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:: Friday, DEC. 12 -
Thursday, DEC. 18 ::
Isao Takahata's THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (New Japanese Animation) and Hideki Ono, Keiko Nakazono, and Yoko Terakoshi's ISAO TAKAHATA AND HIS TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes*
Making-of documentaries are typically informative, but rarely are they considered crucial to one's overall appreciation of the film in question. Several such documentaries, including BURDEN OF DREAMS (about the production of Werner Herzog's 1982 film FITZCARRALDO) and HEART OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE, are cinematic achievements in their own right, but these successes don't negate the fact that much "privileged" behind-the-scenes footage is mere DVD bonus fodder. And while ISAO TAKAHATA AND HIS TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA (2014, 82 min, DCP Digital) isn't necessarily a work on par with that of Les Blank or Eleanor Coppola, it does provide great insight into Takahata's creative process and also into his role at the famed Studio Ghibli. (Contrary to most write-ups about him, Takahata doesn't draw and therefore isn't an animator in the traditional sense.) THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (2013, 137 min, DCP Digital) undoubtedly speaks for itself, its beauty so ethereal that it's almost as otherworldly as its title character, but its delicate line drawings and impressionistic backgrounds come even more to life when informed by the tacit dedication that went into every stroke. As the documentary tells us, THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is based on a 10th-century Japanese folktale called "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," which holds the distinction of being Japan's first novel. It's also a work of proto-science fiction, elements of which were made more conspicuous in Kon Ichikawa's 1987 adaptation, PRINCESS FROM THE MOON. Studio Ghibli is no stranger to the blurred lines of magical realism or the outright fantasticality that's inherent within the science fiction genre; THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA exists somewhere between these extremes, though its aesthetic is singular to Takahata's vision. The documentary details the eight-year process, from producers having to convince Takahata to make another film after the disruption caused by his 1999 film MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS, to numerous production delays caused in part by Takahata's perfectionist tendencies. But throughout it all, Takahata maintains a guileless composure that further infuses the viewing experience with his charming earnestness. In one particularly poignant scene, Takahata reconvenes with friend and Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki after a press conference announcing this year's Ghibli releases (the other being Miyazaki's masterpiece THE WIND RISES) and Miyazaki's retirement. Another scene depicts Takahata's and his crew's reaction to the film's completion, the emotional release in which is similar to the scene from Mark Levinson's PARTICLE FEVER where physicist David Kaplan and his colleagues celebrate the successful identification of the Higgs boson after decades of research. The film's score, composed by Joe Hisaishi, further cements the impact. Studio Ghibli announced this past August that it would be temporarily halting production following Miyazaki's retirement. Regret is a shared theme among this and THE WIND RISES, and they both provide for an appropriate finale should this really be the end. KS
*Note that THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is showing in both English-dubbed and subtitled Japanese versions, and is showing for a four-week run; the documentary has only three remaining screenings: Saturdays, December 13 (5pm), and 27 (5:30pm) and Sunday, December 28 (5:30pm).
More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
John McTiernan's DIE HARD (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Wednesday, 8pm
Non-aficionados of narrative overanalysis are basically going to have to step off in the case of DIE HARD, which is inarguably a modern masterpiece of both structuralist and psychoanalytic semiosis. As an n-dimensional mythological lattice posing as an unpretentious, violent movie, DIE HARD simultaneously pits East Coast vs. West Coast, Eastern capitalism vs. Western capitalism, work vs. family, local vs. global, working class vs. upper class, white vs. black ad infinitum, all entirely immersed in the sacred moment of the pagan Winter Solstice. How, indeed, will John McClane (Bruce Willis) reassert values of patriarchy and Anglo supremacy during this longer-term period of acute economic and multicultural transformation? The answer is by defeating a band of indeterminately Euro monsters who erupt from his unconscious on Christmas Eve as he attempts to renegotiate the terms of his marriage in a building played by--in one of Hollywood's premier self-reflexive architectural cameos--20th Century Fox's brand new office tower. Additionally, the film is creatively suffused in a wide variety of explicit and implicit Christmas-related symbolism (our red-footed hero frequently sends explosive "presents" to lower floors, bond certificates float through the air like snow, etc.) However, the present-day evidence of the film's DVD commentary track suggests that director John McTiernan is almost completely unaware of what he has done, remaining entirely concerned with the implementation of shrill, irrelevant action set pieces. Showing as a double-bill with Chris Columbus' 1990 film HOME ALONE. (1988, 131 min, DCP Digital) MC
More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.
DeWitt Beall's LORD THING & Robert Ford's THE CORNER (Documentary Revival)
Art Institute of Chicago (Ryan Education Center) - Friday, 2pm (Free Admission)
For most of its history, Chicago has been a hotbed of gang culture in America. Although the street gangs of Los Angeles get more attention from the national media and Hollywood screenwriters, the Chicago gangs that formed in the late 1950s and expanded throughout the Civil Rights era really created the model for what we know today. The beginnings of the Vice Lords, one of the oldest and largest street gangs to emerge from this era, is the subject of the two documentaries presented in this rare screening of almost-forgotten films. Made just a few years after some young men from the North Lawndale neighborhood met at a juvenile correctional facility and founded the gang in 1958, Robert Ford's THE CORNER (1962) is perhaps the earliest glimpse of the "club." Highlighting their increasing impact on Chicago's African-American communities, it feels like an industrial or educational film, but is more concerned with the feelings and viewpoints of its subjects than either would be. Utilizing non-synch narration by members of the gang, we get a sense of how these young men see themselves. They talk about why they joined a gang, why they drink, how they feel when they fight, their respect for hardworking single mothers, and their indifference towards absent fathers. These matter-of-fact statements are powerful in their self-awareness, even if they were obviously staged in a studio. We hear an articulation of the despair and hopelessness that these young men have about their prospects for a job and financial security, and their knowledge of being trapped in a cycle of poverty. This mood changes significantly in DeWitt Beall's LORD THING (1970), which chronicles the VL's growth into a large coalition of gangs with over 20,000 members, and its emergence as both a community and business force. During the late 60s and early 70s, the leaders of the gang, now sometimes know as the Conservative Vice Lords (or even CVL, Inc.), began thinking well beyond their immediate surroundings and utilized their collective confidence in completely new ways. Beall gives us a fair amount of back-story, presented through re-enactments of historical fights with rival gangs, played by a cast of actual CVL members. He also documents numerous meetings of gang leaders that look and feel like town-hall meetings, and show both their increasing size and expanding concerns. Political actions such as protests carried out at construction sites, and a march on city hall--conducted as a joint action with other large Chicago gangs--illustrate how the CVL chose to use their power to influence the economic and social conditions in their turf and beyond. At times, Beall's film feels rather propagandistic--pro VL-- but this may only be due to the desire that leaders like Bobby Gore have for using the VL's power to effect social and economic change. Perhaps this sympathetic depiction is the reason the film was never shown in the US, despite screening at Cannes and winning an award at the Venice Film Festival. After funding the film, the Xerox Corporation decided not to release it. Allegedly, they bowed to pressure from Richard J. Daley and the Chicago Democratic Machine, both of whom are roundly criticized in the film's final moments. In 2011, Cine-File contributor Michael W. Phillips Jr. programmed LORD THING at the inaugural South Side Projections screening after viewing a DVD burn of a VHS recording of a French television broadcast that University of Illinois-Chicago professor John Hagedorn located in the director's garage after he passed. Chicago Film Archives collections manager Anne Wells alerted Phillips to THE CORNER, a copy of which was in the CFA's collection, which was added to that screening. The following year, CFA located the original LORD THING elements and received a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to restore both films. (1970/1962, 58 min/26 min, DVD Projection of Newly Restored 16mm Prints) JH
More info at www.artic.edu.
Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes
Like Steven Spielberg today, Frank Capra was associated more with reassuring, patriotic sentiment than with actually making movies; but just beneath the Americana, his films contain a near-schizophrenic mix of idealism and resentment. In this quality, as well as his tendency to drag charismatic heroes through grueling tests of faith, it wouldn't be a stretch to compare Capra with Lars von Trier. There's plenty to merit the comparison in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE alone: The film is a two-hour tour of an honest man's failure and bottled-up resentment, softened only intermittently by scenes of domestic contentment. Even before the nightmarish Pottersville episode (shot in foreboding shadows more reminiscent of film noir than Americana), Bedford Falls is shown as vulnerable to the plagues of recession, family dysfunction, and alcoholism. All of these weigh heavy on the soul of George Bailey, a small-town Everyman given tragic complexity by James Stewart, who considered the performance his best. Drawing on the unacknowledged rage within ordinary people he would later exploit for Alfred Hitchcock, Stewart renders Bailey as complicated as Capra himself--a child and ultimate victim of the American Dream. Ironically, it's because the film's despair feels so authentic that its iconic ending feels as cathartic as it does: After being saved from his suicide attempt (which frames the entire film, it should be noted), Stewart is returned to the simple pleasures of family and friends, made to seem a warm oasis in a great metaphysical void. Showing as a double-bill with Michael Curtiz's 1954 film WHITE CHRISTMAS. Tickets available individually or as a double feature. (1946, 130 min, DCP Digital) BS
More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.
MORE SCREENINGS AND EVENTS
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents Films of Tatsu Aoki on Tuesday, 6pm. The local experimental filmmaker and jazz musician will screen 16mm prints of his films 3725 (1980), HARMONY (1991), WASHED 1984 (2012), PUZZLE 2000 (2000), and a new digital work, THE DETACHED (2014, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format). Approx. 60 min total. Aoki in person. Free admission for Illinois residents.
Constellation (3111 N. Western Ave.) and The Nightingale present Andrés Duque's 2012 documentary DRESS REHEARSAL FOR UTOPIA (75 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Monday at 7pm as part of the Run of Life Experimental Documentary series.
The Chicago Cinema Society presents Andrew Leavold's 2007 documentary THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG (92 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Friday at 8pm at Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.), with Leavold in person. http://chicagocinemasociety.org
Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) and the Chicago Cinema Society present Bennett Jones' 2014 film I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS (83 min, Blu-Ray Projection) on Saturday at 8pm. Repeats on Wednesday at 6:30pm at Columbia College Chicago (Hokin Hall, 623 S. Wabash Ave.).
The Logan Square International Film Series at Comfort Station in Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents local filmmaker Brian Wiebe's 2014 film A GOOD PERSON (76 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 8pm, with Wiebe in person. Followed by a live performance of music from the film by Adam Torres.
The Logan Theatre hosts a screening of local filmmaker Dustin Puehler's 2014 horror satire REALITY (80 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Sunday at 4pm. Preceded by Puehler's 2013 short film CUTIE (18 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format).
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Stefan Haupt's 2012 documentary SAGRADA: THE MYSTERY OF CREATION (89 min, DCP Digital) begins an 18-day run; Hossein Amini's 2014 film THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (98 min, DCP Digital) begins a two-week run; and Steve James' 1994 documentary HOOP DREAMS (171 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) is on Saturday at 7pm and Tuesday at 6:30pm, with filmmakers Steve James, Peter Gilbert, Gordon Quinn, Adam Singer, and protagonist Arthur Agee in person at both screenings; and archivists Ross Lipman of UCLA and Nora Gully of Kartemquin also in person on Saturday.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Marshall Curry's 2014 documentary POINT AND SHOOT (83 min) opens; 2014 Sundance Film Festival Live Action Shorts and 2014 Sundance Film Festival Animated Shorts screen on Monday and Tuesday only; Michael Curtiz's 1954 musical WHITE CHRISTMAS (120 min) opens as a double feature with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (see above) on Friday; and Chris Columbus' 1990 film HOME ALONE (103 min) is on Wednesday at 6pm as part of a double feature with DIE HARD (see above). All DCP Digital.
Facets Cinémathèque plays Marcelo Gomes' 2012 Brazilian film ONCE UPON A TIME, VERÔNICA (91 min, Unconfirmed Format) for a week's run.
The Chicago Cultural Center screens Peter Richardson's 2011 documentary HOW TO DIE IN OREGON (107 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 1pm. Free admission.
The Alliance Française (54 W. Chicago Ave.) screens Jean-Marie Poiré's 1982 film SANTA CLAUS IS A BASTARD (88 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Wednesday at 6:30pm.
At Chicago Public Library locations this week: the Near North Branch (310 W. Division St.) screens Vincente Minnelli's 1944 film MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (113 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 2pm; and the Albany Park Branch (3401 W. Foster Ave.) screens Grace Lee's 2013 documentary AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY: THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS (82 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission for both.
The Italian Cultural Institute (500 N Michigan Ave., Suite 1450) screens Paolo Bianchini's 2012 film THE SUN INSIDE (100 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Tuesday at 6pm. Free admission.
The DuSable Museum screens Tariq Nasheed's 2012 documentary HIDDEN COLORS 2: THE TRIUMPH OF MELANIN (Unconfirmed Running Time, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Sunday at 2pm.
The listings for the Patio Theater and the Portage Theater keep changing every time we check. Visit their respective websites for screenings information.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Anri Sala's 2003 digital video installation Mixed Behavior (8 min loop) opens on Friday and runs through March 1 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Art Institute of Chicago presents Lucy McKenzie and Richard Kern's 2014 single channel video The Girl Who Followed Marple (10 min loop) through January 18.
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, with the closing of the Patio Theater. They plan to do occasional screenings as opportunities arise.