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:: Friday, FEB. 11 - Thursday, FEB. 17 ::

Cine-File mourns the passing of University of Chicago film professor Miriam Hansen, who died this past Saturday. Read the wonderful tribute to Hansen by her colleague Prof. Tom Gunning here.

At the same time that we share in this loss with our friends at the University of Chicago (and elsewhere), we also welcome the arrival of the new screening series Northwest Chicago Film Society, born-from-the-ashes of the defunct Bank of America Cinema. Their inaugural selection is a doozy: Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND, showing in a 35mm studio print (see below). Congratulations to Becca Hall and Julian Antos!


Our Doc Films series Cine-File Selects continues to run Mondays at 7pm throughout the winter. This week's selection comes from contributor Josephine Ferorelli. View the full schedule here

(Yugoslavian/West German Revival)

Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Monday, 7pm 
In addition to being a joyous articulation of Du?an Makavejev's radical politics, the free-form aesthetic of WR: MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM conveys a sense of limitless possibility rarely felt in narrative film outside of musicals. Beginning as a documentary about the radical theorist Wilhelm Reich—a heretical student of Freud's who championed free-flowing sexual energy as a revolutionary force—the movie goes off in several directions that ponder how his ideas have resonated in the real world. These directions include documentary profiles of a transsexual named Jackie Curtis and Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein, a guerilla musical starring Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, a cartoonish fictional story about sexual relations in Makavejev's native Yugoslavia, and (a constant in the director's work) satirical re-appropriations of Stalin-era propaganda. Makavejev, one of the most imaginative editors in cinema, intercuts between these elements so playfully it seems like he's making it up as he goes along. In actuality, the film is filled with rhymes, contradictions, and a symphonic sense of counterpoint. It's a near-inexhaustible work of art, forever young; whether this is the first or the tenth time you've seen it, you're guaranteed to pick up something new. Selected and introduced by Josephine Ferorelli. (1971, 85 min, 35mm) BS
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Uzbek Rhapsody: The Films of Ali Khamraev - Week One
(USSR/Uzbekistani Revivals) 
Gene Siskel Film Center - Titles and showtimes noted below 
Considering how little U.S. viewers see, much less know, of Central Asian movies, this touring retrospective of Ali Khamraev's films constitutes a major discovery. According to scholars, Khamraev was one of the first directors of his region to advance a distinctly personal (as opposed to Soviet-imposed) style, which he developed across a range of projects that includes realistic dramas, fanciful art films, and "Red Westerns." He occupies a central place in the filmmaking history of his region, as he was able to make full use of the Soviet film industry (which had established studios across the 'stans during World War II and maintained for more than thirty years afterwards) while at the same time enjoying the relative artistic freedom brought about by the cultural thaw of the 60s and 70s. In the words of Olaf Möller, in an essay he wrote for Film Comment in 2003, "Khamraev has a great sense of genre, for working with the sheer essence of story, an approach that favors movement instead of reflection... His strength is a tangible, restless sensibility with a taste for bold directorial strokes and, later, dense, expressive color." This latter quality is preeminent in the first film of the series, MAN FOLLOWS BIRDS (1975, 87 min, 35mm; Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 6pm), which is one of the director's most critically acclaimed works. In Möller's words, it "follows an innocent young poet on a quest for beauty in a war-ravaged medieval Central Asia. Now that's Khamraev's kind of story: the ambiguities of reality threatening a morally stable universe." (Barbara Scharres, in the Film Center's program notes, compares MAN FOLLOWS BIRDS to the ethnographic fantasias of Sergei Paradjanov.) Also playing this week is Khamraev's first feature, WHITE, WHITE STORKS (1966, 82 min, 35mm; Saturday, 4:45pm and Monday, 8pm). To cite Möller yet again, it is "a quiet drama about an extramarital affair in a small town, a subject rarely dealt with directly in Soviet cinema." For all the harsh realism to enter BIRDS and STORKS, the most transgressive—as well as the most edifying—film to play this week may be WITHOUT FEAR (1972, 96 min, 35mm; Sunday, 3pm and Thursday, 8:15pm), a stark history lesson that's considered one of the greatest of Uzbek films. Jared Rapfogel wrote about it several years ago at Senses of Cinema, in a piece worth quoting at length: "WITHOUT FEAR, which takes place at the very beginning of the Soviet period, vividly conveys the tragic consequences of forcing progress on a people profoundly traditional in their cultural and religious beliefs. It is the story of the ethnic-Uzbek Red Army officer responsible for implementing the changes ordained by his leaders, in particular the process of encouraging the women of the village to throw off their veils and embrace a new equality of the sexes. Khamraev and Andrei Konchalovsky (who co-wrote the film) never simplify the complexity of the situation: their protagonist is decent and well-meaning... but his wife, and many of her fellow women, are just as decent and believe just as deeply in the customs they've known all their lives... Despite his good intentions, despite the seemingly obvious benefits of these new ideas, [the officer's] efforts end in violence and tragedy, a result of the attempt to impose progress rather than cultivate it." BS
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Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND (American Revival) 
Northwest Chicago Film Society at the Portage Theater (4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.)

On their bright, Technicolor surfaces, the films of Douglas Sirk can appear as so many reiterations of the well-worn genre of the classical Hollywood melodrama. Lush domestic interiors, weeping women, maudlin mothers, betrayal, and heartbreak all make their obligatory appearances; all are familiar markers of a predictable narrative structure that will inevitably deliver the triumph of heterosexual union and affirm the solidity of the patriarchal family. This, however, is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, with vicious currents stirring underwater. WRITTEN ON THE WIND, undoubtedly one of Sirk's strongest films, demonstrates precisely why the director underwent significant critical reevaluation in the 1970s, leaving behind a reputation of glitz and fluff to become the darling of cinephiles, feminists, and Fassbinder alike. Working within and against the conventions of genre, Sirk's over-the-top excess forces the recognition of fissures and cracks that lurk within the dominant ideology the film superficially endorses. The glossiness and artificiality of Sirk's surfaces gives way to a complex meditation on the contradictions of gender, class, and sexuality. Dave Kehr sees the film as "a screaming Brechtian essay on the shared impotence of American family and business life...that draws attention to the artificiality of the film medium, in turn commenting on the hollowness of middle-class American life." The film stands as an excellent introduction to Sirk for those unfamiliar, but repeat viewings do not disappoint: as Pedro Almodovar said, "I have seen WRITTEN ON THE WIND a thousand times, and I cannot wait to see it again.'' (1956, 99 min, 35mm) EB
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Claude Chabrol's INSPECTOR BELLAMY (New French) 
Music Box - Check Venue website for showtimes 
Remarkably, this is the first film by Claude Chabrol to screen in Chicago since the director's passing last September. (Considering Chabrol made literally dozens of features, few of which are bad, it's surprising that retrospectives haven't been coming out of the woodwork for months.) It is, appropriately enough, the director's final feature, a low-key mystery starring Gerard Depardieu in the title role. As J. Hoberman amiably summarized the film for the Village Voice: "Paris's celebrated police chief Paul Bellamy is introduced rusticating with his wife Francoise (Marie Bunel) at their comfortably bourgeois home in the Provencal town of Nimes. But can a born sleuth ever truly take a vacation? The inspector is attempting to solve a crossword puzzle when he's interrupted by the presence of an agitated mystery man (Jacques Gamblin) lurking about the garden. Francoise vainly tries to protect her husband's privacy, but, once the mysterious stranger makes the unlikely confession that a recent car-crash fatality was in reality 'a sort of murder' that he contrived in the service of a murky insurance scam, the game is afoot.... Not unlike his obvious model, Georges Simenon's Chief Inspector Maigret, Bellamy is a domestic cop whose professional nosiness is exceeded only by his fondness for life's little pleasures—eating, smoking, and patting Francoise on the rump. He drinks, too, especially after his ne'er-do-well kid brother, Jacques (Clovis Cornillac), shows up—a dark, little cloud on the Mediterranean horizon." Already, this sounds like classic (or at least characteristic) Chabrol: a traditional suspense plot made personal through quirky detail and wry observations of bourgeois domesticity. That subject, a constant throughout Chabrol's films, inspired a variety of treatments across the director's fifty-year career, ranging from caustic humor to ice-cold cynicism. For his final two decades, Chabrol settled on a tone of gentle bemusement towards the middle-class, whose hypocrisies and self-preserving instincts now carried timeless human truths. The highly entertaining films of his late period are as graceful and apparently effortless as the B noirs Chabrol praised as a young critic; beneath the charming surfaces, however, lie rigid, geometric craftsmanship and penetrating psychological insight. Even if INSPECTOR BELLAMY is only an "average" film in the canon of 90s and 00s Chabrol, it still no doubt has much to teach us. (2009, 110 min, 35mm) BS
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Curt McDowell's THUNDERCRACK! & Short Films Program
(Experimental/Underground Revival)
Iceberg Projects Gallery - Friday, 6pm (Thundercrack!) and Saturday, 6pm (Shorts)

Underground filmmakers Curt McDowell and George Kuchar's "hardcore talking picture" from 1975 was an immediate success on the San Francisco underground film circuit upon its initial release due to its stirring compounding of aesthetics taken from Universal's old-dark-house films from the 1930s and 40s, coupled with screenwriter George Kuchar's wild absurdist narrative structuring and director McDowell's over-the-top sexual politics. This epic 152 minute film chronicles one night in the lives of five travelers who, due to a thunderstorm (a common motif in Kuchar's work) end up taking shelter in the home of Mrs. Gert Hammond. The strangers are soon forced into a series of tension filled sexual couplings, all of which are observed by Mrs. Hammond through a series of carefully placed peepholes. The sex is overtly anti-erotic yet emotionally wrought and the film's isolated setting increases its otherworldliness and gives it a No Exit quality. (1975, 152 min, 16mm shown from DVD) JR
The Shorts program includes the rarely-screened films SIAMESE TWIN PIN HEADS (1972), BOGGY DEPOT (1973), RONNIE (1972), and A VISIT TO INDIANA (1970), showing from DVD. Both programs repeat next weekend; see next week's list for details.
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Clint Eastwood's PLAY MISTY FOR ME (American Revival)

Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday and Tuesday, 6pm
A requisite stepping-stone in the development of any historically-minded cinephile is the recognition that the iconic handgun-fetishist fascism of Don Siegel's DIRTY HARRY, released in December 1971, was preceded a month earlier by Clint Eastwood's directorial debut: the well-received, hardly suspenseful pacifist date movie PLAY MISTY FOR ME. By comparing the institutionally memorized "do you feel lucky, punk?" catchphrases of Harry Callahan with the introspective community-radio/proto-quiet-storm DJ who plays weekly "five hours of music to be very, very nice to each other by," one can embark on a study of the decades of misunderstood, underrated, or forgotten Eastwoodania that he continues to produce in earnest to this day. MISTY's minimal plot of unbridled obsession is paralleled (and eclipsed) by Eastwood's highly amorous location shooting, which migrates the ecological Technicolor love affairs of Hitchcock's THE BIRDS and VERTIGO south to Monterey Bay: here in the Summer of 1970, a culturally diverse, bourgeois populace drives Jaguar convertibles in a breezy, post-bop heaven as-yet untouched by the blight of amphetamines, psychedelic rock, and the Whole Earth Catalog. In this film Eastwood begins his self-study of the guilt-ridden feminist jazzbo womanizer, as well as a more general intervention into the masculine mythology he so ruefully represents. (This reaches an apex with the CRUISING-esque TIGHTROPE [1984], his most direct and personal attempt to modulate the sexual-consumerist ideology that ruined several of his own relationships.) However, the weight of decades of mass-media "Make my day" inertia guarantees a perpetually limited comprehension of the Eastwood dialectic: the combination of an understated semiotic self-awareness—approaching (but never equaling) that of Douglas Sirk—with an unshakably conservative public image that for forty years he has repeatedly, and perhaps deliberately, failed to uncreate. Filmmaker and SAIC professor Jim Trainor lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1971, 102 min, 35mm) MC
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Bruno Dumont's HADEWIJCH (New French)
Facets Cinémathèque - Check Venue website for showtimes
Bruno Dumont depicts damaged souls with immaculate artistry. His images are often arranged with a painter's meticulousness and his soundtracks, typically devoid of music, give seeming order to everyday white noise. These elements would suggest a Christian cinema of grace attained by the unwitting (or at least a theologically-informed cinema, like Dreyer's or Bresson's), but Dumont is of a decidedly existential bent: His great theme is the search for dignity amidst a world of chaos. Whether his characters achieve this dignity (HUMANITE, FLANDRES) or not (THE LIFE OF JESUS, TWENTYNINE PALMS), their struggle has never been conceived in religious terms; in this regard, his fifth film, HADEWIJCH, represents a departure for Dumont. Its college-aged protagonist Celine is searching specifically for communication with God, looking first in a convent (located in the small country town for which the movie is named) and then, disastrously, in the secular world. One pivotal scene excluded, her story is free of sex or violence: In another departure, Dumont mostly restricts himself to G-rated material. His concern is Celine's response to mundane experience, which she finds generally unfulfilling; her yearning for divine presence is so strong that she's moved by almost nothing. In Celine's search for transcendence, she will experiment several times with martyrdom—by fasting, in resisting the affections of an admiring young man, and through one radical decision, which should remain a surprise for those who haven't seen it. Throughout HADEWIJCH Dumont ponders, Is this young woman overcome with self-love, as one older nun insists, or does she have the makings of a saint? The camera is impassive; it doesn't pretend to know. But like Carlos Reygadas' SILENT LIGHT (another film about fundamentalism made by an avowed atheist), HADEWIJCH takes religion seriously enough not to condescend to its practitioners. Whether the film succeeds as religious parable, however, greatly depends on your response to Julie Sokolowski, its young star. Like all of Dumont's leads, Sokolowski had no previous acting experience before making this film. Her actions are unaffected, but maddeningly opaque; she doesn't seem to have answers about Celine, either. For some viewers, her presence may embody the same unwitting grace of Bresson's Mouchette and Balthazar; for others, she will be nothing more than a blank slate. In either case, her consistent unreadability illustrates the movie's key refrain, that "God appears to us in the invisible." And in Sokolowski's constancy, Dumont finds a fitting model for his seriousness of intent. (2009, 101 min, 35mm) BS
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C. Scott Willis's THE WOODMANS (New Documentary) 
Gene Siskel Film Center
  - Check Venue website for showtimes  
Here (and presumably, at plenty of other junctures in their lives), George and Betty Woodman are called up as expert witnesses to their daughter Francesca's life and career as a photographer, both of which ended suddenly in 1981 and left them in two tragic and unnatural positions—first, as parents who have survived their child, and then, as parents whose professional and creative identities are outgrowths of that same lost child's posthumous fame. The Woodmans talk about Francesca the way that some academics talk about a subject that they are trapped under the weight of—tiredly and dispassionately, tinged with occasional bitterness. They discuss her art, her personality, and her death with the kind of distanced and calculated tone that one would expect from a historian, not from grieving parents and especially not from a pair of self-described romantic and creative free spirits. Their attempts at historical objectivity and distance are underlined by the highly conventional format of the documentary, which alternates talking head interviews with stylized reproductions of artifacts and subtitled diary entries, and are then undone by their conflicted obsession with putting things into proper context. For the Woodmans, historical context is what made them definitively exceptional as parents and artists, and its what may have made Francesca a relevant and talented artist. The extreme passive-aggression that characterizes these debates over Francesca's work and legacy (such as her father's claim that her self-portraits come off as "self-preoccupied") makes it clear that the impact of Francesca's life and death is lasting, and that her parents' control over her image and her images (which are intertwined more often than not) is at once tenuous and incredibly direct, as George and Betty remind us again and again that they have the ultimate authority over their daughter's artistic and personal legacy due simply to the fact that they are alive and she is not. (2010, 82 min, HDCAM video) AO
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Claire Denis' WHITE MATERIAL (New International) 
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7, 9, and 11pm and Sunday, 3pm
At its essence, Claire Denis' new film is an exploded chamber drama: the basic plot concerns the white inhabitants of a coffee plantation in an unnamed African country as they are faced with a variety of interlopers from the outside world, including a wounded rebel leader (Isaach De Bankolé), a child army, and evacuating French soldiers; however, instead of presenting the plot in a conventionally "straightforward" way—which isn't to say it would be straightforward at all, but merely conventional—Denis shuffles the order of events so that, rather than adhering to chronology, the action occurs according to its own logic. This is not to artfully obscure the events of the plot, but to clarify them; Denis' method, which builds on the anti-psychological approach introduced in THE INTRUDER, could be compared to someone pulling on a thread in order to untangle a knot (in this case, the brutal ending). The distressing bit of African Gothic could be described as Denis doing Michael Haneke—a bourgeois woman (Isabelle Huppert) is done in by her capitalist morality (this land is mine!), while her lay-about son (Nicolas Duvauchelle) turns to brutality as a way to lash out against his own boredom (shades of BENNY'S VIDEO and, depending on who you ask, CACHE)—but whereas with Haneke, ever the showman, the final act of violence would be an accusatory enigma, with Denis it is the understandable product of a life devoted to pettiness. (2009, 106 min, 35mm) IV  
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The Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center welcomes French experimental filmmaker Rose Lowder, who will present a program of her short films on Thursday at 6pm. 

Gallery 400 at UIC (400 S. Peoria Ave.) present the video screening Afterlives and Other Agonies on Wednesday at 7pm. Curated by video artist and UIC faculty member Doug Ischar, the program includes Jennifer Montgomery's THE AGONAL PHASE (2010), Peggy Ahwesh's THE APE OF NATURE (2010), and Canadian video pioneer Colin Campbell's THE LADY FROM MALIBU (1976).  

The Experimental Film Society at the School of the Art Institute presents the third and final program in its Faculty Screening: 16mm Films by The Man series on Monday at 4pm. The screening is at 112 S. Michigan Ave., Rm. 1307 and includes Michelle Puetz's COMING/GOING (1998), Eric Fleischauer's ESC* (2003), Carolyn Faber's IOTA (1998), Mickey Mahoney's ACROBATS AND SWORD-SWALLOWERS (1997), Jim Trainor's HARMONY (2004), and Tatsu Aoki's DREAM WORKS (1981). 

Roots & Culture Gallery (1034 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Video Data Bank New Acquisitions Program 2011 on Sunday at 7pm. The show, curated by Alexander Stewart, features Dani Leventhal's HEARTS ARE TRUMP AGAIN, Michael Gitlin's DUST STUDIES, GUMMI International's FREDDY MCGUIRE—LOTTERY TICKET, Rosa Barba's THE EMPIRICAL EFFECT, Kevin Jerome Everson's 140 OVER 90, Jem Cohen's ANNE TRUITT WORKING, and Jessie Mott and Steve Reinke's BLOOD & CINNAMON. 

Local filmmaker Melika Bass is showing this month in the Museum of Contemporary Art's USB 12x12 New Artists/New Work series. Bass' site-specific installation is on view through February 27. 

UIC's Institute for the Humanities (701 South Morgan, Lower Level, Stevenson Hall) presents a lecture by Marcin Gizycki entitled "The Themersons and Polish Experimental Film Before 1945" on Thursday at 5pm. Dr. Marcin Gizycki is an art and film historian, critic, and filmmaker; Editor-in-Chief of "Animafilm" magazine; a senior lecturer at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence; and Artistic Director of "Animator," International Animated Film Festival in Poznan, Poland.  

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Chicago-area native Ramin Serry's dark comedy LOVELESS has its world premiere on Friday and Sunday. In addition to its director, the film has local connections with several cast members: Andrew von Urtz and Cindy Chastain are Northwestern alums and Gary Wilmes is a Chicago-bred theater actor. Director Serry and writer/producer Shauna Lyon in person at both shows, and actor von Urtz in person Friday and tentatively Sunday; Elizabeth Canner's 2009 documentary ORGASM INC. plays for a week; and SAIC grad Bradley Rust Gray's 2009 comedy/drama THE EXPLODING GIRL screens on Monday. 

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: the 1924 Harold Lloyd comedy GIRL SHY screens Saturday night and Sunday afternoon; D.W. Griffith's 1925 film (with W.C. Fields?!) SALLY OF THE SAWDUST is on Sunday night; George Stevens' 1951 film A PLACE IN THE SUN is on Tuesday; Martin Scorsese's CAPE FEAR shows twice on Wednesday; William Beaudine's 1934 W.C. Fields' comedy THE OLD FASHIONED WAY is the early film Thursday; and Michael Laughlin's 1981 Australian film STRANGE BEHAVIOR is the late show on Thursday. 

Also at the Music Box this week: Lucy Walker, Karen Harley, and João Jardim's acclaimed documentary WASTE LAND opens Friday; THE ILLUSIONIST continues; CASABLANCA, with a pre-show sing-along, is on Sunday at 2pm; on Thursday, the Music Box and DePaul University present "Science/Fiction," which includes a panel discussion (7:30pm) and screenings of Werner Herzog's THE WILD BLUE YONDER (6pm) and the 1995 anime film GHOST IN THE SHELL (8:45pm). Check the website for more details; filmmaker Tommy Wiseau will be in person to present his contemporary cult phenomenon THE ROOM on Friday (10pm) and Saturday (7 and 10pm); the Saturday and Sunday matinees are WASTE LAND and Alfred Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS; and the midnight film Friday and Saturday is Shinya Tsukamoto's new TETSUO: THE BULLET MAN

Chicago Filmmakers presents Hilary Brougher's 1997 film THE STICKY FINGERS OF TIME in its Dyke Delicious series on Saturday. There's a social hour at 7pm and the film is at 8pm. 

At Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: Robert Rossen's 1961 classic THE HUSTLER is on Friday at 7pm; Mitchell Leisen's rare 1945 drama KITTY screens Saturday at 2pm in a 35mm archival print from the British Film Institute; and Ron Howard's directorial debut, 1977's GRAND THEFT AUTO, is on Thursday (showing from DVD). 

Also at Facets Cinémathèque this week is David Mackay's 2009 comedy/drama TEN INCH HERO, which screens Monday at 7pm. 

Also at the Portage Theater this week: in the Wednesday matinee series (1:30pm), it's Tim Whelan's 1938 Laurence Olivier film THE DIVORCE OF LADY X; on Friday at 8pm it's CASABLANCA; and on Saturday at 5pm, embedded within a day-long comic book and collectables show, it's THE INCREDIBLE HULK

The horror film website Shadows & Screams is hosting an evening of short independent horror films on Friday at 10pm at the Wilmette Theatre (1122 Central Ave., Wilmette, IL). Details can be found here.

The Chicago History Museum presents the documentary A DAY OF REMEMBRANCE: PILGRIMAGE on Sunday at 2pm.

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CINE-LIST: February 11 - February 17, 2011


CONTRIBUTORS / Erika Balsom, Michael Castelle, Anne Orchier, Joe Rubin, Ben Sachs, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

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