The Chicago Underground Film Festival continues through Sunday, March 10, with screenings at the Logan, 2646 N. Milwaukee, 773-342-5555. Tickets are $7 and a festival pass, good for all screenings and events, is $60; both can be purchased at ticketfly.com. Following are reviews of selected films and videos; for a full schedule see cuff.org.
All the Memory in the World Composed entirely of clips from other movies, this essayistic video collage by Mike Olenick looks at photography and portraiture in cinema, presenting scenes from the likes of Vertigo, Fight Club, and Blow Out. Playing over this imagery is brooding voice-over narration that quotes dialogue from the sampled movies and makes weighty, pseudointellectual statements about cinematic representation of dreams, reality, and memory (apparently the voice belongs to a camera and the onscreen images onscreen are its dreams and reality). The video recalls Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), but whereas that film was valuable for its pragmatism and lack of artifice, this hyper-Bazinian experiment is gimmicky and self-indulgent. —Drew Hunt 74 min. Sun 3/10, 7 PM.
Ape A struggling comedian (Joshua Burge) begins to unravel: when he's not bombing onstage in two-bit sports bars or watching VHS tapes in his cruddy apartment, he's lobbing Molotov cocktails into his boss's yard and making deals with the devil. Set in the back alleyways and parking lots of Grand Rapids, this unnerving character study by Joel Potrykus embraces the anxieties and neuroses of its protagonist, but despite the dire subject matter it manages to be fractiously playful. —Drew Hunt 86 min. Thu 3/7, 8:30 PM.
A Body Without Organs First-time director Stephen Graves crafts an intimate portrait of his father, Bill Graves, a former doctor who's barely left home since a rare medical condition forced surgeons to remove his colon and parts of his intestines in 1997. The movie introduces us to the agonizing details of his condition (he must drain waste from a sac connected to his abdomen) before getting into the things in life that make him grateful: his loving marriage, his vibrant dreams (likely enhanced by the heavy-duty painkillers he takes daily), and memories of his libertine youth. Graves attempts to re-create his father's subjective experience through a variety of unsettling experimental flourishes, most impressively an unpredictable editing scheme that evokes stream-of-consciousness writing. —Ben Sachs 81 min. Fri 3/8, 6:30 PM.
Hit & Stay Heartfelt and informative, this historical documentary considers the role of civil disobedience in the anti-Vietnam War movement, focusing on the efforts of priests, nuns, and other devout Catholics. Directors Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk recount the efforts of several different activist groups over nearly a decade; remarkably, they maintain a sense of narrative continuity throughout, implying that one act of protest inspired another. The movie valorizes the Catholic left for its rock-solid convictions as well as its publicized actions, concluding that contemporary activists can learn a lot from its example. When the subjects appear on camera, they seem humble, even self-effacing, about their accomplishments; their testimonies, however political in their rhetoric, serve as moving portraits of religious faith. —Ben Sachs 97 min. Sat 3/9, 2 PM.
Pig Death Machine The first feature in over a decade by veteran underground filmmaker Jon Moritsugu (Mod Fuck Explosion, Scumrock) is a characteristically perverse sci-fi comedy set among the slackerdom of Santa Fe. A shipment of tainted pork hits town, temporarily transforming anyone who eats it into a psychotic super-genius; among the afflicted are a middle-aged bimbo (Moritsugu's wife Amy Davis, who cowrote the script) and a goth waitress (punk musician Hannah Levbarg) who relates to plants more than people. As usual in the director's work, the filmmaking is crass and amateurish on purpose; Moritsugu wears his outsider status like a badge of honor; his enthusiasm and affection for his misfit characters is undeniable. Todd Verow, another longtime underground director, provided the hyped-up camerawork. —Ben Sachs 82 min. Fri 3/8, 8:30 PM.
School of Change This dadaist musical comedy takes place in a futuristic industrial compound where male instructors teach female recruits to perform obscure scientific procedures and sing songs about the beauty of change. It's hard to say what writer-director-production designer Jennet Thomas is getting at; this might be a genre-movie parody, a satire of institutionalized sexism, or just an extended gag about popular misperceptions of hard science (the technical discussions are all pretty much gibberish). The jokes are too arcane to register as anything other than non sequiturs, though the color-coordinated sets and costumes are fun to look at; they display plenty of imagination in spite of an obviously low budget. —Ben Sachs 52 min. Thu 3/7, 9 PM.
Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression Director Max Good profiles urban citizens who cover up grafitti and employ many of the same vigilante tactics as taggers. His amateurish documentary (2011) offers some interesting food for thought, asking the viewer to consider whether a work of art should be respected if it desecrates public property and whether censorship can be a creative act too. Good is clearly biased in favor of street artists; interviewing subects on camera, he praises graffiti as socially constructive, sidestepping how it's used by gangs to mark territory. By comparison the interviewees tend to be more nuanced in their thinking—even the antigraffiti activists he sets out to portray as single-minded. This ends up being open-ended and provocative in spite of the director's didacticism, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. —Ben Sachs 86 min. Sun 3/10, 2 PM.