9:27 AM EDT, October 4, 2013
This column is not about the 49th Chicago International Film Festival. We'll be writing about that Sunday, and then again next week, closer to Thursday's opening night.
But here's an interesting fact regarding this year's festival: Not a single feature or short film, out of nearly 200 total, will be screened on actual film through a projector. It's 100 percent digitized.
Meantime, you have the Northwest Chicago Film Society's valiant, savvily curated efforts in the realm of 35 and 16 mm projection. Friday at the society's new home, the Patio Theater at 6008 W. Irving Park Road, a restored 35 mm print of a wild Chicago artifact is yours for the taking.
It's "Goldstein," the homegrown 1964 feature film debut of director Philip Kaufman, who went on to such fine and rangy work as the '78 remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Right Stuff" and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." Co-directed by Benjamin Manaster, "Goldstein" is utterly of its time, both in what it captures on screen — a host of wonderful Chicago locations, including one urban panorama dominated by the nearly completed Marina City towers — and in Kaufman's topical, freewheeling visual approach.
In the early '60s, the French new wave had crashed all over the globe. Kaufman, his wife and their son were living in various European cities for part of that time, while Kaufman struggled with his Great American Novel. Then they came back to Chicago and decided to make a movie, inspired in part by Martin Buber's collection "Takes of the Hasidim" — in particular a folk tale about an Elijah-like prophet. "Goldstein" was born.
With visions of Godard, Cassavetes and "The Connection" dancing in their Hyde Park heads, University of Chicago graduate Kaufman and company shot "Goldstein" for $40,000 in friends' and relatives' apartments, on the "L" trains, downtown in the Loop, on the lakefront. The wide-eyed Hasidic vagabond (played by Lou Gilbert), seen emerging from Lake Michigan as if willed into being by one of the other characters, takes the viewer on one track; meantime, on another, the travails of a young pregnant woman set off on another track. (Improv maven Del Close plays one of the least trustworthy medical professionals in indie film history.)
"Goldstein" is all over the place in every way. Some of the shots are marvels: At one point, Kaufman's camera travels underneath a man running beneath the "L" tracks, and the perspective is arresting even today. This is America, and Chicago, as seen through a darkly comic lens, with the Vietnam war just off-camera. (At one point, an observation telescope swivels toward the camera, and Kaufman adds an eerie machine-gun sound effect.)
It's a time capsule that, seen today, feels like a remnant from the end of the '50s and the beginning of the true, explosive '60s.
Kaufman's debut film didn't make much noise in America, but the film got into the Cannes Film Festival, where it shared a critics' prize with Bertolucci's "Before the Revolution." That did the trick for Kaufman, whose cast includes Second City alum Jack Burns and a cameo by Nelson Algren. The latter's improvised monologue has little to do with anything else in "Goldstein" except its 100 percent Chicago-ness, which skips from scenes shot around the Union Stockyards to the McVickers Theater marquee, screaming out the title "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."
7:30 p.m. Friday, Patio Theater, northwestfilmsociety.org. Co-presented with Chicago Film Archives.
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