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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
2. Luciferina (Galzada)
3. Brief Encounter (Lean)
4. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
5. Dead of Night (Cavalcanti/Crichton/Dearden/Hamer)
6. Primal Rage (Magee)
7. The People Under the Stairs (Craven)
8. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
9. Ad Astra (Gray)
10. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)

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RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO at 6740Micro!

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The final Chicago theatrical screening of RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO will occur at 6740Micro, a delightful microcinema operated by the folks behind the New 400 Theater in Rogers Park, the evening of Wednesday, September 25. Doors open at 7:00pm and the show starts promptly at 7:30pm. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with me and actress Clare Cooney moderated by film critic Andrea Thompson (Chicago Reader, RogerEbert.com). Admission is $5, the show is CASH ONLY and it is expected to sell out – so please arrive early! There will also be a cash bar. The exact address is 6740 N. Sheridan Rd (2nd floor). For more information, please visit the Facebook event page of the screening.

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Abbas Kiarostami’s HOMEWORK

It was an honor to review Abbas Kiarostami’s great 1989 doc HOMEWORK for Cine-File Chicago. It screens as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s invaluable Kiarostami retrospective twice in the next week:

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Abbas Kiarostami’s HOMEWORK
Friday and Monday, 6pm

“It’s not really a film, more a piece of research.” So says an off-screen Abbas Kiarostami, with characteristic modesty, to an unseen passerby while filming the scene of children walking to school that opens this delightful and deceptively simple documentary. While Kiarostami is widely regarded as one of the giants of narrative cinema in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, his prolific side-career as a documentarian is less well-known due to the vagaries of international film distribution. This 1989 feature, which grew out of and serves as a companion piece to the director’s 1987 breakthrough masterpiece WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE?, is an ideal place for the uninitiated to start exploring his non-fiction work. The majority of the running time is devoted to direct-to-camera interviews with students from Tehran’s Shahid Masumi elementary school about the topic of homework; but the conversations between Kiarostami and his subjects gradually deepen so that the film eventually becomes an ethical inquiry into corporal punishment, poverty, illiteracy and the clash between tradition and modernity in post-revolutionary Iran. Kiarostami’s masterstroke here was to foreground the filmmaking process by occasionally cutting from close-ups of the children to “reverse angles” of the cinematographer who was filming them with a 16mm camera—and thus frequently reminding the viewer of exactly what these kids were seeing during the interviews. In a subtle but radical way, these “intrusive” shots invite us to empathize with the children, one of whom is terrified by the adult filmmaking team to the point of crying hysterically. That the film climaxes with an unexpectedly passionate recitation by this timid and reluctant interview subject is a testament to how Kiarostami was able to coax great performances out of children and non-actors alike. (1989, 78 min, DCP Digital) MGS


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Mercury in Retrograde (Smith)
2. Where is the Friend’s House? (Kiarostami)
3. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
4. Casablanca (Curtiz)
5. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
6. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
7. Homework (Kiarostami)
8. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
9. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
10. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene)


Rendezvous in Chicago at the Lake Co Film Festival / Daniel Kremer’s “The Spaces Around the Stories”

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RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO will screen three times in three different Chicago suburbs at the 9th Lake County Film Festival this weekend:

Waukegan, Saturday, September 7 at 7:15pm
Lake Forest, Sunday, September 8 at 7:00pm
Grayslake, Monday, September 9 7:00pm

I will be present for a live Q&A after all three screenings. More info, including exact venue and ticket info, can be found on the LCFF website here.

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I was also honored this week to be the subject of an essay by San Francisco-based filmmaker and historian Daniel Kremer (OVERWHELM THE SKY). Check out his thoughts on MERCURY IN RETROGRADE, RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO and COOL APOCALYPSE in his essay “The Spaces Around the Stories” at his excellent ConFluence Film Blog.


ROY’S WORLD Producer’s Statement

Over the past few years I have been quietly helping my friend, the uber-talented filmmaker Rob Christopher (PAUSE OF THE CLOCK), produce the documentary ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO. It is the only film I have produced that I didn’t also direct and, because my contributions have not been of the creative variety (my role was strictly limited to helping Rob overcome the various financial and logistical hurdles that every independent filmmaker faces), I can honestly say that I think it is a masterpiece. My sole reasons for agreeing to work on the film were 1) I am a great admirer of Barry Gifford (WILD AT HEART) as a writer and 2) I knew that Rob would be creating a true work of cinema, one whose aesthetic value would demand that it be seen on a large screen in order to be appreciated, in stark contrast to most of the works of “talking heads”-video journalism that pass for documentaries these days. When Rob first explained the concept of ROY’S WORLD to me, I instantly grasped that, like Dziga Vertov’s MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA, he was crafting a non-fiction film that would have multiple structures in place simultaneously and that the result would work on about five different levels.

Now that I have finally seen it, I can confirm it is possible to enjoy the movie on its most basic level: as a fascinating and detailed portrait of a vanished Chicago from the era immediately after World War II through the early years of Richard J. Daley’s political machine. But dig a little deeper and it’s possible to see that it also functions as an overarching depiction of one boy’s coming-of-age story during that time; an illustration of a series of separate stories brilliantly performed by a trio of well-known actors (Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor); an essay on how a writer uses the circumstances of his upbringing as the raw material for creating narrative fiction; and an experimental work that combines archival footage with animated sequences, and audio of actors’ voices and excerpts from an interview with Barry with an original score by master vibraphonist Jason Adesiewicz, to create a rich tapestry of image and sound. It is, in the truest sense, a “jazz movie,” one whose contrapuntal rhythms and ironic juxtapositions I hope will charm and haunt you as profoundly as they have me.

News of the World Premiere of ROY’S WORLD will be announced soon. In the meantime, you can watch the trailer below:


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Our Hospitality (Keaton)
2. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
3. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
4. Our Hospitality (Keaton)
5. Our Hospitality (Keaton)
6. Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith)
7. Pandora’s Box (Pabst)
8. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Neville)
9. Our Hospitality (Keaton)
10. World City in its Teens: A Report on Chicago (Hauser)


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