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Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, SEPT. 19 - Thursday, SEPT. 25::

CRUCIAL VIEWING

DAUGHTER RITE (Experimental)
The Nightingale
(1084 N Milwaukee Ave) – Sunday, 7pm
Michelle Citron aims to challenge mainstream cinema's patriarchal reading of the mother-daughter bond with this moving film essay on motherhood. A key element of feminist re-writing is to create rupture within traditional narrative forms, and that's exactly what Citron does, taking cinema verité documentary, and its eye for "truth," as her point of contention. DAUGHTER RITE is constructed largely of "home movie" footage showing a woman and her two daughters in a variety of happy family scenes (presumably filmed by the husband/father). This is accompanied by the diary narrative a young woman reinterpreting these childhood moments from an adult perspective. Citron juxtaposes this vintage material with contemporary "documentary" footage of two sisters discussing the complex relationships they now have with their mother. Our straight reading of the film as documentary is problematized when we look closer. Citron slows down and repeats elements of the home movie, emphasizing certain ritualistic actions. In the documentary scenes we see a very effective blurring of fiction and reality; sometimes the sisters display a knowing awareness of the camera, other times the poetic, "honest" eye of cinema verité captures them in a natural state, as though the camera wasn't there. Through this complex assemblage of cinematic forms, DAUGHTER RITE shows us how, as women, we are largely defined by the ingrained expectations of a patriarchal society, ironically passed down through the generations from mother to daughter. Citron will be present to answer questions following the screening. Presented by White Light Cinema. BC
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More info at www.whitelightcinema.com.
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JACOB’S LADDER (Contemporary Revival)
Music Box – Friday & Saturday, midnight

In one of his first starring roles, Tim Robbins plays Jacob, an emotionally scarred Vietnam War veteran estranged from his wife and working as a postman in 1970s New York. But what begins as a muted social drama gradually turns into a surrealistic nightmare more unpredictable and terrifying than almost any other commercial American film. As JACOB’S LADDER unravels, it seems more and more likely that the “story” is really a hallucination, the result of Jacob having been a guinea pig in military tests involving LSD; it’s also possible that he’s died and gone to Hell. A radical experiment in genre mixing from the unlikely team of director Adrian Lyne (FLASHDANCE) and writer Bruce Joel Rubin (GHOST), it is, like the similarly cryptic and paranoid MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962), a masterpiece that transcends any auteurist interpretation: Arguably, its real author is the American subconscious. It’s also a beautifully acted film, something one rarely says of horror movies. Robbins, in what may be his best work, delivers a courageous performance, channeling for most of the film a reservoir of naked vulnerability. (1990, 115 min, 35mm) BS
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More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.

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Eyes Wide Open: Videos by Dani Leventhal (Experimental)
Conversations at the Edge (Film Center)
Thursday, 6pm
Dani Leventhal's video work reminds us that, tragically, we are all flesh and sinew and muscle and bone. Fittingly, her videos display an almost primal energy: her pacing is rigorously break-neck—composed of brief shots that jump around jarringly. Her work constantly hints at the often forgotten reality of how the actual physicality of our world is so often positioned against our non-physical experiencing of it. Parts of animals, natural landscapes, and sexual acts are strung together mercilessly with personal revelations and family stories told by an adorably frank grandmother. A line from a Mary Oliver poem comes to mind: "You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves." The program includes the award-winning DRAFT 9 (2003), a collaborative project with German artist Antje Feger, and four additional short works. Leventhal in person. (2003-7, 65 min, video) CL
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More info at www.conversationsattheedge.wordpress.com.

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ALSO RECOMMENDED

TROUBLE THE WATER (New Documentary)
Landmark Century Theatre – Check Reader Movies for showtimes

If ever there was an argument for ending the documentary field's decades long discourse on objectivity Kim Rivers Roberts, the irrepressible heroine of TROUBLE THE WATER, is it. Kenneth Turan of the LA Times describes the film as "hijacked by its subjects." Soon after Katrina landed, NYC documentarians Tia Lessin and Carl Deal traveled to Alexandria, Louisiana to make a movie about the disaster when Ninth ward resident and rap artist Kim and her husband Scott approached them with Kim's incredible home-video footage of the storm as it happens. Kim may be an amateur camera-op, but she is plenty media savvy (she is credited as the film's Director of Photography). Often their journey foregrounds the frustrations brought about by the unconscionable lack of government intervention, such as when Kim and her friends are denied access to an empty National Guard base as shelter. But the film also provides a hopeful counterbalance with Kim's determination to transcend her wrecked situation. In one scene, said to have brought a Sundance Film Festival audience to its feet mid-screening, Kim eloquently raps to a recording of what she thought was her lost album—all fight and all hope, grateful to have survived and ready to keep on. Only in a world where the documentarians have yielded to the messiness of the catastrophe around them and thrown objectivity to the storm is an astonishing movie like this possible. (2008, 93 min, 35mm) CL
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More info at www.troublethewaterfilm.com.

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David MacKenzie’s MISTER FOE (New British)
Music Box Theatre – Check Reader Movies for showtimes

It’s odd that David MacKenzie is not more widely recognized in contemporary film culture. He works in the familiar genres of period drama and literary adaptations, his stories are never difficult to follow, and he knows how to make sex scenes that are erotic and psychologically informative. His fourth feature, HALLAM FOE (which was inexplicably retitled for American release), is even a youth picture—and not only that, it comes closer than any other to approximating the feel of J.D. Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye. It’s also something of a concession to mainstream cinema, being a starring vehicle for Jamie Bell (BILLY ELLIOT). He plays an eccentric rich boy who leaves his posh home for a Bohemian life in Edinburgh, where he discovers moral responsibility along with grown-up sexuality. While something of a come-down after MacKenzie’s magisterial YOUNG ADAM (2003) and ASYLUM (2005), this is still very much a living film: MacKenzie has one of the best eyes in recent movies, accomplishing complicated tracking shots in 'Scope that suggest a world of endless possibility (or, in movie terms, the legacy of Vincente Minnelli). This visual sensitivity is paralleled by his facility with character, where he maintains the respectful distance of a great novelist without sacrificing richness or complexity. (2007, 95 min, 35mm widescreen) BS
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More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.

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Fritz Lang’s M (Classic Revival w/ Lecture)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Friday & Wednesday, 6pm

Jonathan Rosenbaum regularly cites Fritz Lang’s M as one of the greatest films ever made, so expect his lecture on Wednesday to be especially impassioned and informative. Rosenbaum has selected the film as part of his series The First Transition, devoted to developments in world cinema in the 1930s; and, indeed, one of the film’s more remarkable qualities is how it masters the conventions of silent movies while creating new ones for sound cinema. The way that Peter Lorre’s unforgettable child murderer often whistles the same melody from Peer Gynt, for instance, makes his character as instantly recognizable as a visual cue would in a silent (think of Chaplin’s walk), but Lorre’s haunting monologue at the movie’s climax maximizes the actor’s voice as an expressive instrument. When he wrote about the film in 1997, Rosenbaum highlighted the social awareness behind Lang’s aesthetic inventions, noting that “[a]rguably, no other thriller has so effectively combined exposition and suspense with a portrait of an entire society, and M does this through a dazzling system of visual rhymes and aural continuities, spatial leaps and thematic repetitions that virtually reinvents the art of movie storytelling.” The entire essay can be found here. (1931, 105 min, 35mm) BS
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More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.

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Cartune Xprez 2008 Amercn Fall Tour (Experimental / Performance)
The Nightingale
(1084 N Milwaukee Ave) – Wednesday, 8pm
Described as "a road show of animated videos and multimedia performances," this collection of the more outrageous end of contemporary animation includes pieces by performance artist/video maker Shana Moulton (who tends to combine modern-day anxieties with a fetishization of pop culture detritus into unexpectedly heartfelt works), Takeshi Murata (usually trippy abstraction), and Martha Colburn (riot grrrl/DIY sensibility meets grindhouse/horror/sexploitation imagery). The organizers of the tour, the multimedia dance duo Hooliganship, will also be performing a new work requiring 3D glasses. (various years, 70 min, video) PF
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More info at www.cartunexprez.com.
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LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD & CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 (Classic Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Showtimes noted below

The Siskel's Les Sixties series continues with two masterpieces at opposite swings of the pendulum. Resnais' gorgeous head-scratcher LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961, 94 min, 35mm; Saturday, 3pm & Tuesday, 6pm) pointedly occurs in a place without place and a time without time, whereas Varda's tale CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 (1962, 90 min, 35mm; Saturday, 5pm & Monday, 6pm) is entirely cinéma vérité Paris, the "here and now" unfolding in real time. The former maintains a stately, glacial pace for its duration, fixated on smooth camera movements and sensuous, elegant surfaces. The latter uses handheld camerawork and human immediacy as its foundations. But both have a unique poetry, made concrete by their pristine black and white cinematography, that have never quite been duplicated, not even by the filmmakers themselves. RC
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More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.

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FLAT IS BEAUTIFUL & JEAN GENET IN CHICAGO (Experimental)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Monday, 7:45pm

In the late 1980s and early '90s teenage Sadie Benning became a darling in the experimental, queer, and art world circles with her poignant and formally astute autobiographical Pixelvision video works. FLAT IS BEAUTIFUL (1998, 50 min) continued these qualities into a more ambitious narrative piece (well, experimental narrative), which demonstrated that she was no flash-in-the-pan child prodigy. Masks feature prominently in FLAT and also in Frédéric Moffet's JEAN GENET IN CHICAGO (2006, 26 min). Moffet re-visits the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the circus surrounding it through the eyes of Genet to touch on notions of activism, politics, and queer identity. Both Benning and Moffet show that the personal is "political" and, when handled well, also universal. Moffet in person. PF
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More info at www.siskelfilmcenter.org.

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Roman Polanski's CHINATOWN (Classic Revival)
Music Box
Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
Jack Nicholson stars as a private eye in 1930s L.A. who becomes embroiled in municipal politics and a fraudulent water scheme in this classic that practically invented neo-noir. In his 1974 review Roger Ebert praised the film by differentiating it from the more satirical THE LONG GOODBYE (1973), writing that CHINATOWN "works because of the enduring strengths of the genre itself." Indeed, it's less homage and more direct descendant of the Hollywood noir films of the 1940s and 50s and the detective novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Besides its masterful execution, what elevates this film is its fascinating story about the water wars in California and its cynical, distrustful attitude towards the powers that be. Polanski fully succeeds at reflecting a modern paranoia within a classical visual style. Faye Dunaway co-stars as the femme fatale and John Huston is the villainous water titan. (1974, 131 min, 35mm) MS
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More info at www.musicboxtheatre.com.

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MORE SCREENINGS & EVENTS:

In addition to their shows listed above, the remaining programs at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week are all particularly noteworthy. Part of the Envisioning Russia series, Alexander Medvedkin's great 1934 film HAPPINESS proves that there could still be whimsy and humor under Stalin's regime. Also in the series is the 1959 dventure film THE LETTER NEVER SENT by Mikhail Kalatazov, best known for I AM CUBA and THE CRANES ARE FLYING. Documentarian Arthur Dong examines the representation of Chinese characters in American cinema in HOLLYWOOD CHINESE. Finally, the documentary BEAUTIFUL LOSERS explores how oppositional subcultural movements (skateboarding, graffiti, punk, and hip-hop) have become appropriated by mainstream fashion and media. See www.siskelfilmcenter.org for details and showtimes.

Playing all week at Facets Cinémathèque is the globe-hopping road-movie LAST STOP FOR PAUL. Filmmaker Neil Mandt in person Friday and Saturday. Also showing is the latest installment of the One Czech a Month series, RESTART, about a pivotal moment in a young couple's relationship amidst the club scene of modern Prague (Saturday & Sunday, 1pm).

Saturday is monster-day at The Portage Theater with two reputedly above-average cult films directed by two celebrated former Art Directors: GORGO (1961; 5:45pm) by Eugene Lourié and INVADERS FROM MARS (1953; 9:15pm) by William Cameron Menzies. Curiously sandwiched in between is the animated kiddie film MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1969; 7:15pm), which features the voices of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller. The 1937 Best Picture winner THE AWFUL TRUTH (Wednesday, 1:30pm) is the matinee film this week, with the screwball shenanigans of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne orchestrated under the direction of the great Leo McCarey.

You don't have to like dog shows to like BEST IN SHOW, screening Tuesday, 6:30pm at the Chicago History Museum. You don't even have to like dogs. Like most Christopher Guest movies, the subject matter is a mere springboard for some of the deepest, most genuine character work in recent film. It also just so happens to be hilarious. As usual, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara play a heartbreakingly adorable dysfunctional couple and Fred Willard is out of his mind. BEST IN SHOW is perhaps Guest's most accessible work to date, although if you really want to see the best example of modern improvisation translated to the big screen, rent Guest's criminally under-appreciated A MIGHTY WIND. CS

The third and final film in a mini-Joan Crawford retro at the Bank of America Cinema, HUMORESQUE (1946) stars her alongside John Garfield as a society patron of a talented young musician (Saturday, 8pm).

Two programs of recent films by Asian-American women are, unfortunately, competing with each other on Saturday. No Distance, a program of short works by Asian-American female filmmakers from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago screens at The Nightingale (6:30pm) FREE; and The Short Films of Kirthi Nath (with the San Francisco-based Nath tentatively in person) screens at Chicago Filmmakers (8pm).

The Music Box's other midnight film this week (see JACOB'S LADDER above) is John Cameron Mitchell's trans-musical HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.

Continuing films reviewed previously include Chabrol's A GIRL CUT IN TWO at the Music Box; and Chris Smith's THE POOL at the Landmark Century Center.

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CINE-LIST: September 19 September 25, 2008

MANAGING EDITOR / Patrick Friel

CONTRIBUTORS / Beth Capper, Rob Christopher, Christy LeMaster, Ben Sachs, Carrie Shemanski, Martin Stainthorp

CONSULTING EDITOR & DESIGN / Darnell Witt

> Editorial Statement --> Contact