Friday, August 15, 2008

Vive Cine-File Chicago

Over the last couple months something has become clear to me: the excitement I used to feel every week picking up the Chicago Reader's film section? I now get that buzz out of reading the film coverage coming from Cine-File Chicago. It is absolutely the most exciting single source covering non-mainstream film in Chicago. I can no longer make plans for the weekend until I read it.

It's an aptly named web site, as the writing in their indispensable "Cine-List: a weekly guide to alternative cinema" is mainly going to be of interest to those of us who dig art films, foreign films, independent films, classic films, and experimental films. (Yes, yes, more more more!) Having completely freed themselves from covering the same films everyone else writes about was a shrewd move. It gives them a focus no one else has. I'm regularly surprised each Friday morning to check my inbox (sign up here) and find that certain films are playing in Chicago that I had no idea about--and I'm someone who has film calendars covering his refrigerator.

When I first started reading the Reader, lead critic Jonathan Rosenbaum (who I know I mention ad nauseum) was an invigorating champion for alternative cinema, and I'd never read any critic like him before. He still is such a champion in retirement, and I visit his blog regularly. The current staff of the Chicago Reader is also excellent. I'd argue they're one of the best teams in the country. Kudos, for example, to Andrea Gronvall, whose work has been featured a bit more often and who writes judiciously and with an interesting eye. Lead critic J.R. Jones is a fine critic, and I am in awe of the way he balances fairness, intelligence, reliable taste and a sense of humor (I like the pun that smartly ends his review of the dreadful looking What We Do Is Secret, for example). But I have to confess I miss the more pugnacious style of Rosenbaum. He's arguably borderline pretentious, but in taking film so seriously (too seriously? never!) he makes it exciting and interesting. And that's what many of the writers of Cine-File capture in their own individualistic ways.

Just read the reviews of Alexandra, The Color of Pomegranates, Frownland and Elegy of Life in the especially fine August 8th edition and tell me you aren't excited to see one of these films. I made it two of them (wanted to see all four), and I have to say I'm very glad I did. If I'd only read the Tribune or Rotten Tomatoes or the New York Times or even The Reader, I may not have gotten to both those films, and I certainly wouldn't have even noticed that the latter film was playing in town.

Back to J.R. Jones who, again, I really do like. (He's miles above the film critics of TimeOut Chicago, for example, blech.) Today I noticed this post from Creative Loafing (the company that bought the Reader), which says Jones's reviews will be used throughout the chain. It sounds like a smart economic move, and he's more than up to the job, but I also feel for the locals who are going to miss their old freelance writer. It may also explain why Jones's writing is becoming a bit more Times-like. His reviews will be run throughout the CL chain, so I'm betting he's having to focus more on films that play broadly and not just in Chicago. Interesting. Good for him, but is it good for us? And The Reader? Yup, I still read it. It's invaluable. But they're missing key alternative films here and there, and it's definitely Cine-File's gain.



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