Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, SEPT. 9 - Thursday, SEPT. 15 ::


Gene Siskel Film Center — Check Venue website for showtimes
Perhaps it has also recently happened to you: a group conversation about the merits of Louis C.K.'s TV show Louie, now in its second season. Inevitably someone mentions how revelatory certain episodes are by virtue of entirely avoiding the possibility of humor, by taking plausible human situations not as jokes but with genuine sincerity; and you want to ask: "have you ever seen... movies?" When pressed, it's hard not to recommend Eric Rohmer (specifically, say, 1972's CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON, remade by C.K. and Chris Rock as 2007's I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE). But it remains to be seen if the narcissistic, Manhattan-bound, and relentlessly phallic C.K. will ever achieve the level of narrative experimentation and overt femininity of Rohmer's 1980s Comédies et Proverbs series, of which the improvisational SUMMER (1986, 98 min, 35mm) and THE FOUR ADVENTURES OF REINETTE AND MIRABELLE (1987, 95 min, 35mm) are playing at the Siskel all week in a double-feature antidote. The first takes the perspective of the anxious and antisocial Parisian depressive Delphine (Marie Rivière) during her July vacation, unconsciously seeking a moment of transcendence; the second has as its subject the narrowing opposition between Reinette (Jöelle Miquel) from the country and Mirabelle (Jessica Forde) from Paris. While Rohmer is unambiguously aligned with the latter character, the film's opening immersion in a rustic land devoid of the inequality, conflict, and grift of the city is conceptually reminiscent of Malick's THE NEW WORLD; and no other metropolitan auteur has shown more interest in the countryside's tourist economy of recreation and aleatory romance. REINETTE AND MIRABELLE, however, is also remarkable in its inverse commitment to the dictums of the Bechdel Test: here is a movie that consists of nothing other than two women talking to each other about something other than men. Where SUMMER's Delphine struggles with the ennui of heteronormative superstition, Reinette and Mirabelle have a greater task: to resolve through play the meaning of honor, justice, fairness, and aesthetic judgment within an unforgiving—and yet somehow, as you know, sublime—urban landscape. MC
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Michael Powell's and Emeric Pressburger's I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING!
(British Revival)
Northwest Chicago Film Society at the Portage Theater - Wednesday, 7:30pm

A rebuke of materialism and the wonton acquisition of wealth, Powell and Pressburger's atmospheric romance is also a soft-sell for British wartime bonhomie. Set in the Hebrides of Scotland, a determined woman intends to meet her industrialist fiancé on the Island of Kiloran, but is held on shore by fate and bad weather. When the woman meets the Laird of Kiloran—an upstanding man on leave from active duty, unconcerned with the value of his land—her faith in upper class wealth is undermined. The film plays like a parable, with the Laird acting as the romantic lead and a model for its war-weary audience: honorable, selfless, moralistic, and satisfied with what he has. I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! is never didactic and its precisely paced romance leads its characters gently to its theme. Complete with its own mythology of curses and legends, the film uses the island's people to mirror the woman's conflict. Gaelic is spoken casually and an affecting Scottish dance ritual celebrating a couple's enduring marriage provokes her further. Both picturesque and portentous, the Hebrides' fog gives way to gales, then to heavy seas and a massive ocean whirlpool. Through an enveloping sound design and striking photography, Powell and Pressburger's mastery of the elemental is on full display. The effect is a profound diagnosis of their audience's restlessness with war's humbleness and sacrifice, and a lyrical romance that simultaneously allows them to escape. Showing with the 1946 George Pal Puppetoon TOGETHER IN THE WEATHER, in a 16mm Kodachrome print. (1945, 91 min, 35mm) BW
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Chris Sullivan's CONSUMING SPIRITS (Experimental Animation)  
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center — Thursday, 6pm 
Chris Sullivan's otherworldly animation is full of tiny, odd, and potent details: the tremor of a hand, the turn of a radio dial, a bird on a tree limb. It is this world of small things that draws one in slowly. CONSUMING SPIRITS, local filmmaker and SIAC professor Chris Sullivan's work in progress, a decade in the making so far, is an Appalachian gothic with four main characters—all trapped by some problem of their own making and held together by a sad and inescapably interconnected past. It is a remarkable achievement that such a simple story isn't overwhelmed by the fractured visual world Sullivan builds. CONSUMING SPIRITS glides through stop-motion animation, pencil drawing, collage animation, and Sullivan's signature style of cutout animation, and the movement is fragile and corporeal. While all of the characters in his film are grotesquely rendered, it is hard to imagine them as lifeless pieces of paper. The film is something akin to the magical animation of Yuri Norstein—more cinematic than cartoonish. It often delivers surprising moments of translucence or a mystifying depth of field or a strange spot of light, which all seem to be more captured than constructed. It is also often ruthlessly funny and gruesome, deepening our look at these troubled characters as they attempt to deal with their individual tragedies and disappointments. CONSUMING SPIRITS is exactly as advertised—a consumption. (2011, 125 min, 16mm on HDCam Video) CL 
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Larry Peerce's THE INCIDENT (American Revival) 
Northwest Chicago Film Society at Cinema Borealis — Tuesday, 8pm 
New York City. Round midnight. A subway car filled with weary passengers. Two young hoodlums, who have just mugged an old man at knifepoint, board the train. And they decide they're hungry for more. This tense docudrama from 1967, never released on DVD, is an intriguing precursor to both THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE in its gritty evocation of NYC as urban hellhole. It articulates the anxiety underlying the "white flight" of urban dwellers to the suburbs that was already in progress. Cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld was master at capturing the textures of Manhattan; a few years later he shot COTTON COMES TO HARLEM and DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE. On THE INCIDENT he was denied permission to film anywhere on New York Transit Authority property. So naturally he hid his camera in a bag and got some shots guerrilla-style, which was later blended with footage staged in the studio on a meticulously recreated subway car. The once-in-a-lifetime cast includes Martin Sheen (in a very early role as one of the hoodlums), Beau Bridges, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Ed McMahon (!), and Gary Merrill. And, crucially, Thelma Ritter—can you imagine a film like this without her? Also showing is the 1951 Hanna/Barbera cartoon JERRY'S COUSIN. (1967, 107min, 16mm) RC  
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Alan Schenider's WAITING FOR GODOT and FILM (American Revival) 
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 3pm and Wednesday, 6pm 
While the Film Center is advertizing this revival as a rare opportunity to see the work of Samuel Beckett on the big screen, these are also significant as a record of the work of Alan Schneider, the credited director on both films. Schneider was not only one of Beckett's favorite collaborators; he was one of the leading stage directors of his time, responsible for the American premieres of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane, and numerous works by Harold Pinter. Surely, a man with that résumé knew the ins and outs of alienation and the pregnant pause. Those qualities are central to Beckett's most famous work, WAITING FOR GODOT (1961, 101 min, DigiBeta Video), which Schneider directed on Broadway and then again for public television, starring Burgess Meredith and Zero Mostel. (This is the version that the Siskel will be screening.) The play takes place in an environment devoid of past or future, a decrepit nowhere abandoned by time. If the Theater of the Absurd got its metaphysical heft from the trauma of World War II (whose vision of total annihilation rendered all human society absurd), it got its mechanics from movie comedy: Eugene Ionesco cited the Marx Brothers as a chief influence, while Beckett—whose drama drew power from gestures as much as it did language—was long fascinated by silent comedy. So, it was dream come true for Beckett when he got to collaborate with Buster Keaton on the experimental short FILM (1965, 20 min, 35mm). Considering how withholding Beckett's prose could be, it should be fascinating to see the kind of writing he created out of boyish fandom. BS
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Leo Hurwitz and Paul Strand's NATIVE LAND (Documentary Revival) 
Gene Siskel Film Center — Saturday, 5:30pm and Monday, 8pm
In 1936, Leo Hurwitz and Paul Strand founded Frontier Films, a nonprofit documentary production company that produced political and social activist documentaries. The best known of these is their 1942 film NATIVE LAND. Hurwitz and Strand's film begins with the great actor, singer, and activist Paul Robeson narrating the history of America—from the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 to the present day—as it was shaped by the people. Robeson eloquently recounts the various hard-fought struggles for liberty, in particular those of American labor in the 1930s. The film recreates the heinous crimes against organizing attempts across the United States through fictional episodes, since newsreels from the era did not report these abuses of civil rights to the public. Hurwitz and Strand based the scenes upon information obtained through the LaFollette Committee's governmental hearings about crimes perpetrated by corporations against fledgling unions and their members and supporters. While NATIVE LAND deftly mixes different types of footage to tell its (hi)story, Strand makes the most important contribution to the film's visual aesthetic. It is no wonder considering his still photography helped to define the canon of early American modernism. The traditional humanist genres of landscape, architecture, and portraiture inspired both his photography and filmmaking. In the film, Strand moves from the natural landscape to the modern city, its industries, and its inhabitants, remarkably capturing the details of everyday life that frequently escape us. Although NATIVE LAND screened briefly at small art houses in 1942, the filmmakers were blacklisted for their political beliefs in the McCarthy era, and audiences did not see the film again until Hurwitz bought the rights back in the 1960s. Showing in a newly restored print from the UCLA Film and Television Archive. (1942, 80 min, 35mm) CW
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Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (American Revival) 
Music Box — Sunday, 11:30am 
A crucial film in Robert Altman's filmography, if not necessarily one of the best, this is significant for being Altman's first major commercial success, thereby paving the way for one of the most fascinating—and downright unpredictable—careers of any Hollywood director. The movie marks Altman's first experiment with overlapping dialogue: some scenes have as many as four conversations going on at once. As in subsequent Altman features, the organized cacophony was achieved through an atmosphere of much improvisation. By some accounts, less than one-quarter of the dialogue that made it into the final cut had been scripted. (Ironically, the movie still won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.) The movie's success has less to do with its technical innovation, however, than with Altman's anti-authoritarian views, which struck a deep chord with the anti-war movement of the time. Though M*A*S*H was set during the Korean War, Altman removed all references to Korea during editing so that the setting might be mistaken for Vietnam. The jivey and often sick humor—which, in hindsight, screams late-60s counterculture—only makes things blurrier. (1970, 116 min, 35mm widescreen) BS
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Robert Wiene's THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (Silent German Revival) 
Music Box — Saturday, 12pm
This classic film begins with a young man named Francis (Friedrich Feher) telling the story of the eerie Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) to his friend. One day, Caligari (similar to Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse) arrives in the small town of Holstenwall to present his somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), who sleeps in a coffin-like cabinet, at their fair. When the fair ends, the first in a series of mysterious crimes occurs with the murder of the town clerk, and Francis determines to find the culprit. Not only is THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI the first feature horror film, but also it is the earliest key example in cinema of German Expressionism, deeply influential in the development of film noir. Designed by the exceptionally talented Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann, and Walter Rohrig, the film's studio sets, comprised of painted canvas backdrops, distort one's sense of space to heighten the fear and anxiety experienced by both the characters and audience. Wiene favors the iris shot in capturing the actors and their exaggerated actions, but he uses rectangles and diamonds in addition to circles, mirroring the fundamental shapes seen in the fantastical sets and costumes; these same shapes or combinations thereof appear in the images that the intertitles are set against. Also, the sets inform the stylization of acting, particularly by Krauss and Veidt who previously worked in Expressionist Theater. In The Haunted Screen, film critic and historian Lotte Eisner perfectly described the greatness of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and the first films of Richard Oswald, "These works blithely married a morbid Freudianism and an Expressionistic exaltation to the romantic fantasies of Hoffmann and Eichendorff, and to the tortured soul of contemporary Germany seemed, with their overtones of death, horror and nightmare, the reflection of its own grimacing image, offering a kind of release." Live organ accompaniment by Dennis Scott. (1920, 71 min, 35mm) CW
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Michael Gordon's PILLOW TALK (American Revival) 
Gene Siskel Film Center — Friday and Tuesday, 6pm 
This revival marks the second week of Pamela Robertson Wojcik's lecture series at the Siskel Center, which is inspired by her recent book, The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945 to 1975. The book analyzes how various mid-century films and TV shows depicted apartment life, with an emphasis on the genre's potential for subversive ideas. In a sharp review for Senses of Cinema, John Fidler identifies Wojcik's thesis as follows: "The apartment plot offers a vision of home—centered on values of community, visibility, contact, density, friendship, mobility, impermanence and porousness—in sharp contrast to more traditional views of home as private, stable and family based. The apartment is key, of course, to the imaginary of single and queer life, but it also offers alternative visions of urban married life and child rearing." Wojcik will surely have plenty to say about PILLOW TALK, an epochal film about American single life containing some legendary homophobic gags. (For further discussion of the film's subversive merit, check out Mark Rappaport's 1992 essay film ROCK HUDSON'S HOME MOVIES.) PILLOW TALK concerns the romance between jet-setting singles Rock Hudson and Doris Day, who "meet" over a party line. Hudson's aware of Day's flesh-and-blood identity, but keeps his secret from her since he's worried she'll balk over his swinging bachelor lifestyle. Movies don't get much more vanilla than this, but there's a lot to swoon over if you're a sucker for bright color CinemaScope. Wojcik lectures at the Tuesday screening. (1959, 102 min, 35mm widescreen) BS 

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John Hughes' SIXTEEN CANDLES, WEIRD SCIENCE, and FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (Contemporary American Revivals) 
Music Box — Showtimes noted below 
On a hot streak after penning the screen gems that were NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION and MR. MOM, John Hughes started a three year directorial run that would redefine the Teen Movie, and made a splash with his 1984 debut, SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984, 93 min, DVD Projection; Thursday, 7pm). A romantic comedy with a heavy dose of slapstick, it is best remembered for two things: making the 15 year old stars of the film, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, into overnight sensations, and featuring Gedde Wantanabe as Japanese foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong. As far as Ringwald and Hall are concerned, this was their first major step in becoming teen idols of the 80s. Both turned in great performances in what would turn out to be the first of a multi-movie partnership with Hughes, and made this teen oriented movie funnier, if not smarter, than it deserved to be. Ringwald is the awkward sophomore who is madly in love with a popular senior, and Hall is "the Geek." Despite having lengthy, and still active, careers, the characters they played here have cast a long shadow over the two, pigeonholing them for years to come. Wantanabe has carved out a living through bit and supporting parts (most notably on the TV series ER), but he too is irrevocably tied to his role here—he is still being accosted by strangers for his over-the-top portrayal of "the Donger." There is a thin line between funny and offensive when depicting a racial stereotype and, almost 30 years later, it's still not clear where his portrayal lands. Despite this ongoing controversy (NPR did a 2008 story on the cultural reaction to the character), Hughes' knack for crafting memorable comic sidebars was on full display here, as it would be in his 1985 effort, WEIRD SCIENCE (1985, 94 min, DVD Projection; Thursday, 9:30pm). Again casting Hall as the geek, this lighthearted tale is to computer pornography as TRON was to computer gaming. Taking creative license from the Frankenstein films (which the boys watch in the movie), Hall and his nerdy cohort use a computer to create the perfect woman. Through the power of a military mainframe and the perfect timing of a lightning bolt, these two uptight virgins accidentally spawn Kelly LeBrock, and comedy ensues. Though not featuring the most sophisticated of storylines (basically, nerds use virtual woman to gain popularity and meet girls), the film is noteworthy as the further development of Hughes' career and commercial success. Beyond that, its focus on two insecure high-school outcasts who learn to be comfortable in their own skin is a theme that Hughes would return to time and again. The appeal of both these films lies in their relatable teenage heroes, at once shy and smart, just waiting to grow up. In contrast, there is the picaresque tale of FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (1986, 103 min, 35mm; Friday and Saturday, Midnight), about a confident young man doing what he can to postpone adulthood. In a performance that made him a bonafide leading man at the age of 23, Matthew Broderick creates a character so clever and charming that you can't help but root for him. Beginning with a little white lie about a serious illness to get a final day off before going to college, Ferris schemes to cheer up his best friend Cameron with a VIP tour of the city. Wrigley Field, the Art Institute, Michigan Avenue, and the Sears Tower ("I think I see my dad") are the backdrop for the greatest senior ditch day ever put on film. Its enduring appeal lies in the subplot, however, in which the evil dean of students, Edward Rooney (Jeffery Jones), vows to catch Ferris in the act and force him to repeat his senior year. In the film that not only taught countless youngsters how to properly play sick, but also showcased our city as the playground for Broderick's under stimulated Northshore slacker, there are moments of cinematic greatness. Along with 1985's THE BREAKFAST CLUB, these films mark the high point of Hughes' career as a director, and the popularity of the teen movie. SIXTEEN CANDLES and WEIRD SCIENCE show as part of the Chicago United Film Festival. JH
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On Friday at 8pm, Chicago Filmmakers presents New Documentary Showcase, featuring the films DISH: WOMEN, WAITRESSING AND THE ART OF SERVICE (Maya Gallus), SACRET TRANSFORMATIONS (Justine Nagan), and IRMA (Charles Fairbanks).  
On Saturday, from 3-11pm, The Nightingale hosts Power Up, a daylong pairing of a workshop and performance event to benefit Playpower ( On tap are an 8bit game design workshop w/ no-carrier (3-6pm, $25 registration fee) and public events starting at 8pm with an 8-bit open mic followed at 8:30pm with audio/visual performances by Environmental Sound Collapse, Saskrotch, Kkrusty, Stagediver, Nom Star, & Ungertron (chiptunes) and no-carrier, jon.satrom, & E.S.C (realtime video).  

Opening on Friday at the Carrie Secrist Project Space (835 W. Washington Blvd.) is HEALING, a new video installation by local artist Todd Mattei. 

On Monday at 8pm, Beauty Bar Chicago (1444 W. Chicago Ave.) presents an installment of their "Salonathon" series, with The Ones That Got Away, Part 1. Curated by the Chicago Underground Film Festival, the program features work that the fest wished they could have shown, but didn't have enough space for. Screening are THE NATURAL (Ted Kennedy), RED RIDER'S LAMENT (Jeremy Bessoff), SEDIMENTING (Emilie Crewe), RIVER, COME BACK (Nina Barnett), I GIVE YOU LIFE (Latham Owen Zearfoss), and GOOD HOUSEKEEPING (Emily Oscarson). 

Opening at the Landmark's Century Centre Cinema this week are Maryam Keshavarz's Iranian/French/US drama CIRCUMSTANCE and Mona Achache's French film THE HEDGEHOG

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Mike Ott's 2011 drama LITTLEROCK has five screenings; and Paul Marino and Kurt Norton's new documentary on the National Film Registry, THESE AMAZING SHADOWS, is on Sunday at 5pm. 

Also at the Music Box this week: René Féret's 2010 French drama MOZART'S SISTER opens; the documentary SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS has a final screening on Friday at 3pm; and the Chicago United Film Festival features a lineup of new narrative and documentary features and shorts and retrospective screenings of John Hughes' SIXTEEN CANDLES and WEIRD SCIENCE (see above), John Landis' THE BLUES BROTHERS (Friday, Midnight), and Tom Holland's 1988 horror film CHILD'S PLAY (Saturday, Midnight). 

At Facets Cinémathèque this week is Krisztina Goda's 2007 Hungarian drama CHILDREN OF GLORY

Also at the Portage Theater this week: Roberto Sneider's 2008 Mexican drama TEAR THIS HEART OUT screens on Thursday at 7:30. 
At the Chicago Cultural Center this week: Cinema/Chicago's summer series continues with a screening of Lillian Lieberman's 2010 Mexican film VISA TO PARADISE (from DVD) on Wednesday at 6:30pm and Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat's 2009 Argentinean film THE MAN NEXT DOOR (from DVD) has a repeat screening on Saturday at 2pm. Also on display at the Cultural Center through September 18 is the exhibit Movie Mojo: Hand-Painted Posters from Ghana

The DuSable Museum screens the 2008 documentary FAUBOURG TREME: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BLACK NEW ORLEANS on Sunday at 2pm. 

The Logan Square International Film Series (Comfort Station Logan Square, 2579 N. Milwaukee) screens George Cukor's 1940 comedy THE PHILADELPHIA STORY on Tuesday at 8pm. From DVD.  

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (800 S. Halsted) screens the documentaries A PLACE TO LIVE (2008) and CARMEN'S PLACE (2009) in the Sex+++ Film Series on Tuesday at 7pm. 

On Monday at 8pm, Transistor (3819 N. Lincoln Ave.; note new address) presents Ben Sombogaart's 2002 Dutch film TWIN SISTERS (from DVD).

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CINE-LIST: September 9 - September 15, 2011


CONTRIBUTORS / Michael Castelle, Rob Christopher, Jason Halprin, Christy LeMaster, Ben Sachs, Brian Welesko, Candace Wirt, Darnell Witt

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