The 18th Chicago Underground Film Festival runs Thursday, June 2, through Thursday, June 9, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2800. Tickets are $10, $7 for students, and $5 for Film Center members. Following are selected programs; for a full schedule see siskelfilmcenter.org.
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye This edgy documentary manages to tell an affecting love story even as it ventures into the cultish, transgressive world of underground music. Musician and performance artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge recalls how years of merciless bullying at a British school bred into him a streak of rebellion that ultimately found expression in 1975 with his pioneering industrial band Throbbing Gristle. In the late 90s he wed the dominatrix and conceptual artist Lady Jaye, who became the muse of his acid-house group Psychic TV, and in the name of “pandrogyny” the couple underwent his-and-hers matching cosmetic surgeries, including facial work and breast implants. Director Marie Losier comes to this project having made an earlier short about Lady Jaye (who died in 2007). —Andrea Gronvall 75 min. Fri 6/3 and Thu 6/9, 8 PM.
Battle for Brooklyn You can fight city hall, but when city hall is in bed with a $9 billion real estate developer, forget it. This documentary by Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley (Horns and Halos) chronicles the seven-year struggle between the people of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and the New York executives of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, which manipulated eminent domain law to seize 22 acres of the neighborhood for a giant development to be anchored by a sports arena. Daniel Goldstein, a resident who fought the development to the bitter end, serves as the video’s protagonist, but his personal story isn’t especially interesting. The documentary is more valuable for its cold-eyed look at how real estate interests work the levers of power in state and city government, dangling the vague promise of job creation in exchange for sweetheart deals that drain the public coffers. —J.R. Jones 93 min. Galinksy and Hawley attend the Saturday screening. Sat 6/4, 8 PM, and Wed 6/8, 6 PM.
Cardboard Cutout Sundown Chicago filmmaker Melika Bass directed the 52-minute Shoals, which premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art and now anchors this shorts program. Like the early films of Kelly Reichardt, it tells a minimal story amid the fever dream of a vivid natural landscape: three young ladies at a rural boarding school drift through fields and gather wildflowers to be turned into herbal remedies. The action turns ominous in the second half, though the movie is more affecting for its hushed soundtrack, low-grain photography, and still-life shots of simple, solid household objects. Completing the program are shorts by Julia Fuller, Kate McCabe, Ross Nugent, and Ann Steuernagel. —J.R. Jones 89 min. Sun 6/5, 8 PM.
The Color Wheel In structure, acting quality, and thematic sophistication, this subversive black-and-white comedy by Alex Ross Perry represents a step up from his 2009 debut feature, Impolex. He gives a deadpan performance as a neurotic nebbish, and cowriter Carlen Altman plays his peevish sister, who nags him into accompanying her on a road trip to retrieve her stuff from her ex-boyfriend’s pad. Along the way they lodge at a motel so conservative that, in order to share a room, they’re obliged to impersonate a married couple; the incestuous overtones of this charade foreshadow Perry’s perverse riff on happy endings, when the siblings take to bed to resolve their differences. As a formal exercise the film shows daring, but it’s hardly entertainment. —Andrea Gronvall 83 min. Ross attends the screening. Sat 6/4, 6 PM.
Profane Like a bargain-basement version of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, this Chicago-shot feature by Usama Alshaibi (Nice Bombs) uses a panoply of shock tactics—rapid editing, blurry superimpositions, drug use, and S-M—to evoke nauseous fascination with the sexual underworld. And like Noé, Alshaibi seems as curious about religious transcendence as degradation. The heroine, a Jordanian immigrant, works contentedly as a dominatrix but wants to reconnect with her Muslim roots; scenes of her lurid career alternate with a sweet subplot in which she befriends a religiously devout Middle Eastern cabdriver. Though certainly not for the squeamish, the movie is a striking story of life in the Arab diaspora, aided rather than undermined by its occasional narrative incoherence. 79 min. —Ben Sachs 78 min. Also on the program: Jennifer Reeder’s short Tears Cannot Restore Her: Therefore, I Weep. Alshaibi and Reeder attend the screening. Fri 6/3, 10 PM, and Wed 6/8, 8 PM.
Snow on tha Bluff Set in one of Atlanta’s roughest neighborhoods, this energetic mockumentary recalls the reality-TV chestnut COPS, though it’s told from the perp’s perspective. A small-time dope dealer (photogenic ex-con Curtis Snow) steals a video camera from some naive college kids, then decides to record his every move for posterity. Several scenes were clearly staged, but much of the action looks quite real—enough so, director Damon Russell claims, that local police interrupted shooting over a dozen times. Some humor arises from the protagonist’s delusions of grandeur, but there’s nothing funny about the climax, when his family’s history of violence repeats itself. —Andrea Gronvall 79 min. Russell attends the Saturday screening. Sat 6/4, 10 PM, and Tue 6/7, 8 PM.
Some Girls Never Learn Chicago writer-director Jerzy Rose professes an interest in the glamor and repressed sexuality of classical Hollywood, which registers in this debut feature as a Lynch-like mix of florid imagery, deadpan humor, and obscurely Freudian situations. The goofy story involves a chubby high school science teacher (Jared Larson), who doubles as a veterinarian, and a deep-sea diver (Mike Lopez), who’s recovered a leg bone thought to have come from Amelia Earhart. The lost flier appears as a character (Halle Butler), as does a nerdy, bespectacled Ovid (Alexander Stewart), spouting bad limericks as he ferries the two men across a mystical river. Like Lynch or Guy Maddin, Rose perches carefully between camp and wonder; the result is hip but ultimately forgettable. —J.R. Jones 80 min. Rose attends the screening. Thu 6/2, 8 PM.
Total Badass Had Chad Holt been born in Europe 200 years ago, he might have become a great Romantic poet; but as a denizen of contemporary Austin, Texas, he’s funneled his libertine intelligence into vulgar zines and hardcore bands with names like Früntbutt. Bob Ray shot this video documentary during the final year of Holt’s five-year probation (for counterfeiting wristbands to the South by Southwest music festival), and he’s far too indulgent to proffer any meaningful interpretation of Holt. Crude footage of Holt doing crude things (consuming massive amounts of weed and cocaine, getting a blow job in a public bathroom, urinating in a movie theater) is interspersed with his soliloquies about how he’s living free. Ray demonstrates a certain level of conviction in making the documentary as unapologetically crass as its subject. —Ben Sachs 91 min. Also on the program: Steven Summers’s short The Forest. Ray and Summers attend the screening. Sun 6/5, 1:45 PM.