Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, JAN. 17 - Thursday, JAN. 23 ::


Frederick Wiseman's AT BERKELEY (American Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Wednesday, 6:30pm

It's hard to tell whether or not Frederick Wiseman is an idealist or a cynic. Many of his earlier films, including the infamous TITICUT FOLLIES (1967) and the lesser-known ESSENE (1972), reflect the insidiousness of the institutions which they are portraying, while some of his more recent films, in particular BALLET (1995) and LA DANSE (2009), reveal a certain hopefulness in their depiction of rigorous dedication and irreproachable aesthetic beauty. Wiseman's 38th feature-length documentary, AT BERKELEY, certainly won't provide any definite answers to that dilemma one way or the other; in fact, it serves to present Wiseman as more of a polarizing director than ever before, but with such subtlety only he could achieve. AT BERKELEY reflects Wiseman's almost militant objectivity while retaining his particular brand of restrained subjectivity. At a little over four hours in length, AT BERKELEY is just that. Though it sometimes serves as an overview of the nation's preeminent public university, with many references made to Berkeley's colorful past (including scenes taking place in a cafe named after the Free Speech Movement of the mid-60s), the impetus behind the film's 'narrative' arc is the state of California's progressive disinvestment in public higher education. At the beginning of the film it's revealed that the state of California contributed only 16% to the university's overall operating budget that year, down significantly from years before when the university had already experienced significant cuts. Wiseman takes care to remain impartial to those affected by the downsizing, giving as much attention to a staff meeting at which it's announced that hundreds of low-paying jobs were saved by the previous year's furlough requirements as he does to a middle class student's tearful declaration of guilt over asking their parents to finance their education. One might think that, considering the political slant of some of his earlier films, he'd be more firmly on the side of the student, but just as much consideration is given to the beleaguered administrators. Striving above all else for fairness, it's then no wonder that Wiseman reflects the October 7, 2010 student protests as being a dismal display of disorganized and unrealized idealism rooted in a radical form of entitlement. At the protests, a commanding young activist declares that tuition should be free, a seemingly pure aspiration that conflicts with the activist group's contradictory list of demands. In a staff meeting following the disbandment of the sit-in, then-chancellor Robert Birgeneau decries the group's lack of focus, almost as if he would have taken them more seriously had their protest resembled those of his heyday. A decidedly bitter scene, it seems that Wiseman has lost faith both in the institution and in those taking it on. A few scenes later, a group of veterans discuss what it means to them to have been accepted at Berkeley--seemingly insignificant, it resembles many of the film's previous interludes meant to reflect daily life on the Berkeley campus, fiscal uncertainty aside. But in that moment, one in which the campus' most unradical students ponder what it means to have moved from one institution to another, one gets a glimpse of the hope Wiseman has for those operating within the machine. (2013, 244 min, DCP Digital Projection) KS
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Brian De Palma's PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 7 and 9pm

A hit only in Winnipeg (a city then and now of exquisite good taste), PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE seems to have everything going against it. Music by the anti-cool songsmith Paul Williams, who also plays one of the leading roles, an alienating, mannered, downright strange performance by William Finley in the title role, a visual scheme exuberant with kitsch, gaudy colors, and off-putting compositions, and a tone of jokiness and self-mockery resolutely at odds with the deadly seriousness of the subject matter: at first glance, there's nothing about the movie that's not at odds with itself. It's the same with the plot line, which is so absurdly constructed and disconcerting as to fairly defy summary. Winslow Leach, bespectacled composer of a cantata about Faust, has his music stolen by the Svengali-esque Swan, a producer and nightclub owner. Framed as a heroin dealer, Winslow is sent to Sing Sing, where all his teeth are extracted in an experimental medical procedure. He soon escapes, however, when he hears his own songs on the radio being butchered and breaks in to Swan's record-pressing plant, only to have his head trapped in the machinery. Now with the grooves of the hated record inscribed on his face, and his own voice destroyed, he determines to destroy Swan's nightclub, disguising himself as a cybernetic owl, only to be waylaid in his quest for revenge when he falls in love with the ingénue Phoenix, played by the great Jessica Harper. And that's just the first two reels. There are a dozen musical numbers, elaborately staged and hilariously parodic, and a series of terrible murders, committed grotesquely by the otherwise sympathetic hero, Winslow, all of which work to prevent any attempt on our part figure out what in the world we're watching. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE never lets us get comfortable, and this is not merely on the level of plot. The film's strange, distracting style and other-worldly sights and sounds are just artificial enough to suggest that the work is wholly within a fantasy land, the fairy-tale world of the classic Hollywood musical, and just nasty, explicit, and corporeal enough to indicate that we're seeing a version of reality. After Winslow becomes the Phantom, he plants a time bomb in the trunk of a prop car about to be rolled onto a stage crowded with his enemies. It's is a dead ringer for the bomb we see in the opening seconds of TOUCH OF EVIL, and what follows is nothing less than a stunning one-upping of that film's luxurious and deadly first shot. Not content with one mobile camera, De Palma shoots his car-bombing in split-screen and during a song-and-dance routine. On one level, it's an exercise in audacity and confusion and suspense, a great director showing off. But, as in all aspects of PHANTOM, the segment serves to unnerve the viewer tonally, preventing us from fully enjoying the technical mastery of the style or from enmeshing ourselves within the story and feeling unmitigated suspense and horror, from either condemning or identifying with the characters and their actions. Hilarious, horrifying, mortifying, embarrassing, engrossing, and delirious all at once, PHANTOM's masterful control over every aspect of cinema makes it impossible to truly come to term with, but makes it one of the most profoundly pleasurable experiences in American cinema. (1974, 94 min, DCP Digital Projection) KB
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Andrzej Zulawski's POSSESSION (International Revival) 
Gene Siskel Film Center -- Sunday, 3pm and Thursday, 8:15pm

Originally hacked down for American release to a schlocky--and downright absurd--ninety-minutes, POSSESSION has been restored to Zulawski's original cut. The added footage doesn't necessarily make the infamous tentacled-monster sex thing any less nuts, because it still is a shocking sight to behold. But its purpose is more nuanced and creepy when the film really goes off the rails. Drawing from his own divorce, Zulawski's film follows the collapse of Mark and Anna's marriage and the impossibility of Mark ever fully knowing, or possessing, his wife in love. Largely set in an apartment near the Berlin Wall, Mark is confronted with divorce and descends into severe depression. He emerges in a near-psychotic state intending to reclaim Anna and their son. He soon becomes aware of Anna's lover, but after confronting him, both men realize Anna is seeing someone--or something--else. Zulawski keeps the camera in almost constant motion, pushing in and pulling back during confrontations between Mark and Anna as their fights escalate to bloody moments that are somehow both expected and completely terrifying. In one scene, Anna grinds meat as Mark maniacally berates her. The noise of the kitchen rises with the tension and Anna, tired of the diatribe, takes an electric knife to her neck. Paired with scenes of their individual genuine tenderness toward their son, POSSESSION is filled with mirrors. Mark meets his son's schoolteacher, a benevolent doppelganger for his wife, and a double of Mark appears with Anna at the end. Even the setting is exploited for an otherworldly nothingness and an exactness in East and West Germany, itself perversely mirrored. The unrestrained acting--Anna thrashing hysterically could describe many scenes--adds to a heightened reality where Anna's possession is not demonic, but love can be. (1981, 123 min, 35mm) BW
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Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (American Revival) 
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 7pm

The narrator of Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is more than just a character in the film, but a symbolic representation of the film's message. The unborn child who tells the story of the Peazant family in their last days before migrating north is as much a reflection of the past as she is of the future; all that has come before her is as inherent to the family as the very blood within their veins, and it's that history which will propel them along the trying and changing times. The Peazant family are inhabitants of the southern Sea Islands and members of its Gullah culture, having preserved the identity of their African heritage in the face of slavery and post-war oppression. Before the move, the matriarch of the Peazant family contemplates her native beliefs while the family's younger members overcome their personal struggles. Rape and prostitution have afflicted several female members of the family, and the scorn from both society and their own clan present the unique obstacle of African American women within an already disparaged race. Dash uses magical realism not only in the story, but also as a filmmaking device that is reflective of the characters' culture. It was the first feature-length film by an African-American woman to receive theatrical release, and its historical context and female-oriented storyline set it apart from both other films of the time and other films put out by fellow members of the L.A. Rebellion. (1991, 112 min, 35mm Print) KS
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David France's HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (New Documentary)
Logan Center for the Arts (915 E. 60th St.) - Friday, 6pm

Healthcare is a human right. Big business and politicians tacitly conspire to let rot those that they find distasteful. HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE catalogs the actions (and overall successes) of ACT UP, a group of AIDS activists desperate enough to throw themselves into the machinations of Big Pharma and agitate successfully for better, faster AIDS drugs. The story alone is compelling (lay people band together, bone up on medical literature, and actually change both public policy and private companies: amazing!) and the documentary does it justice. Using loads of footage shot by group members themselves and television news crews of the 80s, the palpability of death comes through as strongly as it can in cinema. It's so strange to hear the voices of the vibrant dead, and to hear them intermingled with their surviving compatriots; it's heartbreaking. There's little sugar-coating, of the group, its methods, or their outcomes and the film is all the stronger for their struggle. The film will be followed by a discussion with Melissa Gilliam, MD, PhD Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology; Judy Hoffman, Filmmaker; and Harold Pollack, Professor of Social Science. (2012, 110 min, Blu-Ray Projection) CM

Tommy Wiseau's THE ROOM (Cult)
Music Box Theatre - Friday, Midnight

A woman announces, "Well, the results came back - I definitely have breast cancer," and that's the last we ever hear of it. A group of men don tuxedos for no apparent reason and then toss around a football. A drug dealer threatens to kill someone and then disappears for the rest of the movie. Upon awaking, a man picks up a rose from his night table, smells it, and throws it on top of his sleeping girlfriend. A recurring rooftop "exterior" is obviously a studio set, with a backdrop of the San Francisco skyline digitally composited behind the action. Accidental surrealism can be even more potent than the conscious kind, and THE ROOM is some kind of zenith of its type, the equal to anything Ed Wood committed to celluloid. Although what's on screen looks like it cost about $14.99, the actual budget was upwards of $6 million, in part because actor/producer/writer/director Wiseau shot simultaneously in 35mm and HD (supposedly he didn't understand the differences between the two formats). Now the film has become a worthy successor to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, with enthusiastic fans performing a series of rituals at each screening. Ross Morin, assistant professor of film studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, calls it "one of the most important films of the past decade. Through the complete excess in every area of production, THE ROOM reveals to us just how empty, preposterous and silly the films and television programs we've watched over the past couple of decades have been." (2003, 99 min, 35mm) RC
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The Extinct Entities Festival at Links Hall at Constellation (3111 N. Western Ave.) continues, and includes another film/video program on Monday at 7:30pm. This program features a work-in-progress version of Christy LeMaster's film WE ARE NO LONGER BRAVE ENOUGH TO LEAVE and a new work from The Nervous Center, documenting the history of the coffee shop/performance space. The event will include a live musical performance by Kwaidan.

South Side Projections and Co-Prosperity Sphere (3219-21 S. Morgan St.) present Picasso and the Mayor: The Chicago Picasso on 16mm Film on Thursday at 7pm. Screening are public television station WNET's documentary THE CHICAGO PICASSO (1967, 60 min, 16mm Archival Print) and local filmmaker Tom Palazzolo's short THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE (1967, 12 min, 16mm). Palazzolo and Art Institute of Chicago museum educator Annie Morse in person.

The Black Cinema House (6901 S. Dorchester Ave.) presents "Montgomery to Memphis" on Sunday at 4pm. Screening are Ely Landau, Richard Kaplan, Sidney Lumet, Joseph Mankiewicz's 1970 documentary KING: A FILMED RECORD...MONTGOMERY TO MEMPHIS (103 min abbreviated educational version, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) and Millie Goldscholl's 1969 animated short UP IS DOWN (7 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format). Due to limited seating, RSVP at the BCH website. Free admission.

Emporium (1366 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens David A Prior's 1987 film KILLER WORKOUT (85 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Sunday at 10pm. Free admission.

Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) presents two films by local filmmaker Joseph R. Lewis on Friday. At 8pm, Lewis' 2014 documentary THE LOST MARIONETTES (50 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) screens, with marionette maker Ralph Kipniss in person. At 9:30pm, Lewis and Dave Asher's 2013 rock opera SCI FI SOL (46 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) screens. Co-presented by The Underground Multiplex. Artists in person. On Saturday at 7:30pm, it's Dimestore Films: Droll, Delight, and Sometimes Death, featuring a selection of short films and a sneak-peek at an upcoming feature by the local production group. Dimestore Films' Christian Gridelli and Hunter Norris in person. The Dimestore program repeats on Wednesday at 6:30pm at Columbia College (Ferguson Theater, 600 S. Michigan Ave.).

The International House at the University of Chicago (1414 E 59th St, Assembly Hall), hosts a screening of Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's 2013 documentary AFTER TILLER (85 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Wednesday at 5pm. Followed by a panel discussion. Free admission.

The Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) screens Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film LOLITA (152 min, 35mm) on Wednesday at 1 and 7:30pm.

Block Cinema (Northwestern University) screens Ely Landau, Richard Kaplan, Sidney Lumet, Joseph Mankiewicz's 1970 documentary KING: A FILMED RECORD...MONTGOMERY TO MEMPHIS (181 min, DCP Digital Projection; New Restoration) on Thursday at 5pm. Free Admission.

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Giuseppe Tornatore's 2013 Italian film THE BEST OFFER (131 min, DCP Digital Projection) begins a two-week run; Jehane Noujaim's 2013 Egyptian/American film THE SQUARE (104 min, DCP Digital Projection) plays for a week. Director Noujaim will do Q&As via Skype at the 8:15pm Friday show and the 7:45pm Saturday show, though the 8:15pm Friday is currently sold out, and the 7:45pm Saturday show is expected to; Michael Mayer's 2013 documentary MORTIFIED NATION (85 min, DigiBeta Video) is on Friday at 8:30pm and Saturday at 3pm, with Mayer, producers Shay DeGrandis and Neil Katcher, and co-producer Annette Ferrara of the Chicago live "Mortified" shows in person at both screenings; Slavko Martinov's 2012 New Zealand film PROPAGANDA (96 min, HDCam Video) is on Saturday at 5:30pm and Tuesday at 8:30pm; and François Truffaut's 1975 film THE STORY OF ADELE H. (96 min, 35mm) is on Sunday at 5:30pm and Monday at 6pm.

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Tim Burton's 1988 film BEETLEJUICE (35mm 92 min) is on Friday at 7, 9, and 11pm and Sunday at 1pm; Nicole Holofcener's 2013 film ENOUGH SAID (35mm, 93 min) is on Saturday at 7 and 9pm and Sunday at 3pm; Kleber Mindonça Filho's 2012 Brazilian film NEIGHBORING SOUNDS (131 min, DCP Digital Projection) is on Sunday at 7pm (free admission); George Cukor's 1933 film LITTLE WOMEN (115 min, 35mm) is on Monday at 7pm; Chia-Liang Liu and Jackie Chan's 1994 Hong Kong film THE LEGEND OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER (102 min, DVD Projection) is on Tuesday at 7pm, and will be introduced by Anita Chan, Director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, New York; and Simon West's 1997 film CON AIR (115 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 9:30pm.

At the Music Box Theatre this week: Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado's 2013 Israeli film BIG BAD WOLVES (110 min, DCP Digital Projection) opens; Paolo Sorrentino's 2013 film THE GREAT BEAUTY (142 min, DCP Digital Projection) continues; Taylor Guterson's 2010 film OLD GOATS (91 min, Blu-Ray Projection) is on Saturday and Sunday at Noon; Adam Rodgers' 2013 film AT MIDDLETON (99 min, DCP Digital Projection) is on Tuesday at 7pm; Barry Levinson's 1982 film DINER (110 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 7:30pm as part of the occasional Sound Opinions series, with music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot in person; Fred Zinnemann's 1953 film FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (118 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at 11:30pm; Hideaki Anno, Mahiro Maeda, Masayuki, and Kazuya Tsurumaki's 2012 anime EVANGELION 3.0: YOU CAN (NOT) REDO (96 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) is on Friday at Midnight; Jim Sharman's 1975 cult film THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (100 min, 35mm) and Tatsuyuki Nagai's 2013 anime ANOHANA THE MOVIE: THE FLOWER WE SAW THAT DAY (Unconfirmed Running Time, Blu-Ray Projection) are both on Saturday at Midnight.

Facets Cinémathèque screens Darren Stein's independent gay comedy 2013 film G.B.F. (92 min, Unconfirmed Format) for a week's run.

The Logan Theatre screens John Sturges' 1960 western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (128 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Friday, Saturday, and Monday at 10:30pm; and Sergio Leone's 1968 western ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (175 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 9:30pm.

The Chicago Cultural Center hosts a Chicago Community Cinema presentation of Cristina Ibarra's 2014 documentary LAS MARTHAS (66 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 2pm. Free Admission.

The Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 200) screens A Crush on German Short Films on Thursday at 6pm. The program includes ten short films from 2011-13. Free admission.

The Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Claude Lelouch's 2010 film WHAT LOVE MAY BRING (CES AMOURS-LÀ) (120 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Introduced by Chicago International Film Festival Director Michael Kutza.



The Art Institute of Chicago has two video installations currently running. Isaac Julien's The Long Road to Mazatlán is on view until March 30 (Gallery 186) and Amar Kanwar's The Lightning Testimonies is on view until April 20 (Gallery 291).

The Mission (1431 W. Chicago Ave.) opens the show Dis/placement on Friday, with a reception from 6-8pm. The show runs through February 22. Included are video and photography works by Ella de Burca (Dublin, Ireland), Cameron Gibson (Chicago), Orr Menirom (Tel Aviv/Chicago), and Bryan Zanisnik (New York).

The Museum of Contemporary Art continues Chicago Works: Lilli Carré through April 15, 2014. The show includes a video work by Carré.

The Museum of Contemporary Art continues City Self through April 13. The show includes Sarah Morris's 2011 film Chicago.



The Portage Theatre remains closed for the foreseeable future.

The Patio Theater continues to have their programming on hiatus.

The Northwest Chicago Film Society is on a brief hiatus this January and plans to resume screenings in February.

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CINE-LIST: January 17 - January 23, 2014

Patrick Friel

CONTRIBUTORS / Kian Bergstrom, Rob Christopher, Chloe McLaren, Kathleen Sachs, Brian Welesko, Darnell Witt

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