Carriage Trade | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Carriage Trade 

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Though Warren Sonbert was given retrospectives in several cities before dying of AIDS in 1995, his films have rarely screened in Chicago; in fact, this silent, meditative 61-minute odyssey, perhaps his greatest work, may never have been shown here. Completed in 1971, it marked a major shift from his hyperactive, improvisational portraits of friends, intercutting locales from around the world in an extraordinary display of sensual and contrasting imagery--dense fields of flowers, crisp blue skies, warm interiors, the liquid grays of rainy days. From the first stunning cut, between building reflections in twin panes of glass and a distant waterfall that divides the frame similarly, the editing both expands the film's space and creates a variety of links between shots, suggesting a consciousness in love with many things but wedded to none. Many images end just before their object is fully revealed, leaving the viewer hungry for more. At times Sonbert tweaks the grandeur of his scenes (e.g., cutting from a magnificent image of Venice to a pet puppy), but just as often he ennobles the ordinary (a man adjusting a woman's clothes becomes a flock of flamingos). An uncommon masterpiece, presenting the stuff of the world with humor, irony, detachment, and love. On the same program, which runs about 128 minutes: Sonbert's Friendly Witness (1989) and Hours for Jerome (1982), a compendium of delicately beautiful sequences by Sonbert's friend Nathaniel Dorsky. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 1212 E. 59th St., Sunday, April 7, 7:00, 773-702-8575.

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