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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Peter Bogdanovich explains why Buster Keaton still matters

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 06:00 AM

Bogdanovich - COHEN MEDIA GROUP
  • Cohen Media Group
  • Bogdanovich

Silent movies have been enjoying a revival locally, with frequent offerings from the Chicago Film Society, the Music Box Theatre, and the Gene Siskel Film Center, to name a few. This year the 54th Chicago International Film Festival spotlights Buster Keaton, one of the top comedians and directors of the silent era, with The Great Buster, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich, 79, began his career as a film critic and a programmer at New York's Museum of Modern Art, which led to forays as an author and actor (he studied with Stella Adler) before he turned to filmmaking. This documentary is his first project for Cohen Media Group, a production and distribution company that also restores classic films; his next will be about Douglas Fairbanks.

In addition to The Great Buster, which he narrates, Bogdanovich can be seen in two other festival entries, the newly-completed The Other Side of the Wind, which was directed by Orson Welles but left unfinished for decades after Welles's death in 1985, and Morgan Neville's documentary about the film, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead. Recently I spoke over the phone to Bogdanovich about this bonanza (full disclosure: I once worked with him years ago when he was a guest cohost on Roger Ebert's TV special If We Picked the Winners, on which I served as producer).

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Sketches from CIFF: a few thoughts on the nature of virtual reality

Posted By on 10.17.18 at 01:00 PM

VR zombies in the AMC River East lobby, afternoon of October 12
  • VR zombies in the AMC River East lobby, afternoon of October 12

The AMC River East isn't exactly Grauman's Chinese Theater and the Chicago International Film Festival isn't Cannes, but over a week and a half each October some of the better new films and many of the people who made them show up at this airport terminal-like multiplex a half mile short of Navy Pier on Illinois Street. When I pitched writing something about the festival this year, I envisioned wandering about and eavesdropping on the excited conversations of film lovers and putting together an impressionistic travelogue-type essay. But in the lobby of the theater on Friday, there were more young festival volunteers in blue t-shirts than anyone else. The line for Will Call was mostly empty and there was a lot more traffic flowing toward the bowling alley/sports bar and newfangled videogame arcade than the movie theater box office on the second floor. I wrote my editor to try to weasel out of my assignment. Then I saw the people in VR goggles.

In a makeshift roped-off area in front of the elevators, a couple of young volunteers were signing people up to try out the goggles. Beyond them, a middle-aged man was doing a sort of clumsy, slo-mo tai chi thing while holding black strap-like controls in each hand. The goggles covered up half his face and protruded several inches in front of his eyes. Two younger men next to him were doing their own version of the dance, each of them looking like a helpless sleepwalker or maybe somebody being controlled, mannequin-like, via invisible strings. And so they were. I don't know which game they were playing or what the goggles were showing them and took no steps to find out. The whole scene made me think very uncharitable thoughts about the human race in late 2018. If waving arms around feebly with a sensory-deprivation helmet is where we're at as a society, then maybe it's time to call it a wrap.

Virpi Suutari during the Q and A after the 3:30 PM screening of Entrepreneur on October 12
  • Virpi Suutari during the Q and A after the 3:30 PM screening of Entrepreneur on October 12

The movie I saw that afternoon went a little ways towards lightening my mood. Entrepreneur is a deep meditation on the profound changes going on in the global society but is told through the very specific personal experiences of just a few people. Set in Finland, it tells the contrasting stories of a family selling smoked meats out of a traveling truck and two young women who start a business selling an oat-based substitute to meat. It's about new and old economies and the way we used to live and the way we will live in the future. Its director, Virpi Suutari, answered questions afterward. She was as thoughtful and inquisitive as her film and I left the screening feeling better about the state of the world. 

I returned to the festival Monday afternoon to watch Melissa Haizlip's documentary, Mr. Soul!, which tells the story of her uncle, Ellis Haizlip, and the great African-American cultural showcase he created for public television in the late 60s and early 70s. Watching clips of Al Green singing, Nikki Giovanni reciting poems, James Baldwin telling it like it is was bittersweet: there's still no complete archive of this amazing TV show and, 50 years on, the issues with race in this country seem no closer to being resolved in any meaningful way.

Melissa Haizlip at the Q and A after the 12:30 PM screening of Mr. Soul! on October 15
  • Melissa Haizlip at the Q and A after the 12:30 PM screening of Mr. Soul! on October 15

During the Q and A afterwards, Haizlip talked a lot about the challenges of documentary filmmaking and, more specifically, the hurdles for a film like hers has to overcome in order to reach the mass audience that it richly deserves.

I had a ticket for a narrative film an hour later but walked out after about 15 minutes. This was no knock on the particular film but more a testament to the power of a good documentary to keep reverberating in the mind long after it's over. In comparison, watching a bunch of actors play make-believe seemed silly.

The three films I watched all the way through at CIFF this year were all documentaries. Entrepreneur and Mr. Soul! were both superlative in the ways in which they illuminated imported facets of the past and present. Mercifully, the VR zombies weren't in the River East lobby Monday. Perhaps they traded in their goggles in favor of using their own eyes, but that might be overly hopeful. I'm just glad that Virpi Suutari and Melissa Haizlip used their eyes and minds to make my life a little richer over the course of those few days.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Lillie West tells secrets but keeps them on Lala Lala’s lucid, cryptic new The Lamb

Posted By on 09.19.18 at 06:00 AM

Lillie West of Lala Lala - ALEXA VISCIUS
  • Alexa Viscius
  • Lillie West of Lala Lala

Lala Lala were the first band I saw after I moved to Chicago in 2015. I was 18 and nervous, camouflaged under the low ceiling of Humboldt Park basement venue Pinky Swear in what I hoped was the universal cool-kid uniform, right down to the scuffed low-top Dr. Martens and can of PBR. In the abrasive guitar and intricately coded autobiographical lyrics of Lala Lala front woman Lillie West, I found a pocket of the Chicago underground rock scene that I could see myself in—I've been a fan ever since.

The band will probably never lose their affection for basement shows, but these days they can play legitimate clubs too—in fact they're headlining the Empty Bottle on Friday, September 28, to celebrate the release of their second full-length, The Lamb, via Sub Pop offshoot Hardly Art.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Noise punks Running and jazzy folk guitarist Ryley Walker release an unexpected collaboration

Posted By on 08.24.18 at 12:01 PM

running-ryley-walker.jpg

New York label Dull Tools, run by members of Parquet Courts, has given the world a tape of an unlikely Chicago collaboration: four untitled instrumentals by noise punks Running and pastoral jazz-folk guitarist and singer Ryley Walker. In 2016, which now feels like a lifetime ago, Walker and all three members of Running holed up in the home studio of engineer Cooper Crain (from Cave and Bitchin Bajas) and laid down the tracks on Running & Ryley Walker. (They'd initially plan to title it Walking, and I'm still sorry they didn't.)

The songs' variety of styles—nasty, fried ambience, dissonant Krautrock, rhythmic postpunk—find a bizarre middle ground between the two artists' sounds, less harsh and more controlled than Running but far more raw than Walker. The tape's highlight is the second track: its simple, pushy psychedelic punk showcases mind-bending guitar interplay between Running's Jeffery Tucholski (those are his explosive blasts of distortion in the left channel) and Walker (whose complex chords dance in the right channel). They bounce off each other beautifully—as you can hear below.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Let us now praise Alan Rudolph

Posted By on 08.20.18 at 06:00 AM

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One reason I was so enthusiastic about Azazel Jacobs's The Lovers, one of my favorite movies of 2017, was that it reminded me of the work of writer-director Alan Rudolph. Employing funny, literate dialogue and graceful camera movements, Jacobs created a heightened sense of reality in which it seemed natural for people to fall in love on a whim. This effect, and the means Jacobs used to achieve it, seemed straight out of the Rudolph playbook, something few filmmakers have bothered to consult since he stopped making movies in the early 2000s. (Rudolph ended his 15-year silence last year with the indie feature Ray Meets Helen; unfortunately no one in Chicago bothered to screen it, but it's now available to watch online.) I've often wondered why that is—Rudolph's distinctive blend of screwball comedy, film noir-style purple dialogue, and musical-like visuals yielded so many memorable movies (among them Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, The Moderns, and Love at Large) that I'm surprised no one tried to rip it off. A few 21st-century films have come close to achieving what Rudolph did in his winning streak of 80s and 90s—The Lovers, Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love—but what makes them successfully Rudolphesque is the way they follow their own intuition. Perhaps Rudolph's work is simply inimitable.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hardcore throwdown the Rumble returns after five years, picking up the change where it left off

Posted By on 04.25.18 at 05:58 PM

Long Island band Incendiary, pictured here at a March show booked by Dutch festival Northcote, are one of the main attractions on the Rumble’s Saturday bill. - VIA DAVIDSE/FLICKR
  • Via Davidse/Flickr
  • Long Island band Incendiary, pictured here at a March show booked by Dutch festival Northcote, are one of the main attractions on the Rumble’s Saturday bill.

When I suggest to Shane Merrill that the hardcore festival he founded might have some similarities with This Is Hardcore—the enormous three-day spectacular in Philadelphia booked by "Joe Hardcore" McKay—he gives me a wry laugh. The head honcho of Empire Productions, who started the Rumble in 2010, came up in the potent late-90s Chicago hardcore scene, and he's founded several bands over the years, including the Killer (in 2001) and most recently Young & Dead (in 2013). But despite his long history in the community, he knows that This Is Hardcore is doing something above and beyond what he hopes to accomplish this weekend, when he brings the Rumble back for two days at Cobra Lounge.

"I don't have aspirations to ever do it on the scale that Joe does. It takes six months out of his year," Merrill says. "Still, he's done such a good job at educating young kids. One King Down is headlining a day this year—which is amazing to me. There will be these new kids unfamiliar with that band, but by the time they play that show it's going to be off the chain."

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Monday, April 23, 2018

Oakland’s Once & Future Band stage a battle between obnoxious prog and massive hooks

Posted By on 04.23.18 at 04:24 PM

Once and Future Band: Raj Ojha, Raze Regal, Eli Eckert, and Joel Robinow - JAPHY RIDDLE
  • Japhy Riddle
  • Once and Future Band: Raj Ojha, Raze Regal, Eli Eckert, and Joel Robinow

I listen to music for most of every day, every week, and I can say without hesitation that the majority of music released today shouldn't be. Though professional and competently played, it's so generic—so lacking in passion or purpose—that I don't know how the musicians involved can imagine that anyone would bother to engage with it. It's not that I'm too jaded to hear value in anything anymore—rather, I've learned how much genuinely interesting new music is being made, and I don't want to waste my too-scarce hours on anything else. Most of the time I can make clear distinctions between what I love, what I hate, and what I think is merely serviceable, but once in a great while an artist defies even that most basic kind of categorization. Oakland's Once & Future Band have been tying my brain in knots since last fall, when I first heard their self-titled 2017 debut—released, like the new four-track EP Brain, via the Castle Face label run by John Dwyer of Oh Sees.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Local punks Problem People offer the first taste of their next album with a spooky new video

Posted By on 02.23.18 at 07:00 AM

Problem People: Aaron Turney, Michael Petrucelly, and Chris Clark - JESSICA MATUSHEK
  • Jessica Matushek
  • Problem People: Aaron Turney, Michael Petrucelly, and Chris Clark

After Chicago pizza-rock garage ragers Party Bat called it quits, bassist and singer Chris Clark and guitarist Aaron Turney recruited drummer Michael Petrucelly to form Problem People in 2014. Shedding the zany antics of Clark and Turney's previous project, Problem People swing straight for the gut with heartfelt punk that channels the melodic sensibility and rough-around-the-edges attitude of midwestern greats past and present, including Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, and the Honor System. Their self-titled 2015 debut LP should've been an instant classic of Chicago punk, and soon the city will have another chance to properly appreciate this band: they released news of their follow-up album today.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Deranged new post-Cacaw band Lilac debuts with the demo ‘Kiss the Corpse’

Posted By on 12.12.17 at 07:00 AM

Lilac's new demo
  • Lilac's new demo
Local sludge-metal/noise-rock freaks Cacaw called it a day in 2011. Upon their collapse, half the band—Zack Weil and Kyle Reynolds—started Oozing Wound with Unmanned Ship bassist Kevin Cribbin. The other two members, guitarist-vocalist Anya Davidson and bassist-vocalist Carrie Vinarsky, backed away from music to focus on their visual art. Davidson is a comics artist—in the past few years she's written and drawn a book's worth of the strip Band for Life as well as the graphic novels School Spirits and Lovers in the Garden—and Vinarsky is on the grind as a tattoo artist.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

The Jesus Lizard live and in color

Posted By on 12.11.17 at 12:33 PM

Is your microphone cord tough enough for David Yow? - BOBBY TALAMINE
  • Bobby Talamine
  • Is your microphone cord tough enough for David Yow?

If you have Jesus Lizard fans in your social-media feeds, you've probably seen lots of cell-phone photos and videos from Saturday's concert at Metro. I even posted a couple myself. But would you care for some professional photos? Actually in focus and everything? How fortunate for you, then, that Bobby Talamine shot the show for the Reader.

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