Music Box to host independent film retrospectives


There is a lot to admire in the Chicago film scene and its history. It might also be safe to say that the scene in the city as a whole is epitomized in the form of the historic Music Box Theatre. Chicago’s famed theatrical landmark is known for so many amazing things, primarily its very broad and diverse programming.


The Music Box screens films as old as the works of Griffith and Murnau to the latest arthouse hits like Pawel Pawlikowski’s  “Cold War” and Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria.” They screen films from all around the world across both film and digital. And there is one guarantee with all that the Music Box presents: it will always at the very least be interesting and well worth your time.


As Kyle Westphal, programming associate at the Music Box, put it, “Our members and our audience are generally looking for a mix of new and old, familiar and unknown.”


It’s actually quite rare for a theater to be both a major first-run exhibitor and consistent venue for quality repertory programming,” Westphal added. “Luckily the Music Box is both and I think the two halves really compliment each other.”


This March the Music Box is hosting two avant-garde retrospectives that both compliment each other in representing the beauty of having such a theater in Chicago. These two retrospectives are based around celebrated German auteur Christian Petzold and the bizarre rule-breaking punk of American independent cinema, Harmony Korine.


Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski in “Transit.” (Image courtesy of IMDB.)

The Petzold series is a bit of a trimmed retrospective, screening four of his films leading up to the release of his brand new masterpiece “Transit,” which is distributed by Music Box Films. The series includes “Barbara,” “Phoenix,” “Yella,” and “Jerichow.” The Music Box is showing these films so that it “hopefully prepares people for ‘Transit’ and also put Petzold’s latest film in dialogue with his earlier efforts,” Westphal said.


All of the films in the series are rather recent releases (the oldest of the bunch is “Yella” from 2007) which might make you think they would be easy to get a hold of. Not the case, apparently.


“Sometimes it’s the most recent films that are actually the hardest to locate…distributors go in and out business all the time,” Westphal said. “You have to chase down rights and prints…it’s always an adventure.”


Westphal recounted that after the rights were acquired for “Barbara,” the print has to be pulled out of “deep storage” somewhere in Minneapolis.


The Korine retrospective, titled “Don’t Rest on Your Laurel & Hardy,” is a bit of a personal venture for the Music Box’s newest programming manager, William Morris, who joined the Music Box crew this past January after relocating from Los Angeles. “Don’t Rest on Your Laurel & Hardy” is Morris’ first big programming venture at the Music Box.

Matthew McConaughey in “The Beach Bum.” (Image courtesy of IMDB.)

“This is a sort of limits test to see if these things work and the response we get,” Morris said. “[Korine] is someone who is really interested in exploring the extremes of humanity.”


Korine’s work has always connected with Morris and it started with Korine’s debut film “Gummo.”


“I grew up in a Southern Illinois town of about 600 people,” Morris said. “I was a very angry little kid and when I saw ‘Gummo,’ it opened my mind and I thought ‘Oh shit, there are stories here.’”


This helped Morris find a semblance of pride in his hometown which he started to label “Gummo-lite.”


Morris’ goal with this retrospective is not just to celebrate the work of Korine leading up to the release of “The Beach Bum” but to also make an attempt to fight “gatekeeper and edge-lord culture” that emphasizes his films’ messed up and darker content.


“My whole goal here is just to get people to take another chance and see the beauty of his work,” Morris said.


People will get their chance to see the beauty of Korine’s work all throughout this week as the Music Box runs 35mm screenings of his films, shorts, and music videos. Chicagoland residents also have a chance to see the man himself on Monday March 18 with a special preview screening of “The Beach Bum” where the filmmaker will attend for a moderated conversation.


“Transit” is now playing at the Music Box. There will be 35mm screenings of “Jerichow” to follow next Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24.