Films by Joseph Cornell, program one | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Films by Joseph Cornell, program one 

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Joseph Cornell's famous boxes create flights of fancy out of the most ordinary materials--marbles in drinking glasses might suggest the solar system--and like some of those works, his films can be deceptively simple. For instance, in Midnight Party (codirected by Larry Jordan) Cornell makes a poetic leap between a freeze-frame of sleeping children and the image of a comet. Several Cornell films were shot outdoors in New York City and make their everyday locales seem extraordinary: despite the badly faded colors of the Nymphlight print, Bryant Park becomes a magical arbor as Cornell focuses on women and girls, birds, and a fountain, and the office buildings towering over the park become a sheltering grove. My favorite, A Legend for Fountains, follows a young woman on her walk, the black-and-white cinematography recalling the photographs of Helen Levitt (kids playing on streets or fire escapes, close-ups of graffiti). It's a quiet drama of interpenetrating consciousnesses, in which the woman looks at the children, they look at her, and birds are an almost human presence. Also showing: Rose Hobart, The Children's Party, Cotillion, Aviary, Centuries of June, and A Fable for Fountains (an earlier version of the footage used in Legend). Some of these films were codirected by Rudolph Burkhardt, Stan Brakhage, or Jordan; they're all notoriously difficult to date but were crafted between 1939 and 1970. 84 min. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Friday, May 24, 6:15, and Sunday, May 26, 4:30, 312-846-2800.


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