I'm Almost Not Crazy: Outsider Cinema by Hollywood Insiders

Date Film Time
1/13 It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. at the Music Box Theatre 7:30pm
1/20 Double Feature—We Can't Go Home Again and Don't Expect Too Much 7 pm
1/27 F for Fake 7 pm
2/3 The Last Movie 7 pm
2/10 Love Streams 7 pm
2/17 Double Feature—I'm Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes—The Man and His Work and The American Dreamer 7 pm
2/24 The World's Greatest Sinner 7 pm
3/2 Mikey and Nicky 7 pm

This series celebrates a curious brand of outsider art film–narrative features by Hollywood insiders that bear resemblance to “Art Brut” or the personally invented forms of untrained outsider artists. Similar to the traditions of surrealism and Dada, the films in this series arose from spontaneous impulse and personal invention, made without regard for rules or convention...or whether anyone might think their makers had gone crazy.

John Cassavetes (Love Streams), Nicholas Ray (We Can’t Go Home Again), and Orson Welles (F for Fake), revealed themselves nakedly in films scorned by some as resembling home movies or student films. Elaine May (Mikey and Nicky), already on the margins as one of the few female directors in Hollywood, brashly used her access to invent a nearly unprecedented mode of filmmaking as expensive to the studio as it was expressive for her. Timothy Carey (The World’s Greatest Sinner) was more of a true outsider helped just far enough inside by his work with Stanley Kubrick and Cassavetes to be able to produce robust and improbable films. In a surrealist mode, Dennis Hopper (The Last Movie) aimed to view his own medium afresh through the lens of non-Western culture, and Crispin Glover (It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.) has embraced collaboration with disabled people, perhaps the most "outside" of all.

Most of these films built reputations through rumor and notoriety rather than availability, in some cases by the artist's design, and in others by virtue of viewers’ discomfort with their strangeness. "Our songs will be silenced," Orson Welles reminds us in F for Fake. "But what of it? Go on singing."—Spencer Parsons

Series curated by RTVF Professor, Spencer Parsons, in collaboration with Mimi Brody, Block Cinema.

It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. at the Music Box Theatre

Friday, January 13, 2012 7:30 PM
(Crispin Hellion Glover and David Brothers, 2007, USA, 35mm, 74 min.)

Copresented by Block Cinema and the Music Box Theatre

Even measured against his eccentric performances in feature films and on talk shows, Crispin Glover's work as a director remains certain to surprise and provoke. Directed in collaboration with production designer David Brothers, It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. is a semi-autobiographical, psycho-sexual exploitation film fantasy written by and starring Steven C. Stewart as a man with severe cerebral palsy whose physical condition can't stop him from being a monstrous lady killer (in every sense). Ben Kenigsberg of Time Out Chicago called it "as surprising for its visual boldness as it is for its sincerity."

Presented in person by Crispin Hellion Glover with a live performance of his Big Slide Show at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 North Southport Avenue, Chicago. Special Admission price applies. No Block Cinema passes or vouchers accepted.

We Can't Go Home Again

Friday, January 20, 2012 7:00 PM
(Nicholas Ray, 1973–79, USA, 35mm, 93 min.)

Newly Restored Print!

Showing as part of a double feature with Don't Expect Too Much

Simultaneously documenting and (meta)fictionalizing its own making, We Can't Go Home Again finds Nicholas Ray playing himself, making a feature film with his students at Binghamton University. Fully imbibing the moment's countercultural ferment, Ray experimented wildly with narrative, performance, and form. Embracing multi-screen techniques and video distortions (courtesy of equipment borrowed from Nam June Paik) he groped toward a new cinematic language to reach this wild, inspiring hybrid of swan song and “student film.”

Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive. Restored by The Nicholas Ray Foundation with EYE Film Institute Netherlands and the Academy Film Archive.

Don't Expect Too Much

Friday, January 20, 2012 7:00 PM
(Susan Ray, 2011, USA, video, 70 min.)

Showing as part of a double feature with We Can't Go Home Again

Susan Ray’s documentary Don’t Expect Too Much illuminates Ray’s and his students’ process making We Can’t Go Home Again, capturing the personal and artistic troubles that both drove the project and hindered its completion. Revealing the thought processes behind some of Ray’s wildest ideas, it depicts an artist growing more radical and experimental as he neared the end of his life, as well as the human costs of collaborating on a labor of love. "The fact that [We Can’t Go Home Again] has been invisible for decades and is only now becoming available makes a viewing—and its release—all the more essential."—Richard Brody, The New Yorker

F for Fake

Friday, January 27, 2012 7:00 PM
(Orson Welles, 1973, France, 35mm, 89 min.)

This exuberant essay film weaves together notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory, fake Howard Hughes biographer Clifford Irving, the War of the Worlds radio hoax, and even a mythic Picasso heist, into a both joyful and melancholy rumination on art and human purpose. In full magician mode, Orson Welles conjures a film from spare parts, questionable coverage, and outright bluff, taking epicurean delight in the filmmaking process itself. With F for Fake, Welles also tenderly forges a self-portrait of an artist commonly thought to be at career bottom actually reaching the top of his game.

The Last Movie

Friday, February 3, 2012 7:00 PM
(Dennis Hopper, 1971, USA, 35mm, 108 min.)

Levels of "reality" collide in this wildly nonlinear film concerning a stuntman (Hopper) who stays behind in Peru when the Sam Fuller-directed Western he's working on falls apart due to the accidental death of its star (Dean Stockwell). Loitering in the jungle, he later discovers the native Peruvians shooting their own movie on the abandoned film sets: the wicker "cameras" may be fake, but the violence they "film" is all too real. This hotly anticipated follow-up to Easy Rider was the toast of the Venice Film Festival but at home provoked popular and critical scorn unequaled until Heaven's Gate, and halted Hopper's career until the mid '80s. "The Last Movie is an act of visionary aggression that desecrates Hollywood's universal church."—J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive

Love Streams

Friday, February 10, 2012 7:00 PM
(John Cassavetes, 1984, USA, 35mm, 141 min.)

Adapted from a play by Ted Allan, Love Streams follows a brother (Cassavetes) and his sister (Gena Rowlands) as they each navigate very different means of emotional escape: he repudiates love for casual sex, while she obsessively dives into romantic delusions of intimacy with those she loves. Funniest at its most melodramatic and saddest when its characters strive for levity, Love Streams offers both a summation of a career and detours into new aesthetic territory for a filmmaker who’d just been given (erroneously) six months to live.

I’m Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes—The Man and His Work

Friday, February 17, 2012 7:00 PM
(Michael Ventura, 1984, USA, 16mm, 60 min.)

Showing as part of a double feature with The American Dreamer

When Cannon Films commissioned a “making of” doc for Love Streams, John Cassavetes responded by tapping journalist Michael Ventura to make it, because the writer happened to be around already, and not incidentally because he'd never directed a film. No mere promotional featurette, the result is a warm and thoughtful warts-and-all view of a turbulent family of artists that demystifies the director's celebrated, often-misunderstood methods of improvisation.

The American Dreamer

Friday, February 17, 2012 7:00 PM
(L.M. Kit Carson and Lawrence Schiller, 1971, USA, 16mm to video, 90 min.)

Showing as part of a double feature with I’m Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes—The Man and His Work

The American Dreamer documents Dennis Hopper's strange days in Taos, NM, while editing The Last Movie. Under the influence of his monster success with Easy Rider and a counterculture he had helped shape, Hopper shoots target practice, wanders naked in the suburbs, and gathers an ad-hoc harem of hippie girls, while dodging anxious producers from Universal Pictures for over a year. The film leaves it to the audience to sort out an iconoclast director’s ambition and inspiration from naïveté and unrealistic expectations—in both an artistic process and in his life. What it adds up to is an unflinching look at a mythologized slice of America—and its dreamers—circa 1970.

Note: This film includes nudity and adult content that may be inappropriate for younger audiences.

The World's Greatest Sinner

Friday, February 24, 2012 7:00 PM
(Timothy Carey, 1962, USA, 35mm, 82 min.)

Narrated by a boa constrictor, this crackpot tale of a would-be saint concerns a disaffected insurance executive (Carey) whose midlife crisis turns blasphemous when he quits his job, declares himself God, and becomes a rock-n-roll-political messiah, evangelizing to the nation with a shambolic, eruptive stage act that must be seen to be believed. Marked by a star turn from Carey that’s less performance than possession, the film also features songs and scoring by a then-unknown Frank Zappa. "There’s more to the film than its camp fizz, namely real passion."—Manohla Dargis, LA Weekly

Mikey and Nicky

Friday, March 2, 2012 7:00 PM
(Elaine May, 1976, USA, 35mm, 119 min.)

Convinced a local mobster is out to kill him, John Cassavetes’ Nicky calls boyhood friend Mikey (Peter Falk) for help, only to question his buddy’s loyalty as they make a picaresque tour of the Philadelphia nightscape. Shooting a jaw-dropping 1.4 million feet of film to capture every possible inch of improvisatory mania between Cassavetes and Falk, Elaine May then spent over a year in the editing room (to Paramount’s dismay) crafting this jazzy, spasmodic duet for a pair of voluble racketeers. "A profound, unsentimental portrait of male friendship—and its impossibility."—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader