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Mingus. Partch. Klugman.

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on May 12, 2009 9:20PM

Almost sounds like the name of a law firm representing Blago, but no. The Chicago Film Archives is drawing from its impressive collection for a pair of upcoming screenings. The films involved are all rare and extremely worthwhile.

The first, this Friday evening at the Chicago Cultural Center, spotlights documentaries on two titans of 20th century music: Charles Mingus and Harry Partch. Thomas Reichman's 1968 film Mingus contains priceless footage of a club date featuring the brilliant, volatile bassist with a small combo. It's intercut with Mingus's somewhat inebriated tour of the Great Jones Street loft from which he's about to be evicted. He plays a few songs on a broken-down piano and obligingly demonstrates his shotgun by firing it into the ceiling. Fun stuff. In Music Studio: Harry Partch, we witness the groundbreaking composer as he creates a recording by overdubbing onto a 4-track tape machine, playing a variety of exotic and handmade instruments. He's equal parts theoretician and childlike scientist, taking obvious delight in the process. Taken together the two movies make for a really energizing program, particularly if you're a musician yourself. Peter Margasak, music journalist for the Chicago Reader and Down Beat, will introduce the free screening.

Then, on Thursday, May 26 at the Siskel the CFA presents three recently-restored shorts by Chicago filmmaker and teacher Don Klugman. They span 1964-1969 and offer tantalizing glimpses of vanished Chicago landmarks such as the Esquire and Mister Kelly's. Nightsong is an unusual melange of documentary and proto music video, showcasing ethereal black folk singer Willie Wright. His phrasing and tone definitely reminded us of Antony. Sure makes you wish someone would reissue his albums. The film won the Coupe Kodak-Pathe prize at Cannes in 1965. I've Got This Problem and You're Putting Me On both revolve around a quirky, talkative couple who could have come straight out of a Wes Anderson movie, if Anderson made films about square Chicagoans conversing in coffee shops and going to far out bohemian parties. The latter has some hilarious dialogue and an arresting scene involving a torch singer in a piano bar. The filmmaker will be in attendance for a Q & A afterward.

Let's hope we see more soon from the vaults of CFA.