Monthly Archives: October 2011

Continuous Performance: “She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter”

Short subjects never get enough credit. (We’re the only venue in Chicago that shows them regularly.) We like this week’s feature, Of Human Bondage, quite a bit, but “She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter,” the short that will be accompanying it, is even better. – Ed.

Can a cartoon also be a documentary?

It’s common enough to hear a fiction feature acclaimed for its so-called documentary qualities—ragged streets or bumpy camerawork, grubby, unshaven performers and the like. In other words, unpolished and unprofessional, but for solid, condescendingly proletarian reasons. (See, among other things, Call Northside 777, Panic in the Streets, and the rash of dreary semi-documentary procedurals popular in the late forties and early fifties.)

There’s certainly a documentary value in many narrative films of the past, but rarely for conscious reasons. It comes across in the storefronts and backrooms—details judged too unimportant to retouch and smooth out. Some aspects of everyday life simply rated too unconscious to fictionalize, too second-nature to fake. Continue reading

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This Wednesday: Of Human Bondage at the Portage!

The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

November 2nd
OF HUMAN BONDAGE
Directed by John Cromwell • 1934
Those who think that Oscar-mongering is a recent phenomenon should take a look at Of Human Bondage, wherein Bette Davis invents all the tropes—she climbs down the economic ladder, makes herself ugly with whore’s makeup, and delivers her lines in an aggressively fanciful Cockney accent. Officially adapted from W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, but ultimately more about its own insistent (and conflicting) performance styles than any mere story, Of Human Bondage pits Davis the slut-waitress against Leslie Howard’s sensitive and expressive artist, who repeatedly returns to her through bouts of romantic masochism. Long available only in substandard copies after forgettable remakes forced it from screens, Of Human Bondage emerges now as another directorially understated but uncommonly affecting effort from John Cromwell (The Enchanted Cottage, So Ends Our Night). (KW)
83 min • RKO-Radio Pictures • 35mm preserved by the Library of Congress
Cartoon: “She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter” (1937, Friz Freleng) 16mm

Read about the short on our blog!
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Just Announced! Mark Your Calendars!
Sunday, November 13th – 6pm
Cinema Borealis
TV on FILM
In its heyday, TV meant more than just microwaves and antennae. Video was in its infancy and local stations built broadcast schedules from mountains of 16mm film–Saturday morning cartoons, syndicated sit-coms, local newsreels, commercials, dramatic anthologies in re-run, C&C Movie Time feature presentations, and much more. Harried studio technicians threaded up each print in real time on an industrial-strength projector with its lens aimed squarely at a TV camera. (Imagine the pressure: if the film breaks, every rugrat in metro Detroit sees your mistake!) These prints have survived the ravages of time and surly station managers to form a foundation for the film collectors’ underground. In an attempt to bridge the gap between couch potatoes and cinephiles, we present a marathon of TV on Film, recreating an imagined broadcast evening wholly through 16mm (and rare 35mm!) prints at Cinema Borealis, Chicago’s favorite and coziest living room. Program includes Superman, Rod Serling, the mind-frying Cattanooga Cats, and plenty of surprises. (KW)

Continuous performance from 6pm through 11pm. Come and go as you please. Stay if you dare!

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This Sunday at Cinema Borealis:
CHARLIE IS MY DARLING & ROCK-A-BYE

Our Classic Film Series at the Portage Theater is on a one week hiatus, but we’re looking forward to seeing you next week for OF HUMAN BONDAGE. For now, all you rock ‘n’ rollers may join us this Sunday at Cinema Borealis for two VERY rare rock docs presented by Ryan Daly of the Louisville Film Society. This program is presented in collaboration with the Nightingale.


Sunday, October 23rd – 8 pm
Cinema Borealis – 1550 North Milwaukee Ave, 4th floor (NOTE: There is no elevator!)
Suggested donation is $10 – Seating is limited so please arrive early!
CHARLIE IS MY DARLING (Peter Whitehead, 1966, 60 min) 16mm
ROCK-A-BYE (Jacques Bensimon, 1973, 50 min) 16mm
Two rare Rock ‘n’ Roll documentaries presented by Ryan Daly of the Louisville Film Society. Never officially in circulation, the first documentary ever made about the Rolling Stones, Charlie is My Darling follows the band on their two day tour of Ireland during September 1965. The film includes interviews, a bizarre Elvis impersonation, and live performances (some in whole and some in part) of “Get Off of My Cloud”, “Heart of Stone”, “Play with Fire”, “I’m Alright”, “The Last Time”, and “Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner”. Rock-A-Bye documents the rock music scene of the early 1970s–the Rolling Stones, the Stampeders, Whiskey Howl, Alice Cooper–they’re all here! Along with classic footage from concerts and recording sessions, ROCK-A-BYE looks behind the scenes at record companies and radio studios. Ronnie Hawkins chats from the back seat of a Rolls-Royce, and Zal Yanovsky of The Lovin’ Spoonful tells hilarious anecdotes of his rise to fame, which lasted only 18 months. The camera also goes into a small New York club where Muddy Waters sings and plays guitar. The film ends with Alice Cooper singing “Dead Babies” with a doll and a hatchet.

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Other People’s Lives: The Politics of Home Movie Day

By Becca Hall & Kyle Westphal

Twenty years ago, or even ten, the place of home movies within film history and film culture was contested and precarious. Thinking about them was uncomfortable. You remembered posing for the camera, mom rushing into the shot to fix your hair, dad barking directions, your sister rolling her eyes while her camera-less friends enjoyed a real vacation. Even the archivist’s preservation instincts butted up against memories of interminable reels of last summer in Sedona and being held hostage in the den as dad recounted each detail to any passing interloper. Is it so strange that documents of such profound embarrassment and coercion came late to respectability? (At the box office a few weeks ago, a man was looking at the Home Movie Day poster we had on display. “Oh, are you going to come? Do you have any home movies?” His reply: “Looking at those things is always so sad…”)

Yet these films—posed, planned, rehearsed, fussed over, and haphazard nevertheless—often say and show a great deal more than their makers intended. They spur us to recognize the highly social character of our relationships and routines (our whole lives, really) in a distinctive way.

With Home Movie Day fast approaching, it’s easy to take the present stature of these films (itself very much a product of HMD’s laudable successes) for granted. In their heyday, home movie makers reinforced each other’s activities with an array of periodicals and hobbyist clubs–but outside of the insulation of enthusiasm, their type became well known and a frequent target for satire. An early example: in 1939, Robert Benchley made a short for M-G-M, Home Movies, that promised tips for the amateur. As Benchley’s audience falls asleep or gets up to make a telephone call, the cinematographer-editor-projectionist-narrator goes on about using red filters and attributing out-of-focus shots to bad lenses. Continue reading

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This Wednesday: THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN

This week in the Classic Film Series at the Portage, we’ll be screening a recently struck 35mm print of THE GHOST & MR. CHICKEN

The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

October 19th
THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN
Directed by Alan Rafkin • 1966
At the end of the fifth season of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, Barney Fife took a job as a detective in Raleigh and Don Knotts, who played him, left the small town of Mayberry for the motion picture business. The show plugged along for another three (dreadful) seasons after Knotts departed, and though his output for the silver screen was uneven (sadly the most promising of those films, The Reluctant Astronaut and The Shakiest Gun in the West, are pretty dull), The Incredible Mr. Limpet, in which Knotts turns into a talking fish to escape his crazy wife, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, which stars Knotts as a newspaper typesetter who spends the night at the house of an infamous murder/suicide per the request of his editor, are two of the most (secretly?) loved pieces of sixties cinema . Look out for a host of ANDY GRIFFITH and BEWITCHED regulars, and (hold on to your hats!) this one’s in S C O P E. (JA)
90 min • Universal Pictures • 35mm Techniscope from Universal
Talkartoon: “Swing You Sinners!” (1930, Dave Fleischer) – 16mm

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Coming soon: I WANT YOU and Home Movie Day 2011

This week in the Classic Film Series at the Portage, we’ll be screening a rare 16mm print of I WANT YOU

The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

October 12th
I WANT YOU
Directed by Mark Robson • 1951
Dana Andrews and his family operate a contracting business in an undisclosed American Small Town at the start of the Korean War. As families begin to worry about their young men going off to fight, pressure mounts on Andrews – considered “essential” by the US government because of his profession – to keep the men he employs out of combat. Though it attempts to be an answer to the Korean War in the same way that The Best Years of Our Lives (also a Samuel Goldwyn production) was to World War II, I Want You ends up being a much more eerie and conflicted picture. Starting at the beginning of combat while Best Years of Our Lives took place in the aftermath of WWII, I Want You has very little to offer in the way of comfort or optimism (though Andrews and Dorothy McGuire are both wonderful and keep everything above water). Instead it’s a fairly bitter look at a handful of middle of the road Americans and the Cold War America they were living with, the sort of picture that seems – for better or worse – to escape becoming dated, if only because it feels so familiar. (JA)
102 min • The Samuel Goldwyn Company • 16mm from the Radio Cinema Film Archive
Cartoon: Daffy Duck in “Draftee Daffy” (Bob Clampett, 1945) 16mm

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We are collaborating with the Northwest Chicago Historical Society and the Chicago Film Archives to bring you HOME MOVIE DAY 2011.

WHERE: Portage Theater lobby, 4050 N Milwaukee Ave.
WHEN: Sunday, October 16th from 1-6PM
ADMISSION: Free!

Members of the public are invited to bring in home movies or other celluloid artifacts on any film format – 8mm, Super 8, 16mm, or beyond – for inspection, discussion, and on-site projection. It’s always hard to predict what will end up on the screen at Home Movie Day – Grandpa Joe eating a watermelon in slo-mo, circa 1957? Mom as a tot at Kiddieland? Dubious home-brew animation experiments? But it promises to be a blast (literally) from the past!

Home Movie Day is a worldwide event conceived by archivists at the Center for Home Movies in 2002 as a means to promote the preservation and appreciation of home movies and to celebrate the prolific celluloid output of amateur filmmakers in the 20th century.

The Chicago Film Archives will also be hosting a Home Movie Day gathering at the Chicago Cultural Center on Saturday, October 15th from 12-5PM.

For more information, visit www.homemovieday.com
Questions? Contact the Northwest Chicago Film Society at: (773) 850 0141 or info@northwestchicagofilmsociety.org

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Peanuts for Popcorn: A Tentative History of Corn’s-a-Poppin’

Who says there are no more frontiers?

When movie trade magazine Boxoffice asked this question in January 1954, they were referring, of course, to a new independent production in the wilds of Kansas City, Missouri. A celebration of ‘Corn and Youth,’ this new film was the product of a band of amateurs ‘pioneering in feature production … and loving it.’

The financing had been set up by Elmer Rhoden, Jr., an executive for the Commonwealth Theatres chain, which controlled several dozen screens in six states. Show business ran in the family. His father Elmer C. Rhoden spent four decades with National Theatres and was elected its president after 20th Century-Fox’s court-ordered divestment from the chain. Brother Clark Rhoden was chairman of the Popcorn Institute, a kernel-pushing trade group. Thus the production’s shift from working title Ozark Hoedown to the more industry- and exploitation-friendly Corn’s-a-Poppin’.

To come upon Corn’s-a-Poppin’ today is to glimpse another frontier—a frontier made legible by recent shifts in the archival field. Situated at the woozy (and suddenly respectable) intersection of regional cinema, orphan media, and sponsored film, Corn’s-a-Poppin’ is an expansive aberration. Never self-important enough to suggest itself as a ‘key text,’ Corn’s-a-Poppin’ nevertheless emerges to exemplify a certain kind of unaccountable film. Its production and existence still sound like a fanciful rumor, even after you’ve seen it. Continue reading

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Coming Soon: CORN’S-A-POPPIN’ and I WANT YOU

This Sunday at Cinema Borealis, we’ll be screening a newly unearthed 35mm print of CORN’S-A-POPPIN’

Sunday, October 9th – 8 pm
Cinema Borealis, located at 1550 North Milwaukee Ave, 4th floor
Suggested Donation is $10
***Please arrive early as seating is limited***

Sunday, October 9th – 8pm
CORN’S-A-POPPIN’
Directed by Robert Woodburn • 1956
A regional independent film? A country western musical? An early Robert Altman script? A roman à clef about real-life popcorn baron Charles Manley? A masterpiece? Corn’s-A-Poppin’ is all these things and more. Produced on the cheap in a Kansas City TV station (economically, it’s also set largely in a TV station) by a band of young talent schooled in the production techniques of The Calvin Corporation, the Midwest’s most innovative industrial film studio, Corn’s-A-Poppin’ is just about the most free-wheeling and sing-able hour of cinema we’ve ever seen. Down-home crooner Jerry Wallace plays Johnny Wilson, the star of the Pinwhistle Popcorn Hour, a half-pint (and half-hour) variety show with acts ranging from pro-hog caller Lillian Gravelguard to Hobie Shepp and His Cow Town Wranglers. Might the cornpone bookings be an act of sabotage by rogue PR man Waldo Crummit in a bid to gut the Pinwhistle Empire? It’s up to Little Cora Rice to save the day. Songs include: “On Our Way to Mars,” “Running After Love,” and “Mama, Wanna Balloon.” Financed largely by regional showmen and probably not seen anywhere outside of Kansas City until 2007, Chicago’s new cult classic will receive one triumphant last public screening before going on the restoration docket. Panel discussion to follow.
58 min • Commonwealth Amusements Co. • 35mm

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Next week in the Classic Film Series at the Portage, we’ll be screening a rare 16mm print of I WANT YOU
The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

October 12th
I WANT YOU
Directed by Mark Robson • 1951
Dana Andrews and his family operate a contracting business in an undisclosed American Small Town at the start of the Korean War. As families begin to worry about their young men going off to fight, pressure mounts on Andrews – considered “essential” by the US government because of his profession – to keep the men he employs out of combat. Though it attempts to be an answer to the Korean War in the same way that The Best Years of Our Lives (also a Samuel Goldwyn production) was to World War II, I Want You ends up being a much more eerie and conflicted picture. Starting at the beginning of combat while Best Years of Our Lives took place in the aftermath of WWII, I Want You has very little to offer in the way of comfort or optimism (though Andrews and Dorothy McGuire are both wonderful and keep everything above water). Instead it’s a fairly bitter look at a handful of middle of the road Americans and the Cold War America they were living with, the sort of picture that seems – for better or worse – to escape becoming dated, if only because it feels so familiar. (JA)
102 min • The Samuel Goldwyn Company • 16mm from the Radio Cinema Film Archive
Cartoon: Daffy Duck in “Draftee Daffy” (Bob Clampett, 1945) 16mm

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The Black Room: “…rather more interesting than scream-at-able…”


The first period of classic horror films (1931-1935) is rightly dominated, in popular memory and in sheer evergreen salability, by Universal Pictures. Boy wizard producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. was the first to realize the raw potential of a genre previously and unproductively tethered to stage conventions. Innumerable silent horrors look amazing in stills but prove leaden on the screen, encumbered by the belief that every one-part terror has to be balanced by three-parts comedy relief.  The sobriety of the early talkie terrors—not only no comedy, but often, too, no music and a halting slowness that presupposes a distinctive kind of viewer engagement—remains notable today. More than any other films of the period, these productions express the moguls’ instinctive anxieties about the Old Country: famine, disease, monsters, indecipherable lumpen accents, peasants always on the verge of some stupid revolt.

The other studios tried to turn out rival scare pictures and their approaches certainly typified their production sensibilities. Paramount turned out highly polished—and less immediately affecting—efforts like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Murders in the Zoo. RKO’s The Most Dangerous Game is only intermittently engaged, but desperate and dreamlike at its best. Warners re-titled its Trilby adaptation after the more dynamic Svengali and made him a pitiable grand-standing striver much at home in the Burbank rogue’s gallery; the same studio’s Doctor X is a (very amusing) newspaper picture with bio-terror trimmings. Small-town-oriented Fox didn’t even try and M-G-M probably wished it hadn’t either after Freaks.

Harry Cohn’s Columbia, superficially the studio positioned closest to Universal with respect to capital and assets, finally released a horror picture at the very end of the cycle. Early production notices announced a property called The Black Room Mystery—but mysteries are something read by mostly respectable men and women in mostly respectable circumstances. This was no S.S. Van Dine. Studios pegged horror entries for the subliterate masses, the American equivalent of those torch-bearing villagers across the Atlantic. Continue reading

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