Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, September 22-28, 2023
Its existence is a grace.
An empty stage with work lights on. (Four nights at The Pantages, Los Angeles, December 13-16, 1983.) A pair of shoes walk on, a man enters, the sounds of an audience, imagined fancy, crest in his head. David Byrne’s got a boombox: he presses play.
The simmering, then explosive beauty of “Stop Making Sense,” Jonathan Demme’s concert-film masterpiece, lies in its steady accumulation of bits and pieces, looks and glances. Building a set, assembling a sound: The construction of the equipment onstage is sweet, kooky algebra. The result is a confiding, confident blue streak of only eighty-eight minutes. There are songs and sounds and there is a band; they are community, they are family, and on the largest screen possible, especially the IMAX-scaled ones on which the restoration is opening this week, they are a conspiracy. Listen in and dance.
And two stories high! A crisp, clear image—not a YouTube bootleg from years of muddied rights issues—providing forty-year-old visions like Byrne’s implausibly young, implausibly Scottish cheekbones beneath wide, hardly blinking dark eyes as his body proceeds in its St. Vitus fancies. Chris Frantz’s irrepressible smile. Tina Weymouth’s calm held taut by alarming eyes. Jerry Harrison grasping the music by the neck. Bernie Worrell’s precision and mischief.
Weymouth’s cool, inventive bass sounds don’t always go with her moves. (Save The Crab Dance for another discussion.) Medium-close shots of all of the Heads, sometimes with longer lenses from far away, are held a few frames or even seconds longer than we expect—the band engages, we engage. In cutaways to Weymouth’s face, she’s taciturn and unmussed, then rises on tiptoe to hit her notes until there’s more eye contact. I watched her on the immense screen as intently as I watched the trickster Byrne: you cannot underestimate that countenance, that elevated confidence. During the Tom Tom Club interlude, she bites off the words “I’m in love with my boyfriend” and there’s a short, sharp closeup of her partner Frantz behind the crumbs. It’s as congenial as the moment during “Girlfriend Is Better” when Byrne turns and offers his microphone to the lens. “Intention and determination” was what Jerry Harrison said in the conversation after the IMAX premiere made the show work. Also: love. And you ought to love this restoration, this revival, this revivification, this vision of a few brief moments of joy. One week IMAX-only, including City North, Village Crossing, Oakbrook Center, South Barrington ad Streets Of Woodfield, with a wider release on September 29, including the Music Box.
Excellent no-budget local production “Waiting For The Light To Change,” winner of the narrative feature grand jury prize at Slamdance this year, opens Friday at Siskel. (The distributor is asking that reviews be held until its October 20 debut on video-on-demand.) There will be Q&As with director-writer Linh Tran, actress Jin Park, producer Jewells Santos, and executive producer James Choi on (September 23, 24, 27). Opens Friday, September 22 at Siskel.
Several shorts by Wes Anderson from the Netflix-held estate of Roald Dahl, including “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” roll out on the service starting September 27. (The other titles are “Swan,” September 28; “Rat Catcher,” September 29; and “Poison,” September 30. (Details here.)
George A. Romero’s “The Night Of The Living Dead,” is showing in a 35mm print struck from the current 4K digital restoration. Music Box, Friday-Sunday, September 22-24, 9pm.
Chicago Film Society brings back its four day-event of total photochemical immersion with the “Celluloid Now” analog showcase, featuring “screenings, workshops and events showcasing the work of analog filmmakers and artists, alongside archival rediscoveries and restorations with programs, workshops and panels.”
The forty-first edition of Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival opens Thursday, September 21 at the Music Box with “The Mattachine Family,” and with forty-one feature films and twelve shorts programs at the festival hub, Landmark Century, and Chicago FIlmmakers Firehouse Cinema, with select titles via the Festival’s streaming platform until October 8. Schedule and more here.
Sébastien Marnier’s widescreen dark thriller “The Origin Of Evil,” starring César-winning Laure Calamy (“Call My Agent”) is a virtuously acidic sup at the spoiled well of Patrica Highsmith-style trouble. Its surfaces aren’t always revealing, and its twists and turns sometimes verge on parody. Still, its slow-burn disdain for the upper class is well-aimed.. Opens Friday, September 22, Drafthouse and Ford City.
“Invisible Beauty” is a memoir of fashion pioneer Bethann Hardison, who began as a model, directed by Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng. At eighty, Hardison has a half-century of ground to cover, and the brawny tapestry can be both daunting and hypnotic. As an elegy to her accomplishments in beauty and in Black representation, even Hardison seems struck by its volume. Interviews include Tracee Ellis Ross, Zendaya, Fran Lebowitz, Bruce Weber, Iman, Tyson Beckford, Pat Cleveland, Naomi Campbell and Stephen Burrows. A book is promised: can it be as stocked and splashy? Siskel, opens Friday, September 22.
There’s urgency in Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s “Mutt,” charting twenty-four hours in New York City in the life of Feña (Lío Mehiel), a young, Latin trans man. All is fresh: new life, new identity, defining as sense of self, a turbulent city all around. That bold photographic realism punches the viewer the way sensations buffet the protagonist. As do figures from his past, who thought they knew someone else. As a moment-to-moment portrait of trauma, “Mutt” convinces. In English and Spanish. Music Box, opens Friday, September 22.
“Destroy Your Art” returns to the Music Box, for its fifth edition with four filmmakers—Ariella Khan, Michael Glover Smith, Ines Sommer, and Blair St. George Wright—who show freshly finished films and then destroy them in the presence of the only audience who will ever see them. More here. Music Box, Tuesday, September 26, 7pm.
This week’s attractions at Asian Pop-up Cinema include fresh features from Iran, Mongolia and Afghanistan, showing at AMC New City 14. Tickets and details here.
“Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party” plays a single show as Nick Cave tours this country. “Narrated exclusively by the original band members, the film delves deep into the band’s psyche, chronicling how Nick Cave and his school friends startled audiences with their confrontational performances, primal screams, outlaw gothic horror, and anarchic lifestyle. Featuring never-before-seen personal footage from band members, dynamic animation sequences, and jaw-dropping concert clips, the film provides a sweaty, electrifying front-row seat to one of the most legendary live acts,” relay the producers. Music Box, Sunday, September 24, 7pm.
MUBI’s “Highs And Lows” series does dystopia this week, with Ringo Lam’s violent Hong Kong classic, “Prison On Fire” (35mm, 1987), and with John McTiernan’s hyper 2002 remake of “Rollerball” (35mm). Music Box, Wednesday, September 27, 7pm.
Maria Schrader’s little-seen “She Said,” charts the journalistic takedown of the monstrous, now imprisoned-for-life film producer Harvey Weinstein by New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor. A beautifully acted procedural, with Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan and Patricia Clarkson, Schrader’s slow-burn style is accompanied by superlative sound design that keeps the tension high. A benefit for Chicago Headline Club, with a meet-and-greet with Megan Twohey in the lounge beforehand, and a discussion with investigative reporter Carol Marin afterwards. Music Box, Thursday, September 28, 6:45pm.
Doc Films returns to life in Hyde Park, this week showcasing “The Blues Brothers” (Monday, September 25, 6:30pm); Larry Cohen’s passionately berserk serial-killer-in-Manhattan thriller, “God Told Me To” (Thursday, September 28, 9:30pm); David Fincher’s steely modern dystopia origin tale, “The Social Network” (Thursday, September 28, 7pm); and Charles Laughton’s lyrical 1955 horror masterpiece, “Night Of The Hunter” (Tuesday, September 26, 7pm).
“Night of the Hunter” is a singular oddity: Actor Charles Laughton’s only work as a director is filled with myth and mayhem, a lyrical visualization of fairytale imagery, dark, twisted, impassioned, filled with memories, ghosts and—to the children terrorized by them—incomprehensible forces. (It’s pretty earthy for 1955 as well.) Robert Mitchum is a psychotic “preacher” who spends much of the movie pursuing a trio of orphans. Mitchum is at his best, alluring and lurid at once; Lillian Gish is a protective farm woman who takes the children under her wing and stands up to evil. And as the mother of the brood, Shelley Winters, who takes to water in the most frightening way. James Agee adapted the novel by Davis Grubb; Stanley Cortez composed the magisterial black-and-white images. Go: be stunned.