Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, AUG. 26 - Thursday, SEPT. 1 ::


George Cukor’s ZAZA (American Revival)
Northwest Chicago Film Society (at Northeastern Illinois University, The Auditorium, Building E., 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) – Wednesday, 7:30pm

Zaza (Claudette Colbert) has it all: a career as a singer teetering on the edge of stardom, the adoration of her fans (especially men), and wealth. One night before performing, she becomes smitten with an aristocrat in the audience whom she hopes to eventually woo. When it is discovered that he is married, Zaza must face the harsh realities in her life. Cukor’s ZAZA is a film about show business and those that step into its limelight. Colbert’s role is nuanced and ranged, showing the titular starlet as slightly vain and bourgeois yet human and lonely. The film features lavish interior set designs and costumes which further the notion that money can buy many fine things in life, but it cannot buy happiness or love. Soon these material possessions and swanky domiciles become a gaudy prison of sorts when Zaza has self realizations following her heartbreak. Cukor juxtaposes the external (symbols of wealth and projections of confidence) with the internal (interpersonal relationships and self-doubt) in a Freudian ego vs. id manner.  His use of montage sequences help to depict Zaza’s meteoric rise to fame in rapid fashion while humbling her back to her sensibilities in between theses sequences as she must face certain rejections unfamiliar to her. ZAZA serves as a reminder that entertainers long to be loved by all, but sometimes they just want to be loved by one. Preceded by Nick Grinde’s 1934 short NO MORE WEST (20 min, 16mm), starring Bert Lahr. (1938, 83 min, 35mm) KC
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François Truffaut's THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR [La Femme d'à côté] (French Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Tuesday, 7:30pm

There's a scene in François Truffaut's THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR where, after watching that very woman get attacked by a man, two onlookers rush to a nearby window in order to continue observing the altercation as it makes its way outdoors. Despite being mere inches away from the couple, they make no attempt to assist her; their rightful place, itcompa seems, is as observers, powerless to stop what's happening before their very eyes. Thus, "the film is not about an attraction between two people," as Dave Kehr wrote in his review for the Chicago Reader, "but about the love of the spectator for the image—the perverse transactions between the audience and the screen." And, because it's a Truffaut film, it's also an indictment of the viewer's attitude towards the characters, whether they're inappropriately sympathizing or unduly vilifying. Gerard Depardieu plays Bernard, a seemingly contented husband and father who lives near Grenoble with his family. He trains aspiring oilrig captains on model boats, a profession that's emblematic of his regressive nature. All is well until he realizes that a past lover (Mathilde, played Fanny Ardant, who was Truffaut's partner until his untimely death in 1984) and her husband are his new neighbors. Bernard and Mathilde soon begin an affair during which they largely ruminate on their past coupling; Mathilde left Bernard due to the uncertainty and volatility of their relationship, a history that's doomed to repeat itself. A hallmark of Truffaut's work is its tonal asymmetry—one has only to look at JULES AND JIM, widely admired for the twee mania of its first half despite the pathological morbidity of the latter half. In THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR, what appears to be a conventional albeit tumultuous affair results in Mathilde having a breakdown, not just of mind, but also of self. She's happily married whereas Bernard seems to be merely content, and her burgeoning success as a children's book author and illustrator seems more fulfilling than his job playing with model boats. (Perhaps most famous for his film THE 400 BLOWS, the irony of Truffaut's career assignments for Bernard and Mathilde is not lost.) She is undeniably a whole person who's broken by a lesser person, as is further evidenced by his treatment of her when she's in the hospital. This idea is further compounded by the narrator, Madame Odile Jouve, an older woman who was crippled after jumping out a window upon hearing that her lover had married. She survived, and even claims to have lived without regret, but she's scarred nonetheless, both physically and mentally. She's less a surrogate for the viewer than she is a cautionary tale; there are no happy endings to be observed here. Presented by the Chicago Opera Theater. (1981, 106 min, 35mm) KS
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Zeinabu irene Davis’ COMPENSATION and Charles Burnett’s TO SLEEP WITH ANGER (American Revivals)
Gene Siskel Film Center - See below for showtimes

As part of the last week of their annual Black Harvest Film Festival, the Siskel Center is presenting a couple of major revivals. First up is the locally shot COMPENSATION (1999, 92 min, Unconfirmed Format; Saturday, 5:30pm, with Davis in person), a formally ambitious film that alternates between two stories set nine decades apart. Each one concerns the romance between a deaf woman and a hearing man, both of whom are African-American—making this one of the rare films to consider the experience of physically disabled minorities. Director Zeinabu irene Davis (who will attend the screening and take part in a post-show discussion) draws inspiration from silent cinema; the first story, set around 1910, is actually presented as a silent film, while the second, set in the 1990s, contains little spoken dialogue, with most of the communication conveyed through body language. “Both stories are dreamy, atmospheric reveries,” wrote Roger Ebert on the occasion of COMPENSATION’s premiere at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, adding that the film broaches the larger topic of “the changing nature of African-American lives during the [20th] century.” Also playing is TO SLEEP WITH ANGER (1990, 102 min, DCP Digital—New Restoration; Sunday, 5:30pm and Monday, 6pm), perhaps Charles Burnett’s best film after KILLER OF SHEEP. Though set in the present, ANGER feels like an age-old folktale, showing what happens when a close-knit (but deeply flawed) family lets a rascally stranger enter into their lives. The family is middle-class and lives in the South Central area of Los Angeles, having moved from the deep South some decades before. The stranger, Harry, knows the family from way back, but hasn’t seen them since they moved. Arriving unannounced and proceeding to stay on indefinitely, Harry not only stirs up buried tensions within the family; he presents them with new temptations and nearly brings everyone to ruin. Burnett maintains a gentle, ingratiating surface tone (rooted in a sense of deep affection for all his characters, no matter how small) while hashing out a variety of complex subjects—such as black social mobility and certain urban African-Americans’ alienation from cultural traditions—and subtly introducing an air of dread. And Danny Glover, who plays Harry, has never been better. BS
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Music Box Theatre – Check Venue website for showtimes

October 29, 1969: Scientists at UCLA established an ARPANET link with Stanford Research Institute and sent two letters, L-O, before the system crashed—the Internet is born. LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD delves into the history of the Internet, its vitalness to modern society, and its future. Herzog’s knowledgeable documentary strives to maintain a tone of impartiality as he interviews people whose lives have benefitted from the global interconnectivity (robotics teams, scientists) and those who have been harmed (internet addiction sufferers, a family whose horrible personal tragedy was grandstanded for all to see). In an age were more and more of daily life is shifting towards a non-tangible digital format, Herzog seeks to ask is humanity losing itself? Can robots and machines replicate or replace human qualities in their functions? The subject matter is treated reverentially as the interviewees speak of the Internet in almost religious manner. The dichotomy of good and bad presented parallels the moral quandaries latent in modern society. Beautifully shot, LO AND BEHOLD is an insightful, provocative, and informative film that tackles the grandiose subject of the Internet with its vast complexities in Herzog’s inimitable style. (2016, 98 min, DCP Digital) KC
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Nicolas Winding Refn’s THE NEON DEMON (New American)
Music Box Theatre – Friday and Saturday, Midnight

The demon-god Zagreus (Elle Fanning) appears one day in Los Angeles. She is the child of the king of the gods and the wife of death and glows infectiously with a strange and terrible witchcraft. The queen of the gods (Christina Hendricks) immediately recognizes that Zagreus has been chosen as the heir of Zeus and sets out first to control her, then to orchestrate her destruction. To protect the cosmic order, she dispatches three Titans in disguise as Ruby (Jena Malone), a make-up artist, and Gigi (Bella Heathote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), a pair of fashion models. Together the three attempt first to manipulate, then to defeat, and finally to possess Zagreus' power, but find themselves falling deeper under her contagious influence, growing more desperate for her presence, more covetous of her beauty, more ravenous for her body. Lost within her aura, the world begins to swirl out of control, intoxicated by her, haunted by her impossible desirability. Animals invade the land in search of her. The dead grapple halfway back to life. The living begin to waste away into vampirism. But while the Titans have lost themselves, they have not lost their mission. They know the only force that can contain Zagreus' wizardry is her own reflection and so they build a cage of silver and glass around her. Shards cut her. Her face is thrown back at her again and again. She grows disoriented, confused, and her magic falters for a moment, allowing the Titans to strike. Some Orphic myths tell us that Zagreus was seized by the Titans under Hera's command and dismembered, that the Titans consumed every part of the god but the heart. They tell us that Zeus took revenge upon the Titans by burning them alive with his mighty thunderbolt, that he took his child's heart and placed it inside the womb of Semele, that there it took seed and, nourished by her human body, came back to life, and that when she gave birth to the resurrected god Zeus renamed him Dionysus. Refn's version gives us a darker variation on that ending, for his Neon Demon, a god of communicated frenzy, of painful ecstasies, of beauties to excess that drive us wild, is a malevolence within the world that can never be cleansed away, that like an addiction will alter everyone who comes within its horizon, will place them under its thrall. One of the master stylists of today's post-filmic motion pictures, Refn's images are as clean as his characters are fetid, are as sterile as his material is filthy, creating a world of internal contradiction, a world exploding in replication, in falseness, in artificial poses, artificial clothing, and artificial relationships that is destroyed by the bloodshed and omophagia his teenage monster unleashes into it. With ONLY GOD FORGIVES and DRIVE, Refn began exploring the continued relevance of mythological narrative structures and finding new and urgent meaning in them to help us understand the corruption that underlies modern masculinity and the pervasive misogyny of visual entertainments. In THE NEON DEMON, his finest film to date, he reaches new extremes of precision and expertly subtle dissection. (2016, 118 min, Unconfirmed Format) KB
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Richard Linklater's SCHOOL OF ROCK (American Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) – Wednesday, 1 and 7:30pm (Free Admission)

2011’s BERNIE confirmed that director Richard Linklater is essentially a shaggy moralist—an artist whose work suggests how society ought to function and how people ought to treat one another. In retrospect, his previous Jack Black vehicle, SCHOOL OF ROCK, reveals similar interests. Aside from ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, I can't recall another teen film that so blithely dismisses the cynical clichés of campus cliques, rival gangs, or the bright line that separates cool kids from everyone else. Black might rail against The Man, but that can't disguise SCHOOL OF ROCK's insistence on the classroom as a functional and egalitarian polity. In its vision of rock music as consensus, SCHOOL OF ROCK is something like an inversion of SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL: in Linklater's movie, the fragmented rehearsals suggest the slow stirrings of creation. These unostentatious but fluidly masterful sequences form the backbone of the film, real-time demonstrations of collaboration and outstanding classroom management in action. (In the more than ten years since its release, SCHOOL OF ROCK has become more political—a vision of ed reform that doesn't kowtow to neoliberal priorities like high-stakes testing or union busting.) Black's performance is typically remarkable—he cavorts like a cartoon character, congenitally incapable of small gestures. Black's every line of dialogue is accompanied by two or three irrelevant bits of business. (Compared to Black, every other adult in the movie turns in a notably self-effacing performance, particularly the uncharacteristically uptight Sarah Silverman.) What ultimately sets SCHOOL OF ROCK apart from its aspirational bullshit peers like DEAD POET'S SOCIETY or CONRACK is Linklater's habitual assertion that slackers and punks already make a valid contribution to society without cleaning themselves up or even leaving the house. (2003, 109 min, Unconfirmed Format) KAW
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Mike Birbiglia’s DON’T THINK TWICE (New American)
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes

After 2012’s semi-autobiographical SLEEP WALK WITH ME, Mike Birbiglia finds himself delving into new territory with his exceedingly truthful new film, DON’T THINK TWICE. The film delves into the improv comedy scene as a group of six friends who all perform in the same group go out, night after night, searching for the opportunity to make it into the realms of Saturday Night Live territory. When one of the members finally hits it big, the rest of the group is left scattered, wondering if comedy is truly for them, and, on a larger scale, if they’ve been following the right life path entirely. The film finds comfort in its spontaneity. Many of the “live improv” segments actually were performed live and unscripted. These segments seek to mimic the comedic style they’re aping, and Birbiglia enhances these bits by frequently filming the characters in medium to close-up fashion—signifying the general solitude felt by performers in this field whilst on the stage and under the spotlight. His reverential approach to this particular comedic genre seeks to pay homage to live improv, as well as to essential films of the past such as ANNIE HALL. The film’s biggest draw is the way the interpersonal relationships play out. There is no sugar coating here. Characters are forced to face their own limitations in often-morose fashion. The juxtaposition of each character fighting their way towards success is what forms the film’s backbone. For fans of improv, DON’T THINK TWICE is an accurate representation of the inner workings and inherent nihilism present in the profession, but as a film, it finds success as a character study, one of added interest locally given Chicago’s robust improv scene. (2016, 96 min, DCP Digital) KC
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Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) screens Ariani Djala’s 2014 Indonesian documentary DIE BEFORE BLOSSOM (89 min, Digital Projection) on Saturday at 8pm.

Roots & Culture Gallery (1034 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Dislocation: Videos by Jessica Pierotti, Lilli Carré & Elisabeth Hogeman on Sunday at 7:30pm. Screening are PUNCTURE by Jessica Pierotti, JILL by Lilli Carré, and AND YOU THE BELL by Elisabeth Hogeman. Free admission.

Black World Cinema (at the Studio Movie Grill Chatham 14, 210 W. 87th St.) screens Djibril Diop Mambéty's 1992 Senegalese film HYENAS (113 min, Digital Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 7pm.

Filmfront (1740 W. 18th St.) presents the third of three screenings honoring the late filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami on Friday at 8pm. Screening are a “selection of shorts from his years at Kanoon (Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults) and later short films, paired with works by other artists, including poet Forough Farrokhzad, animator Norman McLaren and the Lumière Brothers.” Free admission.

The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Sergio Cabrera’s 2015 Cuban/Columbia film EVERYBODY LEAVES (107 min, DVD Projection) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.

Black Cinema House (7200 S. Kimbark Ave.) presents On the Beat Film Club Show on Friday at 7pm. The program features work made in BCH’s intergenerational music video class. Free admission.

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Paula Ortiz’s 2015 Spanish film THE BRIDE (96 min, DCP Digital) and Morgan Neville’s 2015 documentary THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: YO-YO MA & THE SILD ROAD ENSEMBLE (96 min, DCP Digital) both play for a week; and the Black Harvest Film Festival concludes, with several new films and special events, including filmmaker Zeinabu irene Davis’ 2016 documentary SPIRITS OF REBELLION: BLACK FILM FROM UCLA (100 min, Digital Projection – Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 3pm and her 1999 film COMPENSATION (see above) on Saturday at 5:30pm, with Davis in person at both; and Charles Burnett’s 1990 film TO SLEEP WITH ANGER (also see above) on Sunday at 5:30pm and Monday at 6pm.

Doc Films (University of Chicago) concludes its summer programming with Pablo Torre’s 2012 Argentinean film LAS VOCES (92 min, 35mm) on Friday at 7 and 9pm.

Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Rob Bowman’s 1993 film AIRBORNE (91 min, 35mm) is on Friday at Midnight; and George Roy Hill’s 1973 film THE STING (129 min, 35mm) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am.

Facets Cinémathèque plays Zachary Treitz’s 2015 film MEN GO TO BATTLE (98 min, Unconfirmed Format) and Chad Scheifele’s 2016 film NATURAL SELECTION (102 min, Unconfirmed Format) for week-long runs; and Adam Randall’s 2016 UK film LEVEL UP (84 min, Unconfirmed Format) screens on Friday at 11pm.

The Chicago Cultural Center hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Anna Muylaert’s 2015 Brazilian film THE SECOND MOTHER (112 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.

Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Jim Wolpaw’s 1992 film IT’S A COMPLEX WORLD (81 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Free Admission.



Luther Price: Flesh Fracture has been extended at Mana Contemporary (2233 S. Throop) through September 30. Included in the show are selections of Price’s handmade 35mm slides from the series Sugar Fractures, Utopia, and Meat Chapter 3. Also on view are video projections of Price’s 1990/1999 Super-8mm films HOME and MEAT.

The Art Institute of Chicago presents Ragnar Kjartansson and the National's single-channel video work A LOT OF SORROW (2014, 6 hours 9 min looping) through October 17.

The exhibition Kartemquin Films: 50 Years of Democracy Through Documentary is on view at Expo 72 (72 E. Randolph St.) through August 20. The exhibit will include film stills, documents, cameras, and other material related to the organization’s history, and new items will be added through the show’s run. More info and a list of scheduled gallery talks at

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CINE-LIST: August 26 - September 1, 2016

 Patrick Friel

CONTRIBUTORS / Kian Bergstrom, Kyle Cubr, Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Kyle A. Westphal, Darnell Witt

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