This is the Chicago premiere of a first-rate, 167-minute Canadian documentary by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick about the brilliant linguist and radical political commentator Noam Chomsky, probably the best living critic of American foreign policy as viewed through the media. He’s so articulate and intelligent that this extended look at his thought remains compulsively watchable throughout, and the filmmakers pull off the unlikely feat of making a film about him genuinely humorous in spots (1992). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, February 20, 3:00, and Sunday, February 21, 6:00, 443-3737)
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Renzo.
This brilliant hour-long video by independent filmmaker Mark Rappaport (The Scenic Route) is in effect a subversive piece of film criticism that departs from the fictional conceit of Hudson himself (represented through clips from his films and by actor Eric Farr) speaking from beyond the grave about his homosexuality and what this did or didn’t have to do with his countless heterosexual screen roles. Part of what emerges, to hilarious effect, is the extraordinary amount of male cruising and number of barbed allusions to Hudson’s gayness that his movies of the 50s and 60s contain; what also emerges is the sexual ideology of the period. Though much of this essential work is extremely funny, it is also very much about death in relation to movies (1992). (Music Box, Friday and Saturday, February 12 and 13, midnight)
This presentation of the Museum of Modern Art’s elaborate reconstruction of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 masterpiece–a reconstruction similar to the one done by the UCLA Film Archives on Cukor’s A Star Is Born in employing single-frame images where consecutive footage no longer survives–is a major film event. Described by Pauline Kael as “perhaps the greatest movie ever made and the greatest folly in movie history,” the film cuts between four stories linked by images of Lillian Gish and a quote from Whitman (”Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking…”: “The Nazarene” starring Bessie Love; “The Medieval Story,” involving the 1572 Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots; “The Fall of Babylon,” featuring Constance Talmadge, Elmo Lincoln, Seena Owen, Tully Marshall, and eye-popping sets; and “The Mother and the Law,” an exciting contemporary story starring Mae Marsh and Robert Harron. Probably the most influential of all silent films after The Birth of a Nation, the film launched ideas about associative editing that have been essential to the cinema ever since, from Soviet montage classics to recent American experimental films; and for the sheer generating of suspense through crosscutting and action the film’s climax hasn’t been surpassed in 77 years. It runs four hours and ten minutes, including intermission, and will be shown with an original score by Joseph Carl Breil, performed by members of the University Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the Library of Congress’s Gillian Anderson. (Univ. of Chicago, 1212 E. 59th St., Saturday, February 6, 7:00, and Sunday, February 7, 2:00, 702-8596)
Though not a success, this independent black-and-white drama about the friendship between a down-and-out but brilliant jazz musician loosely based on Charlie Parker (Dick Gregory in his first film appearance) and a onetime professor (Don Murray) is an unusual and thoughtful effort. Adapted from John Williams’s novel Night Song by director Herbert Danska and Lewis Jacobs, with a good secondary cast, including Diane Varsi and Robert Hooks (1967). (JR)