Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, NOV. 4 - Thursday, NOV. 10 ::


Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation
DePaul CDM Theater (247 S. State Street, basement level) — Saturday 3pm and 6pm; Sunday 1pm and 3:30pm
The Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation, now in its second year, has already established itself as a world-class, exceptionally curated showcase of unique (and overlooked) hand-drawn, stop-motion, and/or computer-assisted short films. While the first year's programming separated the (wholly revelatory) retrospective films from more recent (and equally startling) works, this weekend's screenings freely intermingle past and present; the earliest highlight being Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin's irresistible modernist fantasia JOIE DE VIVRE (1936), a hyper-optimistic (and now-otherworldly) B&W ode to technological progress. More recent highlights range from the humanistic, comic, and progressively-absurdist beachfront watercolors of Bill Porter's ON TIME OFF (2008) to the unbelievable CGI cross-sections of imaginary objects in Zeitguised's PERIPETICS (2009), which finally realizes the bizarre possibilities of a computer graphics completely untethered from Hollywood's industrial demands for sensible parametric modeling, physically plausible dynamic simulation, and photorealistic texture mapping. Holding all of these visually heterogeneous films together is an exquisite and borderline-synesthetic sensitivity to the importance of sound (avoiding the avant-garde's frequently hermetic silence)—from the wintry Poisson static of FIRST SNOW (Joshua Bonnetta, 2004) to the zoomorphic and/or imaginary instruments of PIANO (Paul, Rayment, 2010) and MYSTERY MUSIC (Nicola Mahler, 2009). In addition to three group shows, the Saturday, 6pm show is a solo-program of work by Portland animator Lori Damiano, who will be appearing in person. MC
Expanding on the mention of retrospective films above, a number of titles in the festival stand out. Most obvious is Robert Breer's great 1978 film LMNO, which shares the techniques of most of his other films (simple line animation, spray painting, collage) and his exquisite editing and sense of rhythm, but is much less frequently screened and thus "crucial viewing" all by itself. James Otis' 1981 film JACOB'S LADDER is a black and white spiraling, swirling computer-generated abstract animation. It combines its technological origin and its imagery (reminiscent of natural processes and objects—fractals, polyps, branching plants, crystal growth) seamlessly and beautifully. The corker of the work I've seen showing is not a retrospective film, but a brand-new work by one of the masters of avant-garde animation who is usually only represented by his older classics. Lawrence (Larry) Jordan's SOLAR SIGHT (2011) is a marvel. He forgoes his customary use of drawings and etchings (often Max Ernst or Gustove Doré), instead turning to the unsettling (in a Jordan film at least!) appropriation of paintings and photographs (nature scenes, portraiture, King Tut's golden mask). The slickness of the photos in particular are truly disjunctive in Jordan's hands. Combined with his familiar collage style, they both feel out of place (but intriguingly and meaningfully so) and open up the film in a way that much of his other work does not—or at least in a different way. The film almost verges on the post-modern (shocking for Jordan), but rather than critique and ironic comment it achieves a cosmic sense of wonder out of the combination of this decidedly 20th century imagery and Jordan's more familiar source material. PF
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John Berry's CLAUDINE (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday and Tuesday, 6pm
This welcome revival would be crucial for the soundtrack alone: half-an-hour of gorgeous soul music written and produced by Curtis Mayfield and performed by Gladys Knight when both were at the height of their careers. But in spirit and in content, the film as a whole is a worthy analogue to Mayfield's groundbreaking albums Curtis (1970) and Roots (1971). The subject matter touches on some of the most important issues facing urban black America, yet the political insights never offset the thick grooves of everyday life. Diahann Carroll plays the title character, a single mother of six living in Harlem and working (off the books) as a maid on Long Island. She's a beautiful creation, vulnerable but self-assured, maternal and sexy; it's a bit of a shame that you have just 92 minutes to spend in her company. Her children are no less interesting: ranging from a not-too-cloying preschooler to an 18-year-old flirting with an unspecified Black Power organization, they too bring a vibrant humanity to what newspapers generally present as Issues. The film concerns this family's daily efforts to stay afloat, and it finds surprising optimism and even humor in their endeavor. That's not to say, however, that CLAUDINE is an idealized vision of the ghetto: the central romance between the heroine and a sweet-talking garbage man (James Earl Jones, looking good without a shirt) is complicated not by any personal differences but from the fear of what would happen to her government subsidy if they were to get married. The director, John Berry, had been a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist; and one thing that makes this movie particularly special is how it updates the passion and social engagement of America's pre-war Communist Party for the Vietnam Era. Pamela Robertson Wojcik lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1974, 92 min, 35mm) BS
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Zhao Dayong's GHOST TOWN (New Documentary)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 7pm
GHOST TOWN is a cinema of accretion: details build up, people's lives pull into focus, the arc of a place is allowed to emerge. What would have been picturesque at 70 minutes begins to verge on profound at 170 minutes. Zhao's film is observational in mode, like Frederick Wiseman's work. But Wiseman gains depth through the actions of the people who inhabit and interact with the social structures and institutions he focuses on. Zhao's subject is also a "structure"—the small village of Zhiziluo in the Southeastern part of China, near Tibet and Burma. Zhao focuses on the breakdown of this place, formerly a county seat and now all-but abandoned by the Communist government. Only the locals remain, struggling with their day-to-day existence and dealing with poverty, divorce, alcoholism, lack of work, marriages of convenience. This abandonment also allows a degree of freedom for the Christian members of the community who faced severe repression and imprisonment in decades past. As subject matter, all this is nothing spectacular or surprising—documentaries on the poor and disenfranchised abound. It is Zhao's exceptional use of digital video and natural light and his eye for small moments and details that transform GHOST TOWN from sociological documentation into Cinema. Zhao gets a range of looks from his DV format—dark, chiaroscuro-laden interiors like those in Pedro Costa's COLOSSAL YOUTH; hazy, muted exteriors that could be Hong Sang-soo; eye popping swaths of color that would be at home in an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film; verité rigor and dreamlike softness. But it is the many small moments and little details that add an incredible richness to the film. A cat lazing by a fire. A chicken walking past the camera, filling the frame. Sparks flaring up during a ghost ceremony. The blue hat of an elderly woman singing. Young boys rough-housing. Dogs sniffing each other. Zhao lets things unfold in their own way and lets our eye wander with his own. It is when he moves beyond the specifics of hardship to the specifics of place that the film shines. (2008, 170 min, video) PF
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Aki Kaurismäki's LE HAVRE (New International)
Music Box — Check Venue website for showtimes

A miracle made to seem ordinary: That's what happens in LE HAVRE, Aki Kaurismäki's new film that's both steeped in film history (look out for Pierre Étaix and Jean-Pierre Léaud) and pressingly contemporary (J. Hoberman's review was titled "Dream Act"), conservative in its storytelling (it's comparable to a silent film) and radical in its politics (anti-authoritarian). As similar in style and tone as it is to his other films, LE HAVRE is something new for Kaurismäki: a kind of fairy tale not just for adults, but for anyone politically aware. At a time of much political unrest and transnational government protest, LE HAVRE strikes a chord with its pro-immigration, proletariat story that finds hope in the small decisions of common people. Our hero is Marcel Max (Andre Wilms, revising his role from Kaurismäki's LA VIE DE BOHEME), a shoe shiner whose wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen), has stomach cancer. The police of the French town Le Havre discover a shipping container full of African refugees (given importance through a series of affecting close-ups) that was supposed to have let them out in London. One of them, a boy named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), escapes and with the help of Marcel and his fellow townspeople, including the police inspector, Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), Idrissa is smuggled back out of the country, his life saved, and, as if it were karma, Marcel's wife is healed of cancer. Helping Idrissa out of the country: an extraordinary act of kindness and political defiance. A woman healed of cancer: a prayer answered. LE HAVRE treats these miracles as if they were ordinary occurrences—Marcel's bravery and Arletty's unlikely survival possible of any decent person. With film this Kaurismäki sets an example for real-world imitation as much as he drifts towards the pie in the sky. (2011, 93 mins, 35mm) KH
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Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SAMOURAI (French Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Tuesday, 8:30pm
For many cinephiles—among them John Woo and Johnnie To—this is the quintessential Jean-Pierre Melville film. Alain Delon plays a hitman who lives by a private code inspired by that of the samurai: he says little, requires few possessions, and acts in precise, deliberate gestures. In a sense, he is the ideal hero for this famously eccentric filmmaker, who based his career on whittling down the crime film into a minimal, personal form. As Roger Ebert wrote in his “Great Movies” review: “The elements of the film... are as familiar as the movies themselves. Melville loved 1930s Hollywood crime movies and in his own work helped to develop modern film noir. There is nothing absolutely original in LE SAMOURAI except for the handling of the material. Melville pares down and leaves out. He disdains artificial action sequences and manufactured payoffs. He drains the color from his screen and the dialogue from his characters.” And yet the movie is rich in double-crosses and hidden motives—as well as a seductive sense of movement (assisted by a keen, deco-inspired production design) that mirrors the hero's own progression. To quote Ebert's review again: “One of the pleasures of LE SAMOURAI is to realize how complicated the plot has grown, in its flat, deadpan way.... The movie teaches us how action is the enemy of suspense—how action releases tension, instead of building it.” (1967, 105 min, 35mm) BS
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Sidney Lumet's DOG DAY AFTERNOON (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm
In DOG DAY AFTERNOON, Lumet exploited his theatrical background to electrifying effect, building consistent dramatic tension from the essential mise-en-scene of a few stark locations and ramped-up performances. AFTERNOON has been justly canonized for Al Pacino's star turn, a product of genuine exhaustion and second-wind adrenaline. (Pacino nearly turned the film down because it began shooting immediately after the epic schedule for THE GODFATHER PART II had wrapped); yet it's only one of the bright sparks among a uniformly wired cast. Going against his usual loyalty to the written word, Lumet encouraged his actors to improvise after rehearsing Frank Pierson's script for seven weeks. The process yielded a unique performance style—which was, on the whole, perhaps Lumet's greatest contribution to movies—that combined the specific, spontaneous gestures of film acting with the internalized characterizations common to off-Broadway drama. The film depicts an infamous Brooklyn bank robbery of 1972, committed by a married man in hopes of paying for his male lover's sex change operation. The botched robbery devolved into a highly publicized hostage standoff, and under Lumet's direction, the events play out as a series of escalating, acutely realized crises. Thanks to the extended rehearsal period, everyone on screen seems confident in their daily business—be it running a bank or negotiating for the FBI—yet the demands of improvisation make everyone visibly, and convincingly, nervous. The film generates great suspense as well as comedy (Note the scene where John Cazale's ad lib about Wyoming nearly makes Pacino crack up), often at the same time, as in Pacino's impassioned and ultimately exhausting phone conversation with his lover (Chris Sarandon). It's also worth noting that the exterior shots present some exciting snapshots of New York in the mid-70s and that the film's sexual politics don't feel at all dated. (1975, 125 min, 35mm) BS
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Jean Bach's A GREAT DAY IN HARLEM (Documentary Revival)
Transistor (3819 N. Lincoln Ave.) — Monday, 8pm

If you're ready to give yourself a present, check out this interactive deconstruction of Art Kane's famous 1958 photograph. Taken on a sidewalk in Harlem, it astonishingly captures 57 of the most celebrated jazz musicians of the era. This short-and-sweet documentary fills in the background on how the photo shoot came to be. Bach mixes interviews with priceless home movie footage taken by bassist Milt Hinton and his wife. Wisely, the film doesn't go out of its way to be either reverential about the gathering or forlorn about the era's passing—it simply delights in the stories and personalities of these great figures. Ideally you'd double-bill this with JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY, Bert Stern's profile of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. But it's certainly worth seeing it on its own—and Transistor, which has a decent selection of jazz CD's for sale, isn't a bad spot to catch it. (1994, 60 mins, DVD Projection) RC

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Mostra II: Brazilian Film Series
Film Row Cinema (Columbia College) — Wednesday and Thursday
Organized by Columbia College and Partners of the Americas, Mostra's aim is to present Brazilian films that highlight social realities in that country. And considering how little Brazilian culture—to say nothing of Brazilian cinema—is represented in Chicago, the series is a doubly special event. The program starts on Wednesday and will run at various colleges throughout the city (with a brief stop in Champaign-Urbana on the 15th and 16th), often with the directors in attendance to discuss their work and the conditions that inspired it. The opening night film, 5X FAVELA, NOW BY OURSELVES (2010, 96 min, format unknown; Wednesday, 7pm), should yield an especially interesting conversation. The movie is the result of a project in which 80 young adults from the shantytowns (favelas) around Rio were trained in the filmmaking process, and then given the means to make five short films about their lives. It should be revelatory to see slum life seen by actual inhabitants rather than outside observers—as is the case, practically by default, with other movies on the subject. The series continues on Thursday with two documentaries: the first, ON THE FRINGES OF SAO PAULO: SCAVENGERS (2008, 84 min, format unknown; Thursday, 6pm), sounds like a distant cousin of the recent local documentary SCRAPPERS; the second, TERRAS (2009, 74 min, format unknown; Thursday, 8pm), is a portrait of the twin towns of Leticia and Tabatinga, a double metropolis located “on the triple frontier of Brazil, Colombia and Peru and surrounded by the Amazon rain forest.” BS
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Terrence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE (New American)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7 and 9:45pm; Sunday, 3pm

At the beginning of Terrence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE, a mother says, “The nuns taught us there are two ways through life—the way of nature and the way of grace.” Shortly after, her son, a middle-aged architect named Jack O'Brien, remembers the death of his younger brother, R.L., at the age of nineteen. Jack then travels back to his idyllic childhood in 1950s Waco, Texas to find this brother that he lost. In a larger sense, THE TREE OF LIFE explores the nature of being, including those aspects of it neither children nor adults understand. It questions birth and death throughout the history of time, beginning with the origin of the universe, continuing through the evolution of the species, and finally to the untimely death of this one young man. Malick renders the small family at the center of the story as grand as the life of the universe itself. Why do we not see the world this way? What prevents our sense of wonder? We no longer experience life, so we turn to cinema. TREE OF LIFE appears to be a collection of memories and imaginings. It is a film of images more than of words. Malick focuses on imagery of the family and, in particular, the three boys, capturing them in close-up and only natural light. The audience often views the spontaneous unfolding of life from a child's eyes, which look up to encounter the world. Malick's camera behaves like a human being in its own right, expressing a variety of emotions in its movement. He films the world, both great and small, with such reverence that every image of it is truly beautiful. To return to the film's beginning, the mother continues, “You have to choose which one you'll follow. Grace doesn't try to please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. It accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself, get others to please it, too. Likes to lord it over them, to have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy and all the world is shining around it and love is smiling through all things. They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to you whatever comes.” THE TREE OF LIFE is a man's testament to Spirit that captures the phenomenon of being in its glory. (2011, 139 min, 35mm) CW
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Reeling 2011: The 30th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival opened on Thursday and runs through November 12. Complete schedule and more info at

The Chicago edition of gl.itc.h 2011 opened on Thursday with a gallery show and reception and continues through Sunday with real-time performances, lectures, workshops, panel discussions, and screenings at Enemy, The Nightingale, and MBLABS. Complete schedule and more info at

The 23rd Annual Polish Film Festival in America runs from November 4-20. Complete schedule and more info at

The Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center presents Nicolas Provost: Long Live the New Flesh, with video artist Provost in person, on Thursday at 6pm.

The Experimental Film Society at SAIC (112 S. Michigan Ave., Rm. 1307) screens a program of works by experimental filmmaker Storm de Hirsch on Sunday at 3pm. Showing are newly preserved prints of JOURNEY AROUND A ZERO (1963), DIVINATIONS (1964), SHAMAN, A TAPESTRY FOR SORCERERS (1967), THE TATTOOED MAN (1969), and possibly the multi-projector film THIRD EYE BUTTERFLY (1968).

Shock Theater (at the Wicker Park Arts Center, 2215 W. North Ave.) presents Ralph Brooke's 1961 film BLOODLUST! and Richard Cunha's 1958 SHE-DEMONS on Friday at 9pm.

Northwest Chicago Film Society (at the Portage Theater) screens Frank Tashlin's 1956 film THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Also showing is the 1951 John Hubley cartoon ROOTY TOOT TOOT.

The Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) presents My Rectum Is Not a Grave: An Evening with Artist Steve Reinke, with videomaker and artist Reinke in person, on Friday at 7pm.

LMIF is an opportunity to provide feedback to a group of local filmmakers. Those attending are asked to “bring a laptop and your sharp critical discourse” to Beat Kitchen (2100 W. Belmont Ave., Upstairs) on Wednesday at 7pm.

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Gary Hustwit's new documentary URBANIZED screens for a week, and his early films HELVETICA (Saturday and Tuesday) and OBJECTIFIED (Saturday and Monday) also show; John Davies documentary PHUNNY BUSINESS: A BLACK COMEDY LOVESTORMING returns for five screenings (Friday, Saturday, Sunday this week), with producer/writer Raymond Lambert and DP/editor Brian Kallies in person at the Friday show; Borja Cobeaga's 2010 film LOVESTORMING and Manuel Martín Cuenca's 2010 film HALF OF OSCAR both show in the Spanish film festival; and Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey's new documentary EAMES: THE ARCHITECT AND THE PAINTER is on Saturday, Sunday Monday.

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: On Friday morning (you've probably already missed this) at 9:30p, it's Pierre-Andre Boutang's mammoth (453 minute-long) documentary GILLES DELUZE FROM A TO Z; Friday night and Sunday afternoon is Woody Allen's 1984 BROADWAY DANNY ROSE; on Saturday at 4pm, Phil Leirness' 2011 documentary THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE screens, with a Q&A by producer Lyle Skosey; Steve James' acclaimed 1994 documentary HOOP DREAMS screens Sunday night; Michael P. Nash's 2010 documentary CLIMATE REFUGEES is on Tuesday at 5:30pm (followed by a panel discussion); Mark Robson's 1945 horror film ISLE OF THE DEAD is Thursday at 7pm; and Phil Rosen's 1944 film RETURN OF THE APE MAN is at 9pm on Thursday.

Also at the Music Box this week: GAINSBOUGH: A HEROIC LIFE continues; THE MILL AND THE CROSS is held over in the Saturday matinee slot only; John Boulting's 1947 film BRIGHTON ROCK is the Saturday and Sunday matinee; Jason Neulander's family- friendly sci-fi adventure THE INTERGALACTIC NEMESIS is on Sunday at 4:30pm; and the Friday and Saturday Midnight films are John Carpenter's THE THING and Tsui Hark's DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME.

Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens actor John Turturro's new documentary PASSIONE, on Neapolitan music, on Friday night and Saturday afternoon; Chad Freidrichs' acclaimed 2011 documentary THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH is on Thursday at 7pm.

Facets Cinémathèque continues its run of Vanessa Roth's 2011 documentary AMERICAN TEACHER on Saturday and Sunday at 12:30pm only. Beginning Friday, Facets is one of the sites for the Polish film festival.

The Sex +++ Film Series at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
 (800 South Halsted) screens the documentaries THE LINE (2009) AND RAPE FOR WHO I AM (2006) on Tuesday at 7pm. More info here.

The Chicago Humanities Festival presents several film-related events this week: MeTube, a new multimedia show featuring performer Yuri Lane, has its world premiere on Friday at 7:30pm at the Francis W. Parker School - Diane and David B Heller Auditorium (2233 N. Clark St.); Technology, Hollywood- Style, a discussion between film and television composer Adam Cohen and director Nicholas Meyer, is on Sunday at 6pm at the UIC Forum - Main Hall AB (725 W. Roosevelt Rd.); and A Night at the Oscars: The William and Greta Wiley Flory Concert is on Monday at 6pm at the Francis W. Parker School - Diane and David B Heller Auditorium (2233 N. Clark St.). More information at

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CINE-LIST: November 4 - November 10, 2011


CONTRIBUTORS / Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Kalvin Henely, Ben Sachs, Candace Wirt, Darnell Witt

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