Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
x x x x x x
> Sign up
> Editorial Statement
> Last Week > Next Week
a weekly guide to alternative cinema- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
:: Friday, JUNE 10 - Thursday, JUNE 16 ::


Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME (New Swiss/French)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
The five best words in the English language: new Jean-Luc Godard movie. OK, so three of those words are technically French, but no one is being particular, least of all Godard. The film at-hand, FILM SOCIALISME, is at best a fragmented, three-part narrative, and unlikely to win any new fans for the legendary new-waver. Once again Godard displays a mastery of the cinematic form. Here he makes fascinating contrapuntal use of several differing video formats (including cell phone, standard definition digital video, and crisp, beautiful HD video), focusing on and weaving together the visual textures unique to each of the various technologies. As a result, the shots at times bang against one another, jarring the viewer with each seemingly random cut, while at others the contrast works to give us an intimate view of an elderly couple eating a meal (cell phone) or a bourgeois family basking in the sun (HD). Godard's deep understanding of film as an audio-visual medium is also on display. A sound bridge carries us from the mostly white passengers on a cruise ship—the location of the first sequence of the film—dancing the night away, to the Asian and African workers who keep the playland going; an older male voice speaks like a narrator from off-screen while a young woman lectures back at him about Lenin and ideals while watching a movie on a laptop, perched on the bed in one of the ship's cabins. Various soundtrack elements clog our ears as they compete with one another, forcing the audience to pick one out of the crowd, and drop the others. The social commentary about the clueless, apathetic rich and the poor workers whom they ignore is overt in each of these scenes (I can imagine Marcuse laughing from farther off-screen than the old narrator), and equally excusable. The film's dialogue, which is primarily in French and English with a sprinkling of other languages, is only given in fragmented pidgin English, utilizing what Godard has termed "Navajo" subtitles. We get perhaps one or two words of text for every twenty that are spoken, a stunted poetic comment, misspellings and all ("AIDS tool forkilling blacks," e.g.). This provocative withholding of information can make the already subtextually and thematically dense narrative frustrating to follow, but it's results are brilliant when one is able to synthesize the different details being communicated in the pictures, sounds, and text into a larger meaning. Like an epic poem using 3 tangentially related stories to explore a unified theme, the film eventually shifts to a second stanza where the family crisis of a French politician goes down at a gas station (while her daughter reads Balzac next to a llama), and then shifts again to show what appears to be a montage of the various cultures which border the Mediterranean Sea. This distinct separation makes story tertiarily important. Secondarily, the film is an essay on the current state of humanity, akin to Chris Marker's SANS SOLEIL in its multiculturalism and simultaneous hope and disdain (when the travelogue gets to Palestine, an intertitle flashes "Access: Denied"). But, primarily, the film is a stretching of the width and breadth of possibility within the medium. Godard was recently described by Owen Gleiberman as "Stan Brakhage crossed with Noam Chomsky," and he shows us, for perhaps the last time, that he understands both the powers of cinema to make us engage in the act of seeing with ones own eyes, and the power structures inherent in its gestures and punctuation. (2010, 101 min, 35mm) JH
More info at

František Vláčil's MARKETA LAZAROVÁ (Czech Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 3pm and Monday, 6:30pm
MARKETA LAZAROVÁ is a much revered film by the Czech people (and by many others lucky enough to have seen it). You will hear from nearly every Czech national you ask that this is simply "the best Czech film of all time"—a claim that is bolstered by an official nation-wide vote in 1998. Its heady, disarming structure helps engender this reverence. During the film, there is hardly any space for reflection or distraction within its nearly three-hour-long barrage of stunning, immersive images that depict life (and just as frequently, death) in 13th century Bohemia. Based on Vladislav Vančura's novel of the same name, this medieval epic is not some delicately spun tapestry of castles, moats, and courtly love. Instead, the characters wander, forge, and fight their way through each frame caked in dirt and blood and shit, sometimes haphazardly and sometimes with frightening deliberation. It is extreme historical accuracy taken to simultaneously surreal and hyperreal effect; Jaroslav Boček called it "baroque, barbaric and antique." Vláčil began filming with the single-minded intention of realizing his cinematic vision through extreme measures, which included forcing the cast to live in the Šumava forest for two years—experiencing the same conditions their characters would have. He spent most of that period hovering on the brink of a nervous breakdown, but his efforts paid off: the resulting work would seem to match his vision of the ideal film, in which there is "no dialogue, everything is clear, comprehensible from the picture alone." This lack of dialogue and narrative makes for an unusual literary adaptation, although the film does retain certain literary elements, such as chapter headings with ornately printed text. Without any prior exposure to the source material, it's nearly impossible to extrapolate backwards and imagine how Vančura's novel must read; in Vláčil's film the image reigns supreme and sequence is largely inconsequential, leading to a pervasive feeling of disorientation and awe. The only semblance of a narrative we are given is a series of brutal conflicts between dueling elements, which could have been broken down rather neatly (Christianity vs. paganism, man vs. nature, clan vs. clan) but in Vláčil's hands, are presented through constantly shifting perspectives that defy allegiance. (1967, 163 min, 35mm) AO
More info at

Charles Chaplin's SHOULDER ARMS (Silent American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Sunday, 3pm and Tuesday, 6pm
(Contemporary American Revival / Cult)

Music Box — Wednesday, 7:30pm
It seems possible that Chaplin's World War I trench comedy SHOULDER ARMS (1918, 46 min, 35mm; showing with his 1923 short THE PILGRIM), released in Chicago on Armistice Day 1918 to great public acclaim, and Paul Verhoeven's anti-fascist satire STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997, 129 min, 35mm; introduced by the A.V. Club's Scott Tobias), released during a comparative domestic lull in Iraq bombing, would merit a profitable comparison. But in retrospect the films seem more to mark the extrema of modern warfare: from the pointless, comic, and nightmarish stasis of the Western Front to today's truly perpetual wars of Afghanistan and Iraq—with their infantries composed of the lowest tiers of the educational strata, administered at a distance by credentialed technocrats, and served up as incoherent entertainment 24 hours a day by a tentacled assemblage of unqualified pundits, garish typefaces, and nationalistic iconography. While the highly polite (and heavily edited) SHOULDER ARMS provides historical insight primarily into early German moustache caricature, Paul Verhoeven's vision was so overtly political that he caught the entire national critical apparatus asleep at the wheel; it seems impossible to imagine now, but STARSHIP TROOPERS' fairly overthought critique of fascist utopia was nearly universally accused of promoting a fascist utopia (through a logic of guilt-by-association with the merely nominal literary influence of Robert A. Heinlein). With a cast drawn deliberately from the lower ranks of Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place, Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier (ROBOCOP) manage to ironically quote the classics (including CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE WILD BUNCH, and ZULU) within a consistent visual bricolage of the work of no less than six major special effects companies, while simultaneously (and perhaps naïvely) attempting to subvert Hollywood war-film conventions with a radical race/gender egalitarianism. Standing in for the Iraqis are the vicious "arachnids": despite being produced entirely within Phil Tippett's rendering systems, they manage in their essential innocence and eventual capture and torture to summon a remarkable, almost Chaplin-esque pity from audiences. Both films derive their humor—implicitly or explicitly—from the fundamental absurdity of a ruthless, planet-scale battle between intelligent equals, but that joke isn't funny anymore. MC
More info at and


Spencer Susser's HESHER (New American)
Logan Theater — Check the Chicago Reader for showtimes
We've been remiss in failing to write about HESHER, currently enjoying an extended second run at the Logan. It's a film that requires championing, as it sits largely unwanted in the same corner Rainer Werner Fassbinder's films occupied before he started making respectable-looking movies like THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN. Too punk for the art-houses and maybe too artful for the punks, HESHER is as defiant as its own protagonist. The film indulges in a lot of childish anti-social behavior, but presents it in pointedly empty widescreen frames that resemble comic strip panels or Absurdist Theater productions. In look and tone, it feels like the ideal live-action Beavis and Butt-head adaptation that Mike Judge never made. There's more going on in Spencer Susser's debut feature (co-written by David Michôd, who directed the comparably atmospheric ANIMAL KINGDOM) than the surfaces suggest, namely a pungent sense of suburban apathy and loneliness. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the main character, the metal-head fuck-up that enters the 13-year-old hero's life like a manifestation of his id, and it's a slippery victory of a performance. Through posture, thoughtful stares, and mannered line-readings, he gives the character just enough of an inner life not to overwhelm the calculated thinness of Susser's aesthetic. And in the supporting cast, Natalie Portman, Piper Laurie, and Rainn Wilson (looking a bit like C-F's Jason Halprin with full beard) are just as good. Roger Ebert, in an otherwise ambivalent review, noted the unique accomplishment of the film's cast: "In a way, this is pure acting, generated from within, not supported by a narrative framework." At its best moments, Susser's personally, unapologetically weird movie merits similar praise. (2010, 106 min, 35mm widescreen) BS

Charles Chaplin's MONSIEUR VERDOUX (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 6pm and Sunday, 4:45pm
One of the most sublime missteps in the history of cinema—though to call it a misstep is to subscribe to a version of said history that leaves no room for the glorious centaurs Chaplin's post-war, post-Tramp talkie period loosed on the (mainly disinterested) world. Such a view would take it as read that Chaplin's first role after abandoning his beloved mustache and bowler oughtn't to have been a remorseless mass murderer—let alone a mass murderer in a melo-slapstick-satire so sincerely anti-war and anti-capital that all its highly compartmentalized and contradictory attempts to amuse, edify, and/or move us are drowned out in the end by the sound of its auteur's own awkward cri de coeur—but, really, what use is such wisdom? Admittedly, Chaplin is no Brecht: his murder-equals-capitalism-equals-war-equals-murder statement is powerful not due to its novelty or the brilliance of its rhetoric, but entirely for reasons of context: this is Chaplin, for God's sake, dispatching dowagers with charm and wit. Certainly too, the peculiarities of the film's construction (as often lyrical as stage-bound, as often deft as amateurish), plus its Sternbergian mishmash of acting styles and accents, can together easily wrong-foot the inattentive viewer come expecting a homogeneous and cannily constructed Chaplin entertainment. The glory of VERDOUX, however—and all of CC's sound work—is in the ways it refuses to be just that: intent on creating its own vocabulary from the castoffs of early film grammar (your Hitchcocks and Langs and Fords be damned), VERDOUX manages the trick of being gauche and magical all at once. That is, VERDOUX is a continuation of THE GREAT DICTATOR's first fragmentation of Chaplin's poetics; and it points the way to LIMELIGHT's almost inscrutable, outsider grace. The joys of the Tramp films wash away utterly in the light of VERDOUX's impossible disregard for the verities and expectations associated with genre—and narrative itself. It contains Chaplin's greatest performance, and may very well be his finest work. (1947, 124 min, 35mm) JD
More info at

John Waters' FEMALE TROUBLE (Cult/Underground Revival)
John Waters in Person to Introduce the Screening
Music Box — Saturday, 10:30pm
In another sign of John Waters' acceptance by mainstream culture, this special screening of FEMALE TROUBLE, introduced by Waters, has been scheduled for 10:30 rather midnight, so that middle-aged couples can enjoy it right after a late dinner. Did anyone predict that this self-proclaimed connoisseur of bad taste would one-day host TV shows or that he would write the inspiration for a popular Broadway musical? Regardless, Waters' popular triumph has been mostly a good thing, a victory for the common-sense wisdom that any subject can be the basis for comedy so long as it's presented in good cheer and with affection for the audience. (To test the point, compare the diversity of the audience at FEMALE TROUBLE to a screening of THE HANGOVER PART II taking place the same night.) In this film, Waters generates huge laughs from rape, drug addiction, and mass murder; but as in all of his work, he displays a loving indulgence of his actors and an obvious joy, however crude, in the sustained make-believe of the movies. This is also the movie in which 300-pound drag queen Divine is given a double role that allows him to rape herself. (1974, 89 min, 35mm) BS
More info at

Richard Ayoade's SUBMARINE (New British)
Landmark's Century Centre Cinema — Check Venue website for showtimes
If you're tired of film reviews reducing movies to simplistic comparisons of other movies (X plus Y equals Z), then you'll have to pardon SUBMARINE for surely inspiring a whole outbreak of them. While it's true that a lot of films are derivatives of other movies, their reduction to just elements of other films can miss the fact that, sometimes, they're trying to create something altogether new from some old recipes. Such is the case of SUBMARINE, of which you can safely say something like: it's GODARD + RUSHMORE + THE 400 BLOWS + HAROLD AND MAUDE + NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, and actually summarize the whole thing rather neatly. (Actually, it's the story of a teen looking to get laid and to break-up his mother's developing on-again romance with a former lover.) SUBMARINE can be placed somewhere between the direct referencing found in comedies like SCARY MOVIE (where the joke is based entirely on getting the reference) and film-geek referencing found in the movies of Quentin Tarantino, et al (where references are worn cockily on the sleeve). SUBMARINE's most original aspect is the degree to which it makes references while also asking us to go along with it; it's showing off a bit, but stays away from both the one-liner gags and the condescension. Unlike many of its contemporaries, it's got a good step to it, it's well cast and acted, and it translates some of the original pleasure from its cinematic sources. (2011, 97 min, 35mm) KH
More info here.


Also continuing at the Landmark's Century Centre Cinema: Terrence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE (as if you didn't know).

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: The Indie Comedy series features THE FUNNIEST MOVIE EVER…JUST KIDDING (Friday and Saturday), LOSING CONTROL (Saturday and Tuesday), Best of Just For Laughs Shorts Program I (Wednesday), TELL YOUR FRIENDS! THE CONCERT FILM! (Wednesday; repeats June 25), MARS (Thursday; repeats June 20), and FRED AND VINNIE (Thursday; repeats June 21).

Also at the Music Box this week: 13 ASSASSINS and BILL CUNNINGHAM IN NEW YORK both continue; Harry Shearer's new documentary THE BIG UNEASY opens (Harry Shearer in person at the Friday 7:30pm show); Rob Reiner's THIS IS SPINAL TAP screens on Friday at 10:30pm (with actor Harry Shearer in person); On Saturday, John Waters will be in person to introduce and participate in a Q&A with critic Robert K. Elder on THE WIZARD OF OZ (5:30pm) and will also introduce his own FEMALE TROUBLE (10:30pm; see above); and the Saturday and Sunday matinee film is Roy Ward Baker's 1952 film DON'T BOTHER TO KNOCK, showing in the Marilyn Monroe series.

Chicago Filmmakers screens Kimberlee Bassford's 2008 documentary PATSY MINK: AHEAD OF THE MAJORITY in the Dyke Delicious series this Saturday at 8pm (social hour at 7pm). Also showing is the 2000 short THE BASEMENT GIRL by Midi Onodera.

Screening at Facets Cinémathèque this week is Cathryn Collins' 2010 documentary VLAST (POWER), about imprisoned Russian businessman and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Chicago History Museum begins its summer outdoor screenings with Penny Marshall's 1992 film A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN on Wednesday. The film starts at dusk at is in the CHM's Uihlein Plaza.

At the Chicago Cultural Center this week: Cinema/Chicago's summer series continues with a repeat showing of Arvin Chen's 2010 film AU REVOIR TAIPEI on Saturday at 2pm; and Stefanie Sycholt's 2010 film THEMBA on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Both from DVD. Also on display at the Chicago Cultural Center through September 18 is the exhibit Movie Mojo: Hand-Painted Posters from Ghana.

The Logan Square International Film Series (Comfort Station Logan Square, 2579 N. Milwaukee) screens Jeff Maimberg's acclaimed 2010 documentary MARWENCOL on Tuesday at 8pm. From DVD.

The Screening Italy: Italian Cinema through the Lens of History screening and lecture series by Therese Grisham at Sentieri (5430 N. Broadway) concludes this Saturday at 4:30pm with a showing of and talk on Marco Bellocchio's 2003 film GOOD MORNING, NIGHT. Call (773) 275-5325 for information on registering.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

CINE-LIST: June 10 - 16, 2011


CONTRIBUTORS / Michael Castelle, Jeremy M. Davies, Jason Halprin, Kalvin Henely, Anne Orchier, Ben Sachs, Darnell Witt

> Editorial Statement -> Contact