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Friday 12/18 - Thursday 12/24

DECEMBER

By Cara Jepsen

18 FRIDAY Charlie Chaplin was not into high art. "I do not have much patience with a thing of beauty that must be explained to be understood," he once said. But despite the seeming spontaneity of his films, the Little Tramp planned everything down to the smallest facial tic. Contemporary audiences will have a rare chance to see details that didn't make the transfer to video at the Music Box's monthlong Chaplin retrospective. The 35-millimeter fest starts tonight with two double features: The Circus (which won a special Oscar at the first Academy Awards in 1928) and A Day's Pleasure screen at 5:30 and 9:40, and The Kid and The Idle Class will be shown at 7:35. Admission is $7.75 per double feature. Tomorrow's screenings of The Gold Rush will feature live organ accompaniment. See the Section Two movie listings for more information, or call 773-871-6604.

19 SATURDAY This country ranks 22nd in infant mortality, yet we spend more money per birth than any other nation. What gives? "American women, their babies, and their families have been sold a bill of goods that flies in the face of centuries of women's wisdom and decades of scientific evidence," says author, filmmaker, and activist Suzanne Arms. In other words, all the epidurals, cesarean sections, and episiotomies only complicate a natural process. Arms, who wrote the book Immaculate Deception, will join midwife and author Ina May Gaskin today at an event called Blessing of Hands. It's from 9 to 3 (Gaskin will speak at 10; Arms will talk and show her new film, Giving Birth: Challenges & Choices, at 1:30) in the third-floor lounge of UIC's College of Nursing, 845 S. Damen. The suggested donation of $25 benefits the Chicago Community Midwives' outreach and advocacy programs, which Arms will film in action for her next documentary. Call 773-561-3304 for more.

The United Farm Workers have had a boycott against grape growers in place since 1973. That's when most of the industry negotiated a weaker contract with another union. The group's latest target is the strawberry industry. "The price and profits are going up every year, but the wages that the farm workers are paid are decreasing," says a spokesman from the UFW's Chicago Public Action. But it's still OK to eat the fruit--for now. Tonight the group will host "La Primera Posada," a fund-raiser that will include a dinner catered by La Cocina, entertainment by Teatro Callejero, music by Voices and Chuy Negrete, and poetry by Carlos Cortez. The raffle prizes include a UFW flag signed by cofounder Dolores Huerta; a copy of The Grapes of Wrath signed by Cesar Chavez will be auctioned off. The event starts at 6 at the union hall in Teamster City, 300 S. Ashland. Admission is $15. Call 312-733-1667 to reserve tickets.

20 SUNDAY Apart from making more money for Bob Greene and his publisher, the purpose of To Our Children's Children: Journal of Family Members is to get family elders talking about the past. The new, improved version of the book, which was written by Greene and his sister D.G. Fulford, includes space for the oldsters' stories, which can then be "shared and passed on to future generations." But what to do if the "evocative questions" dredge up long-repressed memories and create a family crisis just in time for the holidays? My suggestion: turn the mess into a screenplay. Greene will "personally inscribe" copies today at 2 at Barnes & Noble, 44 Old Orchard Center in Skokie (847-676-2230). It's free.

21 MONDAY Whether you will enjoy the 1958 film Queen of Outer Space depends on your tolerance for camp. The plot involves a group of spacemen who crash-land on Venus, where they find an all-female, miniskirt-clad civilization that's home to (drumroll, please) Zsa Zsa Gabor. The admittedly chauvinistic plot is based on a story by Chicago journalist Ben Hecht and directed by Edward Bernds of Three Stooges fame. It'll be shown tonight at 8 at Liar's Club, 1665 W. Fullerton (773-665-1110). Admission is free.

22 TUESDAY For many cultures the winter solstice marks a time of purification, renewal, and rebirth. The witchy women at tonight's all-female solstice ritual will talk about what the change of season means to their own lives. They'll hang the ornaments they've brought--which symbolize their hopes for the coming year--on some greenery. Then it'll be time for refreshments. Sounds innocuous enough. "We're not a formal coven," the woman in charge told me. "We stop and talk about what we're doing and why. But it's meant to be participatory." The annual ritual is open to all women and starts at 7 at Prairie Moon bookstore, 864 E. Northwest Highway (Route 14) in Mount Prospect (847-342-9608). It's free, but don't forget your ornament.

23 WEDNESDAY Maybe it's the hokey lyrics, maybe it's the sickeningly sweet life-affirming nature of the films, but somehow the Music Box's annual Christmas Sing-Along and Double Feature manages to get even the most cynical scrooges singing along with Santa to the tired old carols between screenings of It's a Wonderful Life and White Christmas. Annual rituals include corny carol parodies and hissing at party pooper Rosemary Clooney and mean miser Mr. Potter whenever they appear. There's also the sport of spotting things that are invisible in the small-screen versions, such as the menacing skull sculpture atop old man Potter's desk. It's a Wonderful Life screens at 4 and 9:45; White Christmas will be shown at 7. It's a good idea to arrive early, since the screenings usually sell out. Admission to the double feature is $8.50. Call 773-871-6604 for more.

24 THURSDAY Today's dilemma: It's Christmas Eve. Should you spend the day sitting in traffic, fighting crowds, searching for thoughtless gifts, and cursing your relatives? Or should you put on your snowsuit, go to the woods, and breathe fresh air at the Morton Arboretum's pinetum ("pine-eet-um")? It boasts picturesque trails and 150 varieties of pine. Afterward you can search the area near the Lake Marmo dam for the peeling, multicolored bark and distinctive zigzag branches of the London plane tree, the arboretum's tree of the month. If that eludes you, look for the winter-berry shrub with its bright red, pea-sized fruits in the Four Seasons Garden. The Morton Arboretum, on Route 53 just north of I-88 in Lisle (630-719-2400), is open today from 7 to 5; the buildings (including the library, restaurant, and visitor center) are open from 9 to noon. Admission is $7 per car.

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