Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, JAN. 22 - Thursday, JAN. 28 ::

NOTE: Cine-File contributors Ben Sachs and Mike King ponder Richard Kelly's most recent film THE BOX on our blog. View their exchange here.


Lisandro Alonso's LIVERPOOL (New Argentinean)
Facets Cinémathèque - Saturday 1pm and Sunday, 1pm and 3pm
Distance. Space. Solitude. With a minimum of dialog and obvious flair, Alonso explores these themes as both form and content. When we drop in on our protagonist, Farrel (Juan Fernández), he is aboard a shipping vessel. Although he interacts with his shipmates and is not obtuse, conversations consist of few words and no sharing. One gets the impression that he prefers spending his down time alone, smoking cigarettes on the deck and starring at the endless ocean. When he says that he is going on shore leave there is little emotion in his voice, as if time and location are irrelevant to him. But time and location are of utmost importance to Alonso and his film. As Farrel journeys from an unnamed port city to his parent's home in a run-down logging camp the camera keeps its distance, allowing the viewer to take in the snow-covered mountains of Argentina's landscape. Though the landscape is gorgeous, our character is not. The long takes show Farrel as he packs his meager belongings, watches TV while he waits for a ride, and walks the final distance to his home. Our attention is spent on perfunctory actions, not moments of triumph or change. He does not show emotion, and one feels pity for him, but not sorrow. We know he lacks connections to this place--or to any other--and has long since stopped caring. And ultimately so do we stop caring about him, as the film shifts to follow Farrel's discarded daughter for the final fifteen minutes. Every shot of LIVERPOOL is mundane yet precise, restrained and enunciated. An economy of detail and drama are Alonso's tools here, and their power is mighty. (2008, 84 min, 35mm) JH
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Claire Denis' 35 SHOTS OF RUM (New International)
Music Box - Check Reader Movies for showtimes
Claire Denis is the greatest director of our time. Every new film of hers provides sufficient evidence to prove that statement. Let's take the case of 35 SHOTS OF RUM, which isn't her newest film (that would be WHITE MATERIAL), but the newest to screen in Chicago. 35 SHOTS is set, like her earlier NENETTE & BONI, in a small world, one that consists largely of a handsome, quiet train operator approaching 50 (Alex Descas, who gets better with every gray hair) and his beautiful college student daughter (Mati Diop). Crossing over their borders are three intruders: a neighbor (Grégoire Colin, almost as familiar a face in Denis' films as Descas) threatening to move away while playing out a sort of romance with the daughter; the train operator's on-and-off girlfriend (Nicole Dogué), a cab driver that he tries to keep at arm's length; and René (pensive Julieth Mars Toussaint), the train operator's melancholic ex-colleague. There are a few locations: two apartments in Paris, two bars, a balcony, a car, a classroom, a locker room, a train, an apartment in Hamburg. What Denis is able to make out of these elements isn't a lesson in economy, but a story of how the most mundane things (a For Sale sign, a blue door, two rice cookers, a cerulean table top, an iPod's white headphones, a bar's asparagus-colored walls, The Commodores' post-Lionel Richie hit "Nightshift") and gestures (half-hearted dancing, a kiss on the cheek, a lean, a glance) acquire meaning in our lives, and how, through that shared meaning, we come to understand one another. Denis' previous non-documentary feature, THE INTRUDER, was arguably the most revolutionary film since Tati's PLAYTIME (which screens next month at the Film Center). It rediscovered of the world by divorcing itself from consciousness. It wasn't concerned with who was experiencing what or why, or the traditional delineations of character and time. 35 SHOTS OF RUM rediscovers both character and time by showing us things that seem to lie outside both. (2008, 100 min, 35mm) IV
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Hollis Frampton's HAPAX LEGOMENA and Fragments of Magellan
(Experimental Revival) 
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Friday (Hapax) and Saturday (Magellan), 7pm 
Euclid: "Given a straight line, and a point exterior to that line, only one line may be drawn through the point that is parallel to the line." This ancient theorem has long been taken as axiomatic, and it is, provided a number of unspoken, perhaps wrongly assumed conditions are first met. Much like Grecian geometry, film theory has provided for itself several of its own axioms which Hollis Frampton, cinema's lonely mathematician, has attempted to either set the parameters of or to disprove. From this work comes the seven-part series HAPAX LEGOMENA, named after the literary phenomenon in which a word appears only once within a text or written language. Such words must have their meaning derived from context, and Frampton uses this notion conceptually to frame his own definitions of cinematic axioms. Through the singularity of these works, Frampton attempts a radical redefinition of what he and other film theorists consider the essential qualities of cinema by recontextualizing them. Narrative development (NOSTALGIA, 1973), the camera's iris (TRAVELING MATTE, 1971), editing strategies (REMOTE CONTROL, 1972), synchronicity between sound and image (CRITICAL MASS, 1971), the creation of spatial continuity (ORDINARY MATTER, 1972), the film frame (SPECIAL EFFECTS, 1972), and even image composition (POETIC JUSTICE, 1972) are all dissected and examined piece by piece, each redefined through their absence or their overuse. Introduced by local film and art critic and writer Fred Camper. (1971-1973), 202 min total, new 16mm preservation prints) 
Screening on Saturday night are films from Hollis Frampton's unfinished MAGELLAN cycle. YELLOW SPRINGS (VANISHING POINT #1) (1972) is a short portrait of filmmaker and fellow SUNY Buffalo professor Paul Sharits, while QUARTERNION (1976) is a portrait of pop artist James Rosenquist. GLORIA! (1979) marries early cinema with early video as a means of communicating with Frampton's long-passed grandmother. The centerpiece of the evening is STRAITS OF MAGELLAN: DRAFTS & FRAGMENTS (1974), a collection of unedited pieces of what was yet to come in Frampton's epic cycle. Also screening is the fantastic PAS DE TROIS (1975), along with OTHERWISE UNEXPLAINED FIRES, (1976), NOT THE FIRST TIME (1976), FOR GEORGIA O'KEEFE (1976), PROCESSION (1976), and MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE (1979). (1972-79, 111 min total, 16mm) DM 

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John Ford's SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (American Revival)
Sharon McNight's AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FLEA (Adult Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 7pm (Ribbon) and 9:30pm (Flea) 
The ribald parody has one of the longest pedigrees in European letters, having existed as a popular form for as long as the novel itself. A young Henry Fielding, for instance, gained attention in 1741 with his Samuel Richardson parody Shamela; and by the time The Autobiography of a Flea was first published in the late 19th century, it was at the bequest of a rare books publisher who often assigned such projects to the best typographers in France. Like Shamela, Flea is both parody and model of the coming-of-age epistolary novel--a tactic that lets the anonymous author describe even the worst transgressions with pseudo-naïveté. This false innocence is integral to the story's anti-authoritarian satire, since most of the sex involves the teenage heroine willingly despoiled by priests and male guardians. (As in much classic ribaldry, the obscenity of the sex acts reflects the more common obscenity of institutional hypocrisy.) Sharon McNight's hardcore film of AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FLEA is faithful to the source in worldview as well as content--in fact, it's arguably more in tune with the politics of ribaldry than most Jane Austen adaptations are with that author's conservative despair. McNight recreates the Victorian setting as best she can on a low budget, avoiding anachronism when possible, but the film's authenticity doesn't come from decor. Like Manoel de Oliveira in DOOMED LOVE (1978), McNight frequently clogs the action with narration from the original novella, thus recreating the density of 19th century prose. (1976, 92 min, archival 35mm print) 
Does any John Ford title fit more nicely beside female-directed hardcore than SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON? (TWO RODE TOGETHER, however evocative, suggests a rather different double bill.) It's a fortuitous pairing, but Ford's supreme masterpiece is more joyous than any on-screen orgasm. Astonishing in its optimism yet deeply aware of humanity's shortcomings, YELLOW RIBBON exudes centuries of wisdom in its modest 103 minutes. The film is constructed as a series of anecdotes about a U.S. cavalry fort in the late 1800s: If Ford's previous film FORT APACHE was among his most Shakespearean in its tale of opposing value systems, this one is more Chekhovian in its cosmic appreciation of the mundane. (In Chekhovian fashion, the film's big cavalry march leads nowhere, the impending battle with the Indians never occurs, and the film's most elaborate set piece is a banquet.) John Wayne delivers his best performance as Captain Nathan Brittles, a stoic man musing quietly on widower-hood and professional disappointment in the weeks before his retirement. But Ford is no less interested in the younger officers, military wives, neglected employees, dogs, and visiting relatives who populate the fort. The cumulative effect is akin to seeing all of civilization in miniature. The color photography--some of the most beautiful in cinema--only adds to the sense of awe, with sunrises so fiery they seem to have been painted directly on the celluloid. (1949, 103 min, archival 35mm print) BS
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(Contemporary French Revival)
Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm 
The recent passing of Eric Rohmer is no cause for despair. Here was a man who lived, worked, and retired on exactly his own terms, an artist who never sought greatness but appeared to stumble upon it with nearly every film. He also enjoyed an exceedingly long life: If his last film, THE ROMANCE OF ASTREE AND CELADON, is to be believed, Rohmer inhabited this planet for roughly 1500 years, so casually could he visualize life in pre-Christian France. A common misconception of Rohmer's work is that it can be divided neatly between contemporary tales and period pieces. In actuality, Rohmer's style was a marriage of modernity and antiquity, a manipulation of cinema's documentary qualities to convey the pre-Freudian idea that people are essentially unknowable. This sense of doubt amidst transparency can make a comic film like THE AVIATOR'S WIFE or A TALE OF SPRINGTIME trouble the mind long after it ends; in the case of ASTREE AND CELADON, Rohmer's refusal to presume too much gives the distant past an integrity typically reserved for the present. Despite complications involving mistaken identity, cross-dressing, and lost characters presumed dead, Rohmer directs his actors to behave as simply as possible. The effect is one of distilling human interaction to its essence, mapping common ground between pre-modern and modern experience. Or as J. Hoberman put it in the Village Voice, "Rohmer suggests that throughout human history attractive young people and the occasional interested elder have discussed at length the nature of love, truth, and fidelity."  As in much of Rohmer, ASTREE AND CELADON denies "readable" frames in favor of a relaxed naturalism: The film abounds with mid-day sunlight and unhurried streams. A scrupulously worded introduction reminds us that these images would come off as benign if the planet didn't face ecological disaster--evidence that Rohmer's career ended with as much subtle foreboding as it began. The film will be preceded by one of Rohmer's early shorts, PRESENTATION, OR CHARLOTTE AND HER STEAK (1960), which stars Jean-Luc Godard. Introduced by Mireille Dobrzynski, PhD Candidate, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures (U of C). (2007, 106 min, 35mm) BS
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HC Potter's HELLZAPOPPIN' (American Revival)
Bank of America Cinema - Saturday, 8pm
This is what happens when a Broadway show that was basically vaudeville gets made into a film. Disconnected and thin on plot, this is nevertheless a cinematic plum. Our hosts for the evening are Olson and Johnson, a comedy duo made up of two straight men who can't help but talk to the audience and yell at the projectionist. There's some funny gags, a song or two from "the Big Mouth," Martha Raye, and a great Lindy Hop dance scene featuring Frankie Manning, but the shining moments are when the characters get to play with the fourth wall. In what can only be the inspiration for MST3K, the opening sequence takes place on a soundstage where Olson and Johnson argue with a director and screenwriter about how to turn their show into a movie. They sit down to watch some footage covering the tacked-on love story, and make up their own dialog for the on screen action before seamlessly becoming part of it. Despite failing to capture the mythic energy of the stage show with which it shares a name, HELLZAPOPPIN' still pleases almost 70 years later. (1941, 84 min, 35mm) JH
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Elia Kazan's BABY DOLL and A FACE IN THE CROWD (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Showtimes noted below 
Proposition: Method acting was to Hollywood in the 1950s what CGI has been to Hollywood for the past two decades. Both of these technical breakthroughs create minor detail with astonishing precision, yet too often they distract viewers from what--if anything--a movie may communicate on the whole. The Film Center's ongoing retrospective of Elia Kazan, easily the most famous Method director, allows us to ponder whether he was the James Cameron of his generation or the Roland Emmerich. When Kazan could click with an actor (which was remarkably often), he crafted moments of psychological intensity comparable to the heights of Ingmar Bermgan. And yet no single production has done more to advance the misconception of Tennessee Williams as psychological realist than Kazan's film of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Had that play been filmed by, say, Robert Aldrich or Alexander Mackendrick (who responded to the language of Clifford Odets with instinctive stylization), perhaps Williams would be remembered more often as the great baroque poet he was. Those movies may exist in a parallel universe, but at least ours still has BABY DOLL (1956, 114 min, archival 35mm; Saturday, 3pm and Thursday, 6pm). An allegory penned with righteous anger, Williams' black comedy invokes rape, pedophilia, and arson to mirror the economic degradation of the American South; it remains a film that must be seen to be believed. Karl Malden plays a white-trash cotton gin owner driven mad by two things: the persistent virginity of his child bride (He can't consummate the marriage until she turns 20) and the economic ascendancy of his rival, a Sicilian immigrant played by Eli Wallach. The film was famously condemned by the Legion of Decency, but as Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote of Billy Wilder's KISS ME, STUPID, "its undisguised contempt for the American hinterlands and the success ethic makes the sexual element seem dirtier than it actually is." Kazan's masterful use of real locations (perhaps his most consistent strength as a filmmaker) heightens rather than detracts from the writer's poetics; the neglected landscapes make a perfect backdrop for Williams' lost souls. Malden and Wallach are great enough to imbue their caricatures with human qualities, but caricatures they remain, and it's fascinating to watch their outsized performances clash with Kazan's realistic tendencies. Also playing this week is A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957, 128 min, archival 35mm; Saturday, 5:15pm and Tuesday, 8pm), another allegory built around an outsized performance. Here, Andy Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes, a folk-singing drifter whose overnight success on the radio begins a rapid transformation into TV demagoguery. Griffith exudes a strong musk of charisma in the early passages, but the film is ultimately defined by the cynicism of Budd Schulberg's script. Schulberg had gotten in trouble in 1941 when he published his anti-Hollywood novel What Makes Sammy Run, but the television age seemed to have opened even deeper wells of bitterness. For this reason, FACE IN THE CROWD was unpopular on first release; but as J. Hoberman notes in his cultural history The Dream Life, the film anticipated 60s disillusionment so well that it became a hit several years later. BS
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Frederick Wiseman's HIGH SCHOOL (Documentary Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Friday, 7pm
HIGH SCHOOL, Frederick Wiseman's second film, has been found heavy-handed and didactic by some critics in comparison to his later productions, which can strain for an unattainable impartiality. But the hoi polloi subjectivity-thermometer of IMDB's user reviews suggests that, if anything, it has retained its multiplicity of interpretations: for the radical anti-authoritarian, it is a concise proof-of-concept of Ivan Illich's 1971 classic text Deschooling Society; and for the less critically minded, it is a series of captivating snapshots of an urban generation-gap long past. It's unclear which meaning the film might have for Block Cinema's local audience--the students of prestigious Northwestern, who have played the game depicted here and won. This generation beyond the draft, granted the possibility of an intellectual freedom unknown to the 1968 Northeast-suburban Philly students here portrayed: what can it mean for them, for this film to say--with directness, honesty, all the clichés that make up the notion of verité--that the primary purpose of schooling is to produce obedient soldiers for a rationalist war machine? (1968, 75 min, 16mm) MC
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Rob Reiner's THE PRINCESS BRIDE (Contemporary American Revival)
Jean-Luc Godard's BAND OF OUTSIDERS  (French Revival)
Music Box - Fri. & Sat., Midnight (Princess) & Sat. / Sun., 11:30am (Band)
While Block Cinema screens HIGH SCHOOL for peacenik college kids, the
Music Box caters to today's wartime high schoolers--specifically, the culturally oppressed teens of the North Shore--who are to cut out of their extracurriculars and ride down to Lakeview in order to ritually sublimate their fantasies in extragenerational classics of the genre: Rob Reiner's failsafe Errol Flynn-pastiche date flick THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987, 98min, 35mm), and Godard's matinee gateway drug to cinephilia, BAND OF OUTSIDERS (1964, 95min, 35mm). It's hard to be truly positive about the former, as it re-inscribes a chauvinist false-marriage myth in an inexpensive, if droll, postmodern frame (a frame set nonetheless in Chicago Bears country, as evinced by the young Fred Savage's apparel). The latter--a celebrated sort of filmic Situationism 101--vividly teaches that to love cinema is to both run through museums and dance in cafés: ecstatic, symbolic rites of passage for a lifelong battle with public authority. But first, you've got to get out of school. And do take your winsome, disaffected classmates with you: that bourgeois coffee shop on the corner of Addison? Well, it's just waiting for someone to do the Madison. MC
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Lars von Trier's ANTICHRIST (New International)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Reader Movies for showtimes
A cabin in the woods, a man and a woman, some fog: that's really all you need to make a horror film, right? The rest will come out of you--if not naturally, then it can be forced, vomited out, by sticking a finger down your throat. "The sleep of reason produces monsters," wrote Goya into a table above which he drew a picture of himself, surrounded by a cloud of bats and owls. We suppress the nightmares, and they only come back in greater numbers. ANTICHRIST, Lars von Trier's little monster, has the barest, though certainly not the humblest, of beginnings. A horror film, a scaffolding built out of twigs and bones, on to which von Trier can hang animal skins, human limbs, and the sickest jokes his head can brew up. The man is Willem Dafoe and the woman is Charlotte Gainsbourg. There's no monster; only the two of them, alone, with hammers, scissors and a few centuries worth of nightmares. This is a film made out of glistening bile. (2009, 109 min, 35mm) IV
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Also at Facets Cinémathèque this week, for a week long run, is Adrián Biniez's critically acclaimed drama from Uruguay, GIGANTE.

Also at the Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) this week (Saturday, 6pm) is HAROLD TEEN, a rare 1928 comedy directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Showing from an archival 35mm print, with live piano accompaniment by David Drazin. Introduced by Christina Petersen, PhD Candidate, Cinema and Media Studies (U of C). 
Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week is Woody Allen's BANANAS on Thursday. 
Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: On Sunday, it's Howard Hawks' 1932 crime film SCARFACE; Bryan Forbes 1964 British drama SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON screens Monday; experimental shorts by Curtis Harrington and Sidney Peterson show Tuesday; and David Cronenberg's THE FLY is on Wednesday. 
Also at the Music Box this week: Terry Gilliam's THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS continues; Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar's A TOWN CALLED PANIC continues at the midnight film on Friday and as the matinee on Saturday and Sunday; also in the midnight slot on Saturday is REPO! THE GENETIC MUSICAL. On Thursday at 7:30pm, the "Sundance Film Festival USA" touring series presents a sneak of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut JACK GOES BOATING
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: WILLIAM KUNSTLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE is playing for a week in the "Stranger Than Fiction" documentary series, with directors Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler in person at the 7:45pm screenings on Friday and Saturday; also in the documentary series is Stephanie Soechtig's TAPPED, an exposé on bottled water, showing Sunday and Monday. 
On Friday at 8pm Chicago Filmmakers is showing the female hip-hop artist documentary SAY MY NAME, directed by Nirit Peled. 

The Museum of Contemporary Art continues its Italian film series with Michelangelo Antonioni's THE PASSENGER on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm; Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 film THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (why does that sound familiar? Mr. Tarantino?) on Saturday and Sunday at 1pm; and Federico Fellini's 1976 FELLINI'S CASANOVA on Thursday at 6pm (repeats next week). 

VILNIUS: Lithuanian Film Festival in Chicago began on Thursday and continues at different locations through Tuesday. See here for more information.

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CINE-LIST: January 22 - 28, 2010


CONTRIBUTORS / Michael Castelle, Jason Halprin, Christy LeMaster, Doug McLaren, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

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