Monthly Archives: August 2011

South by Southwest: Charley Varrick

One of the starkest challenges faced by the auteurists in late sixties and early seventies was that many of their idols were dead or sidelined. Among those still working, their films looked increasingly, aggressively irrelevant—in the least, very shaky ground for proclaiming a given director an axiom of cinema. You might read Greg Ford championing Hawks’s Rio Lobo as “something entirely new” or Tim Hunter—in the Harvard Crimson(!)—declaring A Countess from Hong Kong the finest movie that Chaplin had ever made, but these were minority voices of enthusiasm in a youth-baiting media landscape that demonstrated considerable apathy towards the last gasps of the Hollywood veterans.

In some sense, that apathy was earned. A film like Ford’s 7 Women (acclaimed by Andrew Sarris and awarded the highest rating by a sizable number of Sight and Sound contributors) was clearly and actively out of step with its cultural moment—resurrecting forms of melodrama, ethnic masquerade, and studio-bound choreography that can only be described as reactionary. For those who admired Ford for his ability to sketch thorough examinations of American history and culture in popular terms, major stars and the baggage wrapped up in them very much part of the equation, 7 Women looked like an obvious diminution and retreat. (On the other hand, 7 Women remains notable today for its confused but obviously sincere account of sexual upheaval; if it was an irrelevant film for 1966, it at least had the good sense to make its irrelevance central and bewilderingly felt.) Continue reading

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8/31: “Charley Varrick” at the Portage Theater

Join us the Wednesday, August 31st for Don Siegel’s
Archival 35mm print from Universal! New schedule is HERE!
The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket

Watch the trailer here.

August 31st, 2011
Don Siegel • 1973
Walter Matthau plays the eponymous Charley, “The Last of the Independents,” a destitute crop-duster living out of a mobile home in rural Nevada. He and his wife slip into a life of small-time crime, quietly skimming and stealing from those just an inch higher on the economic ladder. After a no-frills bank robbery turns fatal, Matthau finds himself with a suspiciously large take and nitwit mafia hit man Joe Don Baker (fresh from Walking Tall) on his tail in a chase across a forlorn American countryside. Alternatively solemn and fox-clever, this unassuming thriller finds Siegel working at his 1970s peak, dispensing violence with steely professionalism. It’s a beautiful and ridiculously underrated film from a detail-minded industry veteran who did everything from heading the Warner Bros. Montage Department and directing episodes of The Twilight Zone and Convoy to creating the most overachieving drive-in fodder ever (The Beguiled) and introducing America to Dirty Harry. By Charley Varrick, he had more than earned his preferred credit, “A Siegel Film.” (KW)

111 min • Universal • 35mm
Print from Universal, special thanks to Paul Ginsburg and Dennis Chong

Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: Flight to Doom (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm
Short: The 45 (Margaret Conneely, 1961) 16mm from the Chicago Film Archives, special thanks to Anne Wells.

Cine-File Chicago
Chicago Reader

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Wednesday, 8/24: TAKE ME TO TOWN at the Portage Theater

Join us the Wednesday, August 24th for Douglas Sirk’s TAKE ME TO TOWN
Americana in Technicolor and 35mm! Starring Ann Sheridan and Sterling Hayden!
The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket

August 24th, 2011
Douglas Sirk • 1953
A sublime piece of turn-of-the century Americana shot through a mid twentieth century Technicolor lens, this Douglas Sirk musical stars Ann Sheridan as a saloon entertainer who escapes a train ride to prison and hides out in a logging town. Sheridan is taken in by three sons of Sterling Hayden in hopes that she’ll marry their widowed father. Sirk’s 1950s melodramas have never been in danger of being thrown by the wayside of the American film canon, but the fact that Take Me To Town, Meet Me at the Fair, and Has Anybody Seen My Gal? have been so rarely revived (neither of those films are available anywhere outside of Universal’s vaults and a few private collections) is staggering. (JA)
81 min • Universal International Pictures • 35mm
Print from Universal, special thanks to Paul Ginsburg and Dennis Chong
Serial: Daredevils of the Red Circle: The Red Circle Speaks (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm

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8/17: “The Steel Helmet” at the Portage Theater

Join us the Wednesday, August 17th for Samuel Fuller’s THE STEEL HELMET
Presented in a beautiful 35mm print! Fuller’s first and greatest war movie!
The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket

August 17th
Samuel Fuller • 1951
The first film about the Korean War features a group of dog-eared, mixed race soldiers struggling to stay alive pitted against Communist troops and hiding out in an abandoned Buddhist temple. Made for $104,000 (roughly the same production cost as Daredevils of the Red Circle) with a plywood tank and twenty-five UCLA students as extras, this is also one of the most dynamic, personal war films ever made. The Steel Helmet’s barebones production did for the Korean War what Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front did for World War I, and though Steel Helmet is much more compressed, it’s just as visceral and just as touching. The problem with most war films is that they’re overblown; films like this are simply blown up. (JA)
85 min • Deputy Corporation/Lippert Pictures • 35mm
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: The Infernal Machine (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm


Chicago Reader:
Sam Fuller’s first and greatest war film (1951) is even better in its terse and minimalist power than the restored version of THE BIG RED ONE. The first Hollywood movie about the Korean war, this introduced Gene Evans, the gruff star Fuller was to use many more times, as a crude, bitter, savvy sergeant who, despite his obvious racism, bonds with a South Korean war orphan. In addition to being visually and aurally brilliant, the film includes virtually unprecedented debates about America’s racial segregation and the internment of Japanese during World War II. An independent production, The Steel Helmet did so well that it immediately won Fuller a contract at 20th Century Fox. With Steve Brodie, Robert Hutton, and James Edwards. – Jonathan Rosenbaum

Cine-File Chicago:
Samuel Fuller released his first masterpiece with STEEL HELMET, an action drama set during the then-current Korean War. In fact, the movie is most remarkable for its currency: it brings to the typically “safe” world of fiction filmmaking heated discussions of real cultural clashes between the United States and North Korea-and, more radically, between Americans. Many have noted the discussions of institutionalized racism, which are, like Fuller’s unsentimental depiction of violence, far ahead of their time. The same can be said of Fuller’s pulsating editing and use of close-ups, which boldly reveal the filmmaker’s background as a war journalist. Writing recently about the close-ups in THE STEEL HELMET, Dave Kehr expressed the idea that, “these shots represented a pressing new urgency, a need to force his audience to identify completely with his protagonists and experience the drama of his films as his heroes did: as a series of difficult choices and conflicting emotions.” -Ben Sachs

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On the Vitaphone: Show Girl in Hollywood

Can we talk about a fundamental division in film-going?

Most of us look at movies and see stories and actors—shifting pleasures for which the highest praise is timelessness. A performance that endures, dialogue that remains quotable, storytelling that ‘holds up’ on repeat viewing, whether in a theater or on television or streaming over Netflix. (The virtues can be consumed and appreciated in any medium.) It’s common to overhear laments that a film ‘doesn’t stand the test of time’—implying that a film can be a great emotional experience in one moment and merely an antique in another, creaky and tinny precisely because it gives dramatic form to an outmoded concern or a topical obsession. Such does not a classic make.

But there’s another kind of film-going, rooted in things rather than professionally timeless. The good folks at the Vitaphone Project are interested in early talkies for their specificity (in time and in technology), but in an expansive way. Emphasizing the recording and playback method, not necessarily the thing being heard, sounds odd at first—a cart without a horse. Continue reading

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August 10th at the Portage Theater: “Show Girl in Hollywood”

Join us the Wednesday, August 10th for SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD
The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket

Over on the blog, we’ve got a post up with background on the film – plus an interview with Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project.

August 10th, 2011
Mervyn LeRoy • 1930
At first glance, this little musical comedy seems the beneficiary of outsized luck. The plot is staunchly standard: Alice White stars, basically as herself—Dixie Dugan, the latest ingénue to hit the movie colony, with dance numbers and ample backstage intrigue. And yet Show Girl in Hollywood records not only the abortive but honorable career of White but also the very process of producing a talking Vitaphone film in 1930; had the same script been filmed months later, the intricacies of shooting a picture while recording live sound on disc would not have provided incidental coloring and our appreciation for the process would be poorer. But that’s not all—Blanche Sweet turns in a totally touching performance as an ex-starlet, washed-up, elderly, and sage at 32! A touch young for such despair, Sweet nevertheless convinces; as a link to the utterly unrecognizable world of Griffith, her primordial credentials are well in order. One of four Mervyn LeRoy films released by Warner Bros.- First National in 1930 (his pace would pick up to seven the next year), it’s hard to identify any interest or commitment to the material on the part of this efficient and thoroughly factory man, though LeRoy’s snappy style is certainly evident. The final reel was originally in two-color Technicolor, but you can’t have everything. (KW)
80 min • First National Pictures • 35mm
Preserved by the Library of Congress, special thanks to Rob Stone
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: Ladder of Peril (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm

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