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|a weekly guide to alternative cinema- -
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:: Friday, AUG. 29 -
Thursday, SEPT. 4 ::
Noir City 6 (Retrospective Series)
Music Box Theatre - Friday thru Thursday (see venue website for complete schedule)
Almost fifteen years ago, the marquee of the Crest Theatre in Sacramento caught my attention with a very confident pitch: "COMING SOON: RIFIFI--ONE OF THE GREATEST MOVIES YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF." It's a testament to the canny marketing of repertory distributor Rialto Pictures--the first to bring out the original French-language version of Jules Dassin's 1955 caper drama, supplanting the laconically loutish, proto-Bronson English-dubbed version--that RIFIFI is now among the most familiar titles in the Music Box's Noir City 6 lineup. Blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, Dassin wed his precise American craftsmanship to the licentious permissiveness of continental filmmaking and wound up with something singular: a film noir that moved the genre from sentimental, self-pitying fatalism to a chilly, process-oriented existentialism. (Among RIFIFI's many offspring, we might cite THE KILLING, THE LINEUP, LE CERCLE ROUGE, THE DRIVER, HEAT, CASINO, and much of Steven Soderbergh's work.) At Noir City, RIFIFI functions as a pivotal hinge--the link between obscure American noirs and the foreign films that rearranged and built upon their ideas. (Its obverse, Jean-Pierre Melville's TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN (1959)--French technique transplanted to the streets of New York--is the only Noir City title screening on DCP; all others are 35mm.) One might easily look at the crazy, somewhat arcane lineup and conclude that the noir well is running dry, but the opposite is true: it's a sign of maturity that noir hounds are looking beyond Hollywood, as if contemplating a Unified Theory of Noir. (And it's much preferable to running the umpteenth screening of DOUBLE INDEMNITY or THE ASPHALT JUNGLE.) The festival opens with a new print of TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949), the Byron Haskin thriller whose reputation has long been limited by the sketchy copies circulating in the public domain backwaters. (Noir City's homework for next year: strike a new print of the previous Haskin-Lizabeth Scott collaboration I WALK ALONE, a nervy, anti-business riposte to unevenly distributed post-war prosperity.) Other highlights include BORN TO BE BAD (1950), generally regarded as the best of Nicholas Ray's minor films, or the least of his major ones; a double bill from vanguard auteurist favorite Hugo Fregonese, including his totally unknown Spanish-language feature HARDLY A CRIMINAL (1949); John Cromwell's uncharacteristically hysterical (but characteristically sincere) women-in-prison classic CAGED (1950); Henri-George Clouzot's heavily atmospheric and sexually progressive QUAI DES ORFEVRES (1947); Akira Kurosawa's ever-timely 1949 gun-control agitprop STRAY DOG (it's like THE BICYCLE THIEF, but with a pistol); and Joseph Losey's much-better-than-its-reputation remake of M (1951), screening in the same gorgeous Library of Congress restoration premiered last year by the Northwest Chicago Film Society. Speaking of rarity, and the ever-shifting boundaries of noir, who knew that there was another remake of M--a feminist, Argentine variant from Román Viñoly Barreto called THE BLACK VAMPIRE (1953) that's allegedly screening stateside for the first time ever? Like a noir anti-hero who reluctantly accedes to one last heist, there's always something to draw us back in. Also included are Juan Antonio Bardem's DEATH OF A CYCLIST (1955), Akira Kurosawa's DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948), Hugo Fregonese's ONE WAY STREET (1950), Luchino Visconti's OSSESSIONE (1943), Julien Duvivier's PEPE LE MOKO (1937), Harold Daniels' ROADBLOCK (1951), and John Berry's TENSION (1949). KAW
More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.
Cinda Firestone's ATTICA (Documentary Revival)
South Side Projections at the Logan Center for the Arts (915 E 60th St., University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm (Free Admission)
Watching ATTICA is a nauseous reminder that we live in a time vat. Saying that it's a time loop seems too generous, a loop implies a progression (if a futile one) while a vat just sits; perhaps the things in the vat coalesce a bit, but they remain so much the same that it's almost as though they aren't changing at all. Cannily edited, with no voiceover or reenactment, ATTICA displays the 1971 riot at New York State penitentiary of the same name, in which (in brief) a large number of prisoners protested against the prison's conditions (both physical and moral) and held roughly 40 guards hostage while they negotiated with the state. After several days of negotiation, the NY State Police and National Guard were sent in to retake the prison, resulting in 43 deaths, including 10 hostages, all killed by the military force. Although prison riots aren't in the landscape of current events, the use of (primarily white) government forces against (primarily black) men has been at the forefront of national discussion for several years, but with minimal institutional results. Additionally, the specific conditions being protested at ATTICA still remain: prison overcrowding, abuse and brutality by guards, inadequate legal access, and the lack of minimum wage for prison work, amongst others; which serve to cement the feeling that in the past 40 years we've come a long way in technology but have completely stagnated morally. The relative neutrality of the films' source material, including film shot by the National Guard, trial footage, and interviews with participants (on both sides) as well as impartial observers only adds to the sinking feeling. This screening is accompanied by a discussion with Michael Deutsch (an attorney for the Attica prisoners after the riot) and Benneth Lee (president of the National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated, and part of a 1978 uprising at Pontiac State Prison in Illinois) who should have unique insights on both the film and the events around it. ATTICA is not in video circulation, and is being screening from a restored print, so now is the time to see it. (1974, 80 min, Restored 16mm Print) CAM
More info at southsideprojections.org.
Alfred Hitchcock's NUMBER SEVENTEEN (British Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 4:45pm and Wednesday, 6pm
At several points in his career, Hitchcock was resigned to making less ambitious films following the failure of projects near and dear to his heart. The latter films contain formal and thematic techniques then misunderstood by his audience; they include DOWNHILL (1927), RICH AND STRANGE (1931), and UNDER CAPRICORN (1949). He paid the piper for these then critically-panned masterpieces with EASY VIRTUE (1927), NUMBER SEVENTEEN (1932), and STAGE FRIGHT (1950). EASY VIRTUE aptly reflects the shallowness of the Noel Coward play on which it's based, while STAGE FRIGHT is harmless enough as a blasé bit of intelligent entertainment. However, NUMBER SEVENTEEN has the distinction of being "intended partly as an absurdist send-up," at least according to Dave Kehr in his review for the Chicago Reader. Hitchcock also soothed his disappointment by utilizing his love of toys and miniatures for some of the film's action sequences, a method not unfamiliar to him but used here to convey a sense of boyish experimentation more prevalent than in his other films. The plot is largely insignificant and even difficult to follow at times, a sentiment echoed by François Truffaut in his interviews with Hitchcock. However, it's very humorous, and the dry wit more than makes up for its lack of narrative cohesiveness. It's also quite suspenseful despite Hitchcock's droll intentions; in some scenes, the humor actually heightens what little genuine suspense he factored into it. (A Cockney drifter called Ben is responsible for many of the film's funny parts, though it's also his freewheeling garishness that accounts for most of the anxiety-inducing follies.) Hitchcock further compounds this dichotomy through cinematography clearly influenced by German Expressionism. Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol cited MURDER! as being the most expressionistic of Hitchcock's early films, claiming that it evoked Murnau as much as THE MANXMAN (1929) evoked Griffith, but it's arguable that NUMBER SEVENTEEN is more reminiscent of Murnau's work--in particular, NOSFERATU (1922)--than any other film in Hitchcock's oeuvre. Just as Murnau did in NOSFERATU, Hitchcock heightens the (faux?) suspense with artfully cast shadows and precise illumination. His combination of a nonsensical plot and expressionist cinematography make it as surreal as it was intended to be absurd. Overall, it sticks out in Hitchcock's filmography, though like WALTZES FROM VIENNA, it's an entertaining anomaly that should be enjoyed as a one-off rather than dismissed for that fact. (1932, 63 min, 35mm) KS
Alfred Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS (British Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 3pm and Thursday, 6pm
Even as every plot device from this thriller has been worn smooth by decades of reuse, THE 39 STEPS stands out in Hitchcock's body of work for its uncommonly playful lightness. Billed as a tale of international espionage, this is actually a paean to the bachelor. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), looking every inch the rake with an Errol Flynn swagger and an Ed Wood mustache, begins and ends his adventure in the music hall, where unmarried women drink and workingmen brawl. Visiting London from Canada for a few months, the already carefree Hannay thinks nothing of bringing a strange woman back to his furnished apartment, and when she dies abruptly, he steps into her adventure seamlessly, certain that the next right step will appear before him as he strides ahead. Villains, passersby, and policemen fall in behind him as he makes his way to a circled town on a map of Scotland, though the purpose of the mission is mysterious even to him. The speed of the editing leads us through uncluttered sets and spotlit scenes so surely that we need to do nothing but react strongly. Hannay seems to operate the same way; men chase, he runs. If he sees a woman he romances her. If he has an audience he gives them a rousing speech. The adventure serves to showcase his polyvalence rather than the other way around. His bravado is irresistible to the audience, to the dames, and to us, the viewers. (1935, 86 min, 35mm) JF
More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.
Michael Roemer's NOTHING BUT A MAN (Independent Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7 and 9pm
Upon learning that NOTHING BUT A MAN is the work of two white filmmakers, we might assume that the title constitutes a syrupy call for brotherhood, smugly proud of its mild liberalism. Likewise, when Ivan Dixon says that he's heading to Birmingham, we naturally jump to the conclusion that he's about to become politicized, join the CORE, and subtend the front line of the civil rights movement. That NOTHING BUT A MAN frustrates both expectations is crucial to its lasting interest. Essentially a missing link between Italian neo-realism and the L.A. Rebellion naturalism of KILLER OF SHEEP and BLESS THEIR LITTLE HEARTS, NOTHING BUT A MAN depicts a world of ceaseless striving and gross social stratification that marks Freedom Summer as both urgently necessary and despairingly distant. More acutely than any film I know, NOTHING BUT A MAN demonstrates how routine economic oppression simultaneously sabotages and stokes the possibility of political action. (When set next to Bertolucci's superficially radical contemporary, it's Roemer's film that lays much greater claim to the title BEFORE THE REVOLUTION.) Like its post-Popular Front antecedent SALT OF THE EARTH, NOTHING BUT A MAN has the rare distinction of treating racial discrimination, gender equality, and labor rights as irreducibly linked. Most bracingly, NOTHING BUT A MAN possesses such an abiding and deep sense of righteousness that it never wastes our time by presenting compromise or gradualism as morally-defensible options. It's also the only movie I've ever seen that credits a film laboratory (DuArt) as its production company, a footnote that suggests a major and neglected avenue of scholarly investigation at a moment when these former industrial behemoths are shriveling away. (1964, 92 min, 35mm) KAW
More info at www.docfilms.uchicago.edu.
MORE SCREENINS AND EVENTS
Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) presents Russell Sheaffer's 2012 experimental documentary MASCULINITY/FEMININITY (88 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Saturday at 8pm. The film repeats on Wednesday at 6:30pm at Columbia College Chicago - Hokin Hall (623 S. Wabash, Room 109). Sheaffer in person at the Saturday screening.
Big Cheese (2328 W. Iowa, #2R - enter on the side) presents It Feels Better Already on Saturday at 8pm. The screening will include a selection of 1950s-80s porn shorts, along with work by Ian Curry, Blair Bogin, Ashley Thompson, Mike Oleon, and Jennifer Chan. 8mm, 16mm, and Digital Projection.
The Logan Square International Film Series at Comfort Station in Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents the shorts program Peak-End, curated by Alanna Simone, on Wednesday at 8pm. Screening are: MEMORAIS (Ana Rodríguez León, 2012), CCCP (Marija Linciute, 2012), HARDCORE (Leah Lovett, 2013), HOUR BETWEEN DOG AND WOLF (Abinadi Meza, 2013), MY CHILDHOOD KATEKISMUS (Evalajka Pervin, 2012), 106 RIVER ROAD (Josh Weissbach, 2011), and SNOWSTORM (Julia Weissenberg, 2012). Free admission.
Kitchen Space (2716 N. Monticello Ave., #1F) presents 11:11, a two-day screening event on Saturday at Sunday from 11am to 11pm. Work by 35 different artists will screen, and the event will also include performances, a display of paintings, sculptures, and photographs, discussion, popcorn, cocktails, and the screenings move to the backyard at 8pm each day. More info at www.facebook.com/events/1430884323803039.
Terror in the Aisles presents Drive-In Massacre at the McHenry Outdoor Theater (1510 Chapel Hill Road, McHenry, IL) on Friday at Saturday (same lineup both nights). Screening are Dan O'Bannon's 1985 film THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (91 min), with star Linnea Quigley in person, at 8:30pm; Tobe Hooper's 1974 film THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (83 min) at 10:30pm; and George Romero's 1982 film CREEPSHOW (120 min) at Midnight. Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Formats.
Black Cinema House and Chicago Film Archives present the outdoor screening Movies Under the Stars: Possessed on Friday at 9pm at the BCH's Archival House in the back garden (6916 S. Dorchester Ave.). Screening are the 1971 documentary DANCING PROPHET (Franciscan Communications, 15 min, DVD Projection) and D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus' 1984 made-for-PBS documentary DANCE BLACK AMERICA (87 min, DVD Projection). There will be a pot-luck at 8:30pm. Free admission, but limited seating; RSVP at www.blackcinemahouse.org.
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Harry d'Arrast's 1930 comedy LAUGHTER (85 min, 35mm) screens on Friday at 6:15pm and Tuesday at 6pm (with a lecture by Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Tuesday screening); and Philippe Garrel's 2013 film JEALOUSY (77 min, DCP Digital), Hiroyuki Okiura's 2011 Japanese animated feature A LETTER TO MOMO (120 min, DCP Digital; showing in both Subtitled Japanese Language and English Dubbed versions), and Leslie Zemeckis' 2012 documentary BOUND BY FLESH (90 min, DCP Digital; director Zemeckis in person at the Friday screening) all play for a week.
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Joel Schumacher's 1993 film FALLING DOWN (113 min, 35mm) is on Friday at 7 and 9:15pm.
Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Charlie McDowell's 2014 film THE ONE I LOVE (91 min) opens; Bob Fosse's 1972 film CABARET (124 min, 35mm) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30am; and Eric Radomski and Bruce W. Timm's 1993 animated feature BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM (76 min, 35mm) and Luc Besson's 2014 film LUCY (89 min) are on Friday and Saturday at Midnight. Unconfirmed Formats except where noted.
At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Jennifer Kroot's 2014 documentary TO BE TAKEI (90 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) plays for a week's run.
The Chicago Cultural Center screens the Cinema/Chicago presentation of Philippe Barcinski's 2007 Brazilian film NOT BY CHANCE (90 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) screens on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.
Black World Cinema presents a family-friendly back-to-school sing-along version of Sidney Lumet's 1978 film THE WIZ (134 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) at the Studio Movie Grill Chatham 14 Theaters (210 W. 87th St.) on Thursday at 7pm. Kids in costume have a chance to win back-to-school gifts. More info at http://blackworldcinema.net/blog.
ONGOING FILM/VIDEO INSTALLATIONS
Washington Park Arts Incubator (301 E. Garfield) continues the exhibition How To Make A Hood through October 10. Included is "The Hood We Live In," a sculpted 3 channel video installation by Amir George. More info at www.htmah.com.
SAIC's Sullivan Galleries (33 S. State St., 7th Floor) continues the show Surface Tension through October 4. Included is Kevin B. Lee's 3-D version of his video TRANSFORMERS: THE PREMAKE.
glitChicago: An Exhibition of Chicago Glitch Art continues at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (2320 W. Chicago Ave.) through September 28. Work from 24 artists explores glitch across a variety of media.
The two-channel video installation Untitled (Structures) by Leslie Hewitt and Bradford Young is on view through August 31 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Bruce Nauman's 1987 four channel video installation Clown Torture (60 min loop) is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through September 28.
The Northbrook Public Library film series is on hiatus during renovations at the library. Expected completion is Spring 2015.
The Portage Theatre has resumed occasional screenings (from Blu-Ray/DVD only we believe).
As of July 2014 the Patio Theater is up for sale.
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.