Talking Screens, July 1-7, 2022, A Week In Chicago Film
The Greek “weird wave” persists to bittersweet effect in “Apples,” a highlight in a week when box-office attendance is up impressively—a billion dollars of “Top Gun: Maverick”? Older audiences taking in the phantasmogoric gift (or grift) of “Elvis”?—but the shortage of movie releases persists. A world of investors wait eagerly for the release of next week’s “Thor: Love And Thunder” and maybe growing audiences for the work of detail fanatics Tom Cruise and Baz Luhrmann. “Minions: The Rise of Gru” arrives from the Illumination Minions factory; and the Music Box and River East are showing the feature-length expansion of the winsome 2010 short co-created by Jenny Slate, “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On.” How cute and heart-tugging can a movie be? I’m frightened by the very prospect. Also: Emma Holly Jones’ “Mr. Malcolm’s List,” a nineteenth-century-set comedy of marriage, with Freida Pinto, Sope Dìrísù, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ashley Park, Zawe Ashton and Theo James. “A whirlwind of sumptuous fashion, lavish country getaways, a glittering masquerade ball and high-society chicanery,” the distributor assures.
The Chicago Underground Film Festival returns for a twenty-ninth year and the Annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival for thirty-nine. The Music Box presents “Joe Bob’s Indoor Drive-In Geek-Out,” also touted as “Cerebellum Night,” a double feature of “The Brain” (1988) and “Brain Damage” (1989). “Joe Bob will be hanging out in the Music Box Lounge before and after each movie, selling exclusive merchandise as well as doing a meet-and-greet with autographs for ticket holders.” Music Box, Tuesday, July 5. Turn-of-the-century wunderkind Jim Fotopoulos brings a recent feature to Doc Films. Plus, the Tribune’s Michael Phillips on a post-Roe, post-“Dirty Dancing” nation.
I had forgotten I had watched the Greek film “Apples” months ago in the middle of the night as part of film festival streaming from Thessaloniki; appropriately enough, Christos Nikou’s movie kickstarts its bright strangeness with a pandemic the effects of which include amnesia creeping across the world. A couple scenes in, “Oh, yeah. ‘Apples’! Efcharistó!” There are dozens of Greek filmmakers (alongside Balkan compatriots) whose work materialized a few years after the turn of the century at the dusk of the career of the maker of magisterial epics, Theo Angelopoulos. Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth,” “The Favourite”) and Athina Rachel Tsangari (“Attenberg,” “Alps”) are two of the most established, plus, post-2008 fiscal crisis, entrepreneurs with production companies such as Haos Film and Heretic (and their sales arm, Heretic Outreach, which participated in Radu Jude’s “Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn”) looked at and took advantage of many financial factors of the moment. Plus, the newer generations of Greeks traffic in surrealism, everyday absurdity, bits of detail and flashes of beauty that fly in the face of often dark or distressing content. (The surfaces seethe.) Comedic melancholy: The stamp is there, and there are lesser entries I’ve seen that are little more than deadpan shrugs. Ah, but when the movies howl by night, raise eyebrows by day. “Apples,” the Hellenic entry for the ninety-third Academy Awards, is one of the more approachable of the teeming raft of provocations.
Nikou says “Apples” is “allegorical comedy drama,” in which his middle-aged protagonist goes through prescribed exercises each day to build a foundation to regain memory after trauma both personal and societal. (Most are unlikely and many are goofy while quotidian.) “How selective is our memory? Do we remember what we have experienced or only what we have chosen to remember? Can we forget the things that hurt us? Could it be that deep down we don’t want to forget painful experiences because without them we lose our existence? In the end, are we simply the sum of all those things we don’t forget?” is how the filmmaker queries his own tale of memory, loss and pain. Dystopia settles into each gesture, each movement. But there is hope. Nikou teases out notions of how and why we are haunted; there are no answers, but many quizzical questions. (Plus dancing. There must always be dancing in Greek movies.) “Apples” is a small, but beautiful poem. Opens Friday, July 1, at the Music Box.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
The Chicago Film Society presents one of the stellar frights of the 1950s, the goofy but haunting “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957), in 35mm. The stark scale of small to tall is an eyeful of the big screen. Co-starring Butch, the male marmalade tabby best known for his life in living Eastmancolor in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.” NEIU, Wednesday, July 6.
Siskel’s latest summer series is the eleven-film “In Concert“; this week’s attractions include Michael Wadleigh’s 216-minute “Woodstock: The Director’s Cut,” in 35mm on Sunday, July 3; D. A. Pennebaker’s seminal 1967 Bob Dylan-ographic flipbook, “Don’t Look Back,” Friday, July 1; Bert Stern and Aram Avakian’s restored 1959 “Jazz On A Summer’s Day,” esteemed by jazz and jazz film aficionados as one of the greatest of all concert films, and featuring Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington and Mahalia Jackson. Saturday, July 2. More recent work includes Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson’s Oscar-winning and award-sweeping “Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” Tuesday, July 5; and the remarkable, little-seen 2016 “Contemporary Color” from the Ross brothers, Thursday, July 7. Ten color guard teams perform dance pieces to accompany a show designed by David Byrne, and featuring performances from Saint Vincent, Nelly Furtado, Nico Muhly with Ira Glass, Nelly, Devonté Hynes and Money Mark + Ad-Rock. It’s a sweet sea of sound and image to swim in.
FACETS has announced the dates for the Thirty-Ninth Annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, one of only two Academy Award-qualifying international children’s film festivals in the world, for November 4-20. The festival’s extended 2022 calendar includes six categories of films, including “My First Movies,” “Storytimes,” “Teens” and “New Dimensions,” both at Facets and through a streaming platform. The full schedule will be available here the day of the ticket on-sale, Monday, September 26. General ticket prices are $10 for in-person and $15 for virtual screenings, with festival passes and FACETS’ member discounts available.
The Chicago Underground Film Festival returns at the end of July at the Logan Theatre. The festival has reestablished itself as its own fully independent not-for-profit organization. “After over a decade operating as a program of other existing not-for-profits, The Chicago Underground Film Festival is now its own completely independent 501(c)(3),” Bryan Wendorf, CUFF co-founder, programmer and artistic director says. “This will allow us to follow our own mission as completely and as uncompromisingly as we want and be the most creative and underground festival we wish to be.” The program includes four world premieres and three regional premieres of over a hundred works of visual art. Beyond its fistful of features, shorts are an important part of the festival’s programming and legacy. “Blending experimental, documentary, traditional, and nontraditional narratives, the festival’s acclaimed shorts programming features an impressive lineup featuring seventy short films submitted from around the world. The programs include subject matter ranging from abstract animation to DMT trips to penis dysmorphia and everything in between,” CUFF relays in a release. “This year features filmmakers screening at CUFF for the first time including recognized figures in experimental films like Ken Jacobs and Lynne Sachs along with new work from festival favorites including Molly Hewitt, Jim Vendiola, Ben Russell and Shayna Connelly.” Schedule and more here.
Doc Films is showing a relatively recent movie from former Chicagoan James Fotopoulos, 2018’s “Two Girls.” Fotopoulos was highly prolific with his experimental work in Chicago around the turn of the century, completing sixteen feature-length works and twenty-four shorts by the age of twenty-six. From my 2003 Newcity cover story on Fotopoulos: “The twenty-six-year-old director traces the start of his ‘fury to do this work’ back to high school. He was given free rein to make videos for student activities like bonfires or blood drives. No one else was interested. ‘I would shoot things so that people would be bleeding all over a room, and blood would be shooting out of peoples’ chests,’ Fotopoulos says. ‘Guys would be covered in blood, and other guys would show up wearing masks. These things would be shown, and people would be completely confused as to what it was about. And then they would find out it was about a blood drive.’ It was the blood of the poet that was more in question at [2002’s] annual Robert Flaherty Seminar, a conference on independent filmmaking held each summer on the Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie, New York. Attendees are never told what they’re about to watch, and the event’s curator, Ed Halter, showed Fotopoulos’ 1999 feature, ‘Migrating Forms.’ ‘Migrating Forms’ is a movie that asks: How few elements do you need to tell a story? Fundamentally, a man, a woman, a cat, a mysterious and migrating cyst, and horrible desire that can’t be killed by sex. For eighty minutes of muzzy black-and-white imagery, we’re trapped inside an apartment as cramped as a desolate man’s mind. Minimalist and obsessive, Fotopoulos’ film rejects a romanticized bohemian outlook, gazing pitilessly upon working-class misery along the boundaries of madness.
“After the screening, a woman hypothesized that an elaborate prank was being perpetrated by Halter and that all the critical praise in the filmmaker’s bio was fabricated. ‘I don’t think she really believed this herself,’ says Bryan Wendorf, head of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, who was there. ‘But she seemed unaware of how insulting it was to both Jim and Ed as well as the other Fotopoulos supporters in attendance. The room was passionately divided about Jim’s films and Jim was uninterested in winning over anyone. The less he gave, the angrier and more emotional his critics became. When asked about the attack, Jim commented, “They didn’t break me.”‘”
Two decades later, here’s Fotopoulos’ synopsis of “Two Girls“: “The story of young sisters in the American Midwest left alone with their increasingly unstable mother while their father is fighting in the Civil War. The film traces the girls’ naturally fraught sibling dynamic and the ways that their father’s absence ignites their imagination. When they meet a stranger in the forest they become enchanted by a world of creative work and nature, a welcome distraction from their volatile mother. Play and the dreamlike space they inhabit provides an expansive and ultimately grounding setting for the girls’ response to war.” Doc Films, July 1-2.
An era worse than “Dirty Dancing”? “America has been presented with the trailer for the movie of its own future. It is a film promising to make the pre-Roe, 1963 setting of ‘Dirty Dancing’ look pretty good for women,” writes Michael Phillips at the Tribune in a snapshot of a century of movies on the topic of abortion. “When ‘Dirty Dancing’ came out, a minority of Americans believed in wide-ranging legality of abortion. That minority had become a clear majority by the time the U.S. Supreme Court sent Roe v. Wade packing.” “Dirty Dancing,” in fact, “told two stories. One was a story of 1963, when abortions were illegal, and dangerous as hell. The other was the movie itself, a hit upon release in 1987, when the legality of a woman’s right to an abortion had been settled. For a while.”
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.