Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, JULY 18 - Thursday, JULY 24 ::


Sarah Paulsen's ELEGY TO CONNIE (New Experimental/Documentary)
The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) - Saturday, 8pm

In 2008, the only note Charles "Cookie" Thornton left behind before gunning down six people at a suburban St. Louis city council meeting read, "the truth will come out in the end." Early on in director Sarah Paulsen's experimental documentary ELEGY TO CONNIE we hear a friend of deceased council member Connie Karr assert, "I'd like to think that if Connie died there'd be more truth that'd come out about Kirkwood." Another friend adds in a separate voiceover, "If the truth came out it'd be completely complicated." What is the truth about Kirkwood, Missouri? The gravity of the word 'truth' almost implies some unresolved secret; the mystery of the shattered suburban idyll. The truth about Kirkwood is there is no mystery. There is no Jeffrey Beaumont or Well-Dressed Man. The truth about Kirkwood is the truth about lots of neighborhoods in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., or any highly segregated city where the haves bump up against the have-nots, and the inequities that result. It's only a mystery to those oblivious to the practical dynamics of their community. On a personal note, I spent much of my childhood growing up in Kirkwood. It was a childhood full of love, privilege, and a spectacular obliviousness of my own making. If I represented much of what was wrong with Kirkwood--head buried firmly in sand--Connie Karr represented what was right about it. In ELEGY, director Paulsen gathers a group of women from Kirkwood who knew Connie, including Paulsen's mother, to discuss her effect on the community. Paulsen, who also teaches art and animation around the St. Louis area, utilizes an impressive array of animation techniques to illustrate her interviews: From cutout and collage, to claymation, to watercolor, marker and pencil, Paulsen's is a kitchen sink approach to non-fiction storytelling. The project took the director three years to complete and her efforts are manifest. By eschewing more conventional documentary methods, she manages to elevate Connie's friends' personal testimony to a more universal political statement about community engagement and coping with trauma. And yet, the most impressive aspect of ELEGY isn't the immediate upshot of the tragedy. That people came together in the wake of the shooting to support one another and plant trees is heartening, but not entirely surprising. Despite its insularity, Kirkwood is also full of compassionate and concerned citizens. It's Paulsen's willingness, and the willingness of Connie's friends to scrutinize the evolution of Cookie Thornton that's notable. The generally accepted wisdom on Thornton is that he doesn't deserve attention; that his acts were indescribable and his motivations unknowable. And while it's certainly true the dominant pathology that drove Thornton to kill will never be known or just--"We all make choices in life and he made his," observed one woman--one can assume Connie Karr's legacy would be to endeavor to understand even still. "I don't want her legacy to just be that she was his victim," observed Paulsen in a recent interview. "Cookie is part of the tragedy. We need to talk about him--and Connie would have wanted that." Sarah Paulsen in person. (2014, 60 min, Digital Projection) JS
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Very Fine Cats Indeed: Experimental Feline Films on 16mm (Experimental)
South Side Projections at Co-Prosperity Sphere (3219-21 S. Morgan St.) - Thursday, 7pm

Last year, this critic expressed hope that the Chicago Filmmakers and South Side Projections co-sponsored CAT Film Festival would become a regular event. This critic's prayers have been answered with not one, but two follow-ups to last year's successful all-feline film frenzy. The first, taking place this week, is South Side Projections' "Very Fine Cats Indeed: Experimental Feline Films on 16mm," with a selection of experimental short films divided into two groups: one that is "probably" suitable for all ages (staring at 7pm), and another that is "definitely not suitable for kids" (starting at 8pm). If that's not enough to get you there, then you can rely on the merits of the films themselves. The first part includes Robert Breer's RUBBER CEMENT (1975, 10 min), Pola Chapelle's FISHES IN SCREAMING WATER (1969, 6 min), Ken Jacobs' AIRSHAFT (1967, 4 min), and Roberta Cantow's IF THIS AIN'T HEAVEN (1984, 27 min). Breer's film pays homage to Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat films and the history of animation by using color xeroxing techniques and travelling mattes to allow for live action interludes. Pola Chapelle's HOW TO DRAW A CAT was part of the first CAT Film Festival here in Chicago, but it was her film FISHES IN SCREAMING WATER that inaugurated the First International Cat Film Festival back in 1969; in fact, Chapelle started the festival, also known as INTERCAT '69, that garnered acclaim from the likes of Roberto Rossellini, François Truffaut, and Anna Magnani. Photographed and edited by Chapelle's husband, Adolfas Mekas, FISHES IN SCREAMING WATER features Chapelle's Georgecat and Mammacat in their respective acting and music-making debuts. Ken Jacobs' AIRSHAFT is more politically oriented, as he told an interviewer for A Critical Cinema 3: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, "[I]t was antiwar by being pro-peace, pro-serenity...[it] invited people into another state of mind, what I thought was a post-war state of mind, a sensibility beyond war." It goes without saying that despite the film being over 40 years old, that message is as important nowadays as it was back then, if not more so. Roberta Cantow's IF THIS AIN'T HEAVEN is best left described in the filmmaker's own words: "An intimate portrait of an ordinary man who fulfills unknowingly his own ideal of the ventriloquist/artist. Considers questions of loneliness and isolation. It is at once my own interpretation of the man, the man's presentation of himself and the man's interpretation of his art form, the cat. The voiceover becomes an interior monologue; the images become more emblematic than real." Part Two, that which is not suitable for young cat lovers, features Caroline Koebel's PUSS! THE BOOTED CAT (1995, 13 min) and Carolee Schneemann's FUSES (1967, 23 min). Koebel's PUSS! is an experimental erotic retelling of the 17th century Italian fairy tale. Koebel juxtaposes black-and-white imagery and various characteristics of silent film with a modern day feminist sensibility to emphasize the trickster over the animal-as-helper trope of outdated lore. Carolee Schneemann's FUSES is a self-shot erotic film in which cinema mimics lovemaking and vice versa. There's also a cat, but that's to be expected at this point. In September, Chicago Filmmakers will present two programs of cat films from the First International Cat Film Festival (INTERCAT '69), which took place at the Elgin Theater in NYC in December 1969. (1967-95, 47 min (part one) and 39 min (part two), 16mm) KS
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House of Sweet Magic: The Animated Films of Helen Hill (Experimental/Animation)
Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) - Saturday, 8pm & Buttercup Park (Outdoor Screening) - Thursday, 8pm

Even if the late Helen Hill's films weren't salvaged from the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina, her name would surely live on based on her endlessly useful, enchanting, and influential filmmaking guidebook Recipes for Disaster: a Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet. But her work survives, thanks to these preserved prints, rescued from the flood and now housed at Harvard Film Archives. Her best known and well loved MADAME WINGER MAKE A FILM: A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO THE 21ST CENTURY is a delightful animated educational piece about handmade film techniques that are as useful now as they will be after the apocalypse. Her CalArts MFA thesis film SCRATCH AND CROW is a gentle lyric of chickens, watermelons, death and rebirth. VESSEL is a great early film, and one that is very different than most of her other work in tone, pace, and animation style. BOHEMIAN TOWN is a musical love letter to Halifax, where she taught at the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative.  MOUSEHOLES is a lovely remembrance of her grandfather, mixing home movies and animation. What has to be the sunniest film ever made at Phil Hoffman's Film Farm, the hand-processed black and white YOUR PIG IS DOWN THE ROAD is an ebullient note to her husband's titular announcement. Also on the program are FILM FOR ROSE, TUNNEL OF LOVE, THE WORLD'S SMALLEST FAIR, and RAINDANCE. The screening at Chicago Filmmakers will also include Hill's 2011 posthumous film, completed by her husband, THE FLORESTEIN COLLECTION (2011, 31 min). (CF: 1990-2011, approx. 84 min, Restored Archival 16mm Prints / BC Park: 1990-2001, approx. 53 min, DVD Projection) JM
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Son of 70mm Film Festival - Week Two
Music Box Theatre - Check Venue website for showtimes

Last week was dominated by grandiose epics, this week it's all about eclecticism. Richard Fleischer's DOCTOR DOLITTLE (1967, 152 min) returns for another screening, testing the limits of auteurism. Paul Thomas Anderson's THE MASTER (2012, 144 min) and Franklin J. Schaffner's PATTON (1970, 172 min) are explorations of larger-than-life figures, leadership, and cult-like personas. In Douglas Trumbull's BRAINSTORM (1983, 106 min) and Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO (1958, 128 min) men are obsessed with dead women. And Steven Lisberger's TRON (1982, 96 min) and Stanley Kramer's IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963, 192 min) are, perhaps, unaccountable cult followings about racing. PF
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Roman Polanski's KNIFE IN THE WATER (Polish Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7 and 9:15pm

While it's worth reiterating that Roman Polanski's first feature is one of the most adept debuts in cinema--achieving a constantly escalating sense of dread with a minimum of means--it's also worth noting that the film owes its importance to more than beginner's luck. What's most remarkable about KNIFE IN THE WATER is that Polanski, at only 26, introduces in the film themes and tropes that he would build upon for the next 50 years. Set almost entirely on a yacht (which Polanski shoots ingeniously, from practically every conceivable angle), the movie creates a claustrophobic brand of suspense that would come to underlie all of Polanski's subsequent work. Likewise, the ever-shifting power dynamic between its three main characters (rooted in absurdist drama and carrying an undeniable erotic fascination) can be felt in Polanski's films, pretty much unceasingly, through THE GHOST WRITER. This remains Polanski's only Polish feature, and it's indicative of his contrarian nature that the film makes no reference to Communism nor, for that matter, to any political orientation (though it's possible to read the movie's materialistic central couple as a subtle critique of Poland's then-rising "Red Bourgeoisie"). This aspect of the film irked State authorities, who branded Polanski an "individualist pessimist" (not that far from the truth, actually) and gave him a proverbial slap on the wrist. Since Polanski was able to start working abroad on the international success of this feature, his troubles with the Communist state ended there. Nevertheless, a sense of persecution colors all of his best work (including this one), the most palpably paranoid movies outside of Alfred Hitchcock. (1962, 94 min, 35mm) BS
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David Lynch's ERASERHEAD (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7 and 9pm

"It's my Philadelphia Story. It just doesn't have Jimmy Stewart in it." In Lynch's debut feature, a man and a woman conceive a monstrous child somewhere in between suburban alienation and industrial rot, a mostly conventional situation with the most grotesque punchline. Watching ERASERHEAD now feels like wandering through a nightmare more than ever, due in part to its central conceit and the expected barrage of disturbing events and images that it entails--distended faces, animal carcasses, etc.--but even the film's few familiar features add to this dreamlike quality. For example, most of ERASERHEAD takes place in an apartment building whose lobby is recognizable as the Other Place from TWIN PEAKS, and its checkerboard floors trigger a series of half-conscious connections, the common dream trope of a location playing the role of another location. But for every fact we know about the film's production, we're equally uncertain about what it is we're actually looking at, including the creature-child itself, whose uncertain origins have inspired theories that claim it as everything from a cow fetus to an elaborate puppet. Then, amidst this uncertainty, the film's most destabilizing quality emerges: its sweetness. As the father, Jack Nance has a constant wide-eyed, beleaguered stare that is almost as infantile as the creature-child that he tends to, ambivalently at first and then urgently as soon as he sees it in distress. It's effectively moving for the same reason that it's effectively dreamlike, with conscious logic and psychological realism applied to unreal conditions. But because Lynch's mind doesn't seem to format in the conditional or hypothetical, this aspect of unreality is always underlined as literal, so that the scenario of a largely silent father figure demonstrating real concern over his freak spawn is never played as what would happen but what is happening, shifting the focus onto affect and away from conditions. The silhouette of Nance's head has become a visual shorthand for the film, and is also emblematic in many ways of this oddly bound logic; it's shape is both inexplicable and inevitable, and the only place is could possibly make sense is on the floor of a pencil factory, which is exactly where it ends up. (1977, 89 min, 35mm) AO
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Also at The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) this week: Robert Gardner's famed 1964 ethnographic film DEAD BIRDS (83 min, 16mm) screens on Monday at 8pm. Free admission.

Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria St., UIC) partners with the UIC Gender and Sexuality Center, Quare Square Collective, and the national organization Sistah Sinema to launch Sistah Sinema Chicago, "a monthly moderated film event focused on queer women of color." Screening on Saturday at 5pm are the films CROSSOVER (no info available) and Tina Mabry's 2005 film BROOKLYN'S BRIDGE TO JORDAN (20 min). Unconfirmed formats.

The Black Cinema House and Chicago Film Archives present the outdoor screening Movies Under The Stars: The Poetry of the Ringside Warrior on Friday at 9pm (preceded by a potluck at 8:30pm).  Showing are excerpts from ALI VS. SPINKS IN LAS VEGAS (1978, 4 min) and Jim Jacobs' 1970 documentary JACK JOHNSON (1970, 90 min). Unconfirmed Formats. Screening at the BCH's Archive House (6916 S. Dorchester Ave.) in the back garden. Free admission, but limited seating; RSVP at

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art screens Jill Nicholls' 2013 television documentary THE VIVIAN MAIER MYSTERY (50 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 7pm. Executive Producer Jeffrey Kurz and Chicago author Rich Cahan will lead a Q&A session following the film.

This week at the Gene Siskel Film Center: Alexander Mackendrick's 1955 British comedy THE LADYKILLERS (91 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) is on Friday at 6pm and Saturday at 3pm; Ronald Neame's 1952 British comedy THE CARD (aka THE PROMOTER) (85 min, 35mm) is on Saturday at 4:45pm and Tuesday at 6pm; James Gray's 2013 film THE IMMIGRANT (117 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Oeke Hoogendijk's 2008/13 Dutch documentary THE NEW RIJKSMUSEUM (215 min total, showing in two parts, DCP Digital) screens on Saturday at 3pm (Part One) and Saturday at 5:15pm and Thursday at 6pm (Part Two); Carlos Saura's 2010 film FLAMENCO, FLAMENCO (97 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; Jiri Menzel's 2013 Czech film THE DON JUANS (102 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 3pm and Wednesday at 6pm; and Zdenek Tyc's 2013 Czech film LIKE NEVER BEFORE (100 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 5pm and Monday at 6pm.

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: John Maybury's 1998 film LOVE IS THE DEVIL (90 min, 35mm) is on Wednesday at 7pm; and Emile de Antonio's 1973 documentary PAINTERS PAINTING (116 min, 16mm) is on Thursday at 7pm.

Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Jan Troell's 2012 film THE LAST SENTENCE (126 min) opens; Joon-ho Bong's 2013 film SNOWPIERCER (126 min) and Richard Lester's 1964 Beatles' film A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (87 min, DCP Digital; New Restoration) are both held over; Andrew L. Stone's 1943 musical STORMY WEATHER (78 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday and Sunday at 11: 30am; and Jim Henson's 1986 film LABYRINTH (101 min, DCP Digital) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight.

At Facets Cinémathèque this week: Sam Fleischner's 2013 film STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS (102 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) plays for a week's run; and Jeremy Snead's 2014 documentary VIDEO GAMES: THE MOVIE (105 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) is on Saturday at 1pm.

The Logan Theatre screens James Cameron's 1984 film THE TERMINATOR (107 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Friday, Saturday, and Monday at 10:30pm; and Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (95 min, Digital Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Thursday at 10:30pm.

The Chicago Cultural Center screens the Cinema/Chicago presentation of Daniel Burman's 2010 Argentinean film BROTHER AND SISTER (105 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Free admission.

At Chicago Public Library locations this week: Hemamset Angaza's 2012 documentary IN OUR HEAD ABOUT OUR HAIR (79 min, DVD Projection), screening in conjunction with the Black Harvest Film Festival, is on Monday at 5:30pm at the Chicago Bee Branch (3647 S. State St.) and on Wednesday at 6pm at the South Chicago Branch (9055 S. Houston Ave.); and Susanne Suffredin's 2013 documentary @home (46 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) screens on Thursday at 6pm at the Edgewater Branch (6000 N. Broadway St.). Free admission.

The Instituto Cervantes (31 W. Ohio St.) screens Alberto Durant's 2004 Peruvian film DOUBLE GAME (90 min, DVD Projection) on Wednesday at 6pm.



Antena (1755 S. Laflin St.) opens [What Is This Feeling]: New work by Kristin Reeves runs through July 19. On view is a 16mm film projection installation and stills made from "retired" handmade 16mm film loops that are "displayed through a network of x-ray viewers, embellished power strips and electrical cords."

Azimuth Projects (2704 N. Whipple St.) continues the two-person exhibition Gaze through August 3. The show features two video works by Ivan LOZANO, (ERIK) RHODES EX-VOTO (2014) and SUBROSA (FOR ARPAD) (2013), and paintings and mixed media works by Rob Bondgren.

The two-channel video installation Untitled (Structures) by Leslie Hewitt and Bradford Young is on view through August 31 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Mathias Poledna's 2013 film installation Imitation of Life (3 min loop, 35mm) is on view through September 14 at the Art Institute of Chicago (in Gallery 291 of the Modern Wing).

Bruce Nauman's four-channel video installation Clown Torture (1987, 60 min loop) is on view through August 16 at the Art Institute of Chicago (in Gallery 186 of the Modern Wing).



The Northbrook Public Library film series is on hiatus during renovations at the library. Expected completion is Spring 2015.

The Portage Theatre has resumed occasional screenings (from Blu-Ray/DVD only we believe).

As of July 2014 the Patio Theater is up for sale.

The Northwest Chicago Film Society is again on hiatus for their weekly series, with the closing of the Patio Theater. They plan to do occasional screenings as opportunities arise.

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CINE-LIST: July 18 - July 24, 2014

Patrick Friel

CONTRIBUTORS / Josh B. Mabe, Anne Orchier, Kathleen Sachs, James Stroble, Darnell Witt

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