Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, SEPT. 18 - Thursday, SEPT. 24 ::


Chick Strand: Soft Fiction (Experimental)
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center - Thursday, 6pm
When Chick Strand passed away in July she left behind a body of work that places here firmly in the upper echelon of Experimental Cinema. One of the founders of the San Francisco Cinematheque and Canyon Cinema, she also was one of the first artists to explore the line between documentary and poetic filmmaking. In her most ambitious work, SOFT FICTION (1979, 54 min, 16mm), Strand allows five women to share very personal stories about their sexual experiences. Each of the women speaks directly to the camera, usually in Strand's home, and the intimacy forged between filmmaker and subject is an achievement that has rarely been matched. Minimalist in approach, the film continually adds to the complexity of the idea of female sexuality while also calling into question the reliability of memory. Conscious of her control over the meaning of the film, Strand uses the subjects' tales as a stand-in for her own, creating a sort of allegorical autobiography. The truth may be plastic, but honesty is concrete. Also screening is the short KRISTALLNACHT (1979, 7 min, 16mm). JH
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Bill Brown / Sabine Gruffat's THE TIME MACHINE (Experimental / Live

The Nightingale - Friday, 8pm
Originally scheduled as part of the Closing Night program of the Chicago Underground Film Festival last Sunday (but cancelled due to an unfortunately malfunctioning piece of equipment), this live event has thankfully been rescheduled at The Nightingale and is showing for free. Gruffat's website describes the doings: "Bill Brown and Sabine Gruffat set the dials and push the levers while guiding you through the fourth dimension! Our machine will be carried on the breezes of parallel universes to return you to your rightful futures and pasts. Riding frequency waves of sight and sound, Sabine Gruffat will navigate by the red, green and blue stars of electronic constellations. Watch and learn about Real-Time Rendering, Quartz, and Max patches as she steers you through the sensory drone of the digital and analog hyperspace. Dropping out of the temporal flux and onto the lonely highway, Bill Brown will take you on a guided tour of memory's roadside attractions. Brown will pilot the machine toward the irretrievable past and the inaccessible future by way of scratchy records and the hazy glow of 35mm slides, narrating the interspatial monuments of our extemporary voyage. BILL BROWN: Reading, slide projection, digital video, and records. SABINE GRUFFAT: Real-time rendered audiovisual performance with analog video mixer and game controllers." (2009, approx. 60 min, Live Multimedia Performance)
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Raoul Walsh's THE BOWERY (Classic Revival)
Bank of America Cinema - Saturday, 8pm
This period piece was a surprise hit when Doc Films revived it a year ago, winning laughs and even applause for many of its gags. Along with the contemporaneous ME AND MY GAL, it shows Raoul Walsh (HIGH SIERRA, WHITE HEAT) to be a more-than-capable director of film comedy--guided by the same swagger and bonhomie as Howard Hawks in his adventure stories but free of the sexual anxiety that defines Hawks' own comic films. THE BOWERY stars Wallace Beery and George Raft as rival saloon owners/local celebrities in Gay 90s Manhattan; the episodic plot follows them across a year of publicity-seeking stunts, burlesque shows, and epic fist fights. Walsh, who was born in 1887 and grew up in New York, depicts the milieu as alternately ruthless and exhilarating: Seen back to back with Samuel Fuller's PARK ROW (1952), one gets the impression that this era was a golden age of urban feistiness. The movie moves casually from one episode to another, with character quirks often demanding more attention than the story proper: At best, it feels like an adaptation of stories men rehash over bourbon and poker. THE BOWERY has yet to see a DVD release, most likely for its "politically incorrect" depictions of Chinese, Jewish, Italian and Irish immigrants (Discussion topic: Why is it that contemporary comedies are considered daring when they acknowledge politically incorrect attitudes but older films only seem dated and racist when they do the same thing?), so this screening constitutes a rare treat. The colorful supporting cast includes Jackie Cooper as a tough orphan whom Beery takes under his wing and Lilian Harmer as a cartoonish version of Carrie Nation. (1933, 92 min, 35mm) BS


Joseph Losey's THE PROWLER (Classic Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center
- Sunday, 3pm and Wednesday, 8pm
Nervous housewives should never get together with nervous cops, especially when lonesome. But if they didn't we wouldn't have THE PROWLER, a gem of a film exquisite enough to redeem Joseph Losey from his fairly lousy remake of M, released just a few months earlier. Evelyn Keyes is the housewife, who listens to her husband on the radio every night until signoff, and Van Heflin is the morose city cop, intent on making love to her. An inconvenient pregnancy drives the adulterous couple to a strange ghost town where Keyes will give birth in a three-walled shack. Superb. Losey has a talent for letting his characters tense up without much stylistic manipulation: bizarre events unfold quite naturally, making Keyes and Heflin's jagged relationship even more frightening. Wife and cop, sympathetic as anyone else in their cozy suburb, are both inherently doomed. (1951, 92 min, 35mm) JA
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Fritz Lang's SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (Classic Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Wednesday, 6pm (Repeats next week)

Saying SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR is the weakest collaboration between Joan Bennett and Fritz Lang, an argument of the film's overly fussy detractors, isn't really saying anything at all. Sure, it's not SCARLET STREET, and the premise is far less interesting (Bennett falls for the shady owner of an architecture journal whom she later fears will kill her while she sleeps). But what the film lacks in character Lang makes up for in style, combining some of the best elements of his early silent work with the dark tone of the noir genre he helped invent. The film is routine but it's far from tired, bearing the mark of a director who's learned to craft his work like a well-oiled piece of machinery. That sleekness doesn't allow for much personality here, but Stanley Cortez's cinematography alone makes it worth watching, even if the film as a whole doesn't match Lang's best work. (1948, 99 min, 35mm) JA
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Tay Garnett's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (Classic Revival)

Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday, 6pm and Tuesday, 6pm

Following DOUBLE INDEMNITY and MILDRED PIERCE, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE was the final installment in a haphazard trilogy of James M. Cain adaptations made by three different studios and directors between 1944 and 1946. It's the smuttiest of the three, and if Stanwyck and McMurray made a cameo or two (and it were directed by Billy Wilder), it would be the most worthwhile, but there's certainly nothing here to complain about. Every Cain adaptation pops off the screen and sticks to the viewer like bubblegum (which probably says more about studio heads than it does Cain) and few things are as enjoyable as watching them unfold. One can't help but think that Lana Turner working today would set an entire generation of hard-edged dramatic actresses on their heels. John Garfield plays the love interest who gets involved with Turner's schemes for murder and insurance fraud. Sara Hall will lecture at the Tuesday screening as part of her Art of the Remake class. (1946, 113 min, 35mm) JA
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Fernando Eimbcke's LAKE TAHOE (New Mexican)

Facets Cinémathèque - Check Reader Movies for showtimes
It's not much as a film--just three or four good scenes. But maybe it's because those scenes are impossible without the rest of the movie that it's worth it. Three or four good scenes--all of them with Daniela Valentine. Valentine plays an auto shop cashier and single mother; she's got tanned legs, teenage knees and a lopsided haircut. Diego Cataño is the kid who crashes the family car in the middle of nowhere, the sort of place where you can always hear the wind blowing. Here's another one for the tradition of contemporary films consisting mostly of long static shots than cannot be called tableaus, because what they depict is not something complicated, but the empty space around a figure. To show a person and the air they move through. The first image of Lake Tahoe is barren landscape and a vivid sky: there's the whole film right there! It's like a little overture. The mundane everyday and the beautiful inner life, which must co-exist in every shot. Boring brown, tan, and green share an image with moody blue. Drudgery and teenage tension. (2008, 89 min, 35mm) IV
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NO IMPACT MAN (Documentary)
Music Box - Check Reader Movies for showtimes

Although it can easily be dismissed as AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH meets SUPER SIZE ME, the documentary about NYC based author Colin Beavan's year of "living simply" separates itself from the pack. Unlike many of the eco-disaster films that will be part of a 2009 bumper crop, NO IMPACT MAN has a distinctly human element at its core. Beaven is the one who initiated the project to have his family reduce their consumption for an entire year but his wife, Michelle Conlin, is the real star of the film. A senior writer for Business Week who is a self-described caffeine junkie and shopaholic, Conlin struggles with the abrupt lifestyle change. She gets plenty of screen time and serves as a glass-is-half-empty counter to her husband. This film may be preaching to the converted at times, such as when Beavan watches garbage trucks converging on a Bronx neighborhood, but it is at its best in the moments when longtime activists ask Beavan if his project is only a publicity stunt. This lends an introspective and humble element to the journey, one which doesn't scold the audience, buts lets them choose their own path. (2009, 93 min, BlueRay Video) JH
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Cine-File contributor Christy LeMaster (also of The Nightingale) and local new media makers and commentators jonCates and Nicholas O'Brien are in the midst of organizing the "Expressive Media Express," a "weekend long initiative of workshops, interactive installations, and events showcasing Chicago's vibrant New Media arts community for Chicago Artists Month" (October). And they are holding a Benefit Event for said activities on Wednesday (8pm) at Danny's (1951 W. Dickens). They promise that Butch Casidy + John Twatters + Friends will DJ the evening, for only a fiver donation.

Chicago Filmmakers presents the "New Documentary Showcase" on Saturday (8pm). The show features recent work by former Chicagoan Bernie Roddy (POST CARD), current Chicagoans Hart Ginsburg and Dave Schmüdde (REFLECTIONS), Jem Cohen (LONG FOR THE CITY), and Mike West & Bill Ward (CONVICTION: THE TRUE STORY OF CLARENCE ELKINS). Ginsburg, Schmüdde, West, and Ward in person.

The Chicago United Film Festival runs Friday through Thursday at the Music Box. Organized out of Los Angeles, the fest presents a selection of narratives, documentaries, and shorts, many with Chicago connections, including I AM HIP HOP: THE CHICAGO HIP HOP DOCUMENTARY and AIRPLAY: THE RISE AND FALL OF ROCK RADIO. Complete schedule here.

Also at the Music Box this week: the Saturday and Sunday matinee is the Marx Brothers' ANIMAL CRACKERS; also showing on Monday at 7pm, followed by a discussion on the Brothers, the film and the new live theater version by members of the Goodman Theatre's production and other experts; the midnight movies this week are Jim Henson's THE MUPPET MOVIE (Friday only), HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (Saturday only), and, as part of the Chicago United Film Festival (see above), JAWS (Friday) and THE SHARK IS STILL WORKING: THE IMPACT AND LEGACY OF JAWS (Saturday).

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Emile de Antonio's classic 1963 documentary POINT OF ORDER! screens Sunday and Monday in the UCLA Festival of Preservation (along with Dan Drasin's 1961 short SUNDAY); also in the UCLA series is a repeat of John Cassavettes' A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE on Saturday (see our review from last week here); the Swedish documentary THE QUEEN AND I, by Iranian émigré Nahid Persson, explores the unlikely friendship between the filmmaker and the widow of the Shah of Iran. It screen five times between Friday and Wednesday; the new documentary WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS? plays for a week. Director Joe Winston, producer Laura Cohen, and source book author Thomas Frank will be in person at the 8:15 shows Friday and Saturday.

Block Cinema at Northwestern University begins its fall season on Wednesday with Jay Duplass' 2005 THE PUFFY CHAIR, in the Mumblecore series; on Thursday in a noir series, it's the Robert Aldrich 1955 classic KISS ME DEADLY.

The "Night School" program at Facets Cinémathèque this Saturday (Midnight) is Luc Besson's THE FIFTH ELEMENT (DVD projection). Cary Jones Elza illuminates the film with the talk "Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, and... Fashion?: Style vs. Substance in Besson's The Fifth Element."

At the Portage Theater this week: JAWS and Peter Jackson's 2005 version of KING KONG show on Friday; the Wednesday matinee is the 1948 noir HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1:30pm; DVD projection).

The Alliance Française presents the program "L'origine de la tendresse and Other Tales - Six Short Films by Six Directors" on Wednesday.

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CINE-LIST: September 18 September 24, 2009


CONTRIBUTORS / Julian Antos, Jason Halprin, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

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