Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
x x x x x x
> Sign up
> Editorial Statement
> Last Week > Next Week
a weekly guide to alternative cinema- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
:: Friday, SEPT. 24 - Thursday, SEPT. 30 ::


Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's HITLER: A FILM FROM GERMANY
(Documentary Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - See Venue website for showtime breakdown 
In Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's staggering HITLER: A FILM FROM GERMANY, Hitler, the subject of the 20th century, is embarked upon by cinema, the art form of the 20th century. That is to say, it's not a movie about him, or one featuring him, but an intentional (rather than incidental) use of the cinematic medium, with all its relational aspects, to encompass, reflect upon and deal with the indelible subject matter. Michael Atkinson writes: "OUR HITLER [the film's alternative, Francis Ford Coppola instated title], a seven-plus-hour mega-essay, is [Syberberg's] skyscraper and warship, a discourse-voyage through the meanings and ramifications of der Führer via stage tropes, puppet theater, re-enacted history, philosophical speculation, interviews, masquerade, vaudeville lampoon, Nazi film and audio clips, symbolist tableaux, German Expressionism, ad friggin' infinitum, all of it shot in a wreath of mist and in front of a giant projection screen in a cavernous Munich warehouse. Dull or hypnotic or sometimes both at once, it's a movie that creates its own way of watching, inoculated and unconcerned about progression, and it might be best looked upon like a Warhol marathon, a contemplative day-trip accommodating naps and dope and phone calls and digressions of your own... Susan Sontag famously compared it to, well, nothing else on Earth, and as with so many things it seems impossible to argue with her." Sontag's definitive essay should be read in accordance with watching the film (The author of the blog SHOOTING DOWN PICTURES put together this great video featuring a woman reading a section of Sontag's piece on HITLER over scenes from the movie: Here is her final, glowing pronouncement:

The film tries to say everything. Syberberg belongs to the race of creators like Wagner, Artaud, Céline, the late Joyce, whose work annihilates other work. All are artists of endless speaking, endless melody--a voice that goes on and on. (Beckett would belong to this race too were it not for some inhibitory force--sanity? elegance? good manners? less energy? deeper despair?) Syberberg's unprecedented ambition in HITLER: A FILM FROM GEMRANY is on another scale than anything one has seen on film. It is work that demands a special kind of attention and partisanship; and invites being reflected upon, reseen. The more one recognizes of its stylistic references and lore, the more the film vibrates. Syberberg's film belongs in the category of noble master-pieces which ask for fealty and can compel it. After seeing HITLER, there is Syberberg's film--and then there are the other films one admires. (Not too many these days, alas.) As was said ruefully of Wagner, he spoils our tolerance for the others.

While you can see the two different approaches in each critic's quote to tackling this fucking monster of a movie, there's also the one that says this is best seen at home (it is available to watch on Syberberg's website for a small donation towards a church tower) with the ability to pause, take breaks, rewatch, etc.. Your approach will most likely depend on your mood, but HITLER does not come around often (like once a generation), so it is highly recommended that the opportunity be seized. (1977, 428 min, 35mm) KH
More info at

(American Revivals)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Monday, 7pm (Ride) and 9pm (Shooting)

These early efforts by the great Monte Hellman (TWO LANE BLACKTOP) are pioneering examples of what Jonathan Rosenbaum would later term the "Acid Western." In both films, Hellman takes common iconography of the genre--barren landscapes, cowboys posing with intractable stoicism--and strips them of any mythologizing context, repositioning them as eerie, quasi-abstract art. There's little plot to summarize in either RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND (1965, 82 min, 16mm) or THE SHOOTING (1967, 82 min, 16mm): both films deposit their archetypal characters in the Utah desert and wait (and wait and wait) for conflict to catch up with them. In THE SHOOTING, Hellman and screenwriter Carol Eastman (who would write FIVE EASY PIECES a few years later) even omit the motivations of their main characters, a group of travelers going off the beaten trail to search for a wanted criminal. Constructed around a central absence, THE SHOOTING recalls the absurdist dramas of Samuel Beckett--which Hellman staged in Los Angeles, incidentally, before becoming a filmmaker. It's the artier of the two films, suggesting an advancement on the already minimal WHIRLWIND, but in fact they were shot simultaneously. (Leave it to Roger Corman, who produced them both, to raise such fertile common ground between the drive-in and the avant-garde.) And seen in light of its successor--or under the influence of any number of controlled substances, for that matter--RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND generates a trance plenty accomplished in its own right.  Many of the scenes in this slow chase story (about three cowpokes mistaken for bandits) raptly observe actions left out of other Westerns: men saddling their horses, building a campfire, etc. Yet as in Andy Warhol's films, these banal activities are rendered strange by seeming to exist in isolation. The same can be said of the performances in both films, which feature Harry Dean Stanton (WHIRLWIND), Warren Oates (SHOOTING), and Jack Nicholson (both) projecting finely honed mannerisms into an uncaring void. BS
More info at

Aldo Tambellini's BLACK FILMS & Tambellini and Otto Piene's BLACK GATE COLOGNE (Experimental Film/Television Revival)
White Light Cinema at The Nightingale - Sunday, 7:30pm

Aldo Tambellini is likely a new name to you, but the breadth of his work (which encompasses varied styles and media) is mightily impressive. In the 50s and 60s, Tambellini was a fixture in the New York art scene, where he was a curator, advocate, and creator. The BLACK FILMS, a series of camera-less, scratched-upon, and found-footage films from the mid to late 1960s, explores blackness from a number of angles: as an artistic concept and as a starting point for vision (BLACK IS); as a physiological state to pass through (BLACK TRIP); and, in the bulk of the work, as a political and racial identity. BLACK PLUS X seems at first the most gentle and lyrical of the films in this program, as a simple swaying camera captures black folks living and enjoying summertime amusements. But there's a brutal satire contained within: Tambellini flips the image to negative, putting the black children in cinematic whiteface. BLACK TV is the tour-de-force of the program, using split screens and rephotographed television imagery to consider assassinations and war--a cultural landscape that is bluntly and bleakly black. Also showing is Tambellini and Otto Piene's pioneering 1968 television work, BLACK GATE COLOGNE. Introduced by SAIC Professor Bruce Jenkins. (1965-1968, 87 min total, video) JM
Note: this program is organized by C-F editor Patrick Friel
More info at and

Stan Brakhage: From Reagan to Bush - 1980-1990 (Experimental Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Tuesday, 7pm
Doc kicks off an impressive series of late-period films by the great Stan Brakhage this week. And, since late-period, that means relatively unknown Brakhage, as his best-known works date from the 1950s-70s. And that means major revelations even for those of us who have seen a boat-load of Brakhage already. This first program has one of his most celebrated (and atypical) films of the period: the found-footage work MURDER PSALM (1980). Here Brakhage comes closer to a freewheeling quasi-Surrealist sensibility than he had since his early 50s psychodramas. It is a masterful, disorienting, and disturbingly disjunctive work that feels like a critique of pop-psychology--the looking for easy answers and connections in a world that is deep and complex. His images are kitschy and "fun" but his editing constantly undercuts any surface reading, forcing one to confront darker subtexts. Also showing are the delicate, unfathomably beautiful UNCONSCIOUS LONDON STRATA (1981), and two unseen films, THE LOOM (1986) and CITY STREAMING (1990). (1980-90, 104 min total, 16mm) PF
More info at

Jacques Tourneur's THE FEARMAKERS  (American Revival) 
Music Box - Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am  
Devious Commies are taking over the PR firms of America! What should be a silly bit of Red Scare fear-mongering--dumb fun, at best--is put through the Tourneur wringer and emerges as lean conspiracy-horror. Dana Andrews (who refused to do the film unless Tourneur directed it) returns from a POW camp to a vaguely-defined, cardboard-looking Washington, DC and begins to suspect that Communist agents have infiltrated the city. The Americanism is even more surreal than in Leo McCarey's somewhat similar MY SON JOHN (the final shot frames two people kissing in from of the Lincoln Memorial in such a way that they appear to be jointly fellating Honest Abe's marble head), and Tourneur paradoxically makes the film more ambiguous by making the Communist conspiracy unambiguously real. Unlike in the director's subtler films, the fixations on perception here are so literally stated (the first scene post-credits is of Andrews getting an eye exam) that they offer the idea that Tourneur did for the mind what Cronenberg would later do for the body. (1958, 84 min, 35mm) IV  
More info at

Gaspar Noé's ENTER THE VOID (New French) 
Music Box - Check Venue website for showtimes

Gaspar Noé's first feature in seven years is finally here, and, as Mr. Noé's movies tend to do, it has divided critics and audiences alike. Noé scores most of his points through an aesthetic strategy of shock and awe, which came to a head in the infamous rape scene in IRREVERSIBLE (2002). That scene, presented as a nine-minute single-take "spectacle," asked whether filmmaking could bypass any moral qualms through minimizing judgment and maximizing technical virtuosity. Shot in English (so as not to distract Americans from the visuals), ENTER THE VOID takes place in Tokyo's jungle of neon-lights, the perfect background for Noé's exploration of drugged-out--and atheistic--ideas of what life and death look like on drugs. The story is simple: Oscar, 20, is a drug dealer who reunites with his stripper sister. He reads the Tibetan Book of the Dead. [Spoiler alert if you haven't seen the trailer.] He gets gunned down by the police for selling drugs. (Noé reportedly also chose Japan for its extreme anti-drug policies, so as to legitimize the character's paranoia.) Then, as an immaterial spirit, he watches from the ether the life he left behind. If this sounds like the ultimate stoner movie, that's because it is: Noé reportedly conceived of the film ever after watching Robert Montgomery's first-person noir LADY IN THE LAKE (1947) on 'shrooms in his early 20s. Writing in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote that ENTER THE VOID "is an exceptional work, though less because of its story, acting or any of the usual critical markers. What largely distinguishes it, beyond the stunning cinematography, is that this is the work of an artist who's trying to show us something we haven't seen before, even while he liberally samples images and ideas from Stanley Kubrick and the entirety of American avant-garde cinema." With its hovering, out-of-body-like camerawork that seems to want to rip itself from the reins of human attachment and its intense experimental stretches, it also may be the first movie of the year that 3D technology might have organically served better, and most likely, the last. (Does Herzog's CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS come out this year?). (2009, 162 min, 35mm) KH
More info at


Henri-Georges Clouzot's THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO (French Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 2:15 and 6:15pm
If you've ever been remotely transfixed by a 4am rerun of Bob Ross' The Joy of Painting, and non-ironically considered that the representation of art-in-action (even that of the most hackneyed wet-on-wet American landscapes possible) has perhaps more to express and teach than even the most studious Art Institute rubbernecking: well, here's like the unforgettably hypnotic highbrow apotheosis of that. For someone who doesn't have a problem understanding the homebrewed polygon-interpolating software behind, e.g., Linklater's WAKING LIFE, figuring out just how director Clouzot pulls this off remains the real mystery: with a perfectly white "canvas" background, the camera somehow can watch, in real-time, the result of every stroke from reverse (i.e. without looking over Picasso's shoulder). When Clouzot's reels run out, the drawing or painting is "completed." Later, Picasso says he's feeling a little constrained by this technique, so we watch some more traditional longer-term compositions in melty time-lapse. It's legitimately not necessary for the viewer to buy into any concomitant hagiographic genius mythology (although you gotta sell tickets to a movie like this somehow), and there are times when you want to shout "Picasso! No!" as he casually obliterates something awesome; but any artist of any medium, amateur or professional, will find it hard to miss the message: looking at paintings in a museum is like watching the footprints on a theater stage after all the actors have gone home. (Note: MYSTERY includes a pompous wall-to-wall orchestral soundtrack that's a lot less cool than it must have been in 1956; BYOiPod) (1956, 75 min, 35mm) MC
More info at

Otto Preminger's WHIRPOOL (American Revival) 
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday and Tuesday, 6pm 
It doesn't get much weirder than this, and not because the premise--"Married to a prominent L.A. psychiatrist, a secret kleptomaniac (Gene Tierney) [becomes] easy prey for an unscrupulous hypnotist/astrologist/con-man (Jose Ferrer)," to borrow the Film Center's program notes--is so preposterous. It's because Otto Preminger approaches the preposterousness with unflagging moral probity (often utilizing the key gesture of his rich 40s and 50s work, the fluid tracking shot that encompasses multiple perspectives in a single take yet manages to negate all of them) and co-writer Ben Hecht fills it out with so much research about modern psychology. The premise would suggest an allegory about the conflict between rational and irrational thought, yet the film grants a surprising amount of credence to the black-magic villain, who's not only erudite but also more charismatic than the ostensible hero. Richard Conte, who plays the psychiatrist, gives the sort of wooden performance that besmirches even some of Preminger's better movies. The unevenness between his skills as a visual storyteller and as a director of actors (only compensated for, really, by pounding a misshaped performance into the jigsaw construction of the mise-en-scene) may explain why more people don't consider Preminger a major filmmaker. But viewers who enjoy tracing this director's elusive philosophy--and those who simply like a good head-scratcher--will find plenty to savor. James Naremore lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1949, 98 min, archival 35mm) BS
More info at

John Erick Dowdle's DEVIL (New American) 
Various Venues - Check Reader Movies for theaters and showtimes  
Conceived as something like a PG-13 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, this quickie belongs to a now-rare breed of simple but never pandering American entertainment that flourished in the mid-20th century and has been steadily disappearing since. A few consummate pros (producer M. Night Shyamalan, cinematographer Tak Fujimoto) and a lot of talented unknowns (most of the cast, composer Fernando Velázquez) come together for an 80-minute horror film set mostly in an elevator and an office building's control room. Like Shyamalan's own THE HAPPENING, this is an extended tribute to pre-1970s American horror and science fiction, set in the producer's favorite city (an overcast Philadelphia) and colored by his secular applications of Christian morality and Catholic fear. (It should be noted that, while the allegorical Christian overtones of his films are fairly blatant, Shyamalan was raised Hindu and appears to have remained so into adulthood). An effective horror film and police procedural, DEVIL's first half would make a surprisingly good double-bill with any of the films in the Music Box's current Jacques Tourneur matinee series. Its final scene, however, would work best with Tourneur's STARS IN MY CROWN. (2010, 80 min, 35mm) IV

Chicago Architecture in Motion (Documentary/Experimental)
Chicago Filmmakers - Saturday, 8pm
Chicago Filmmakers has assembled an impressive and diverse program centering on aspects of Chicago architecture. Clara Alcott's INLAND STEEL STUDY and Chi-Jang Yin's GLASS HOUSE (both 2007) are quiet, lyrical explorations of two very different constructions: the famed 1950s Inland Steel building and architect Thomas Roszak's self-designed home. Alcott shoots the Inland Steel building from a variety of angles, near and far, both giving it a sense of weighty volume and totally flattening it; presenting it as a hard-edged object and finding abstraction in its form. Yin contrasts Roszak's house as an example of minimalist design with its function as an intimate domestic space--competing forces that find unification in Yin's careful and stately cinematography. Also showing are two older works, most notably Conrad O. Nelson's brilliant 1934 experimental documentary HALSTED STREET. A member of the Film and Photo League, Nelson uses the gimmick of following a man late for a meeting hurriedly making his way up the length of the titular route. But this is an excuse to show the diversity of the Chicago neighborhoods through which the man passes. Nelson's film has a stunning kinetic quality, a propulsive energy that makes this a singular and crucial example of early American avant-garde cinema. Local filmmaker Jack Behrend's 1960s film EQUITABLE BUILDING: TIME LAPSE is also an example of kineticism. Here, though, it is the time-lapse photography of the construction of the Equitable Building that provides the energy. It is the subject that "moves"--creating a fascinating work about process. Adele Friedman has been making stunning "portrait" films for several decades now and TREE STUDIOS (1989) is one of her finest. Her characteristic "searching" camerawork and frequent use of peculiar angles and vantage points constantly centers and then disorients the viewer, making strange even the most commonplace subjects. Also showing are the 1985 documentary CHICAGO'S MODERN ARCHITECTURE and Beverly Willis' 2009 documentary GIRL IS A FELLOW HERE: 100 WOMEN ARCHITECTS IN THE STUDIO OF FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT. (1934-2009, 116 min total, 16mm and video) PF
More info at

Stanley Kubrick's KILLER'S KISS  (American Revival) 
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 9pm  
Stanley Kubrick's arty boxing noir was made on a shoestring budget, with the director also serving as sole screenwriter, cinematographer, and editor. On the one hand, this makes it the most "totally controlled" film of a director who tried to have his hand in every aspect of his movies; on the other, it's also clearly the work of young man still trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life (besides imitate Max Ophüls, that is). What comes through most strongly, more than on any of his other films, is Kubrick's background as a magazine photographer. Though the plot, which finds a down-on-his-luck welterweight trying to save a girl from a vicious crook, is ripe for pulp and scuzziness (original tagline: "Her soft mouth was the road to sin-smeared vengeance!"), Kubrick largely avoids the lurid in favor of a pictorial distance. Rather than giving the impression that he's lived with the characters, as someone like Raoul Walsh would, Kubrick treats every scene like a profile assignment that has tasked him with photographing some local personality he'll never meet again. While this often makes the film feel almost disarmingly reserved, it also gives KILLER'S KISS this weird quality of seeming to start over again with every scene, and Kubrick gets at a lot of photo-spread style visual details by treating the characters he's created as total strangers. (1955, 67 min, 35mm) IV  
More info at

Douglas Sirk's MEET ME AT THE FAIR (American Revival) 
Bank of America Cinema - Saturday, 8 pm 
The second of three films Sirk directed about small town America (made in between HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL [1951] and TAKE ME TO TOWN [1952]), MEET ME AT THE FAIR--at least the ten-odd minutes this reviewer was able to glean--does as much as any of his films to express (per a 1973 interview) "the weak and sly promise that the world is not rotten and out of joint but meaningful and ultimately in excellent condition." The first reel of MEET ME AT THE FAIR feels weak and sly in the most reassuring of ways: Dan Dailey, a medicine man and teller of tall tales at the turn of the century, befriends an orphaned boy but tells him to keep quiet so the audience doesn't see him. There's a sense here of something being hidden away, but Sirk's deep color palette keeps everything else warm and out in the open. A love triangle and the investigation of a crooked orphanage are purported to follow. (1952, 87 min, 16mm IB Technicolor print) JA
More info at

Neil Marshall's CENTURION (New British)
Landmark's Century Centre Cinema - Check Venue website for showtimes
Neil Marshall's typically termitic new movie pits glum and largely interchangeable Roman men against two infuriatingly independent Pictish women and a lot of grisly gorehound violence. Michael Fassbender's the ostensible lead, getting to do a few weird variations on his HUNGER role during the torture scenes, but it's really all about Olga Kurylenko (one facial expression: dismissive anger) as the film's equivalent of the "treacherous Indian scout" and Imogen Poots (a downright lovely face + a surname to make 10-year-olds titter) as the village witch. The writer/director's usual men vs. women dynamics (or, more accurately, characters governed by allegiances and social conventions against characters governed by principles) get a good workout, and there's almost enough ridiculously-hard-boiled dialogue and narration to qualify this as a "Roman noir." While Marshall's last movie, DOOMSDAY, achieved a surprising coherence while trying to be a different movie in every scene (MAD MAX, a Daniel Craig-era James Bond, ALIENS, V FOR VENDETTA, EXCALIBUR), CENTURION goes all over the place while trying to mostly be GLADIATOR (another point of reference in DOOMSDAY), including some late Studio Era-style establishing shots which look like matte paintings even though they're not and a few handheld sequences that wouldn't look out of place in UN LAC. (2010, 97 min, 35mm) IV
More info here.

(New Documentary)

Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Friday, 7pm
Progressing ever northward, from the Siskel to the Music Box and now Block Cinema, film venues around the city continue to welcome the incoming Class of 2014 with the art-school orientation date movie of the year, a pleasant assault of period photo- and videographic 80s ephemera which re-glamorizes in familiar fashion the rise and fall of this sufficiently-legendary Brooklyn-brownstone wunderkind. Set primarily to a selection of ASCAP electro classics (curated by Ad Rock and Mike D in their sleep) to inform the Little Village loft parties of the near future, the talking heads on the screen (including Julian Schnabel, Fab 5 Freddy, Jeffrey Deitch, and others you'd better know) accompany the Talking Heads on the soundtrack in a valiant effort to reproduce the grand individualist mythology necessary for the bare minima of cognitive survival to complete a B.A. in Visual and Critical Studies. This involves generating the spectator's conviction that not everyone is genuinely "too fragile for this [art] world", that one is not quite becoming irrevocably enamored of an unmeasurably fickle culture industry in which, statistically speaking, economic failure is all but assured. And (like art itself), against all odds, it works: Basquiat's paintings (in a restless montage of pans and slow zooms) look better and better; brilliant turns of phrase--if not fully-formed ideas--appear in your head; and one gains a legitimate appreciation for the social productivity and pragmaticism of that insular and transitory ritual, the "show." Sure, some Friday in a white room, there'll be such a celebration in your name; Oh, this unworldly and radiant enigma beside you (eyeing you with suspicion in the theater), they'll give you a ride home: and perhaps in that abandon only may you or your fellow classmates truly aspire to die like this man. (2010, 88 min, video) MC
More info at


Local filmmaker Ben Russell's film installation TRYPPS #7 (BADLANDS) continues at the Museum of Contemporary Art.  

The Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center welcomes experimental video/glitch artist Rosa Menkman on Thursday at 6pm. She will present a selection of her works and perform a real-time video piece. 

Local animator Lilli Carré's 16mm animation THE JITTERS screens on Saturdays, through 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. 

Also at Block Cinema this week: Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn's 2004 documentary GOLUB: THE LAST WORKS ARE THE CATASTROPHES screens on Thursday at 7pm. Quinn will be in person.

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: George Cukor's 1933 LITTLE WOMEN is the 7pm show on Thursday; the 9:15pm show is something altogether different: Herschel G. Lewis' 1970 THE WIZARD OF GORE

Also at the Music Box this week: Chan-wook Park's 2003 film OLDBOY and Edgar Wright's SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD are the Friday and Saturday midnight films; MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON and GENIUS WITHING: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD both continue; and a free showing of IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK, presented by Personal PAC, is on Wednesday at 7pm. Note: the screening of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, with Patty Duke in person, originally scheduled for Friday has been postponed to November 20 due to Ms. Duke's work schedule. 
Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea's 2009 documentary HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT'S INFERNO plays for a week; Sam Wainwright Douglas' documentary CITIZEN ARCHITECT: SAM MOCKBEE AND THE SPIRIT OF THE RURAL STUDIO screens Friday and twice on Sunday; and local filmmaker Keith Dukavicius' 2008 feature EGON screens Thursday at 8:15, with Dukavicius in person. 

Marc Price's 2008 British zombie movie COLIN plays at Facets Cinémathèque this week. 

Mweze Ngangura's 1998 French/Belgian/Congolese film PIECES OF IDENTITY screens at the DuSable Museum on Sunday at 2pm.
Also at Chicago Filmmakers this week: on Friday at 8pm, students from CF's own classes show off their efforts at the Chicago Filmmakers' Student Showcase.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

CINE-LIST: September 24 - September 30, 2010


CONTRIBUTORS / Julian Antos, Michael Castelle, Kalvin Henely, Christy LeMaster, Josh Mabe, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

> Editorial Statement -> Contact