Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Coming soon: Northwest Chicago Film Society's winter calendar

Posted By on 12.20.11 at 09:30 AM

Too Late Blues (1960)
  • Too Late Blues (1960)
The “increasingly indispensable” (per Cine-File contributor Michael Castelle) Northwest Chicago Film Society recently announced its schedule for January through April. The organization, which projects movies at the Portage Theater every Wednesday night, normally chooses titles from the classic Hollywood studio period (roughly, the 1930s through the early 1960s). This calendar shows them branching out in exciting ways; an obvious standout on this schedule is Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981), which comes from well after the Studio Age; another is Too Late Blues (1960), whose director, John Cassavetes, is better known for his independent movies than his studio work.

Yet these movies are thematically consistent with others on the program, making the 17 selections resemble something like a secret series. This is the best kind of repertory programming, incidentally: when programmers select a bunch of movies that share a few superficial qualities, return patrons get to assemble a clandestine little history of cinema, sort of like Jean-Luc Godard does in his video works. The series contains a streak of radical sentiment—along with Reds, it includes the WPA Federal Theater adaptation ...one-third of a nation... (screening January 25) and Edward Dmytryk’s Give Us This Day (screening March 7). Give Us (aka Christ in Concrete) is an explicitly Communist drama directed by Dmytryk, one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, two years before he occupied with the House Un-American Committee and named 26 former political associates.

Major auteurs are represented throughout the series. Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels (1941) opens the series on January 4; later selections include Gregory LaCava’s So’s Your Old Man, a silent comedy starring W.C Fields, on February 1; Howard Hawks’s Twentieth Century (1934) on February 29; Anthony Mann’s Man of the West (1958), the subject of a fine Reader long review by Jonathan Rosenbaum, on March 28; Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), on April 7; and Ernst Lubitsch’s Angel (1937), starring Marlene Deitrich, on April 18.

In addition to Too Late Blues, the series contains left-turn projects from several other major directors, most notably Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), which plays on February 8. Private Life is one of Wilder’s least-revived titles and in some ways one of his least characteristic. It’s paced more leisurely than his other films (the two hours go down like a snifter of cognac), taking time to savor characters and settings. In fact, Wilder’s original cut was almost an hour longer than the present one, containing four full stories (and a prologue) instead of just two. The excised material might never be restored, making Private Life (like the recent Margaret) a misshapen great film. In any form, it still presents Wilder’s humor in a different manner than audiences came to expect.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
Some other exciting rarities: The Brasher Doubloon (1947), a forgotten Raymond Chandler adaptation by the always interesting (and sometimes very weird) John Brahm, screens on January 11; Otto Preminger’s Centennial Summer (1946), a rare musical by one of the least musically-minded directors, screens on March 14; and Max Ophüls’s German production Liebelei (1932), his last before fleeing Germany, screens on April 4.

What other histories might be assembled from these selections? Too Late Blues, Centennial Summer, and Private Life of Sherlock Holmes all find major filmmakers working outside their typical register—and Give Us This Day and Liebelei were made either during or upon the threat of exile. Other themes will surely emerge; the series runs for four months.

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