End-of-summer doldrums in new releases, unless you count the digital drop of “Barbie” coming up on Tuesday, September 5, only forty-six days after it was released, putting a short, sharp end to repeat viewings and theater parties that might have held on in smaller theaters across the country a few more showtimes longer. (It’s already showing on some airlines.) Reeling 41 announces its roster; the city’s oldest movie house, the New 400, has closed; Classic Cinemas’ founder dies; Chicago Film Society announces finds for fall; The Bride Of Music Box Of Horrors claims its first victims; and the Film Center features “Contra/Banned” pictures. (More below.)
In repertory and revivals, “Noir City Chicago” at the Music Box revels in the eternal newness of a slick, brutish genre that says we live in a dark, never-less-than-driven world (driven mad, driven slush, driven mayhem) with exceptionally beautiful and flattering lighting at work, home and play, most of the eighteen features exhibited on 35mm prints. (More below.)
Love and love abiding: brilliant, bittersweet “The Eternal Memory,” a Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance for documentary, is the latest from gifted observer Maite Alberdi (“The Mole Agent”), chronicling a life of twenty-five years between Augusto Góngora, one of Chile’s top broadcast journalists for decades (and an actor for Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz), and his wife, the actress Paulina Urrutia. Augusto was one of the cultural figures who attempted to reclaim Chilean memory after the murderous Pinochet dictatorship, and now Paulina is Augusto’s caretaker as he loses his own memory in the eighth year of his Alzheimer’s decline. What joy, what sorrow. The possibility of memory seems limitless, until it does not. Opens Friday, August 25 at Siskel.
Jennifer Reeder’s fourth feature, the bold, bloody horror “Perpetrator,” musses up for a week onscreen before its September 1 debut on Shudder. Music Box, opens Thursday, August 24; no Sunday show.
Will there be any moment in Neill Blomkamp’s “Gran Turismo” where you can point to the screen and say, “That’s Chappie”? Ehh. (At the Daily Beast, A. A. Dowd posits that every movie the South African-Canadian filmmaker of “District 9” has made is in the shadow of a never-produced adaptation of the “Halo” videogame.)
“The Hill” features a Texas small-town baseball player with leg braces and a degenerative disease of the spine, discouraged by his stern pastor father, who is, natch, Dennis Quaid. Opens Friday, August 25 at Block 37, Pickwick and other screens.
In “Golda,” Helen Mirren is the the Israeli Prime Minister overseeing 1973’s Yom Kippur War; Liev Schreiber is Henry Kissinger. Opens wide, Friday, August 25.
For those who want to catch up just a little on what’s been onscreen, National Cinema Day returns. Four-dollar tickets rule on Sunday, August 27 at over 3,000 locations, reprising last year’s promotion, reports Variety. “The second annual National Cinema Day, hosted by the Cinema Foundation, is designed to ‘celebrate the power of movies to bring us all together’—or, to populate multiplexes during the dog days of summer. The event comes as the summer box office is 16.6 percent ahead of 2022 but 5.4 percent below 2019… Approximately 8.1 million moviegoers turned out for last year’s inaugural National Cinema Day and resulted in the highest-attended day of 2022… All of that foot traffic in theaters usually means there will be more popcorn and concession stand sales.” Check your local theater for listings.
The release of fresh restorations of Gregg Araki’s 1990s punk provocations continues with 1993’s “Living End.” FACETS Trivia Night, Thursday, August 31, trivia 7pm, film 9pm.
“Wet Hot American Summer” joshes and sloshes into Drafthouse, Sunday, August 27, 5pm.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
“Noir City Chicago” returns, with a selection of mad movies made in 1948, a solid mingling of the long-lauded—”Key Largo”; “The Lady From Shanghai”; “Call Northside 777”; “The Big Clock”; “Unfaithfully Yours”; “The Naked City”—and lesser-known greats, like Jean Negulesco’s “Road House”; “He Walked By Night”; “The Velvet Touch”; “I Walk Alone”; “Chicago Deadline”: “Blood on The Moon”; and “Raw Deal”; plus two singular personal favorites, Abraham Polonsky’s “Force Of Evil” and Frank Borzage’s “Moonrise.” (Passes are $100, $85 for members.) Full details, including appearances by Eddie Muller, Film Noir Foundation founder and host of TCM’s Noir Alley, here.
On “Lady From Shanghai” and “Force Of Evil”:
You wonder how much stranger Orson Welles’ movies could have been if he’d had the financial safety net or supportive industry to tinker even more than he did: with another thirty years to live, how might he have built on the thrillingly weird, baroquely funny “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948), “Touch Of Evil,” “F for Fake,” the posthumous provocation, “The Other Side Of the Wind”? The virtually unfathomable plot of “Lady” finds Welles a sailor caught between the variously suicidal and homicidal fantasies of a crippled lawyer and his frustrated young wife. Despite front-office-mandated reshoots, Welles’ first studio picture after “The Magnificent Ambersons” is cheerily, deliriously disjointed; Welles’ dense Irish brogue as “Michael O’Hara” is as thick as his character’s head; love interest Rita Hayworth, Columbia’s biggest star and Welles’ then-wife, made famous by her flowing red hair, waltzes through in a perverse blonde bob that, with her icy performance, makes her seem even more forbidding; supremely strange Glenn Anders and Everett Sloane cackle through insane machinations. There’s a wealth of bravura filmmaking, including the justly celebrated shootout finale in an amusement park’s hall of mirrors. And some of the dialogue! Such dreamy, modern stuff: “Do you know, once, off the hump of Brazil, I saw the ocean so darkened with blood it was black, and the sun fainting away over the lip of the sky. We’d put in at Fortaleza, and a few of us had lines out for a bit of idle fishing. It was me had the first strike. A shark it was. Then there was another. And another shark again. Until all about, the sea was made of sharks, and more sharks still. And no water at all. My shark had torn himself from the hook and the scent or maybe the stain it was, and him bleeding his life away drove the rest of them mad.” Such it is with sharks and genius.
Then we have the alternately blissful and staccato visual and verbal poetry of soon-to-be-blacklisted Abraham Polonsky’s critique-of-capital thriller “Force Of Evil.” Terse and broody, lyrical yet brutal, it’s as canny a critique of capitalism as the American studio system ever devised while prising out the heart at every turn. “One of the great glories of ‘Force of Evil’ is that language used for a completely different purpose and used in a completely different manner,” a Governor of the Academy and screenwriter Howard Rodman (“Joe Gould’s Secret,” “Savage Grace”) once told me. “The language of the movie loses none of its political force and none of its arguments. You get a sense that it is the rawest and most amazing way of talking, peoples’ unconsciousness was speaking directly through them, finding their way in words and yet instead of regarding it as weird or unintelligible or pretentious, it was just the way they spoke and some of that was the glorious way that and Polonsky wrote and some of that I think was that he really, truly found the vehicle for his words in John Garfield who was, you know, the perfect gutter saint for the kind of subjects he did in this film and in ‘Body & Soul.’ I don’t think any of us who come after Polonsky will ever succeed as uniquely or as magically as he did. But it remains an inspiration, because it tells you that even though film is a visceral medium—especially because film is a visceral medium—you don’t have to be afraid of language.”
“Farewell Rogers Park,” the New 400 posted on Facebook , closing out 111 years as Chicago’s oldest continuously running movie house. “The 400 served the community for fourteen years… We sold over one million tickets, not a single one for more than $10… A shout out to the memory of my great friend the late Tom Fencl whose wife Mary still runs The Davis Theater. That great man stepped up when the Village Theater had fallen into utter disrepair and opened up his world of contacts to so that The 400 had a shot at being successful, and for a time, thanks to him, it was… The Davis is the last small first-run neighborhood theater in Chicago, and those of you who still like small neighborhood theaters to take up residence there, and to eat and drink and be merry because its perpetual existence is not guaranteed.” Adds Block Club, “The beloved Sheridan Road spot was one of the last remaining independent movie theaters in Chicago, and neighbors hope to find a new owner who will continue its legacy.” The Sun-Times: “The theater, which took on its current name in 2009, first opened as The Regent vaudeville and movie house in 1912.” Two pandemics later, The owner, “who owns the building housing the 400 [is] likely to sell most of the block, not just the theater. He said he’s put close to $1 million into the theater’s restorations and repairs.” Local news source, the Loyola Phoenix, caught the rumbling back in March.
The founder of Classic Cinemas was eighty-six. “When Willis Johnson got into the movie theater business,’ old downtown theaters [in small towns] were out of favor,’ remembered son Chris Johnson on Friday. The mall was king, and shoebox multiplexes of zero architectural distinction ran rampant,” reports Michael Phillips at the Tribune. “The elder Johnson’s perseverance and dedication to his hometown of Downers Grove led to the expansion of the regional theater chain known as Classic Cinemas, now with sixteen locations and 137 screens in Illinois and Wisconsin.” Writes the Sun-Times: “It began as a one-off with the residential Tivoli Hotel—Mr. Johnson began living in the historic location after splitting from his first wife. Unexpectedly, a difficult time in his life led to a life-changing new career path. The Downers Grove building included a theater and a bowling alley. But when the theater closed for remodeling, Mr. Johnson got the idea to buy the building. At the time, he owned a printing company with his brother, Ross, and movie theaters weren’t exactly where the money was… But ‘dumb luck’ led to success.”
Serious Series All Autumn Long
Chicago Film Society has announced its fall offerings across four locations, including the second convocation of the invaluable film-and-workshop cornucopia and Chautauqua, Celluloid Now. “Cinema’s been dying so often, maybe it’s due for a resurrection?” asks CFS. “Look beyond the multiplex and the noise of new releases, and you’ll see that cinema is alive and well, even the millimeter-denominated, analog variety that was left for dead a decade ago. If cinema was dead, where did we dig up brand-new 35mm prints of ‘Crime Wave,’ ‘Doctor X,’ ‘Mystery of the Wax Museum,’ and ‘The Plot Against Harry’? Where did we find a print of the original 150-minute premiere version of Terrence Malick’s ‘The New World,’ which was already cut by fifteen minutes by the time it reached Chicago in January 2006?” Answers in the form of a full roster running from September 6-December 19 here.
The Film Center’s “Contra/Banned” series runs September 1-11, featuring ten films that riled the keepers of outrage across the past century. Consider a series pass that includes “The Last Temptation Of Christ”; “RoboCop”; “Ekstase”; “The Girl on The Motorcycle”; “Scarface” (1932); “Pink Flamingos”; “Flaming Creatures” and “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.” Tickets here.
The Bride Of Music Box Of Horrors has opened its first grave of undead offerings spilling out onto the thirty-one days of October. Titles include “The Mothman Prophecies”; “Near Dark”; “The Crow”; “Aliens”; “Bride Of Chucky”: “Anaconda”; “The Tingler”; “Young Frankenstein” and “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari” with a live score by the Invincible Czars. Full calendar September 8. Ten-film pass and more here.
Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival has announced its full slate of programming for the forty-first edition of the second-longest running LGBTQ+ film festival in the world, which will run September 21-October 8 with in-person and streaming presentations. This year’s festival includes fifty-four programs, including forty-two feature films and twelve short film programs, with work from twenty-five countries. Opening night will be held at the Music Box, followed by screenings at the fest’s hub theater, Landmark Century and at Chicago Filmmakers Firehouse Cinema. More here.