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Monday, September 24, 2018

Ecstasy on film: Nathaniel Dorsky discusses The Arboretum Cycle, his latest work of devotional cinema, which he'd prefer you watch alone

Posted By on 09.24.18 at 06:00 AM

Nathaniel Dorsky shooting The Arboretum Cycle - DANIEL BOGDANIC
  • Daniel Bogdanic
  • Nathaniel Dorsky shooting The Arboretum Cycle

This Friday at 7 PM, Northwestern University’s Block Cinema will host one of the major cinematic events of the year with the local premiere of The Arboretum Cycle (2017), a collection of seven interconnected short works by veteran avant-garde filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky. One of the country's most important living film artists, Dorsky has been making meditative, generally rapturous movies since the early 1960s. He has described his practice as "devotional cinema" (he also wrote a book with that title in 2003), referring to the potential of movies to engender spiritual experiences. The Arboretum Cycle is doubtless one such experience. Shot in the San Francisco Arboretum over the course of a year, the work consists of silent shots of plant life, skies, and other natural phenomena. Dorsky's compositions are consistently inspired; eschewing wide shots, he forces viewers to lose themselves in minutiae. Last week I telephoned the filmmaker (who will attend Friday’s screening) to discuss the cycle. Our far-ranging conversation came to touch upon spirituality, the ethics of editing, and what it’s like to be a plant.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Reeling Film Festival, 312 Block Party, and more to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 09.21.18 at 12:30 PM

Jean-Pierre “Jupiter” Bokondji and the band Okwess, playing at the World Music Festival this weekend - MICKY CLEMENT
  • Micky Clement
  • Jean-Pierre “Jupiter” Bokondji and the band Okwess, playing at the World Music Festival this weekend

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this weekend. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Raya Martin discusses Filipino cinema and his latest film, the crime drama Smaller and Smaller Circles

Posted By on 09.17.18 at 06:00 AM

Smaller and Smaller Circles
  • Smaller and Smaller Circles
One of the more welcome film series in town, Asian Pop-Up Cinema (now in its seventh season) presents recent work from east Asia that might not have reached this city otherwise. Case in point: this Wednesday at the River East 21 at 7 PM, it will present Smaller and Smaller Circles (2017), the latest feature by Filipino director Raya Martin, with the filmmaker scheduled to appear for a postshow discussion. Martin’s work has received much attention over the past 15 years—some of his films have played at Cannes, and he’s been the subject of retrospectives in New York and Paris—but his movies rarely play in Chicago. Perhaps this screening will mark the beginning of a belated local discovery of his filmography.

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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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Riot Fest and more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 09.14.18 at 06:00 AM

Atmosphere plays the Radicals Stage 9/13 at 6:45 PM. - COURTESY OF ARTIST
  • courtesy of artist
  • Atmosphere plays the Radicals Stage 9/13 at 6:45 PM.

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

‘The Lubitsch touch’ on FilmStruck this week

Posted By on 09.12.18 at 06:00 AM

Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess
  • Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess
The great German, then American, director Ernst Lubitsch is currently featured as FilmStruck's "director of the week," and they have a generous selection of his films spanning most of his career. A master of deft and witty romantic comedies, his legendary "Lubitsch touch" began in the teens and graced a wider range of films than his celebrated comedy films.

The Oyster Princess
Lubitsch's first feature-length comedy (1919), about an American millionaire trying to acquire a noble title for his daughter by marrying her off to a Prussian prince, is an unalloyed delight—a perfect rejoinder to those critics who maintain that the director only found "the Lubitsch touch" after moving to Hollywood in the 1920s. The satire is sharp, and the visual settings are sumptuous and gracefully handled. With Ossi Owalda, Harry Liedtke, and Victor Janson. 60 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Sumurun
One of a series of historical epics that the young German director Lubitsch concocted for star Pola Negri—a series that eventually landed Hollywood contracts for both. This 1920 film is an adaptation of Max Reinhardt's stage production Sumurun, with Negri as an ambitious dancing girl courted by a lascivious sheikh and the pathetic hunchback (played by Lubitsch himself) who is the leader of her troupe. 75 min.
Dave Kehr

The Merry Widow
The last and finest of Lubitsch's musicals (1934), based on the Franz Lehar operetta and retooled with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Maurice Chevalier, in his last good role, is the prince; Jeanette MacDonald, on the brink of her fateful meeting with Nelson Eddy, is the widow. MGM hired the Lubitsch-Chevalier-MacDonald team away from Paramount, and apparently went all-out on this production to show up the competition. Lubitsch brilliantly exploits Cedric Gibbons's opulent sets, but his genius is most evident in the film's final poignancy—a farewell to the genre he helped to create. Also known as The Lady Dances. 99 min. —Dave Kehr

The Shop Around the Corner
There are no art deco nightclubs, shimmering silk gowns, or slamming bedroom doors to be seen, but this 1940 film is one of Lubitsch's finest and most enduring works, a romantic comedy of dazzling range that takes place almost entirely within the four walls of a leather-goods store in prewar Budapest. James Stewart is the earnest, slightly awkward young manager; Margaret Sullavan is the new sales clerk who gets on his nerves—and neither realizes that they are partners in a passionate romance being carried out through the mails. Interwoven with subplots centered on the other members of the shop's little family, the romance proceeds through Lubitsch's brilliant deployment of point of view, allowing the audience to enter the perceptions of each individual character at exactly the right moment to develop maximum sympathy and suspense. With Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, and Felix Bressart. 97 min. —Dave Kehr

Heaven Can Wait
Lubitsch's only completed film in Technicolor (1943), the greatest of his late films, offers a rosy, meditative, and often very funny view of an irrepressible ladies' man (Don Ameche in his prime) presenting his life in retrospect to the devil (Laird Cregar). Like a good deal of Lubitsch from The Merry Widow on, it's about death as well as personal style, but rarely has the subject been treated with such affection for the human condition. Samson Raphaelson's script is very close to perfection, the sumptuous period sets are a delight, and the secondary cast—Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Eugene Pallette, and Spring Byington—is wonderful. In many respects, this is Lubitsch's testament, full of grace, wisdom, and romance. 112 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Sketch show Black Boy Joy and more of the best things to do in Chicago this week

Posted By on 09.10.18 at 06:00 AM

Black Boy Joy - TEEN CUDI
  • Teen Cudi
  • Black Boy Joy

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Friday, September 7, 2018

The World Music Festival and more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 09.07.18 at 12:20 PM

Argentine singer-songwriter Juana Molina plays a free show at the Promontory 9/8. - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • courtesy the artist
  • Argentine singer-songwriter Juana Molina plays a free show at the Promontory 9/8.

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Gone too soon: five films by directors who died young

Posted By on 09.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Jean Vigo's L'Atalante
  • Jean Vigo's L'Atalante
The Music Box Theatre and the Chicago Film Society present the 1930 film City Girl this Saturday at 11:30 AM as part of their monthly silent film series. The film's director, F.W. Murnau, died the year after its release in an automobile accident, cutting short his life and remarkable career. He left behind a substantial body of work, though. The five filmmakers below also died much too young but had only made a handful of movies each, and in one case just a single film. We're spotlighting their work.

L'Atalante
Jean Vigo's only full-length feature (1934), one of the supreme masterpieces of French cinema, was edited and then brutally re-edited while Vigo was dying, so a “definitive” restoration is impossible. (The reassembled version released in France in 1990 is almost certainly the best and most complete we'll ever be able to see—it's wondrous to behold.) The simple love-story plot involves the marriage of a provincial woman (Dita Parlo) to the skipper of a barge (Jean Daste), and the only other characters of consequence are the barge's skeletal crew (Michel Simon and Louis Lefebvre) and a peddler (Gilles Margaritis) who flirts with the wife at a cabaret and describes the wonders of Paris to her. The sensuality of the characters and the settings, indelibly caught in Boris Kaufman's glistening cinematography, are only part of the film's remarkable poetry, the conviction of which goes beyond such categories as realism or surrealism, just as the powerful sexuality in the film ultimately transcends such categories as heterosexuality, homosexuality, and even bisexuality. Shot by shot and moment by moment, the film is so fully alive to the world's possibilities that magic and reality seem to function as opposite sides of the same coin, with neither fully adequate to Vigo's vision. The characters are at once extremely simple and extremely complex (richest of all is Simon's Pere Jules, as beautiful a piece of character acting as one can find anywhere), and while the continuity is choppy in spots—a factor skillfully cloaked by Maurice Jaubert's superb score—the film's aliveness and potency are so constant that this hardly seems to matter. A major inspiration to subsequent generations of filmmakers, yet no one has ever succeeded in matching it. In French with subtitles. 89 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The House Is Black
Forugh Farrokhzad's black-and-white documentary (1962, 19 min.) about a leper colony in northern Iran is the most powerful Iranian film I've seen. Farrokhzad (1935-'67) is widely regarded as the greatest Persian poet of the 20th century; her only film seamlessly adapts the techniques of poetry to its framing, editing, sound, and narration. At once lyrical and extremely matter-of-fact, devoid of sentimentality or voyeurism yet profoundly humanist, the film offers a view of everyday life in the colony—people eating, various medical treatments, children at school and at play—that's spiritual, unflinching, and beautiful in ways that have no apparent Western counterparts; to my eyes and ears, it registers like a prayer. 19 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Conqueror Worm / The Witchfinder General
An unusually restrained Vincent Price stars as Matthew Hopkins, a 17th-century magistrate who took advantage of the English civil war to conduct a massive witch hunt across East Anglia. This sinister 1968 feature was adapted from a historical tome by Ronald Bassett, though director Michael Reeves (whose life was cut short by a drug overdose the next year) seems equally inspired by the stark visuals in Carl Dreyer's Day of Wrath. Tigon Films, a pretender to the Hammer throne in the late 60s and early 70s, released the movie as The Witchfinder General in Britain; American distributor Roger Corman, hoping to capitalize on his earlier Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, retitled it The Conqueror Worm and slapped on some voice-over of Price reading from Poe's poem. 86 min. —J.R. Jones

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

Savage Nights
Highly controversial and troubling but undeniably powerful and impossible to dismiss, this French feature cowritten (with critic Jacques Fieschi) directed by and starring the late Cyril Collard follows the last reckless days and nights of a 30-year-old cinematographer and musician who discovers he is HIV-positive but continues to have sex with strangers as well as with his two more regular lovers. Based on Collard's autobiographical novel Les nuits fauves, Savage Nights won Cesars for best picture, best first picture, most promising actress (Romane Bohringer), and best editing a few days after the 35-year-old director himself died of AIDS in March 1993. These honors can't simply be written off as sentimental: stylistically and dramatically, this is an accomplished piece of work. If Collard's driven hero often seems far from admirable—unconsciously misogynistic beneath his apparent bisexual "tolerance," and, as his masochistic behavior often implies, full of self-loathing—the film seems admirably unpropagandistic in permitting spectators to make up their own minds about him. It also gives full voice to the agony of unrequited adolescent love (Bohringer's volcanic performance), and, for better and for worse, offers a treatment of AIDS that's the other side of the moon from Philadelphia—politically incorrect with a vengeance. Whether you like this or not, you'll have a hard time shaking it loose. With Carlos Lopez. 126 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Josh Tsui, Chicago video-game vet turned documentarian, gets his due with a ceremony and award this Saturday

Posted By on 09.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Josh Tsui
  • Josh Tsui
You may not know Josh Tsui by name, but if you're a gamer, there's a good chance you've seen his face before—a pixelated version at least.

While he was working as an artist at the Chicago studio Midway Games in the 90s, Tsui's coworkers digitally pasted a graphic of his head onto the body of the ice-powered ninja character Sub-Zero in the video game Mortal Kombat 2 as well as that of the martial arts master Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat 4. If you input a secret code you could also suit up as a tomahawk-dunking version of Tsui in the game NBA Jam: Tournament Edition.

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