Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, APR. 27 - Thursday, MAY 3 ::


John Boorman's POINT BLANK (American Revival)
Music Box — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am

Lee Marvin, patron saint of American cool, was never more iconic than as Walker, a disgruntled, double-crossed criminal who, honest-to-goodness, only wants his 93 thousand dollars back. Released mere weeks after BONNIE AND CLYDE, John Boorman's POINT BLANK reworks the American crime genre with similar panache, and though both movies now rank among the seminal works of the 60s, Boorman's thriller had a much longer road to acceptance, having just barely scraped its budget back at the box office. Rhythmic, rapid action sequences and brusque crosscutting set the pulpy pace, and Marvin takes it from there as he plays exterminating angel to the San Francisco underworld. Along the way he matches wits and fists with a host of shady characters—the backstabbing John Vernon, the defiant Angie Dickinson, the enigmatic Keenan Wynn—all filling in pieces of the puzzle that will eventually lead him back to the scene of his original betrayal, the ominous post-prison-years Alcatraz. Slick, sexy, and just plain cool, POINT BLANK is a remarkably confident piece of filmmaking (especially for a second feature), the influence of which can still be felt today, whether emanating from Nicolas Winding Refn's DRIVE or surfacing in small bursts in the current season of MAD MEN. A masterpiece of off-the-rails machismo. (1967, 92 min, 35mm) TJ
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Johnnie To's ELECTION
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Thursday, 10pm

ELECTION, Johnnie To's first of two entries concerning the hazardous dynamics of gangster democracy, is a measured ride through Hong Kong's underworld. Opening on a mahjong table, To offers a metaphor to his characters' racket: superficially chaotic but honed through calculated risk and some luck. A biennial election for chairman of the Wo Shing is administered by the Triad gang's hardened "uncles," each supporting competing factions in the flamboyant Big D and mild-mannered Lok. After Lok is elected, Big D hides the chairman's symbol of power—a dragon's head baton—interrupting the changeover. Beyond this basic power struggle, ELECTION is intricately plotted as the sides vie for the baton, bringing the audience past a cascade of henchmen, hit men, and the Hong Kong and Mainland police. To both adheres and plays with genre conventions, complicating the story while exaggerating the convolutions for humor. And by doing so, the few punctuating moments of violence—namely, Lok's ruthless turn at the end—are allowed to resonate fully. (2005, 101 min, 35mm) BW
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Murnau's SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (Silent American Revival) 
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) — Friday, 7:30pm

One of the most imaginative films ever made and probably the greatest ever made about love—but that makes it sound like homework. Murnau's SUNRISE is as much a discovery now as it was in 1927, if not a greater one, as it's no longer common for serious films to believe in universal experience. (As Lucy Fischer noted in her excellent BFI Classics book, the film's subtitle implies that the feelings of men and women—or homosexuals and heterosexuals, for that matter—are essentially the same.) Murnau's compassion for the central couple seems ever-expanding: their every emotion seems to trigger some new stylistic innovation. The movie's first major passage—depicting the Woman from the City's attempt to seduce the farmer (George O'Brien) away from his wife (Janet Gaynor, adequately filling the role of the Eternal Feminine)—mixes naturalism and expressionism to bring the characters' inner lives vibrantly to life. Murnau famously instructed O'Brien to put lead weights in his shoes during these scenes; there is no mistaking the man's guilt. This section climaxes with a collage of superimposed images—several of them intentionally distended—that illustrates the woman's lure of "Come to... THE CITY!" It is a thrilling effect, principally because it requires the viewer's imagination to complete it: as one's eyes dart around the frame, trying to take it all in, the scene appears luxurious or terrifying depending on where they fall. (Directors of special-effects movies still have a lot to learn from Murnau.) The orchestration of detail is one of the film's many allusions to symphonic music, the most obvious being its three-movement structure, wherein key motifs of the first section (the farm-on-the-lake setting, the theme of love in peril) are contradicted in the second and brought to resolution in the last. The second movement, which could bring any viewer to swoon, may be the film's crowning achievement. It takes place in one of the most dream-like cities in cinema, a setting brought into being by the couple's re-avowal of their love. Here, Murnau's effects (which include a funny freeze-frame at a portrait studio and some great suspense involving a runaway piglet) invite the viewer to share in the characters' joy, reflecting their spontaneity and their astonishment. For all the marvels of the filmmaking, though, the film's transcendental power never seems to be for its own sake. It is Murnau's response to the universal capacity for feeling (and not just romance—but generosity and loyalty and courage) that drove him to create a monumental new art form using the greatest attributes of all the others. Live accompaniment by Stockholm-based musician Matti Bye, who has composed an original score for the film. (1927, 94 min, 35mm) BS
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Peter Adair's HOLY GHOST PEOPLE (Documentary Revival)
Chicago Film Archives (at the Chicago Cultural Center) — Sunday, 2pm
Best known as one of the members of the Mariposa Film Group, which produced the pioneering 1977 documentary WORD IS OUT, an interview film of 26 people discussing their lives as gay men and lesbians, Peter Adair came to prominence ten years earlier with his riveting film HOLY GHOST PEOPLE. This film, which combines an almost ethnographic impulse and a direct cinema approach similar to the Maysles Brothers, takes as its subject a small Appalachian Pentecostal church in Scrabble Creek, West Virginia. Adair films the members of this church as they pray, sing, testify, speak in tongues, and handle snakes. Unlike Frederick Wiseman's coolly distanced camera, Adair gets right into the action, allowing for a visceral sense of energy as the congregants reach a pitched religious fervor. This Charismatic or Holiness subset of Pentecostalism is one unfamiliar to most viewers, and it would be easy to sensationalize the more extreme practices (which also include faith healing and drinking poison), but Adair treats his subjects with seeming genuine sensitivity—providing contextual narration and interviews with a number of the church's members at the beginning of the film. He allows their faith to be seen as an integral part of their lives rather than as a curiosity for the bemusement of outsiders. Showing as part of the program "Out of the Vault 2012: The Spirit of America," along with famed photographer and filmmaker William Heick's 1964 short documentary POMO SHAMAN (22 min) and Nicholas Frangakis' 1966 experimental student short LAUDATE (9 min). (1967, 53 min, all films 16mm on Video) PF
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William Wellman's WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (American Revival) 
Northwest Chicago Film Society (at the Portage Theater) — Wednesday, 7:30pm 
With performances not quite as naturalistic as those found in Our Gang, but shot on real locations à la Neo-Realism, WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD is depression-era cinema that's propulsive enough to prevent the hard times that befall its three young, New York-bound, main characters—two gents and a girl dressed like them, whose parents have fallen on hard times—from drooping below entertainment levels. William Wellman's sympathy for this group of hobo kids is hokey, but his insistence on non-stop action turns even the chummy interactions between them into slaps in the face and slugs to the head, giving the film a rough-and-tumble tone that requires its characters to hold back their tears. And with a touch that nears Buñuelian surrealism, Wellman and screenwriter Earl Baldwin ensure that the audience will feel these kids' pain when they have a child lose a limb to an on-coming train (in Bunuel's LOS OLVIDADOS, a poor child lays under a goat to suck its nipples for milk). Like Our Gang, this gang includes girls and minorities, but it's always white men in uniforms who make their situation worse—that is until FDR appears in the form of a judge with a child of his own who hears their plea and gives them a second chance in life after they find themselves under arrest in NYC. If you felt bad for the privileged, college-educated white girls who kind-of have to try and make it through the Great-Recession in NYC in Lena Dunham's GIRLS, the suggested rape of the girl in WILD BOYS will wake you up to some realities about modern life to be thankful for. Showing with Robert McGowan's 1932 Our Gang short FREE WHEELING (20 min, 16mm). (1933, 68 min, 35mm) KH
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Percy and Felix Adlon's MAHLER ON THE COUCH (New Austrian/German)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes

Adlon and Son play what-if with Gustav Mahler's meeting with Freud in their film about the genius composer's battered psyche and tenuous marriage. After anxiety over his wife Alma's torrid affair with a young architect, Mahler and Freud engage in an epic psychoanalysis session to probe Mahler's repressed memories and skewed ideas of his so-called muse. Told through a series of flashbacks that slowly elucidate one crucial argument over time, MAHLER ON THE COUCH also incorporates direct-address moments from key figures in Mahler's memories. The technique is useful if for no other reason than to support Freud's existence as interlocutor in the film, who makes Mahler's potent introspection—and thus the plot—plausible at all. Because the truth of the matter is, the whole Freud-late-night psychoanalysis thing isn't terribly compelling. Adlon's ruminations on the Pandora's box of love and artistic passion—and how it is variously funneled and expressed in men and women—is really what to watch for. Mahler demands subservience from Alma, stifling her talents for his own ego, unaware of her reluctant dedication and desire to create. For Alma, awe and contempt are push-and-pull emotions that constitute love. Shot in lush hues and gauzy, blown-out daylight, MAHLER ON THE COUCH has an appropriate dreamlike quality that is also carried over through the film's score. A companion documentary, MUSIC MAKING WITH ESA-PEKKA SALONEN: SCORING "MAHLER ON THE COUCH" (2010, 43 min, DVD), available for viewing at the Goethe Institut (150 N. Michigan Ave., Monday-Friday, April 30-May 4—screened on request during office hours), is a behind-the-scenes view of the recording process and the people involved. Selections of Mahler's music were carefully selected and recorded specially for the film, and given the full treatment by conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. (2010, 100 min, 35mm) BW
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Vincente Minnelli's MEET ME IN ST LOUIS (American Revival) 
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Sunday, 7pm

MEET ME IN ST LOUIS has achieved iconic status for its musical numbers (which include "The Trolley Song," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and the title number) and for Judy Garland's radiant performance; but thanks to Vincente Minnelli's inspired direction, it is an inexhaustible work of art. The rich mise-en-scène—a reflection of Minnelli's long tenure as a production designer—yields a complex dream of Americana that takes on a different timbre nearly every time you see it: The cinematic past rarely feels so vibrant and yet so distant, so much like an autonomous creation. Using an episodic structure that finds significance in major as well as incidental events, Minnelli follows the Smith family over the course of 1903, the year before the World's Fair (and, implicitly, the grandeur of the 20th century) came to St. Louis. It's an impressionistic film, whose bright colors and mobile camerawork evoke the work of Minnelli's hero, Vincent Van Gogh. Of course, the film wouldn't be so universally beloved if it were simply a formal achievement. The Smith family dynamic is always shifting but never less than recognizable, anticipating the psychological nuance of Minnelli's later masterpieces THE COBWEB and SOME CAME RUNNING. (1944, 113 min, 35mm) BS
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David Cronenberg's A DANGEROUS METHOD (New Canadian)  
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Saturday, 7 and 9pm; Sunday, 3:15pm 

Adapted by Christopher Hampton from his play The Talking Cure, David Cronenberg's A DANGEROUS METHOD begins in the summer of 1904 when his protagonist, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), admits a new patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), to the Zurich clinic at which he works. Jung chooses to treat (and eventually cures) Sabina with Sigmund Freud's (Viggo Mortensen) newly invented method of psychoanalysis; her case precipitates Jung and Freud's first relationship as colleagues and later as friends. While still his patient, Jung breaks a fundamental rule of his profession and begins a fervid affair with Sabina, which ultimately leads to the dissolution of Freud's relationship with him. Through the screenplay, Cronenberg primarily focuses on the birth and clash of ideas in the field of psychology, including those postulated by Sabina Spielrein when she too becomes a noted psychoanalyst. Jung develops his ideas not only through analysis of patients, but also through analysis of himself by himself, Freud, and even Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel). Cronenberg adequately uses the plot, dialogue, and actors' performances to dramatize the now famous ideas, which also inform his larger body of work. He most frequently emphasizes a particular conception of freedom that Jung and Sabina struggle with throughout the film: Should an individual denounce contemporary morality in favor of the greater freedom presented by an emerging ideology? Jung and likely Cronenberg suspect the former is for philistines. (2011, 99 min, 35mm) CW
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Terrence Malick's BADLANDS (American Revival) 
Doc Films (University of Chicago) — Tuesday, 7 and 9pm

[Plot Spoilers] Terrence Malick's first feature film remains as opaque and seductive as it must have been for audiences upon its release in 1973; none of the four films he's made in the intervening 38 years has given us a Rosetta Stone to de-code his unique language of deadpan narration, breathless romance, horror (BADLANDS is screening as part of the Siskel's Psychological Horror series), and whispering tall-grass. Later films have tinkered with the proportions (more romance in THE NEW WORLD, more grass in DAYS OF HEAVEN), but never the unsettling combination of ingredients. In BADLANDS, Sissy Spacek (as 15 year-old Holly) provides the flattened voice-over that suggests both teenage sass and PTSD. As Kit (a full-bore Martin Sheen) seduces her, murders her father, and takes her on the run, it's Holly's voice that pulls the viewer by the nose so deep into their world that conditioned reactions don't work. Playfully sexy shots of Spacek in short-shorts and Sheen in his Canadian Tuxedo block efforts to moralize about their ages (Kit is 25). The weapons and traps Kit builds to defend their forest hideout are as cartoon-stupid as they are dead-serious. We aren't shocked because there's no room for shock under this heavy blanket of affectless style; if Kip is Holly's captor, Holly and Malick are our captors, and we all have Stockholm Syndrome. (1973, 95 min, DVD Projection) JF
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Joel and Ethan Coen's THE BIG LEBOWSKI (American Revival)
Landmark's Century Centre Cinema — Friday and Saturday, Midnight

Dude, people love this movie—and with good reason. THE BIG LEBOWSKI is what so few modern comedies are: legitimately good. Between all the "dudes" and "fucks," it's easy to miss some of the underlying themes of the film; but beyond its oft-quoted dialogue and obsessive fan base, THE BIG LEBOWSKI is an LA noir for the modern age. It's also a gigantic metaphor for the Gulf War, a true testament to the time in which it is set, and eerily prophetic to watch today. A Bush is in office, we're in a recession, and we're fighting a fatuous war in the Middle East, so boy is this film still relevant. Don't forget, though, that it's also hilarious. Fix yourself a White Russian, folks. Let's see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass. (1998, 117 min, Unconfirmed Format) CS
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The Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) welcomes Australian critic, author, and film professor (Monash University) Adrian Martin, who will give a talk entitled Cinema Invents Ways of Dancing on Thursday at 7pm. [Martin will also be participating on a panel and introducing a film at Block Cinema at Northwestern University the next day; see next week's list for details.]
Computer Science for Projectionists: A One-Day Workshop, led by U o C grad student and Cine-File contributor Michael Castelle, takes place at the Nightingale Theatre (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) on Sunday from 12-5pm. This free workshop, designed primarily as an "applied, one-day mini-course focusing on bringing practicing projectionists up to speed with the computing technologies underlying the Digital Cinema System Specification," is geared towards projectionists, but anyone interested in understanding this brave new world digital cinema is welcome. Info and registration at

The Eye & Ear Clinic series at SAIC (112 S. Michigan Ave., Rm. 1307) presents A.K. Burns and A.L. Steiner's 2010 experimental sociosexual video work COMMUNITY ACTION CENTER (69 min, Video Projection - unconfirmed format) on Tuesday at 6pm. Co-director A.K. Burns will be in person to discuss this fascinating, radical, explicit, genderqueer work.
The Portage Theater (4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.) hosts Sci-Fi Spectacular 6 on Saturday from 11am-2am. The line up includes Roger Corman's 1960 LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (12pm; 72 min, 16mm), Nick Castle's 1984 THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1:30pm; 101 min, 35mm), Terry Gilliam's 1985 BRAZIL (3:15pm; 132 min, 35mm), Thom Eberhardt's 1984 NIGHT OF THE COMET (6pm; 95 min, 35mm; star Kelli Maroney in person), Terry Gilliam's 1995 film TWELVE MONKEYS (8:15pm; 129 min, 35mm), Joe Cornish's 2011 ATTACK THE BLOCK (10:30pm; 88 min, 35mm), and the 2011 omnibus film THE THEATRE BIZARRE (Midnight; 114 min, anticipated 35mm), along with many shorts and trailers. Also in person for photos and autographs is legendary cult director Larry Cohen. More info is here.
Chicago Filmmakers presents Best of Rural Route Film Festival 2011 on Friday at 8pm. Screening are works by Kate Balsley, Rebecca Rodriguez, Rana Ayoub, George Sander-Jackson, Rob Yeo, Sara Newens, Deb Shoval, and Kathryn McCool.
The Alliance Française and the Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) both screen Elisabeth Lenchener's 2010 documentary SERGE AND BEATE KLARSFELD, GUERILLAS FOR REMEMBERANCE (52 min, DVD Projection) this week: Friday at 6:30pm at the Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) and Saturday at 8:30pm at the Film Studies Center. Lenchener in person at both screenings.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Josef Astor's 2010 documentary LOST BOHEMIA (78 min, HDCam) has five screenings; Kenneth Lonergan's 2011 love it or hate it film MARGARET (150 min, 35mm) returns for a week; the regional winners of the 39th Annual Student Academy Awards (Various Formats) screens for free on Monday at 6:30pm; SAIC professor and filmmaker Dan Eisenberg's 2010 experimental documentary THE UNSTABLE OBJECT (83 min, HD Video) screens on Tuesday at 6pm, with Eisenberg in person; and the Chicago Palestine Film Festival continues with EMEMY ALIEN (DigiBeta; showing with JUST ANOTHER DAY, Mini-DV), TRIUMPH67 (DigiBeta; showing with A SPACE EXODUS, HDCam), THE KINGDOM OF WOMEN (DigiBeta; showing with ISTHMUS, DVCam), ROADMAP TO APARTHEID (Mini-DV; showing with NO WAY THROUGH, DigiBeta), and THE INVISIBLE POLICEMAN (DigiBeta; showing with DOORS TO THE SEA, Mini-DV). Check the Film Center website for complete details.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Robert Rodriguez's 1996 film FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (108 min, 35mm) screens Friday at 7 and 11:30pm and Sunday at 1pm. University of Chicago alum Neal Dhand will be in person to screen his new feature SECOND-STORY MAN (2011, 107 min, Blu-ray Projection) on Friday at 9pm. On Monday at 7pm in the Canyon Cinema series, it's the little known feature FAR OUT, STAR ROUTE (1971, 64 min, 16mm) by Leonard Lipton (author of the influential Independent Filmmaking and lyricist of Puff the Magic Dragon). Charles Crichton and John Cleese's 1988 comedy A FISH CALLED WANDA (108 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9:15pm. And SAIC grad Hong Sang-soo's 2008 South Korean film NIGHT AND DAY (145 min, 35mm) screens on Thursday at 7pm.
Also at the Music Box this week: Philippe Falardeau's 2011 Canadian drama MONSIEUR LAZHAR (94 min, Unconfirmed Format) opens; Kevin Macdonald's new documentary MARLEY (145 min, Unconfirmed Format) continues; On Tuesday at 7:40pm, John Dahl's 1993 neo-noir RED ROCK WEST (98 min, Unconfirmed Format) screens—a selection by Roger Ebert as prize for besting the Music Box in Oscar picks this year; On Thursday at 9pm, Darren Lynn Bousman's new film THE DEVIL'S CARNIVAL (Unknown running time, Unconfirmed Format) screens, with Bousman and writer/actor Terrance Zdunich in person; and the Friday and Saturday Midnight film is Joss Whedon's 2005 cult fantasy film SERENITY (119 min, Unconfirmed Format).
Facets Cinémathèque plays Taika Waititi's 2011 New Zealand film BOY (87 min, 35mm) for a week. Martin Scorsese's 2011 documentary GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (208 min, Unconfirmed Format) has a single screening on Sunday at 7pm.
Transistor (3819 N. Lincoln Ave.) screens Woody Allen's recent film MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (94 min, DVD Projection) on Monday at 8pm.
Also at the Portage Theater this week: local filmmaker Coquie Hughes's new film IF I WAS YOUR GIRL (Unknown running time, Video Projection - unconfirmed format) on Friday at 8pm; On Sunday, it's Giant Sized Sunday: Monster Movies! , with GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (12pm), SON OF KONG (2pm), and KONGA (4pm) (Unconfirmed Formats); and on Monday at 7:30pm, it's Alrick Brown's 2011 drama KINYARWANDA (100 min, Unconfirmed Format).
The Chicago Cultural Center screens Danfung Dennis' 2011 documentary HELL AND BACK AGAIN (88 min, Video Projection - unconfirmed format) on Saturday at 2pm.
Mess Hall (6932 N. Glenwood Ave.) screens Stephanie Black's 2001 documentary LIFE AND DEBT (80 min, Video Projection - unconfirmed format) on Friday at 6:30pm as part of a series of screenings presented by the Anarchist Film Festival. More info here.
Dream Theater (556 W. 18th St.) screens David Kepner and Morgan Betz's 2011 music documentary TAKEOVER! (94 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Friday at 7pm.

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CINE-LIST: April 27 - May 3, 2012


CONTRIBUTORS / Josphenie Ferorelli, Kalvin Henely, Tristan Johnson, Ben Sachs, Carrie Shemanski, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Brian Welesko, Candace Wirt, Darnell Witt

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