Chicago Underground Film Festival

The fourth annual Chicago Underground Film Festival continues Friday through Sunday, August 15 through 17, at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont. Tickets for all programs are $6, with the exception of two John Waters-related screenings Sunday at 2:30 and 3:45, each of which costs $10. Filmmaker Waters will present a spoken-word program, “Shock Value,” Sunday at 6:00; tickets are $20, but a video simulcast is only $6. A $50 pass will admit you to all festival screenings and events (except “Shock Value”); a $25 pass will admit you to five regular programs (except the Waters films). For more information call 773-866-8660.


The Electric Urn

“I have always known who Rimbaud was,” Jim (Al Shannon) insists when his disillusioned girlfriend claims she introduced him to the 19th-century poet and contemporary icon of pretentiousness. Jim’s a poet who hangs out at the Electric Urn nightclub and uses his poems like drugs or cash–depending on whether he’s trying to exploit someone or just pay for a drink. He’s an irksome, pathetic poseur who gets the girl at the end, confirming the self-indulgence of this flat, insidery hang-out movie written and directed by Dean Bivins (1996). The other characters, played by various other New York City personalities, aren’t very interesting either, with one significant exception–“Lulu” (Michael Cavadias, aka Lily of the Valley) is an aspiring actress who’s as formidable as a Fassbinder creation–her megalomaniacal behavior, self-effacement, and sheer physical presence are a continual source of fascination. (LA) On the same program, Slain Wayne’s Super Thrill Over Kill. (5:30)

No President

This Jack Smith film, made in response to the 1968 presidential campaign, was originally titled The Kidnapping of Wendell Wilkie by the Love Bandit. I haven’t seen it since it first came out, and Smith probably altered it at some point thereafter, but it was pretty watchable at the time. (JR) (6:00)

The Seller

In this road movie about unrequitable love, writer-director Craig Sclattman puts in motion a plot that sends an adolescent girl and three used-car salesmen to Texas in a Volvo wagon. Bart (Brian Brophy), for reasons that are a brilliantly confused conflation of selfishness and empathy, encourages Melissa (Kathy Morozova) to become attached to him, and when they exchange the Volvo for a red convertible the act is a perfect metaphor for their relationship–a rite of passage for both. Brophy, Morozova, and the work of directors of photography Wes Llewellyn and Bubba Bukowski share the spotlight in this astonishing fusion of stark landscape cinematography and wildly compelling close-ups, especially of Brophy as he delivers hypnotic monologues that seem to be about everything and nothing at once and that lay bare his character’s internal processes without demystifying them. In a supporting role that provides perspective on Brophy’s oddly self-actualized fanatic, Arthur Roberts brings stability to the volatile story; by calmly observing Bart and Melissa but not judging them, he enables us to identify with characters whose vulnerability and manipulativeness might otherwise be far too threatening. Schlattman has rarefied emotion instead of breaking it down–his characters are indelible because they retain their mystery even as they let you inside. (LA) (7:15)

The Films of Jeff Krulik and Friends

A program of short documentary films, including Krulik’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot, shot outside a Judas Priest show in 1986. (7:15)

Seven Little Movies

A program of seven short films, ranging in length from seven to twenty minutes, by Matthew Harrison, Eric Brummer, Huck Botko, and Jon Filthe. (9:00)

Shorts in a Bundle

A program of short films by Ken Hagen, Psychelicious-N-Junkman, Michael Dante DiMartino, Craig Wallace, Alvin Ecarma, and Joel Watson. (9:45)

Subdue the Universe

James Taylor, Brian Standing, and Matt Ehling created this one-hour documentary about fringe presidential candidates. (10:45)

Isle of Lesbos

A surreal drag parody of American musicals, directed in 1996 by Jeff B. Harmon. (11:15)

Charlie’s Family

Jim VanBebber directed this dramatic film about Charles Manson and his infamous “family.” (Midnight)


Video Snacks

Four short films, all about 20 minutes long, by Eric Rosner, Valerie Soe, Pat Bishow, and Edwin Baker. (12:30 pm)

Gang of Shorts

A program of five short films. Casey Suchan’s Part 3: Steps intercuts shots of a woman masturbating with views of celluloid strips in startling juxtapositions that undercut any single image’s authority. The other films are offbeat narratives: Jennifer M. Gentile’s My Pretty Little Girlfriend injects an erotic subtext into an argument two women have while sharing a hamburger; Lisa McElroy’s Job, apparently a comment on dehumanization, “stars” an automatonlike figure; Natasha Uppal’s The Whites is a surreal family drama in the style of a silent movie–but with sound. The most conventional film, Holly Angell Hardman’s Seaschell Beach, skillfully employs seedy New York City settings such as off-track betting facilities to tell the story of a two-timing young man, but its actors are amateurish and its Barbie references not exactly new. (FC) (1:00)

Beat Movies

Jack Sargeant, author of The Naked Lens, will introduce two Beat-era relics. Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s 1958 experimental short Pull My Daisy features performances by Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, and narration by Jack Kerouac. Peter Whitehead’s 1965 documentary Wholly Communion includes readings by Ginsberg, Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. (2:00)

Two Small Bodies

A single mother (Suzy Amis) comes home one day to find her suburban house in disarray and her two young children missing; a police lieutenant (Fred Ward) turns up and, convinced that she has murdered the children, proceeds to question her at length. These are the only two characters in this playlike, rather ritualized 1993 chamber piece with sadomasochistic overtones, which never strays from the house and its immediate environs. Written and precisely directed by Beth B (Vortex, Belladonna) and shot in Germany, this independent effort is sustained by the talented actors, though how much one warms to the ambiguous goings-on will depend a great deal on one’s own psychosexual predilections. (JR) (2:30)

Whipped Cream and Other Delights

Eight short films, most of them less than ten minutes, by Keith Alcorn, John Burridge, Mike Diana, Steven Clar, Lobo Pasolini, Steve Stofflet, Nate Hershberger, and Mike Kuchar. (3:45)

Hang Your Dog in the Wind

Brian Flemming’s independent feature follows a group of friends in Los Angeles who drive out to the desert in search of a runaway pal. (4:15)

Left-Hand Shorts

A program of five short films. Angels, by a filmmaker calling himself “Tommy!,” is the quirkiest and most interesting; based almost word for word on a mini comic book, it depicts a Christian rock band that achieves success when it signs on with a new manager–Lew Siffer–who claims to secretly control the world. Using spatial disjunctions and wooden acting, Tommy! manages to parody this tale of faith simply by taking it literally. On the same program, films by Modi and Adam Cohen, Candace Corelli, Joe Winston, and Banks Tarver. (5:30)

The Rainbow Man/John 3:16

This documentary by Sam Green follows the life of Rollen Frederick Stewart; while watching TV Stewart got the idea that he could become a celebrity by attending sports events dressed in a rainbow wig. He did get on camera, achieved modest renown, and converted to Christianity, advertising Bible verses with somewhat less success. Homeless and broke, he snapped and took a hotel maid hostage in 1992, claiming he wanted to alert us to the coming “rapture.” The film sustains interest mostly through its conventionally presented story. One wonderful moment of cultural incongruity occurs when Stewart and his then wife, sitting in the audience of The Price Is Right, get their “John 3:16” sign on the air, and the host pronounces it “very nice.” On the same program, Robert Edwards’s Paranoia, which amusingly juxtaposes loonies such as the “expert” author of We Never Went to the Moon with the filmmaker’s chart depicting the interlocking conspiracy that caused his parachute-jumping accident, and Sean McManus’s The Marionette, a not-for-the-queasy film about a body piercer who has himself suspended from hooks. (FC) (6:00)

Out of the Loop

Scott Petersen’s documentary about the Chicago band-signing frenzy of the early 90s, featuring Steve Albini, Eleventh Dream Day, Triple Fast Action, the Pulsars, the Wesley Willis Fiasco, the Jesus Lizard, Seam, Yum-Yum, and former Reader critic Bill Wyman. On the same program, An Incredible Simulation: The Trailer, a four-minute documentary about tribute bands. (7:15)

Fame Whore

A satire of our modern lust for fame, Jon Moritsugu’s feature interweaves three tales of people pursuing stardom. On the same program, Charles Pinion’s 1988 short Madball. (7:45)

Driver 23

Rolf Belgum directed this 1996 documentary about aspiring heavy-metal musician Dan Cleveland. (9:00)

Fistful of Shorts

See Critic’s Choice. (9:30)

The Bride of Frank

Steve Ballot–who wrote, produced, directed, shot, and edited–displays an incredible degree of tonal control in this 1996 gross-out that’s as cynical as it is celebratory. Frank (Frank Meyer) is a decrepit, breast-obsessed trucker whose nightmares are only slightly less violent than his daily experience. His boss places a personal ad on his behalf that lures women to the company offices, where Frank sleeps on a cot with his small menagerie of stray cats. Effectively intercutting a cat’s “reaction” shots with scenarios of sexual and scatological violence that are emotionally convincing despite plenty of obvious prosthetics, Ballot puts an intriguing spin on our reaction to Frank, losing thematic coherence only during a digression into the debauchery of a coworker that isn’t filtered through Frank’s perspective. (LA) (10:45)

A Gun for Jennifer

If it’s gender turnabout you’re after, check out this spare and tightly wound actioner about a band of women who execute vicious male criminals, reserving particular zeal for those who are wealthy and well-connected enough to think they’re above the law. Jennifer is the alias of Allison, who leaves Ohio for New York and is drafted by these vigilantes after they rescue her from an assault. Reluctant at first, she gets mad and even along with her cohorts, who also run a strip bar, rationalizing this enterprise as they sit around a campfire in the woods after a day of target practice. The politics of this 1996 movie aren’t particularly coherent, but writers Deborah Twiss (who also produced and stars) and Todd Morris (who also directed) handle the contradictions with integrity, underscoring the complexity of the themes they touch on even as they exploit them. (LA) (11:15)


Five Wet Smiles

A program of short films by Marcel de Jure, Ian Haig, Reynold Reynolds, and others. (12:30 pm)

Bag o’ Shorts

Short films by Bridgette Wilson and Jon Seagul, Michael Dougherty, Andrew Marcus, Myke Zykoff, Brien Burroughs, Jun Kurosawa, and Laurie Pike. (1:00)

A Mixed Six

Short films by Colin O’Neill, Anne Charlotte Robertson, Carl Seaton, Maria Beatty, Tyler Hubby, and Kota Ezawa. (2:00)

Female Trouble

This 1975 feature is John Waters’s best movie prior to Hairspray and his ultimate concerto for the 300-pound transvestite Divine, whose character will do literally anything–including commit mass murder–to become famous. As in all of Waters’s early outrages, the technique is cheerfully ramshackle, but Divine’s energy and rage make it vibrate like a sustained aria, with a few metaphors about the beauty of crime borrowed from Jean Genet. With Edith Massey and Mink Stole, as well as some doubling on the part of Divine that allows the star to have sexual congress with himself, giving birth to . . . guess who? (JR) (2:30)

John Waters & Mink Stole: The Making of “Pink Flamingos”

Waters and his star reminisce about the making of the legendary underground film. On the same program, a short documentary about Waters protege Edith Massey. (3:45)

Normal Love

Jack Smith directed this 1963 experimental film centered on his love of B-movie star Maria Montez. Not really a finished work, judging from the previous versions I’ve seen, but a rollicking piece of Smithiana just the same. (JR) (4:15)

Visiting Desire

Beth B directed this 1996 documentary feature in which 12 people come together to act out their sexual fantasies. (8:00)