Guest Picks: Lori Felker
‘Enjoy with milk or Coke:’ Felker finds a lot of life in Fandor films.
An educator, a programmer, a compulsive collaborator and a prolific maker, Lori Felker is part of what makes Chicago’s film scene so vibrant. Although her films (like Mere Mystery, pictured above) are firmly planted in the world of the avant-garde, Felker’s interests and influences are wide-ranging, as evidenced by her selection of favorite films from Fandor’s catalogue.
Says Felker, “I love to pick things (and refer to each and every one of them as my absolute favorite), but I hate to narrow things down. After being asked to create this five picks list for Fandor, I started to search through the categories, at times randomly, at times methodically. What I ended up with are five films that jumped out at me and a Fandor queue that has a ton of movies waiting in line for me to have a week off.” Here they are, in her own words:
1. Import/Export (2007), directed by Ulrich Seidl
“I was so excited to see this on Fandor, I immediately put it on my list of picks. I saw this film (while I was projecting it) in 2007 at the European Union Film Festival in Chicago. Its characters pulled me in. I went back and watched it in the theater. It has stuck with me, so I thought I’d stick with it. The characters blend with and push through their surroundings. We watch one character make her way from Ukraine towards Austria and another from Austria to Ukraine. The space is laid out in such a way for the viewer to contemplate a little bit of everything in between: economy, sexuality, banality and tension.”
2. Act of God (2009), directed by Jennifer Baichwal
“I was recently lucky enough to interview the musician Fred Frith. While in prep mode, I heard of this film Act of God, a film about being struck by lightning, in which Frith not only provides some music, but also has his brain scanned while he’s improvising on the guitar by his neuroscientist brother. This experiment was set up to compare jolts of lightning to the way energies move as we think. I needed to see this film. I Googled it, and lo and behold, it was on Fandor. I watched it immediately and was sucked into the realities of lightning’s natural, wild energy and what it can do to the body, brain and spirit. It’s a haunting documentary that confronts and displays the conflicts between randomness and meaning.”
3. The Ossuary (1970), directed by Jan Svankmajer
“I can’t really handle how much I love this film. The camera movements, the editing, the animation—it’s so full of life and it’s all about dead people. Or is it? If this film were silent, I could just bask in the gothic imagery and quietly contemplate the space where death meets decoration. But it’s not silent; the sacred space is full of her voice. She is the tour guide, a somewhat matter-of-fact mother of this ossuary, a caretaker, an expert, an escort. While Svankmajer’s camera reinvigorates this location by making us feel like we’re there, turning our heads about in surprise, reverence, and consternation, the tour guide’s voice directly addresses, informs, confesses to and scolds us. There’s so much life embedded in this short film with its lens focused on death.”
4. Warning Shadows (1923) 85 min, directed by Arthur Robison
“While I was studying German film history with an emphasis on German Expressionism, I saw just a short clip of Warning Shadows (or in German, Schatten, Eine nächtliche Halluzination: Shadows, A Noctural Hallucination) as part of a lecture. I knew I had to have a copy of this movie in my hands. This was a while ago, when it took months and months before a PAL VHS copy was available on eBay for too much money. Sigh. I bought it anyway. This film, now way more widely available, combines shadow puppetry, mesmerism and hallucination to unravel a tale of jealousy and honesty. Shadows, reflections and theater force the characters and the viewers to question reality. It’s a silent film with no intertitles; cinematography, light/shadow and gestures and do all of the talking. To me, it’s always seemed so advanced for it’s time, yet in film school it tends to be overshadowed by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’s blatant, expressionist set design. In contrast, Warning Shadows creeps in and hypnotizes you…so just let it.”
5. Let’s Make a Sandwich (1950), directed by Miriam Bucher
“This may seem like an odd one, but it’s just one of many instructional, industrial, or educational films I watched while preparing for this list. Let’s (open-)face it, Let’s Make a Sandwich’s title caught my eye. A mother and daughter make open-faced tuna-cheese-butter-milk mush (rarebit) sandwiches. That’s pretty much it, but this little film manages be delightful, gross and ridiculous—a toasted slice of American social history. Ahhh…1950….When boys just scarfed down “sandwiches” while women made “sandwiches,” using all-too- easily-meltable future-cheese and graciously offered both milk and Coke to their guests. It’s a wonderful thing to have shorts and features all in the same movie bin. I can program a unique little festival for my night: This gem could be accompanied by Ruby, a Curtis Harrington film set around the same time, 1951. I really couldn’t figure out what to say about Ruby that would justify it being my No. 5 pick on its own. It’s a late seventies version of the fifties that looks like cheap TV and, thankfully, stars a glowing and intense Piper Laurie. Double-checking Harrington’s memoir, he wasn’t too happy with the way this one turned out, blaming its failures on the writer and cinematographer. Still, it is a Harrington, a director I recommend, especially Night Tide (also on Fandor), a fantastic B movie featuring a fresh and outstanding performance by a young Dennis Hopper. Ruby is an overly dramatic and strange ride, including both a possession and death by 35mm film scene (two of my favorite things). Overall, however, it’s clunky and cheesy. Maybe they didn’t use quite the right kind of cheese. Perhaps they should’ve checked in with the sandwich ladies. In retrospect, I’d like my fifth pick to be this short & feature combo. Enjoy. With milk or Coke.”