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Out of the Vault

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Several months ago, when Chicagoan Jim Finn discovered that the Chicago Public Library was closing its 16-millimeter film collection--not surprising given declining use and the cost of upkeep--he started doing everything he could to rally public interest in preserving this material, doing something comparable to what writer Nicholson Baker has recently done for newspapers. Screening this weekend is the second of two extended programs showcasing a small portion of the library's collection--a rich array of material ranging from documentaries to children's films to one of Luis Bunuel's best Mexican features. It looks like a compendium of priceless, irreplaceable work. All programs will be held at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, and admission is free; for more information, call 312-346-3278 (recorded information) or 312-744-6630. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1

Cartoons and French Boys

Five short films: the Disney cartoon Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968, 25 min.), the classic Albert Lamorisse children's film The Red Balloon (1956, 34 min.), Fat Albert: Junk Food (1976, 14 min.), Madeline (1965, 10 min.), and Wonder of Dolphins (1974, 11 min.). (Jonathan Rosenbaum) (1:30)

The Hobbit

The Tolkien tale, animated for television by the penny-pinching team of Rankin and Bass (1977). With the voices of Orson Bean, Cyril Ritchard, John Huston, and Richard Boone. 77 min. (Dave Kehr) (2:45)

Out of the Swamps

Four films, shown in conjunction with the Chicago Herpetological Society: Prowlers of the Everglades (1952, 32 min.), Animal Families: The Frog (1986, 11 min.), Animals of the South American Jungle (1974, 26 min.), and Spiders: Aggression and Mating (1974, 17 min.). (4:15)

Crime and Leisure in America, program one

Four short films: Soccer USA (1981, 25 min.), She Drinks a Little (1981, 30 min.), Porpoise With a Purpose (1968, 24 min.), and Lawrence Welk (1949, 9 min.). (8:00)

Crime and Leisure in America, program two

Five short films: Wonder of Dolphins, Shoplifting: Sharon's Story (1977, 25 min.), Interviews With My Lai Veterans (1970, 22 min.), Black Music in America: The Seventies (1979, 32 min.), and Glassmakers of Herat (1980, 25 min.), the last film made in Herat, Afghanistan, before the Soviet invasion. (9:30)

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 2

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

A profoundly sexist and eminently hummable 1954 CinemaScope musical--supposedly set in the great outdoors, but mainly filmed on soundstages--with some terrific athletic Michael Kidd choreography and some better than average direction by Stanley Donen. Based on a story by Stephen Vincent Benet (who took the plot from the rape of the Sabine women), it concerns six fur-trapping brothers who go to town to find wives after big brother Howard Keel marries Jane Powell; they wind up kidnapping their spouses-to-be. A fascinating glimpse of the kind of patriarchal rape fantasies that were considered "cute" and good-natured at the time, performed to the music of Johnny Mercer and Gene DePaul. With Russ Tamblyn, Virginia Gibson, and Tommy Rall. 103 min. (Jonathan Rosenbaum) (1:30)

Mexican Bus Ride

By common consent, this 1951 feature is Luis Bunuel's brightest, most pleasant film. A young man, called away on his wedding day to settle the question of his dying mother's legacy, experiences a delightfully nutty bus ride that takes him not only back home but to a new kind of maturity. The surrealism is not forced or obvious, but, as in all Bunuel films, the philosophical jabs are there. 80 min. (Don Druker) (3:45)

Crime and Leisure in America, program three

Four short films: Death in the West: The Marlboro Story (1976, 32 min.), The Klan, Legacy of Hate in America (1983, 30 min.), Blue Dashiki (1969, 14 min.), and Black Music in America: From Then to Now (1971, 28 min.). (5:30)

Elvis: '68 Comeback

A key moment in the Presley myth, this December 1968 TV special marked the King's return to form after nine years of weak recordings and laughable films. The singer gobbled enough amphetamines to squeeze himself into a skintight black leather suit, and his sidemen from the glory days, guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana, were welcomed back to the fold for a loose-limbed jam session that unexpectedly became the heart and soul of the program. True believers usually cite this as the final flowering of Presley's outlaw persona, but the choreographed sequences, directed by Steve Binder and based on Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck's 1909 fable The Blue Bird, are closer to the turgid drama of his Vegas shtick. 76 min. (J.R. Jones) On the same program, Golden Eagle: No Natural Enemy (1972, 22 min.) and Angel Dust (1980, 25 min.). (8:00)

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