Monthly Archives: February 2017

Find Out What’s the Matter with Helen? in Curtis Harrington’s Macabre Masterwork of Moppets & Murder

The Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University – Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave
General Admission: $5 • NEIU Students: $2

Wednesday, March 1 @ 7:30 PM
WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?
Directed by Curtis Harrington • 1971
After their sons are convicted of a grisly murder, Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters flee the death threats and small-town scorn of Depression-era Braddock, Iowa, and make their way to Hollywood. Galvanized by the success of Shirley Temple, Reynolds decides to open a dance academy for “moppets with ambitious moms,” while repressed evangelical Winters, who hasn’t seen a movie since King of Kings, endlessly thumps out “Goody Goody” on the piano. Reynolds quickly woos a Texas gazillionaire, but Winters can’t surrender to the California sun, finding ever-present reminders of past traumas. A superlative entry in the hag horror cycle penned by the subgenre’s originator, Henry Farrell (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte), What’s the Matter with Helen? was a perfect project for Hollywood historian, avant-garde wunderkind, and exploitation maven Curtis Harrington. The supporting cast boasts assorted crazies (Timothy Carey as a hobo) and macabre Orson Welles collaborators (Dennis Weaver as Reynolds’s paramour, Agnes Moorehead riffing on radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and Micheál MacLiammóir as the elocution coach who believes “your moppets must learn to speak distinctly, as well as shake their fat little legs”). Despite the release being sabotaged by a half-assed, spoiler-packed marketing campaign, Harrington cited Helen as his personal favorite among his films. (KW)
101 min • Filmways Pictures/Raymax Productions • 35mm from Park Circus
Preceded by: Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly in “Beauty and the Bus” (Gus Meins, 1933) – 16mm – 18 min

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Forget Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent:
Here’s the Original Law and Order in 35mm

The Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University – Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave
General Admission: $5 • NEIU Students: $2

Tuesday, February 21 @ 7:30 PM
LAW AND ORDER
Directed by Edward L. Cahn • 1932
Before John Huston directed his father Walter to an Academy Award in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Huston père et fils collaborated on an equally stark frontier morality play—Law and Order, a loose retelling of the Wyatt Earp saga. Walter Huston stars as Frame Johnson, the man who “cleaned up Kansas and killed thirty-five men, one for each year of his life.” Upon his arrival in Tombstone, he reluctantly takes up the mantle of town marshal, only to learn that his new constituents hold niceties like the rule of law in low regard. Scripted by John Huston from a W. R. Burnett novel, Law and Order is further enlivened by the prowling, energetic camera sense of Edward L. Cahn, a longtime editor and apprentice of Paul Leni and Paul Fejos who began his solo directorial career with this film. Curator Dave Kehr and filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier have recently touted the vigor of Cahn’s early work, but the late historian William K. Everson sang the praises of Law and Order as far back as 1962, citing it as the only sound Western to match the “documentary-like austerity” of William S. Hart’s magisterial silent efforts. Avoid the 1952 Technicolor remake with Ronald Reagan! (KW)
75 min • Universal Pictures • 35mm from Universal
Preceded by: “Willie the Kid” (Robert Cannon, 1952) – 16mm – 7 min

 

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Here’s the Original Law and Order in 35mm

Fantastic Prints and Where to Find Them

For the past couple years, Silver Cinemas’ Market Square Location has been one of the only places to see new Hollywood movies on 35mm. On this visit INSIDE OUT and ANT-MAN were both playing on film, with the other three titles on DCP. About 5 months into its run, the print of INSIDE OUT had probably been run over 400 times (and still looked very nice).

Even for those paying close attention, the conversion from 35mm to DCP on all of Chicago’s multiplex screens happened with very little fanfare.

In December of 2010, Regal City North 14 was playing True Grit on 35mm, but by the time Super 8 came out in June 2011 all screens were DCP – some bitter irony. Kerasotes Webster Place (best worst 7th grade date spot) installed its first digital projector around February 2009, was taken over by Regal in May of 2010, and by August of 2011 all screens had been converted. The AMC-owned Piper’s Alley simply closed in May of 2011 without a word. The Logan Theater (best $3 date spot) closed for renovations in September 2011 and reopened in March 2012 as an all-digital 4-plex, with inaugural DVD and Blu-Ray screenings of The Wizard of Oz and Enter the Dragon – one 35mm Century SA projector and Christie AW3 platter was kept for special events. The Landmark Century was the last major holdout: Samsara screened on 35mm in August 2012, but The Master opened on DCP in September, with all projectors being swapped out and installed the night before. The single-screen Patio Theater closed Argo on November 21, 2012 and added a new, Kickstarter-funded digital projector the following week.

The Music Box and the Gene Siskel Film Center can still run 35mm and do with great frequency for repertory programming, but as far as first-run art-house movies go, the 35mm well pretty much dried up by mid-2012. Any subsequent runs on film would be anomalies, usually at the request of the filmmakers à la Son of Saul or The Love Witch, and many independent and arthouse titles that were shot on film didn’t have the luxury of 35mm release prints (most notably Certain Women, Queen of Earth, the partially-shot-on-65mm Sunset Song). Continue reading

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“An Oasis of Estrogen Ennui” – Faye Dunaway in Jerry Schatzberg’s Puzzle of a Downfall Child – 35mm Screening

The Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University – Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave
General Admission: $5 • NEIU Students: $2

Wednesday, February 15 @ 7:30 PM
PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD
Directed by Jerry Schatzberg • 1970
The first feature from Jerry Schatzberg, the Bronx-born fashion photographer who contributed to Vogue and Esquire and shot the album jacket for Blonde on Blonde, is the kind of purposefully obtuse, awesomely ambiguous, sharp-as-a-stiletto psychological melodrama that could only have emerged from early ’70s Hollywood.  A character study of troubled fashion model Lou Andreas Sand (Faye Dunaway, stunning), Puzzle of a Downfall Child assays a fragmented, nonlinear narrative style to match the mindset of its profoundly unreliable narrator. It plays like an art house version of Valley of the Dolls, as if directed by Alain Resnais. (The masterful editing is the work of Evan Lottman, who would evoke a similar sense of unease in The Exorcist and The Muppets Take Manhattan.) Recalling her career from her beachside cottage after a nervous breakdown, Lou sketches a journey marked by professional betrayal and sexual predation from mentors (Viveca Lindfors), suitors (Barry Primus), and ad execs (Roy Scheider). Written by Five Easy Pieces scribe Carole Eastman under her usual pseudonym Adrien Joyce, Puzzle remains notable, in the words of film blogger Ken Anderson, as “an oasis of estrogen ennui in the testosterone-laden desert of male-centric ’70s films romanticizing male identity crises and masculine existential moments-of-reckoning.” Long regarded as a classic in France but practically invisible in the US, this beguiling Puzzle deserves to be unlocked. (KW)
104 min • Universal Pictures • 35mm from Universal
Short: “Confessions of a Stardreamer” (John Canemaker, 1978) – 16mm – 9 min

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2016 in Review: Not Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

What makes a movie?

This is a richly theoretical question that’s often been answered by glibly practical guidance. The most common criterion is highly circular: if it’s exhibited in a movie theater, then it’s automatically a movie.

Never mind that there have long been grey areas—misfit media whose very names suggest their dual identities, like ‘made-for-TV movies’ or ‘direct-to-video’ feature films. By dint of their general disreputability, these works were rarely regarded as deep challenges to the established boundaries of cinema. In the 1980s, a number of long works produced for television by established art house directors—Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Dekalog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, Edgar Reitz’s Heimat—successfully slant rhymed their way to festival success. Treating them as films, rather than TV miniseries, was an honorific gesture, an acknowledgement that their high artistic ambitions automatically marked them as works of cinema. There was no other vocabulary to describe them.

By the conclusion of 2016, these distinctions were lying in shambles, if they ever mattered at all. To talk about the year in moviegoing necessarily requires engaging with this shift. It wasn’t the first year that disruptive new entrants to the film business—Netflix, Amazon, and assorted VOD proponents—sought to change the way we conceive of movies, but it may well be the year they convinced a substantial portion of the public to go along with them.

The year saw countless think pieces proclaiming that movies had been firmly supplanted as the center of popular American culture. The real energy, the driver of the proverbial water cooler conversations in increasingly anachronistic office parks, was peak TV, or perhaps Pokémon Go. The Los Angeles Times even inaugurated a series devoted to the topic: The Blur. Veteran movie reviewers wrote from a defensive crouch; a great new work, like Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, was first and foremost a refutation of the “death of the movies” narrative. Continue reading

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Bob Furmanek & Ted Okuda Introduce Jerry Lewis’s
The Errand Boy in a Rare 35mm Screening

The Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University – Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave
General Admission: $5 • NEIU Students: $2

Wednesday, February 8 @ 7:30 PM
THE ERRAND BOY
Directed by Jerry Lewis • 1961
If I see if it says I go to a place, I go there, but if I don’t, ’cause then it won’t be clear… Paramutual Pictures is bleeding money and nobody can figure out where from, so studio head Tom ‘T.P.’ Paramutual (Brian Donlevy) hires Morty S. Tashman (Jerry Lewis)–“someone so stupid he won’t realize he’s eavesdropping”–as a spy. What follows is an episodic collection of some of Jerry Lewis’s best scenes: a heart-to-heart with a stuffed ostrich and a tiny clown, an elevator-as-sardine-can skit from hell, and a pantomime to the Count Basie Orchestra’s Blues in Hoss, Flat which has inspired several hundred YouTube parodies. An obfuscation of the English language and the rules of comedy, The Errand Boy turns Hollywood on its head, gleefully shaking out every nickel and jelly bean and tooting a gleeful “screw you!” to moviegoers who just don’t get Jerry Lewis. Hardcore Three Stooges fans will recognize Joe Besser in a small supporting role as a studio projectionist. (JA)
92 min • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from NWCFS collections, courtesy of Jerry Lewis.
Film Stock: Agfa Gevaert
Preceded by: Outtakes from The Ladies Man – 35mm – 4 min
Introduced by Jerry Lewis historians Bob Furmanek and Ted Okuda

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The Errand Boy in a Rare 35mm Screening

Life Ain’t No Candy Mountain: Punk Out with Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer’s Cult Weirdo Road Movie in 35mm

Music Box Theatre – 3733 N. Southport Ave.
General Admission: $7

Monday, February 6 @ 7:30 PM
CANDY MOUNTAIN
Directed by Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer • 1987
The cult rock ‘n’ roll weirdo road movie of your dreams, the wildly underseen and very funny Candy Mountain somehow manages to be both a lark and a creative and thematic apotheosis for both of its codirectors, photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank and novelist/screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer. Mediocre musician and all-around jackass Julius (Kevin J. O’Connor) insinuates himself into a deal to track down legendary and reclusive guitar maker Elmore Silk, an oblique figure who has left a trail of disgruntled family members and forlorn ex-lovers in his wake. Julius finds that nothing about his assignment is easy as he loses vehicle after vehicle, drinks himself into a stupor, and meets innumerable deranged personalities (a great many of whom are played by notable musicians, including Tom Waits as a yuppie, Joe Strummer and Arto Lindsay as the world’s worst no wave band, and Dr. John as a wheelchair-bound psychopath) whom he invariably leaves frustrated, confused, or enraged. Given that Frank and Wurlitzer were best known, respectively, for the photography book The Americans and the screenplay for Two-Lane Blacktop, it should come as no shock that their feature film collaboration would so greatly concern itself with America’s preoccupation with the road and wayward notions of freedom. Nor should its deeply odd, dead-end splendor surprise us, given the tremendous creative brain trust involved. (CW)
91 min • Xanadu Films  • 35mm from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Preceded by: “Energy and How to Get It” (Robert Frank, Rudy Wurlitzer, and Gary Hill, 1981) – 16mm – 28 min

Buy Tickets in advance on Brown Paper Tickets.

——

And join us again next week for our regularly scheduled program at:

The Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University – Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave
General Admission: $5 • NEIU Students: $2

Wednesday, February 8 @ 7:30 PM
THE ERRAND BOY
Directed by Jerry Lewis • 1961
If I see if it says I go to a place, I go there, but if I don’t, ’cause then it won’t be clear… Paramutual Pictures is bleeding money and nobody can figure out where from, so studio head Tom ‘T.P.’ Paramutual (Brian Donlevy) hires Morty S. Tashman (Jerry Lewis)–“someone so stupid he won’t realize he’s eavesdropping”–as a spy. What follows is an episodic collection of some of Jerry Lewis’s best scenes: a heart-to-heart with a stuffed ostrich and a tiny clown, an elevator-as-sardine-can skit from hell, and a pantomime to the Count Basie Orchestra’s Blues in Hoss, Flat which has inspired several hundred YouTube parodies. An obfuscation of the English language and the rules of comedy, The Errand Boy turns Hollywood on its head, gleefully shaking out every nickel and jelly bean and tooting a gleeful “screw you!” to moviegoers who just don’t get Jerry Lewis. Hardcore Three Stooges fans will recognize Joe Besser in a small supporting role as a studio projectionist. (JA)
92 min • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from NWCFS collections, courtesy of Jerry Lewis.
Preceded by: Outtakes from The Ladies Man – 35mm – 4 min
Introduced by Jerry Lewis historians Bob Furmanek and Ted Okuda

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David Shepard: A Lion (1940 – 2017)

I heard last week that my friend David Shepard was in the hospital with pneumonia again, but not to let word get around. Yesterday I learned he was, in fact, in the hospital with stage four cancer and had been taken off life support. This morning I learned he had passed on. My last letter arrived too late.

No obituary can detail all of David’s achievements. Most film scholars and collectors know him from his days at the American Film Institute or Blackhawk Films, through which he saved and preserved countless films. A later generation knew David through the laserdiscs, DVDs, and Blu-rays he produced under his Film Preservation Associates banner and released through Image Entertainment, Lobster, Kino, and Flicker Alley. But how many know that David also worked briefly for the Director’s Guild of America, through which he arranged campus appearances for a vanishing generation of film pioneers like Henry King? How many knew he was also a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?

I interviewed David five years ago for this blog, and that conversation should serve as a modest introduction for those who knew never him. In the very least, it should give you a sense of David’s droll, old-fashioned verbal gentility. I guarantee that no one else working in the home entertainment business would ever describe a successful release as “selling like hamburgers.” Continue reading

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