Fifty minutes: There are many ways you can spend this amount of time. Read. Running. Cooking. Talking to a therapist about your place in this world.
Or this: Seeing Chicago filmmaker Deborah Stratman’s latest fascinating work, “Last Things,” continues through three more screenings this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
This is a dreamlike account of how our planet came to be, starting with the “prehistory” of the Earth. I saw this twice, first at the True/False documentary festival in Columbia, Missouri (a terrific nonfiction film festival, by the way), and again last night at the Film Center. No one else like Stratman’s, with its densely packed yet magically fluid mix of historical facts, global curiosity, philosophy, scientific speculation, his own inventions—sort of science fiction, though interspersed with actual geology—and both comprehensible images and ideas. He doesn’t make movies. and mysterious.
It’s about rocks. And yes, no matter how cheesy it sounds, you have to see it.
A film essayist as well as a synthesizer, Stratman teaches at the School of Art and Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Last Things” covers Earth’s “mineral kingdom” and clouds of space dust from the early days of the solar system that formed the Earth. A real-life expert, heard by voice-over, talks about our origin story, told by “the daredevils of former stars.” Mankind came much later. That’s part of the story, but it doesn’t deserve top billing as usual because geology will outlast us.
About dozens of text examples – J.-H. Rosny, Clarice Lispector’s novella “The Hour of the Star” is much more — Stratman comes up with a few hilarious theories of her own. Did humanity literally receive a jolt from the stars? Is humanity, the “extraordinary destroyer of life,” a worthy protector of a planet increasingly endangered?
We hear theories of time cited by Lawrence University structural geologist Marcia Bjørnerud; We see footage shot by director/cinematographer/editor/sound designer Stratman that, for a minute, is starkly realistic (the inside of a research lab, for example) while playfully fantastical. then (a brief look at a race of humanoid Star People who appear to be distant, mundane cousins of the Star Child from “2001: A Space Odyssey”).
If all this sounds hard to keep track of, sort of. But not really. This is a flow, not a slog, and Stratman isn’t after traditional linear storytelling. I love the avenues of exploration that continue in “Last Things,” and how this filmmaker finds as much to see in the breakdancers on a beautifully constructed city street as he does in the lo-fi visual concepts of action-seeking star daredevils. and a new house.
Earth’s geological history serves as the protagonist here. “Last Things” is described as a new and hypnotic stoner movie using real stones. The filmmaker’s best work Includes “Illinois Proverbs” and now, this last astounding experiment.
What to Watch?
The latest from Tribune critics on what movies and television you should watch.
“Last Things” — 4 stars (out of 4)
No MPA degree.
Running time: 50 minutes
How to watch: Gene Siskel Film Center22-23 January 18:30 and 25 January 20:30
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.