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Friday, September 14, 2018

Warped for life by Fanny and Alexander

Posted By on 09.14.18 at 06:00 AM

fanny_and_alexander.jpg

My parents took me to see Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander when it was released in the United States in 1983, and it warped me forever. I don’t recall what month we went to see it, but I was either about to turn 13, or had just turned 13. I do remember that we saw it at the Nickelodeon Cinema, just off Commonwealth Avenue, located in between buildings belonging to Boston University. That movie theater is long gone, as are many other landmarks of my Boston youth, but memories from those years linger and are reactivated often. Especially when I revisit a movie or book from long ago. The Siskel Film Center's celebration of Bergman has provided a great opportunity to plunge into my own past.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Crashing the boys’ club: independent women directors in the 60s and 70s

Posted By on 08.07.18 at 06:00 AM

Barbara Loden's Wanda
  • Barbara Loden's Wanda
The explosion of American independent filmmaking in the 1960s and '70s was largely an all-male affair (surprise), but a few talented women also got their hand in during this vital and changing period. The Chicago Film Society is showing one such effort, Juleen Compton's 1966 rarity The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean, which has been recently rediscovered and restored, on Wednesday, August 15. We've selected another five diverse titles below.

The Connection
I saw the Living Theater's legendary production of Jack Gelber's play (directed by Judith Malina) three times during its initial run in the early 60s, and no film adaptation half as long could claim its raw confrontational power. Echoing The Lower Depths and The Iceman Cometh, it's about junkies waiting for a fix (among them a performing jazz quartet with pianist-composer Freddie Redd and alto sax Jackie McLean), and spectators were even accosted in the lobby by one actor begging for money. Shirley Clarke's imaginative if dated 1961 film uses most of the splendid original cast (Warren Finnerty is especially good), confining the action to the play's single run-down flat. It's presented as a pseudodocumentary; the square neophyte director, eventually persuaded to shoot heroin himself, winds up focusing his camera on a cockroach. The film retains the same beatnik wit that the play effectively distilled, as well as a few scary shocks. With Carl Lee, Garry Goodrow, and Roscoe Lee Browne. 105 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Wanda
Perhaps the most depressing film ever made, this 1971 feature by director-actress Barbara Loden tells of a young, ignorant, emotionally deadened, and hopelessly dreary woman from the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania whose life is a succession of dead ends. Doomed from the start to a life of ignorance and boredom, she's victimized by her surroundings, by men hardly less dreary than she, and by her sex. A brilliantly atmospheric film with a superb performance by Loden. 105 min. —Don Druker

The Velvet Vampire
Given the genre (horror) and the budget (extremely low), it may seem perverse to say that Stephanie Rothman's 1971 film is among the best women's films ever made, but so it is—a highly intelligent, deftly poetic reimagining of the vampire myth, with the theme of fatal sexuality transferred to a female character. The vampire is neither an aggressor nor a seductress, but an abstract figure of polymorphous sensuality: her "victims" choose her, and they range from a would-be rapist to a liberated (and wittily parodied) southern California couple. 80 min. —Dave Kehr

Hester Street
Joan Micklin Silver's ingratiating little movie (1975) begins with some big ideas about immigrant culture, but these are soon and happily shucked in favor of a modestly effective domestic melodrama. In the New York of the 1890s, Jake (Steven Keats), a Jewish immigrant with five years in America, dreads the arrival of his wife, Gitl (Carol Kane), from the old country. Jake is a "Yankee" now, resenting Gitl's naivete and superstition. Photographed in a self-consciously quaint black and white, Hester Street is compromised by preciousness and oversimplification, but it makes a pleasant and efficient entertainment. 90 min. —Dave Kehr

Harlan County, USA
Barbara Kopple's 1977 documentary on a Kentucky coal miners' strike is muddled on the issues, but it earned its Oscar as a dramatic, involving story, full of tough and appealing characters. Kopple's fiercely partisan stance upsets the classic balance of cinema verite documentary, but who could fail to take sides in this timeless labor-management confrontation and still claim to have a heart? 103 min. —Dave Kehr

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Friday, February 16, 2018

This Week on Filmstruck: Jacques Demy

Posted By on 02.16.18 at 08:00 AM

Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac in Jacques Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort
  • Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac in Jacques Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort

One of cinema's great visual stylists, filmmaker Jacques Demy (1931-1990) was part of the other French New Wave—the Paris Left-Bank group of directors that included Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, and Demy's wife, Agnès Varda. As a complement to Varda's recent Oscar nomination and surge in celebrity, this week we're spotlighting five Demy films currently showing on Filmstruck. Varda's 1995 documentary The World of Jacques Demy is also showing in the Demy collection on the streaming channel.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Todd Haynes’s first film for kids may also be his saddest movie yet

Posted By on 11.01.17 at 11:39 AM

Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck
  • Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck
When I'm watching a film by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There), I'm usually too caught up in the director's formal decisions to think about the emotions of the characters. The deeper engagement comes later, after the movie has sunk in and I can separate the aesthetic from the themes. So it goes with Haynes's latest, Wonderstruck, which opened in Chicago last Friday. Like his debut feature, Poison, Wonderstruck alternates between separate narrative lines set in different eras, with each given its own visual style. One story, set in 1927, is made to resemble a sleek silent melodrama; the other, set in 1977, has a grittier look reminiscent of American films made around that time. The influence of silent melodrama is palpable in other ways—the plot is driven by outlandish coincidences, and the characters are defined in broad strokes. Though it's always clear as to what the characters are feeling, Haynes and screenwriter Brian Selznick (adapting his own YA novel) emphasize the narrative form above any emotional content. Wonderstruck feels like an intellectual puzzle, inviting viewers to identify parallels between the stories and guess how they might intersect.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Lewis Klahr’s Sixty Six is a masterful journey through inner space and the American past

Posted By on 05.12.17 at 01:09 PM

Sixty-Six
  • Sixty-Six
Tonight at 7 PM noted collage artist Lewis Klahr will introduce the local premiere of his 12-film cycle Sixty Six at the University of Chicago Film Studies Center. (Admission is free.) For Chicagoans who care about experimental cinema, this is one of the major events of the year, a chance to hear a leading voice in the avant-garde discuss one of his richest, most entrancing works. On a visual level Sixty Six is characteristically dense, as Klahr creates mosaics from layers of photographs, comic-book cutouts, and random objects; the soundtrack is no less accomplished, combining snippets of movie dialogue, new and old music, and field recordings. (Fred Camper, writing about Klahr in the Reader in 2002, aptly described him as a successor to Joseph Cornell.) The overriding theme is mid-60s American culture, with many of the found images and sounds coming from that era. While Sixty Six works as a poetic essay about consumer culture in full swing, it's best appreciated as a subjective, dreamlike evocation of a particular time and place. A film to get lost in, it's the most satisfying work of art I've encountered so far this year.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Terrence Malick loves us—he just has a peculiar way of showing it

Posted By on 03.29.17 at 08:00 AM

Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling in Song to Song
  • Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling in Song to Song

Song to Song
may not be the best movie playing in town this week, but it's surely the most important. The film is the latest by Terrence Malick, one of the handful of working narrative directors who has created what critic and director Paul Schrader once termed a transcendental film style. Like Yasujro Ozu, Robert Bresson, and Carl Dreyer (the directors Schrader considered in his 1972 study of transcendental cinema), Malick operates in a unique cinematic language that evokes a spiritual presence in the material world. Song to Song is not explicitly concerned with spirituality, as other Malick films are, yet the spiritual force that animates virtually all his work is impossible to overlook. Whether the film succeeds as a whole is less important than the seriousness of its intent—it's worth experiencing and grappling with.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Guerrilla Truck Show returns after a brief hiatus

Posted By on 06.15.16 at 04:00 PM

The Guerrilla Truck Show outside Merchandise Mart on Tuesday. - DANIELLE A. SCRUGGS
  • Danielle A. Scruggs
  • The Guerrilla Truck Show outside Merchandise Mart on Tuesday.

After taking a hiatus in 2015, the Guerrilla Truck Show returned on Tuesday during NeoCon, the annual commercial trade show at Merchandise Mart. About half a dozen U-Haul trucks lined up outside the front entrance of the Mart—their beds were filled with furniture, textile, and object designs from schools, artists, and studios based in Chicago and Milwaukee.

This year's show was smaller than the ones held between 2005 and 2014 in Fulton Market, but it still teemed with eye-catching designs and layouts in tiny spaces. 

See more photos in our slideshow below:

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Friday, October 10, 2014

If you're looking for something weird, Gyorgy Palfi's film Free Fall shouldn't disappoint

Posted By on 10.10.14 at 12:30 PM

Free Fall screens three times at the Chicago International Film Festival.
  • Free Fall screens three times at the Chicago International Film Festival.
As usual several of the more interesting-sounding titles at this year's Chicago International Film Festival weren't made available for preview, and so, I can't say for certain that Gyorgy Palfi's Free Fall—screening at the festival today at 6:15 PM and tomorrowSunday at 2:45 PM, with Palfi in attendance for both shows—is any good. But based on my experience of the first two features by this Hungarian writer-director, I can say with some confidence that his latest should be eye-catching at the very least.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Another year, another crop of good-looking disappointments at the Chicago International Film Festival

Posted By on 10.09.14 at 02:38 PM

The Mexican art film La Tirisia screens three times next week at the Chicago International Film Festival.
  • The Mexican art film La Tirisia screens three times next week at the Chicago International Film Festival.
The other day, I wrote about the thrill of watching filmmakers fail spectacularly—a post inspired by the recent revival of Nagisa Oshima's Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, as well as the half-dozen unspectacular failures I've previewed for this year's Chicago International Film Festival. Thinking about Oshima made me feel so good that I refrained from writing about the latter category, which would have reminded me of the disappointment I'd been trying to shake for the past couple weeks. As I've written before, CIFF has always been a grab bag, with many of the films arriving here with little fanfare and returning to obscurity once the festival ends. That programming strategy might have yielded eye-opening discoveries in past, when there were more discrete national filmmaking movements. But today the festival film is practically a genre unto itself, and movies on the international festival circuit tend to resemble each other as often (if not more so) than they resemble other movies from their native countries.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Detroit shares recent experimental films with Chicago, asks only for love in return

Posted By on 08.21.14 at 01:30 PM

I Have Always Been a Dreamer
  • I Have Always Been a Dreamer
Good news for those who missed Sabine Gruffat's inventive, unorthodox documentary I Have Always Been a Dreamer when it played at the Chicago Underground Film Festival in 2012. On Saturday the film returns to town as part of an all-night event called Dearest Chicago, Please Love Me! Yours Truly, Detroit. The Nightingale will host the event, which features three programs of experimental work shot in the Motor City over the past decade. The films were curated by Brandon Walley, a Detroit-based programmer (and an experimental filmmaker in his own right), who will also be present to introduce each program. Dreamer screens at 10 PM, preceded by one of Walley's shorts, VACANCY. Not coincidentally, the first program of the night (which begins at 6 PM) kicks off with Chicago Detroit Split, a short work codirected by WalleyChicago-based filmmaker Thomas Comerford and Bill Brown, Gruffat's partner and frequent collaborator.

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