Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
x x x x x x
> Sign up
> Editorial Statement
> Last Week > Next Week
a weekly guide to alternative cinema- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
:: Friday, AUGUST 10 - Thursday, AUGUST 16 ::


MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM (Classic Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago)
Saturday, 7pm & 9:45pm
The story of a fourteen year old girl's relationship to both her teacher and her headmistress at a traditional German boarding school, Leontine Sagan's MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM is a film marked both by controversy and multiple stages of critical assesment. Although popular in Europe upon release in 1931, the film was banned both in the US (to be released only after significant cuts) and by Goebbels following the Nazi assumption of power. It was not shown again in Germany until a 1977 television broadcast, while screenings at New York and Chicago women's film festivals in the mid-70s generated a significant reevaluation of the film, heralding it as a landmark of queer cinema, with some suggesting that it may be the first film with an openly lesbian storyline. In his seminal survey of Weimar cinema, From Caligari To Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer reads the film as a progressive response to the rising tide of fascism that was to overtake Germany in 1933. Despite its abstention from the expressionism that dominated the 1920s, Kracauer sees MADCHEN, along with films like DOCTOR MABUSE and THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI, as exploring ideas of despotism and rebellion, with the tyrants of their story lines as nothing less than prefigurations of Hitler. MADCHEN's anti-fascism dominates much of the early commentary on the film, which sees it as a critique of the authoritarianism of the Prussian school system and an exploration of the emotional ramifications of life under dictatorship. However, such a reading obscures the film's palpable lesbian cadence. As B. Ruby Rich has written, " ... most important to the film's reputation through the years has been its significance as an anti-authoritarian and prophetically anti-fascist film....In emphasizing the film's progressive stance in relation to the Nazi assumption of power, however, film historians have tended to overlook, minimize, or trivialize the film's central concern with love between women... One of the few films to have an inherently gay sensibility, it is also one of the most central to establishing a history of lesbian cinema." (87 min, 16mm). EB
Screening details at


INGMAR BERGMAN (1918 2007) (Special Event)
Chopin Theatre Saturday & Sunday, see website
for showtimes
This weekend, Chicago Cinema Forum hosts a timely celebration of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, who died last week at 89. Bergman brought to the cinema mature depictions of psychological and spiritual longing, which anticipated not only the art film revolution of the 1960s but a confessional approach to filmmaking still seen in auteurist cinema today. Nonetheless, his work has more recently fallen out of favor in some circles for its thematic and stylistic indulgences, as well as its staunchly middle-class orientation. While it is true that Bergman preferred to focus on the privileged classes, his ultimate subject was the growing chaos of modern life on the whole; Susan Sontag wrote that his films are about "the depths in which our consciousness drowns." Yet no words can truly replace the experience of watching his films, which are often more animated and spontaneous than their descriptions would suggest. The behavior of the young women in THE SEVENTH SEAL and WILD STRAWBERRIES, for instance, is among the most graceful of its kind in cinema, and the photography in the experimental PERSONA, by Bergman's long-time collaborator Sven Nykvist, grants the viewer an intimacy with the characters that is anything but cerebral. (All three films are screening this weekend, along with early classic SAWDUST AND TINSEL (1953) and late masterpiece FANNY AND ALEXANDER (1982).) The event also features lectures by the Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum and others, but the real highlight is the Chicago premiere of BERGMAN COMPLETE (2004, 174 min, digital projection), a recent documentary about Bergman and his favorite actor, Erland Josephson, discussing everything and anything while they convalesce at Bergman's home. $20 buys a pass for the entire weekend. BS
Complete details at
A comprehensive guide to the series can be found in this week's Reader.



Charles Burnett's KILLER OF SHEEP (Classic Revival)
Music Box – Week-long run, check Reader Movies for showtimes

Exactly thirty years after its completion, the debut feature by the great Charles Burnett is finally enjoying its first-ever commercial release.  For a film that has received abundant accolades over the years and is consistently hailed as a masterpiece by a wide variety of critics, KILLER OF SHEEP is remarkably strange.  At once beautiful, contemplative and anguishing, its lingering greatness is hard to place.  Shot on 16mm in stunning black and white, Burnett's story unfolds in Watts, an economically depressed black neighborhood of Los Angeles, and focuses on one of its residents, Stan (played by Henry Sanders, who would become a successful character actor on television). The title is somewhat literal, since Stan works in a slaughterhouse, but Burnett offers only oblique connections between the character's job and the effects it may or may not have on his psyche, family and surroundings. Our protagonist insists that he is not poor, yet we watch in sorrow as he struggles to realize the most modest of dreams. Sanders' unforgettable million-mile stare—whether in his kitchen or on the killing floor—makes his character's loneliness utterly chilling. J. Hoberman calls the film an "urban pastoral" of persisting relevance; indeed, the Watts of KILLER OF SHEEP bears a nuanced resemblance to many ghettos of the present. Watching it, one has the feeling that these images will remain lodged in the collective consciousness for years to come. The Music Box has graciously extended their run for a second week—don't miss out! (1977, 83 min, 35mm). GK
More info at



HOME MOVIE DAY (Special Event)
Chicago Cultural Center Saturday, 3-6pm (film inspection), 6-9pm (screening)
This yearly, worldwide celebration of home movies is absolutely essential viewing for anyone who cares a whit about motion picture art, history, sociology, ethnography, science, or technology.  Anyone who loves the sound of a projector.  Anyone who loves deep, luscious Kodachrome II stock that is as gorgeous as the day it was shot.   Anyone who loves dated, faded, scratched and bruised celluloid - every emulsion scar a sacred glyph created by your grandfather's careless handling 60 years ago.  Anyone who wants revel in the performance of the primping and strutting families readying for their closeup.   Anyone who wants to see what the neighborhood looked like before you got there.  So find your 100 foot reels of 16mm you just had processed from your sister's Quinceañera or your grandfather's thousands of feet of Super 8mm from your uncle's Bar Mitzvah in 1976 or that 8mm your great aunt shot from Dealey Plaza in 1963 and come out for Home Movie Day.  
The Chicago Cultural Center is located downtown, at 78 East Washington. More info on their website.

DEEP VALLEY (Classic Revival)
LaSalle Bank Cinema Saturday, 8pm
After cutting his teeth on a string of entertaining MALTESE FALCON rip-offs pairing Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, but before resigning himself to the three-starlet vehicles that were the bane of CinemaScope, Jean Negulesco unleashed ROAD HOUSE (1948), a woefully undervalued backwoods noir. Produced the previous year, DEEP VALLEY shares two of ROAD HOUSE's most striking elements: Ida Lupino and a crime infested, middle-of-nowhere setting. Negulesco's Warner films rarely disappoint, so this rarity should be worth a look. (1947, 104 min, 16mm). Also on the program: CELL BOUND, a 1955 Tex Avery cartoon. MK
Venue Information here.
Read Jonathan Rosenbaum's emphatic endorsement in this week's Reader.


George Cukor's SYLVIA SCARLETT (Classic Revival)
Music Box Saturday & Sunday, 11:30am
Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin and Armond White have all credited this film as being decades ahead of its time: Rosenbaum for its abrupt shifts in tone (which he likens to the French New Wave), Martin and White for its subversion of gender politics. Katherine Hepburn's Sylvia disguises herself as a boy while on the run with her crooked father and his ban of con-artists. Her flirtations with the two male leads (including Cary Grant) indeed yield unexpected and emotionally resonant complications. It should be noted, however, that Cukor was embarrassed of the film, considering its transgressions to be accidents, a result of nobody in the production knowing quite what they wanted. Regardless, it's still one-of-a-kind, recklessly independent of Hollywood conventions in a way few other movies of the period are. (1935, 95 min, 16mm).
More info at

Facets Cinémathèque – Sunday, 12:30

This weekend, Facets presents a "CineScoop" sneak preview of a "critically-acclaimed, absurdist comedy from Malaysian New Wave filmmaker James Lee [in which] the effects of alienation and consumerism in an increasingly mechanized modern world spiral out of control." According to international critics' circle FIPRESCI, "This is a film of multi-layered and subtly presented meanings, a film with magnificent black in cinematic values". (2004, 113 min, DVD).

More info at

David Cronenberg's SCANNERS (Cult Revival)
Music Box – Friday & Saturday, midnight

His last straight genre film before his artistic breakthrough, VIDEODROME (1983), SCANNERS (1981) is remarkable today for the various ways in which it foreshadows David Cronenberg's mature work.  Ostensibly about a worldwide conspiracy involving people with violent telekinetic powers (the "Scanners" of the title), the movie largely takes place in dark, neutral interiors such as office buildings and lecture halls.  The decision is a triumph of low-budget filmmaking, far-reaching in its implications: playing up the familiarity of his mise-en-scene, Cronenberg suggests an unexplainable horror behind our most banal routines--much like in the novels of Don DeLilo or the plays of Harold Pinter.  Of course, SCANNERS isn't lacking for the gruesome effects on which Cronenberg made his name: the film's exploding head may be the image most popularly associated with him. (1981, 103 min, 35mm). BS
More info at


Propaganda aficionados won't want to miss Thursday's screening of LET THERE BE LIGHT and THE BATTLE OF SAN PIETRO (1945/1946, 95 min, 16mm; 8pm), two suppressed war documentaries directed by John Huston. Although commissioned by the US Military and informative in nature, Huston's characteristic cynicism thwarted the films' effectiveness as morale-boosters and they were suppressed until after the war. LET THERE BE LIGHT (which wasn't officially released until 1980!) documents the early treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder at a psychiatric hospital; though it depicts the recovery of some soldiers, it lingers over psychological torment as only John Huston (THE MALTESE FALCON, THE MISFITS, REFLECTION IN A GOLDEN EYE) can. Wednesday offers FILMS BY CHRISTOPHER MACLAINE (various years, 61 min, 16mm; 8pm), a San Francisco Beat poet whose work has been championed by Fred Camper; the subjects include suicide, Cold War anxiety, and the alchemical process of artistic creation. Camper writes: "Rarely screened, perhaps because of their crude, homemade look, they have an emotional and spiritual authenticity few mainstream films can match." Finally, Saturday night brings a screening of David Lynch's MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001, 145 min, 35mm; 7 & 9:45pm), a title and director so frequently praised on this site that little more needs to be said. BS
Full details at

Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Reader Movies for showtimes

The Film Center continues its 13th BLACK HARVEST INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF FILM, VIDEO, AND TV: a month-long celebration of contemporary black filmaking, featuring many artists in person to introduce their work.
Check the Chicago Reader for a comprehensive guide to this year's festival.
Full details at


WALKING TO WERNER (New Documentary)
Facets Cinémathèque – Check Reader Movies for showtimes

In imitation of Werner Herzog, who once walked from Munich to Paris to visit his hospitalized mentor (the influential critic/historian Lotte Eisner), filmmaker Linas Phillips travels on foot from Seattle to Werner Herzog's Southern California home and brings a camera (and a cameraman) along. For Herzog, the act of walking halfway across Europe had some kind of ritual value, as if his physical exertion would somehow cure his friend. The way he tells it, it worked. Phillips, by contrast, has undergone this elaborate ritual in service of a filmmaking opportunity. It feels like a gimmick, an excuse for a film that's interesting enough not to require any justification (a marketing hook and structuring principle are different matters). Phillips is a fascinating presence in front of the camera, particularly whenever delirium sets in, and he displays a remarkable talent for engaging people along the way—indeed, it's these chance meetings that feel the most substantial. With little to say about Herzog but plenty of compelling detours along the way, here's hoping that in the future Phillips (who will be appearing at Facets this weekend to receive your questions and comments) will ease out of the high concept and settle into the low. (2006, 93 min, BetaSP). A
More info at

Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Reader Movies for showtimes
A young woman walks around Times Square on a suicide mission with a bomb in her backpack. Why? The film never tells us. But that's not its aim. Relating her subject to a female suicide bomber from Russia that she read about in a newspaper, filmmaker Julia Loktev discusses, in an interview with the Village Voice, the ways that the conventional motivation of suicide bombers as portrayed in cinema—horrific familial tragedy that demands vengeance—over-simplifies the far more complex and abstract impulses that lead "normal" human beings to end their lives by destroying others'. Instead, Loktev created a stunningly ambiguous film around her mysterious protagonist, known only as she, whose premeditated death "will be for you." Not since Alan Clarke's disturbing ELEPHANT (1989) has violence without immediate context made so much sense. (94 min, 35mm). KH
More info at


NO END IN SIGHT (New Documentary)
Piper's Alley - Screening daily, check Reader Movies for showtimes

Hardly a lefty rabble-rouser, this latest Iraq doc doesn't even bother with questions of the war's legitimacy.  First time director Charles Ferguson resists overt editorializing and lets the facts do the indicting, detailing with military precision the catastrophic political errors that inadvertently orchestrated the utter failure of the postwar occupation.  The streamlined clarity of Ferguson's reportage is undermined by his cloudy formal approach, as a hodgepodge of voice-of-god narration, onscreen text, and an army of talking heads deliver indistinguishably overlapping messages.  This will appear as great cinema only to those who consider the 9/11 Commission Report a great book, but NO END IN SIGHT is similarly essential, especially in today's journalistic landscape, for its indefatigable dedication to accuracy and accountability. (2007, 102 min, 35mm). MK


Chicago Outdoor Film Festival
Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

Silent Film Society
Welcome Danger (with Harold Lloyd)

Music Box
This is England*, Weird Science

Facets Cinémathèque
Walking On By

Gene Siskel Film Center
The Real Dirt on Farmer John*, Casting About

Landmark Century Centre
Broken English*, Once*, Sicko**, The Treatment*, more

Piper's Alley
Goya's Ghosts, My Best Friend, La Vie en Rose, Waitress*

* Recommended by the Chicago Reader.
** Previously written up by CINE-FILE. Click title to view capsule.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

CINE-LIST: August 10 August 16, 2007

EDITOR / Darnell Witt
CONTRIBUTNG EDITORS / Mike King, Ben Sachs, Ethan White
ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS / Erika Balsom, Adam Hart, Kalvin Henely, Gabe Klinger, Christy LeMaster, Josh Mabe

> Editorial Statement --> Contact