Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, NOV. 23 - Thursday, NOV. 29 ::


Ben Rivers' TWO YEARS AT SEA (Experimental Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Sunday, 5:15pm and Monday, 6pm 
TWO YEARS AT SEA, a loose, airy non-narrative production, marks UK filmmaker Ben Rivers' first feature-length film. Shot in Rivers' recently-favored, though difficult to correctly project, anamorphic 16mm format, the film casually follows frugal woodsman Jake Williams as he lives through all seasons in his remote cabin. We've met Jake before, in Rivers' earlier short THIS IS MY LAND, but now the longer running time allows us to experience time as Jake does, a patient phenomenon far removed from 21st Century living. His homestead is a surreal fantasy world, filled with inventions of his own creation, from an improvised shower to a backyard sound-system. Ben Rivers' hand-processed black-and-white imagery alludes to a kinship with Jake's self-crafted world, while the anamorphic lensing captures the pastoral lyricism inherent in this isolated wilderness. The nearly wordless portrait captures moments of profound beauty as they slowly unfold during the idiosyncratic projects Jake undertakes. Some moments, like a camping wagon floating blithely up through the tree line, suggest a haunted majesty to these Scottish woods, underscoring the fantastic life Jake has created for himself, one that Rivers allows us to indulge in for a gratifyingly long time. (2011, 86 min, 35mm) DM
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Films by Peter Tscherkassky (Experimental)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 7pm 
Peter Tscherkassky is, without a doubt, Austria's second greatest filmmaker. That's quite an achievement when you consider the first is Peter Kubelka—and that Tscherkassky only lags in influence, not in film output. And more than Kubelka, Tscherkassky's work is quite accessible to the casual experimental film viewer. There are deep, formal cinematic elements at work, but the surfaces are wild, spinning found-footage delights—shredding and reconstituting the source material into jagged, fiery explosions of, well, light and sound. It's hard to think of another serious film formalist who is as much fun (Bruce Conner, maybe). The program begins with the lighthearted upper-crust Viennese home movie re-edit HAPPY-END (1996, 12 min). L'ARRIVEE (1998, 2 min) is a smashingly intense riff on the Lumiére Brothers' trains. OUTER SPACE (1999, 10 min) is an incredible achievement. It's a plumbs true horror, shattering emotions, and brain-breaking visual poetry out of a pretty-decent American horror film staring Barbara Hershey. While watching this film keep in mind that Tscherkassky makes these films frame by frame, often exposing bits of the frame by hand with a pen light. DREAM WORK (FOR MAN RAY) (2001, 11 min) is an oneiric dog-pile of images, technique, and influences. Finally, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A LIGHT AND SOUND MACHINE (2005, 17 min) is a bit like OUTER SPACE in that the characters in the source material play a narrative role interacting with the elements of re-photography. It's maybe a bit lumpier than the other work in the program, but it's still undeniably great. Introduced by film scholar and Cine-File contributor Kian Bergstrom. (1996-2005, 66 min total, 35mm) JBM
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Volker Pantenburg: Scanning Landscape: Notes on the Politics and Economy of the Pan (Lecture/Presentation)
Chicago Film Seminar - DePaul Loop Campus (14 E Jackson Blvd. Room LL 102; use 247 S. State St. entrance) - Thursday, 6:30pm 
If cinema's future depends as much on acquiring new understandings of how we see moving images as it does on creating new ones, then Volker Pantenburg (Bauhaus University Weimar) figures among the key scholars working on the vanguard of this inquiry. Whether in exploring the essayistic filmmaking of Harun Farocki and Jean-Luc Godard, making critical discernments of the cinematic experience in the movie theater vs. the art museum, or retrieving the lost legacy of film educational television programs that aired in Europe and the US in the 70s, Pantenburg's consistent object is how cinema's meaning is mediated through different institutions and forms. Most recently, while as a visiting scholar at UIC, he has taken to exploring how the most elemental of cinematic forms—the shot—might function as a self-reflexive commentary on the properties of cinematic discourse. In his talk "Scanning Landscape: Notes on the Politics and Economy of the Pan," Pantenburg will discuss how the panning shot might resonate with historical ways of looking and perform its own self-contained gesture of criticism and scholarship, scanning ideas as conspicuously as it scans a field of images. Films to be discussed include Gerhard Friedl's WOLFF VON AMERONGEN: DID HE COMMIT BANKRUPTCY OFFENCES? (2004), a film that according to Austrian critic Christoph Huber consists of 103 pans out of 130 total shots; and Straub-Huillet's famously pan-oramic study TOO EARLY, TOO LATE (1982). Daniel Eisenberg (SAIC) will provide the response. Excerpts of films will be projected digitally. KBL
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Edgar Ulmer's BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 7pm 
There once was a man who knew how to compose intensely using cinema's discarded debris and embarrassments: rear projection, stock footage, plywood sets, cardboard plots. Edgar Ulmer was a poet of deficiency, an artist of the low-budget. Made simultaneously with the paranoid THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN on the Texas State Fair Grounds, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER is the story of a test pilot from 1960 who becomes trapped in 2024. In an underground city populated by sterile "deaf-mutes," the test pilot is imprisoned alongside a cosmonaut from 1973 and a pair of seemingly idealistic scientists from the 1990s, all of them fellow time travelers. A science fiction parable in the pulp magazine tradition and a one-act Jacobean tragedy played out against sets as vividly thin as the ones of Orson Welles' MACBETH, this is a prime introduction to Ulmer's doomed late period. (1960, 75 min, 35mm) IV
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Steven Lisberger's TRON (70mm Presentation; American Revival)
Music Box - Friday and Saturday, Midnight
Through a fortuitous distributor's error, the Music Box's midnight revival of TRON (originally scheduled in ho-hum 35mm) is now a tantalizing preview of 70mm wonders teased for next spring. At first, TRON may sound like an unlikely candidate for large-format thrills, but its primitive CGI effects withstand the scrutiny through a combination of restraint and clean, Day-Glo design. (They're certainly more elegant than the embarrassing digital f/x of many '90s blockbusters, like ESCAPE FROM LA.) Though one friend left a 1982 showing aghast at the movie's dumbly literal idea of how data worked and what it meant, this lack of human imagination is probably TRON's greatest strength: it's a movie set inside a computer that feels wholly computerized in affect and effect. The screenplay comes off more like machine-labor than human effort, as if Disney developed a proprietary algorithm to crunch together the formulae of fifty recent s-f blockbusters and produce a best-approximation of the box office sweet spot. The robotic edifice is revealed most directly when TRON engages sexual matters: we're confused to hear about Cindy Morgan's messy bedroom habits in the middle of a Disney showcase, and her last-minute partner swap plays like an A.I. hiccup. There's something oddly moving about the miscalculations of TRON—a cyborg's kludgey effort to conjure a flesh-and-blood past. (1982, 96 min, 70mm) KAW
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Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday and Tuesday, 6pm
On their bright, Technicolor surfaces, the films of Douglas Sirk can appear as so many reiterations of the well-worn genre of the classical Hollywood melodrama. Lush domestic interiors, weeping women, maudlin mothers, betrayal, and heartbreak all make their obligatory appearances; all are familiar markers of a predictable narrative structure that will inevitably deliver the triumph of heterosexual union and affirm the solidity of the patriarchal family. This, however, is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, with vicious currents stirring underwater. WRITTEN ON THE WIND, undoubtedly one of Sirk's strongest films, demonstrates precisely why the director underwent significant critical reevaluation in the 1970s, leaving behind a reputation of glitz and fluff to become the darling of cinephiles, feminists, and Fassbinder alike. Working within and against the conventions of genre, Sirk's over-the-top excess forces the recognition of fissures and cracks that lurk within the dominant ideology the film superficially endorses. The glossiness and artificiality of Sirk's surfaces gives way to a complex meditation on the contradictions of gender, class, and sexuality. Dave Kehr sees the film as "a screaming Brechtian essay on the shared impotence of American family and business life...that draws attention to the artificiality of the film medium, in turn commenting on the hollowness of middle-class American life." The film stands as an excellent introduction to Sirk for those unfamiliar, but repeat viewings do not disappoint: as Pedro Almodovar said, "I have seen WRITTEN ON THE WIND a thousand times, and I cannot wait to see it again.'' Critic and artist Fred Camper lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1956, 99 min, 35mm) EB
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Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 6pm
Ready your thesis proposals, armchair film scholars! Puppets and ventriloquism (literal and political) are a recurrent motif and plot point in DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME—so much so that it's hard not to read too deep into this madcap live-action cartoon. But whether you think the talking deer and buzzsaw-armed automatons represent the Cultural Revolution (as Ferroni Brigadier Christoph Huber believes) or the plight of Cantonese-language filmmakers in an increasingly Mandarin-ified Chinese film industry, we can all at least agree that: 1) Tsui Hark is in fine, elastic form here, stretching history and logic as he sees fit, and 2) the result is a lot fun. Tsui has never met a law of physics he didn't want to break; here he's given the perfect canvas: a wuxia mystery about an outbreak of spontaneous combustions (!) in 7th century China. Painting in broad, crazy strokes, he fills it up with color, movement, special effects, and enough ridiculous plot twists to make Raúl Ruiz blush. (2010, 119 min, DCP Digital Projection) IV
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Columbia College's Glass Curtain Gallery (1104 S. Wabash Ave.) opened the exhibition Embracing the FARB: Modes of Reenactment on Thursday, and the show runs through February 9. Among the works on view are video installations by Lori Felker (The Variable Area Television Network) and Kirsten Leenaars (Homeland of Gestures; part one on display till mid-January, part two on display from mid-January), and Jefferson Pinder (The Great Escape).

The Art Institute of Chicago continues the exhibit focus: Hito Steyerl, which features six of the artist's video installations. It runs through January 27.

The Art Institute of Chicago continues an exhibition of work by artist Steve McQueen, which features a number of his film/video installation pieces, on Sunday. The show runs through January 6.

Ongoing at the Museum of Contemporary Art though May 12 is MCA Screen: Akram Zaatari, featuring the artist's 2010 Single-channel HD video Tomorrow everything will be alright (12 min loop).

On view daily through November 25 at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the Film and Photo in New York exhibition are several films showing in Gallery 4. Included are Paul Strand's MANHATTA (1921), Louis Faurer's TIME CAPSULE (1960s), Weegee's WEEGEE'S NEW YORK (1948), Helen Levitt's IN THE STREET (1952), Morris Engel's LITTLE FUGITIVE (1953), and Robert Frank's PULL MY DAISY (1959). Check the museum's website for the screening schedule at



Manual Cinema opens their new production Lula Del Ray on Thursday at the Den Theatre (1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.). The show runs through December 16. Manual Cinema's film-inflected and inspired presentations feature overhead projectors, shadow puppets, actors in silhouette, and live music. More info at

UIC's Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria) presents the program Transnational/Radiate and Rotate (Unconfirmed Formats), curated by Mathew Paul Jinks and Megha Ralapati, on Wednesday at 7pm.

The Northwest Chicago Film Society (at the Portage Theater) screens Don Siegel's 1971 Clint Eastwood oddity THE BEGUILED (105 min, 35mm) on Wednesday at 7:30pm. Also showing is Del Lord's 1935 Three Stooges short UNCIVIL WARRIORS (20 min, 35mm).

The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens John Huston's 1975 film THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (129 min, 35mm) on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm. Reid Schultz will lead a discussion of the entire Sean Connery series after the film.

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Michel Ocelot's 2011 French animated film TALES OF THE NIGHT (84 min, 35mm subtitled; HDCam Video English dubbed) plays for a week; Pang Ho-cheung's 2012 Hong Kong film VULGARIA (92 min, 35mm) screens on Friday at 8pm and Monday at 7:45pm; Tsui Hark's 2001 Hong Kong film ZU WARRIORS (104 min, 35mm English dubbed version) is on Saturday at 5:15pm and Thursday at 8:15pm; Don Hertzfeldt's 2012 animated feature IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY (71 min, HD Video) screens on Saturday at 8pm and Wednesday at 8:15pm; and local filmmaker Pamela Sherrod Anderson's 2011 documentary THE CURATORS OF THE DIXON SCHOOL (80 min, HDCam Video) is on Sunday at 3pm and Thursday at 6pm, with Anderson in person at both screenings.

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Jacques Becker's 1954 French crime drama TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (94 min, 35mm) screens on Monday at 7pm; John Waters' 2000 film CECIL B. DEMENTED (87 min, 35mm) is on Tuesday at 7pm; John Carpenter's 1986 adventure film BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (99 min 35mm) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9pm; and Tsui Hark's 1991 Hong Kong action film ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (134 min, 35mm) screens on Thursday at 9pm.

Also at the Music Box this week: Sing-a-long Sound of Music (DCP Digital Projection) plays Friday-Sunday; Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones' 1975 comedy MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (91 min, DCP Digital Projection) opens on Sunday; Paolo Sorrentino's 2011 drama THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (118 min, Unconfirmed Format) continues; Jeff Orlowski's 2012 documentary CHASING ICE (76 min, Unconfirmed Format) is held over in the Saturday and Sunday 11:30am matinee slot only; Richard Knight Jr. and Peter Neville's 2012 local film SCROOGE AND MARLEY (Unconfirmed Running Time and Format) screens on Thursday at 7pm as an advance gala (see website for details); John Landis' 1980 film THE BLUES BROTHERS (133 min, 35mm) screens on Tuesday at 7:30pm, in the Sound Opinions series, with music critics Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis hosting; and Park Woo-Sang and Y.K. Kim's 1987 film MIAMI CONNECTION (110 min, Probable 35mm) screens Friday and Saturday at Midnight.

Block Cinema (Northwestern University) presents the symposium Madea's Big Scholarly Roundtable: Perspectives on the Media of Tyler Perry on Wednesday at 5pm. Moderator by Miriam Petty (Assistant Professor, Departments of Radio/TV/Film and of African American Studies, Northwestern University), it features as participants: Mark Anthony Neal (Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African & African-American Studies, Duke University), Racquel Gates (Assistant Professor, Department of Media Culture, CUNY College of Staten Island), Daniel O. Black (Novelist; Professor of English, Clark-Atlanta University), Brittney Cooper (Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies & Africana Studies, Rutgers University), and E. Patrick Johnson (Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies, Northwestern University).

Facets Cinémathèque screens Rick Alverson's 2011 film THE COMEDY (96 min, Unconfirmed Format) for a week run; the Chicago Latino Reel Film Club presents Diego Rougier's 2011 Chilean/Argentinean film COLUMBIAN POSTCARDS (115 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 7pm (reception at 6pm). Tickets for this screening are only available from the Latino Cultural Center (

The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1450) screens Francesco Bruni's 2011 film EASY! (95 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6pm. Reservation recommended: call (312) 822-9545.

The Goethe Institut-Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave. Suite 200) screens Dominik Graf's 2010 television production IN FACE OF THE CRIME - EPISODE 7: IF YOU SHOW FEAR, YOU'VE LOST (50 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Monday and Tuesday at 6pm.

Landmark's Century Centre Cinema screens Steven Spielberg's 1989 film INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (127 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) Friday and Saturday at Midnight.

The Patio Theater screens John G. Alvidsen's 1984 film THE KARATE KID (126 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm.

The Logan Theater screens Steven Spielberg's 1993 film JURASSIC PARK (127 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Friday at 11pm; Wes Anderson's 1998 film RUSHMORE (93 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Friday at 11:30pm; Terrence Malick's 1978 film DAYS OF HEAVEN (95 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 11pm; and Woody Allen's 1977 film ANNIE HALL (93 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 11:30pm.

Transistor (3819 N. Lincoln Ave.) screens Abbas Kiarostami's 2010 film CERTIFIED COPY (106 min, DVD Projection) on Monday at 8pm.

The Portage Theater presents Bone Chilling November! on Saturday beginning at Noon. Screening are GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, KING KONG, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, ALIENS, and KOLCHACK: THE NIGHT STALKER. Video Projection - Unconfirmed Formats; and on Thursday at 7pm is Scott Cervine's 2012 docudrama PEOPLE V THE STATE OF ILLUSION (80 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format).

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CINE-LIST: November 16 – November 22, 2012

Patrick Friel

CONTRIBUTORS / Erika Balsom, Patrick Friel, Kevin B. Lee, Josh Mabe, Doug McLaren, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Kyle A. Westphal, Darnell Witt

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