Our First-Impression-Based Recommendations for the Chicago Underground Film Festival

For those who find SxSW’s film offerings a bit too safe or blasé, the Chicago Underground Film Festival also begins this week. This celebration of all things experimental and independent from around the world is now in its 20th year, and begins tonight at one of the best places in the city to watch a movie, the Logan Theatre. Experimental film can be pretty hit-and-miss, but many of the offerings looked pretty intriguing. Here are a few selections that caught our eye (based on first impressions); a full schedule can be found at the CUFF website.

Thursday, March 7th

Shorts Program: “Spectrum”: A handful of deeper observations of objects can be found in this nicely varied hour-and-a-half collection of shorts, including Nellie Kluz’s Gold Party, a look at the gold industry up close as the precious metal is processed; Cameron Gibson’s 10-19 Return to Base, a response to a History Channel series on the Vietnam War that “searches for empathy within representational clichés” and Bill Brown’s Memorial Land, a short tour of unofficial and contested memorials to the September 11th attacks from around the country.

Ape: Joel Portykus directs this “ultra-low budget” look into the mind of Trevor Newandyke, a failed comedian with a punk sense of humor and an appetite for destruction, who decides to barter with the Devil. A portrait of the artist as a young man, cracked, doused in grain alcohol and set ablaze that seems equally capable of resonating and shocking. Paired with Kat Candler’s short Black Metal.

School of Change: Jennet Thomas directs this “sci-fi experimental musical film” with elements of reality, high school stereotypes and Lewis Carroll. According to the program, the film is “inspired by traditions of absurd British satire,” so if you’re into that sort of thing, here’s your film Paired with Alee Peoples’ Them Oracles.

Friday, March 8th

Retrospective Shorts Program: Summarize Proust Competition: CUFF founder and former director Jay Bliznick offers his favorite selections from the early years of the festival. Not your average #Rememberthe90s session.

Pig Death Machine: Festival favorites John Moritsugu and Amy Davis return with a science-gone-wrong tale where a “brainless brunette” becomes a “dangerous genius” and a punk botanist develops the power of talking to plants. One of the most enticing elements of this selection is the soundtrack, which features Deerhoof, Dirty Beaches and Moritsugu and Davis’ own band, Low on High, who are also playing the following evening at nearby Township. Paired with Kent Lambert’s Wrest.

Saturday, March 9th

Taken By Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis: You may not recognize Storm Thorgerson’s name, but you will certainly recognize his work from record collections and college dorm rooms the world over. Several generations of musical luminaries come together in Roddy Bogawa’s documentary about Thorgerson’s iconic album album covers, including Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy.

A Band Called Death: If you thought finding Sugar Man was a feat, you should see A Band Called Death. Before punk, there was a band called Death, who not only played music unlike anything the Motown and disco-loving populace had heard (but would be echoed later by the likes of Bad Brains and the Sex Pistols) but exemplified DIY and punk ethics in their recording process as well. They never even released an album, but their demo tape is earning them a new generation of fans. Jeff Howlet and Mark Covino chronicle their story and their journey to receiving the recognition they deserve for inventing punk before punk was invented.

Sunday, March 10th

Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression: Max Good chronicles a battle between graffiti artists and street artists and an unlikely enemy: the “Silver Buff,” a vigilante dedicated to eradicating graffiti, exploring the complexities of what is considered art and what motivates people to create and destroy graffiti works. Paired with Bryan Boyce’s short Road Show.

Watch the trailers for CUFF from Jennifer Reeder and Bryan Boyce, featuring a choir of teenage girls driven to hysteria by festivals and a disturbing take on infomercials, respectively, below.

Ten Perfect Rainy-Day Songs

It’s a particularly crappy day in New York with what feels like a unending downpour already ruining our happy hour plans. With our socks and pants still soaked from running the four blocks from the subway to our office, it’s hard to forget the terrible weather outside as we sit in the toasty BlackBook offices. Never fear! We shall order our lunches to be delivered (and, yes, we will give generous tips), and we’ll spend the day listening to our favorite rainy-day songs. Come on, gang! Don’t let the miserable weather outside ruin your day! 

Garbage – "Only Happy When It Rains"

Gene Kelly – "Singin’ in the Rain"

The Carpenters – "Rainy Days and Mondays"

Elvis Presley – "Kentucky Rain"

Led Zeppelin – "Fool in the Rain"

Bob Dylan – "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall"

Creedence Clearwater Revival – "Who’ll Stop the Rain"

Adele – "Set Fire to the Rain"

Tom Waits – "Rain Dogs"

Eurythmics – "Here Comes the Rain Again"

Madonna – Rain"

Getting Mad & Going Hard With Jay Baruchel

Jay Baruchel, Canada’s most famous skinny white guy, grew up in an ice hockey family. “I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Montrealer, so the Montreal Canadiens are as close to a religion as I get,” he explains. After making a career playing adenoidal sidekicks in movies like Million Dollar Baby, Knocked Up, and Tropic Thunder, this month marks Baruchel’s debut as a screenwriter with Goon, a brutal comedy about an ice hockey enforcer, played by Seann William Scott. “The film is my love letter to a deeply misunderstood profession” says Baruchel. It also serves as a love letter to ice hockey fighting, the deeply misunderstood nexus of hot blood, cold ice, and steely nerves. Like any good love letter, this one comes accompanied by song. “A lot of the music I picked or wrote into the script,” says Baruchel. We asked him for the playlist that turns Baruchel into a brute, a killer, and an enforcer.

“CAN’T GET THE BEST OF ME” by Cypress Hill
In 2000, Cypress Hill released a two-disc concept album, Skull & Bones. Skull was hip hop; Bones was metal. “Can’t Get the Best of Me” is on Bones. It is just sort of an anthem to not being fucked with. It’s muscular, with a badass beat and a bass line that’s mean as balls. It stirs the blood in a huge way.
Operative Lyric: “My rhyme style make ‘em turn dropper / My concepts come sick like Dennis Hopper”

“YOUR FUCKIN’ HEAD SPLIT” by Necro
Necro is an amazing New York rapper. He’s been one of my favorite artists for over a decade, and I just wrote my favorite music into the script. Judging by the name, you can fill in the blanks. If “Can’t Get The Best of Me” is an anthem for not being fucked with, this is a love letter to fucking with people.
Operative Lyric: “If you’re inhibited I’ll piss in your syphilis. Incubus.”

“MARCH OF CAMBREADTH” by Heather Alexander
Let’s switch gears to traditional Celtic music. There is ten days worth of Celtic music on my computer. It’s impossible to hear this music and not want to fight a war. This one is by a transsexual named Heather Alexander. Now she performs as Alexander James Adams. It’s incredibly simple and has just amazing words. When I march out to my doom and death, this is what I want playing.
Operative Lyric: “Axes flash, broadsword swing / Shining armour’s piercing ring / Horses run with polished shield / Fight those bastards till they yield”

“IMMIGRANT SONG” by Led Zeppelin
This is one of the most badass rock ‘n’ roll songs ever recorded in the history of recording anything. Led Zep found a way of condensing all of the hammer of the gods into a two-and-a half-minute rock song. I’d put it toe- to-toe with anything anybody’s ever done. Honestly, this song has more heart and balls and filth to it than anything anybody’s recording now. I love it.
Operative Lyric: “We come from the land of the ice and snow / From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow”

“WE WILL ROCK YOU” by Queen (Live In Montreal)
This song has two distinct versions: the chant, which you hear at stadia, and the fast one, which is more rare. But the fast version— and the best version is from their Live in Montreal album—is a precursor to speed metal. It’s just theatrical, muscular, and operatic as any of their other shit, but with this crazy purity of intention.
Operative Lyric: “You got blood on your face / You big disgrace / Waving your banner all over the place”

“BRING YOUR WHOLE CREW” by DMX
No getting-pumped music would be complete without at least one song by DMX. All I’ll say about this one is that it starts with the immortal words, “I’ve got blood on my hands and there’s no remorse. I’ve got blood on my dick ‘cause I fucked a corpse.” The first time I heard that I thought, “Holy fuck. That is a real point of view.”
Operative Lyric: See above.

“DESTROY 2000 YEARS OF CULTURE” by Atari Teenage Riot
When I was 15 and heavily into video games, I could not have possibly found a more fun hook to mouth the words to on the bus than this song by ATR. It is just so much meaner than anything on the radio or on television right now.
Operative Lyric: “Your freedom to speak is a freedom to lie / Whatever it takes to change…I’m up for it!”

“MORE HUMAN THAN HUMAN” by White Zombie
This song combines synth with the sound of a porn star moaning. One thinks of these as part and parcel of industrial music, but Zombie started all that. Also, the name: “More Human Than Human.” What the fuck does that even mean? It makes me feel faceless hatred with no name. I love it.
Operative Lyric: “One more life, fucker / I ain’t done, yeah”

“ULTRA” by KMFDM
There’s a theory that KMFDM stands for Kill Mother Fuckin’ Depeche Mode. The group was industrial when industrial was the new hipster music. I first heard this song as musical accompaniment to a trailer for Ghost in the Shell. You take KMFDM and put it to anime, and it’s just dork semen.
Operative Lyric: “Keep it away from the fire unless you want it to burn/It burns, wildfire / Give to me.”

“ENGEL” by Rammstein
Whistling is hard to do in a badass song, but this chorus by German industrial band Rammstein manages to use a whistle without sounding pussy. It embodies everything Rammstein is: grandiose, epic, ridiculous, and just badass as fuck.
Operative Lyric: “Erst wenn die Wolken schlafengehn / Kann man uns am Himmel sehn”

“SET FIRE TO THE FACE ON FIRE” by The Blood Brothers
The Blood Brothers sound like children’s television characters on speed. This song starts with a battle cry of “Fire, fire, fire” in a very high falsetto. They have no business being as heavy as this for being hipster indie rock kids, but they are.
Operative Lyric: “I’m drinking cement like it’s going out of style, style, style/Those cold hooks, cemetery claws / Raking out the infant’s jaws”

“MACHINE HEAD” by Bush
I’m going to end on a really lame sort of mid-nineties white boy note with this one. But I guarantee you there are a bunch old dudes right now who play guitar for a living and the first song they learned was this one. I’m not entirely sure what he’s singing about, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t imagine myriad sure what he’s singing about, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t imagine myriad scenarios where I was marching into the Octagon to the sound of this song. scenarios where I was marching into the Octagon to the sound of this song.
Operative Lyric: “Deaf dumb and thirty / Starting to deserve this / Leaning on my conscience wall”

Photo by Brian Bowen Smith
Illustrated by Benjamin Stumpf