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|a weekly guide to alternative cinema- -
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:: Friday, MAY 22 -
Thursday, MAY 28 ::
Douglas Sirk's MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 AM
The novels of Lutheran minister Lloyd C. Douglas are scarcely discussed now, but they were formidable best-sellers in their day. The closest modern analogue, at least in popularity, would be something like Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins' Left Behind series, but Douglas' place in American culture is rather different; while modern evangelicals cast themselves as an embattled minority, the reception of the Douglas novels suggests a nation of easygoing Christian consensus, with everyone displaying greater or lesser degrees of devotion to the same ecumenical faith. Many of Douglas' novels were turned into big-budget Hollywood films, with the religious aspect sometimes overt, but often transformed into an authoritative but imprecise haze. For auteurists, Douglas poses the ultimate test: can a favored director really accomplish anything with this material? Frank Borzage's first Douglas adaptation, GREEN LIGHT, is one of his worst films--treacly, preachy, ungainly. (His others, DISPUTED PASSAGE and THE BIG FISHERMAN, have their admirers, but we've never managed to see them.) The innate sobriety of melodrama master John M. Stahl does not mix well with the generic spiritual uplift of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935). Stahl's successor, Douglas Sirk, would not seem a good fit for Douglas either--at first. Produced in the wake of Henry Koster's CinemaScope adaptation of Douglas' THE ROBE, Sirk's 1954 remake of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION is, by any standard, an absolutely batshit movie. (It's the kind of film where a lecture about the radical power of kindness compares the crucifixion of Christ to the act of turning on a light bulb.) It's not so much an adaptation of Douglas as a third-hand amplification of his aura. "Ross Hunter gave me the book," Sirk recalled, "and I tried to read it, but I just couldn't. It is the most confused book you can imagine. It is so abstract in many respects that I couldn't see a picture in it." It's the story of a devastatingly handsome yet irresponsible playboy, played by Rock Hudson, who finds religion (or a thinly veiled version of it) after a series of events that leaves a beautiful young woman (played by Jane Wyman, who allegedly convinced Sirk to make the film so she could play the female protagonist) both widowed and blinded due to his carelessness. Despite also referring to it as "a combination of kitsch, and craziness, and trashiness," Sirk more or less presents it with a straight face, though the manifest representation of 50s consumerism is a subtle, if not intentional, dig at religious hypocrisy. Furthermore, as Geoffrey O'Brien asserts in his essay for the film's Criterion release, Sirk earnestly examines that which he admits to finding absurd, forcing such questions as, "What if this weren't crazy? What if it were real? What sort of a world would that be, and how different would it be from the one we inhabit?" Therein lies the genius of Sirk's glorious melodrama, one certainly worth seeing in all its Technicolor magnificence. (1954, 108 min, 35mm) KAW & KS
More info at www.musicboxtheatre.org.
Robert Bresson's A MAN ESCAPED (French Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Thursday, 7pm
There's little dialogue in A MAN ESCAPED. The story is told largely through the voice-over narration of Fontaine (François Leterrier), the condemned man. What little there is is mostly shared with a fellow prisoner--a pastor arrested mid-sermon--and largely concerns matters of freedom and faith. "He'll save us if we give him the chance," Fontaine responds to the pastor's advice to pray, "It would be too easy if God saw to everything." That Bresson, here, is concerned with faith is clear (the longer title "The Wind Bloweth Where it Wants" refers to the bible passage the pastor passes Fontaine) but it's a very specific kind of faith- one which both inspires and rewards careful, considered action. Fontaine's escape is neither an act of desperation nor one of bravado. It is the result of calm deliberation and clearheaded execution, aided by either luck or grace. It is as meticulously carried out by Fontaine as it is captured by Bresson. The director has much in common with Fontaine, the man, escaped, and André Devigny, the prisoner of war upon whose memoir the film is based. There are the biographical similarities--fighters for the Resistance imprisoned by the Gestapo for their parts. There is also their focus on transcendence through action. Here, Bresson is at the peak of his mature, pared-down style. DIARY OF COUNTRY PRIEST is his first film to employ a cast of non-professionals--models, not actors--chosen for their blankness of expression, this his second. Bresson reveals little of Fontaine's thoughts and hopes. Nor is he given much background--we don't know where he comes from, the nature of his role, his family life, or the obstacles he'll face beyond the prison walls. We know him and we judge him only by his actions, and that is enough. What appears on camera is significant. What does not is not. Every detail is deliberate and revelatory. A MAN ESCAPED is Bresson at his best--the perfect marriage of form and content. (1956, 99 min, 35mm) EJC
More info at www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.
Frederick Wiseman's PUBLIC HOUSING (Documentary Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Tuesday, 7pm
Frederick Wiseman is well known for his long observational documentaries detailing the workings of American public institutions, ranging from the meat industry to the welfare office. His 1997 film PUBLIC HOUSING depicts daily life at the Ida B. Wells public housing development on Chicago's south side--the oldest African American housing development, initiated at a time when segregation was still a part of public housing policy. Phillip Lopate writes in Film Comment: "[In Public Housing], again and again one is struck by the goodwill, resourcefulness, and genuine care shown by the social workers, cops, teachers, nuns, and sex education advisors for their often passive, resigned, rebellious, stoned, felonious charges. Again and again one is made to feel the distance between problems and solutions." (1997, 195 min, 16mm) BC
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
Collin Schiffli's ANIMALS (New American)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes
Collin Schiffli's feature debut, ANIMALS, follows the lives of two heroin addicts, Jude (David Dastmalchian) and Bobbie (Kim Shaw), as they fund their habit by any means necessary. The two creative cons hatch a variety of clever schemes, such as stealing CD's to resell or having Bobbie pose as a prostitute who asks for half the money up front only to run off immediately after. The film is dark and unsettling yet very approachable--the lighter side of heroin use à la Darren Aronofsky's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. By no means is this movie a fairy tale, but the city of Chicago presents itself harmoniously with Jude and Bobbie. Parallels can be drawn between the amorous, disposed couple and the city's financial difficulties: Jude is a college grad now deep in the throes of his addiction and Chicago is a major metropolis on the verge of bankruptcy. The Lincoln Park Zoo and its inhabitants are frequently intercut into the film serving as parallels to the pair's lifestyle--beasts locked in cages and removed from their natural habitat as they sink further into dependency; ANIMALS is a truly fitting title. Central to the plot is Jude and Bobbie's relationship. Think BONNIE AND CLYDE on smack. The romance these two outlaws share is endearing, and Schiffli breaks from the film's bleakness by highlighting tender moments the couple shares. He often uses warm colors and soft focus to isolate the leads from their desperate situation. Despite their homelessness, love and devotion drives them to fight tooth and nail to survive. ANIMALS, like its characters' drug of choice, is warm and sedating to start and then difficult and harrowing to withdraw from as the story takes hold. (2014, 90 min, DCP Digital) KC
More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
John MacLean's SLOW WEST (New British)
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes
While early reviews have been positive for this auspicious debut by Scottish musician-turned-filmmaker John MacLean (who set the film in 19th-century America but shot it in New Zealand), most have also erroneously described it as an "absurdist" or "psychedelic" western, with some even likening it to Jim Jarmusch's DEAD MAN. Despite a few revisionist elements, SLOW WEST is more or less a classic western by a writer/director who clearly has a thorough knowledge of--and love for--the genre's history and conventions; the plot follows a 16-year-old Scottish kid named Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he traverses the American west in search of his heart's desire, a beautiful lass named Rose (Caren Pistorious) who was forced to flee her home country along with her father (John McCann) after a tragic event for which Jay feels responsible. Along the way, Jay teams up with Silas (Michael Fassbender, doing a credible Clint Eastwood impersonation complete with half-smoked cheroot permanently wedged in the corner of his mouth), a gunslinger who agrees to accompany Jay through hostile territory in exchange for money. What Silas knows and Jay doesn't, however, is that there are also bounties on the heads of Rose and her father, and Jay is leading Silas directly to them. SLOW WEST is dark, violent, claustrophobic, and pessimistic but these qualities are also thankfully leavened by MacLean's singular gift for humorous sight gags--such as the moment Jay and Silas stumble across the corpse of a man who died chopping down a tree, Jay's innovative method of drying soaking-wet clothes or, best of all, a flashback sequence involving an outlaw criticizing his partner for being jealous of his "wanted" poster. MacLean's preference for visual articulation even extends to a lovely grace note in the film's final scene where a character nails a horseshoe to a living-room wall--a symbolic image that captures the notion of the "settling of the west" as succinctly and cleverly as George O'Brien's use of a wagon wheel as ornamentation on the gate of his new home at the end of John Ford's silent masterpiece THREE BAD MEN. (2015, 84 min, DCP Digital) MGS
More info at www.musicboxtheatre.org.
Jay Levey's UHF (American Revival)
Music Box - Wednesday, 7 (sold out) and 10pm
One of the few satires to best its target, "Weird Al" Yankovic's sole feature unpacks the chic cynicism of NETWORK (itself on loan from A FACE IN THE CROWD) and replaces it with warmhearted democratic bliss. The parody-friendly premise has an unemployed Al inheriting his uncle's decrepit UHF station and refashioning it as a TV funhouse for the most unhinged batch of showboating misfits this side of MISTER LONELY. Like any good-natured freakshow, it's a smash success, and like any underground sensation, its corporate competition (Kevin McCarthy, hero of the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) hatches a scheme to engulf and destroy it. As with any Yankovic product, not all the jokes work--for every Conan the Librarian there's a Twinkie Wiener Sandwich, though audiences may differ on which of those is the knee-slapper (actually, they both are). Like Michel Gondry's similarly utopian D.I.Y. "take back the media" rallying cry, BE KIND REWIND, UHF critiques not the mindlessness of popular entertainment, but the passivity with which it is consumed; Yankovic's earnest paean to the now-dying eccentricity of locally produced television should ring especially true for residents of the town that spawned Bozo the Clown, Svengoolie, and Chic-A-Go-Go. Presented by the 2nd Annual 26th Annual Comedy Festival; with "Weird Al" Yankovic and director Jay Levey in person. (1989, 97 min, Unconfirmed Format) MK
More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.
Hayao Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY (Japanese/Animation Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 3pm and Thursday, 6pm
For evidence that Hayao Miyazaki works from a different playbook than his Disney counterparts, look no further than the dynamic, kaleidoscopic world of SPIRITED AWAY. In this coming of age story set in a modern day wonderland, the animation grandmaster creates a detail-rich realm of the spirits where the only rule seems to be that the rules can always change. Here, physiologically impossible characters shape shift through various forms, villains quite suddenly prove themselves to be friends, and the plot itself refuses to settle into a groove, redefining the boundaries the moment we become aware of them. What begins as a spectral plunge down the rabbit hole takes an abrupt shift the moment young Chihiro lands on her feet, and it's not long before she is neck-deep in the politics of the magical bathhouse at the center of this world. She is tugged at in all directions by the denizens therein, including the disproportioned governess, Yubaba, the dragon-boy, Haku, and the ghostly No-Face, whose part in the story temporarily takes us into horror movie territory, and lest we think the world of SPIRITED AWAY is confined to this singular, vibrant location, the final chapter opens the world even further, allowing neither Chihiro nor the viewer to grow too complacent. The film, like any great imagination, knows no bounds, and its scope and soaring ambition have rightly marked it as Miyazaki's masterpiece. English subtitled version. (2001, 125 min, DCP Digital) TJ
More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Chris Sullivan's CONSUMING SPIRITS (Experimental/Narrative Animation)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Chris Sullivan's otherworldly animation is full of tiny, odd, and potent details: the tremor of a hand, the turn of a radio dial, a bird on a tree limb. It is this world of small things that draws one in slowly. CONSUMING SPIRITS, local filmmaker and SIAC professor Chris Sullivan's decade in the making animated feature, is an Appalachian gothic with four main characters--all trapped by some problem of their own making and held together by a sad and inescapably interconnected past. It is a remarkable achievement that such a simple story isn't overwhelmed by the fractured visual world Sullivan builds. CONSUMING SPIRITS glides through stop-motion animation, pencil drawing, collage animation, and Sullivan's signature style of cutout animation, and the movement is fragile and corporeal. While all of the characters in his film are grotesquely rendered, it is hard to imagine them as lifeless pieces of paper. The film is something akin to the magical animation of Yuri Norstein--more cinematic than cartoonish. It often delivers surprising moments of translucence or a mystifying depth of field or a strange spot of light, which all seem to be more captured than constructed. It is also often ruthlessly funny and gruesome, deepening our look at these troubled characters as they attempt to deal with their individual tragedies and disappointments. CONSUMING SPIRITS is exactly as advertised--a consumption. Chris Sullivan in person. (2011, 129 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) CL
More info at www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.
Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7 and 9:45pm, Saturday, 1pm, and Sunday, 1:30pm
Though it had been made famous already by ROCKY, it wasn't until THE SHINING that the Steadicam yielded an aesthetic breakthrough in movies. Garrett Brown's innovation--a gyroscope mounted to the bottom of a camera, which allowed cinematographers to create hand-held tracking shots that didn't record their own movement--became in Kubrick's hands a supernatural presence. The film's justly celebrated Steadicam shots evoke a cruel, judgmental eye that does not belong to any human being, a perspective that's harrowing in its implications. (GOODFELLAS, SATANTANGO, and Gus Van Sant's ELEPHANT, to name just three examples, are inconceivable without the film's influence.) In this regard, the horror of THE SHINING makes manifest one subtext running through all of Kubrick's work: that humanity, for all its technical sophistication, will never fully understand its own consciousness. Why else would Kubrick devote nearly 150 takes to the same scene, as he did several times in the film's epic shooting schedule? With the only exceptions being other movies directed by Stanley Kubrick, no one moves or speaks in a film the way they do in THE SHINING. Everything has been rehearsed past the point of technical perfection; the behavior on screen seems the end-point of human evolution. What keeps it all going? (To invoke another great horror film of the era: the devil, probably.) The demons of the Overlook Hotel may very well be a manifestation of the evil within Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic who once nearly beat his four-year-old son to death. They could be, like those Steadicam shots, an alien consciousness here to judge the vulnerabilities of mankind. Kubrick never proffers an explanation, which is why THE SHINING is one of the few horror films that actually remains scary on repeated viewings. Nearly every effect here prompts some indelible dread: the unnatural symmetry of Kubrick's compositions; Shelly Duvall's tragic performance (which suggests that horrible victimization is always just around the corner); and the atonal symphonic music by Bartok, Lygeti, and Penderecki that make up the soundtrack. (1980, 142 min, 35mm) BS
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) screens Thom Andersen's 2014 documentary essay film THE THOUGHTS THAT ONCE WE HAD (108 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 7pm, with Andersen in person. It's at the Logan Center for the Arts (915 E. 60th St.). Free admission.
Live to Tape: Artist Television Festival continues through Sunday. The seven-day, eight-program festival, curated by local artist Jesse Malmed, includes thematic programs of film, video, and performance work that "take television as object, as concept, as antagonist, as material, as form, as inspiration." Full schedule and more details at http://livetotapefestival.tumblr.com.
Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents the shorts program Specialties of the House: an exchange of recent radical voices from Bqstqn and Chicagq (Unconfirmed Running Time and Format) on Friday at 8pm, with work by a roster of Boston-based artists and Chicago artists Alejandro T. Acierto, Amir George, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, Elena Tejada Herrera, Holly Chernobyl & Sara Goodman, James T. Green, Jennifer Chan, Phaedra Call, Rami George, and Shawné Michaelain Holloway; and the Promofest Short Film Showcase (2012-14, 82 min total, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Free admission for both.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Dave La Mattina and Chad N. Walker's 2014 documentary I AM BIG BIRD (90 min, DCP Digital) concludes a two-week run; Andrew Niccol's 2014 film GOOD KILL (102 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Mami Sunada's 2013 documentary THE KINGDOM OF DREAMS AND MADNESS (118 min, DCP Digital) screens on Saturday at 5:30pm; Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom's 2014 documentary AN HONEST LIAR (92 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7:45pm, Sunday at 3pm, Monday at 5pm, and Tuesday at 6pm; and Pascal Plisson's French/Chinese film ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL (77 min, DCP Digital) is on Wednesday at 6pm.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Andrey Zvyagintsev's 2014 film LEVIATHAN (140 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9:45pm and Sunday at 4:15pm; Frank Tashlin's 1958 film THE GEISHA BOY (98 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 7pm; Orson Welles' 1952 film OTHELLO (90 min, 35mm Archival Print) is on Wednesday at 7 and 9pm; Massimo Dallamano's 1974 Italian film WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (96 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm; and John Carpenter's 1995 film IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (95 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 9:15pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Albert Maysles' 2014 documentary IRIS (83 min) continues; Shira Piven's 2014 film WELCOME TO ME (105 min) continues with showings Friday-Monday and Thursday at 9:30pm and Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am; Roger Sorkin's 2015 documentary THE BURDEN (40 min) is on Tuesday at 7:30pm, followed by a panel discussion. Free admission; RSVP at the Music Box website; and Noel Marshall's 1981 film ROAR (102 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) and Dennis Dugan's 1996 film HAPPY GILMORE (92 min) are on Friday and Saturday at Midnight. Unconfirmed Formats, except where noted.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov's 2014 Bulgarian/Greek film THE LESSON (105 min, Unconfirmed Format) for a week's run; and the Chicago Latino Reel Film Club presents Geoffrey Cowper's 2015 Spanish film DAY RELEASE (80 min, Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 7pm (reception at 6pm). Special admission applies.
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week: the illustrated conversation between Will Schmenner, Block Cinema Interim Curator, and Harvey Young, Northwestern University Associate Professor of Theatre When You CAN'T Shake It Off, that "looks at the role and use of social media in creating a national conversation about race, law, and the limits of police power," is on Wednesday at 6pm. Free admission.
Park Ridge Classic Film Series at the Park Ridge Public Library (20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) screens Jacques Tourneur's 1950 film STARS IN MY CROWN (89 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 7pm. Free admission.
This week at the Chicago Cultural Center: Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville's 2003 PBS documentary MUDDY WATERS - CAN'T BE SATISFIED (Unconfirmed Running Time, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) is on Tuesday at 6:30pm (preceded by live music at 6pm); Nick Baker-Monteys' 2010 film THE MAN WHO JUMPED OVER CARS (105 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) is on Wednesday at 6:30pm, in Cinema/Chicago's summer series; and Luchino Visconti's 1971 film DEATH IN VENICE (130 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) is on Thursday at 6:30pm, in the Cinema Q series. Free admission for all.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
The exhibition Frances Stark: Intimism is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through August 30. The show is a comprehensive survey of Stark's video and digital production.
I Am Logan Square (2644 ½ N. Milwaukee Ave.) continues the exhibition The Underground Prop Art Show through May 22. It features various props and other items from films showing in the 2015 Chicago Underground Film Festival, by filmmakers including Jennifer Reeder, Mike Olenick, Jerzy Rose, Kenny Reed, Ali Aschman, Chris Sullivan, Laura Ann Harrison, Mike Lopez, Spencer Parsons, Lyra Hill and Todd Mattei.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents an exhibition of nine video works by artist Keren Cytter. On view through October 4.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents German artist Clemens von Wedemeyer's HD video installation Muster (Rushes) (2012). On view through July 26.
Chicago Public Library screenings: Due to the frequency of late-additions (past our deadlines) and to their frequent inability (due to licensing restrictions) of publicly listing the titles of films they are screening, we will no longer be listing specific CPL screenings. Check their website for any films that may be showing.
The Patio Theater and the Portage Theater calendars have been confusing and constantly shifting--adding and removing events with little notice--and reportedly have been unexpectedly closed for scheduled events. We will no longer attempt to list any screenings there.
The Northbrook Public Library film series is on hiatus during renovations at the library. Expected completion is Spring 2015.
The Northwest Chicago Film Society is again on hiatus for their weekly series. They plan to do occasional screenings as opportunities arise.