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Our guide to the 2015 Chicago International Movies & Music Festival

New documentaries focus on Devo, Morphine, the Mekons, the Residents, and more

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CIMMfest number seven kicks off Thursday and continues through the weekend, with screenings, live performances, panel discussions, a tribute to director Julien Temple (Absolute Beginners, The Filth and the Fury), and Spike Lee introducing clips from his films at City Winery (the festival program promises "an exclusive sneak peek at his latest, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus," which opened in Chicago two months ago). Tickets for most programs are $12, though passes are available for $40-$125. Following are selected features screening; for a full schedule see cimmfest.org. J.R. Jones

Don't forget what the second M in CIMMfest stands for

Given the insane number of quality movies that CIMMfest screens each year, it's easy to underestimate the live music on its schedule—some of which would be notable even without a festival surrounding it. And CIMMfest's seventh incarnation, which runs from Thu 4/16 till Mon 4/20, has the biggest, broadest musical lineup yet.

Most notably, the fest includes four live scores performed along with silent films. Three of these are at 1st Ward in Wicker Park, starting the night of Fri 4/17 with Sara Ranganathan and Dominic Johnson of the New Millennium Orchestra providing Bollywood-style accompaniment to Buster Keaton's Seven Chances. On the afternoon of Sun 4/19, guitarist Marc Ribot scores Josef von Sternberg's 1928 drama The Docks of New York, and that evening, local electronic-pop act Chandeliers play along with the 1981 Hungarian film Feherlofia. On Sat 4/18 at the National Museum of Mexican Art, Sones de Mexico score footage from Sergei Eisenstein's unfinished 1930s project ¡Que Viva Mexico!

Tons of other acts play at all sorts of venues over the course of the weekend: bookings on Fri 4/17 alone include Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars at Martyrs', Chicago dance-music veterans DJ Sneak, Mark Farina, and Derrick Carter on a "Heroes of House" bill at Metro, and Public Enemy "Bomb Squad" producer Hank Shocklee hosting a DJ showcase at 1st Ward. On Sat 4/18 Internet-­famous nerd-­rocker Hank Green headlines Metro, and on Sun 4/19 Jucifer bring their wall of amplifiers to Reggie's Rock Club. The great majority of CIMMfest-affiliated shows around town feature exclusively locals, among them rock, pop, blues, and metal acts such as Yakuza, the Gunshy, Local H, Clearance, John Primer, Liam Hayes, and Ne-Hi. The entire schedule is at cimmfest.org. Luca Cimarusti

Absolute Beginners screens Sat 4/18, 10 PM.
  • Absolute Beginners screens Sat 4/18, 10 PM.

Absolute Beginners A fascinating attempt by rock video director Julien Temple to do several things at once—adapt a Colin MacInnes novel, show the London youth scene in 1958 (while dealing at length with the racial tensions of the period), build on some of the stylistic innovations of Frank Tashlin, Vincente Minnelli, and Orson Welles, and put to best use a fascinating score by Gil Evans that adapts everything from Charles Mingus to Miles Davis. A mixed success, but an exhilarating try (1986). With David Bowie, Keith Richards, and James Fox. Jonathan Rosenbaum 107 min. Temple attends the screening. Sat 4/18, 10 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center, $12.

Basically, Johnny Moped screens Sat 4/18, 10:30 PM.
  • Basically, Johnny Moped screens Sat 4/18, 10:30 PM.

Basically, Johnny Moped One of the oddest first-wave British punk bands was Johnny Moped, a genial quartet that dressed like unassuming middle-class guys and whose lead singer (also called Johnny Moped) was mentally ill. This documentary portrait of the group is familiar in its execution, intercutting vintage performance footage with talking-head interviews with surviving band members and friends, but the story is definitely novel and the agreeable tone is hard to resist. Director Fred Burns subtly argues that the band epitomized the punk ethos since they were such misfits they couldn't even conform to punk culture. He's also sensitive in his depiction of the front man's mental illness; Johnny (real name Paul Halford) seems neither a freak nor a naif, but rather a self-aware individual who used music to make sense of his life. Ben Sachs 77 min. Sat 4/18, 10:30 PM, Logan, $12.

Danny Says screens Thu 4/16, 7:15 PM.
  • Danny Says screens Thu 4/16, 7:15 PM.

[Recommended] Danny Says Once you get used to Brendan Toller's scattershot direction, this profile of Danny Fields—the editor, publicist, and manager who helped launch the Stooges and the Ramones—is a compelling look at the New York underground of the late 60s and early 70s. Fields parlayed a youth spent hanging out at Andy Warhol's Factory into jobs editing the teen zine Datebook (infamous for publishing John Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" remark) and handling publicity for Elektra Records (the forward-looking label of Love and the Doors). A handful of great talking-head moments—from Iggy Pop and a giddy Jonathan Richman, among others—are interspersed with Fields's tales of rock-star antics, which are occasionally illustrated with animation (the meeting between Jim Morrison and Nico is especially good). Fields's recollections of managing the Ramones are the best, though, and Toller includes a priceless audio clip of a floored Lou Reed as he hears the band on vinyl for the first time. Kevin Warwick 104 min. Toller attends the screening. Thu 4/16, 7:15 PM, Logan, $12.

Dave Davies: Kinkdom Come screens Fri 4/17, 7 PM.
  • Dave Davies: Kinkdom Come screens Fri 4/17, 7 PM.

Dave Davies: Kinkdom Come and Ray Davies: Imaginary Man There's never been a decent documentary about the Kinks, which makes these two 80-minute profiles of the famously fractious Davies brothers both gratifying and frustrating. For Imaginary Man, broadcast in 2010 as part of the BBC series Imagine . . . , director Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury) follows Ray as he strolls around North London warbling such 60s chestnuts as "Waterloo Sunset" and "Autumn Almanac" and sits him down at the piano in a community center where the band played an early gig in 1963 to reminisce about the old days. Kinkdom Come, shot a year later, shows Dave wandering around the coast of Exmoor, where he lives, and likewise revisiting the band's early years. The same archival footage turns up in both movies, and the other two founding members sit for interviews as well: drummer Mick Avory (who can't stand Dave) in the Ray movie and bassist Pete Quaife (who died in 2010) in the Dave movie. If Temple could have involved both brothers in the same project without them throttling each other, he might really have had something. J.R. Jones Temple attends the screenings. Fri 4/17, 7 PM (Dave) and 8:55 PM (Ray), Society for Arts, $12 each or $20 for both.

Don't Think I've Forgotten screens Thu 4/16, 7 PM.
  • Don't Think I've Forgotten screens Thu 4/16, 7 PM.

Don't Think I've Forgotten Subtitled "Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll," this documentary charts the country's pop music industry from the 1950s to the late '70s vis a vis the surrounding political climate. The explosion of rock 'n' roll in the West happened to coincide with the first years of Cambodia's independence from France; as the monarchy embraced Western technology in its campaign to modernize the country, so did the populace fall in love with Western music. Throughout the 1960s, Cambodia would produce not only rock and pop acts, but also groups inspired by soul, psychedelia, and South American dance music. The flourishing music scene would end, of course, with the triumph of the Khmer Rouge, who imprisoned or killed almost all of the nation's artists. This is eye-opening and frequently moving, elevated by sharp editing that imaginatively juxtaposes major events in government and entertainment history. John Pirozzi directed. In English and subtitled French and Khmer. Ben Sachs 107 min. Thu 4/16, 7 PM, Logan, $12.

East Nashville Tonight screens Fri 4/17, 10:45 PM.
  • East Nashville Tonight screens Fri 4/17, 10:45 PM.

[Recommended] East Nashville Tonight Country-folk singer-songwriters Todd Snider and Elizabeth Cook set out to produce an East Nashville-based talk show in this feature by the Barnes brothers, which hilariously walks the line between documentary and mockumentary. If not for a series of bloopers at the film's midpoint, and the actors playing drug dealers and a doctor who limits Snider to just two lines of coke a day, you might believe that this adventure really happened. Certainly parts of it did—the frequent musical performances and the final presentation of the show before a live audience couldn't have been anything but genuine. But the drug-fueled scenes in between are just Snider and Cook playing larger-than-life versions of themselves. Brianna Wellen 85 min. Fri 4/17, 10:45 PM, Society for Arts, $12.

808: The Movie screens Fri 4/17, 9 PM.
  • 808: The Movie screens Fri 4/17, 9 PM.

808: The Movie Since the Roland Corporation introduced the TR-808 in 1980, the drum machine has become an integral part of pop music. Afrika Bambaataa, Marvin Gaye, and the Beastie Boys are among a growing list of musicians who mined the 808's perplexing, inorganic sounds to create peerless songs packed with heart. Too bad this documentary is so clinical and unimaginative; director Alexander Dunn has assembled a large cast of celebrity talking heads to piece together a deep history of the 808, but the scattered stories of important singles the drum machine helped bring to life don't add up to a compelling or coherent narrative. Former BBC radio host Zane Lowe narrates, sounding like someone who's cornered you in a bar for a lecture about archaic computer hardware. Leor Galil 94 min. Dunn attends the screening. Fri 4/17, 9 PM, Logan, $12.

Hardcore DEVO Live! screens Sat 4/18, 8:45 PM.
  • Hardcore DEVO Live! screens Sat 4/18, 8:45 PM.

Hardcore DEVO Live! Following the February 2014 death of founding member Bob Casales, inimitable science-punk band Devo decided to exhume the unrecorded early material they played in and around Akron, Ohio, from 1974 to 1977, before the marketing tag "new wave" gave them a commercial avenue for their defiant weirdness. Directed by Keirda Bahruth, this concert documentary of the consequent tour struggles feebly to become a band biography, augmenting the players' onstage reminiscing with comments from early Devo champions V. Vale (founder of outre publisher RE/Search) and choreo­grapher Toni Basil (patron saint of cheerleaders everywhere for her 1982 hit "Mickey"). But the movie is best enjoyed as a simple live document of a killer band, as the unknown tunes eventually give way to such early favorites as "Jocko Homo," "Be Stiff," and "Uncontrollable Urge." Guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh remembers himself thinking, "I'm tired of playing 'Whip It.' Let's do something else!" My sentiments exactly. J.R. Jones 85 min. Bahruth attends the screening. Sat 4/18, 8:45 PM, Logan, $12.

Jaco screens Sat 4/18, 6:15 PM.
  • Jaco screens Sat 4/18, 6:15 PM.

Jaco Bassist Jaco Pastorius was a virtuoso, capable of breathlessly fast tempos, and a pioneer on electric bass with his fretless instrument, use of harmonics, and excursions into feedback and noise. The best evidence this documentary presents in support of his genius is the roster of people interviewed for it: such talented bassists as Flea, Sting, Bootsy Collins, and Geddy Lee provide more than enough sycophancy, and some of Pastorius's most famous collaborators (Wayne Shorter and Joni Mitchell chief among them) express awe at his talent and frustration with his personal problems. Pastorius suffered from bipolar disorder and abused drugs, but neither of these things was responsible for his death, which occurred after a Florida club bouncer beat him into a coma. This incident gets surprisingly short treatment from directors Paul Marchand and Stephen Kijiak, who take an interminable hour and 45 minutes to get there. —Tal Rosenberg 110 min. Sat 4/18, 6:15 PM, Logan, $12.

Morphine: Journey of Dreams screens Fri 4/17, 7 PM.
  • Morphine: Journey of Dreams screens Fri 4/17, 7 PM.

Morphine: Journey of Dreams The Boston trio Morphine was a minor band with a major sound: a bleary, bottom-heavy inversion of postpunk into lounge jazz that showcased Dana Colley's itchy, croaking sax and Mark Sandman's distinctive slide work on a two-string bass guitar. The group arrived in the early 90s, when neonoir like Twin Peaks and Reservoir Dogs was all the rage, and managed to score some radio airplay and MTV exposure despite the dominance of gr­unge­, but Morphine never developed a large mainstream fan base. Director Mark Shuman is so enamored with his subject that he blames the band's commercial failure on record labels and dim-witted radio listeners, though Sandman and crew never lived up to the promise of their dusky and elegiac sophomore album, Cure for Pain (1993). Exhaustive and lively, this also approaches hagiography; newcomers will learn plenty about Morphine but may be disappointed if they seek out all the band's music. —Tal Rosenberg 91 min. Shuman attends the screening. Fri 4/17, 7 PM, Logan, $12.

Never Release My Fist screens Sun 4/19, 9 PM.
  • Never Release My Fist screens Sun 4/19, 9 PM.

Never Release My Fist Wuhan, an industrial city with a population exceeding ten million, became the center of gravity for China's punk scene in the 90s. Inspired by grunge titans Nirvana and junked cassette tapes exported from the U.S., Chinese punks used their minimal funds and considerable talents to build a vital musical community, albeit one so small that a single drummer briefly had to split his time over five different bands. Never Release My Fist chronicles the criss-crossing lives of the major players, and it excels when director Shuibo Wang focuses on the scene's rebellious godfather, SMZB front man Wu Wei. He provides vague anecdotes of the friction he feels in China; the static shots used in nearly every interview undermine his colorful tales of an unstable lifestyle, but any doubts about his credibility are vanquished by the scene of him and his bandmates fishing through garbage in search of edible food. In English and subtitled Mandarin. Leor Galil 87 min. Sun 4/19, 9 PM, Logan, $12.

Revenge of the Mekons screens Fri 4/17, 6:45 PM.
  • Revenge of the Mekons screens Fri 4/17, 6:45 PM.

[Recommended] Revenge of the Mekons This in-depth documentary follows the Mekons' 40-year metamorphosis from crusty, drunken schoolboys in Leeds, England, making a racket in Gang of Four's rehearsal space on borrowed instruments, to internationally based alt-country pioneers. Director Joe Angio weaves together reminiscences from the band's animated and eclectic members as well as colleagues, friends, and superfans (a couple of whom have Jon Langford's dirty jeans hanging up in their trophy room next to Joey Ramone's). The Mekons made Chicago their home base in the early 90s, and Langford and Sally Timms, two of the most visible members, still live here, so there are mentions of Langford's side projects and of such local haunts as the Hideout. The highlight of the movie is a riotous, high-energy performance recorded at legendary Logan Square shithole the Mutiny. Luca Cimarusti 95 min. Angio attends the screening. Fri 4/17, 6:45 PM, Logan. F

Shake the Dust screens Thu 4/16, 9:25 PM.
  • Shake the Dust screens Thu 4/16, 9:25 PM.

Shake the Dust Director Adam Sjöberg records breakdancers in Yemen, Uganda, Colombia, and Cambodia, zipping around the globe too frequently to meaningfully explore the lives of the kids doing all those windmills and head spins. About a third of the movie is over before he gets past the dancing footage and vague references to social turmoil in each country, though the dancers he interviews compensate for the jarring shifts in location and the general lack of narrative flow. Participants from Colombia and Cambodia are the most forthcoming, with stories of drug abuse and growing up in broken homes, but their lives take a backseat to Sjöberg's staged shots of sick moves atop dusty mountaintops and in overcrowded streets. In English and subtitled Spanish, Khmer, Luganda, and Arabic. Leor Galil 108 min. Thu 4/16, 9:25 PM, Logan, $12.

The Sound of Silent Film Festival Access Contemporary Music presents its tenth annual program of contemporary silent films with live musical accompaniment; for program details see acmusic.org/node/2009. Sun 4/19, 7:30 PM, Music Box.

Teenage Ghost Punk screens Fri 4/16, 9:15 PM.
  • Teenage Ghost Punk screens Fri 4/16, 9:15 PM.

Teenage Ghost Punk Written and directed by Oak Park lawyer Mike Cramer, this indie initially takes itself about as seriously as the silly title might suggest. A single mother settles her teenage son and daughter into a home in Oak Park, only to discover that it's haunted by the ghost of a guitar-toting, 17-year-old punk rocker (played by Cramer's son). A few mysterious knocks and overturned photos later, the daughter is hanging out with the deceased, learning about punk albums—as opposed to digital pop singles—and eventually falling for his leather jacket enough to ask him to homecoming. An icky love triangle develops between mother, daughter, and spirit, but this still has some laughs, thanks mainly to a neighboring gay couple and a ghost-hunting crew calling themselves SPIT (Super Paranormal Investigation Team). Kevin Warwick A Q&A with Cramer follows the screening. Fri 4/16, 9:15 PM, Logan, $12.

Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents screens Sun 4/19, 3:35 PM.
  • Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents screens Sun 4/19, 3:35 PM.

[Recommended] Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents "There is no true story of the Residents," reads an onscreen epigram from Simpsons creator Matt Groening in this documentary about the experimental band and multimedia collective. "Our knowledge is incomplete. Anything is possible." Because the band members have managed to remain anonymous over the course of 50 years together, it's hard to say how much of this movie is true, but like the Residents' records, videos, and stage shows, it's a wild, twisted ride. Director Don Hardy follows the members on their journey from artistic outsiders in small-town Louisiana to world-renowned weirdos, drawing on interviews with high-profile fans (Groening, Penn Jillette, Les Claypool of Primus) and a group of old dudes who witnessed the group's formation and development (and who may be uncostumed Residents themselves). Luca Cimarusti 87 min. Sun 4/19, 3:35 PM, Logan, $12.  v

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