Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, MAY 28 - Thursday, JUNE 3 ::


Orson Welles' OTHELLO (International Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 7pm 
In a rare, unmissable screening, Doc Films will present Orson Welles' original cut of OTHELLO. This version has remained commercially unavailable since the early 1990s, when Welles' daughter supervised a "restoration" that drastically altered the film's soundtrack, going so far as to hire sound-alike performers to re-record portions of the dialogue. This was a great loss since, according to Welles scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum, the original is a feat of audio design, as well as visual, imagination. As he wrote in 1995: "Working on OTHELLO without the resources of Hollywood sound equipment, Welles aimed for a rawness in such sound effects as crashing waves, colliding curtain rings, and echoing footsteps. Drawing from his prodigious radio experience, he partly compensated for his inferior [camera] equipment with subtle atmospheric effects dubbed in later and integrated with the music." This rawness extends to much of the aesthetic of the film, which Welles produced independently over a four-year period, shooting when he could afford the celluloid and altering certain scenes when he lacked for resources. (In a justly celebrated example, Welles reset the murder of Rodrigo in a Turkish bath so he could film it without costumes.) All of this makes OTHELLO a watershed in both Welles' career and the history of independent filmmaking, but what of the movie itself?  To cite Jack Jorgens' Shakespeare on Film, it is "one of the few Shakespeare films in which the images on the screen generate enough beauty, variety, and graphic power to stand comparison with Shakespeare's poetic images. [Welles'] visual images compensate for the inevitable loss of complexity and dramatic voltage accompanying heavy alterations in the text." Some of the most powerful images include centuries-old Moorish architecture (found in Italy and Morocco), shot in ever-surprising Expressionist angles, and the looming faces of the cast, which brings a silent cinema intensity to the characterizations. (1952, 90 min, 16mm) BS
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Mia Hansen-Love's THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN (New French)
Landmark's Century Centre Cinema - Check Venue website for showtimes
A great film, worthy of comparison to the masterpieces of Maurice Pialat, André Téchiné, or Edward Yang. Like those directors at their peak, Mia Hansen-Love has realized her characters so thoroughly that the very formal properties of the work--narrative structure, pacing, even edits between close-ups and medium shots--reflect the tenor of their experience. It's a movie whose every detail exalts the potentiality of being alive, not only in moments of spontaneity but also in familiar actions that achieve unexpected resonance. Ironically, THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN was inspired by the 2005 suicide of Humbert Balsan, the legendary producer of European and Middle Eastern art cinema. The film is organized around the death of its Balsan stand-in, Gregoire Canvel; it occurs, without pathos or hysterics, about halfway through the narrative. But as in Pialat's life-affirming VAN GOGH, Hansen-Love does her best not to foreshadow Canvel's suicide. In fact, the first half of CHILDREN depicts his life as perfectly fulfilled, both professionally and at home. It's rare that a work of art can find profound things to say about happiness, but that's just one of Hansen-Love's accomplishments here: An early scene in which Canvel takes his wife and daughters to a Medieval cathedral shows a man at peace with his place in human history. There's no attempt to stress the parallels between Canvel, who uses his wealth to support great films, and the merchants who financed religious art in the past. The focus is on his daughters' discovery of the building's grandeur, the fresh appreciation that makes great art timeless. (On the subject of great art, special mention should be made of Pascal Auffray's cinematography, which uses natural light as gloriously and as modestly as Nestor Almendros' work for Eric Rohmer.) The film is so attentive to Canvel's impact on others that it doesn't even register as a major shift when he disappears from the story: A subplot late in the film concerning his oldest daughter's coming-of-age feels like an outgrowth of his support of the arts. Hansen-Love's faith in art--as lifeblood, as historic record, as the center of community--is so axiomatic that one can fully enjoy CHILDREN without picking up on the inside references to Balsan's career. (It's in keeping with the film's universal wisdom that the fictional movie posters around Canvel's office aren't cinephilic in-jokes but thematic watchwords, with titles like "The Journey is the Destination" and "Je sais que tu m'entends" ["I know that you hear me"].) And yet it's the very accessibility of the film, relatable even in singular circumstances, that makes it such a successful tribute to its subject. (2009, 110 min, 35mm) BS
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Lisandro Alonso's LOS MUERTOS (Contemporary Argentinean Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Thursday, 7pm 
A mesmerizing experience, in which every stray gesture or sound suggests an epiphany just out of reach. LOS MUERTOS, the second feature by Argentina's Lisandro Alonso (LA LIBERTAD [2001] and LIVERPOOL [2008] are the first and third), proceeds with patient intensity, letting most actions run at a mellifluous slowness far removed from the pace of modern life. Which seems to be the point. The film follows an older man on his return to his indigenous village after many years in a rural prison equally as isolated. Seemingly untouched by the Industrial Age, Argentino Vargas (who shares a name with the non-actor who plays him) is taciturn with people but blunt in his actions, several of which jolt the movie out of its hypnotic vibe with sudden violence. Is this man a psychopath or a force of nature? As in his other films, Alonso withholds explanatory information until LOS MUERTOS has cast a unique audio-visual spell--or, in keeping with the centrality of nature to Alonso's art, until the film's atmosphere begins to thrive like a living organism. The privileging of mood over narrative can make for frustrating viewing (It's hard to tell, in fact, whether certain scenes take place in reality or dreams), but Alonso is a cannier storyteller than he first lets on. The details observed along Vargas' upriver journey accumulate in revelations of character as shocking as any of the film's brutality. (2004, 78 min, 35mm) BS
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Vittoria De Sica's BICYCLE THIEVES (Italian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes
While Vittorio De Sica is often considered the more sentimental master of Italian Neorealism (Contrasted with Roberto Rossellini; every major film movement requiring its own Lennon-McCartney dichotomy, apparently), it should be noted that several of his major films (UMBERTO D., MIRACLE IN MILAN) were cast with untrained performers. As a result, an unshakable authenticity lays at the foundation of BICYCLE THIEVES; the actors' unglamorous faces allow De Sica's simple story to graze the universal. Much of the action concerns an unemployed man's search for his stolen bicycle (which he needs for a prospective job) through the streets of postwar Rome. Accompanied throughout by his young son, Antonio can never descend totally into despair because of his great affection for the boy. Martin Scorsese has compared De Sica's emotional acuity to Chaplin's, whose radical, unyielding sympathy for the poor was one of the direct antecedents to the whole of Italian Neorealism. (1948, 93 min, 35mm) BS
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Joe Pytka's SPACE JAM (American Contemporary Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Thursday, 9:15pm
While conventionally considered a film of little theoretical interest, former Chicago gay rights activist and linguistics professor Michal Brody has cogently argued (in the proceedings of a 2001 conference) that SPACE JAM bears many unusual correspondences to the thousand-year old Popol Vuh mythology of the Quiché Maya kingdom (now the highlands of western Guatemala). Consciously or unconsciously, the film's writers have developed a narrative in which a pair of heroes (Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan) 1) are summoned to play a high-stakes underworld ball-game against a variety of frightening villains, 2) manage to defeat those villains through the heroes' summoning of extra-human ability, and 3) ascend from the underworld with a glowing orb, all of which occur in the Popol Vuh. While the details vary (in the Popol Vuh, the heroes intend to retrieve the head of their father, Hunahpu; whereas in SPACE JAM, the villains have stolen the talent of NBA stars such as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing), the congruence is remarkable. Brody also shows that the well-known phonetic irregularities of, e.g., Daffy Duck and Sylvester are quite analogous to those of ancestral characters in a variety of native cosmologies. Otherwise best known for its perpetuity of wince-inducing composite effects work and the controversial, heteronormative "Lola Bunny" subplot, the film additionally includes the R. Kelly quiet-storm ballad "I Believe I Can Fly." (1996, 88m, 35mm) MC
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George Axelrod's LORD LOVE A DUCK (Cult Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Monday, 7pm 
Imagine a Hollywood teen comedy that sold itself with the line "This motion picture is an act of pure aggression," then attempts to live up to that promise, and you'll only get an idea of what this cult item written and directed by MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE screenwriter George Axelrod is like. Doc's programmers rightly describe this satire as lashing out in all directions at once; Axelrod himself described the film's targets as youth culture, adult culture, and everything in between, circa 1966. The story charts the relationship between a beautiful but lonely high school student (Tuesday Weld) and the prodigious sociopath (Roddy McDowall) who agrees to promises to bolster her popularity. Both leads are excellent, with the forever--underrated Weld giving her finest performance prior to PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, and the surrounding grotesques (enough for a few months of Dick Tracy, really) are fleshed out by a fine slate of comic actors, including Ruth Gordon and Harvey Korman. The film moves audaciously between satire, tragedy, and flat-out bitterness (Defenders see this as one of its great strengths), but consistent throughout is the hard-lit black-and-white photography of Daniel Fapp, who shot--among many other things--WEST SIDE STORY, Billy Wilder's ONE, TWO, THREE, and most of the Martin and Lewis comedies. (1966, 105 min, 35mm) BS
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Anurag Basu's KITES (New Indian)
Pipers Alley - Check Reader Movies for showtimes
Mumbai film producers' preoccupation with breaking into the American market has been taken to a new level. There are two versions of KITES being released concurrently in the US right now; the version playing at Pipers Alley this week is the 130 minute, ostensibly more 'Bollywood' version. The other is 90 minutes long, trimmed down by Brett Ratner (RUSH HOUR 1, 2, and 3) and re-soundtracked by Graeme Revell. It's hard to imagine a need for more editing or more Westernization; the original KITES is a Vegas-noir/Western-chase hybrid gone berserk. It's full of a surprising amount of very red blood, the kinds of cars that explode on contact, and non-linear storytelling that puts us in new, fast-moving vehicles at least every 5 minutes. Only one musical number seems to feature lip-synching, but the movie hedges its bets and doesn't synch the lyrics to the lips very closely at all. All the major characters competently speak dialogue in Hindi, English and Spanish, and the Hindi is used so sparingly and spoken so slowly that the subtitles are unnecessary. Our hero is J, a Las Vegas dance instructor and hustler played by Hrithik Roshan. Roshan is famous for a stunningly handsome face, a Mutant-Ninja-Turtle torso, a lilting voice, and two conjoined thumbs on his right hand. He falls in love with Linda (Barbara Mori), a Mexican woman who has paid to marry him for a greencard, even as they both get engaged to a pair of mafia siblings. What follows has elements of OCEAN'S 11, DUSHMANI, PARIS, TEXAS, and THELMA AND LOUISE, with Mexican stereotypes falling somewhere on the spectrum between DESPERADO and iTHREE AMIGOS! The most excellent moments are also the least Hollywood: an astonishing dance-off toward the beginning and a dubious getaway in a hot-air balloon. It's hard to imagine the movie without them. This is basically a hot transnational mess, but then again, there's never been anything quite like it. (130 min, 2010 35mm) JF

Joe Dante's SMALL SOLDIERS (Contemporary American Revival)
Portage Theater - Saturday 3pm
SMALL SOLDIERS is one of Joe Dante's tilt-shift satires, where prejudices/desires/America get miniaturized to the size of toys (see also GREMLINS 2, MATINEE, certain parts of LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION) and tossed around, burned, played with. Two well-meaning toymakers (a strangely Jerry Lewis-like David Cross, and Jay Mohr doing Dean-lite) design a line of action figures using their parent company's military artificial intelligence chips, unaware of the consequences. When the teenage son of a bumbling toy shop owner talks a delivery truck driver into letting him have a few for his store, they come to life and wreak Chuck Jones havoc (rockets, pop culture references, sound effects gags) on a sleepy town (locals include Phil Hartman and a 15-year-old Kirsten Dunst, seeming more alive than she does in any of her adult roles). Some of Dante's funniest material is here, as is some of his creepiest, like the scene where an army of sentient Barbie dolls tie Dunst while blasting a Led Zeppelin song. The film screens in a quadruple-feature with THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER--all movies Dante has surely seen, and probably loves. (1998, 110 min, format unlisted) IV
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Joel Schumacher's THE LOST BOYS (Contemporary American Revival)
Music Box - Friday and Saturday, Midnight
In addition to being the first movie where Corey Feldman and Corey Haim (R.I.P.) appear together, THE LOST BOYS is also a darn good time. In a rarity for a horror film from the '80's, the comedic elements work to lighten the mood without bringing too much cheese. Much as with Schumacher's previous movie targeted towards teenagers, ST. ELMO'S FIRE, the production team doesn't cut corners. Recently pubescent vampires (Keifer Sutherland, Jason Patric, and Jami Gertz) and soon-to-be pubescent comic store geeks (Haim and Feldman) get the adult treatment as realistic characters, without a comic foil in the bunch. Though the film was shot in and around Santa Cruz, the fictional location of San Carla, CA, is adeptly rendered as a dark and downtrodden small town, and feels like it could exist on the edge of the Salton Sea. With it's run-down boardwalk, gang problems, and mysterious disappearances, this is not the "Sunny California" that was (and is?) a staple of the movies. Though the film lags a bit during the third act, the night-time scenes of the amusement park and the vampires' lair are dead on, and the soundtrack features an excellent cover of "People are Strange" performed by Echo and the Bunnymen. (1987, 97 min, 35mm) JH
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Roots & Culture Gallery presents a screening of films by Providence-based animator Jo Dery on Sunday at 8pm. Dery in person. 

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Olivier Assayas' SUMMER HOURS is Saturday night and Sunday afternoon; Phillipe Garrel's J'ENTENDES PLUS LE GUITARE is Tueday; Chris Columbus' HOME ALONE and HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK show as a double feature on Wednesday; and Majid Majidi's CHILDREN OF HEAVEN is the early show on Thursday. 

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Akira Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI screens Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday; Brendan Canty and Christoph Green's documentary ASHES OF AMERICAN FLAGS: WILCO LIVE plays for a week; Mike Diedrich's Chicago Cubs-related documentary BALLHAWKS screens Friday (6pm; the 8pm show is sold out), Saturday and Sunday. Diedrich in person Saturday and Sunday; Jeong Gi-hoon's AEJA (Sunday and Tuesday) and Lee Jun-ik's THE HAPPY LIFE (Sunday and Thursday) play in the Korean series. 

Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week is the Northwestern University Student Film Festival on Friday at 8pm. 

Also at the Music Box this week: GEORGE A ROMERO'S "SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD" open on Friday; MOTHER AND CHILD continues; Don Chaffey's 1963 film JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and Jessica Hausner's LOURDES are the Saturday and Sunday matinees; and HUMAN CENTIPEDE is the other Friday and Saturday midnight film.      
The Bank of America Cinema screens Jules Dassin's 1947 noir BRUTE FORCE on Saturday at 8pm. 

Facets Cinémathèque plays Robert Greene's new documentary OWNING THE WEATHER for a week starting Friday. 

The Chicago Cultural Center presents Cinema/Chicago's screenings of Dana Nechushtan's DUNYA & DESIE on Saturday at 2pm and Wei Te-Sheng's CAPE NO. 7 on Wednesday at 6:30pm (repeats next Saturday). DVD projection. 

The Portage Theater screens a quadruple feature on Saturday, beginning with Joe Dante's SMALL SOLDIERS (see above) at 3pm. Followed by THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (5:30pm), SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (7:15pm), and FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (9:15pm). 

Saturday Cinema (1369 W. Chicago Ave., 2nd Floor) continues its window display series on Saturday at sundown (for two hours) with work by David Price and Andy Roche. View from the sidewalk. 

Landmark's Century Centre Cinema opens James Ivory's THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION on Friday.

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CINE-LIST: May 28 - June 3, 2010


CONTRIBUTORS / Michael Castelle, Josephine Ferorelli, Jason Halprin, Christy LeMaster, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

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