Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, October 6-12, 2023
The fifty-ninth Chicago International Film Festival opens Wednesday, October 11. We’ll have more details next week. The full bill of fare is here.
The key creative personnel behind “The Exorcist: Believer,” the beginning of a planned trilogy through Morgan Creek and Universal, are director David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and producer Jason Blum. Before this iteration, the late William Friedkin, director of “The Exorcist,” posted on Twitter in December of 2020, ‘There’s a rumor on IMDB that I’m involved with a new version of ‘The Exorcist.’ This isn’t a rumor, it’s a flat-out lie. There’s not enough money or motivation in the world to get me to do this.” “The Exorcist: Believer” opens on many, many screens Friday.
Here’s yer Hollywood Renaissance! The late William Richert’s deliciously berserk “Winter Kills” almost never saw the light of day before its patchy completion and release in 1979; it’s pungent satire, a Kennedy-conspiracy thriller drawn from a novel by Richard Condon that must, as has been said, be seen to be disbelieved, especially in its photochemical restoration and a brand-new 35mm print, brought under the wing of wealthy cineaste Quentin Tarantino. J. Hoberman’s synopsis from the New York Times gets it: “‘Winter Kills’ is part black comedy, part paranoid thriller and—an evocation of cosmic conspiracy that boasts its own conspiratorial backstory—part carnival hall of mirrors.”
With an implausibly young Jeff Bridges, an imperiously bony Anthony Perkins, a magisterially seedy John Huston and a legend-in-a-flash single-syllable silent cameo by an all-in-red, champagne-bearing Elizabeth Taylor. (If you can’t make it to the Music Box, StudioCanal’s copy is available online, including free on Tubi.) Music Box, Opens Friday, October 6.
The Siskel Film Center’s terrific seven-film “One And Done” series continues into a second week. All highly regarded attractions: “True Stories“; “Just Another Girl On The I.R.T.“; “L’Atalante“; “Wanda“; and “Carnival of Souls.” More here.
“The Storms Of Jeremy Thomas,” emanating from the killingly prolific critic-filmmaker Mark Cousins (the fifteen-hour epic “The Story of Film: An Odyssey”) is the rare, knowing portrait of a brilliant living producer whose many estimable directors include Bernardo Bertolucci (“The Last Emperor,” “The Sheltering Sky”); Nagisa Oshima (“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”); David Cronenberg (“Crash”); and Nicolas Roeg (“Bad Timing”). Amid a panoply of, well, dazzling clips from the work of his filmmakers, Thomas offers brief, if pointed lessons about survival that may be as bracing as the ones about creativity. Thomas is great company, but its the films he’s made rather than the one he graced that truly counts. (His wowzer complete filmography is here.) “The Storms Of Jeremy Thomas” opens Friday, October 6 at Landmark Century.
In first-time feature filmmaker Aristotle Torres’ “Story Ave,” South Bronx teen Kadir (Asante Blackk) “is a gifted visual artist who loses his way following the death of his younger brother. Overcome with grief and struggling with the pressures of school and family, he escapes into the thrilling yet dangerous world of graffiti gangs, seeking an outlet for the creative force threatening to explode out of him,” the distributor synopsizes. “To prove himself and join his neighborhood’s ruling gang, Kadir tries to rob no-nonsense MTA conductor Luis (Luis Guzmán) on the Story Ave subway platform.” Luis gives him the cash, but convinces him to sit down to dinner and talk about the future. Winner of a best cinematography prize at SXSW. Opens Friday, October 6 at Cinema Chatham and Wayfarer Theater, Highland Park.
A clip from “Vermeer: The Greatest Exhibition.”
In the spring of 2023, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam featured the largest Vermeer exhibition in history. “With loans from around the world, this major retrospective brings together Vermeer’s most famous masterpieces including ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring,’ ‘The Geographer,’ ‘The Milkmaid,’ ‘The Little Street,’ ‘Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid’ and ‘Woman Holding a Balance’–in all, twenty-eight of his surviving thirty-five works.” The Amsterdam show quickly sold out, but “Vermeer: The Greatest Exhibition” offers a VIP view of the works accompanied by the director of the Rijksmuseum and the curators of the show. Post-screening Q&As with executive producer Phil Grabsky Friday, October 6, 6:30pm and Saturday, October 7, noon. Siskel, opens Friday, October 6.
The Chicago Film Society presents restored 1960s 16mm films by Chicago critic-filmmaker Fred Camper. “Artist, scholar and teacher Fred Camper (b. Chicago, 1947) has been a well-known and influential member of the avant-garde cinema scene since the late 1960s. Camper established his reputation with articles that appeared in Film Culture, Cinema, and Screen. In Chicago, he reviewed films and art exhibitions in the Chicago Reader, then the city’s major alternative weekly newspaper, from 1986 to 2010. In recent years, Camper has taught courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago and exhibited his own digital artwork at galleries in Chicago, New York, and Venice, California.” Less well-known are the 16mm films that Camper made in the late 1960s: “Joan Goes to Misery” (1967); “A Sense of the Past” (1967); “Dan Potter” (1968); “Welcome to Come” (1968); and “Bathroom” (1969). “Taken together, the films present a rare opportunity to discover artistic efforts of a prominent avant-garde critic. Camper is also one of the few avant-garde filmmakers who proudly cites Hollywood aesthetics not as a toxic influence to be purged but as a productive avenue of investigation. (He has published as much writing on classical Hollywood and other forms of narrative cinema as on avant-garde film.)” Extensive details and context of each of the films is here. Free, with filmmaker present. Chicago Film Society, Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 East 60th, Friday, October 6, 7pm.
Asian Pop-Up Cinema offers a weekend of four new films from South Korea at New City 14. Details here.
“Bride Of Music Box Of Horrors” continues at the Music Box, this week highlighting Bill Gunn’s pioneering Black vampire picture, the once-rare “Ganja & Hess“; Alan Parker’s gleaming and decadent “Angel Heart” (35mm); Alex Proyas’ “The Crow“with actress Bai Ling present; and the downright sinister “Unfriended: Dark Web“, with director Stephen Susco (reviewed below).
The Billy Wilder matinee of the week: “Stalag 17.” Music Box, Saturday-Sunday, October 7-8, 11:30am.
Drafthouse attractions this week, on big bright screens in small, tidy rooms, include the 4K restoration of Dario Argento’s giallo “Opera” (Friday, October 6, Monday, October 9); John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (Saturday, October 7, Tuesday, October 10, Wednesday, October 11); Andy Fleming’s “The Craft” (Sunday, October 8, 11am); William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer” (Sunday, October 8, 5:30pm); “Cabin In the Woods” (Monday, October 9) and the 1931 “Drácula,” en español (Tuesday, October 10).
Doc Films’ stuffed week includes “Lost Highway” (below); Ang Lee’s yearning, burning “Brokeback Mountain” (35mm) (Sunday, October 8); Héctor Babenco’s “Pixote” (Sunday, October 8); John Huston’s late, sere masterpiece of faith and dirty dealing, “Wise Blood” (Tuesday, October 10); and Danny Boyle’s cloacal romp “Trainspotting” (Thursday, October 12). Times and more films here.
“Lost Highway” was one of the best films of the 1990s indie movement that was lost to the vagaries of ownership, preservation and distribution. But October Films (which unleashed “Black Cat, White Cat,” “High Art,” “The Living End,” “The Addiction” and “Joe Gould’s Secret”) was washed away in a series of mergers of companies swallowed up by Universal Pictures and its corporate holders. When “Lost Highway” was released in 1997, October Films majordomo, the late, great Bingham Ray, was coming off a year when he had brought Mike Leigh’s “Secrets And Lies” and Lars Von Trier’s “Breaking The Waves” to America. (There’s an epic profile by Pat Wechsler from New York magazine in 1997 of the infectious genius of Ray here.) October Films was the A24 of its moment, in its ambitions for filmmakers but also for “earned” publicity, given to signature gestures like the notorious print ad that ran after hostile reviews from the Siskel and Ebert television program. (Bingham, who was a friend, was as amused by fracas as box-office filigree in those days before widespread social media.) “‘Lost Highway’ may be Lynch’s most Lynchian film yet,” I wrote after its Sundance 1997 debut. “Dark and disturbing, unrelenting and unsettling, gorgeously made, sizzlingly sensual yet coldly fatalist, it shows Lynch ever more determined to escape the shackles of narrative convention, even after four years prior to this of not being able to get projects financed. In its fever-dream orchestration of incident, sound and music, Lynch has made a musical—one that after you’ve seen, you find yourself humming—in your sleep. In interviews, Lynch is notoriously elusive, wanting never to pin down meaning, symbolism or directorial intent, but he is fond of saying things much like his characters would, such as that he’s ‘lost in darkness and confusion.’… Whether taken as fantasy or nightmare, Lynch’s revisionist noir yarn is as pungent as a punch in the face, as quixotic as revisiting a lost love; it’s essentially a romantic tragedy, tinged with a deep undercurrent of sadness and hurt… And yet is the story banal, tinkering with psychological cliches, or grandly mysterious? I lean toward the latter.” Doc, Friday, October 6, 7pm.
Call it “The Dare Glitch Project”: Here’s an unexpected unearthing of a recent overlooked modern picture by the Music Box Bride of Horrors team, Stephen Susco’s “Unfriended: Dark Web.” Angry and nonconciliatory, Stephen Susco’s superbly focused “Unfriended: Dark Web” arrives in the marketplace with key taglines: “The most evil film Blumhouse has ever made” and “Death wants some face time.” I won’t call the movie evil, but it’s wholeheartedly malicious, with rich imagery in its quest for simple survival that evokes the 1970s urban legend of “snuff” films in a contemporary setting, and bears a certain “Salò” tang about death coming for those who give up control to others in a society that demands it of them. I like it as a parable that asks, if you have fascists in the garden, why did you think they were flowers? And why do you continue to nurture them? Like “The First Purge,” which was released two weeks earlier, “Unfriended” is casual with banter about shitty politics and shittier money in the modern world, with Bitcoin and Ethereum and dark-data demon Cambridge Analytica among the name-drops for verisimilitude in the deadly online antics as well as bursts of tart cynicism. Like the 2015 installment, “Deep Web” stays within the boundary of a laptop desktop (except for a single pullback filled with screams that is a cold cackle). Rules are set, rules are broken, stakes accelerate. Commonplace notifications from true-to-virtual-life apps drop dread down the screen. The coldest may be a suggestion about trepanning, which would be the internet getting into your head physically, instead of just a virtual mindfuck medium that tempts with its identities, false and true, and charms and harms that do you short of death. Susco keeps the worst offscreen, per horror tradition, which with jacked-up sounds is always more alarming. To these ears, Susco does it just right, making the awful happenings both twangy as well as the stuff of delayed nightmares.