The 14th Chicago Underground Film Festival continues through Sunday, August 19, with screenings at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, and Elegant Mr. Gallery, 1355 N. Milwaukee. Tickets for single screenings are $7; a $50 pass admits you to ten. For advance tickets visit brownpapertickets.com; for more information call 773-341-6727 or visit cuff.org.
Cutting In Experimental and documentary videos, including Rebecca Meyers’s Lions and Tigers and Bears. 73 min. a Chopin Theatre, 6 PM.
The Description of Bankruptcy Kang-hyun Lee’s 2006 documentary video (61 min.) highlights the problem of credit-card debt in South Korea. Also on the program: Robert Hack’s Table Bed Chair (31 min.), about the plight of squatters in Amsterdam. a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 6 PM.
Thax Poet Thax Douglas is a loner who shares his intimate thoughts with hundreds or thousands of strangers; a fixture on Chicago’s rock scene, he takes the stage before musical sets to read his verse, often penned on the spot. Director Alex MacKenzie uses taped performances, home movies, interviews with Douglas’s family members, and the poet’s prodigious memories to reveal a fiercely intelligent writer. But he also manipulates Douglas, driving him to New York for a reading that doesn’t happen. Running throughout is a tension between celebrity and privacy: although Thax relishes the spotlight, he resents the fact that his audiences think they know him. With its revelations of homosexuality and electroshock therapy, this documentary goes a long way toward correcting that. 78 min. (AG) a Chopin Theatre, 7:30 PM.
A Squeeze of the Hand Experimental, animated, documentary, and music videos, including Steve Reinke’s Ask the Insects and Regarding the Pain of Susan Sontag (Notes on Camp). 79 min. a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 7:45 PM.
Viva This parody of early-70s nudie exploitation features is a real tour de force for Anna Biller, who starred, wrote, directed, edited, animated one sequence, and designed the wildly colorful sets and costumes. She plays Barbi Smith, a naive Los Angeles housewife who takes up a career in modeling and later, accompanied by her likewise married pal (Bridget Brno), launches a secret career as a prostitute. A camp exercise with deliberately wooden line readings, forced double entendres, and gales of obnoxious laughter, the movie wears out its welcome long before it meanders to a close at 121 minutes. But as a kinky costume party it’s watchable, if only for the smutty sex scenes and Biller’s bold pop-art decor. (JJ) a Chopin Theatre, 9:30 PM.
Hooks to the Left After a long relationship ends, the narrator-protagonist of this Todd Verow film returns to New York City and the hustling of his youth, now netting johns on the Internet. Although his penis hooks to the left, a fact he bemoans, he seems to do pretty well. We learn intriguing details of his dates through narration, but the images–all shot with a cell phone–are pixelated to the point of abstraction. It’s an interesting idea, but because the image “track” lacks continuity–the colored squares seem random or illustrative and only occasionally come together to form fuzzy bodies or landscapes–it just doesn’t work. 80 min. (FC) a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 9:30 PM.
Midnight, Aloft Experimental and animated videos. 73 min. a Chopin Theatre, 1 PM.
Surmises Experimental and documentary videos. 79 min. a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 1:15 PM.
Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa Jeremy and Randy Stulberg directed this documentary video about a ramshackle community that functions without electricity in the middle of a desert. 64 min. a Chopin Theatre, 2:30 PM.
RBegging Naked This fascinating video documentary tracks nine years in the life of Elise Bainbridge Hill, a gifted artist brought low by drugs and mental illness. As a teenager she ran away to New York, where she fell into prostitution and addiction; in rehab she learned to paint, sculpt, make dolls, and design jewelry. Hill later found another avenue of expression as a stripper, but with the gentrification of Times Square she lost her job, her wits, and eventually her studio in a converted air shaft near Carnegie Hall. Director Karen Gehres avoids judgment, sentiment, and cliche as she traces the links between artistic sensibility and madness, helped by the frankness and wry humor of her resilient subject. 70 min. (AG) a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 2:45 PM.
All Astir Experimental, animated, documentary, and music videos. 83 min. a Chopin Theater, 4 PM.
RThe Sky Song James Fotopoulos, perhaps Chicago’s most prolific film- and video maker, presents his first “western,” in which animated images share the screen with a range of characters–a few dressed in western garb–delivering cryptic lines about shootings and worse. Fotopoulos’s best work tends to evoke feelings of being trapped in space and time, and a soundtrack of droning noises intensifies those feelings here. Black humor, as in a shot of the eyeballs a bad guy has put out, leavens the mix, but not everyone will have the patience for this abstract antinarrative. 127 min. (FC) a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 4:30 PM.
Likk Your Idols Angelique Bosio’s French video documentary chronicles the Cinema of Transgression movement that thrived on New York’s Lower East Side in the 80s. With Lydia Lunch, Nick Zedd, Thurston Moore, Richard Hell, and Bruce LaBruce. 70 min. a Chopin Theatre, 6 PM.
His Mark Experimental, animated, documentary, and music videos, including Miranda July’s Hasha Royko and Deborah Stratman’s It Will Die Out in the Mind. 76 min. a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 7 PM.
RHell on Wheels After petering out in the 70s, women’s roller derby recently made a comeback as a semicamp event with costumes, character names, and an ethos of female empowerment. Yet video maker Bob Ray (Rock Opera) happens onto more than a fad piece with this documentary about the pioneering Austin league BGGW (“Bad Girls, Good Women”). In early 2003, with the shoot in progress, the four women who’d founded BGGW wanted to incorporate and be legally recognized as owners, while the majority of players preferred a more democratic organization and ultimately peeled off to start a rival league. (In a choice irony, the BGGW founders wound up hiring a male business consultant to help them reorganize.) Ray ends with a rah-rah coda about the spread of women’s roller derby across the globe, but against all expectations his video is primarily a boardroom drama. 90 min. (JJ) a Chopin Theatre, 8 PM.
A Bosom Friend Experimental, animated, documentary, and music videos, including Usama Alshaibi’s Baba Boom Boom. 80 min. a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 8:30 PM.
Go-Go Motel Dan Bell presents his Baltimore epic of titty-bar squalor behind a Grindhouse-style scrim of picture flaws–scratches, dirt, blackouts, refocusing. The three vacuous heroines perform at a go-go bar, turn tricks for extra cash, and live nearby in a decrepit hotel where all manner of outrages occur (including a grisly bathroom abortion). Bell’s low-life cruelty is prosaic at best, but his video casts a spell of sorts with its eerie black-and-white sequences of low-fi imagery backed by Patsy Cline, Johnny Mathis, and other 60s balladeers. 73 min. (JJ) a Chopin Theatre, 10 PM.
Bacchanale This bizarre mix of experimental art film and hard-core porn was made in 1970 by “adult” filmmakers John and Lem Amero and is here screened with a new, mostly abstract soundtrack by about 50 different artists. A woman’s spirit leaves her body and goes on a nightmarish journey around New York. Although the film features striking imagery and interesting juxtapositions, unlike the avant-garde “trance films” that apparently served as its model it lacks a coherent subjective consciousness and seems to be just a bunch of strange moments. It’s hard to believe the filmmakers were personally invested in this pastiche. 70 min. (FC) a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 10 PM.
The Spirit-Spout Experimental and documentary videos, including Deborah Stratman’s The Magician’s House. 73 min. a Chopin Theatre, 1 PM.
The Life Buoy Experimental, animated, narrative, and music videos, including T. Arthur Kottam’s Filthy Food and Marie Losier’s collaboration with Guy Maddin, Manuelle Labor. 51 min. a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 1:15 PM.
No Man’s Language and Random Lunacy Each of these two video documentaries portrays an iconoclastic man in his 70s. No Man’s Language (45 min., in English and subtitled Hebrew) profiles the eccentric Ron Israel, who was married to the grandmother of filmmaker Dana Levy for 17 years. A Holocaust survivor with a predilection for wearing skirts, Israel has spent four decades creating his own language, which he believes could promote greater understanding among nations. Victor Zimet and Stephanie Silber’s Random Lunacy (60 min.) spotlights David Pearlman, aka Poppa Neutrino, a larger-than-life society dropout who, with assorted wives, children, and hangers-on, has spent years traversing the globe and even voyaged across the Atlantic on a raft made from scrap wood. (JK) a Chopin Theatre, 2:45 PM.
Revolution Summer Besides Jonathan Richman’s evocative score, this half-baked feature has very little to recommend it. The story is set in the Bay Area and premised on the idea that revolution in America is just around the corner. Writer-director Miles Matthew Montalbano is so enamored of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point that his male and female leads bear a strong resemblance to the doomed couple from that 1970 film. While this stylistic conceit could have made for an interesting homage, Montalbano instead re-creates the narcissism and world-changing urgency that typified many youth films from the 60s and 70s but without any relevant context. 80 min. (JK) a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 3 PM.
Galaxian Rebecca Myers curated this program of eight experimental shorts created with video-game technology. 90 min. a Chopin Theatre, 4 PM.
RUrban Explorers: Into the Darkness Melody Gilbert’s documentary may be the definitive underground film, if only because so much of it was shot beneath the earth’s surface. Climbers navigate abandoned industrial tunnels below Minneapolis; a Florida man rappels 90 feet down into a defunct missile silo to photograph the largest American rocket ever made; and Parisians crisscross the city’s sealed-off catacombs to attend a party where they munch baguettes and pate, reclining on a blanket of human bones. United by their online community and blind to “Do Not Enter” signs, these adventurers are daring, gregarious, intensely curious, and obsessed with physical traces of generations past. 85 min. (AG) a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 4:45 PM.
East 3 Filmed in 2003 and released three years later, this British video documentary follows the lives of several residents of the northwestern Canadian hamlet of Inuvik, detailing how they cope with the harsh, restrictive conditions there. The subjects include an Inuit man who hunts and traps for a living, a woman who organizes a community greenhouse garden, and a woman who combats endemic cruelty to dogs as head of the local SPCA. In spite of the reported high incidence of alcoholism, suicide, and domestic abuse in the arctic town, those interviewed appear to be uncannily well-adjusted. Mr. Young, the cryptically named director, includes several long shots featuring vast expanses of frozen tundra that inspire both awe and dread. 80 min. (JK) a Elegant Mr. Gallery, 6:30 PM.
Blood Car Alex Orr directed this horror-comedy video set in a near future where gas costs $40 a gallon and a schoolteacher invents a car powered by blood. Also on the program: Jack Hammond’s short video Disarm. 94 min. a Chopin Theatre, 6:45 PM.
La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo In Interkosmos, Chicago filmmaker Jim Finn used pseudodocumentary to create a hilariously dry form of speculative comedy. In this video any humor that might have been on his mind eluded me, but the pseudodocumentary uncovers a fascinating subject: an all-female Maoist terrorist group in Peru, most of them Indians, who were imprisoned in the late 1980s and turned their cell block into a guerrilla training camp that also held dances and staged Shakespeare plays (the title translates as “The Shining Trench of President Gonzalo”). Shot in New Mexico and based on detailed research, this fictionalized, theatrical depiction of their activities isn’t so much narrative as exposition and spectacle, engaging mainly because of its creepy subject matter. In Spanish and Navajo with subtitles. 60 min. (JR) a Chopin Theatre, 8 PM.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Begging Naked.