Monthly Archives: April 2012

What Reanimated Russian Dog Heads Can Teach Us About Programming: The Legacy of Amos Vogel (1921-2012)

Last week’s news of Amos Vogel’s death, at 91, brought the expected—and deserved—tributes for the enormous influence of two ventures that he co-founded: Cinema 16, the New York-based film society that ran from 1947 to 1963, and the New York Film Festival, which Vogel programmed from 1963 to 1968.  (In these ventures, equal credit must go, respectively, to Amos’s partner Marcia Vogel and the critic/curator Richard Roud, both deceased.) The lineup of filmmakers whose work Vogel introduced to New York audiences is certainly imposing: Polanski, Ozu, Brakhage, Anger, Cassavetes, Bresson, Resnais, Rivette, Varda, Naruse. The list could go on. Continue reading

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Girls Living Like Boys! Boys Living Like Savages!
Wild Boys of the Road — This Wednesday

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.

May 2
WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD
Directed by William A. Wellman • 1933
William Wellman’s sleek, gritty melodrama about teenagers faced with the reality that their parents don’t have enough money to feed them stars Frankie Darro and Edwin Phillips as two high school sophomores who leave home in search of work. Train hopping their way through the Midwest, they meet several other orphaned teenagers – among them Dorothy Coonan, who was doing fine until her aunt’s brothel was shut down – and ride from town to town and slum to slum as they are run out by (terrifying) local authorities. Few people worked as efficiently in pre-Code Hollywood as “Wild Bill” Wellman, balancing a strong (yet realistic) social conscience with as much sex, violence, and humility as could fit into a five- or six-reel feature. His work for First National and Warner Brothers in the early ‘30s represents much of what made movies as important as they were during the Depression. (JA)
Co-presented with portoluz–WPA 2.0: A Brand New Deal
68 min • Warner Bros. Pictures • 35mm from the Library of Congress
Short: Our Gang in “Free Wheeling” (Robert McGowan, 1932) – 16mm – 20 min

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Programming: Selecting/Unselecting

The Northwest Chicago Film Society is starting its fifth season this Wednesday with a 35mm print of The Trouble with Harry, a film that has the strange distinction of usually being regarded as ‘minor Hitchcock’ despite the fact that most everyone quite likes it, especially around these parts.

After that, we’re embarking on a collaborative series with portoluz, a local and like-minded non-profit organization devoted to, in their words, “creating sanctuaries for progressive culture.” Throughout the summer, portoluz will be sponsoring and curating a variety of cultural programming that re-examines the travails of the Depression and its policy legacy—a timely focus given renewed efforts to rollback and eradicate the progressive achievements of the twentieth century.

Though we feel there’s long been a political consciousness running through our programming and this blog, we had no qualms about making this commitment explicit.

But in many ways, the whole idea of running a series as such did represent a shift in what we do, and we want to talk about it this week on the blog. Continue reading

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The Trouble with Harry — Celebrate Our New Season with Hitchcock’s Comedy About a Corpse

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.

April 25
THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock • 1955
Shirley MacLaine’s husband Harry is dead, and everyone in town (a retired sea captain, an old maid, and aspiring roadside landscape painter John Forsythe) thinks they did it. Determined to bury their guilty consciences, the bewildered New Englanders each try to dispose of Harry’s corpse before the authorities get involved. The unusually simplistic “Fractured Fairytales” style plot earned the film a gentle pan from critics, but there’s really nothing else like The Trouble With Harry in Hitchcock’s filmography. The result is a film with a morbid tongue in a morbid cheek, all of Hitchcock’s trademark style, and an unexpected kindness and sincerity. Vistavision and Technicolor rarely look as good as they do here with Robert Burks’s location photography and a palette of earthy reds and golds, and MacLaine is uncompromised in her first starring role. The Chicago Sunday Magazine wrote, “The versatility of this auburn topped lass, who looks as though her hair was coiffed with an egg beater, has legs like Dietrich, and can turn on a charm current which leaves males limping has prompted her bosses into bold experiments.” Er, we have trouble imagining a world without her. (JA)
99 min • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from Universal
Short: TBA – 20 min

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Our New Season Starts April 25

The Northwest Chicago Film Society is on hiatus until April 25. Why not take the time to look over our new schedule? We think it is has something for everyone–even you! (Still seeing the old schedule after clicking the link? Try refreshing your browser.)

Whether you like hobo operettas, Panchinko scams, Lee Remick, or live rats, you’ll find something in our Popular Front potpourri.

Need your film fix in the meantime? We highly recommend Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at the Music Box on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30pm.

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And don’t forget our first screening of the new season:

Wednesday, April 25th @ 7:30pm
THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock • 1955
Shirley MacLaine’s husband Harry is dead, and everyone in town (a retired sea captain, an old maid, and aspiring roadside landscape painter John Forsythe) thinks they did it. Determined to bury their guilty consciences, the bewildered New Englanders each try to dispose of Harry’s corpse before the authorities get involved. The unusually simplistic “Fractured Fairytales” style plot earned the film a gentle pan from critics, but there’s really nothing else like The Trouble With Harry in Hitchcock’s filmography. The result is a film with a morbid tongue in a morbid cheek, all of Hitchcock’s trademark style, and an unexpected kindness and sincerity. Vistavision and Technicolor rarely look as good as they do here with Robert Burks’s location photography and a palette of earthy reds and golds, and MacLaine is uncompromised in her first starring role. The Chicago Sunday Magazine wrote, “The versatility of this auburn topped lass, who looks as though her hair was coiffed with an egg beater, has legs like Dietrich, and can turn on a charm current which leaves males limping has prompted her bosses into bold experiments.” Er, we have trouble imagining a world without her. (JA)
99 min • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from Universal
Short: TBA – 20 min

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Nothing on Earth: Commemorate the Titanic Centennial

with A Night to Remember This Sunday 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.

Special Sunday Presentation – Titanic Centennial
April 15
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
Directed by Roy Ward Baker • 1958
No film record exists of the Titanic’s launch or, needless to say, of its sinking. The 1912 tragedy was instantly, insistently commemorated in popular culture—the ultimate topical subject, with folk songs like “When That Great Ship Went Down” establishing the facts and moral lessons for decades to come. The culture itself recognized a void—a scientific death sentence beyond imagination—and strove to claim it. The 1955 publication of advertising copywriter Walter Lord’s book A Night to Remember set a new standard in popular history, with accounts from over sixty survivors and reams of original research brought to bear upon meticulous documentary reportage. The same factual aesthetic is imported to cinema with notable seriousness-of-purpose in the 1958 version, which plays like a feature-length remembrance. (Might we suggest Paul Greengrass’s United 93 as a modern parallel?) Producer William MacQuitty had witnessed the Titanic’s launch as a boy of six, and A Night to Remember indeed assumes that the audience has considerable personal feelings wrapped up in the event. Though it includes a few composite characters, A Night to Remember recreates the tragedy with uncommon accuracy and vigor; the narrative focus is diffuse and democratic, though quick and moving portraits of second mate Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More) and Titanic designer Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe) emerge. Obviously studied by James Cameron in preparation for his canonical 1997 version, A Night to Remember remains a fitting and moving commemoration of the now century-old event. (RH)
123 min • The Rank Organisation • 35mm from MGM
Short: Original 35mm trailer for Titanic (1997, James Cameron)

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Waiting to See Au hasard Balthazar: The Case for Snoozing and Other Bad Behavior in the Movie Theater

Bill Everson, close friend of many decades, writer, historian and teacher, at a film festival announced that his notion of hell would be to have all the films in the world but no projector. My own hell would be to have a projector and all the films but no one around to see them with me. – James Card

• • •

Last week Drew Hunt, a blogger for the Chicago Reader’s Bleader, voiced an increasingly common attitude towards theatrical movie-going, namely that poorly socialized audience members are so prevalent these days that you may as well not even bother buying a ticket. Such behavior isn’t just confined to The Hunger Games at your local multiplex:

Most of the films I’ve seen in recent weeks have been at either the Gene Siskel Film Center or the Music Box, places where one would assume the audience to possess a certain refinement. However, members of the audience at both theaters weren’t averse to whispering loudly with their friends about things unrelated to the movie, texting, fiddling with their snacks, chewing food loudly, or even falling asleep. Continue reading

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Dietrich. Lubitsch. Marshall. What’s Not to Like?

Angel This Wednesday at the Portage in 35mm

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.

April 11
ANGEL
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch • 1937
“You really let all Europe wait just to find out if a woman is a brunette?” Marlene Dietrich, in the final film on her Paramount contract, stars as the continent-hopping wife of statesman Herbert Marshall. Their marriage is contented and unquarrelsome until she spends an afternoon in the Paris salon of a celebrated Russian émigré and falls for Englishman Melvyn Douglas, who knows her only as “Angel.” Torn between an affair with a man she hardly knows and the frustrating status quo with a husband more attentive to Yugoslavia’s problems than her own, Dietrich must improvise a tidy end to an untidy love triangle. Mysteriously neglected, despite Lubitsch, Dietrich, Marshall, and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson all in top form, Angel is a wise and observant film about bedroom diplomacy and the negotiation at the heart of all marriages. (KW)
91 min • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from Universal
Cartoon: Popeye in “For Better or for Worser” (Dave Fleischer, 1935) – 16mm

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Take note: a truly Titanic screening is coming to the Portage this Sunday!

Titanic Centennial
Sunday, April 15 @ 7:30
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
Directed by Roy Ward Baker • 1958
No film record exists of the Titanic’s launch or, needless to say, of its sinking. The 1912 tragedy was instantly, insistently commemorated in popular culture—the ultimate topical subject, with folk songs like “When That Great Ship Went Down” establishing the facts and moral lessons for decades to come. The culture itself recognized a void—a scientific death sentence beyond imagination—and strove to claim it. The 1955 publication of advertising copywriter Walter Lord’s book A Night to Remember set a new standard in popular history, with accounts from over sixty survivors and reams of original research brought to bear upon meticulous documentary reportage. The same factual aesthetic is imported to cinema with notable seriousness-of-purpose in the 1958 version, which plays like a feature-length remembrance. (Might we suggest Paul Greengrass’s United 93 as a modern parallel?) Producer William MacQuitty had witnessed the Titanic’s launch as a boy of six, and A Night to Remember indeed assumes that the audience has considerable personal feelings wrapped up in the event. Though it includes a few composite characters, A Night to Remember recreates the tragedy with uncommon accuracy and vigor; the narrative focus is diffuse and democratic, though quick and moving portraits of second mate Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More) and Titanic designer Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe) emerge. Obviously studied by James Cameron in preparation for his canonical 1997 version, A Night to Remember remains a fitting and moving commemoration of the now century-old event. (RH)
123 min • The Rank Organisation • 35mm from MGM
Short: Original 35mm trailer for Titanic (1997, James Cameron)

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‘A Mental and Emotional Red Sea’: The Ten Commandments (1923)

Tonight we’ll be screening an original IB Technicolor 35mm print of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments at the Portage. This 1956 epic is unequalled in its elemental power—its confusing mix of knotty, alien carnality and religious fervor has rightly frightened generations of children. (It’s also sufficiently iconic and hip enough to earn a nod in Arnaud Desplechin’s recent A Christmas Tale, alongside Nietzsche and Blackalicious.) But this four-hour spectacle wasn’t DeMille’s first attempt at bringing the Exodus to the screen. As a prologue to tonight’s festivities, we’re presenting a lengthy account of DeMille’s 1923 version. (To put that in some perspective, Charlton Heston was born in 1923.) Written in 2008, but previously unpublished, we hope you enjoy this article. And remember: You cannot break the Ten Commandments—they will break you. – Ed.  

• • •

Intolerance unfortunately was the picture really that broke [Griffith], because he made a dramatic error that should never be made,” remarked Cecil B. DeMille in 1958. “He told four stories under the guise of one, and consequently all four failed. Because that is a formula that so far as I know has never been successful on the stage. One-act plays can be successful but not … the same theme running through four separate stories as one play.” DeMille himself never made any film as structurally ambitious as Griffith’s masterwork but his first rendition of The Ten Commandments perhaps comes closest. Intrinsically bifurcated rather than mosaical, DeMille’s 1923 super-production nevertheless stands as one of the very few Intolerance descendants to seriously attempt anything resembling Griffith’s thematic integration of parallel spectacles.

DeMille embarked on his own ‘dramatic error’ after a string of failed pictures. The latest of them, Adam’s Rib, struck many critics as another unnecessary entry in that most frivolous of genres, the high-society marital farce, which DeMille had practically created in 1918 and had been more or less confined to working in ever since by the Famous Players-Lasky front office. Meanwhile epic pictures from Fairbanks’s Robin Hood to Universal’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame were brought to the screen in hopes of sating a public primed for expensive costume spectacles by German imports such as Lubitsch’s Madame DuBarry. Famous Players-Lasky even had the effrontery to let James Cruze, then a relative neophyte, spend $782,000 on The Covered Wagon while forcing its star director to hew to a formula of diminishing appeal. Unlike Griffith, DeMille’s screen career began with and paralleled the development of the feature, his name practically synonymous with a certain notion of middle-class entertainment. Producers everywhere now laid claim to an audience that DeMille had nurtured. DeMille insisted on entering the million-dollar picture race himself, which would mean working on a scale he had not been permitted since Joan the Woman of 1916. Continue reading

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Where’s Your Messiah Now, Eh? The Ten Commandments In 35mm IB Technicolor This Saturday

The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:00 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

Special Saturday Presentation
April 7
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Directed Cecil B. DeMille • 1956
A wonderfully overblown remake of his 1923 film of the same name, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 The Ten Commandments (in VistaVision, Technicolor, and running nearly four hours long) was also the great director’s swan song to the silver screen (he retired shortly after suffering a heart attack on set atop a 107-foot ladder). DeMille died in 1959, but not before, as Variety put it, “throwing sex and sand at the eyes of his audience for twice as long as anyone in Hollywood had ever dared to.” The Ten Commandments’ merits as a piece of serious filmmaking may occasionally run dry, but nobody before or since has been able to achieve the level of ferocious terror and sensuality in a biblical epic seen here. Immensely popular on its release, it has also been screened on a Saturday in April on ABC since 1973, and re-released several times in 35 and 70mm (the latter billed as the totally bogus Super VistaVision, which cropped the top and bottom of the original negative to accommodate a wider 70mm frame). We’ll be presenting it as it was meant to be seen: in an original IB Technicolor print, with an intermission and DeMille’s impassioned introduction. With Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Sir Cedric Hardwicke—and Vincent Price! (JA)
220 min, with intermission • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from private collections

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We’ll return to our regular, non-Vistavision programming this Wednesday with Ernst Lubitsch’s rarely screened Angel.

Wednesday, April 11 @ 7:30
ANGEL
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch • 1937
“You really let all Europe wait just to find out if a woman is a brunette?” Marlene Dietrich, in the final film on her Paramount contract, stars as the continent-hopping wife of statesman Herbert Marshall. Their marriage is contented and unquarrelsome until she spends an afternoon in the Paris salon of a celebrated Russian émigré and falls for Englishman Melvyn Douglas, who knows her only as “Angel.” Torn between an affair with a man she hardly knows and the frustrating status quo with a husband more attentive to Yugoslavia’s problems than her own, Dietrich must improvise a tidy end to an untidy love triangle. Mysteriously neglected, despite Lubitsch, Dietrich, Marshall, and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson all in top form, Angel is a wise and observant film about bedroom diplomacy and the negotiation at the heart of all marriages. (KW)
91 min • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from Universal
Cartoon: Popeye in “For Better or for Worser” (Dave Fleischer, 1935) – 16mm

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