Author Archives: Kyle Westphal

A Breach of Natural Law: Allan Arkush’s Get Crazy
Beautiful 35mm Print – Unavailable on Home Video

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

09 Get CrazyWednesday, May 4th @ 7:30 PM
GET CRAZY
Directed by Allan Arkush • 1983
When veteran concert promoter and Saturn Theater leaseholder Max Wolfe (Allen Garfield) suffers a heart attack, it falls to his staff to organize the Saturn’s most ambitious New Year’s Eve party ever in hopes of saving Max and staving off his parasitic rival (Ed Begley Jr.), who plans on demolishing the venue. Financed primarily as a tax shelter and dumped into release with the understanding that it wouldn’t make any money (this turned out to be true), Get Crazy evinces the same go for broke attitude as its characters, cramming in more jokes, songs, drugs, cult screen and music personalities (Mary Woronov! Lee Ving! Paul Bartel! Lou Reed!!) and miscellaneous craziness than any American film of its day. Compulsively, incessantly hilarious, the lineage of Get Crazy can be traced to the Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis, and in a just world, it would be regarded as a crass masterpiece on the order of The Ladies Man. Few films are as joyful in the face of embattlement and changing currents—no surprise it’s a personal favorite with the NWCFS staff. (CW)
92 min • Embassy Pictures • 35mm from Park Circus

Preceded by: Excerpts from Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Baby” (Alive Productions, 1973) – 16mm – 16 min

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Mosey On Down to the Midway to See the Most Spectacular Attraction of Modern Times: King’s State Fair in 35mm

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

08 State Fair_600
Tuesday, April 26th @ 7:30 PM
STATE FAIR
Directed by Henry King • 1933
Before State Fair was a melody in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ears, it was a popular novel by Phil Stone and a lovely film adaptation that became a heartland hit and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Long overshadowed by its musical remakes, the original State Fair is a winning collaboration between two titans of homespun patois, comedian Will Rogers and director Henry King. Dropping his trademark topical humor, Rogers delivers a stirringly sincere portrayal of a farmer simultaneously devoted to his wife, Louise Dresser, and his prize pig, Blue Boy. (Old-fashioned or not, Rogers isn’t above spiking Dresser’s mincemeat with apple brandy.) Post-pubescent ragamuffins Janet Gaynor and Norman Foster accompany their parents to the Iowa State Fair and find love on roller coasters and inside trapeze tents. The whole thing is tied together by King’s preternatural talent for mining nostalgia from the everyday. Once asked whether he considered himself a creator of Americana, King replied, “Can only say that I love Americana and do not feel we have to create it. It is already here—but I do like to interpret it for the screen.” (KW)
99 min • Fox Film Corp • 35mm from Fox Library Services

Preceded by: “The Immigrant” (Charles Chaplin, 1917) – 35mm – 21 min

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Sit Down: The Vanishing World of The Flick

The Flick at Steppenwolf. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

In 2012, when I was between gigs, I picked up a few shifts a week as a projectionist at a struggling movie theater, among the last in the city that had yet to convert to digital projection. It wasn’t an act of principled resistance or anything—the management was just too undercapitalized to acquiesce. I always got paid in cash at the end of the night—often in the manager’s office, in the dark, with the hours calculated in a hurried whisper. Never before had I held down a job that felt so unashamedly transactional.

The projection booth was grotty from years of neglect. Posters from the early ’90s covered up the stains on the wall. When I started there, the work room didn’t have a real rewind bench. The booth port holes didn’t even have any glass, but the auditorium was so large that no one would’ve heard anything up there anyway, unless a projector fell over.

And then one day, enough money had been miraculously borrowed from banks and scrounged up from couch cushions to buy a digital projector. The projectionists had a few weeks’ warning, but we were never explicitly told we’d be out of a job. I offered to help the manager set it all up, but he told me he’d be fine. Even though he was more a businessman than a cinephile, the manager wasn’t quite ready to let 35mm go. We’d still be running film for some shows and digital for others during the first week, so the projectionists kept their shifts.

I showed up for work on a Friday night, hours after the digital projector had been installed. I peeked inside the theater and saw a meager audience enjoying a Blu-ray screening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I found the manager at the concession stand and asked how the afternoon had gone.

“Great,” he beamed, “there’s a movie running right now and no projectionist upstairs!” Continue reading

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NWCFS 70mm Shorts Showcase Comes to the
Music Box on March 5! One Screening Only!

Music Box Theatre – 3733 N. Southport Ave. • General Admission: $13
Tickets Available Here

chicago70A
Saturday, March 5 @ Noon70mm SHORTS PROGRAM
70mm isn’t just for epics. Since the format’s inception, 70mm has been used in theme parks, museums, and other non-theatrical spaces, making use of the wide, clear frame to simulate reality, tell the stories of our forefathers, and sell stuff. While films like Cleopatra and Lawrence of Arabia have seen loving, multi-million dollar restorations, few of these 70mm short subjects have been seen since their original runs, much less been preserved or restored, and most will screen in original prints from collections all over the country (the exception is the painstakingly restored Story of a Patriot). Program includes: Here’s Chicago: City of Dreams (1983), exhibited as part of the “Here’s Chicago” exhibit at the Water Tower Pumping Station; A Year Along the Abandoned Road (1991) Morten Skallerud’s beautiful time-lapse film shot over the course of a year in Hasvik, Norway; Winners (1968), a promotional film produced by Lincoln Mercury; Williamsburg, The Story of a Patriot (George Seaton, 1957), the longest running film in motion picture history, which has been shown nearly every day at Colonial Williamsburg since 1957; trailer reels, simulator ride films, and more!
Co-presented with the Music Box Theatre. Special thanks to Mike Durling of Colonial Williamsburg, Dave Kenig and Sharon Walker of Panavision, Brad Morris, and Morten Skallerud

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Music Box on March 5! One Screening Only!

“Enhanced in Entertainment Value By About 25% (In Our Estimation)”:
An Enlarged History of Magnascope

Magnascope_600Old Ironsides—the 1926 super-production, helmed by one of Paramount’s most important directors, James Cruze—isn’t much shown these days. It’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray, though it was briefly available on VHS in the late 1980s, when Paramount mined its silent library for a 75th anniversary promotion. If you’ve come across Old Ironsides at all, it’s likely been as a footnote in a film history textbook, duly credited as the film that introduced Magnascope—a widescreen projection process developed by Lorenzo Del Riccio that is itself a footnote in the development of Cinerama and CinemaScope.

But should we dismiss Magnascope so quickly? Yes, we can draw an evolutionary line between Magnascope and the more durable widescreen processes. We can also readily glimpse the Magnascope concept in today’s IMAX presentations. But Magnascope’s true legacy is something else, situated between chintzy striving and earnest grandeur, between what filmmakers thought they were making and what projectionists made instead. Continue reading

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An Enlarged History of Magnascope

Are You Ready for the Great Atomic Power?: Decontaminating Doom Town

DT_13Before tonight’s screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice, we’ll be presenting a rare short: Doom Town. Call it a prelude or a grim appetizer to Tarkovsky’s vision of the apocalypse, but Doom Town is so compelling in its own right that it deserves a few words. Originally released in polarized 3-D, Doom Town will be screened in 2-D, in a print made directly from one of Doom Town’s original camera negatives.

Whenever I try to explain the Film Society’s interest in physical media to a mixed audience, I shamelessly shoplift from other disciplines. Approach film prints like an anthropologist, I suggest. Who made them? Who used them? What do the print’s material characteristics suggest about its origins and purpose? Continue reading

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Andy Warhol’s Magic Trick: The Disappearing 16mm Projector

EikiIt’s not fair, the journalist reminds us, to pick apart and censure his headlines; the reporting is his work, but the boldface entrée is not. Case in point: Randy Kennedy’s informative dispatch on the state of the Andy Warhol film collection in last Thursday’s New York Times was saddled with a most unfortunate headline: “Digitizing Warhol’s Film Trove to Save It”—a premise that’s both wrong and not quite argued in the piece itself.

The gist of the article is simple enough: the archive of Andy Warhol’s prolific, prodigious film work—owned by the Warhol Museum, but stored and conserved at the Museum of Modern Art—has finally been slated for digitization. The scope of the collection is daunting; per the Times, only a tenth of Warhol’s surviving film work is available through MoMA in circulating 16mm prints. And even those can scarcely be said to be available because “[f]ewer and fewer people have the ability to show 16 millimeter,” according to Warhol Museum deputy director Patrick Moore. “I think the art world in particular, and hopefully the culture as a whole, will come to feel the way we do,” Moore adds, “which is that the films are every bit as significant and revolutionary as Warhol’s paintings.” Continue reading

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Who Will Save the Cinema?

Kodak_Vision 3A
The celluloid community received its first positive news in recent months when the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that a consortium of studios was negotiating a long-term arrangement with Eastman Kodak Co. to maintain the company’s film manufacturing capacity. The Hollywood Reporter followed up Wednesday with word that the deal was “all but finalized.”

The situation is, of course, rich in irony. The negotiating studios—Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, Disney, and the Weinstein Company—have been trying for more than a decade to wean their industry away from these very film products, which built and sustained Hollywood over the last century. Kodak, meanwhile, had been striving to transform itself into a desktop printing company under the tenure of recently-departed CEO Antonio Perez, despite the fact that motion picture film remained the declining company’s only profit center. (Speaking of profits, it’s hard to decide which Journal take-away is more astonishing: that Kodak’s film orders had declined by 96% since 2006 or that the film unit was still in the black throughout much of this death spiral. Only in March 2014 did newly-installed Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke discover that demand was dropping sufficiently to threaten film’s profitability. If film manufacture truly remained profitable operating at 15% capacity, perhaps it was a better business proposition than anyone guessed.) Continue reading

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Remember The Alamo? Movies, Markets, and Misaligned Incentives

ALAMO 70mm

Film preservation is rarely a sexy endeavor, the fantasies of archivists themselves notwithstanding. Preserving or restoring a film often requires years of semi-scholastic drudgery—research, grant-writing, lab tests, hair-splitting assessments of continuity and color-timing. The reward at the end of the process is posterity—for the film, not the preservationist, who must be content with providing a sound bite on a DVD extra. (Bonus points allotted if the preservationist is shown at a messy desk, futzing with an ornery reel or holding it up to the light for inspection, like a fastidious jeweler.)

Point being, preservation work is a consummate behind-the-scenes job. On a certain level, that work should be invisible: if the goal is to return a film as close as possible to its original state, then eluding audience detection through seamless tradecraft is a mark of success. Hiding the gulf between disparate source elements and suppressing the ravages of time are laudable, essentially self-effacing, achievements. Film restoration hews closely to the physician’s Hippocratic Oath—first, do no harm. (By this standard, touting a new surround sound remix, digitally removing the intrinsic grain structure of the image, or valiantly intuiting a long-dead filmmaker’s unrealized intentions would automatically command suspicion, to say nothing of colorization, integration of new footage, and the like.) The highest compliment is not to be noticed at all.

The deliberations behind a restoration are even more obscure. They are almost always private and sometimes even proprietary: convincing a foundation that a particular film is culturally auspicious enough to merit underwriting its preservation, persuading a superior to allocate scarce discretionary funds to an emergency salvage project, negotiating a fair licensing agreement with a copyright holder. These are inherently delicate situations, so it’s no surprise that they don’t often unfold in the public square. Continue reading

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Sucking in the Seventies: Re-Examining the Wondrous, Incoherent Decade

ERRBI’m pretty sure the first movie book I read cover-to-cover was Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, a high-calorie, sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ gross participation page-turner that maps the ascent and deflation of the “New Hollywood” filmmakers from 1967 to 1980. For a high schooler, it was a simple story with an irresistible through line and a cast of unsavory, irascible geniuses. Even without seeing all the films described in the book, this gossipy chronicle of long-haired movie brats sold a seductive premise: a vanished kingdom of personal, American auteurist cinema, wiped off the beach by Jaws and its blockbusting successors.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, published in 1998 shortly after the release of Boogie Nights, spawned a ’70s revival that has now calcified into a peculiar critical consensus. The best-seller inspired two talking-head documentaries (A Decade Under the Influence and another named for and adapted from the Biskind book) and endless appreciations of films that were hardly underappreciated in the first place: The Godfather, Taxi Driver, The Exorcist, The Last Picture Show, Apocalypse Now.

Nor can we forget the recent films that consciously channeled the “New Hollywood Renaissance,” taking the procedural aloofness of All the President’s Men as a retro Rosetta Stone: Argo, The Informant!, Michael ClaytonZodiac, American Hustle, and host of less memorable pictures. Grain equals grit.

By now, the ’70s are accepted so reflexively as “Hollywood’s Last Golden Age” that there’s little point in quibbling. Still, it’s difficult to name another era in Hollywood filmmaking impervious to the critic’s naturally revisionist impulse. The Best Picture Oscar winners of the ’30s or the ’80s are roundly ridiculed, but the ’70s class (Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Annie Hall) remains lionized. Continue reading

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