Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, JUNE 5 - Thursday, JUNE 11 ::


Aleksey German's HARD TO BE A GOD (New Russian)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes

The "silence of God" has been a popular theme of serious artists working in different mediums for centuries but Russian filmmaker Aleksey German, adapting a sci-fi novel by the Strugatskiy Brothers, apparently found a completely original way to explore this concept in his final film (he died in post-production and HARD TO BE A GOD was completed by his wife and son): many years in the future, a scientist from Earth named Don Rumata (Leonid Yarmolnik) is sent to observe life on the distant planet Arkanar, a place that happens to bear a strong resemblance to Europe during the Middle Ages (i.e., it's a pre-industrial society where everyone is living in filth and misery, intellectuals are persecuted and human cruelty and stupidity are generally on display everywhere). The Arkanarians regard Rumata as a "God" but the more enlightened man is, for obscure reasons, not allowed to help the members of this alien race transcend the venality and backwardness in which their lives are mired. Some of this narrative information is explained via a sparse voice-over but most of it has to be inferred from a barrage of ugly, non-narrative images that are so rich in putrid detail that they attain a kind of mesmerizing, hallucinatory beauty. Indeed it is practically impossible to capture German's painterly mise-en-scene using words; suffice it to say that the immersive HARD TO BE A GOD feels like some kind of scatological remix of ANDREI RUBLEV where the plentiful blood, piss, shit, and vomit of the characters commingles with the endless rain and fog of the locations they inhabit, which, when captured by the low-contrast black-and-white cinematography, creates images that resemble moving charcoal drawings in their thick, gray, tactile textures. While the use of an endlessly mobile camera and the sense of lives constantly bustling beyond the edges of the frame will be familiar to those who have seen German's previous film--the equally formidable but more absurdist KHRUSTALYOV, MY CAR!--the overall tone here is closer to something like SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM in its unbearable bleakness. It is unlikely that either Pasolini or German knew these movies would be their last but the extremism with which they approached form and content lends each film the feeling of a final testament in hindsight; when creating a work of art entails jumping into an abyss, sometimes no encore is imaginable. (2013, 170 min, DCP Digital) MGS
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Frank Tashlin's WHO'S MINDING THE STORE? (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 7pm

In a piece on director Frank Tashlin for the New York Times, Dave Kehr noted that a "satirist is necessarily a moralist, and for all of the fun Tashlin had with the exaggerated imagery of American pop culture, he insisted on the importance of rejecting the illusions of consumerism for the reality of human emotion." This is obviously prevalent in his 1963 film WHO'S MINDING THE STORE?, as it's set in the fictional Tuttle Department Store with most of the gags revolving around things one can expect to find in any city-block-sized paragon of consumer culture (excepting elephant guns, of course). Ironically--and sadly--enough, such satire was lost on or simply ignored by the numerous companies that Jerry Lewis' PR chief exploited for product placement deals. "The manufacturers supplied us with all the products used in the film--about $1,500,000 worth," he said, as well as free promotion in magazines and on the radio. This intentional gratuitousness is brilliantly juxtaposed by a scene in which Jerry Lewis mimes typing on a typewriter. There's no actual product involved, so this bit of brilliant imagination stands out in a film packed to the warehouse rafters with tangible obstructions. It's also another way in which Lewis' Norman Phiffier is shown as being different from those around him. He's a character with character. A goofball with integrity, just looking to make his way and take care of his girl. This is further reflected by the way Tashlin seemingly disconnects him from the acquisitive absurdity. After being assigned to the sale section by the manager in yet another attempt to make him quit his job and ditch the girl, Normal experiences the full force of overzealous bargain hunters as they barrel toward their desired discount wares. Precise cutting between the eager horde and Lewis' zany expressions creates a dissonance that both highlights Norman's reactions and clearly separates him from the materialistic stampede. The director's background in animation is also evident in such scenes; one is reminded of reaction shots in which a cartoon character's eyes burst out of its head while steam comes out its ears. Perhaps the only disappointing thing about the film is that gender role reversal is used as part of the anti-consumerist satire. The men are good-natured patsies, while the women live only to either satisfy or emasculate their fellas while likewise being obsessed with money and objects. But despite this drawback, its preference of "human emotion" combined with Lewis' physical comedy and Tashlin's stylistic flourishes make it well worth watching. (1963, 90 min, 16mm) KS
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Stanley Kubrick's FEAR AND DESIRE (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7 and 9:30pm, Saturday, 1pm, and Sunday, 1:30pm

For decades, FEAR AND DESIRE was known only as Stanley Kubrick's suppressed film: embarrassed by its amateurish faults and pretensions, he pulled it from distribution, and the few prints that existed were exhibited against his will, rarely and even furtively. In my youth, Kubrickophile as I was, I had to content myself with a bootleg VHS dupe, so many generations removed from whatever illicit scan produced it that its images glowed, and its soundtrack was little more than a permanent, serpentine hiss. There was no telling what secrets lurked within that impenetrable lacquer of static and NTSC bloodbath. Seeing it now in this beautiful restoration, produced by the Library of Congress, it is clear that Kubrick's first feature wears its influences too much on its sleeves. Often, this clumsy effort, made for too little money and without a single professional crewmember, reads like half-baked Vsevolod Pudovkin, served over a bed of Samuel Fuller, with a watered-down T. S. Eliot dressing. The cuts are severe, alienating, disruptive, confusing and jarring the narrative flow like hiccups. The wartime allegory is forced, the soldiers are a group of penny-ante philosophers, and the drama smothered in atmosphere. The script is laden, wet with languorous monologues dragged out of the post-synchronized voices. And yet, there is more to love here than in many of Kubrick's other early films. The photography, honed by Kubrick's years as a photojournalist, is exquisite, and its roughness and silly, over-ambitious grasps at meaning-with-a-capital-M read less as the work of hapless wannabes, mumblecoring their way to an affected cultural relevance, than as the earnest and terrified work of a filmmaker on borrowed time, going-for-broke on what could be his only chance to make his mark. Kubrick threw everything he had into FEAR AND DESIRE, and much of what stuck ended up tracing forward through to his mature works: the awkward, vicious sexual madness of Paul Mazursky's character as he attempts to seduce his prisoner; the rapid-fire, awful night-time attack on a pair of enemy soldiers just trying to eat their dinner; Frank Silvera's great performance, groaning with the weight of his need to matter to the world. After another, and somewhat more accomplished, self-financed film, Kubrick would enter Hollywood, making a series of increasingly slick and soulless films with James B. Harris and Kirk Douglas, films with infinitely more subtlety and considerably less interest than this, and with the release of DR. STRANGELOVE, he would suddenly emerge as perhaps the finest director of his generation. FEAR AND DESIRE is far from a great film, but its flaws are more telling and moving than the empty successes of the Harris/Douglas productions, showing a Kubrick already fascinated by the power of careful composition and expert control over the timing of images and motion, of the brilliant use of unexpected transitions and visual juxtapositions. Kubrick's first feature makes a grand promise, one his career cashed out in spades. Followed by three early Kubrick short films showing in archival prints: THE FLYING PADRE (1951, 9 min, 35mm), DAY OF THE FIGHT (1951, 16 min, 35mm), and THE SEAFARERS (1953, 30 min, 16mm). (1953, 62 min., 35mm Archival Print) KB
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Back from the Flames (Retour de Flamme) (Special Event)
Music Box Theatre - Saturday, 7:30pm

Yes, this is on DCP. And, yes, I've been one of the most vocal people in the city decrying celluloid-works showing on DCP. But this is a terrific program, and the DCP looks decent. Over the past three decades, Serge Bromberg and his Paris-based company Lobster Films have assembled one of the largest collections of early cinema titles. Bromberg has uncovered many previously-lost titles and become a leader in film restoration and preservation. This program features an eclectic assortment of 1897-1936 titles from Lobster Films' collection. Bromberg will introduce each selection and accompany most of the silent films himself on piano. The longest film in the program is a recently discovered alternate version of Buster Keaton and Malcolm St. Clair's 1922 short THE BLACKSMITH (29 min). This version includes re-shot scenes and additional footage, including a terrific risqué (for 1922) moment when a chase between Keaton's character and his blacksmith-boss is paused so the two can watch the silhouette of a woman undressing at a window. They pull up a crate and sit down, staring at the framed figure--Skinemax avant la lettre. The most "recent" film is Ub Iwerks' delightfully strange 1936 cartoon BALLOONLAND, an early color animation that abounds in phallic imagery with much "deflation." The majority of the program focuses on early cinema, 1897-1914, an area of specialty for Lobster Films. Among the highlights are Georges Méliès' 1897 film APRES LE BAL [AFTER THE BALL], in which a fulsome woman almost completely undresses (an example of turn-of-the-century erotica), Gaston Velle's 1904 beautifully hand-colored Pathé Frères film LA METAMORPHOSE DU PAPILLON [A BUTTERFLY CHANGES], and an early experiment with sound, the 1908 opera short ACH WEI SO TRUGERISCH. Two favorites are popular-science film pioneer F. Percy Smith's great 1908 film THE ACROBATIC FLY, which has a fly on its back "juggling" various things (including another fly) with its legs, and the 1912 travelogue GWALIO, VILLE DE L'INDE ANGLAISE, which features some lovely, restrained hand-coloring, mostly in yellows and greens. Also included is the stunning color version of Georges Méliès' 1902 classic A TRIP TO THE MOON, which Bromberg will narrate. Bromberg will also be showing a number of "surprise" films, several of which are perhaps the best in the program, but I promised not to reveal them. Suffice it to say that two of them are among my favorite early cinema works, and one new to me is in the running. Bromberg will introduce each film individually; the running time below is for the films themselves, the program itself will be longer. (1897-1936, approx. 85 min, DCP Digital) PF
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Tsai Ming-liang's REBELS OF THE NEON GOD (Taiwanese Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 7:45pm, Sunday, 3pm, Tuesday, 6pm, and Wednesday, 8pm

Along with Claire Denis in France, Pedro Costa in Portugal, and Paul Thomas Anderson in the U.S., Tsai is one of the rare living directors who still makes movies exclusively for the big screen. His scrupulous pacing, mise-en-scene, and sound design require the amplitude of a theater to achieve full effect: watching his work on TV inevitably leads one to miss the small details that tie together entire scenes. REBELS OF THE NEON GOD, Tsai's first feature, is an uncharacteristic work in that it features more music and camera movement than any of his subsequent films. (He claims that the move towards austerity was to accommodate his notoriously recalcitrant leading man, Lee Kang-sheng, who's appeared in virtually all his work.) Moreover, the focus on adolescent gangs makes this more of a piece with the Taiwanese New Wave in general (in particular Edward Yang's A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY and Hou Hsiao-Hsien's A TIME TO LIVE, A TIME TO DIE) than with the rest of Tsai's oeuvre; yet there are observations of pained family interaction that anticipate his masterpiece, THE RIVER (1997), and fans should enjoy seeing the same leads from that film play a family here. (1992, 109 min, Archival 35mm Print on Sunday only; DCP Digital - New Restoration all other screenings) BS
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Eskil Vogt's BLIND (New Norwegian)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Check Venue website for showtimes

In Eskil Vogt's first feature film, Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) has recently gone blind and been told by her doctor that her ability to visualize what she could once see will eventually fade away. She takes to writing in an attempt to control this misfortune from taking hold. BLIND is highly sexual and frequently nihilistic. The film is in constant debate between Ingrid's perceptions versus reality. What makes her point of view so unique is the unreliability of her awareness of her surroundings. One moment we see her imagining her husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen), conversing with his friend, Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt) at a coffee shop about unfaithfulness only moments later to be shown the two discussing film while riding a bus. BLIND blurs the lines of realism and imagination in stunning fashion. Vogt makes use of shallow focus to further emphasize these blurs. It is reminiscent of Shane Carruth's UPSTREAM COLOR and Lars Von Trier's NYMPHOMANIAC in regards to tone and content with a touch of Ingmar Bergman's PERSONA to boot. Sexuality's role is highly important as themes of infidelity, voyeurism, and obsession are explored in great depth. Is Morten really cheating on Ingrid? Is Einar a sexually depraved individual? Surely Ingrid's world has not changed so drastically since she lost her sight but perhaps it has. BLIND opens itself to multiple viewings in order to determine what the answers to these questions actually are. Vogt's film is a sexy sociological journey into the duality of expectations versus reality. (2014, 96 min, DCP Digital) KC
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Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE (American Revival)
Music Box Theatre - Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am

What's left to say about CITIZEN KANE? These days, it's difficult to imagine anyone sitting down to watch it without first being warned that they are about to view The Greatest Film of All Time, an accolade so frequently affixed that it should by now count as a subtitle. Yet it remains a master class in aesthetic design in which all the production elements (bustling staging, overlapping dialogue, choose-your-own-adventure plotting, lighting so chiaroscuro that most of the shadows fall on the ceiling, editing so fluid it is better described as rhythm) work together so seamlessly as to seem impossible without one another. Famously the first and last studio project the boy wonder had final cut on, this boasts an unusually tidy rise-and-fall narrative for Welles; if his later, compromised studio films (THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, LADY FROM SHANGHAI, TOUCH OF EVIL) ultimately prove more rewarding, it is perhaps because their Rosebuds are obscured and their mysteries preserved. (1941, 119 min, 35mm or DCP Digital--the MB scheduled a 35mm print, but received a DCP. They were attempting to obtain a print, but we've not been able to confirm by our press deadline) MK
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Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.) presents Group 312 Films 2015 Annual Report on Saturday at 8pm. This program of short films (no details available) includes work by Kevin B. Chatham, Chris Mann, Richard Syska, Brian Klein, Dave Purdie, Emily Tolan, Steve Wood, and Marian Oliver. Filmmakers in person. The program repeats on Wednesday at 6:30pm at Columbia College Chicago (Hokin Hall, 623 S. Wabash Ave.)

The Black Cinema House (7200 S. Kimbark Ave.) screens Yoruba Richen's 2013 documentary THE NEW BLACK (80 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format) on Sunday at 4pm, with producer Yvonne Welbon in person. Free admission, but limited seating; RSVP at

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Simon Curtis' 2015 film WOMAN IN GOLD (110 min, DCP Digital) plays for a week; in the "Young French Cinema" series, Lionel Baier's 2013 film LONGWAVE (85 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 3pm and Thursday at 6pm, and Guillaume Brac's 2013 film TONNERRE (102 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 4:45pm and Wednesday at 6pm; and in the Czech film series, Jan Hrebekj's 2014 film THE ICING (81 min, DCP Digital) is on Sunday at 5:15pm and Tuesday at 8:15pm.

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: Noah Baumbach's 2014 film WHILE WE'RE YOUNG (97 min, DCP Digital) is on Saturday at 7 and 9pm and Sunday at 4pm.

Also at the Music Box Theatre this week: Rodney Ascher's 2015 documentary THE NIGHTMARE (90 min) opens; Also opening is Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy (DCP Digital; New Restorations), consisting of APARAJITO [THE UNVANQUISHED] (1955), APUR SANSAR [THE WORLD OF APU] (1956), and PATHER PANCHALI [SONG OF THE LITTLE ROAD] (1959); Albert Maysles' 2014 documentary IRIS (83 min) and Shira Piven's 2014 film WELCOME TO ME (105 min) both continue; Chad Gracia's 2015 documentary THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER (80 min) is on Tuesday at 7:30pm; James Cameron's 1991 film TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (137 min, 35mm) is on Friday and Saturday at Midnight; and Depaul University Premiere Night is on Friday at 6pm. Unconfirmed Formats except where noted.

Block Cinema (Northwestern University) presents their annual Rare Baseball Films program, curated and introduced by Wexner Center for the Arts (The Ohio State University) Director of Film/Video Dave Filipi, on Friday at 7pm. (Unknown Years, approx. 120 min, Video Projection - Unconfirmed Format)

Facets Cinémathèque plays Fernando Coimbra's 2013 Brazilian film A WOLF AT THE DOOR (100 min, Unconfirmed Format) for a week's run; and Shira Piven's 2014 film WELCOME TO ME (86 min, Unconfirmed Format) for a six-day run beginning Saturday.

Comfort Film at Comfort Station Logan Square (2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.) screens Pierre Morel's 2008 film TAKEN (90 min, DVD Projection) on Friday at 8pm, with live commentary by guest comedians; and Amit V Masurkar's 2014 Indian film SULEMANI KEEDA (PAIN IN THE ASS) (89 min, Digital Projection) on Wednesday at 8pm. Free admission for both.



The exhibition Frances Stark: Intimism is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through August 30. The show is a comprehensive survey of Stark's video and digital production.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents an exhibition of nine video works by artist Keren Cytter. On view through October 4.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents German artist Clemens von Wedemeyer's HD video installation Muster (Rushes) (2012). On view through July 26.



Chicago Public Library screenings: Due to the frequency of late-additions (past our deadlines) and to their frequent inability (due to licensing restrictions) of publicly listing the titles of films they are screening, we will no longer be listing specific CPL screenings. Check their website for any films that may be showing.

The Patio Theater and the Portage Theater calendars have been confusing and constantly shifting--adding and removing events with little notice--and reportedly have been unexpectedly closed for scheduled events. We will no longer attempt to list any screenings there.

The Northbrook Public Library film series is on hiatus during renovations at the library. Screenings resume in mid-June.

The Northwest Chicago Film Society will be resuming screenings in July.

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CINE-LIST: June 5 - June 11, 2015

Patrick Friel

CONTRIBUTORS / Kian Bergstrom, Kyle Cubr, Mike King, Ben Sachs, Kathleen Sachs, Michael G. Smith, Darnell Witt

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