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November 2009 Film Calendar

October 16, 2009 | by Judy Moore
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Block Cinema, a collaboration of the Northwestern University School of Communication and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, screens classic and contemporary films. Block Cinema is dedicated to providing the Northwestern campus, the North Shore and the Chicago area with a quality venue for repertory cinema.

All films are screened in the James B. Pick and Rosalyn M. Laudati Auditorium at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston campus. Free parking is available in the lot directly south of the museum.

Unless otherwise noted, general admission to Block Cinema screenings is $6 for the general public or $4 for Block Museum members, Northwestern faculty and staff, senior citizens aged 65 and older and students with IDs. Films in the "Reeltime" series are free. Special events are $10. Season passes are $20. Tickets are available 30 minutes before show time. For more information, call the Block Cinema Hotline at (847) 491-4000 or visit the Block Cinema Web site at www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/block-cinema.

This fall, Block Cinema is screening films in three series -- Mumblecore, Amitabh Bachchan and Distilled into Something New: Film Noir from 1955 to 1970.

The Mumblecore series features films that are part of an emerging trend in American independent cinema. The term was invented at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival, where several screened films were micro-budget, loosely-shot affairs that focused on simple stories about characters in their 20s. This series explores a trend in current filmmaking with a future as shaky as its promise is great.

The Amitabh Bachchan series traces the evolving aesthetics of Bollywood by following the rise of Bachchan, Bollywood's highest paid star and arguably India's most famous actor. After leaving the industry for a brief stint in politics in the 1980s and a short retirement in the 1990s, Bachchan returned to stardom in television, as the host of India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Block Cinema's Film Noir series relates to the Block Museum's current Main Gallery exhibition titled "Robert Motherwell: An Attitude Toward Reality, From the Collection of the Walker Art Center" (Sept. 25 through Dec. 6) which explores Motherwell's role in the evolution of the Abstract Expressionist movement. In that spirit, Block Cinema has programmed a series of film noir from the mid-1950s to 2008 that are both oddities and exemplars, containing the essence of film noir, but also something new and inimitable. These late film noirs led to an exodus, as filmmakers abandoned film noir while incorporating many of its elements into other genres.

Block Cinema also will present two nights of retrospective screenings of the short films of Anna Biller (Nov. 5 and 6). While her acting style is wry and detached, her movies are more earnest than ironic. With glamorous sets and costumes soaked in period detail, Biller's films are feasts for the eyes. Biller is scheduled to attend both evening screenings.

The following is a listing of Block Cinema films that will be screened in November.

Mumblecore Double Feature, "Dance Party, United States," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4 (Aaron Katz, 2006, United States, 65 minutes, DVCam). "Dance Party, USA" looks at the summer lives of teenage friends Gus and Bill, whose conversation focuses on their sexual exploits and ignores their future. When Gus meets a girl at a wild Fourth of July party, he divulges a secret that has long haunted him. Funny, thoughtful and ultimately surprising, "Dance Party, USA" asks a few big questions while portraying typical teenage antics. "Quiet City" (Aaron Katz, 2007, United States, 78 minutes, DVCam). Katz's second feature moves his characters from their late teenage years to their early 20s. Jamie arrives in New York City late at night expecting to meet up with her friend but finds herself lost and alone. She asks a stranger, Charlie, for directions and ends up spending the next day with him, wandering through parks and art shows and discussing the uncertainties of life. A quiet, unexpectedly dignified film, "Quiet City" is about post-college uncertainty and loneliness. Fellow "mumblecore" director Joe Swanberg plays a small role as a friend of Charlie's.

Art Practice, The Short Films of Anna Biller and Work by Morgan Fisher and Paul McCarthy, 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5 (150 minutes, various formats). This program juxtaposes Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker and artist Anna Biller's short films with the work of two of her teachers, Los Angeles-based artists Morgan Fisher and Paul McCarthy. All of the films share an interest in politics and the body. Fisher's work "Standard Gauge" (1984) investigates film as a perceptual and mechanical phenomenon. Paul McCarthy's "WGG Test" (2003) takes the popular "slasher" film to even more outrageous extremes. Biller's first film, "Three Examples of Myself as Queen" (1994) is a triptych of expressions of female power, in which Biller plays a depressed monarch, a queen bee and a teenager who takes revenge against a naughty group of partiers. "Fairy Ballet" (2001) is an adaptation of a French fairy tale, and "The Hypnotist" (2001) pays homage to the hypnosis-obsessed dramas of Hollywood's golden age. The crowning achievement may be "A Visit from the Incubus" (2001), a horror western musical in which Biller plays a woman tormented by nocturnal visits from a demon. She escapes and becomes a saloon singer, only to face her nemesis in a sing-off. Anna Biller will attend this screening. Admission is free.

Sexploitation Double Feature, Art Practice, "Viva," 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6 (Anna Biller, 2007, United States, 120 minutes, 35 mm). Inspired as much by 1970s advertisements and Playboy photo spreads, filmmaker Anna Biller plays Barbi, a naive housewife who joins the sexual revolution. Encouraged by her superficial neighbor Sheila (Bridget Brno), she discovers a world of hippies and orgies. Yet despite her raucous escapades, Barbi learns that a woman's role in the swinging 1970s may not be so new. "Viva" is a triumph of design, saturated with deep reds and aqua blues of precise period detail, with a carefully coordinated soundtrack that echoes the sloppy sound design of low-budget exploitation films. It is both a loving ode to and a sly satire of subculture mores. Anna Biller will attend this screening. "Cool It Carol!" 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6 (Pete Walker, 1971, United Kingdom, 121 minutes, 35 mm). "Cool It Carol!" tells the story of a young couple who arrives in London and is swiftly intoxicated by the city's bright lights and easy virtue. Admission is free.

Noir, "The Sweet Smell of Success," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11 (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957, United States, 96 minutes, 35 mm). Instead of guns and hoods, "The Sweet Smell of Success" has pens and gossip columnists. But the props are no less dangerous and the people no less monstrous. Burt Lancaster is columnist J.J. Hunsecker, a character based on Walter Winchell. Into his orbit crashes the struggling press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), a man so plainly broken that J.J. cannot shake the temptation to twist, manipulate and command Falco into breaking up J.J.'s little sister's loving relationship with a musician.
Noir, "Touch of Evil," 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12 (Orson Welles, 1958, United States, 95 minutes, 35 mm). Surreal, preposterous and magisterial, "Touch of Evil" is a wild film that is as much about the "film noir" genre as it is about the story it tells. Opening with an iconic tracking shot of a corrupt and combustible border town, it never looks back. Charlton Heston and Orson Welles turn in performances that make caricature look subtle.

Critical Mass, "Revisiting Hollis Frampton," 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13: "A & B in Ontario (Hollis Frampton and Joyce Wieland, 1984, 17 minutes, 16 mm); "Manual of Arms" (Frampton, 1966, 17 minutes, 16 mm); "Artificial Light" (1969, 25 minutes, 16 mm); "Snowblind" (1968, 6 minutes, 16 mm); and "Surface Tension" (1968, 10 minutes, 16 mm). Hollis Frampton (1936-1984) is a key figure in the history of American avant-garde cinema, yet few people have had the opportunity to see his work in recent years. A new collection of Frampton's own writings has recently been published. This increase in scholarly activity has been matched by archival efforts starting with the preservation of Frampton's great seven-film series "Hapax Legomena." Twenty-five years after his death, the time is ripe for a local re-evaluation of Frampton's rich and influential film legacy. Six Chicago-area film organizations have joined forces to present a near-complete retrospective of Frampton's films this fall and winter, concluding in a symposium on his work at the University of Chicago. The screening will be introduced by Bruce Jenkins, professor of film, video and new media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Reeltime, "Do No Harm," 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18 (Rebecca Schanberg, 2009, United States, 55 minutes, video). A vital contribution to the national health care debate, this gripping new documentary tells the story of two Southerners who became reluctant whistleblowers when they exposed unethical billing practices at a large non-profit hospital. Drawing attention to the plight of the uninsured, their findings led to class action lawsuits against 37 health care systems. Chicago filmmaker Rebecca Schanberg will attend the screening. Admission is free.

Mumblecore, "Present Company," 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19 (Frank V. Ross, 2008, United States, 86 minutes, video). Director Frank Ross also stars in this film about Buddy and Christy, a young couple who live in Christy's parents' basement with their baby, Mikey. Christy works as a waitress but wants to write; Buddy is a plumber's apprentice. The pair struggles with their responsibilities to their child amidst their diverging career and life paths, existing separately outside the home and facing the difficulties of working together inside it. In his fifth feature film in eight years, Ross places the emphasis in Christy and Buddy's interactions on that which is left unsaid and reveals a downward turn in their relationship. 

Bachchan, "Black," 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20 (Sanjay Leela Bhan, 2005, India, 122 minutes, video). "Black" is the story of a blind, deaf and mute girl and her relationship with her teacher (Amitabh Bachchan) who suffers from Alzheimer's. A partial interpretation of Helen Keller's autobiography "The Story of My Life" -- but transferred to the Himalayas -- "Black" was critically acclaimed throughout India and beyond. Though considered a Bollywood film, "Black" is a clear departure from classic Bollywood style, with only one musical number in this powerful, emotionally jarring film. Admission is free.
(Nathalie Rayter, a junior in the School of Education and Social Policy, contributed to this story.)
Topics: Campus Life