Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, July 14-20, 2023
The thrill-every-other-minute “Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning – Part One” is now playing. (Our review is here.) “Contempt” (Le mepris, 1963), perhaps Godard’s most beautiful film, opens Friday at the Film Center in a sixtieth-anniversary 4K digital restoration. “20 Days In Mariupol” goes behind the lines of the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Siskel, opens Friday, July 14. Q&A after Tuesday 6:15pm screening.
Colleagues remember pioneering Illinois Film Office boss Suzy Kellett. Experimentalist Jim Fotopoulos returns to Chicago to make a street-level insect-driven thriller.
Finland and Hong Kong get salutes at FACETS and Siskel, respectively. “Hong Kong Summer” starts this week, featuring “Rumble In The Bronx” and “Police Story” with upcoming “Police Story 2,” two of the great, acrobatic action pictures of the era.
FACETS features Finnish female filmmakers in “Finntastic: New Films from Finland,” July 14 and 16, with one-day-only screenings of Hanna Bergholm’s “Hatching”; Jenni Toivoniemi’s “The Games People Play” and Miia Tervo’s “Aurora.” Series passes are $30 with $12 single tickets. Synopses and tickets here.
Repertory highlights, below: “Welcome To L.A“; “Frances Ha“; “Small Soldiers“; and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” and “Interstellar,” and Chaplin’s “Monsieur Verdoux” in 35mm.
Suzy Kellett, former director of the Illinois Film Office, was seventy-eight. Her time as head of the IFO was a transformative one in Illinois film industry history. She went on to head the Washington Film Office, and remained in Seattle until she died unexpectedly in December. (The Seattle Times obituary is here.) “I worked for Suzy for seven years at the IFO and I can tell you that she was loved and admired by studio execs, producers, directors, local crew and fellow film commissioners everywhere,” longtime head of the Chicago Film Office Rich Moskal tells Newcity. “She was a champion of the local industry, a mentor to many, a powerhouse with a big big heart. And all the while she was the single mother of quadruplets!”
Janet Kerrigan Daily worked at the IFO from 1986-1992 with Kellett, who tells us that she “was not only an incredible boss, but a true mentor.” Kellett “had a great visual sense from having been a magazine photo editor. One of the many things she took on as the head of the IFO was the way Illinois marketed itself to Hollywood. Suzy spearheaded some incredible campaigns including a book of photos of the state—everything from the skyline to downstate barns. The book was a compilation by some of our best photographers and she sent it to everyone in L.A., who had a hand in choosing where movies would be shot.”
“In the mid-eighties, shoulder-to-shoulder with then- Governor Jim Thompson, she hosted breakfast roundtables at the Beverly Hills Hotel with every major studio and network production executive and L.A-based producer of note,” Moskal says. “This predated the era of rampant tax incentives and location decisions based largely on the calculations of studio accountants. You won their business with trust, and the honest, action-backed guarantee that you would solve their problems, unearth locations, hear them out and hold their hand. Suzy earned that trust many times over, even winning over hardliners like Martin Scorsese who seldom placed a camera outside New York City,” he says. “Suzy had a sincere, disarming charm. She met people where they were, no matter status or circumstance. A-list producers, government brass, union reps, crew… They all felt that she understood them. That she was in their corner.”
Ron Verkuilen was Kellett’s successor. “At the time Suzy was there, I was a location scout. When Suzy left for Washington, I was lucky enough to wade the political waters, and needless to say, I followed a tough act, and was director of the Film Office until 2003.” Verkuilen, who worked with Suzy for over a dozen years before that, says that “her legend is real. Uber-mom. Uber-boss. Uber-human being.” Verkuilen attests to how Kellett laid the groundwork for the success of the film industry in Illinois today. “In the late eighties, when the Canadian dollar was at an all-time low, their government went full speed ahead on incentives to sweeten the pot so Hollywood would head north. It worked. Suzy understood that we were losing so much business, the only way to compete was to create our own incentives. As she said, build one that would be robust and lasting. Suzy had a great relationship with the head of the Ontario Film Development Board and she asked if he might be able to help her write our own broad-based incentives to compete with them once again! Bold ask. But Suzy charmed him. He agreed.
“Suzy went up to Toronto and came back with their actual incentive syllabus! When she returned, she recruited an actuary in Springfield who immediately drafted our own Illinois incentive, the one that is in place today. It took years and a lot of cajoling recalcitrant Republican legislators—as they were not big fans of Hollywood—for the bill to be put forward. But there is no doubt Suzy got the economic ball rolling. Her work not only put us on the location map, it has kept it there for years.”
“News of her passing reminded me of the opportunities she created and high standards she set,” Moskal adds. “For filmmakers, for Chicagoans in the industry, and for the film commissioners that followed her, here and nationwide. She set me on a path and I’m forever grateful.” A memorial for Kellett will be Sunday, July 16 at 1pm at the Winnetka Community House, 620 Lincoln Avenue in Winnetka.
James Fotopoulos, maker of over a hundred shorts, returns to Chicago to make a thriller next month. The turn-of-the-century art stalwart is slated to make his latest, “The Golden Sarcophaga,” on the streets of Chicago, shooting in August with an unusual cast and one of America’s boldest cinematographers, Sean Price Williams (“Good Time,” “Tesla,” “Her Smell,” “Heaven Knows What”). The synopsis: “A drifter of a small storefront church’s congregation in flight from street violence stumbles across the ultimate invasive species, a large insect last seen before Christ and emerging en masse to render a new plague upon a once-again fallen world.” The cast includes rapper Kool Keith, Alice In Chains’ William Duvall, New York City theater mainstay Jim Fletcher, “Basket Case” director Frank Henenlotter, as well as local notables, multidisciplinary artist Marvin Tate and rapper and street artist Sharkula.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
“Contempt” (Le mépris, 1963) is always a revelation, a shockingly accessible masterpiece amid Godard’s dense, discursive canon. Michel Piccoli plays Paul Javal, a playwright who needs money, and producer Prokosch is embodied by Jack Palance, that heavy among heavies, waving a packet of cash in Paul’s direction to doctor a script of “The Odyssey” being directed by Fritz Lang. “I like gods,” Palance purrs, “I like them very much.” Paul has a beautiful young wife, Camille, played with momentous petulance by Brigitte Bardot. Paul asks whether he should write the script. Camille tells him it’s fine. Later she feels he hasn’t shown enough concern when Prokosch has been forward with her. No matter what Paul does, it will not be enough. Camille seizes on excuses, any excuses, to dismiss Paul’s adoration. She remembers the love she once thought they had: “Everything used to happen instinctively, in complicitous ecstasy.” For a good third of the movie, the couple bicker, contradict, snip and cut at each other in their brightly colored, unfinished apartment. The world is reduced to Paul and Camille. Man and Woman. The furniture is as bold, as blunt as sculpture. A cerulean chair, a sunflower-colored throw, a red couch. Statues. Bardot. Her body rebukes the viewer, Paul. “Do you love my breasts, my eyes, my knees?” she asks, as the camera, transfixed, goes beyond objectification into blunt fetish. “I love you totally, terribly, tragically,” is all Paul, smitten, ever-equivocating, can tell her. At the end, the camera looks out onto the ocean, the horizon. Limitless possibility or infinite distance? The space between you and I, the space between a man, a woman. The sparkling azure of the sea is the crashing gulf between them. It is unfathomably huge. Sixtieth-anniversary 4K digital restoration. Siskel, opens Friday, July 14.
Alan Rudolph’s bleakly tender “Welcome To L.A.” is a misbegotten “first” feature (preceded by a couple of others) that still holds cracked charm, especially for those fond of his films like “Choose Me,” “Remember My Name” and “Afterglow”: everything right and wrong with Rudolph’s later filmography is present in the choices made in this 1977 romantic roundelay for which distributor Park Circus tosses its hands up with the synopsis, “A self-important group of weirdoes from Los Angeles realize how worthless their lives are.” Um, no. Rudolph’s variation on “La Ronde” is bed-happy and behaviorally tone-deaf, but the characters lean on privileged moments and the lustrous and trashy Los Angeles of its moment as captured by David Myers provides a bittersweet time capsule. (As photographer Lauren Hutton says in the film, “I like to shoot empty street corners.”) Sort of a reward for his work with Robert Altman on “Nashville,” it features Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Harvey Keitel, Sally Kellerman, John Considine, Viveca Lindfors, Sissy Spacek and Richard Baskin, who embodies the droopy narrative song score. My extended mid-career interview with Rudolph from 1997 is here. Doc Films, Friday, July 14 and Saturday, July 15. (Also streaming free on Tubi.)
A romantic comedy without kisses, Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” (co-written with Greta Gerwig, the first credited collaboration between the pair, which continues this month with “Barbie”) is a vest-pocket “Manhattan,” a monochrome charmer about the mistakes a young striver makes at the elder age of twenty-seven, before her true, adult life begins, sometime shortly after the film’s “a-ha” of a final shot that illuminates the cryptic, if cute title. (And announces that all we have seen before is mere comic prelude.) Frances is getting past the proper time to be the dancer she intends to be, and the film neatly choreographs her progress toward her true and proper profession. But that’s not to say Frances, and Gerwig by extension, isn’t a creature of physicality. Gerwig’s her own Mabel Normand to her inner Mack Sennett: there’s good and proper slapstick throughout and she’s electric throughout. Her Frances is self-consciously unselfconscious: a serious person inside a still-young shape. Shooting in restrained black-and-white, Baumbach draws from scores by 1960s Georges Delerue themes from movies like “King of Hearts,” “Promise at Dawn” and “Contempt.” Influence and citation are there, if you want it, if you see it, but it only enriches the portrait of this young woman whose trials in forbidding, pricey New York City draw her closer to the woman she will be, the artist she will be, the character she will become. Gerwig draws upon her well of previously demonstrated charisma, her ample capacity for high-caliber twerpitude refined, honed, elevated. Typical of its bustling bursts of setpieces, the film takes a fantastic leap in a scene following Frances running at top gait, leaping as the dancer that she is, through nighttime Chinatown streets, the laterally tracking camera fixing her as a succession of twenty-first-century Muybridge framings in motion, accompanied by David Bowie’s “Modern Love”—a thrill redoubled for those who have seen “Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood)” as well as “Boy Meets Girl,” Leos Carax’s black-and-white debut, also a short, bittersweet black-and-white song of apartments and city streets. Her energy, the character’s headlong tumult, the clatter-bang instrumentation of the highly genial song: it’s precious, even. Drafthouse, Saturday, July 15, 11am.
Two more showings on bigger screens with big sound of Christopher Nolan pictures before “Oppenheimer” drops: “Tenet,” released during the pandemic, is a big one. Before its eventual release, we previewed: “Are we ready for a glassy, nattily attired, post-Hitchcock globe-girdling suspense thriller (largely shot in Estonia as well as six other countries)? Are we ready to go indoors?” Drafthouse, Monday, July 17, 7pm; Tuesday, July 18, 7pm.
“Interstellar” is bigger: worlds between worlds. Drafthouse, Saturday, July 15, 3:45pm; Sunday, July 16, 11am and 3:45pm.
Joe Dante’s small “Small Soldiers” (1998) is also large: it’s a canny critique of the military-media industrial complex, as you’d expect from the maker of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” and other darting delights. Jonathan Rosenbaum is at his cynical best in chronicling its reception here. Drafthouse, Wednesday, July 19, 7pm.
Charlie Chaplin’s “Monsieur Verdoux: A Comedy Of Murders” (35mm): a disillusioned Little Tramp could kill you all. Chicago Film Society at NEIU, Wednesday, July 19, 7:30pm.