Talking Screens, A Week In Chicago Film, June 2-8, 2023
One big picture at a time, stand aside, stand aside please: the major piece of I.P. cascading across digital screens of America this weekend is “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which I haven’t seen yet, but the good, even great news is that the property is still in the canny hands of producers Lord and Miller as well as the directing troika of Kemp Powers, Justin Thompson and Joaquim Dos Santos, and the necessary vast number of other talented hands. Word from previews this week is euphoric.
A lost masterpiece arrives by occluded night in the form of the 4K restoration of György Fehér’s “Twilight” (Szürkület, 1990), a deeply noir serial killer murder mystery that begins inside a mountainside forest with the body of a young girl. (To wildly different ends, the movie is caught in time alongside the far goofier confines of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.”) The dazzling “Twilight” moves like a memory of itself, like a charcoal drawing of nightmare, like a major, missing chunk of Hungarian cinema, at least to American eyes, where the movie was never distributed until now. Fehér is considered a major talent in twentieth-century Hungarian cinema and has also been a regular Béla Tarr collaborator; his director of photography here is Miklós Gurbán, who created the grays and blacks of Tarr’s magical mystery, “Werckmeister Harmonies.” Time distends as the detective grows more obsessed with finding the killer known only as “The Giant.” The mood is deadly but hardly leaden. The detective’s existential quandary in a minimalist landscape is illuminated by Fehér’s 1991 statement while picking up a few prizes on the festival circuit: “I want to show to what extent the search for justice stands in ridiculous contrast to the eternity of nature. Meanwhile, it is precisely this search that I am so fascinated by.” Fehér’s film is a serene experience: we are made as much of mist as we are of mysteries. Was the film shown at the Chicago International Film Festival all those decades ago? Did I see it then? “Twilight” feels familiar yet also elementally strange: it is happening again. Essential viewing. “Twilight”opens at Siskel Friday, June 2.
A maker of strange films, the great, impassioned and determined Abel Ferrara is making stranger, looser, even shambling films as he moves into his seventies. “Padre Pio” is one of the shambling pictures, a consideration of faith, with Shia LaBeouf in the lead, and it feels precisely like a priceless Abel riff even when it evaporates onscreen. Ferrara completists will appreciate the momentary bursts of inspiration within an unfinished-seeming narrative. “I continue to shed tears every day” begins the gravelly mutter of LaBeouf as a priest still reeling from the depredations of the just-past Great War, as he begins his assignment to a remote monastery. The dreamy cinematography within a gunpowder palette by Alessandro Abate (“Martin Eden,” “Certified Copy”) is a major component of a weary, besorrowed mood. Ferrara makes a large claim for his religious biography: “‘Padre Pio’ is a film about the spiritual journey of the great saint in parallel with that of Shia LaBeouf, who portrays him.” Demons descend. Hope challenges. With Cristina Chiriac, Marco Leonardi, Asia Argento, Vincenzo Crea, Luca Lionello, Stella Mastrantonio and Salvatore Ruocco. “Padre Pio” opens at Wayfarer Theatres, Highland Park, Friday, June 2.
In retrospectives: a quintet of Cronenberg pictures under the Fetish Film Forum umbrella; “How Green Was My Valley“; “Cabaret“; “The Man Who Fell To Earth” and “Fail-Safe“; pioneering hardcore picture “Bijou” at the Music Box; and a big-screen dump of “Pink Flamingos” on Clark.
Plus, a colloquy with “Past Lives” producer Julia Oh on “Producing Successful Arthouse Films.”
Chicago Industry Exchange presents producer Julia Oh (“Bodies Bodies Bodies,” the forthcoming “Past Lives”) on “Producing Successful Arthouse Films,” with a “networking mixer” to follow the “candid in-depth conversation about getting distinctive independent films funded, produced and distributed.” Chicago Cultural Center, Friday, June 16, 5pm. Free registration here.
REPERTORY & REVIVALS
“Fail Safe“: the non-comic version of the fears so eloquently mocked in “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”; Henry Kissinger just turned a hundred, but nuclear weapons (and the rational fear of them) is forever. Early Sidney Lumet (1964) provides another glimpse into an era of acting derived from the New York stage all the way back to 1930s Yiddish theater that is no longer with us. Siskel, Monday, June 5, 6pm.
Fetish Film Forum presents a nosegay of five Cronenberg pictures at FACETS, including “Crimes Of the Future,” “Crash,” “Rabid,” “Videodrome” and “Shivers.” “This series is presented in partnership with Chicago’s Leather Archives & Museum and is an extension of Fetish Film Forum, a screening series exploring points of view on the sexual practice and art of fetish and kink, bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. Cinema is a fetish for the moving image, a form of roleplay for the actors, and an experience of voyeurism for the viewer, and Fetish Film Forum celebrates the power of film to realize humanity’s innermost desires.” As does the Canadian elder of “inner beauty.” FACETS, June 2-4, showtimes here.
Bob Fosse for Sunday breakfast? “Cabaret” is your excitement over easy. Drafthouse, Sunday, June 4, 11am.
Nic Roeg and David Bowie for weekend brunch? Here’s your existentialism over easy with “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” Nic Roeg’s 1976 pop-culture satire and able brainteaser. It’s ever more a thing of beauty, slipping effortlessly from the moorings of its era. For its thirty-fifth anniversary, a 35mm version of the original European version was produced, which runs about twenty minutes longer, including more dissatisfied kink. It’s a daring post-Watergate clash of Chester Gould and Thomas Pynchon: the mid-to-late twentieth century as an electric, hallucinogenic free-association free-for-all of desert industrial landscapes and groaning city streets, of youth-like lust and bizarre government conspiracies. David Bowie comes from the sky as one Thomas Jerome Newton, raking yellow-to-orange forelock from his mismatched eyes, bearing odd trinkets and nine inventions that transform the nation, going against the titans “Eastman Kodak, DuPont and RCA”: instant photography among them, Newton accelerates a consumerist country’s itch for thrills with his “World Enterprises” and accumulates hundreds of millions of dollars as an increasingly “alienated” industrialist. A Bruegel painting of Icarus, accompanied by W. H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts,” is invoked bluntly and aptly:
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Roeg, a time-slipping editor who began as a cinematographer, knows red from blue, red sand from blue sky from green water from red blood, knows the difference between Bowie’s milk torso and Rip Torn’s fishbelly-white gut. The Southwest is pinioned against Manhattan of that moment, and Roeg gets more from his juxtapositions than even Terrence Malick in “The Tree of Life.” But both these dream-state editors work with abstraction and the very concrete: objects and glances and reactions are given light-and-death weight. Every bit’s abstract and so very concrete. Objects like white telephone handsets and multi-pane mirrors anchor glances and reaction shots. There are echoes of then-fresh color still photographers like Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, with Shore’s blank stares at common color and Eggleston’s awestruck glances at the essential character of banal juxtapositions within the frame, but Roeg and cinematographer Anthony Richmond are fleet, liquid, never to be pinned down. As a chemist who comes into Newton’s orbit, Rip Torn is randy rot; Candy Clark, a motel maid-turned-helpmeet, is hapless mothering itself. With Buck Henry. Music Box, Saturday-Sunday, June 3-4, 11:30am.
Wakefield Poole’s groundbreaking hardcore narrative “Bijou” (1972) gets a pair of outings. Music Box, Sunday, June 4, Saturday, June 10.
John Waters’ “Pink Flamingos” sets its fires in Wrigleyville as part of a nationwide fiftieth-anniversary celebration of the world’s filthiest couple. Too little is said about their wedding vows: Connie’s “Oh, I love you Raymond. I love you more than anything in this whole world. I love you more than my own filthiness, more than my own hair color. Oh God, I love you more than the sound of bones breaking, the sound of death rattle, even more than the sound of my own shit do I love you, Raymond”: and Raymond’s “And I, Connie, also love you more than anything that I could ever imagine: more than my hair color, more than the sound of babies crying, of dogs dying, even more than the thought of original sin itself. I am yours, Connie, eternally united through an invisible core of finely woven filth, that even God himself could never ever break.” Bon appétit! Drafthouse, Thursday, June 8, 9:45pm.