Chicago Guide to Independent and Underground Cinema
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:: Friday, MAY 11 - Thursday, MAY 17 ::


Harry Smith's NO. 12: HEAVEN AND EARTH MAGIC (Avant-Garde)
Experimental Film Club / Film Studies Center (U of C) – Saturday, 7pm
The EFC presents a brand new, restored 16mm print of the greatest film by legendary avant-garde animator and musicologist Harry Smith (1923-1991): "A masterpiece like none other, HEAVEN AND EARTH MAGIC is a fever-dream collage animation of inexplicable depth and illogical means. Beautiful to behold and bizarrely baroque, Smith toiled for years to create the surreal images and musique concrete soundtrack. Described by critic/historian P. Adams Sitney as 'one of the strangest and most fascinating landmarks in the history of cinema,' HEAVEN AND EARTH MAGIC stands as the fullest expression of Smith's work as a filmmaker/animator. By turns playful and nightmarish, the obsessively realized imagery is truly unlike anything else in the cinema." Though the mystifying work defies encapsulation, Smith was kind enough to leave us with this illuminating summary: "The first part depicts the heroine's toothache consequent to the loss of a valuable watermelon, her dentistry and transportation to heaven. Next follows an elaborate exposition of the heavenly land in terms of Israel, Montreal and the second part depicts the return to earth from being eaten by Max Muller on the day Edward the Seventh dedicated the Great Sewer of London." (1959-1961, 66 min). Quotes from EFC program. Images, bio, and more at the Harry Smith Archives. Full program details available here.

Maurice Pialat's NAKED CHILDHOOD (Classic Revival)
Cinema Borealis (1550 N Milwaukee) – Monday, 8:30pm
The Chicago Cinema Forum, a new organization dedicated to bringing rare gems of world cinema to Chicago, introduces itself with an exciting free screening. A distant sister piece to Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS, the rarely-screened NAKED CHILDHOOD (L'ENFANCE NUE, 1968) is "secretly the better film" (Tim Wong, The Lumìere Reader). In his auspicious debut, controversial French filmmaker Maurice Pialat takes a starkly realistic and fragmentary approach in presenting the life of François, an orphaned ten year-old who's adopted by an elderly couple in the countryside. He proves to be a terror, and his adoptive parents go through several disciplinary motions before François takes it upon himself to make an important change. Pialat and scenarist Arlette Langmann (co-writer on Philippe Garrel's REGULAR LOVERS) give a discursive treatment of the French character: abstract nationalism is dispelled in favor of a searing commentary on parenting and the education system. (83 min, 35mm). Screening will be followed by a discussion. More info here.

Rivette's PARIS BELONGS TO US & CELINE AND JULIE... (Retrospective)
Gene Siskel Film CenterCheck Reader Movies for showtimes

In the first week of its landmark mini-retrospective of works by Jacques Rivette, the Film Center brings us a pair of must-see masterpieces: PARIS BELONGS TO US (PARIS NOUS APPARTIENT, 1960), an inaugurator of the Nouvelle Vague, and CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (CELINE ET JULIE VONT EN BATEAU, 1974), a film that perhaps, along with Jean Eustache's THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE (LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAIN), 1973), signals its end. PARIS NOUS APPARTIENT blends the loquaciousness of Rohmer with the narrative aimlessness of early Godard, transcending mere imitation by developing an entirely new attitude towards performance, process, and temps-mort that will reach its climax in the monumental OUT ONE: NOLI ME TANGERE (1970), the thirteen-hour film that will screen at the end of this month. Rivette has said that, "The only true criticism of a film is another film"; this proposal certainly governed his writing for Cahiers du cinema, where he was editor-in-chief from 1963 to 1965, but also pervades CELINE ET JULIE's mise-en-abyme imaginings, which enact a commentary on bourgeois family melodrama and on cinematic spectatorship in general. James Quandt of Cinematheque Ontario has said that it is "Imperative for cinephiles," which is all the more true given the unavailability of both of these films on region-one DVD. Full retrospective details at

Gene Siskel Film CenterCheck Reader Movies for showtimes

The various descriptions that programmers and critics have applied to SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (2006), the latest from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, put forth many near-synonymous testaments to the evocations of the young Thai master's filmmaking. Variously called "hauntingly meandering" (Barbara Scharres, Film Center), a "quiet incantation" (Giovanna Fulvi, Toronto International Film Festival), or perhaps most eloquently a "serene enigma" (filmmaker and writer Shanay Jhaveri), most remark on the mysterious, magical quality at the film's core. And this is in spite of the film's faithful realism. In Weerasethakul's previous films MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON (2000) and TROPICAL MALADY (2004), supernatural forces directly intervene with the world of his characters to profound effect. But here, the filmmaker invites us to see the "magic" underlying the everyday, contemplating the elusive forces that guide various "syndromes" of the modern life. The narrative—culled from recollections of the filmmaker's parents—revolves around a pair of interconnected love stories, set in two separate hospitals. Wandering here and there, the plot develops slowly and gracefully, paying off in sublime and dramatically unconventional ways. It's the type of film that demands to be viewed in the cinema—the invitations to pause, rewind, fast forward, or otherwise check out that are offered by home viewing would almost certainly break the film's captivating if tenuous incantations. Weeressethakul, along with his Taiwanese contemporary Tsai-Ming Liang, proves that, even in the days of shrinking screen size and accelerating montage, there are striking new modes of cinematic representation left to explore. After debuting at last year's Chicago International Film Festival, the film is receiving its first Chicago run at the Film Center. More info at


Im Kwon-taek's I'LL NEVER CRY AGAIN (Classic Revival)
Film Studies Center (U of C) – Friday, 2:30pm
Before North Korea became part of the “Axis of Evil” but when it was still the “enemy of South Korea” ruled by military dictatorship, Im Kwon-taek, the winner of the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, made I'LL NEVER CRY AGAIN, an anti-communist Korean War film from a children’s perspective. When his school closes because of the civil war, young Jae-Nam at first treats it like a vacation. But after he witnesses the cruelty and brutality of the North Korean army, he stars collecting grenades and plotting the downfall of the soldiers trampling all over his village. This work is rarely discussed by scholars and hardly mentioned by Im, who has successfully transformed himself from a studio action filmmaker to the world’s most recognizable Korean auteur through his more than forty-year-long film career. Text by Kian Bergstrom, U of C. (1974, 115 min, 35mm). Full program details available here.

THE MINX (Local)
Schuba's Tavern Saturday, 2pm
Dedicated to Louis Feulliade and Shaw Brothers director Chor Yuen, Michael Smith’s Chicago-set THE MINX attempts to recreate (on a small scale), the very different charms of the movies most associated with those two directors: the anarchic silent serial and wonderfully formulaic Shaw flick. What the two genres do share is an almost mythological sense of morality and action (a connection previously pointed out by Olivier Assayas in IRMA VEP), and THE MINX's world is one of greedy industrialists and modern-day Robin Hoods. An impressive debut feature, shot on no budget with a crew of friends. This screening marks the DVD release of the film; the cast, crew, and filmmaker will be present. More information, including a trailer at Venue Info at

SPLIT PILLOW presents CHICAGO 360 v.2 (Documentary)
Chicago Filmmakers – Friday, 8pm
Split Pillow is a non-profit production company whose work is largely centered around local issues and communities. Unabashedly Chicago-centric, they emphasize collaboration, improvisation and the odd creative decisions that occur when multiple filmmakers work on a single project. The second installment of their CHICAGO 360 series, which chronicles Chicago subcultures, consists of five short documentaries; topics include swing dancers, department store Santas, poetry slams and struggling MCs. Visit Split Pillow's website to see trailers for their longer movies and learn more about their projects. More info at

Gene Siskel Film Center – Wednesday, 6:30pm

A powerful footnote to last month's Chicago Palestine Film Festival, the Film Center presents an extremely rare program of "surviving and rediscovered films from the long lost Palestinian film archive, which disappeared in 1982 with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon." Program includes: AWAY FROM HOME (1969, 11 min), and THE VISIT (1970, 10 min), both by Qais il Zobaidi; CHILDREN NONETHELESS by Khadija Abu Ali (1980, 25 min); THEY DON’T EXIST by Mustafa Abu Ali (1974, 25 min); KOFR SHOBA by Samir Nimr (1972, 34 min); and BORN OUT OF DEATH by Monica Maurer (1981, 9 min). (Various Formats). More info at

Heaven Gallery (on the roof)
– Wednesday, 8pm
The days this month might be muggy, but there are few things more pleasant than a warm evening—so pleasant, in fact, that it often feels like a shame to spend it indoors watching movies. This year’s edition of the North Side-based Bike-In Cinema series solves that problem by presenting free, weekly double bill video screenings, with roughly an equal mix of Criterion titles and cult oddities.This week features HANDS OVER THE CITY, whose development deal / zoning corruption-centered plot is eerily appropriate for the screening’s Wicker Park setting, and the (poorly-dubbed) US theatrical version of the candy-colored Swedish PIPPI LONGSTOCKING TV series. More info at

Focus on PARADJANOV & MAMOULIAN (New Documentary)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Wednesday, 6:30pm

Born to Armenian families in Tbilisi, Georgia roughly 30 years apart, the filmmakers Sergei Paradjanov and Rouben Mamoulian had careers that followed drastically different trajectories: the former was jailed and censored in his homeland but mythologized abroad, while the latter was successful during Hollywood’s Golden Age only to be condemned by the film critics of the next generation. But both were radical stylists whose films, for better or worse, reflected their very particular views of the world and cinema’s place in it. This week, the Film Center presents two video documentaries by French director Patrick Cazals as a double feature, allowing Chicago viewers a rare opportunity to see how similar backgrounds could differently influence two filmmakers. Cazals will be present for an audience discussion after the film. More info at

On Sunday afternoon, DOC will be the first theater in Chicago to present Clint Eastwood’s latest films—FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (both 2006)—in a single screening. To engage with these films as a diptych will honor the complexity of the ideas Eastwood grapples with, namely the heroism of soldiers versus the futility of war. The week continues with some solid repertory programming: Jules Dassin’s prototypical film noir THE NAKED CITY (1948); Yasujiro Ozu’s seminal TOKYO STORY (1953), a “transformative experience” according to Jim Jarmusch and the rare film that can feel either cynical or uplifting depending on one’s stance; Douglas Sirk’s MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1954), an unsettling mix of humanitarian politics and Randian philosophy, shot in astonishing color by the great Russell Metty; THE BLACK CAT (1934) by Edgar G. Ulmer, a Czech immigrant who repudiated Hollywood for low-budget films like this one so he could retain artistic control (Francois Truffaut would cite him as an influence); and Rene Clement’s tale of children in wartime, FORBIDDEN GAMES (1952). Full schedule and details at

This week offers an excellent opportunity to see work by Northwestern students: both THE MAP OF LOVE AND SEX (Friday, 4pm) and a collection of shorts by graduate students (Thursday, 5pm) will be screened for free and followed by Q&A discussions with the filmmakers. Block continues its series on Turkish cinema with the melodramatic MY FATHER, MY SON (Friday, 8pm), a popular 2005 film dealing with the country’s 1980 military coup, while the Childhood series continues with the beloved SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (1973; Thursday, 8pm). The week also features a free video screening of Doug Block’s documentary 51 BIRCH STREET (Wednesday, 6:30 pm), which is co-presented by the Aging Well Conference.Synopses and more info at

Gene Siskel Film Center – Check Reader Movies for showtimes
Andrei Tarkovsky’s SOLARIS (1972), the best known Soviet science fiction film in the West and the director’s most popular with American audiences, was personally considered by the director to be one of his weakest works. His other sci-fi film, the hauntingly beautiful (and superior) STALKER (1979; screening Sunday, 3pm / Monday 6:30pm), draws, like SOLARIS, upon the Soviet tradition of grounding the extremely fantastical in an often grimly familiar reality—in this case embodied by a magical room hidden at the center of a seemingly post-nuclear wilderness. Ostensibly based a novel by the Strugatsky brothers, the work is more heavily indebted to the apocalyptic poetry of Andrei’s father, Arseny. Screening as part of the Film Center’s series on Soviet science fiction, it is joined this week by the more utopian PLANET OF STORMS (1962; screening Saturday 6:30pm / Tuesday 8pm), which finds cosmonauts landing on a hostile Venus.
Full details at

Facets Cinematheque
Screening Daily, check Reader Movies for showtimes
Facets brings the 5th Annual Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival to Chicago this year, presenting an array of politically engaged documentaries and features selected with the aim of "empower[ing] everyone with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a very real difference." Featuring powerful stories shot in international locations as diverse as Iraq, Uganda, Tibet, Chile, and even a couple right in our own backyard, the fest promises to bring vital perspectives on the state of oppressed communities from around the world. See the Reader coverage for more details. Be sure to peruse the Reader's comprehensive guide. Full schedule at

LOOPTOPIA (Special Events)
Chicago Cultural Center
/ Gene Siskel Film Center / Additional venues
The overnight Looptopia extravaganza offers a deluge of free screenings for the bleary-eyed cinephile at locations strewn throughout the loop. The Chicago Cultural Center kicks off a DVD triple-feature of vintage sci-fi paranoia at 2 a.m. with EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956; with effects by Ray Harryhausen) and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953). It’s set to wind down at 4:50 a.m. with Don Siegel’s don’t-fall-asleep classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956). Daniel Mainwaring’s subversive premise has since been subverted itself, achieving a unique timelessness in its elasticity. Remakes by Philip Kaufman and Abel Ferrara recast the basic situation to reflect changing political landscape, and drew markedly different conclusions. Reading the papers these days, one might think we’re about due for another; sure enough, DOWNFALL director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s THE INVASION is set for wide release in August. Additionally, the Gene Siskel Film Center will be screening Oscar-nominated live-action and animated shorts (including winner WEST BANK STORY) as well as a program of SAIC student works. Times, locations and even more screenings are listed at Looptopia's official site.

Music Box – Check Reader Movies for showtimes
While much of what today is regarded as film noir depicts atomized characters estranged from public life, Alexander Mackendrick’s SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is a dark take on the world of publicity itself. New York locations, James Wong Howe’s signature high-key lighting technique, crackling slang-heavy dialogue by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, a score by Elmer Bernstein and Chico Hamilton--the film offers all of these. But the centripetal force drawing everything together here is Burt Lancaster as the Walter Winchell-alike J.J. Hunsecker. Holding court at “21” Hunsecker, through his newspaper columns and radio programs, as well as the aid of Tony Curtis as the slithery publicity agent Sidney Falco, decides the fate of up and coming performers, advancing talent just as often as viciously crushing it with slangy sangfroid. But J.J. accrues his power though more than an innate dexterity with language; another key is his ability to acquire, withhold, and disclose secrets—both real and fabricated—at opportune times. SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is McCarthy’s America, a more proximate look at the sleazy world of scandal L.A. CONFIDENTIAL tried to pastiche, a study in control and manipulation, the cinematic equivalent of Wee Gee’s New York City photography, and, above all, it's Burt Lancaster in a role that will scare the shit out of you. (1957, 96 min, 35mm). More info at

Jean-Claude Brisseau's EXTERMINATING ANGELS (New Foreign)
Music Box – Check Reader Movies for showtimes
Though the latest from controversial French director Jean-Claude Brisseau supposedly revolves around "transgressive female sexuality"--a topic it engages only in the most superficial terms--it has far more to say about the heterosexual male tendency to observe and exploit under the pretense of art. Brisseau was successfully sued for sexual harassment by women who auditioned for his previous film, SECRET THINGS (2002), and here he brings this experience to the screen: we follow a filmmaker obsessed with uncovering the secret of female pleasure, pursued by horny lady angels with a cruel agenda and emotionally unstable actresses whose secret exhibitionist desires are matched only by their lust for vengeance. Attempting reflexive satire even as it begs to be taken seriously, the film's ultimately impotent Buñuel and Lynch throwbacks don't prevent it from creating a successfully unsettling absurdism all its own. EXTERMINATING ANGELS is highly relevant and undoubtedly provocative, though high-minded art cinema it is not. (2006, 102 min, 35mm). More info at


LaSalle Bank Cinema
Born to Dance

Music Box
Spike & Mike's Twisted Fest*, The Decent, Altman's Brewster McCloud*

Piper's Alley
Jindabyne*, Waitress, Year of the Dog*

Landmark Century Centre
The Lives of Others**, Away From Her*, Red Road, The Namesake*, more

* Recommended by the Chicago Reader.
** Previously written up by CINE-FILE. Click title to view capsule.

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Contributors this week: Erika Balsom, Nathan Holmes, Mike King, Gabe Klinger, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky, Ethan White, Darnell Witt

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