Another Sensational Season At Doc Films

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 25, 2014 4:00PM

2014_09_GreenFields.jpg
Scene from "Green Fields" (1937). Photo from the National Center for Jewish Film.

From Japanese masterworks to vintage Yiddish cinema to Hollywood teen flicks, the Doc Films series at the University of Chicago has a fall season well worth the trip, no matter how close you live to the Hyde Park campus. The autumn programming begins Monday night and runs through Dec. 7.

The longest running student film society in the U.S. programs each day of the week with a different subject, genre, or broader categorization. While the Saturday evening shows offer another chance to catch some recent releases, it's the other days' programming that is really the draw here—with historic and rarely screened movies, along with revivals of essential works and popular favorites. Film purists should also take note; this remains one of the few places where 35mm projection still comprises much of the schedule.

In terms of lesser-seen fare, the Sunday night series, "Schmaltzywood: The Golden Age of Yiddish Cinema in America (1937-1940)," is a real treasure trove. Made independently on low budgets, these films catered to Jewish immigrants who saw little of their culture authentically represented by Hollywood. Three of the nine films scheduled were directed or co-directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, a low-budget specialist known for the twisted film noir Detour and the Universal horror classic The Black Cat, among many others.

The Monday night series, "Cinema of Childhood: Magic and Oatmeal Porridge," includes eleven movies about children from some of the world's most acclaimed directors. Yasujiro Ozu's Good Morning, Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander and Steven Soderbergh's King of the Hill are among the highlights.

Mystery and murder is on tap Tuesday nights, as "Whodunit?: The Detective Story on Film" surveys nearly seventy years of the genre over ten films. Lighthearted mystery fare dominates, with a couple of less whimsical entries. The Thin Man (with one of Hollywood's greatest screen couples, William Powell and Myrna Loy), Otto Preminger's Laura, and the Bob Hope version of The Cat and the Canary are some of the goodies lined up.

One of the most rewarding partnerships between a director and actor takes the spotlight on Wednesday nights for "The Wind Man and the Shogun: Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune." The amazingly expressive Mifune starred in 16 films directed by Kurosawa and this series presents ten of the most admired, including Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and The Hidden Fortress.

Thursdays feature two different series, with early evening screenings devoted to the acclaimed documentaries of Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War and others) and the later shows focusing on David Bowie's film appearances. A well-timed companion to the Museum of Contemporary Art's David Bowie Is exhibit, the features range from the music icon's most important film work (The Man Who Fell to Earth; Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence) to his cameo in Ben Stiller's fashion spoof, Zoolander.

The Friday night series (with added showings Sunday afternoons) is split between two American filmmakers. Though cleverly titled, "You Can't Handle the Youth: '80s Classics of John Hughes and Rob Reiner" features at least two movies by Reiner (Misery and When Harry Met Sally) that weren’t aimed at young audiences. Of the films included, I would say only Reiner's The Princess Bride has really aged well, but people have a lot of affection for all of these features, and John Hughes' "brat pack" flicks remain high school touchstones for many.

Of the recent films showing on Saturdays (with added showings Sunday afternoons), run don't walk if you have yet to see Boyhood, Calvary, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or Life Itself. And run away, don't walk away, to avoid Neighbors.

Single tickets for Doc Films remain a bargain at $5 each. And if you live anywhere near the campus, the quarterly membership pass is beyond a steal, giving you entry to every film for $30 (only $28 if you show you purchased the previous season pass). Potentially, that breaks down to something like 37 cents per film...a jaw-droppingly amazing value.

Films are shown at the Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall on the university campus (1212 East 59th Street). For the complete Doc Films schedule, click here.