Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, OCT. 2 - Thursday, OCT. 8 ::


Michael Mann's THE KEEP (Contemporary Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Monday, 7pm
THE KEEP starts in the middle of SORCEROR and then travels into some nightmare screening where the projectionist has mixed up several copies of the last two reels of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE with random bits of THE LAST WAVE and David Lynch's DUNE, all slowed down to a grind. They say it started with a copy of Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment. Michael Mann read the book, swapped Jung for Freud, and made THE KEEP. A little fairy tale: wayward German soldiers occupy a cursed, abandoned Romanian fortress in 1941. Something's afoot, so they bring a Jewish scholar to help them figure out the mystery. Fairy tales give us images, and therefore that's what Mann gives us. It's his BEAUTY AND THE BEAST rather than his ORPHEUS. The dialogue, the basic plot--none of these really matter. What matters is white light cutting through fog, figures against massive ruins, a man made young and then old again. The images here are often terrifyingly deep, like looking down from a balcony or a bridge; a sharp contrast to the shallow focal lengths of THIEF, which rendered city lights so out-of-focus that they became like painted backdrops that the characters could stand against. Here there are no characters, no people--THE KEEP is the only Mann film to make use of archetypes. There are only images that, this being his only attempt at a horror film, are unlike any in the genre. Horror is context; it's the art of making a door opening or a bird flying by terrifying through juxtaposition and sympathy. Here there is no sympathy, no context; you could cut a shot out and watch it on its own and it would tell a self-contained, sinister tale. (1983, 96 min, 35mm) IV
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Visions in Motion Program 2 (Experimental)

Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 6pm
The second night in CATE's two-part look at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology concerns itself less with student experimentation and more with professorial creation. Some of the films, like HEARTS & ARROWS (Richard Filipowski and students, 1950) and CHICAGO MORNING (Boris Yakovleff and students, 1952), were student collaborations, but these entries appear to hold a singular authorship, more so than the previous night's joint efforts. CHICAGO MORNING's city symphony tone is partly a product of Yakovleff's prior work as an editor for industrial films and partly from renowned Chicagoan Studs Terkel's crackerjack narration. From here, the program draws its focus downward to the forgotten, demolished streets and lives of Chicago. With 33RD AND LASALLE (1962), Ken Josephson juxtaposes the demolition of a building and the fate of the wheat-pasted movie and theater posters on the building's facade. THE CHURCH ON MAXWELL STREET (Yasuhiro Ishimoto and Marvin Newman, 1951) is a document of an itinerant street revival at the now-vanished market. Millie Goldsholl's NIGHT DRIVING (1969) provides an interesting if innocuous look at Chicago's city streets through a soft-focus view of its passing colored spheres. As with the previous night, this program's highlight is Larry Janiak's entry. ADAM'S FILM (1963) combines abstracted footage with audio tape loops to create what he calls "out-takes" of life--the small, inconsequential moments of our lives, illuminated by idiosyncratic optical printing. Janiak displays an instinctive command of his techniques, an assuredness of process rivaled only by Pat O'Neill. Also screening is Len Gittleman's A MOTOR CONTROL DRAWING (1953). (1950-1969, approx. 75 min total, 16mm and video) DM
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Owen Land's DIALOGUES (Experimental)

Chicago Filmmakers - Saturday, 8pm
Overarching and overreaching, DIALOGUES is autobiographic lying at its most sincere. Vignettes in various shapes and sizes populated by various japes and friars make the flimsiest of narrative plausibility possible. Legendary Structuralist filmmaker Owen Land's tongue is not much in check as he pretends to tell the story of his 1985 return to LA after a year spent living in Japan. Representing two halves of his persona--the Trickster-Literary Land and the Pure Fool-Visual--by using two different actors, Land take turns re-enacting significant encounters with the director's past. Seemingly every tale ends with a woman removing her clothing for reasons that would make a porno screenwriter blush and, for the first portion of the film, this misogyny and self-indulgence takes us hostage. Soon, however, the stories become less the embellished tales of an aging icon and more a lighthearted attempt to contemplate religion, language, audience's expectations of narrative structure, and hero-worship in the art world. Transforming itself from pathetic to introspective to reflective and then to sorrowful, Land's newest work makes you work for the reward, and then rewards you with mental work. (2008, 133 min, video) JH
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Films by Joost Rekveld (Experimental)
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center - Thursday, 6pm
Even most abstract avant-garde films refer to something that can be named. The exceptions in the genre are both daring and potentially tiring. Daring, because it's so easy to be dismissed as indulgent or meaningless. Potentially tiring, because--let's be honest--it can be so damn hard to grasp the intent when the elements on screen are so basic. Light, color, figures, and movement. Ultimately that's all any filmmaker gives us to view, but Joost Rekveld concentrates those basic elements of cinema even further to a pure visual music. These films are about exposure time and shutter speed, they are about crystalline and kaleidoscopic imagery, they are about controlling the image through a precise visual score, and letting go of the image by limiting the tools the filmmaker controls. You can meet Rekveld's films simply on these terms and be satisfied, or you can go further and read his website (or just read the program notes) and allow yourself the clues to their construction that you can wield like a machete, cutting through the tangle of cinemagraphic light. The films included are #3 (1994), an early short work set to a strict visual score; #11, MAREY <-> MOIRÉ (1999), created by limiting the elements the filmmaker can control to speed, shutter rotation, and movement of a line; #23.2, BOOK OF MIRRORS (2002), which "deals with the multiplication of light beams through mirrors and kaleidoscopes;" and #37 (2009), a new acclaimed work that finds its inspiration in crystals. (1994-2009, approx. 75 min total, various formats) JM
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Richard Lester's THE BED-SITTING ROOM (Classic Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 9pm
Doors stand on their own without houses, but people continue to use them; a "travelling news reader" takes on the status of a Shakespearean actor, reciting famous news stories like they're soliloquies; a palace gate built out of refrigerators and washing machines stands in a wasteland; two policemen in ripped and dirty raincoats and bowlers float from place to place in a rusty car suspended by a hot-air balloon. THE BED-SITTING ROOM is Richard Lester creating cinema in the image of Doré's Rabelais illustrations, Hogarth's bawdiest details, Rube Goldberg's comic diagrams, and Spike Jones' cutting nonsense; the result, actually, bears a certain resemblance to William Klein--which begs the question of whether it might just be a Klein impression or whether Klein has been impersonating Lester all along. Either way, THE BED-SITTING ROOM would make a damn good double feature with MR. FREEDOM--the two American expats creating images of an apocalypse where only the worst parts of culture survive, like cockroaches--one in a country he loved (Klein and his France), the other in a country he loved to tease (Lester and the UK). Two different attitudes, too: Klein has disgust, while Lester has hope for "the little people." But an even better match would be THE KEEP (screening three days earlier, see above): both films exist to provide images, one comic, the other horrific, both equally fantastical. (1969, 101 min, archival 35mm) IV
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Milani's SUPERSTAR & Rahmanian's THE GLASS HOUSE (New Iranian)

Gene Siskel Film Center - Showtimes noted below
In recent months, the government of Iran has been approaching what appears to be authoritarian rule. The current administration has arrested hundreds who assembled in protest of Mahmoud Ahmadnidejad's debated re-election, granting these individuals only a mass show-trial that resembles nothing less than Stalinist tribunals. The Iranian population has been promised a widespread restriction of women's rights and access to global culture, and Ahmadnidejad currently threatens the world at large by testing nuclear weapons. And yet Iran still possesses one of the richest artistic legacies in civilization, a noble tradition of storytelling deep in poetry and subtle moral observation. Hopefully, we are witnessing only the terrible misstep of an otherwise formidable culture. In light of the deplorable state of affairs, the Film Center's annual series of Iranian films could not come at a better time. For decades of the greatest national cinemas in the world, Iran produces films of glowing naturalism and subtle poetics with the amazing regularity of Italy's postwar filmmakers. To attend this series is to honor the beauty of Iranian art and acknowledge the people's bountiful humanity--which has been denied by their own leaders. Later this month, Chicago will be treated to revivals of modern masterpieces by the great Abbas Kiarostami (TEN) and Mohsen Makhmalbaf (KANDAHAR); this week, we are treated to one documentary, THE GLASS HOUSE (2008, 92 min, HDCAM VIDEO; Saturday, 8pm and Sunday, 5pm), and one fiction feature, SUPERSTAR (2009, 106 min, 35mm; Saturday, 6pm and Sunday, 3pm). GLASS HOUSE, which follows four teenage girls living in a rehabilitation center for victims of drug abuse and sexual assault, seems especially relevant, as these represent a segment of Iranian society generally condemned by population and who will likely face greater persecution in the coming years. Director Hamid Rahmanian and producer Melissa Hibbard are scheduled to attend both screenings. SUPERSTAR is a decidedly gentler affair, a film industry satire/family comedy from Tahmineh Milani, the acclaimed director of such feminist works as HIDDEN HALF. BS
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Erle C. Kenton's ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (Classic Revival)

Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 7pm
There are few things in cinema more worthwhile than pre-code horror films. Still excited by the advent of sound but lingering in the shadows of German expressionism. Shamelessly perverse but bizarrely tender--and never without a sense of humor. They appear to come out of some thousand year old society, one that's left itself to ruin to pursue goals more worthwhile than personal maintenance (murder, bestiality, reconstructing the living and the dead); a place that has abandoned itself. They're made from recycled soundstages, trap doors, and torture chambers made for "cutting living men to pieces." THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, where a young Charles Laughton lords over his half-human, half-animal experiments, is one of the very best of these filmic relics. The camera peers down on Laughton's creations in a way that elicits both fright and sympathy, and it moves with a fluidity that is rarely seen in early sound films--a fluidity that gives grace to savages. A contorted take on Freudianism, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS is also a wonderful film for vegetarians. Bela Lugosi leads the group of butchered half-breeds: "What is the law?" "Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?" A stretch, but not a great one when you consider that the film uses the terms "long pig" and "human" interchangeably. Perhaps Paul Hurst, as Captain Donahue, said it best: "This is quite a place you've got here doc." (1932, 70 min, 35mm) JA
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François Truffaut's SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (Classic Revival)

Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 7 and 9pm
When asked about his Nouvelle contemporaries (namely J-LG), Truffaut once remarked that, "the twentieth century is a century of philosophers. I just happen to be a novelist." That claim is easy enough to pattern; the Antoine Doinel series could be a classic Bildungsroman; and if THE LAST METRO is like a Balzacian Comédie Humaine, his 1960 effort SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER is pure pulp. PIANO PLAYER stars pop singer Charles Aznavour as Charlie, a nightclub piano player drawn by his witless brothers into a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with two gangsters. Defying its gritty premise, however, and in stark contrast to his only previous feature THE 400 BLOWS, PIANO PLAYER is comedic, eccentric, edited in flashback, and indulges in absurdist silent comedy and film noir genre conventions (which is likely more absurd). Though badly received at the time of its release--and at a time when Truffaut could least afford ill success, having just signed the officially treasonous Manifesto of the 121--SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER stands as one of Truffaut's most inventive and convivial features. (1960, 92 min, 35mm) LN
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Andrew Bujalski's FUNNY HA HA (Contemporary Revival)

Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Thursday, 8pm
I can tell you that Andrew Bujalski is truer to his characters than Joe Swanberg is, is more expressive than Aaron Katz, and is a hell of a lot more interesting than the Duplass brothers, but none of that really matters. The story of FUNNY HA HA's production--a tiny budget, a three year break between the film's completion and its release--is a footnote, not a backstory. Bujalski isn't merely the best of the mumblecore directors--he's a great director, period, and FUNNY HA HA is a great film. Bujalski's a director of the face and, above all, the voice (he's stated in interviews that he comes up with ideas for recording the sound before he comes up with images); you can't imagine him filming just a hand, or a figure from behind. It's a simple and a complex approach. Lanky Kate Dollenmayer plays a Boston temp whose close friend (and crush) spontaneously decides to get married. Bujalski himself plays the pathetic co-worker who longs for her. FUNNY HA HA is built out of the simplest elements available to a middle class white American: apartments, inexpensive restaurants, offices. People eat, talk, call each other, and drink. But what distinguishes it, like the films of Whit Stillman, is a lack of neuroticism: the characters may be going 'round and 'round, but that doesn't mean the director has to. The film is opposite of the characters: as direct as they are inarticulate, as rigorous as they are uncommitted, and as intelligent as they are merely smart. (2002, 89 min, 35mm) IV
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Robert D. Siegel's BIG FAN (New Narrative)

Music Box - Check Reader Movies for showtimes
After writing last year's THE WRESTLER, writer-director Robert Siegel follows up with another story of a man whose life has been damaged by sports. This time it's about football and it's from the perspective of the fan. Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, and a uniformly excellent cast give the film the strength to glide through some minor rockiness in tone. BIG FAN is largely the story of Paul (Oswalt) a sad-faced obsessive who structures his life around his obsessive fandom of the New York Giants--fetishizing one player in particular who comes to change Paul's life. It's a fine, sad comedy about a man who is so socially stunted and emotionally dependant on his team that he can't seek justice or revenge in fear of screwing up the playoffs. Director Siegel (7:20 and 9:40 shows) and star Oswalt (9:40 show only) scheduled to appear in person on Friday (2009, 86 min, 35mm) JM
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Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (Classic Revival)

Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 7pm
After flopping in January of 1947, shifting copyright nearly half a dozen times, being aired on virtually every television station for several decades (until Republic Pictures swiped the rights to the film for good), undergoing a few mind boggling colorizations (now presumed to be lost), and being the first motion picture to be played on a computer, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE has made its way to Doc Films just under a month before Halloween. It makes sense for a film that is mostly about suicide and visiting spirits; but even if it only became a beloved holiday film by the happenstance of syndication, it's place in the American Christmas film cannon is just as appropriate. It's the kind of film Dickens would have approved of (even if it is decidedly non-linear): bleak in practice but hopeful in spirit, it's as rewarding and poignant as any of Capra's best work and tends to have the same effect year round, no matter what holiday it falls up against. (1946, 130 min, 35mm) JA
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The Chicago International Film Festival opens on Thursday at the River East 21 with Katherine Dieckmann's film MOTHERHOOD, starring Uma Thurman. Dieckmann and Thurman are scheduled to appear.

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: JJ Abrams' STAR TREK shows Friday night and Sunday afternoon; Todd Philips' THE HANGOVER shows Saturday night and Sunday afternoon; a program of work by pioneering video makers Steina and Woody Vasulka plays on Tuesday (early); and Gregory Nava's EL NORTE is a special screening in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month on Tuesday (late).

Sonotheque's monthly Cinematheque series screens the little-known 1952 noir THE THIEF, by Russell Rouse, on Monday.

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Noted documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger's new film CRUDE, about Chevron's legal trouble over ecological devastation in Ecuador, plays for a week. Berlinger in person for the Thursday screenings; Bob Hercules' local documentary RADICAL DISCIPLE: THE STORY OF FATHER PFLEGER has six encore presentations. Hercules and Father Pfleger in person at the 8:15 Friday show; and Ernst Lubitsch's 1939 classic NINOTCHKA plays Saturday and Tuesday in the "Art of the Remake" series. Sara Hall lectures at the Tuesday screening.

Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week is the 1975 Bollywood film DEEWAAR, in the Amitabh Bachchan series, on Friday at 7pm and the documentary COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS on Wednesday at 7:30pm, as part of the Reeltime series.

Also at the Music Box this week: A WOMAN IN BERLIN continues; The Marx Brothers' DUCK SOUP is the Saturday and Sunday matinee; and the midnight films are John McTiernan's DIE HARD (Friday only), Todd Philips' THE HANGOVER (Friday and Saturday), and REPO! THE GENETIC MUSICAL (Saturday only).

The Bank of America Cinema screens Jules Dassin's 1949 classic THIEVES' HIGHWAY Saturday at 8pm.

Kim Longinotto's new documentary ROUGH AUNTIES, about a dedicated group of women who care for the forgotten children of Durban, South Africa, plays for a week at Facets Cinémathèque. Also at Facets, in the "Night School" series, are Karl Freund's 1932 THE MUMMMY (Friday, Midnight; lecture by Susan Doll) and Jacques Tourneur's 1942 CAT PEOPLE (Saturday, Midnight; lecture by Stephen Reginald). Both DVD projection.

The Portage Theater's Wednesday matinee this week is the 1941 Hal Roach comedy ROAD SHOW (1:30pm; DVD projection), featuring Carole Landis and Adolphe Menjou.

Michael Moore's new documentary, CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY, opens at the Landmark's Century Centre Cinema.

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CINE-LIST: October 2 October 8, 2009


CONTRIBUTORS / Julian Antos, Jason Halprin, Josh Mabe, Liam Neff, Doug McLaren, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

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