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As is often the case with a great film, Christopher Maclaine's rarely seen The End (1953) can be described in several apparently contradictory ways. A raw, oddball, technically crude document of early beatnik San Francisco, it is also a brilliant, disturbing, suicide film. A series of characters appears, most on the last days of their lives, in a haunting cri de coeur that envisions individual suicide as inextricably linked to the threatened grand suicide of civilization, the Bomb. The alienating landscape of the modern city--this is one of the first uses of store-window mannequins as symbols for dehumanization--has rarely been more powerfully evoked. But The End's real power comes from the way the film constantly strains against itself, transgresses its own materials. Maclaine's narration often breaks cinematic illusion, exhorting the viewer to help construct the narrative, to enter the image--often with hilarious effects. More profoundly, the editing, by juxtaposing shots that clash visually, seems to pull each image apart from all the others, creating a form that is constantly on the brink of self-annihilation--a brutally affecting vision of the suicidal mind. Shown with Ken Jacob's masterpiece of late-50s angst, Blonde Cobra. (Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, Saturday, January 25, 8:00, 281-8788).

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