Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, SEPT. 2 - Thursday, SEPT. 8 ::


Robert Altman's COME BACK TO THE 5 & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 6pm
A forgotten mid-period gem from Robert Altman's nearly fifty-year career, COME BACK TO THE 5 & DIME receives its well-deserved restoration and revival. A middling story, adapted from Ed Graczyk's play—which Altman directed on Broadway to poor reviews—COME BACK is a curious hybrid of film, theater, and television that takes the best Altman offers to each. Set entirely in a Woolworth's, near the filming location of GIANT, a nearly all-female James Dean fan club reunites twenty years after the actor's death. After the sole male member of the fan club returns as a woman, the story coalesces around soap opera secrets and their hammy revelations, befores and afters, literal mirrors and their reflected transformations. Altman's "roaming camera" of orchestrated pans and zooms makes the claustrophobic space open and lively, and flashbacks to 1955 are shown through the general store's theatrical two-way mirrors. Genuine and artful performances (Pauline Kael wrote of the actresses: "They bring conviction to their looneytunes characters") builds meaning and helps draw out the cause and effect of Graczyk's text through Altman's craft. The two are meant for each other: both peddle in pop culture iconography, religio-hyperbole, and insular, provincial groups of deeply flawed people. However, where Graczyk turns to nostalgia and melodrama, Altman elicits a complex mix of sentimentality and cynicism. (1982, 109 min, 35mm) BW
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Clarence Brown's THE GOOSE WOMAN (Silent American Revival) 
Gene Siskel Film Center — Monday, 4:30pm 
Clarence Brown claimed to have gotten into movies to get out of being a car salesman, though his Hollywood output isn't anywhere near as patronizing as that story would suggest. An admirer of great authors (his 30s projects include adaptations of Tolstoy, Eugene O'Neill, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery) and movie-star aurae (he was one of Greta Garbo's favorite directors, for instance), Brown was also curious enough about filmmaking to toy with the process a few times in every picture. His pre-code drama A FREE SOUL (1931) climaxes with the longest shot that had yet been attempted in movies, and this silent pulls off at least one astonishing tracking shot in its brief running time. In one of them, the title character—a former opera diva ruined by drink and reduced to raising geese in a swamp—storms across her land in full mobile glory, an indignant goose at her side and a shotgun in tow. It's a vibrant moment in a work comprised mainly of ossified melodramatic conventions: a dissolute woman unable to make amends with her grown son; a good man accused of murder on the scantiest evidence (with the movie's police, up until then a pretty nice-seeming bunch, suddenly turning malevolent when they interrogate him); young lovers meeting in secret because that's what the true-hearted do in a callous world. This is worth seeing on the big screen for the close-ups, which seemed to mean something wholly different in the silent era than they would after the arrival of sound. Even in a second-tier melodrama like this, there are moments in which the entire apparatus of storytelling (from exposition to implied consequence) is trusted to a single expressive face, inspiring the spectator to look up in wonder at gestures he'd customarily take for granted. Live piano accompaniment by David Drazin. (1925, 80 min, 35mm) BS
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David Cronenberg's THE FLY (American Revival) 
Music Box — Friday and Saturday, Midnight  

David Cronenberg may have finally shed the moniker of "former midnight-movie director," but it's worth noting that the major themes of his recent work have been present all along. This revival of THE FLY is a reminder of how much Cronenberg has always been in control of his ideas—and, as importantly, how he could use them to truly unsettle an audience. The film was a potentially thankless project (a remake of a 50s sci-fi/horror item affectionately remembered as camp), but Cronenberg transformed it into something wholly personal, an existentialist allegory about growing alienated from your own body. It's discomforting filmmaking from literally the first shot, a classic Cronenbergian close-up that isolates the main character (Jeff Goldblum, in the performance of his career) in a frame purposely devoid of context: the surrounding milieu (in terms of both space and time) is rendered unclear, and the overly technical sci-fi jargon, delivered with deadpan assurance, only complicates things further. It takes a few minutes to determine that, no, we're not in a dream; the rest of the film can be seen as a deepening of that initial uncertainty. As Goldblum's scientist transforms into a giant insect (an extremely nuanced process, thanks to Cronenberg's scientific imagination and some of the finest make-up of any movie), the more sympathy he arouses in the journalist who's fallen for him. Some critics have read the film as an AIDS metaphor; and on that level, it ranks with the best of Derek Jarman and Todd Haynes. But the central romance—in which love is strengthened by the impossibility of love—resonates in a number of directions, sustaining the film across multiple viewings. (1986, 95 min, 35mm) BS
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Alfred Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW (American Revival) 
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday, 6pm and Tuesday, 6pm 
Grace Kelly was never lovelier, "the right girl for any man with half a brain who can get one eye open." Thus spoke Thelma Ritter to Jimmy Stewart's sardonic photographer. The three function as a superb trio, as jazzy as Franz Waxman's score; equally matched and indivisible, perhaps the only such formation in any Hitchcock film. Through an alchemy yet to be duplicated, Hitchcock and writer John Michael Hayes got together and somehow fashioned the most perfect screenplay ever created. The characters' dialogue as written and performed meshes seamlessly with Hitchcock's own monologue, one that brilliantly uses camera, editing table, and sound design. Especially the latter. Its diegetic soundscape remains thrillingly unique. And its pacing is flawless; it's tightly conceived and executed yet never seems to be in a hurry. No matter how many times you've seen it, this is one movie that never stops offering up new pleasures. Pamela Robertson Wojcik lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1954, 112 min, 35mm) RC
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Lucas Belvaux's RAPT (New French) 
Music Box — Check Venue website for showtimes 
An elegant thriller, RAPT's plot about a millionaire executive (Yvan Attal) who gets kidnapped for ransom unfolds with grace, it's French sensibility totally lacking the sensationalism and coarseness of its American counterparts like, say, RANSOM (which in comparison looks like SCREAM). For all the high-emotion and tension that a film can bring out of a kidnapping situation, RAPT is fairly steady, maintaining its own characters' upper-class composure and coolness throughout. The film is like one of those expensive chess sets that adorns a room: being sleek and stiff, it gives and air of sophistication; if it were ever played it would bring disorder yet remain stately. Lucas Belvaux directs his movie like a flawless game of Operation: serious, full of careful movements, but with enjoyment, however faintly apparent. Attal's character is mostly present by being absent: more screen time is given to his family and the police, the latter at times more interested in getting him back than the former, a side-effect of his adulterous and detached personal life, the details of which become public as the media expose the scandalous story. (2009, 126 min, 35mm) KH
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César Charlone and Enrique Fernández's THE POPE'S TOILET (Contemporary Uruguayan Revival) 
Chicago Cultural Center — Saturday, 2pm 
The recent cinema of Uruguay has given to the world a distinct new brand of human comedy. Low-key by design, its virtues may be too light to glean, perhaps, from just one film; but a decade of like-minded films has revealed an overarching worldview—wry, tolerant, often quietly wise. The new Uruguayan comedy (such as WHISKY, GIGANTIC, or Cine-File favorite A USEFUL LIFE) has found much humor in the foibles of everyday life, usually focusing on a stubborn petit-bourgeois or artisan type whose minor success in business results in some socially crippling neurosis or vice-versa. There are traces of Harold Lloyd and William Saroyan in the Uruguayan comedy, but there's also a relaxed deadpan charm to the films, suggesting there's no problem in life that a nap or a hot maté couldn't fix. This weekend's revival of THE POPE'S TOILET is as good an introduction to the films as any, especially since the screening is free-of-charge. It's a gentle comedy about the an impoverished town's excitement over an upcoming papal visit: if they set up a pay toilet, the townspeople realize, they can raise a fortune from the Brazilian tourists who relieve themselves after seeing His Holiness. (The juxtaposition of religious fervor with hucksterism—and with the spectacle of thousands going to the bathroom—would have surely pleased Bunuel.) Part of Cinema/Chicago's summer series. (2007, 90 min, DVD Projection) BS
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William Marshall's THE PHANTOM PLANET & Bernard L. Kowalski's NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST (American Revivals) 
Shock Theater (at the Wicker Park Arts Center, 2215 W North Ave) — Friday, 9pm  
As far as ultra-marginal figures go, William Marshall is pretty intriguing: a bandleader, bit-part actor and full-time Francophile who was married to Ginger Rogers, Micheline Presle (with whom he fathered VENUS BEAUTY INSTITUTE director Tonie Marshall) and Michele Morgan, Marshall also found time in his busy schedule to direct two late Errol Flynn vehicles (one with uncredited assistance from Robert Florey) and the AIP cheapie THE PHANTOM PLANET (1961, 82 min, 16mm). It's joined here on a double bill with Bernard L. Kowalski's NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1958, 62 min, 16mm); both films are probably best known for their appearances on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but they've got more going for them than terrible, terrible-looking monsters and clunky dialogue. THE PHANTOM PLANET makes resourceful use of very limited sets, and BLOOD BEAST's laboratory scenes have an effectively noirish vibe thanks to some good camerawork by John M. Nickolaus, Jr. (THE TERROR). IV    
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Richard Donner's THE GOONIES (Contemporary American Revival)
Portage Theater — Friday, 8pm
The retreat into infantile adventure as a way to resolve genuine economic problems is a hallmark of the early Spielbergian oeuvre, and Richard Donner's autumnal 2.35:1 children's epic (bankrolled by Spielberg) is no exception. The middle-class gifted children of drizzly seaside Astoria, Oregon, facing eviction of their families by an expanding preppie country club, are inspired by their region's poorly-documented colonial past to literally descend deep into the earth to recover an entombed bounty of pre-fiat riches. Pursued by a small, villainous Italian-American crime family unconsciously preserving the tricks of the pirate trade (robbery, counterfeiting, murder), our perpetually-yelling heroes combine their scholastic talents (mechanical engineering, Spanish proficiency, and sight- reading) to linearly "complete" a variety of video-game-adaptation-ready action sequences and save their steep, hilly neighborhood from becoming what would have been the Pacific Northwest's shittiest golf course. Millions of the film's original viewers, by contrast, would in fact ultimately lose their homes in this decade's housing bubble. Free tickets available at various Six Corners locations, including City News, 4018 N. Cicero. (1985, 114 min, 35mm) MC
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John Hughes' THE BREAKFAST CLUB (Contemporary American Revival)  
Chicago History Museum — Wednesday, 6pm 
For people of a certain age, Anthony Michael Hall's voiceover that bookends this film will forever define the only roles everyone at their high school had to play: a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. And for the brat packers who formed our ensemble cast, these labels would stick with them for the rest of their careers. Watching this film makes you recall a time when Molly Ringwald (the princess) was the Emma Stone of her day, and Emilio Estevez (the athlete) was the Zach Ephron. Both were young and cute, with girl/boy-next-door good looks, and it seemed that their careers could last forever. Hall was so good as the pressure-cooked nerd who couldn't get an A in shop class that he would spend then next decade-plus trying to show his range. Ally Sheedy (the basket case) is the exception that proves the rule, as she was able to lose that label as soon as the credits rolled. Our criminal, played by the now shaggy Judd Nelson, defined cool rebellion for the better part of a decade and is surely the highlight of the film. As John Bender, he insulted the school principal right to his face ("Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?"), hid dope in his locker (and in AMH's underwear), saw through everyone's bullshit and called them out on it, and got to make out with the prom queen. John Bender was also full of some real malice, and had the cigarette burns on his arm to show us why. Ultimately, he forced a bonding ritual on his fellow high school students, and seemed to be the life of the party. He was the hero of the film, but what is left out of the diegesis may be Hughes' most important comment of all. We know that Bender's triumphant fist pump to close the movie ("Don't you...forget about me!") is the high point of his life. At best he is destined for a crappy job in a bleak suburb, stuck in a loveless marriage with kids he can't stand. At worst he's drunk and alone, recounting how he blew his last best chance with that pretty little rich girl. Easily John Hughes' most mature effort up to that point, the film encapsulated the social structure of the white, middle-class, suburban high school experience of the 1980s. It celebrated the characters and the institutional halls they roamed, but also paid respect to their anxieties and problems, and never implied that these weren't the best years of their lives. The film will be presented outdoors on the museum's Uihlien Plaza. (1985, 97 min, DVD Projection) JH
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On Thursday at 8pm, The Nightingale hosts Homeroom Chicago, which presents YouTube Assembly: A 10 Course Meal, with selections/presentations this time by local artists Catie Olson and Meg Duguid. 

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: the UCLA Festival of Preservation series begins this week and includes Clarence Brown's THE GOOSE WOMAN and Robert Altman's COME BACK TO THE 5 & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN (see above for both) and also features Paul Sloane's 1926 silent EVE'S LEAVES on Monday at 3pm (with live piano accompaniment by David Drazin), the Outfest Legacy Project Program on Saturday (5:15pm) and Thursday (8pm), and Paul Marino and Kurt Norton's new documentary on the National Film Registry, THESE AMAZING SHADOWS, on Sunday at 2:30pm (repeats several times during the ULCA series); On Sunday at 2pm, J. Kevin Swain's new documentary SOUL TRAIN: THE HIPPEST TRIP IN AMERICA screens, followed by a discussion with director Swain, Soul Train creator Don Cornelius, and Soul Train Holdings CEO Kenard Gibbs, moderated by Chicago Public Radio host Richard Steele; and Chicago area return engagements for Michael Winterbottom's THE TRIP, Rodman Flender's documentary CONAN O'BRIEN CAN'T STOP, and Mike Mills' BEGINNERS

Also at the Music Box this week: Oliver Schmitz's 2010 South African drama LIFE, ABOVE ALL opens; Joseph Dorman's documentary Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness continues; Dennis Hopper's 1969 classic EASY RIDER is the Saturday and Sunday matinee; and the Friday and Saturday Midnight films are John Carpenter's new film THE WARD and David Cronenberg's THE FLY (see above).        

Facets Cinémathčque screens Yoav Potash's 2010 documentary CRIME AFTER CRIME this week. Therasa Zito, Director of Domestic Violence Services at Jane Addams Hull House Association, in person for Q&A after the 7pm Friday show; Rob Warden, Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions (Northwestern School of Law) in person for Q&A after the 7pm Monday show; and Gail Smith, the Executive Director of the Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM) in person for Q&A after the 7pm Wednesday show. Smith will also moderate a panel discussion. 

On Monday at 8pm, Transistor (3819 N. Lincoln Ave.; note new address) presents Fatih Akin's 2004 German film HEAD-ON (from DVD). 

Also at the Chicago Cultural Center this week: Local filmmaker Thomas Comerford appears in person on Thursday at noon to screen and discuss his experimental documentary THE INDIAN BOUNDARY LINE (part of the Creative Living in the City Lecture Series); and Cinema/Chicago's summer series continues with a screening of Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat's 2009 Argentinean film THE MAN NEXT DOOR (from DVD) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. Also on display at the Cultural Center through September 18 is the exhibit Movie Mojo: Hand-Painted Posters from Ghana.

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CINE-LIST: September 2 - September 8, 2011


CONTRIBUTORS / Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Jason Halprin, Kalvin Henely, Ben Sachs, Ignatiy Vishnevestsky, Brian Welesko, Darnell Witt

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