Xan Aranda/Photo: Jacob Knabb
By Lara Levitan
Chicago filmmaker Xan Aranda approaches her films as an ambassador for their subjects. In her first feature, 2011’s award-winning “Andrew Bird: Fever Year,” she presents a frenetic year in the touring life of the lauded musician; and in her follow-up documentary, “Mormon Movie,” set for completion in 2014, Aranda reveals a little-known filmmaking community within the Mormon church.
“I’m an insider-outsider for these two seemingly cloistered entities,” says the thirty-seven-year-old former Mormon, who says that while the church is “notoriously private, [it is] ever working to convert new believers.” Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Ray Pride
By Ray Pride
“Quality over quantity,” Roger Ebert wrote to me when he’d just signed onto Twitter, seeing how much I posted on any given day. But soon after, he was furnishing the Internet with his own personal, characteristic rivulet of riffs, reviews and retweets. His voice sounded in yet another form.
Last weekend, at the fifteenth annual Ebertfest in Champaign-Urbana, tributes were consistent in both quality and quantity. It was a living wake. But the programming, largely by his hand, served as a hyperarticulate last will and testament as well, the shape of which grew more and more emphatic as the five days and nights lengthened. The opening was a 35mm print of Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven,” with hearty ninety-two-year-old co-cinematographer Haskell Wexler in attendance. Five of the fourteen films were 35mm prints, another sort of wake, for the form he had always celebrated, in the format he first found it, bright and nourishing in the communal dark. Read the rest of this entry »
By Harrison Smith
James Murphy is not a rock star. He does not snort cocaine in bathroom stalls, have an entourage hanging on his every word, consort with an ever-changing groupie harem or mutilate live animals on stage. If he does, we certainly don’t see it in “Shut Up and Play the Hits.” What we do see is LCD Soundsystem’s forty-year-old leader shaving, brewing coffee, walking his dog, breaking down in a basement and—intercut between all these daily activities—playing one of the most legendary farewell concerts since The Band took their “Last Waltz” in 1976.
“Shut Up” only features selections from the band’s four-hour Madison Square Garden goodbye, veering from documentary to concert film, painting a picture more than telling a story. The film is possibly one of the most beautiful rock movies ever made, with stunning cinematography that deserves to be praised as highly as the music it’s intended to capture. The story it documents, however, is never fully unraveled: even Chuck Klosterman, whose interview with Murphy forms the backbone of the film, has a hard time extracting exactly why Murphy decided to break up the group. Murphy says he’s getting old, wants to have kids and lead an ordinary life. Then again, “Is that a good enough reason to quit?” By the end of the interview, Murphy’s not so sure; by the end of the movie, finding the answer doesn’t much matter. Despite the lofty aspirations of directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, “Shut Up” is a celebration, not an existential exploration. Read the rest of this entry »
Ian Williams in "Parallax Sounds"
Of a dozen or so features I was able to sample from CIMMFest, the Fourth Chicago International Movies and Music Festival—playing this year at the sparklingly renovated Logan Theater as well as the Wicker Park Arts Center and Society for the Arts—Silvia Beck’s process doc, “Nyman in Progress” is a delight, following the composer puttering through his cluttered-to-collapsing studio as well as traipsing the world performing his music. “The energy comes in through my front door and my windows,” he says, saying he’s as content at home as on the road. But we also see Nyman combining his music with video images he’d collected randomly for years, for gallery consumption. Read the rest of this entry »
As if a daylong lineup of films about music isn’t enough, The Chicago International Movies & Music Festival boasts a lineup of live music by night, inspired by the movies it screened earlier in the day. The festival, which takes place at various venues throughout Wicker Park and Logan Square, is all about highlighting the symbiotic relationship between music and film. For the organizers of the festival, one wouldn’t be what it is without the other.
Musician Josh Chicoine and film editor Ilko Davidov co-founded CIMMFest in 2009 when they met as neighbors at a housing co-op for artists and musicians in Bucktown. Read the rest of this entry »
10 Frames (aka My Dog Ate My Homework) by Brian Wyrick
Group 312, the Chicago chapter of Group 101, is a not-for-profit collective of filmmakers who collaborate every month to produce a short based on a chosen topic. Group 101 began in Los Angeles on New Year’s Day in 2000. A year later, Serena Schonbrun and Galina Schevchenko founded the Chicago chapter.
The relaxed group meets monthly to screen the previous month’s shorts and mingle with fellow filmmakers. The viewings often feature a wide variety of genres; the current organizer of Group 312, Richard Syska, says interpretations can be “as abstract as taking the word and using it in dialogue.” Read the rest of this entry »
"Space, Land and Time: Underground Adventuers With Ant Farm"
Fourteen programs of features and shorts about design around the world comprise The Architecture & Design Film Festival, which looks to be a solid, diverse bunch. Wendy Keys’ “Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight” played Chicago last year, and its portrait of the articulate, archetypal New Yorker never fails to, well, inform and delight, as the title epigraph from Horace has it. The subversive 1970s architecture collective Ant Farm is represented in “Space, Land and Time: Underground Adventures With Ant Farm”; their stunts and exploits could likely fill a feature longer than the seventy-eight minutes here. There’s a rich portrait of Canadian architect Phyllis Bronfman Lambert in the film “Citizen Lambert: Joan of Architecture,” a complex woman from a powerful Canadian family, known for her chilliness yet for visionary zeal. I found Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s fifty-minute “My Playground” to be an unexpected thrill, combining the intellectualizing of young architects in Copenhagen about urban space with Parkour and Freerunning practitioners bouncing off the city’s walls and roofs with the open encouragement of its government. The combination of the feats of the human body with a luscious soundtrack are a stellar combination. A four-minute video from the film, is below. “My Playground” made me as happy as any documentary I’ve seen this year. It has passages that are simply magic. I love it. (Ray Pride)
The Architecture & Design Film Festival runs May 5-9 at Siskel and The Wit. Complete film listings are at adfilmfest.com
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Tired of champagne brunch with mom? Get your wire hangers ready: the Music Box Theatre will be celebrating Mother’s Day on Sunday with its fourth annual screening of “Mommie Dearest,” the cult-classic film adaptation of Christina Crawford’s depiction of an abusive childhood with Joan Crawford.
“It’s a pretty camp-tacular film,” says Music Box general manager Dave Jennings.
The event will only add to the fun, with a pre-screening show with members of local theater company Hell in a Handbag portraying Joan and Christina, a music-video viewing of “Joan Crawford Goes to Hell” by The Joans and, of course, Mystery Science Theater-style commentary of the actual film.
“I think the best part is experiencing a so-bad-it’s-fab movie with a full house of people with a similar mindset,” says Richard Knight, who will be emceeing the event as Dick O’Day, “the ultimate show-biz narcissist.”
Knight has emceed in previous years, and says he’s always surprised by how enthusiastic people get. “There’s a scene—the famous wire hanger scene—and she’s dressed up in the robe and she looks like kabuki. A guy came dressed up like that and jumped up on stage and started throwing all this cleanser around. You never really know what’s going to happen.”
A portion of proceeds from this year’s show will go to support Vital Bridges, a nonprofit that assists families affected by HIV and AIDS, and for a donation, you can snag a photograph with members of Hell in a Handbag in costume. As an added bonus, the first 300 people in the door will receive a commemorative wire hanger.
“It’s a pretty hilarious event to say the least,” Jennings says. (Shaunacy Ferro)
The third edition of CIMM boasts seventeen venues with seventy films and ten concerts in four days this weekend, and the range of attractions promised, from experimental work to music bio-docs looks extremely strong. One feature I previewed, Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler’s “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone,” narrated by Laurence Fishburne, is a model of how to tell the tale of a powerful punk-funk band’s rough road in a twenty-five year career. The power of musical and political conviction carries the day. Musicians in various lineups include Tim Rutili and Gillian Lisee as well as legendary Chicago art-punks Tutu & The Pirates. I’m most excited to witness Sam Green (“The Weather Underground”) and Dave Cerf’s “live documentary,” “Utopia in Four Movements,” a look back at the twentieth century that encapsulates the possibility of utopian ideals in the twenty-first. Debuted to acclaim at Sundance 2011, Green narrates a visual barrage of stills and moving images, while Cerf does live sound from samples and loops, while The Quavers, fine soundtrack composers, play a live score. No two performances are the same. Without having seen the live version, I’ll leave it to the words of documentary collagist Adam Curtis: A “brilliantly witty, but also moving meditation on our loss of faith in the dream of progress. Sam has created something completely original—a new form of live story-telling that draws you in emotionally in a way that traditional documentaries almost always fail to do.” There’s a promise to deliver on. Full schedule at cimmfest.org. (Ray Pride)