Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, NOV. 11 - Thursday, NOV. 17 ::


Michelangelo Antonioni's RED DESERT (Italian Revival) 
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes 
Antonioni's first film in color (and how!) begins deliberately out-of-focus; it seems as though the theater projectionist has erred until the credits appear fully legible. There are plenty of similar tricks throughout RED DESERT, which befits the theme of humanity's disorientation from modern life. Various settings—namely the chemical plant owned by the heroine's husband—suggest science-fiction until the film reveals their real, albeit arcane, function; and major sequences begin without explaining how the characters arrived and end without suggesting they're going. For several films, the director had innovated formal strategies to convey the transience and spiritual poverty of industrial society: In L'AVVENTURA (1960), he famously had the main character disappear from the film one-third of the way in, never to return; and the final seven minutes of L'ECLISSE (1963) removed people from its urban setting entirely. But RED DESERT represents the full-on Antonionification of the world, a film in which individuals make little impact on their surroundings, whether they inhabit them or not. (Hence the quiet heartbreak of the film's conclusion, which some viewers misinterpret as anticlimax: the heroine simply realizes there's nowhere for her to escape to.) Monica Vitti's Giuliana has recognized this crisis, and her failure to respond to it has driven her to madness. The film depicts an unspecified period following her release from a sanitarium, a series of abortive attempts at emotional connection. Giuliana stares abjectly at a factory workers' strike, a monumental new device that will allow people, ironically, to "listen to the stars," and an aristocratic party that fails to transform into an orgy. The last of these accounts for one of the great sequences of Antonioni's career, and it alone is worth the price of admission. (Needless to say, this new 35mm print is not to be missed.) It's staged in a shipyard shack where Giuliana and several of her husband's friends—including the introspective engineer (Richard Harris) with whom she's contemplating an affair—have retreated for an extended bacchanal. The two-room structure becomes a microcosm for the already-cloistered world of the shamefully rich; and within Antonioni's masterful frames it becomes as frightfully imposing as any of the giant industrial structures owned by any of the characters. The camera finds numerous snaky passages through the space, time itself seems to have been elongated; these characters, so full of imagination and drive, transform the space into a little paradise. But the air turns chilly the following morning, and the men and women proceed to demolish the wooden walls and furniture to add to the furnace. As Giuliana (and Antonioni himself) knows all too well, the heedless expedition of pleasure gives way to destruction and leaves a gaping absence in its wake. (1964, 118 min, 35mm) BS
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Gordon Quinn and Gerald Temaner's HOME FOR LIFE (Documentary Revival) 
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm 
If movies about old people can disturb us, then documentaries about old people can terrify us. HOME FOR LIFE is a case in point. Profiling two elderly individuals entering an assisted care facility after they're no longer able to care for themselves, the film was hailed by members of the medical profession as an ideal training tool for new staff, and an important depiction of cutting-edge methods for preserving the dignity of the elderly. Yet those outside the profession have often found it depressing if not downright shocking. Why? Because when we see old people onscreen, we see inevitably ourselves—the loss of independence, the frailty, and the helplessness that we fear awaits us. The grim certainty that, as one of the documentary's subjects put it, "My future is behind me." But if HOME FOR LIFE, filmed in the "Jean Rouch" direct cinema style with only minimal narration, shows us some hard truths, it does so with great respect. Studs Terkel put it best: "It is, in a sense, a hymn to life; yet, it presents a challenge to us to face up to one of the most pressing problems of our day—our attitude towards the aged. In its own way, it is a work of art rather than an artful work." (1966, 80 min, 35mm) RC 
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Rebecca Solnit: The Technological Wild West (Lecture) 
Chicago Humanities Festival — First United Methodist Church at The Chicago Temple (77 W. Washington St.) — Saturday, 10am 
In a recent article on "the real genius of Steve Jobs," Malcolm Gladwell suggests that Apple flourished under Jobs not because he was a visionary inventor, but rather because he belonged to a class of less-feted but no less important innovators: the "tweakers." Gladwell borrows this idea from economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr, who use it to explain why the industrial revolution arose in Britain rather than elsewhere: "Britain dominated the industrial revolution because it had a far larger population of skilled engineers and artisans than its competitors: resourceful and creative men who took the signature inventions of the industrial age and tweaked them—refined and perfected them, and made them work." Eadweard Muybridge, the central figure in Rebecca Solnit's book River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, is the tweaker par excellence of the Second Industrial Revolution. The techniques that gave rise to his epochal series of photographs of trotting horses and running men—and thus to the beginning of film technology—grew from Muybridge's twin obsessions: with the passage of time, which was growing ever more problematic as global timekeeping was standardized for the first time and railroads and telegraphs seemed to annihilate existing conceptions of time and space, and with the technical aspects of photography (lenses, methods of exposure, etc.), which Muybridge tweaked to allow for a speed and clarity that Daguerre and Talbot could not have dreamed of. In Solnit's elegantly written and vertiginously insightful study, Muybridge emerges not only as "the godfather of cinema," but as a figure who fully embodied anxieties, fascinations, and contradictions of his cultural moment, even as his work changed the fabric of that culture. Excavating the interwoven histories of machines, ideas, and art in the "technological wild West," Solnit uncovers a motley gallery of millionaires, outlaws, and geniuses—each a real-life Daniel Plainview, but crazier. Ultimately, the story Solnit has to tell is not merely about the technological developments that gave rise to cinema. Rather, it is the primal scene of technological modernity, in which the lawless, violent, opulent society of the Wild West changed the very nature of time, space, and communication, and the world became modern. PR
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Li Hongqi's WINTER VACATION (New Chinese)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Monday, 7pm
Set in a small industrial town and primarily concerned with a group of disaffected teen boys and their families, WINTER VACATION draws inevitable comparisons to the work of Zhang-ke Jia (PLATFORM, THE WORLD, STILL LIFE, 24 CITY) in its insistent and idiosyncratic look at modern China. But Jia's films are downright baroque compared to the minimalist style of Li. The film is slow and features little action—more often than not the characters are sitting quite still or standing stationary—and Li's compositions and long shots favor empty space and the generic, sterile surroundings (both inside and out), but once one is used to the pacing and visual bareness, one begins to see a rich vein of emotion laying just below the surface of the characters' lives. Li's formal elements provide considerable insight into the desperation and stasis they feel (and are actually quite stunning). While his film is part of a larger wave of recent Chinese cinema that is offering a serious critique of contemporary society there, it is also doing so through a delightfully acerbic use of humor. It is a dryly-comic film; the humor creeps up unexpectedly, maintaining a disciplined restraint to match the minimalism of every other aspect of the film. But, a few times, it bursts forth and bites you in the ass, providing (for me at least) several uncontrollable genuine belly laughs. Who says severe minimalism can't be fun? (2010, 91 min, DVD Projection) PF
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Giorgio Moroder's METROPOLIS (Awesome Revival) 
Music Box — Friday and Saturday, Midnight 
The recent success of Nicolas Winding Refn's DRIVE is as good an excuse as any to consider Giorgio Moroder's influence on the popular cinema of the 1980s. Moroder's major work of the 1970s—Donna Summer's disco output in general and the extended singles of "Love to Love You Baby" and "I Feel Love" in particular—anticipates the dominant aesthetic of the following decade in its emphasis on surface and its fetishization of the synthetic. Moroder mapped out the territory where seduction and soullessness overlapped: his best music is sexy, hypnotic, and often creepy when heard out-of-context. (It's odd to think how much it has in common with the music of Kraftwerk, who came to a similar aesthetic out of totally different principles.) Moroder may have scored only a handful of movies—most notably MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978), AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980), and FLASHDANCE (1984)—but one can sense a distinctly Moroderesque aesthetic in the "Cinema du Look" of Jean-Jacques Beineix, Michael Mann's THIEF (which featured a sub-Moroder soundtrack by Tangerine Dream) the Miami Vice TV series, and even parts of Martin Scorsese's AFTER HOURS. In short, Moroder created a mood that suggested innovation, prestige, and glamour for an entire decade. (Would it be overreaching to suggest that the erotic submission evoked by Moroder's music also created the ideal soundtrack for Reagan and Thatcher's destruction of the Anglo-American working class, which more or less transpired with the consent of the victims?) Given the composer's expansive influence, it isn't so absurd that he tried to retroactively insert himself into Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS, another piece of pop art that anticipated the 1980s in its depiction of glaring class inequality and eroticized technology. As the Music Box notes in its program text for this rare revival, Moroder spent three years overseeing the film's restoration, the first of several devoted to this silent masterpiece. He was criticized in some circles, however, for his personal contributions to the film, most notably the new score that featured vocals from then-popular singers. The program continues: "Missing footage was also re-edited back into the film, intertitles were removed and replaced with subtitles, and sound effects and color tinting were added, creating an all-new experience and an all-new film." Seeing that more complete restorations of METROPOLIS have appeared since 1984, one can better appreciate Moroder's work as an experiment and a personal statement. Fewer revivals this year will have so much to tell us about so complicated a period. (1984, 82 min, 35mm) BS
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Woody Allen's ZELIG (American Revival) 
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Friday, 7, 9, and 11pm; Sunday, 1pm 

After the black-and-white widescreen images of MANHATTAN (1979)—which managed to seem both romantic and empty—the elaborate pastiche of ZELIG may represent the finest collaboration between Woody Allen and the great cinematographer Gordon Willis (who also shot, among other classics, THE GODFATHER trilogy). The film is a mockumentary in which Allen plays a forgotten celebrity of the 1920s, a "human chameleon" who can literally mutate his appearance to fit into any surrounding. Allen appears only in doctored historical footage and in other sequences made to resemble historical footage. The effects required to create this illusion took so much time that Allen actually finished two other films (A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY and BROADWAY DANNY ROSE) between shooting and releasing ZELIG; the film was a labor of love, and it shows in the detail and overall authority of its aesthetic. (According to IMDB, Willis employed camera and lighting equipment from the 1920s, along with technicians who had worked during that time.) Yet beneath the technical spectacle is a stinging allegory about the rise of mass culture, in which the ethnic, working-class Zelig so desires to be like everyone else that he sacrifices his identity in the process. In her rave review, Pauline Kael suggested that "Zelig's story couldn't have been told any other way—its pathos would have been crushing." (1983, 79 min, 35mm) BS
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Sidney Lumet's NETWORK (American Revival) 
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Wednesday, 7 and 9:30pm 
A common complaint among detractors of NETWORK is encapsulated by this customer review found on Amazon: "My apologies to this movie's many diehard fans, but I've always had a problem with Paddy Chayefsky's work. Nobody...and I mean NOBODY...actually talks like his characters, so the plaudits he routinely receives for his 'realism' are a mystery to me ... plunge into the purple thicket of dialogue for yourself and see. But pack a machete; you may need to do a lot of hacking to get back to daylight." These same charges were often leveled against Rod Serling's work, another writer who came of age during the golden age of live television drama in the 1950's. That line of criticism misses the point. Serling's best TWIILIGHT ZONE episodes and Chayefsky's screenplay for NETWORK still resonate precisely because of the "purple thicket of dialogue."  Of course Chayefsky's characters don't talk like "real" people; they talk the way that Chayefsky wished they could talk, replete with virtuosic articulations of their inner philosophy. And of course the brilliant performances of William Holden, Faye Dunaway, and especially Peter Finch vividly bring those words to life. Ned Beatty's famous speech on corporate cosmology is a tour de force, the prescience of which each succeeding generation discovers for itself—like the rest of the movie, it's as timely in the era of Occupy Wall Street as it was during the Me Decade. (1976, 121 min, 35mm) RC 
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Ben Kolak's SCHIZCAGO (New American) 
Southside Hub of Production (S.H.O.P.) (5638 S. Woodlawn Ave.) — Friday, 8pm 
Chicago filmmaker Ben Kolak's directorial debut is so crazy it just might  work. Appropriately enough, it had three working titles, sometimes strung together all at once: SCHIZOCOOL, SCHIZCAGO, and AMERICAN QUALITY AND  FREEDOM. The film follows a pack of cute, indolent twenty-somethings  through a summer in the city as they hustle drugs and money from medical  researchers, Craigslist perverts, corporate suits, and the military. They  more-than-comfortably survive as parasites of the behemoths of late  capitalism. Their jaded slang is made of buzzwords, catch phrases, and  technical jargon, gesturing at big ideas they don't have the will or the  need to grasp. And yet Kolak and Rachel Wolther's script is deathly funny;  sharp-witted, slapstick, or absurdist, whatever the moment requires. Alex  Inglizian's sound design is also slyly hilarious, adding an under-layer of  disorientation and parody to improbable scenarios. We see a lot of  microphones poking out of garments or into the frame, and sometimes the  acting is awkward in the "Ma, I'm on the TeeVee!" kind of way. And yet the  look of the film is authentic, this human artifice backdropped by the  muraled overpasses, grated bridges, and chemical sunrises that feel like  home to anyone who's ever ridden down Archer Avenue at the end of a long, weird night. SCHIZCAGO maintains a steady awareness of Haskell Wexler's MEDIUM COOL, but there's a big, important difference; in the four decades that  have passed, righteous anger has withered into consumer effrontery.  SCHIZCAGO is the philosophical mayhem that follows from asking a generation  that has everything "what more could you wish for?" Featuring live accompaniment from El is the Sound of Joy, and followed by Q&A with Kolak and Inglizian. (2011, 89 min, Video Projection) JF
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Steve James' THE INTERRUPTERS (New Documentary)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7 and 10pm; Sunday, 3pm
Steve James (HOOP DREAMS) and Alex Kotlowitz' bleeding-heart slam-dunk migrates the fascinating street-level ethnography of last year's SCRAPPERS to a new kind of day job: those of Ceasefire's charismatic "Interrupters," a group of reformed reformers entrusted with stopping the spread of violent retribution in Chicago's toughest neighborhoods. Their work is predicated on the analogizing of violence to a communicable disease—a radical epidemiological paradigm which might call into question conventional understandings of both "violence" and "disease"—but the film's success is in convincing the viewer of a different truth: the ability of actual humans to decisively and consciously turn their lives around, in spite of (and not because of) the existing criminal justice system. As James follows three interrupters and their young charges in Englewood, Little Village, and Auburn Gresham over the course of 2009-2010, their role as interventionist anthropologists goes unquestioned onscreen—downplaying the obvious opposition to the two major existing credentialed authorities on urban conflict: the ivory-tower public policy apparatus and the Chicago Police Department. For this powerful and affecting film is also a compelling advertisement for Ceasefire's methodology, which poses as much of a threat to researchers running spatial regressions in air-conditioned offices as it does to the District 008 hair-gel rookies (who could probably use some training in non-violent ideologies themselves). It's also the Chicago that the rest of the world will see this year, and as such is necessary viewing. Unspecified filmmakers in person. (2011, 125 min, DVD Projection) MC
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 On Friday at 8pm, The Nightingale presents City Symphonies, a program of work drawn from the 2011 edition of the Flaherty Film Seminar. Featured in the show are two short works by Laura Kissel (WINDOW CELEANING IN SHANGHAI and TAN MIAN HUA) and Tan Pin Pin's 54-minute SINGAPORE GAGA. 

The Experimental Film Society at the School of the Art Institute hosts the Ann Arbor Film Festival's Touring Program, with programmer David Dinnell in person, on Tuesday from 4-6pm. It's at 112 S. Michigan Ave., Rm. 1307. Based on the work we've seen, this promises to be a solid show. Screening are RAY'S BIRDS (Deborah Stratman, 2010), NEW YEAR SUN (Jonathan Schwartz, 2010), CRY WHEN IT HAPPENS (Laida Lertxundi, 2010), RAYNING (Robert Todd, 2011), HEPWORTH (Alexis Bravos, 2011), BERLIN TRACKS 18H00-20H00 (Shiloh Cinquemani, 2011), BENEATH YOUR SKIN OF DEEP HOLLOW (Malena Szlam, 2010), FORSAKEN (James Sansing, 2010), and THE FLORESTINE COLLECTION (Helen Hill, Paul Gailiunas, 2011) 

For the latest edition of "Salonathon" at Beauty Bar Chicago (1444 W. Chicago Ave.), the Chicago Underground Film Festival presents The Ones That Got Away Part 2, a program of shorts that somehow just missed getting into the festival. On the bill is: RESONANCE (Karen Johannesen), NIGHT HUNTER (Stacey Steers), I WILL CLAP (Tommy Heffron), WRESTLING WITH MY FATHER (Charles Fairbanks), ONE NEW MESSAGE (Alee Peeples), THE WATER IS WIDE (Stephanie Tisza), and STATEMENT PROPOSAL FOR A DELICATE INSIGNIFICANCE (Yaloo Pop). It's a 9pm. 

The Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center welcomes Indian artist Amar Kanwar on Thursday at 6pm. Kanwar will present a selection of his films, installations, and works-in-progress. He will also be giving a talk, as part of the SAIC Visiting Artist Program, on Wednesday at 6pm at the SAIC Columbus Auditorium (280 S. Columbus Dr.). 

The two-day conference Backward Glances: A Conference on Media and Historiography takes place today and Saturday at Louis Hall 119 on the Northwestern University, Evanston campus. The Keynote Speakers are Jack Halberstam (USC), Lucas Hilderbrand (UC-Irvine), Heather Love (Penn), and Shane Vogel (IU-Bloomington). More information is at  

The Northwest Chicago Film Society (at the Portage Theater) presents a very rare screening of Edgar G. Ulmer's 1946 drama HER SISTER'S SECRET on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Also showing is the 1930 Dave Fleischer "screen song" ROW, ROW, ROW.  

On Sunday at Cinema Borealis (1550 N. Milwaukee Ave., 4th Floor) the Northwest Chicago Film Society and The Nightingale present TV on Film!, a five-hour marathon of television shows, cartoons, and commercials from the 1950s through the early 1970s—all showing from 16mm prints from private collections. Included are episodes of Superman, I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, Dragnet, Thriller ("The Guillotine," directed by Ida Lupino), and cartoons from Jay Ward and Hanna-Barbera. The rarity of the evening would seem to be Zoo Parade, a 1950 animal program broadcast from the Lincoln Park Zoo. Attendees are welcome to come and go at any point. Full schedule at
The Chicago Film Seminar welcomes Norwegian professor Eivind Røssaak (currently a visiting professor at the U of C) on Thursday at 6:45pm. Røssaak will discuss "The Archival Turn in Film Studies." Domietta Torlasco, Northwestern University, will provide the response. It's at SAIC (112 S. Michigan Ave., Rm. 1307). More info at

Reeling 2011: The 30th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival continues through November 12. Complete schedule and more info at 
The 23rd Annual Polish Film Festival in America continues through November 20. Complete schedule and more info at
Also part of the Chicago Humanities Festival is Behind the Scenes: Hollywood Sound Design with Walter Murch on Sunday at 12:30pm at the Northwestern University School of Law, Thorne Auditorium (375 E. Chicago Ave.). 

Opening at the Landmark's Century Centre Cinema are Werner Herzog's INTO THE ABYSS and Lars von Trier's MELANCHOLIA.  
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Roman Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY screens Friday and Tuesday at 6pm, with a lecture by Pamela Robertson Wojcik at the Tuesday show; Chris Paine's 2011 documentary REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR plays for a week and his 2006 doc WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? screens on Saturday and Wednesday; John Davies documentary PHUNNY BUSINESS: A BLACK COMEDY screens on Friday and Monday, with producer/writer Raymond Lambert in person at the Friday show; Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey's documentary EAMES: THE ARCHITECT AND THE PAINTER screens on Sunday at 2:30pm; and Carles Bosch's 2010 documentary BICYCLE, SPOON, APPLE and Óscar Aibar's 2010 doc THE GREAT VASQUEZ screen in the Spanish film festival. 

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Monday at 9pm, Sony Pictures Classics president Michael Barker presents a sneak of an unnamed new film (though we know you'll all be RABID to see it, so don't CRASH as you FLY down there to see it); on Tuesday at 7pm, it's Frank Tuttle's 1942 noir THIS GUN FOR HIRE; at 9pm on Tuesday, filmmaker Paul Donovan is in person to present yet another unannounced film (we have no hints on this one!); the Thursday 7pm show is Robert Wise's 1945 horror film THE BODY SNATCHER; and the Thursday 9pm show is Robert Florey's 1932 horror film MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE

Also at the Music Box this week: Philippe Le Guay's 2010 French film THE WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR opens; Aki Kaurismäki's LE HAVRE continues; the Found Footage Festival battles Found magazine in Found vs. Found on Friday at 8pm. It included lots of, um, found stuff; the monthly Saturday Noon silent film concludes with Herbert Brenon's 1924 live-action PETER PAN; Carol Reed's 1948 film THE FALLEN IDOL fills the proper 11:30am matinee slot, on Sunday only; and at Noon on Saturday and Sunday and Midnight on Friday and Saturday, it's J.C. Chandor's MARGIN CALL

At Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: On Friday, as part of the Reeling film festival, Dee Rees' Sundance hit PARIAH screens at 7pm and Amor Hakkar's 2010 French film A FEW DAYS OF RESPITE screens at 9pm; and on Thursday at 7pm, it's NU professor Debra Tolchinsky's new documentary FAST TALK, with Tolchinsky in person.        

Liz Garbus' new documentary BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD screens this week at Facets Cinémathèque

The Chicago History Museum screens the documentary MADNESS IN THE WHITE CITY on Sunday at 1:30pm. 

On Monday at 8pm, Transistor (3819 N. Lincoln Ave.) presents the recent documentary MILTON GLASER: TO INFORM AND DELIGHT (from DVD).

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CINE-LIST: November 11 - November 17, 2011


CONTRIBUTORS / Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Josephine Ferorelli, Peter Raccuglia, Ben Sachs, Darnell Witt

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