Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, MAR. 23 - Thursday, MAR. 29 ::

The European Union Film Festival concludes on Thursday, so you've only got one last week to catch something at the invariably excellently programmed fest at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Among the highlights this week are Michael Glawogger's controversial and acclaimed Austrian/German documentary WHORE'S GLORY; French provocateur Bruno Dumont's HORS SATAN; DOGTOOTH director Yorgos Lanthimos' new film ALPS; Andrea Arnold's (FISH TANK) unconventional version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS; two fascinating sounding documentaries on two great artists, Grant Gee's UK film PATIENCE (AFTER SEBALD), about writer W.G. Sebald, and Corinna Belz's German film GERHARD RICHTER PAINTING; and the Closing Night film, Italian filmmaker Gianni Di Gregorio's THE SALT OF LIFE. Check our blog at for reviews of selected films throughout the month—we'll be updating it on an irregular basis, so new content may show up at any time!

The historic, and Portage-Park-neighborhood-fixture, PORTAGE THEATER is facing an uncertain future as an area church is moving to purchase the building the theater is housed in and convert the space for their own needs. A community meeting to discuss the situation is scheduled for Monday at 7pm at the Portage (4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.). The Portage is home to the Northwest Chicago Film Society and hosts the Silent Film Society's annual summer festival. It is also a regular site for local filmmakers presenting their work, horror and sci-fi festivals, concerts, community events, and more. We encourage everyone who can to attend the meeting and, for those who are unable, to visit the Portage website to see how to help.


Anthony Mann's MAN OF THE WEST (American Revival)
Northwest Chicago Film Society (at the Portage Theater) — Wednesday, 7:30pm

All Link Jones (Gary Cooper) wants is a schoolmarm for hire, but the aftermath of a botched train robbery finds him stranded in the wilderness alongside a confidence man (Arthur O'Connell) and a chanteuse (Julie London), the later he is convinced will make a mighty fine teacher. First though, they need to find civilization, and Link leads a trek to a nearby farm where he had knocked around some years past. Trouble is, of course, he used to be an outlaw, and in the rundown farmhouse they come fact to face with his old clan, including his uncle Dock Tobin (Lee J. Cobb) and cousin Coaley (Jack Lord), the very ones responsible for organizing the train robbery that set everything in motion. Small world, turns out. That's the stage set by Anthony Mann for his last great western, which despite a contrivance or two in the setup (Cobb as Cooper's uncle is a stretch), pulls together into a slice of mythmaking on par with earlier classics from THE FURIES to THE NAKED SPUR. Unforgettable is the primal brawl between Link and Coaley, a fistfight that escalates into a brutal display of revenge that serves as entertainment for the clan as much as it satisfies Link's own seething fury. And as in most of Mann's westerns, this is a film that lives from landscape to landscape, doing away almost entirely with the culture of the American West and instead studying a group of individuals, many in this case being family, outside the confines of society. Showing with Dave Fleischer's 1931 Betty Boop cartoon, THE BUM BANDIT (16mm). (1958, 100 min, 35mm) TJ
More info at

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's THE KID WITH A BIKE (New International)
Music Box — Check Venue website for showtimes
THE KID WITH A BIKE is the newest, Cannes-approved film from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, masters of the naturalistic youth drama. The titular kid is a wayward boy named Cyril, who desperately searches for his father before coming to the realization that he was intentionally abandoned at a foster home. During one of his escape attempts, he accidentally befriends a hairdresser who tracks down his bike and agrees to become his guardian; however, Cyril's desire for a father figure leads to an act of brutal violence at the encouragement of a neighborhood hoodlum. THE KID WITH A BIKE touches on themes of moral responsibility and redemption, but like 1999's ROSETTA, the film is ultimately about a quest for normality. Similar to Ken Loach's KES or Andrea Arnold's FISHTANK, THE KID WITH A BIKE successfully walks a tightrope between genuine pathos and histrionic sentimentality. The subject matter of the duo's films is often weighty, and in the hands of most other directors it would surely be exploited for melodramatic purposes, but the Dardennes always manage to produce poignancy without veering into overemotional territory. In THE KID WITH A BIKE this is accomplished in part by the film's brevity. Less than an hour and a half in length, the narrative is lightweight and straightforward, stripped of any superfluous elements. Only the essentials are intact, including the addition of music (a novelty for the Dardennes), which is used in an understated, economic manner similar to Bresson's soundtracks. Stylistically, the Dardenne's handheld camerawork is in full effect, as they attempt to keep up with Cyril during his many flights from authority. Despite the Dardenne's naturalistic approach and the compactness of the narrative, the film still carries metaphorical value, particularly in the symbols of the bike and the forest; in fact, the duo has commented that they envisioned the film as something of a fairy tale. As critics continue to wage an ongoing battle over the merits of Kenneth Lonergan's sprawling, overwrought juggernaut MARGARET, it's worth being reminded that a modest film like THE KID WITH A BIKE can be just as affecting. (2011, 89 min) HS
Read former Cine-File contributor Ben Sachs' long Reader review here.
More info at

David Lamelas' THE DESERT PEOPLE (Experimental Narrative Revival)   
Experimental Film Society (SAIC, 112 S. Michigan Ave., Rm. 1307) — Tuesday, 4pm
Our coverage for this screening is not available quite yet, but please check the website later this weekend. (1974, 50 min, 16mm)


Brent Green's GRAVITY WAS EVERYWHERE BACK THEN (New Experimental)
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center — Thursday, 6pm (repeats next Saturday, March 31, 12:30pm)
Taking obvious stylistic cues from David Lynch and Guy Maddin, self-taught animator Brent Green has crafted, quite literally, a unique world for his two characters to live inside. In his backyard, Green recreated/reimagined the mythical house that Kentuckian Leonard Wood constructed in hopes to cure his dying wife, imprecisely photographing its expressionist curves and the actors within via stop-motion. The story begins with Leonard Wood courting his future wife, with the two moving in to his handmade house. When his wife falls ill, Wood begins building rooms within rooms, numbered stairs to nowhere, and a 32-foot high tower for the laundry room, all in the hopes of forcing a miracle from God. Though the story itself is tragic, the real emotional weight of the movie comes from its live accompaniment. Members of The Dirty Three and The Bitter Tears provide live foley, music, and dialogue, with Brent Green's insightful, poetic narration spoken throughout. Green in person at both screenings. (2010, 75 min, Blu-Ray Digital Projection) DM
Green will also be speaking as part of SAIC's Visiting Artists Program on Wednesday at 6pm (The Art Institute of Chicago, Rubloff Auditorium, 230 S. Columbus Dr.)
More info at and here.

Jia Zhang-ke's 24 CITY (New International)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Tuesday, 6pm
24 CITY is a subtle and slippery work. Initially it appears to be a straightforward, albeit gorgeously shot, documentary about Factory 420, an enormous factory which produced aeronautic and military components for decades. Now the land upon which it sits in the city center has become so valuable that the entire factory is being dismantled to make way for 24 City, a giant complex containing an industrial park and five-star hotel. Then, about an hour in, Joan Chen shows up onscreen as one of the factory workers. Suddenly the veracity of everything that came before is called into question. Were all of the interviewees actually actors? Were they performing words taken from interviews with actual factory workers, or have we only been watching hearing skillfully written monologues? That ambiguity, in a film coming out of Communist China, is fairly subversive. One of the final interviews is with a young woman who has a job as a personal shopper, going to Hong Kong every two weeks to buy things for rich ladies who "have a taste for fashion but not the energy." The point is clear: the so-called "comradeship and solidarity" of the old ways are being replaced by the selfish and materialistic ways of the new generation. SAIC professor Dan Eisenberg lectures. (2008, 107 min, 35mm) RC
More info at

Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND (American Revival)
Music Box — Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am
On their bright, Technicolor surfaces, the films of Douglas Sirk can appear as so many reiterations of the well-worn genre of the classical Hollywood melodrama. Lush domestic interiors, weeping women, maudlin mothers, betrayal, and heartbreak all make their obligatory appearances; all are familiar markers of a predictable narrative structure that will inevitably deliver the triumph of heterosexual union and affirm the solidity of the patriarchal family. This, however, is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, with vicious currents stirring underwater. WRITTEN ON THE WIND, undoubtedly one of Sirk's strongest films, demonstrates precisely why the director underwent significant critical reevaluation in the 1970s, leaving behind a reputation of glitz and fluff to become the darling of cinephiles, feminists, and Fassbinder alike. Working within and against the conventions of genre, Sirk's over-the-top excess forces the recognition of fissures and cracks that lurk within the dominant ideology the film superficially endorses. The glossiness and artificiality of Sirk's surfaces gives way to a complex meditation on the contradictions of gender, class, and sexuality. Dave Kehr sees the film as "a screaming Brechtian essay on the shared impotence of American family and business life...that draws attention to the artificiality of the film medium, in turn commenting on the hollowness of middle-class American life." The film stands as an excellent introduction to Sirk for those unfamiliar, but repeat viewings do not disappoint: as Pedro Almodovar said, "I have seen WRITTEN ON THE WIND a thousand times, and I cannot wait to see it again." (1956, 99 min, Unconfirmed Format—though we suspect 35mm) EB
More info at

Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS (American Revival/Special Event)
Music Box — Tuesday, 7:30pm
Slavoj ?i?ek wrote, "In order to unravel Hitchcock's THE BIRDS, one should first imagine the film without the birds, simply depicting the proverbial middle-class family in the midst of an Oedipal crisis—the attacks of the birds can only be accounted for as an outlet of the tension underlying this Oedipal constellation, i.e., they clearly materialize the destructive outburst of the maternal superego, one mother's jealousy toward the young woman who tries to snatch her son from her." That Hitchcock conceived of (and plotted) THE BIRDS as a comedy shows his gleeful perversity. It also goes a long way towards explaining the film's enduring fascination. Most disaster movies simply revolve around the spectacle of things blowing up; if they make any room at all for humor or interpersonal relationships it's usually of the throwaway or half-hearted variety. It's just window dressing for explosions. But in his own crafty way, Hitchcock shows us that comedy, not tragedy, can be the best way to reveal the layers of a character while, crucially, misdirecting the audience's attention. Using a meticulously scored soundtrack of bird effects in lieu of traditional music cues, paired with George Tomasini's brilliant picture editing, heightens the feeling of disquiet. It all culminates in the stunning final shot: the superego has saturated the entire landscape. (1963, 119 min, Unconfirmed Format—though we suspect 35mm) RC
This screening is part of the Turner Classic Movies' "Road to Hollywood" tour and features actress Tippi Hedren and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz in person. Free tickets are available here.
More info at

Tommy Wiseau's THE ROOM (Cult)
Music Box — Friday and Saturday, 10:30pm; Sunday, 10pm
A woman announces, "Well, the results came back - I definitely have breast cancer," and that's the last we ever hear of it. A group of men don tuxedos for no apparent reason and then toss around a football. A drug dealer threatens to kill someone and then disappears for the rest of the movie. Upon awaking, a man picks up a rose from his night table, smells it, and throws it on top of his sleeping girlfriend. A recurring rooftop "exterior" is obviously a studio set, with a backdrop of the San Francisco skyline digitally composited behind the action. Accidental surrealism can be even more potent than the conscious kind, and THE ROOM is some kind of zenith of its type, the equal to anything Ed Wood committed to celluloid. Although what's on screen looks like it cost about $14.99, the actual budget was upwards of $6 million, in part because actor/producer/writer/director Wiseau shot simultaneously in 35mm and HD (supposedly he didn't understand the differences between the two formats). Now the film has become a worthy successor to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, with enthusiastic fans performing a series of rituals at each screening. Ross Morin, assistant professor of film studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, calls it "one of the most important films of the past decade. Through the complete excess in every area of production, THE ROOM reveals to us just how empty, preposterous and silly the films and television programs we've watched over the past couple of decades have been." (2003, 99 min, Unconfirmed Format) RC
Director/actor Tommy Wiseau and actor Greg Sestero in person at all three screenings
More info at

Elia Kazan's ON THE WATERFRONT (American Revival)
Transistor (3819 N. Lincoln Ave.) — Monday, 8pm
ON THE WATERFRONT is a piece of working-class-inflected social drama that was a major influence on Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. Though cherished for Marlon Brando's performance, the film gains much of its power from the understated efforts of Boris Kaufman—the Polish-born cinematographer who began his career with Jean Vigo and later brought a greater naturalism to Hollywood. Between Kaufman's photography and the real-life union locations, this is one of the only American films comparable to the near-contemporaneous work of the Italian Neorealists. (1954, 108 min, DVD Projection) BS
More info at

  Herbert J. Biberman's SALT OF THE EARTH (American Revival)
Occupy Chicago HQ (500 W. Cermak, Rm. 700) — Saturday, 4pm
Produced independently by Hollywood Blacklistees—who were inspired to make a pro-labor film as a way of getting even with HUAC—SALT OF THE EARTH is a landmark act of civil disobedience and the rare film that's entitled to masterpiece status without having to be any good. Thankfully, its artfulness is commensurate with its conviction. A docudrama about a lengthy miners' strike in New Mexico, shot on location and featuring many of the actual miners as extras, it's also one of the few American films of the period comparable to the Neorealist masterpieces made in Italy around the same time. Arguably, the makers of SALT OF THE EARTH went even further than Roberto Rossellini in developing an artistic process that reflected their collectivist ideals: The script was frequently revised according to input from the miners and their families—most notably, to devote more attention to the role played by wives and mothers in organizing the strike. (Jonathan Rosenbaum has called this ahead of its time in its feminist sentiment.) Telling the miners' story in their own words often gives this the stolid feel of community theater; but on the other hand, it lends the film a certain no-bullshit authenticity that separates it from slicker—and ultimately patronizing—stuff like NORMA RAE. It's also plenty suspenseful. A sort of moral inversion of the hostage-standoff movie, the prolonged strike sees the workers' community become more unified as pressure increases from bosses and police. (1954, 94 min, Video Projection - unconfirmed format) BS


The University of Chicago's South Asia Language and Area Center, The Committee on Southern Asian Studies and the Film Studies Center co-present EXPERIMENTA India: A Festival of Experimental Cinema from India (DVD Projection) on Wednesday at 4pm, with curator Shai Heredia in person. The screening, divided into two parts, will take place at the South Asia Commons Screening Room (1130 E. 59th St., Foster Hall 103). Program 1 features S.N.S. Sastry's excellent AND I MAKE SHORT FILMS (1968) and four films by Pramod Pati: TRIP (1970), ABID (1972), CLAXPLOSION (1968), and EXPLORER (1968); Program 2 includes JAN VILLA (Natasha Mendonca, 2011), CITY BEYOND (Shreyasi Kar, 2011), BARE (Santana Issar, 2006), and THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE AIR (Iram Ghufran, 2011).
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents two tantalizing shows this weekend: on Friday at 7pm, the group show Black Thorns in the Black Box (Video Projection - unconfirmed formats), curated by Amelia Ishmael and Bryan Wendorf, features shorts that complement the work in the current Black Metal-themed gallery exhibition "Black Thorns in the White Cube" (on view March 16 through April 14 at Western Exhibitions); and on Saturday at 7pm, it's Laws of Desire: Video Work by Jennifer Reeder (Video Projection - various formats), featuring work by the local video artist Jennifer Reeder, who will be in person. Screening are: A DOUBLE IMAGE BOTH IN FOCUS SIMULTANEOUSLY 2 (2001), SEVEN SONGS ABOUT THUNDER (2010), TEARS CANNOT RESTORE HER: THEREFORE I WEEP (2010), THE EX BOYFRIEND AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PLEASURES (2002), NEVERMIND (1998), 1000 WAYS TO SKIN IT (2011), and TWIN DECKS (2001).
Chicago Filmmakers screens Frederick Wiseman's 1973 cinema verité documentary classic JUVENILE COURT (DVD Projection) on Friday at 8pm.
The Chicago Cultural Center screens Bennett Singer and Nancy D. Kates' 2003 documentary BROTHER OUTSIDER: THE LIFE OF BAYARD RUSTIN (Video Projection - unconfirmed format) as part of the Cinema Q series. The screening is on Wednesday at 6:30pm, with co-director Singer in person.
Also at the Music Box this week: Asghar Farhadi's A SEPARATION (35mm) continues; and Brandon and Jason Trost's THE FP (DCP Projection) screens on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.
At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Valérie Donzelli's 2011 French film DECLARATION OF WAR (35mm) screens for a week; E. Elias Merhige's 2000 film SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (DVD Projection) plays in the Facets Night School series on Saturday at Midnight, with an introduction by Cary Elza; and Miroslav Janek & Pavel Koutecký's 2008 documentary CITIZEN HAVEL (Unconfirmed Format) screens on Monday at 6:30 and is followed by a "discussion on Havel's life and legacy, moderated by Jerome McDonnell, host of WBEZ's Worldview, with actor/theatre director Gary Houston and Dr. Benjamin Frommer, Department of History, Northwestern University."
The Portage Theater hosts the Indie Horror Film Festival Friday-Sunday. Full info can be found at the fest website.

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CINE-LIST: March 23 - March 29, 2012


CONTRIBUTORS / Erika Balsom, Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Tristan Johnson, Doug McLaren, Ben Sachs, Harrison Sherrod, Darnell Witt

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