Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, JULY 31 - Thursday, AUG. 6 ::


Richard Lester's IT'S TRAD, DAD! (British Revival)
Northwest Chicago Film Society at Northeastern Illinois University (The Auditorium, Building E., 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.) - Wednesday, 7pm

Paul McCartney is headlining Lollapalooza this weekend, a fact that might make people both young and old wistful for the Beatles' heyday and that which it represented. Ironically, most of the attendees will have little to no memory of the time that Sir Paul ruled along with John, George, and Ringo, instead relying on relics of popular culture to guide their admiration. Two of those relics are Richard Lester's seminal film A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and its follow up, HELP!, the former of which was recently restored and has screened several times around town. But before he wrote--or, er, filmed--the equation for the British Invasion, Lester made a little movie about traditional jazz (also known as trad) that features one of Chubby Checker's first on-screen performances of The Twist. (And before that, Lester worked in television and was sought out by Peter Sellers, with whom he co-directed the Academy Award nominated short film THE RUNNING JUMPING & STANDING STILL FILM that later caught the Beatles' eye.) IT'S TRAD, DAD! is a revue film that's scant on plot and heavy on tunes. In between performances from the likes of Del Shannon, Ottilie Patterson, and The Temperance Seven, there's a bit of a story about some small town kids whose blustering mayor wants to prevent them from listening to big bad trad. The musicians Gene Vincent and Helen Shapiro, who worked in rockabilly and pop/jazz, respectively, play the right-on youngsters who organize a music festival in hopes of swaying him. It's all pretty surreal; the narrator responds to and even interacts with the teenaged protagonists at some points. Film School Rejects noted that "rather than use the utilities of cinema to reconstruct a sense of reality or an uninterrupted flow of time, Lester repeatedly takes advantage of the potential for disruption, invention, and unreality embedded within the tools of filmmaking. As a result, he...subvert[s] reality and affix[es] new lenses on our means of perception." In 1984, Lester was acknowledged by MTV as being "The Father of the Music Video," an art form that routinely compels such a style. Unfortunately, most music videos nowadays attempt to go the way of the narrative, but one can see Lester's influences on past examples, especially in regards to the free-range multi-camera setup he preferred. It's hard to asses this particular film's contribution to the whole of his career and the influence he had on other artists, but there's no doubt that it at least prepared him for his later work with the world's most popular band. And if that's not enough of a reason to see it, then rest assured when this critic says you'll be twisting in your seat--in a good way, of course. (1962, 78 min, 35mm Archival Print) KS
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David Lean's SUMMERTIME (British Revival)
Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane, Northbrook) - Wednesday, 1 and 7:30pm (Free Admission)

SUMMERTIME was David Lean's most intelligent film and his most beautiful. Even Lean thought so. It eschews both the dry (as in dried-out) wit of his Noel Coward films and the self-congratulatory cynicism of his epics and has neither the tastefully "realistic" (as opposed to real) art direction of his early films nor the confusion of grandeur and grand idea of his 70mm images. A city is always more beautiful than a desert. Katharine Hepburn, 16mm camera in hand, arrives in Venice under the most vivid blue skies in the history of Technicolor. She's been saving her money up for a long time to afford the trip and refuses to be disappointed. Like most travelers, she spends as much time meeting new people as seeing new sites, including a handsome (and married) Italian shop owner. The British title, SUMMER MADNESS, is a hint of the film's energy. (1955, 100 min, 35mm) IV
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Paul Grimault's THE KING AND THE MOCKINGBIRD (French Animation Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Friday, 9:45pm and Sunday, 11:30am

Fairy tales have always made for prime source material when it comes to cinema and, in particular, animated films. THE KING AND THE MOCKINGBIRD is Paul Grimault's re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep." Set in the fictional kingdom of Takicardia, the vain and cruel King Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI rules heartlessly over his inhabitants, who despise him. When a self-portrait comes to life and takes his place, he lusts over a shepherdess who is in love with a chimney sweep and is willing to destroy his entire kingdom to wed her. The animation in this film bears a striking resemblance to Merry Melodies cartoons from Warner Brothers. The jagged lines and slightly jarring movements create a whimsical, zany atmosphere that lends itself to the film's lighthearted nature. Beneath all the levity, however, are subtle undertones of a ruthless dictatorship. Parallels can be drawn between Takicardia and Nazi Germany. The King with his mustache, slightly effeminate nature, and love for art is easily a stand in for Adolf Hitler. His police forces are all drawn with the exact same features and clad in black, much like the SS were. And all of the citizens who oppose the king's cult of personality are forced to work at "voluntary" work camps where they must make propaganda in the form of statues and banners adorned with Charles' likeness. Thanks to the both overt and latent messages, this film has a great appeal to both young and old viewers. THE KING AND THE MOCKINGBIRD is a richly layered work of animation and is one of this year's Chicago French Film Festival's most anticipated films. (1980, 83 min, DCP Digital) KC
Showing as part of the Chicago French Film Festival, which takes place at the Music Box this week. Among the other films showing are three by BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR director Abdellatif Kechiche, which are screening in 35mm: BLAME IT ON VOLTAIRE (2000), GAMES OF LOVE AND CHANCE (2003), BLACK VENUS (2010); René Clément's 1952 film FORBIDDEN GAMES (DCP Digital); and a selection of contemporary French works. Check the Music Box website for the complete schedule and showtimes.
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Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (Italian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 7:30pm and Tuesday, 6:30pm

Sergio Leone is to the "spaghetti western," a popular subgenre of American-set westerns made in Europe in the 60s and 70s, what Jean-Pierre Melville is to the French crime film: Leone, like Melville, made outrageously entertaining movies that reflected a punch-drunk love for American genre fare, the conventions of which he inflated to a near-operatic scale after refracting them through his own unique cultural sensibility. And THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY remains the high point of both Leone's career and the spaghetti western in general. It's the third and most ambitious installment of a trilogy (preceded by 1964's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and 1965's FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, both of which also feature Clint Eastwood in his career-defining "Man with No Name" persona) but this Hollywood co-production works perfectly as a stand-alone feature. The plot concerns the misadventures of the title trio (filled out by Lee Van Cleef as the heavy and Eli Wallach, the true heart of the film, as the Mexican bandit Tuco), all of whom are in search of $200,000 in buried gold coins. That these events unfold against the backdrop of a borderline-Surrealist, European's-eye-view of the American Civil War somehow feels ineffably right: Leone's exuberant visual style combines with Ennio Morricone's legendarily innovative score to lend THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY a singular tone that is at once comical, cartoonish, and, in Dave Kehr's astute phrase, "inexplicably moving." The Siskel Center is screening a new 4K restoration of the Director's Cut. (1966, 179 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) MGS
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Douglas Sirk's IMITATION OF LIFE (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 3pm and Thursday, 6pm

Early in IMITATION OF LIFE, Lana Turner's character says, "Maybe I should see things as they really are and not the way I want them to be." Oh, the irony. In Douglas Sirk's films, however, it doesn't so much burn as blaze--so fiercely, in fact, that it's not difficult to understand how the irony and subversiveness for which Sirk is known among the cinephile crowd was lost on popular audiences at the time. Of Sirk's acclaimed '50s work, IMITATION OF LIFE is perhaps the most outwardly melodramatic with an emotional blow up on every reel and a conclusion that necessitated theater owners distributing tissues in the lobby. Turner plays Lora Meredith, an unemployed widow who moves to New York City with her young child in hopes of becoming a Broadway actress. There she meets Annie and her daughter, Sarah Jane; both are African American, but Sarah Jane is light skinned and thus appears white. So sums up the limitations--and imitations--of life that the film's main characters must confront throughout the narrative. The way Sirk address these concurrent storylines accounts for a distanciation that permeates his famed melodramas. In addressing both as equally "melodramatic," Sirk therefore assigns equal importance to all characters, white and black. Not only does he assign importance through screen time, he even seems to use it to highlight the absurd contrasts between Lora and her daughter, Susie, and Annie and Sarah Jane. Susie's biggest problem in life seems to be finding a boyfriend and perhaps taking care of the thoroughbred her mother gifts her upon graduation. Sarah Jane, on the other hand, grapples with being a black person who appears white, even suffering physical abuse at the hands of a boyfriend after he finds out that she's not as she appears. Like Susie, she too seeks validation, both from men and the outside world at large, though her background affords her none. As her mother, Annie must witness first-hand her daughter's torment over being black. The dichotomy is further emphasized by the unlikely family unit formed by the four women; Annie's unwavering love and Sarah Jane's feelings of inferiority within the unit are the least "melodramatic" (read: most genuine) aspects of the film. It was an enormous success and is widely considered Sirk's masterpiece, though it was the last film he made in Hollywood before leaving the United States. Just as with MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, John M. Stahl had already made an adaptation of the eponymous novel in 1934. IMITATION OF LIFE is especially prescient nowadays considering the current sociological climate. So farsighted, in fact, that one wonders if modern moviegoers unfamiliar with Sirk's work won't really feel that distant from it, in much a different way than the original audiences. (1959, 125 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) KS
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Daniel Ribeiro's THE WAY HE LOOKS (New Brazilian)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7 and 9pm

THE WAY HE LOOKS is a winning debut feature from Brazilian writer/director Daniel Ribeiro adapted from his own short film of the same title. In the opening scene of this Sao Paolo-set romance, the 15-year-old protagonist, Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), and his best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), commiserate poolside over the fact that neither of them has ever been kissed. Think you know where this is going? Think again: Ribeiro puts an original spin on the tried-and-true coming-of-age genre by having Leonardo be both a literally blind and closeted gay kid who is only gradually brought out of his shell after the arrival at his high school of another gay kid, the more confident Gabriel (Fabio Audi). Ribeiro wisely refuses to portray either Leonardo's disability or his insecurity over his sexuality as heavy drama--as would have unquestionably been the case in a Hollywood production. He adopts instead an assured tone that is at once low-key, whimsical and realistic. (2014, 96 min, DCP Digital) MGS
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Albert and David Maysles' GREY GARDENS (Documentary Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 5:15pm and Wednesday, 8pm

This 1975 documentary about "Little Edie" and "Big Edie" Beale, Jacqueline Onassis's black sheep cousin and aunt, and their life of squalor in a crumbling East Hampton mansion, may be the pièce de résistance of the direct cinema movement. If it were made today, it would likely be a more clinically correct but dramatically deficient film--the sad story of a mentally ill woman trapped in a co-dependent relationship with an enabling mother.  But, as made in 1975, it is an epic tragicomedy of impoverished gentry clinging to each other desperately, wallowing in past glory and regrets--Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner with a touch of John Waters. "You don't see me as myself...I see myself as a little girl," says "Little Edie" to the camera at one point. But through the Maysles' permissive lens, Edie is free to shift from clinical subject to heroine and back again. At times, lost in her relentless monologue, we slip into another, quixotic reality, and we do see Edie as she sees herself. Her 'madness' becomes a child's untamed imagination or a self-aware performance of coquettishness. It's a film that somehow manages to be pleasantly enjoyable and deeply unsettling at the same time. (1975, 94 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) ML
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Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents Found Footage Films from the Collection of Ron Slattery on Wednesday at 8:30pm. Local film collector Slattery will screen a selection of found 8mm and 16mm films. Free admission.

Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria St., UIC) screens Liz Garbus' 2002 documentary THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN (88 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Sunday at 1:30pm, followed by a discussion; and Cauleen Smith's 2015 film CROW REQUIEM (10 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 6pm. Followed by a discussion between Smith, filmmaker Ian Curry, and artist Krista Franklin. Free admission for both.

Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) hosts an Open Screening on Saturday at 8pm. Bring work to screen (20 min max; DVD) or just attend to view. Free admission.

YC (2733 W. Hirsch St.) and the Wretched Nobles Film and Video Series present Alex and Francis White's 2015 independent documentary THAT WAS AWESOME! (90 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 9pm.

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Albert Maysles' 2014 documentary IRIS (83 min, DCP Digital), Nadav Lapid's 2014 film THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (119 min, DCP Digital), and Roy Andersson's 2014 film A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (101 min, DCP Digital) all play for a week; and Mark Christopher's 1998/2015 film 54: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (106 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) is on Friday and Monday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm.

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Doris Dörrie's 2008 film CHERRY BLOSSOMS (127 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7 and 9:30pm; Alan Dwan and Philip Ford's 1948 film ANGEL IN EXILE (90 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 7pm; and Guerdon Trueblood's 1973 film THE CANDY SNATCHERS (94 min, 35mm) is on Thursday at 7pm.

Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Sean Baker's 2015 film TANGERINE (88 min) and Brent Hodge's 2015 documentary I AM CHRIS FARLEY (94 min) both continue; Orson Welles and Gregory Ratoff's 1949 film BLACK MAGIC (105 min, 35mm Archival Print) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am; and Gil Junger's 1999 film 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (97 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.

Facets Cinémathèque plays Arturo González Villaseñor's 2014 Mexican documentary ALL OF ME (90 min; Unconfirmed Format) for a week's run.

The Park Ridge Classic Film Series at the Park Ridge Public Library (20 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge) screens Henry King's 1949 film TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (132 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 7pm. Free admission.

Black World Cinema screens Amma Asante's 2013 film BELLE (104 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 7pm at the Studio Movie Grill Chatham 14 ( 210 W. 87th St.).

The Chicago Cultural Center screens Sonali Aggarwal's 2012 documentary JACK TO JUKE: 25 YEARS OF GHETTO HOUSE (59 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 6:30pm; and hosts the Cinema/Chicago screening of Kenji Nakajima's 2008 Japanese film THE CLONE RETURNS HOME (110 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission for both.

The Goethe-Institut Chicago (150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 200) screens Veit Helmer's 2008 film ABSURDISTAN (88 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.



The Zhou B Art Center (1029 W 35th St.) presents the exhibition -scape, curated by Mo Chen and Snow Yunxue Fu, through August 28. The mixed-media show includes several moving image works. The exhibiting artists are Jon Cates, Mo Chen, Snow Yunxue Fu, Philip Hanson, Max Hattler, Alan Kwan, and Philip Vanderhyden.

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.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents an exhibition of nine video works by artist Keren Cytter. On view through October 4.



The Scopitone Party! screening originally announced for Wednesday at Comfort Station has been rescheduled to August 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.

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CINE-LIST: July 31 - August 6, 2015

Patrick Friel

CONTRIBUTORS / Kyle Cubr, Mojo Lorwin, Kathleen Sachs, Michael G. Smith, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

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