May 2022: Chicago Critics Film Festival, War and Silent Films
Monthly Roundup Post
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Not only did May bring spring, it welcomed the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Marya and I also moved into our first apartment together. And I filled in a few cinematic blind spots too. All the while, I still managed to continue writing, and was able to cobble together eight reviews, a couple of pieces, and appear on a podcast. Here is everything I wrote and/or appeared on last month:
My Letterboxd probably needs a breather after May. Festivals always provide a major boost in my movie watching, and this month brought an eye-popping 61 movies: 14 were shorts, two were silent movies, a few genre pushing documentaries, and quite a few war movies too. Here are a few highlights.
American Revolution 2 - Helmed by Howard Alk, this tightly constructed vérité documentary features footage of Chicago after the disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention to reconstruct the political winds that formed Fred Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition. Available to stream on HBO Max.
The Big Parade - I can’t get enough of World War I movies. Something about that war, and the inherent disillusionment with government, nationalism and heroism provides the screen with real complexity. The John Gilbert vehicle, The Big Parade, a 151 minute silent film from 1925, delves through all those complicated layers and more, while fashioning some of the most realistic battle scenes you’ll ever see. Available to rent on most major streaming platforms.
Blaze - I haven’t watched this Ethan Hawke directed biopic about the Texan country-folk singer Blaze Foley since its release in 2018 (my first ever press screening as a critic). And I must admit I forgot the rare patience and visual acumen used to keep this film from falling into trite genre conventions. Ben Dickey’s performance as the titular character is sincere, and it makes me sad that he hasn’t done more movies since. Available to rent on most major streaming platforms.
The Canadian - The Music Box and Chicago Film Society collaborated to present William Beaudine’s 1926 silent film (starring Thomas Meighan and Mona Palma). It follows two unlikely people finding love on the Canadian frontier and was shown on 35mm. Not only did the print look fantastic, the accompaniment by organist Dennis Scott provided the perfect punctations too.
My Duduś - A huge shout-out to the shorts programmer of Chicago Critics Film Festival, RogerEbert.com critic and contributor Colin Souter, who every year brings a fascinating array of films together. Director Tom Krawczyk’s documentary about a Polish woman’s motherly relationship with a squirrel was a touching, heartwarming choice by Colin that reduced me to a puddle.
Murders in the Zoo - Opening with a gruesome scene of a man’s mouth sewn shut in the jungle, this violent pre-Code starring Lionel Atwill as a jealous husband and Randolph Scott as a dashing scientist provides what the title promises: some murders in the zoo.
Rome, Open City, Paisan, and Stromboli - One of the major blind spots I filled in May involved the meditative Italian master Roberto Rossellini’s landmark works. I wrote about my impressions of his post-war Italian films for paid subscribers, here. All three selections are available to stream on Criterion Channel.
The Seduction of Mimi & Seven Beauties - On the other end of the Italian spectrum is the pervasively hilarious Lina Wertmüller. The first woman ever nominated for Best Director by the Academy Awards, no director has gotten more punchlines from a camera zoom, often reveling in heavy subject matters, than her.
Strange Victory - I had the pleasure of making Leo Hurwitz’s 1948 documentary my inaugural Black film recommendation, a regular post where I will provide underseen Black movie choices. Even today, nearly 75 years later, Strange Victory is a still urgent interrogation of structural racism viewed from a post-World War II frame. Available to stream on Criterion Channel.