Earlier this month the superhero adventure Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opened nationwide on 4,347 screens, and as far as I could tell from our listings, about 4,000 of them were in Chicago. What’s screening at the Logan Theatre, home of neurasthenic white hipsters? Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. What’s screening at Landmark’s Century Centre, purveyor of art films for Gold Coast seniors? Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. From the icy Block 37 in the Loop to the homey Harper Theater in Hyde Park and New 400 in Rogers Park, one movie reigns supreme, with multiple shows on the hour. There’s no escape. There’s no alternative.
Wait—there is an alternative. In fact, we used to be an alternative newspaper, and we still play one on TV. So here’s a prospectus of what the summer holds in store for you if you don’t feel like marveling at the latest Marvel. Most of the films listed below screen only once, but after doing this for many years I’ve learned that, where the movie economy is concerned, there’s an inverse ratio between supply and value. Does that make me a snob? Maybe, but I’ve done the math and it all checks out.
On Friday nights the place to be is Stony Island Arts Bank, where Black Cinema House presents most of its summer offerings. This weekend BCH celebrates the 50th anniversary of Portrait of Jason, Shirley Clarke’s cinema verite portrait of a flamboyant gay hustler called Jason Holliday (Fri 5/19, 7 PM), and the following week filmmaker Eleva Singleton presents Shinemen, her short profile of “shoe shine technician” Bill Williams, with the subject in attendance and a display of vintage shoeshine stands (Fri 5/26, 7 PM). Elsewhere on the south side, BCH presents the Petty Biennial Film Program, a collection of queer regional shorts, at Arts Incubator (Fri 6/9, 7 PM), and a screening of the Kartemquin Films documentary Raising Bertie, a sobering chronicle of three black kids growing up poor in the North Carolina boondocks, at Chatham 14 (Fri 6/16, 7 PM).
Northwest Chicago Film Society recently knocked the “northwest” off its name, but CFS screenings still take place on the northwest side at Northeastern Illinois University Auditorium. This summer’s calendar of weekly revivals, most in 35-millimeter, includes Dorothy Arzner’s trailblazing 1931 social drama Working Girls (Wed 6/21, 7:30 PM); Michael Schultz’s 1976 working-class comedy Car Wash, with cameos from George Carlin and Richard Pryor (Tue 6/27, 7:30 PM); and Howard Bretherton and William Keighley’s 1932 drama The Match King, based on the life of Swedish con artist Ivar Kreuger (Wed 7/26, 7:30 PM). Melvin & Howard, from 1980, offers a wonderful introduction to the late, great Jonathan Demme (Wed 8/2, 7:30 PM); and the 1934 comedy The Old-Fashioned Way stars W.C. Fields as the intrepid vaudevillian the Great McGonigle, tangling with Baby LeRoy (Tue 8/8, 7:30 PM).
Since 2004 the Chicago International Film Festival has taken advantage of the Chicago Cultural Center to host a Wednesday-night summer series with features from around the globe. Because food is the new black, this year’s series has a culinary theme, with restaurant rom-coms spanning the hemispheres and some promising documentaries: from Canada, The Taste of a Country follows the Quebecois sap collectors who keep the nation’s maple syrup industry dripping (Wed 6/28, 6:30 PM); from Australia, Barbecue looks at grilling cultures from New Zealand to Texas (Wed 7/5, 6:30 PM); and from South Africa, Good Business profiles the socially committed food executive Raymond Ackerman, who defied apartheid policies to help customers at his chain of Pick n Pay grocery stores (Wed 8/16, 6:30 PM).
French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville took a dire view of humanity: in his movies, people are animals, only more debonair. In June, Gene Siskel Film Center presents an 11-film Melville retrospective, from his early thriller Le Silence de la Mer (1949) to his swan song, Un Flic (1972). All the major works are here—the seminal gangster saga Bob le Flambeur (Sat 6/3, 3 PM; Tue 6/6, 6 PM), the metaphysical hit-man study Le Samourai (Fri 6/23, 6 PM; Sat 6/24, 3 PM), the bitter French-resistance thriller Army of Shadows (Sat 7/1, 4:45 PM; Wed 7/5, 6 PM)—along with such lesser-known gems as Two Men in Manhattan (Sat 6/17, 5:45 PM; Tue 6/20, 6 PM) and a new restoration of Melville’s wartime drama Léon Morin, Priest, with 29 minutes of additional footage cut from the original release (Sat 6/10, 5:15 PM; Thu 6/15, 6 PM). Later this summer, Film Center presents a retrospective series on Italian horror master Mario Bava, a batch of seven new features from the Czech Republic, and the annual Black Harvest Film Festival.
In the space of two days, Music Box will host live appearances by two of the most accomplished comic filmmakers in America: Mike Judge, who wrote and directed the instant classic Office Space (1999), and Christopher Guest, whose brilliant ensemble comedies include Waiting for Guffman (1997) and Best in Show (2000). Guest will take part in the series “The Modern School of Film” (Wed 5/31, 7 PM), talking about clips from three movies that influenced him. Judge will introduce a screening of his 2006 flop Idiocracy (Thu 6/1, 7 PM), which has been hailed as prophecy since the 2016 election. As I wrote in my original review, it’s about “a Pentagon guinea pig who’s put in suspended animation for 500 years and wakes to a United States so dumbed down the president is a former wrestler and porn star, the citizens get their news from Hot Naked Chicks & World Report, and the most popular TV show is aptly titled Ow! My Balls.”
What else? Facets Cinematheque opens the weeklong African Diaspora Film Festival on June 8. Silent Film Society of Chicago has bugged out to the Arcada Theatre in Saint Charles this summer, but a drive might be in order for The Lost World (1925), a Jurassic Park prototype featuring landmark stop-motion animation by King Kong creator Willis O’Brien (Tue 7/11, 7:30 PM). Terror in the Aisles presents Summer Scares, another of its vintage-horror marathons, at the Patio Theater, anchored by the original Friday the 13th (1980) and a personal appearance by Jason himself, actor Ari Lehman (Sat 6/10, 7 PM). At the DuSable Museum of African American History, film scholar Jacqueline Stewart introduces two short personal documentaries by Camille Billops and Charles Hatch: in Suzanne, Suzanne, Billops profiles her niece as the young woman tries to kick heroin, and in Finding Christa, she resolves to meet the child she gave up for adoption 20 years earlier (Tue 7/11, 7 PM). Last but not least, Music Box presents the New York Dog Film Festival, with two programs of canine-themed shorts (Sun 6/4, noon and 2 PM). You know it’s from New York because the dogs are all incredibly rude. v