and the exclusion is hilariously delineated in the first scene by young Maurice's professor as he illustrates an extempo beach lecture on sex with a series of 'waginas' and 'membrus wirilises' sketched in the sand and hopes the tide comes in before any ladies should see. (1987, 140 min, Video) JF
More info at
www.blockmuseum.northwestern. edu.

HC Potter's HELLZAPOPPIN' (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Tuesday, 9:35pm

This is what happens when a Broadway show that was basically vaudeville gets made into a film. Disconnected and thin on plot, this is nevertheless a cinematic plum. Our hosts for the evening are Olson and Johnson, a comedy duo made up of two straight men who can't help but talk to the audience and yell at the projectionist. There's some funny gags, a song or two from "the Big Mouth," Martha Raye, and a great Lindy Hop dance scene featuring Frankie Manning, but the shining moments are when the characters get to play with the fourth wall. In what can only be the inspiration for MST3K, the opening sequence takes place on a soundstage where Olson and Johnson argue with a director and screenwriter about how to turn their show into a movie. They sit down to watch some footage covering the tacked-on love story, and make up their own dialog for the on screen action before seamlessly becoming part of it. Despite failing to capture the mythic energy of the stage show with which it shares a name, HELLZAPOPPIN' still pleases almost 70 years later. Introduced by comic artist, and U of C alum, Ivan Brunetti. (1941, 84 min, 35mm) JH
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Lars von Trier's ANTICHRIST (New International)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) -  Saturday, 7 and 9:15pm & Sunday, 1pm

A cabin in the woods, a man and a woman, some fog: that's really all you need to make a horror film, right? The rest will come out of you - if not naturally, then it can be forced, vomited out, by sticking a finger down your throat. "The sleep of reason produces monsters," wrote Goya into a table above which he drew a picture of himself, surrounded by a cloud of bats and owls. We suppress the nightmares, and they only come back in greater numbers. ANTICHRIST, Lars von Trier's little monster, has the barest, though certainly not the humblest, of beginnings. A horror film, a scaffolding built out of twigs and bones, on to which von Trier can hang animal skins, human limbs, and the sickest jokes his head can brew up. The man is Willem Dafoe and the woman is Charlotte Gainsbourg. There's no monster; only the two of them, alone, with hammers, scissors and a few centuries worth of nightmares. This is a film made out of glistening bile. (2009, 109 min, 35mm) IV
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Tommy Wiseau's THE ROOM (Contemporary Cult Revival)
Music Box - Friday, 8 and 11:30pm

A woman announces, "Well, the results came back - I definitely have breast cancer," and that's the last we ever hear of it. A group of men don tuxedos for no apparent reason and then toss around a football. A drug dealer threatens to kill someone and then disappears for the rest of the movie. Upon awaking, a man picks up a rose from his night table, smells it, and throws it on top of his sleeping girlfriend. A recurring rooftop "exterior" is obviously a studio set, with a backdrop of the San Francisco skyline digitally composited behind the action. Accidental surrealism can be even more potent than the conscious kind, and THE ROOM is some kind of zenith of its type, the equal to anything Ed Wood committed to celluloid. Although what's on screen looks like it cost about $14.99, the actual budget was upwards of $6 million, in part because actor/producer/writer/director Wiseau shot simultaneously in 35mm and HD (supposedly he didn't understand the differences between the two formats). Now the film has become a worthy successor to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, with enthusiastic fans performing a series of rituals at each screening. Ross Morin, assistant professor of film studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, calls it "one of the most important films of the past decade. Through the complete excess in every area of production, THE ROOM reveals to us just how empty, preposterous and silly the films and television programs we've watched over the past couple of decades have been." Director Wiseau in person at both screenings. (2003, 99 min, 35mm) RC
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The Nightingale hosts video artist Torsten Zenas Burns on Saturday at 8pm. He presents a program of collaborative projects made with Anne McGuire, Darrin Martin, Christian K. Burns, and as part of HalfLifers.

The Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center presents a program of former-Chicagoan Sterling Ruby's experimental videos on Thursday at 6pm. Ruby in person.

Also at the Music Box this week: Terry Gilliam's THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS and Andrea Arnold's FISH TANK are both held over; FISH TANK and Louis Malle's 1958 film ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS are the Saturday and Sunday matinees; PARNASSUS is also midnights Friday and Saturday and the other Saturday midnight film is MYSTERY TEAM (THE ROOM Is 11:30pm Friday, see above); Michael Curtiz's CASABLANCA is Sunday at 2pm and is preceded by a Valentine's Day sing-along; and Tuesday at 7:30pm Sound Opinions' Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis present SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week, in the Reeltime Series, is local filmmaker Bob Hercules' documentary RADICAL DISCIPLE: THE STORY OF FATHER PFLEGER. Thursday at 7pm, with Hercules in person.

At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Damani Baker and Alex Vlack's documentary STILL BILL, about singer Bill Withers, plays for a week; and Saturday at midnight in the Facets Night School series is Arthur Ripley's influential 1958 cult film THUNDER ROAD, starring Robert Mitchum. It will be accompanied by a talk from Susan Doll.

Also at Doc Films: Michael Moore's CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY plays Friday night and Sunday afternoon; Jack Clayton's 1964 film THE PUMPKIN EATER is Monday; a program of shorts from 1948-1968 by experimental filmmaker James Broughton screens Tuesday; John Ford's 1956 masterpiece THE SEARCHERS is the early film Thursday; and A LABOR OF LOVE, Robert Flaxman & Dan Goldman's 1976 documentary on the making of a now-lost Chicago-made porn film, is the late Thursday film.

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Oren Moverman's THE MESSENGER receives a week long run; Caitlin Grogan's new documentary, LIFE AS LINCOLN, plays Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday, with Grogan in person at all three shows; and Yuli Karasik's 1970 film THE SEAGULL (Sunday and Thursday) and Emil Loyanu's 1978 film A HUNTING ACCIDENT (Sunday and Monday) play in the Chekhov series.

Also at Chicago Filmmakers this week, in the monthly Dyke Delicious series, is Liz Canner's 2009 documentary ORGASM, INC. It shows Saturday at 8pm, with a social hour starting at 7pm. 
At the The Portage Theater this week: the Wednesday matinee series returns with William A. Seiter's 1950 film BORDERLINE (1:30pm, from video); and on Thursday at 8pm it's the custom motorcycle documentary HARBORTOWN BOBBER.

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CINE-LIST: February 12 - February 18, 2010


CONTRIBUTORS / Beth Capper, Rob Christopher, Josephine Ferorelli, Jason Halprin, Kalvin Henely, Michael King, Christy LeMaster, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

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