Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 7:30pm
Two Diptychs by Peter Thompson

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Two Portraits, Peter Thompson, 1981, digital projection, 27 mins
Universal Hotel and Universal Citizen, Peter Thompson, 1986, digital projection, 46 mins

"It would hardly be an exaggeration to call Peter Thompson the best Chicago filmmaker you never heard of. His half a dozen films, four shorts and two features, span 28 years, and their continuities and discontinuities with one another seem equally important. Pertinent to all six films are diverse aspects of Thompson’s background: as a classical guitarist who studied with Andrès Segovia in Siena, as an undergraduate and graduate student in comparative literature (University of California, Irvine), as a onetime Navy photojournalist who teaches photography at Columbia College Chicago, and even as a first cousin of the special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull. ...

His shorts come in two pairs, each one a diptych. Two Portraits is devoted to his parents and each portrait works with a minimalist expansion of limited footage juxtaposed with offscreen voices—those of Thompson and his late father in the first part, Anything Else, and those of his mother reading from her diaries in the second part, Shooting Scripts. Anything Else features stop-frame images of his father in an airport, accompanied by a multifaceted verbal portrait offered by his son, then outdoors and accompanied by a recording of his parents’ conversation shortly before his father’s death. Shooting Scripts shows us nearly motionless footage of his mother asleep in a garden chair around dusk while a long shadow gradually blacks her out—until she wakes at the end and speaks in synch sound, with the sounds of the garden behind her.

Universal Hotel and Universal Citizen, each 28 minutes long, which overlap with one another more subtly, are personal essays, both narrated by Thompson (whose performative voice sharply reflects his musical background). In the first Thompson chronicles his research into hypothermia experiments by Dr. Sigmund Rascher at Dachau in 1942, in which he used a German ex-prostitute to rewarm a Polish prisoner of war who had been nearly frozen; Thompson uses photographs of the experiment culled from archives in six countries and recounts a dream set in what he calls the Universal Hotel. The second film is a multifaceted personal travelogue bringing us to a real Universal Hotel, in Guatemala, and to the same public square in Siena that appears at the beginning of Universal Hotel; at the center of this film are Thompson’s offscreen meetings with a Libyan Jew and former Dachau inmate who works as a smuggler in Guatemala and refuses to be photographed except at a distance.

Various kinds of reticence and indirection figure in all four shorts, which were released on a single video by Facets Video in 1987. Thompson’s notes on this video allude to his 'father’s suicide,' although the single reference to this in Anything Else is so oblique that it’s easy to miss. Thompson’s narration comes in two parts. The first part concludes, 'He was once expelled from college for drinking. He never drank again or took drugs until he did both on April 1 and again on April 3, 1979, 44 years after his expulsion.' The second part, heard just after the recording of his parents’ strained conversation, concludes, 'His ashes, weighing 4 pounds 8 ounces, were dropped into the sea off Point Lobos, California. Two weeks after his death his wife announced her second marriage. He knew this man and had exchanged Christmas cards with him each year for 41 years. At Christmas time he would say to his family, "Don’t bother with a present. I don’t need anything. I don’t need anything else."' Thompson has described the main themes of Universal Hotel and Universal Citizen as 'the emotional thawing of men by women, the struggle to disengage remembrance from historical anonymity, and unrecoverable loss.'"

- Jonathan Rosenbaum

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.