Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, September 16-22, 2022
Chicago Film Society brings a splendid crush of imagery and ways of understanding it at Siskel, Constellation and the Cultural Center from September 15-18 with “Celluloid Now: A Showcase of Analog Film,” on 35mm, 16mm, Super 8 and in conversation and colloquy. Full details here.
Intense documentary filmmaker Brett Morgen’s five-years-in-making, archive-enriched, IMAX-scaled, intensely immersive take on the creative life of David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream,” opens Friday, September 16 at the Music Box and on IMAX screens at City North and suburban locations, on Thursday, September 15. Ti West’s “Pearl,” the bloody horror period prequel to “X,” again starring Mia Goth, opens Thursday, September 15 at the Music Box.
Viola Davis is the lead of the action drama “The Woman King,” from crackerjack director Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Old Guard”). It’s the story of the Agojie, an all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s; Davis is the teacher who sends a new generation of female fighters into the world. “The Woman King” opens in theaters, Thursday, September 15.
Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s 2002 “Infernal Affairs” was the basis of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning “The Departed,” but it’s also a thrilling action drama (with ample comedic strokes) produced within the most phosphorescent era, long since lost, of dynamic Hong Kong filmmaking. “Infernal Affairs” and its two sequels have been restored for the Criterion release, as well as a few vital theatrical showings of the entire trilogy, including at the Music Box, starting Friday.
Argentine master Lucrecia Martel’s 2008 “The Headless Woman” is this week’s Siskel “50/50” attraction. A rare showing of the flamboyant noir of Jacques Rivette’s 1976 “Duelle,” another female fantasy adventure, made in the wake of “Celine And Julie Go Boating,” travels under color of a “Highs And Lows” double feature with Andrew Fleming’s waspish 1996 adolescent witch tale, “The Craft.” Double feature in the Music Box big room, Tuesday, September 20, in the small room on Sunday, September 25.
Plus, Reeling 2022 opens Thursday night at the Music Box with “The Shiny Shrimps Strike Back,” a second feature about a gay French water polo team, which is headed to the Gay Games in Tokyo this time around. Flight mishaps land them in the world’s reigning home of homophobia: Russia. (It was filmed in Ukraine just before the Russian invasion.) A reception follows the screening. Full listings through October 6, including streaming options, attractions at Landmark Century and Chicago Filmmakers, here.
And, Godard is dead.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
Lucrecia Martel’s three muggy, opulent features through 2008, variations on family dramas, share stories of cultural myopia and bourgeois discontent; “La ciénaga” (2001) was confounding on first viewing, with the lassitude of its privileged characters and an assertively fractured, often inscrutable visual style. “La niña santa” (“The Holy Girl,” 2004) is rich and troubling in its portrait of a young girl hoping to convert a middle-aged lecher, yet “The Headless Woman” may be the master writer-director’s most accomplished until that year, so obstinate in its glassy formalist beauty: this is disorientation and disarray, most artfully parceled out. Verónica, a peroxided middle-aged woman (Maria Onetto) of a certain privilege commits a possible hit-and-run after a car accident in the opening passage: what did she hit? Did she hit anything? Haziness, thematic and literal, ensues. Her every stroke of consciousness is fearful: portent is all. Martel’s use of sound is worthy of the best horror filmmaking. Psychological miniaturism, boldly imagined, “The Headless Woman” (the title comes from an Argentine phrase for “The woman who lost her head,” or a scatty person) is a daunting puzzle solved only by embracing dread and a gratifying experimental style. Clues clatter. Confusion reigns. Anamorphic 2.40 widescreen. Siskel, Monday, September 19.
The Chicago Film Society presents seventy movies this week as part of Celluloid Now, their brand new showcase of movies made by filmmakers working with analog film, “that thin, flexible ribbon of celluloid (or polyester) that we still won’t shut up about. Supporting film and the ecosystem that keeps it a viable exhibition format long into the future (labs, projectionists, filmmakers, technicians, archives, etcetera) is the core of CFS, and this is our four-day celluloid celebration,” the group writes. The lineup features films from four continents and includes a new restoration of Paul Sharits’ dual-projection masterpiece “Razor Blades,” Super 8 films from Brazil, recent films by Midwest-based artists Kioto Aoki, Ben Balcom, Lori Felker and Heather McAdams. “Many films will be screening in Chicago for the first time, many more have been brought in from overseas, and several will screen in prints made specifically for this showcase. Special equipment has been procured and rebuilt just for these screenings,” says CFS. “We’ll also be hosting a live projector dissection, a celluloid open mic where attendees can bring their own 16mm and Super 8 films, and a workshop on analog filmmaking workflows hosted by Anthology Film Archives archivist John Klacsmann and handmade cinema specialist Tatsu Aoki.” All the details are here.
Godard is dead. Wasn’t the raspy wraith of Rolle set to complete a couple more pictures and then a couple more? We will learn about that future output soon enough; the past of the Swiss master is amply, capably conveyed in hundreds of studies and the precious ore within dozens of films. (Someday I’ll flesh out a story about the time at the Toronto Film Festival in 1996 when I was briefly in a stuck elevator with Godard as well as a young actress with Bardot hair. Godard was wearing tennis whites…)
Justin Chang at the Los Angeles Times: “Of all the endlessly quotable maxims and aphorisms that have poured from the mouth and the movies of Jean-Luc Godard—’All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun,’ ‘The cinema is truth at 24 frames per second,’ ‘A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, though not necessarily in that order’—one that especially springs to mind today is this: ‘He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.'”
Manohla Dargis offers a taut, keen appraisal at The New York Times: “He was a phantom of cinema long before his death, and he will haunt us… Sometimes, you needed to puzzle through them; sometimes, you need to get lost. There’s immense pleasure in getting lost in movies, in letting the at times excitingly, bafflingly unfamiliar wash over you, letting the images and sounds sink into your body as your mind tries to comprehend what’s happening… The reason I fell in love with his 1966 film ‘Masculin Féminin’ when I first saw it wasn’t because he described his characters as ‘the children of Marx and Coca-Cola’—I fell in love because I too was young and it was beautiful and it broke my heart.”
Godard’s English-language biographer, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, writes, “His works—political thrillers, musical comedies, romantic melodramas, science fiction, often more than one per year—moved at the speed of his thought, transformed familiar genres into intimate confessions… He put his own intellectual world into his movies with a collage-like profusion of quotes and allusions, and cast the people in his life as actors, as stars, or as icons… It wasn’t just the news that made his films feel like the embodiment of their times—it was Godard’s insolence, his defiance, his derisive humor, his sense of freedom. More than any other filmmaker, he made viewers feel as if anything were possible in movies… Where Hollywood seemed like a distant, cosseted, and disreputable dream, he made the firsthand cinema—the personal and independent film—an urgent and accessible ideal… In his office, Godard told me that he thought the cinema was nearly over: ‘When I die, it will be the end.’ He was wrong—and it’s his own fault. ”
My notes admiring of lyrical detail in “Breathless,” and “Sauve qui peut (la vie)”:
The Godardian knot: how does even the most nifty movie fifty years on seem so fresh? For its immersion in signifiers: of snips of pop culture passing for personality. Flip, fluid “Breathless” (1960, Á bout de souffle), with updated subtitles in its most recent reissues, is kinetic sculpture in its form, its willful jump cuts (hardly ever seen in 1959) making light cubism of its story through editing. Drawing from the gangster cool of Bogart and doomed couple-on-the-run romanticism (from films like Joseph H. Lewis’ “Gun Crazy,” the street locations of which inspire the same kind of punch in Paris), Godard, the film critic and intellectual, made splendid play of film grammar and fine faces. Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), thick cigarette drooping from his full lips, smoke coiling across his thick boxer mug, is irrationally infatuated with American student Patricia (Jean Seberg), the grandmother of all manic dream pixies, peddling the New York Herald Tribune along boulevards and rues. Cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s crunchy, grain-gritted black-and-white images (shooting with film meant for 35mm stills) are accompanied by the occasional tracking shot blatantly taken from a wheelchair being backed through pedestrian traffic. Godard was thirty at the time, and the 1960s would be filled with worship of muses like on-and-off-again love/wife Anna Karina, but his love of Jean Seberg’s slender neck is as cruelly erotic as anything he ever shot: positioned in a convertible’s back seat, her head three-quarter turned away, Godard photographs her as the eternal present, the center of all things, as the sights of Parisian street life stream past in a sustained series of jumpcuts. Director Jean-Pierre Melville, whose portrait of Montmartre nightlife, “Bob the Gambler,” gets a joke reference, appears as a pretentious novelist whose ambition, he says, is to become immortal, then die. He pulls down his sunglasses and the warm, huge pools of his eyes fix on Patricia. The sphinx, flustered, turns away, and as the image fades, faces us.
Contrails crosshatch and feather a deep blue sky to the sound of planes. A camera pointed upward, soon to come to earth to trace how the lives of three adults’ lives criss-cross. Shocking and shockingly beautiful, Jean-Luc Godard’s “Every Man For Himself” [1980, Sauve qui peut (la vie)] is as brutish as it is sensitive. First released in the United States in 1980, Godard called it his “second first film,” marking his return to European art-house film after a decade experimenting first with didactic political films and then with emerging video technology. The camera’s gaze remains as simpler, even direct, as those opening shots. Blunt statements about power and sexual violence are threaded throughout, and are usually also in the service of describing filmmaking as being an equally brutal act. (The scenes of sexual display are largely absurd, including a Rube Goldberg-style roundelay in a hotel room that resembles a tableau from a late Fassbinder film as well as a mockery of how movies are directed.) Beyond theme and metaphor and onto the pictorial richness, there’s an aspect of the Lumière brothers’ early short films, documentation of events, trades and streets, in Godard’s most common placement of the camera, from a middle distance, watching events unfold. Shot largely in natural light, both in the Swiss countryside and an unnamed small city, the images are beautifully composed and lit even in the most provocative scenes. The effect is like a notebook on display, calmer than his full-to-bursting widescreen movies of the 1960s like “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” and “Pierrot le Fou.” An earlier French film critic and filmmaker, Alexandre Astruc, had rhapsodized of the possibility of the “camera-stylo,” or the camera wielded as a pen, simply, directly, inexpensively. Even three decades after Astruc’s 1948 phrasemaking, and four decades since its making, “Every Man For Himself” breathes. Light and air are as much its story as Godard’s preoccupations with cruel male ego, the compromises of filmmaking and money, prostitution as fact, act and symbol. Given credit for the jump-cut in his antic editing of “Breathless” in 1960, Godard experiments here with a kind of stuttering freeze-frame, created in editing (rather than in camera) by extending certain frames, observing motions like a woman riding a bicycle on a country road, a couple battling physically in a small kitchen, a car accident on a city street, all accompanied by bursts of Gabriel Yared’s alternately jaunty and jolting score. In an interview in Cahiers du Cinema at the time, Godard described the start-stop action as “undulating.”
Godard can’t help but streak his work with offhand poetry. “I make films to kill time. If I had the courage to do nothing, I’d do nothing,” the character named for Godard’s father quotes novelist-filmmaker Marguerite Duras, approvingly. “It’s because I haven’t got the strength to do nothing that I make films. For no other reason. That’s the most sincere thing I can say about my activities.” But from a moment as simple as burnishing afternoon light falling on a printer’s hands as he holds a setting stick above a case of steel letters to epigrams like “Each time we touch we seem to bruise one another,” Godard’s film breaks away from polemic to essay. The image, amply aided by sound, tells the story much more proficiently than words. Of “Every Man,” Seattle’s Charles Mudede put it simply: “Godard is to cinema what Ornette Coleman is to jazz.”