Meet some cool cats of avant-garde cinema this Friday and Saturday | Bleader

Meet some cool cats of avant-garde cinema this Friday and Saturday

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Surprisingly Stan Brakhages Cats Cradle (1959) is not included in the Cat Film Festival.
  • Surprisingly Stan Brakhage's Cat's Cradle (1959) is not included in the Cat Film Festival.
This Friday at 8 PM Chicago Filmmakers and South Side Projections will copresent a program of cat-related short films in the parking lot of Filmmakers' Andersonville location; it runs again on Saturday at 7:30 PM at Cafe 53rd (1359 E. 53rd St.). It contains work by two luminaries of avant-garde cinema, Stan Brakhage and Joyce Wieland, along with roughly a dozen other experimental pieces made between the 60s and the late 90s. Of course, the program only scratches the surface of cat-inspired cinema (which seems appropriate, as cats are notorious for scratching at things). One could easily create a whole series around feline-obsessed filmmakers; the subjects could include Stanley Kubrick (who kept dozens of cats in the room where he edited his films), Agnes Varda (who named her production company, Ciné Tamaris, after one of her kitties), Val Lewton (whose irrational fear of cats inspired one of the all-time great horror movies), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (as Dave Kehr proclaimed his All About Eve "the catfight of the century").

Last year I wrote a blog post comparing the work of Japan's Studio Ghibli with that of French writer-director Jacques Rivette. The film that inspired the comparison? The Cat Returns. I should have noted in that post that Rivette is a cat person himself (If you don't believe me, check out The Story of Marie and Julien [2003], which features one of the most charismatic felines in movie history) and that the understated curiosity running through both his and Ghibli's work might be described as catlike. Rivette's movies operate much like the cats I've known, quietly sneaking into dark places to look for secrets; they're also content to sit in the same spot for long periods of time. Ghibli movies are far more active, yet every one of them contains calm, patient stretches—they're very easy to cuddle up with. (Incidentally the cuddliest Ghibli film, Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro, screens at the Siskel Center this Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday.)

Cats can be independent-minded to the point of obstinacy, sometimes rejecting their owners' affections for days at time and seemingly at whim. In this too one can see a correlation with experimental filmmaking, which can be less emotionally accessible than narrative cinema. Yet both reward those people who meet them on their own terms, who try to understand why the formal properties of celluloid can be as fascinating as a story or how an old sock might inspire vigilant stewardship.

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