The Western: How It Was Never One
August 31 - December 11
Lecturer: Jon Cates
Jon Cates is an Associate Professor of Film, Video, New Media and Animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
While the Western genre is quintessentially American, filmmakers across the world inspire, interpret and respond to this form of storytelling. Set in symbolic landscapes with iconic characters drawn from both imagined pasts and lived histories, this series focuses on how the Western cinematic genre explicitly expresses politics and ideologies. From First Nations perspectives to African diasporic feminist narrative, these films present critical readings of an ever-elusive frontier which has and continues to define national identities. Many different Westerns co-exist, and, taken together, these films question the borders and boundaries of mythic American experiences.
— Jon Cates
For nearly forty years, the Gene Siskel Film Center has collaborated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism to provide a unique experience for Chicago filmgoers. Each fall and spring, we present a themed Screening/Lecture series that is both a course taken for credit by enrolled SAIC students, and a weekly series of public screenings open to all ticket-buyers without need of enrollment or registration. A lecturer is chosen for each series from among the leading film scholars and critics in our region.
On each Tuesday during the series, that week's film is briefly introduced by the lecturer and then screened in its entirety. Following the screening, members of the public are welcome to stay for the lecture and participate in the discussion. The films usually have an additional screening, without the lecture and discussion, on Friday or Saturday. Click here to learn more about this program.
Admission to all Lecture/Screening programs is $5 for Film Center members; usual admission prices apply for non-members.
1972, Robert Downey Sr., USA, 91 min.
- Sun, Dec 9th 5:45pm
- Tue, Dec 11th 6:00pm
"An engaging slice of independent underground/above ground absurdity."--Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant
A religious parable, wrapped in an absurdist comedy, inside a revisionist western, GREASER'S PALACE is the most ambitious opus by hipster social satirist Downey (PUTNEY SWOPE). A zoot-suited stranger with the loaded name Jesse (Arbus) parachutes into a previously god-forsaken corner of the Wild West, where the eternally constipated kingpin Mr. Greaser (Henderson) lords it over a populace of old coots and hard-bitten whores. Jesse amazes the locals with his ability to raise the dead, although he'd rather be celebrated for his singing and dancing ("I hear the agent Morris awaits me"). Offending one and all with anarchic even-handedness, the film's attractions include Toni Basil as a topless Indian maiden, Hervé Villechaize as a gay cowpoke, and Roger Corman alumna Luana Anders as a saloon singer/stripper named Cholera. 35mm. (MR)
2017, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/Brazil/Spain, 115 min. With Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas
"Make time for this one...Rich and allusive, a unique and slyly comic mirage of colonialism as seen from every perspective, including (at one memorable point) a llama's." - Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
In this long-awaited fourth feature, her first film in nine years, contemporary master Martel weaves a haunting and enigmatic tale adapted from the novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, set in the 18th Century on the Asunción coast of South America. A prideful man in a tricorn hat and brocade coat looks out to sea, longing for his deliverance from his backwater post in a ragged rural colony of the Spanish crown. Many circles of hell await Zama (Giménez Cacho) in Martel's rendering of a story that gains acute physicality through her evocative and unorthodox framing and startling use of layered sound. In its final section, the film opens up to the hallucinatory-seeming vision of vast grasslands, where Zama attempts to prove his worth by pursuit of a wanted criminal. In Spanish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2011, Kelly Reichardt, USA, 104 min. With Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood
"Mesmerizing...a masterpiece of American genre, a poetic tour de force." - Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
Kelly Reichardt doesn't just critique the Western genre; she reinvents it. As in her previous films OLD JOY and WENDY AND LUCY, the setting is Oregon, and the American wilderness is a central issue, but here she goes back to 1845, a period earlier and wilder than that of most Westerns. A small wagon train of three families finds itself lost, with the water supply dwindling. The grueling routine of the trek is presented with deglamorized realism, seen primarily from the perspective of the women, one of whom (Williams) begins to question the competence of their blustering guide Meek (Greenwood). When a Native American is captured, the group's survival hangs on the question of whether to trust him or Meek. 35mm. (MR)
2009, Neil Diamond, Canada, 96 min.
"Absorbing and amusing…an imaginative journey through the shifting stereotypes Hollywood has used to obscure [American Indian] history." - Mike Hale, The New York Times
Filmmaker Diamond, a Cree from Northern Canada, recalls how, as a child, he and his companions would root for the cowboys - "never realizing we were the Indians." To explore how popular-culture images of Native Americans became so distorted, he sets out on a dual journey. The first is a road trip traversed in his beat-up "res car," as he visits reservations, historical sites, and stereotype-reinforcing summer camps and theme parks. The second is a trip through American movie history, tracing the portrayal of Native Americans from early Edison films through relatively enlightened silent movies, step-backward John Ford westerns, a host of "redface" impersonations, the hippie-influenced "groovy Injuns" of the 1970s (Billy Jack!), and more recent leaps forward like SMOKE SIGNALS and ATANARJUAT: THE FAST RUNNER. Along the way, Diamond encounters activists Russell Means and John Trudell, Ojibwe cultural critic Jesse Wente, filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Clint Eastwood, and famed Oscar-accepter Sacheen Littlefeather. ProRes digital. (MR)
1961, Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 110 min. With Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai.
"A landmark in the director's career - if not for its devilish hybrid of styles, inversion of genre conventions, and sly political commentary, then certainly for sheer entertainment value." - Rob Humanick, Slant
A lone swordsman-for-hire turns up in a nowhere village torn by a violent feud between two merchants and sells himself to both sides, becoming the catalyst for mayhem. Kurosawa's elegant and darkly cynical reworking of the plot of a Hollywood western made YOJIMBO one of the most imitated films of all time, and the direct inspiration for Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. As the stranger, the powerfully nihilistic Mifune is paradoxically the film's moral center, plying his venal trade among the monstrously caricatured and infinitely expendable villagers. Kurosawa graphically poses the conflict in formal terms, demonstrating his mastery of widescreen composition. In Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm widescreen. (BS)
1986, David Byrne, USA, 89 min. With David Byrne, John Goodman.
"An exuberant and wonderfully oddball stew of deadpan comedy, character drama, music video, and art installation." - Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
Real art-rock hipster David Byrne visits the fictional town of Virgil, TX, which is poised to celebrate the state's sesquicentennial with a parade and a talent show. Driving a red convertible and gamely going native in cowboy hats and bolo ties, Byrne explores a new frontier of shopping malls and microchips. While waiting for the festivities to commence, he gets acquainted with some of the notable locals, including the town's most prominent couple (Spalding Gray and Annie McEnroe), who never speak directly to each other; a rich woman (Swoosie Kurtz) who never leaves her bed; and an affable bachelor (John Goodman) desperate to find a wife. The free-spirited citizens are liable to burst into song at any moment, often lip-synching recordings by Byrne and his legendary group Talking Heads. 35mm. (MR)
Thomasine & Bushrod
1974, Gordon Parks Jr., USA, 95 min. With Max Julien, Vonetta McGee.
"Negroes don't do that. Negroes sing and dance and steal chickens. They don't rob banks." So says an astonished white bystander in this nearly forgotten memento of the outlaw spirit that infiltrated American cinema in the post-BONNIE AND CLYDE era. Actor-writer Julien (THE MACK) and director Parks (SUPER FLY) brought a blaxploitation background to this revisionist western that upsets racial and gender stereotypes as well as genre conventions. Automobiles replace horses in 1911 Texas, where bounty hunter Thomasine (McGee) and outlaw Bushrod (Julien) join forces to pull off a series of daring bank robberies while eluding the rabidly vengeful Sheriff Bogardie (George Murdock). Glynn Turman's colorful turn as a jive-talking Jamaican gunslinger adds to the film's freewheeling pastiche of genres and eras. 35mm archival print. (MR)
Daughters of the Dust
1991, Julie Dash, USA, 112 min. With Alva Rogers, Bahni Turpin.
"Distinctive, original…every image, every moment is a full creation…Dash is one of the heroines of the modern cinema." - Richard Brody, New Yorker
A work of breathtaking beauty and haunting cultural resonance, this landmark independent production was the first film by an African American woman to receive theatrical distribution in the U.S. On a summer day in 1902, a large African American family descended from slaves gathers for one last picnic in their Sea Island home on the eve of their move North. The knowledge and mystical traditions of the clan's West African heritage are manifest in the women of the family, from the matriarch Nana to the unborn baby girl in her granddaughter's womb, as the family confronts the conflicts and challenges of a new century. In English and Gullah dialect with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
1973, Gottfried Kolditz, East Germany, 94 min. With Gojko Mitic, Milan Bili.
"An entertaining Western...There's a modern, violent feel to APACHES that can be clearly traced to the influence of the Spaghetti Westerns and Peckinpah." - Paul Mavis, DVD Talk
The Wild West meets the Wild East in this superior example of the Indianerfilme cycle that thrived in East Germany during the late 1960s and 1970s. Envious of the success that sauerkraut Westerns were enjoying in West Germany, the Communist government saw an opportunity to reap profits while also scoring propaganda points by portraying Indians as the heroes and greedy American capitalists as the villains. Based fairly closely on historical events that took place in Northern Mexico in 1837, APACHES draws the connection between genocide and profits with brutal directness when American mining interests lure a peaceful Apache tribe into a massacre by bounty hunters who are paid by the scalp ($100 for braves, $50 for squaws, $25 for children). The few survivors regroup under the leadership of the warrior Ulzana (played by imposing Yugoslavian actor Gojko Mitic, who was to the Indianerfilm what John Wayne was to the American Western). Though greatly outnumbered, the Apaches employ strategy and guerrilla tactics to engage the enemy amid impressive desert landscapes filmed in Uzbekistan. In German with English subtitles. DCP digital widescreen courtesy of DEFA Film Library; special thanks to Hiltrud Schulz. (MR)
Please note: This trailer does not have English subtitles. Our screenings of the film will be subtitled in English.
The Dark Valley
Das finstere Tal
2014, Andreas Prochaska, Austria/Germany, 114 min. With Sam Riley, Tobias Moretti.
"A visually sumptuous spectacle…a starkly beautiful palette worthy of a Dutch Master." - Stephen Dalton, Hollywood Reporter
A remote valley high in the Austrian Alps provides a stunning background for this period revenge Western with a European twist. Director Prochaska (DEAD IN 3 DAYS), a longtime editor for Michael Haneke, has a sure handle on the dark tale based on Thomas Willmann's 2010 bestseller. A taciturn photographer (Riley) from far-off America rides into a forsaken hamlet with a dirty secret that will challenge the brutal rule of a self-styled godfather and his six thuggish sons. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2015 Chicago European Union Film Festival. In German with English subtitles. DCP digital widescreen. (BS)
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie
Kaubōi Bibappu: Tengoku no Tobira / カウボーイビバップ 天国の扉
2001, Shinichirô Watanabe, Japan, 115 min.
"Magnetic, beautiful stuff." - Patrick Z. McGavin, Chicago Tribune
A theatrical follow-up to the cult 1998 TV series, this stylish anime epic integrates elements of sci-fi, film noir, and Western. The year is 2071, the setting is a Martian megalopolis that looks a lot like New York City, the "cowboys" are a team of four bounty hunters, and the Bebop is their spaceship, as well as a signifier of the hipster vibe that was the series' trademark. Scrounging along on smalltime jobs, the foursome scent a bigtime payoff when an unprecedented reward is offered for the mysterious terrorist who has unleashed a deadly virus in the city. The story focuses primarily on one member of the team, spindly cool cat Spike Spiegel, who finds that the trail leads not to a cardboard villain, but to a tragic alter ego whose wounded past mirrors his own. Highlights include spectacular fight scenes (especially one aboard a high-speed monorail), Yoko Kanno's wildly eclectic music score, and a screening of the classic Western HIGH NOON at a futuristic drive-in. In Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm widescreen. (MR)