Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, SEPT. 17 - Thursday, SEPT. 23 ::


Jean Renoir's THE SOUTHERNER (American Revival) 
Bank of America Cinema - Saturday, 8pm  
Renoir's third American film is in many ways a refinement of his first, SWAMP WATER, sharing with the earlier production a vivid sense for the specifics of rural, impoverished America. But whereas SWAMP WATER uses its regional details for coloring, here observations about the lives of cotton farmers (courtesy of Renoir, future Blacklistee Hugo Butler, and an uncredited William Faulkner) are the plot; THE SOUTHERNER goes even further than Renoir's Front Populaire films in taking socioeconomic struggle as a worthy subject for a film. Intended by Butler as an answer to what he felt were the political shortcomings of Ford's film version of THE GRAPES OF WRATH and transformed by Renoir and Faulkner into what the director termed a series of "strong impressions," this oddly-paced, sometimes mournful, sometimes carnal film centers on the Tuckers (Zachary Scott and Betty Field), a poor family who get a farm of their own to grow cotton. The succession of seemingly unrelated personal and natural troubles that befall the Tuckers has often lead to THE SOUTHERNER being labeled as "plotless," but the film's design is significantly more sophisticated than that; its interrelation of humanity, natural symbolism, and landscape prefigures Renoir's work on THE RIVER. (1945, 92 min, 16mm) IV
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Jacques Tourneur's CANYON PASSAGE (American Revival)
Music Box - Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am 
While generally overlooked among his noirs and his low-budget Val Lewton-produced horror films, CANYON PASSAGE, Jacques Tourneur's first western (as well as his first film shot in color), is one of the most sensual entries in his filmography. It's violent and visceral in a way that his most exciting work is, but it's a lot sweatier. And the cordial way characters act around one another--Brian Donlevy and Dana Andrews carry on as if they were in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS--and Hoagy Carmichael's folksy musical accompaniment, makes the film's brief moments of violence even more unsettling. CANYON PASSAGE also feels unhinged in a way that films like NIGHTFALL and THE CAT PEOPLE don't (the latter becoming progressively more tense, the former feeling more manic): there's a random and scattered sense about it that keeps everything off-balance. The result is like seeing a close friend getting beaten up on a hot summer day, with intermittent pauses to talk about the shipping business and sing "I'm Getting Married in the Morning." (1946, 91 min, 35mm) JA
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Happy Birthday & Other Opportunities: Films by Jonathan Schwartz
The Nightingale - Friday, 8pm  
Intensity in cinema doesn't have to come from a piercing soundtrack, a daredevil camera move, or popping candy colors. Sometime it's sneaky--accumulating the effect over time with amazing little moments of observation. That sort of intensity is on display in the varied and skillful films of Jonathan Schwartz. Some of his work, like SUNBEAM HUNTER and FOR THEM ENDING, uses found images and scratchy sounds in a familiar way to evoke elusive memories. Some of his work, like FOR A WINTER and WASH+SHAVE, present a simple moment or two, concentrated into a pure piece of harmonious ethnography. And some of his work, like THE WEDDING PRESENT and IN A YEAR WITH 13 DEATHS, takes a more abstract and poetic route. The masterful NOTHING IS OVER NOTHING is a clear eyed and quiet document of a turbulent place (Israel) that interjects moments of unexpected sexuality and humor. Schwartz's cinema is one of earnest ethnography and potent, physical poetry of places and people. Schwartz in person. (Various years, approx. 70 min, 16mm) JM
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Michelangelo Antonioni's LE AMICHE (Italian Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 3 and 5pm; and Monday, 8:15pm 
[Spoilers ahead] One of the major discoveries of the touring Antonioni retrospective of 2006, LE AMICHE returns to Chicago in a new, purportedly gorgeous 35mm print. Those who know this great director only through his high-Modernism of the 60s and 70s will be surprised to discover the extent to which this satisfies the conventions of the 50s "women's picture." The professional women and artistic aspirants who congregate around the heroine's Turin boutique--each a different model of eloquent neurosis--wouldn't be out of place in, say, a Joseph L. Mankiewicz film of the same period. Yet the melodramatic subplots (which Antonioni juggles rather deftly) accumulate into something far more unsettling than ALL ABOUT EVE, all but paving the way for the monumental despair of IL GRIDO and L'AVVENTURA. "We should be careful to note that just because this picture has a more conventional genre setup and does not seem to be working towards a grand statement, that it doesn't have something to say," wrote Glenn Kenny in the Daily Notebook in June. "In fact the point it ends at is something quite devastating. The successful suicide that any other film would treat as a tragic climax is conveyed quite matter-of-factly, in a tossed-off fashion almost, and the audience is meant to understand that this action is not just a satisfaction of a genre convention but something even deeper, more primordial, relating to dramaturgy and catharsis and its ancient roots in ritual. That is to say, that this suicide is a blood sacrifice that, tragic as it is, provides the key to the other characters' happiness/fulfillment. Except...and this is really totally does no such thing, instead offering a series of images and actions that are the exact opposite of what you've expected and/or hoped for." (1955, 99 min, 35mm) BS
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Ben Russell's LET EACH ONE GO WHERE HE MAY (Experimental/Doc) 
The Nightingale at Cinema Borealis (1550 N Milwaukee Ave, 4th Fl) - Sunday, 8pm

Ben Russell's TRYPPS 1-7 (Experimental)
Museum of Contemporary Art - Saturday, 8pm 

Ben Russell's first feature, a quasi-narrative shot in the South American nation of Suriname, is an unforgettable experience--a fusion of ethnographic documentary and avant-garde technique that often feels, by its very singularity, like science-fiction. The action follows two young brothers as they venture from their village to find work, witness the mechanized nightmare of modern life, then return home in time for a ritual celebration of music and dance. (As Russell has explained, the real-life festival commemorates a slave revolt that took place on their soil a few centuries before.) It's difficult to say how much time passes over the course of the film--it could be days or years--but the atemporality is essential to the movie's impact. The film is comprised of 13 single takes, each roughly ten minutes long, all shot with a Stedicam on gorgeous super 16mm. The non-professional cast and under-exploited locations are completely uninflected, but the ghostly camerawork makes everything feel eerily predetermined. It all transpires in a sort-of timeless present (reminiscent of certain moments in Andrei Tarkovsky's work) that collapses the pre-modern and the high-tech in consistently surprising ways. In his recent artist's lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Russell spoke on the similarities between ethnography and hallucinogenic drugs, which he describes as two disorienting experiences that provide the viewer with new insight into him/herself. LET EACH ONE GO WHERE HE MAY makes epic art of this idea. (2009, 135 min, 16mm) BS
In conjunction with his current installation showing at the MCA, Russell presents a screening of his continuing series of TRYPPS films, now numbering seven. All are fascinating, but he hits his stride with number three (still my favorite) and confounds and amazes with each succeeding TRYPP. I'm cribbing from myself, from Senses of Cinema: "In the brilliant Black and White Trypps Number Three Ben Russell has captured something very primal about the nature of spectatorship. He films an audience at a show featuring the hyper, experimental noise band Lightning Bolt and the equally experimental drone of musician Joseph Grimm. The audience members are seen in an improvised iris, focusing attention on individual faces rather than on the crowd as a whole. The young concertgoers initially respond to the music with a kinetic abandon that borders on the humorous. As Lightning Bolt gives way to Grimm, though, everything slows down and becomes quite dark in mood. The energy has been spent and everyone seems lost, given over to the moment. They are no longer distanced viewers of the spectacle before them but are now integrated parts of the experience. Forget experimental, Trypps Number Three is anthropological filmmaking at its finest - it is a rock and roll Les Maîtres fous." PF
Note: Russell's installation version of TRYPPS #7 (BADLANDS) is currently on display in the MCA's 12x12 exhibition. See last week's list for our review.
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Hirokazu Kore-eda's AIR DOLL (New Japanese) 
Facets Cinémathèque - Check Venue website for showtimes 
If HEARTBEEPS was set in an urban, Asian locale, and swapped vinyl for metal, the result might be something like AIR DOLL. Nozomi, a blow-up sex doll decked out in a frilly maid's uniform, magically comes to life one day and ventures forth from the apartment she shares with her user, a rather sad, middle-aged man. Like a plastic Chauncey Gardiner, she explores the city. Eventually she comes upon Cinema Circus, an indie video store. She notices a "Help Wanted" sign at the counter and applies for the job. Hirokazu Kore-eda has fashioned an ingenious fantasy that allows him to explore weighty themes like personal identity and the meaning of life without being ponderous. Nozomi is only an "air doll" but she's got more life than most of the humans she interacts with. Her curiosity takes her (and us) to some surprising places. Especially moving is a scene with a Pinocchio-like twist where she meets the designer who fabricated her. The story falters only at the very end, when things take a violent turn that's hard to swallow. But this is a movie so charming that it makes you forget that its protagonist is essentially an animated sex toy. (2009, 125 min, 35mm) RC 
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(French Revival)

Gene Siskel Film Center - See below for showtimes 
Two typical Clouzot nasties, one an exercise in Simenonian milieu-building (QUAI DES ORFÈVRES), the other (DIABOLIQUE) a showcase for the director's misanthropic thriller mechanics. QUAI DES ORFÈVRES (1947, 106 min, 35mm; Friday, 8:15pm and Saturday, 5:15pm) is the only one of Clouzot's major works that could ostensibly be called "humanist," and even then only by a stretch; though its characters are every bit as intricately flawed as Clouzot's other creations, they are treated with more affection than H-G.C. would ever dole out to anyone other than Pablo Picasso (THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO, which will screen next week). DIABOLIQUE (1955, 116 min, archival 35mm; Saturday, 3pm and Monday, 6pm), one of Clouzot's signature works, shows just how cruel and mean-spirited he could be in the service of entertainment and pacing; its conception of the thriller as a contraption for the punishment of idiots and irredeemables (and QUAI's affection for those idiots and irredeemables, which Clouzot developed the same way wardens and cops inevitably come to like criminals) would provide the template for les Frères CoenIV  
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Casey Affleck's I'M STILL HERE (New American)
Landmark's Century Centre Cinema - Check Venue website for showtimes 
The closest U.S. equivalent to date of certain provocations by Lars von Trier (EPIDEMIC, THE IDIOTS), in which recognizable hallmarks of interdicted footage-- haphazard editing, incriminating and otherwise ugly behavior--are reconstituted in a facsimile of avant-garde art. As in some of von Trier's films, what at first appears a simple game of cinema (How much of this is actually staged?) mutates into a creepier meditation on transgression and its cost: If you don't find this repulsive, chances are you'll be chewing on it for days. Joaquin Phoenix, ostensibly playing himself, creates a hypnotically grotesque creation, a combination of every worst tendency of The Artist personified: gluttonous, self-important, condescending, convinced his every whim will yield genius. After announcing his retirement from acting, Phoenix spends the next year in search of perfect self-expression, first by recording hip-hop (for which he has no discernible talent) and then in public acts of self-destructive behavior that function as unwitting performance art. That entertainment "journalists" would devote so much attention to Phoenix's stunts is a given: It's no secret that the "industry" has become an unholy monster, preying on any non-conformist activity that happens to be enacted by celebrities. Where I'M STILL HERE gains its heft is in the ostensibly private moments, when Phoenix binges on drugs, riles up his colleagues and soliloquies endlessly on himself. Mad flailing in the general direction of enlightenment, Phoenix's journey inevitably takes on the tenor of movie drama--in no small part because we're watching movie stars in the hermetic world of luxury. Like von Trier, Phoenix and co-writer/producer Casey Affleck became famous actors at an early age, and this may explain their unique ability to see constructed drama in the messiest situations. (Conversely, they locate a certain emotional authenticity in highly staged scenarios.) The strength of their worldview makes I'M STILL HERE a consistent work of filmmaking despite the extreme variance in image and sound quality from one scene to the next: This may be the weirdest-looking U.S. feature since Michael Mann's PUBLIC ENEMIES, which also used video to defamiliarize famous events, and it may also be one of the toughest to crack. (2010, 108 min, 35mm) BS
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(Experimental Narrative/Documentary)

SAIC (112 S Michigan Ave, Rm 1307) - Monday, 6pm
It takes a little while to get into Korean filmmaker Kim Jongguk's OBBAH, but a bit of patience is worth the effort. Something of a hybrid narrative and documentary (whose form touches on the experimental), OBBAH is composed of a 63-minute long single-take (is it a coincidence that a Mini-DV tape is also 63 minutes?). Set in a public square outside a train station in Seoul, where there is a political demonstration taking place, protesting South Korea's rice imports policy. Like parts of MEDIUM COOL, Kim situates a narrative within this documentary reality. Here, a young married couple run into a friend whom they have not seen in a while. Their friendly conversation slowly becomes tension-filled and discomforting as the dynamics of their past relationship begin to emerge. What seems evident at first becomes turned on its head. Kim's camera does not stay on the threesome, though (it doesn't even get to them until several minutes into the film, beginning on an amateur street musician for some time): the camera wanders among the crowd, aimlessly, shooting various protesters on the fringe of the demonstration, random people in the square, an elderly man in an all-white suit and gloves, the police, and the main demonstration itself. Kim keeps returning to the musician and the group of friends, however. The performance and, particularly, the conversation are fragmented, providing gaps in our understanding of what's transpiring. Throughout all of this Kim slowly begins to desaturate the color in his video; the vibrancy of the surroundings grows increasingly sterile as the fictional conversation becomes increasingly awkward. (2007, 63 min, video) PF


Conversations at the Edge presents work by local video artists Kent Lambert and Jesse McLean on Thursday at 6pm at the Gene Siskel Film Center. While none of our contributors wrote on this, be assured that it is indeed highly recommended! 

Local animator Lilli Carré's 16mm animation THE JITTERS screens on Saturdays, September 18-October 30, between 8-10m as part of the Saturday Cinema series. It's rear-projected in the second floor window at 1369 W. Chicago Avenue: stand out on the sidewalk to watch. 

LVL3 Gallery (1542 N. Milwaukee Ave., #3) presents the program Talk to Me Video on Sunday at 6pm. Featured is work by Will Goss & Jessica Bardsley, Daniel Eatock, Clint Enns, Justin Kemp, Je Je Jiyeon Lim, Andrew Norman Wilson, and Jon Rafman. 

Also at the Music Box this week: Stéphane Brizé's French drama MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON and Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont's documentary GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD both open; THE ROOM (Friday), THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (Saturday), and Danny Cannon's 1995 Stallone film JUDGE DREDD (Friday and Saturday) are the weekend midnight shows. 

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Charles Vidor's 1946 film GILDA screens in the film noir series on Friday and Tuesday at 6pm (Prof. James Naremore lectures at the Tuesday show); local filmmaker Keith Dukavicius' 2006 film DANIEL WONG screens Thursday at 8:15pm (Dukavicius in person); and Scott Crocker's new documentary GHOST BIRD receives a week-long run. 

Friday at 8pm, Chicago Filmmakers presents the program New Documentary Showcase, which features five short works organized on the theme "strange careers."

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CINE-LIST: September 17 - September 23, 2010


CONTRIBUTORS / Julian Antos, Rob Christopher, Christy LeMaster, Josh Mabe, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

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