Talking Screens, June 24-30, 2022, A Week In Chicago Film
Baz Luhrmann’s epic portrait of Colonel Tom Parker and his young-to-middle-aged protégé “Elvis” is the week’s widest (and largest) release, followed by Scott Derrickson’s “The Black Phone,” a horror picture based on the story of the same name by Joe Hill, about a boy who can listen in on a disconnected phone to a murderer’s past victims, featuring Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies and James Ransone. (Here’s our long review of “Elvis,” which admires the eclectic energy Luhrmann applies to all his work.)
After decades of work, visual effects master Phil Tippett’s teeming nightmare-world “Mad God” rips apart the big screen and smashes it to hell, and Peter Strickland continues his string of beautifully designed and immaculately scored jewel boxes of goofy yet sensual apocrypha with “Flux Gourmet.”
Chicago Film Archives presents its annual Media Mixer, matching film footage with musicians to largely toothsome effect. Repertory riches for the end of June include a four-showing revival of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2002 Turkish drama, “Distant” (Siskel); weekend shows of French period-not-period abortion drama “Happening” (Facets, Saturday-Sunday); Hitchcock’s masterful mission of menace in a calm small town, his personal favorite, 1943’s “Shadow Of A Doubt” (Doc Films, Thursday-Friday); “The Matrix” in 35mm (Friday, Siskel); Hype Williams’ underappreciated 1998 kinetic groundbreaker, the violent neon delirium of”Belly” (Doc Films, Friday-Saturday); and at Facets, Satoshi Kon’s seminal anime, the endlessly dazzling, restlessly layered, “Paprika” (Thursday); and a “Cinema Death Match” pairing of “The Running Man” and “Battle Royale” (Friday). Plus, from WIRED, Jason Kehe ventures, “Nobody Knows How to Watch Movies Anymore.”
“Flux Gourmet” is an elegant, innerworldly satire of academic retreats, foodies, performance art, acid reflux and the suppressed fart. Like every other one of Peter Strickland’s dearly detailed, intimate pastiches, it’s an eccentric study in control where subjects who insist upon control spin again and again into petulance, then modest madness and ultimately, chaos. My first impulse was to look for stains of Peter Greenaway’s gaudy, morbid, murderous, coprophagic 1989 “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”; bits of the movie suggest the dour, often inscrutable Greenaway, with a dry but not obscure wit. Also discernibly, there’s a reduction of the Greek Weird Wave of contemporary filmmakers like Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth,” “The Lobster”), not only in the screenplay’s deadpan pile-up of oddities and eccentricities, but in the choice of a “hack” journalist (or “dossierge”) who chronicles the residency being a Greek named Stones (Makis Papadimitriou) who narrates the goings-on both on the estate and inside his belly in mellifluous Athenian Greek. Strickland gleefully goes farther afield, citing “Robert Bresson’s films with his solemn and almost religious voice-overs, Rob Reiner’s ‘Spinal Tap’ for the rock ‘n’ roll clichés, the Viennese Aktionists for the corporeal shock value and Marcel Marceau for his mime work.” Our longer review is in the June issue of the magazine and here. Opens at the Music Box, Friday, June 24.
Visual effects master Phil Tippett’s Boschian, handmade, wholly stop-motion horror opus, the bravura yet bleak “Mad God,” took decades to construct (in the works since 1987) and feels at times like it should take decades to absorb, even though its running time is a modest (if rampagingly dense) eighty-three minutes. (Tippett has supervised visual effects for movies including “Star Wars,” “Robocop,” “Starship Troopers” and “Jurassic Park.”) Fixing on nightmarish imagery for over three decades is the equivalent of a seam of coal pressed for centuries into diamonds: or at least, something darker and denser that cannot be shaken off. It’s also akin to Guillermo del Toro’s famous sketchbooks, as if every hallucination were sunken into a cloacal tapestry. Opens Friday, June 24 at the Music Box at a range of odd times, including midnight shows and weekend matinees.
Chicago Film Archives Media Mixer turns ten this year, with its matching of found film with intriguing choices of musicians to create brief, pungent new works. “The Media Mixer project began in 2012 as a way to open up CFA’s vault of archival footage to artists working in media, and to support the creation of new video work by pairing visual and sound artists,” CFA writes. “At the heart of the Media Mixer is a desire to give CFA’s archival collections new life through the creative interpretation of contemporary artists.” This year’s event is hosted by Amy Beste, curator of Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center and director of public programs and senior lecturer in the Department of Film, Video, New Media, and Animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The films this year: “See!,” images by Kishino Takagishi, music by Daniel Knox; “Fresh Cut Flowers,” images by Tempestt Hazel, music by Azita Youssefi; and “Elsewhere,” images by Janelle Dowell, music by Sen Morimoto. Thursday, June 30, 8:30pm, Constellation.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
Turkish writer-producer-director-cinematographer Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2002 Cannes-prize-winning “Distant” (Uzak) is a memorably intimate exploration of closed-off personalities, quietly fashioned after the obsessive, intimate style of Bergman and Tarkovsky. (Ceylan’s widescreen landscapes are majestic, even when capturing the stretch and swoop of common-yet-uncommon Istanbul streets.) Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir), a nonactor and friend of Ceylan’s, plays a forty-year-old Istanbul photographer who’s left his home village behind, and a marriage, too. He works commercial jobs, whiles his days watching Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” or girl-on-girl porn, brooding in smoky cafes, having impersonal affairs. Enter Yusuf (the late Emin Toprak), a younger, angry relative from the village (and relative of the director). Ceylan takes Kiarostami’s use of non-actors and actual settings a little farther by using his own apartment, his own car, his own view of his Istanbul, for the main characters’. The plot, such as there is, is a slow burn. It perambulates rather than deciphers, ambles instead of defining. There’s much use of filters, stately widescreen compositions and rich, telling sound design. It is very sad but also very beautiful. (Particularly after snow flocks the gray-on-gray city.) There is one breathtaking moment, a scene involving a beached tanker in snow, that is merely the best of dozens of indelible fragments.“Distant” plays at Siskel in 35mm, Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday.
At WIRED, Jason Kehe asserts, “No One Knows How To Watch Movies Anymore”: “If you tell a friend you saw a movie last night, and your friend knows perfectly well you never left your apartment, they’d have every right to call you a liar. You can’t see a movie at home, unless you have a weak grasp of grammar. You can only see a movie in, yes, a movie theater. That’s the point. In a theater, you’re at the mercy of the motion picture. It’s forced upon you, like some higher-dimensional object, almost out of time, there to be looked at, all at once, in its entirety (a motion picture). So again, if you stayed home, there’s no way you saw a movie. What you did, and this is completely different, was watch it… Nobody blames you for this development. Actually, that’s not true. Cinephiles do, with their belief in the sanctity of the cinematic cathedral, the enveloping darkness and picture quality and transporting sound. ‘It’s the only way to see a film,’ they claim, emphasis on film—the same way a business exec might say first class is the only way to fly. Maybe so, but the underlying assumption—that seeing is somehow superior to watching, is the first-class experience—is not, for most of us, entirely self-evident.” (More at the link.)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.