Last week I congratulated the Chicago International Film Festival for failing to attract more Hollywood studio interest, thereby making it easier for us to see good movies without being pressured by hefty advertising budgets. But this week I feel obliged to point out that the Chicago festival’s organizers probably wouldn’t have minded more Hollywood hoopla. I’ve noticed over the past several years that they tend to hold most of their high-profile events during the opening weekend, reserving many of the less glitzy items for the second week. Perhaps they believe that if they can persuade the public to come to something in the first few days, the remainder of the festival will take care of itself.
As a sworn opponent of this kind of “opening night” snobbery, I can’t help noting that some of the most significant, if less glamorous, movie events occurring in town this week have nothing to do with the festival. Two of Alain Resnais’ lesser-known experiments with musical form are playing at the Film Center; one of them, the 1984 Love Unto Death, has never been shown in Chicago before. Two even more scarce and seminal French experimental films, both from 1968, are playing at Facets Multimedia Center: Jackie Raynal’s Deux fois and Philippe Garrel’s La revelateur–neither of which is likely to come this way again. And there’s a preview of the new Abbas Kiarostami feature, The Wind Will Carry Us, at the Film Center. Love Unto Death happens to be a failure, but I’d gladly swap the complete oeuvres of Claude Lelouch and Lena Wertmuller–two Chicago festival favorites–along with this week’s A Belly Full, The Yards, and Captain Pantoja and the Special Service for any Resnais film, even this one. Resnais’ rarely screened Life Is a Bed of Roses is also at the Film Center; I saw it 17 years ago and am dying to take a second look.
These five nonfestival works are important in the history of film. If I were to try to decide which new films at the festival that I’ve seen belong in their company, I’d pick only a couple of those showing this weekend, Chantal Akerman’s The Captive and Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies. Neither has a high-profile Hollywood star or director–which may have something to do with why they didn’t play last weekend. But the locations in the first are positively luscious, and the female lead in the second is Hanna Schygulla; she’s one of the greatest stars discovered by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and hasn’t been seen in movies for years.
The Chicago festival’s idea of what’s important to film history–when it bothers to consider it–is rather weird. In its program it describes its “Critic’s Choice Series” (which I’m participating in, having chosen the remarkable original version of John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) as follows: “We set loose six of Chicago’s top critics upon the history of world cinema. Here are their picks.” I wasn’t asked to pick something that represented the history of world cinema, but if that’s the way they want to characterize the choices, half of them were made this year, none was made prior to 1968, and four are in English–a pretty confined definition of the history of world cinema. The problem here isn’t so much Chicago as it is contemporary film festivals in general. Reexamining or rediscovering great films from the past is currently seen, alas, as the province of museums, video rental stores, and cable TV–unless live musical accompaniment can be added to a silent feature and the package sold as a “special event,” which the Chicago festival has rarely shown much interest in. These films simply don’t have what I’ll call “moneyed importance,” in terms of media positioning and promotion–something lousy contemporary movies unfortunately have just because they’re current.
Screenings this second and final week are being held at the Music Box (3733 N. Southport), at 600 N. Michigan (entrance at the corner of Rush and Ohio), and at the University of Chicago Doc Films, at the Max Palevsky Cinema (1212 E. 59th St.). Single ticket prices are $5 for weekday matinees (Monday through Friday before 5 PM); $6 for weekend matinees (Saturday and Sunday before 5 PM); $10 for all shows after 5 PM, $8 for Cinema/Chicago members. Passes that are good for everything but closing night, awards night, critic’s choice programs, and special presentations are also available, and are good for up to two tickets per screening; they cost $50 (six tickets, seven for Cinema/ Chicago members), $110 (16 tickets, 18 for Cinema/Chicago members), or $250 (50 tickets). For $54 you can see the four remaining critic’s choice offerings, which are otherwise $15 each, the same price as awards night. Special presentations are $13, $11 for Cinema/Chicago members. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office at least 15 minutes prior to screening; they can also be ordered by mail (Cinema/Chicago, 32 W. Randolph, suite 600, Chicago 60601), by fax (312-425-0944), or by phone (312-332-3456; Ticketmaster, 312-902-1500). For more information call 312-332-3456.