Monthly Archives: January 2009

Still Frame of the Day: Benjamin Smoke (2000, USA)

Jem Cohen + Peter Sillen's documentary, "Benjamin Smoke"


Upcoming Screening Next Tues. 2/3/09: Airline to Barrington (Premiere)

Airline to Barrington

Next Tuesday: February 3, 2009
1328 W. Morse Ave. (1 blk. East of Morse Red Line)
@ 7PM (Part One begins promptly @ 7:15)

The film will be presented in two parts (TRT of each is approx. 1 hr. 20 mins) with a short break in between.


The World Premiere, HD screening of AIRLINE TO BARRINGTON. A feature length, documentary-style music performance film, featuring:

An Evening with Jeff Tweedy and the Old Town School Wilco Ensemble.
The 3rd Living Room Charity Show Performance from Jan. 12, 2008 (for the Letters to Santa program).

Directed & Edited by: Jim Vendiola
Cinematography: Jim Summers / Fletcher & Jim Vendiola
Location Sound: Chandler Coyle
Color Correction: Elliot Rudmann / Nolo Digital Film, Chicago
Add’l Post Production Finishing: Gary Adcock / Studio 37, Chicago

Preview Clips (available thru 2/3/09):

Click to view teaser*

[*note: I cut this trailer from our raw footage back in March ’08. The mis-matched coloration between shots does NOT reflect the mastering work done later, by our friends at Nolo Digital + Studio 37.]

"Thanks I Get"

Click to view "The Thanks I Get"

Our Fallen Spacemen (2006)

click image to view short film* (11:53)

Our Fallen Spacemen is a documentary short I made in 2006. It captures the methods and ideas behind a brief yet thought-provoking and widely seen public art occurrence, created by the late-night El-train rider ARD.

His three-hundred-sixty “Our Fallen Spacemen” posters, which appeared unexpectedly on Chicago’s Brown Line from May ’05 through January ’06, emphasize the potential obscurity of certain corners of American history by acting as small reminders of each individual who has died within our NASA program.

The film was commissioned by Chicago NFP film producers, Split Pillow, and premiered in 2006 as part of Volume 1 of their now-annual omnibus documentary film series, “Chicago 360.”

“Our Fallen Spacemen” has also screened at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, Facets Cinematheque, Chicago Filipino American Film Festival, and Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.

For a larger version, visit:

Screen Magazine on Chicago 360, v.1

[*I’m currently having embedding issues, but the above image will take you to the Vimeo page.]

Mr. Lonely: Fargo’s Mike Yanagita

Mainstream auteurs Joel & Ethan Coen recurrently spin their own unconventional brand of crime story: skillfully calculated meditations — both farcical and bleak — on the flawed logic of unlawful scams, and the sublime human catastrophe that results. The characters responsible for these egoistic and deceptive acts are victims of their own fallibility, and usually have to endure the messy repercussions.

The Coens’ minor characters can and will fail, too. Perhaps my favorite example involves the memorable if puzzling inclusion of Mike Yanagita (Steve Park), a fidgety Japanese-American Minnesotan, in 1996’s Academy Award-winning Fargo. His brief involvement seems superfluous and strange at first; some may wonder if he exists merely for comic relief. But it’s his set up and payoff that indirectly though finally leads our protagonist Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) to her answers and the film’s conclusion.


During a terribly uncomfortable reunion between old schoolmates Gunderson and Yanagita, we learn (amidst awkward passes made by Mike) that he’s a recent widower. He has lost his wife, a third schoolmate named Linda Cooksey, to leukemia. This sets a morose tone, with Mike then pondering his romantic intentions behind the get-together with a married and pregnant Marge. Realizing the whole thing was hopelessly misguided, he breaks down, pathetically confessing “I’m so lonely!”

Occurring rather late in the film with no obvious connection to the main plot, the scene is cruelly hysterical but seems as tangential and random to the viewer as it does to our protagonist. However, the following day Marge learns the truth by phone, from a fourth schoolmate: Mike’s marriage to Linda and her subsequent illness, suffering and death are all complete fabrications; in truth Mike has psychiatric problems, and lives with his parents.

Upon this entirely unexpected discovery, Marge simply replies, “Oh, geez. Geez, well geez. That’s a surprise.” An appropriately understated response, but she resultantly becomes aware that perhaps her Midwestern, inherently good-natured and trusting tradition has betrayed her, rendered her a bit gullible. Ironically it was she who, in an earlier scene, politely called to question her deputy’s sloppy police work regarding auto dealer plates. She then traces the plates to the Gustafson’s Motors dealership in Minneapolis, where executive sales manager Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) initially eludes any potential suspicions from the investigating Marge, despite his strange behavior.

On a new hunch, after Mike Yanagita’s ruses prompt her to reevaluate the details of her investigation, Marge returns to the Minneapolis dealership. Her mere reappearance and brief follow-up with a guilty Jerry Lundegaard is enough to drive him to erratic, desperate measures. After previously avoiding any implication, this time Jerry gives himself away by fleeing during Marge’s questioning.

This chain of events, which effectively leads us to the film’s conclusion, is informed by the shred of doubt triggered in Marge, by her brief night out with Mike Yanagita.

Disney WWII Propaganda: Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)

With the 81st Academy Awards a month away, here’s an interesting (i.e. screwed up) piece of related cartoon history.

Walt Disney’s Der Fuehrer’s Face won an Oscar for “Best Short Subject, Cartoon” in 1943. Between ’42 – ’44 the studio produced several Army propaganda shorts starring Donald Duck, with this one remaining particularly notorious. In 1994, it was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Cartoons.

I first saw this in college, during an Art History class. It’s a little fucked up. Appropriately antiquated, bizarre, offensive, and hilarious: it’s a definite must-see, if you’re into this sort of thing*.

Props to this article [+/- NSFW] for writing about this cartoon and reminding me about it (and for compiling some pretty great lists in general).

*I’m not big on endorsing Disney, but you can Netflix/acquire/purchase this cartoon as it appears on Disc One of Walt Disney on the Front Lines.

Real Brad Pitt foiled by no-nonsense Hungarians

If I’m gonna end up posting this goofy Page Six gossip (just because it involves filmmaker Bela Tarr), I figured I should at least do it in the style of some snarky celeb-gossip blog:

Bradgelina checks out a downtrodden farming collective.

Bradgelina checks out a downtrodden farming collective.


[Pitt] repeatedly tried buying the complete works of Hungarian cult director Bela Tarr from a small DVD store in Budapest as a Christmas present for Angelina Jolie. [NY Post Link]

Still Frame of the Day: Pandora’s Box (1929, Germany)


Louise Brooks in G.W. Pabst's "Pandora's Box"