If you ever suspected that assholes are running the world, this 2002 documentary adapting producer and former actor Robert Evans’s autobiography, narrated with relish by Evans himself–the cinematic equivalent of a Vanity Fair article, complete with tuxes and swimming pools–offers all the confirmation you’ll ever need. A particularly telling moment occurs when Evans boasts about convincing his pal Henry Kissinger to attend a premiere just before flying to Europe on a diplomatic mission, leading one to speculate whether the world would be different today if Evans had become secretary of state and won the Nobel Peace Prize in the mid-70s and Kissinger had been pegged to play Irving Thalberg and a matador, then star in The Fiend Who Walked the West. Evans is equally proud of having produced Love Story and Chinatown, and his friendship with such comrades in arms as Kissinger and Peter Bart, the current editor of Variety, is further evidence or how wide–or how narrow–his talents are. He’s also not bad at impressions–whether he’s imitating Kissinger or his producer pals. Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein do a swell job of making this self-dramatization entertaining. 93 min.
The greatest film to date by poet, critic, curator, and director Jonas Mekas, this highly personal 1971 feature chronicles his first trip back to Semeniskiai, Lithuania, the village where he was raised, after an absence of 25 years. It’s a moving act of memory and self-scrutiny, reflecting in some respects the diary films he’s made since the 60s but clearly standing apart from them. Narrated by Mekas, the film opens with footage of his first years in America and closes with contemporary visits to a Hamburg suburb (site of a labor camp where he and his brother Adolfas spent a year during World War II) and Vienna (where he enjoys the company of several friends, including filmmaker-curator Peter Kubelka and critic Annette Michelson). But its centerpiece, entitled “One Hundred Glimpses of Lithuania, August 1971,” is the segment that shows his highly charged sense of film poetry at its most distilled and emotional. Essential viewing. 82 min. Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 6500 S. Pulaski, Friday, July 12, 7:00, 773-582-6500.
A key Russian formalist text, Viktor Shklovsky’s remarkable novel Zoo, or Letters Not About Love (1923) was based on a correspondence between the author and fellow expatriate Elsa Triolet, which ensued after Triolet asked him not to write her love letters and he responded with many different kinds of lyrical sublimation. For this beautifully composed and poetically edited experimental film (1998, 58 min.), Jacki Ochs asked American poet Lyn Hejinian and Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko to start a correspondence based on ordinary words like home, poverty, book, violence, and window, a project that lasted five years while each poet learned the other’s language. In the film actors Lili Taylor and Victor Nord read excerpts from these letters (all of them in English), while Ochs accompanies them contrapuntally with documentary images. Her highly suggestive combinations of word and montage, at times evoking Alain Resnais and Chris Marker, are rich in surreal juxtaposition as well as functional illustration; music and sound effects play an important role, and Ochs fashions striking combinations of found footage and original camerawork. The result, as critic Ray Privett has noted, is a post-cold-war historical inquiry in which the imaginations of the correspondents, the filmmakers, and the spectators all interact. Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art, 1967 South Campus Dr., Evanston, Wednesday, July 10, 7:30, 847-491-4000.