Glossed-over gems

Ryan Wenzel

In a somewhat dirty-looking neighborhood in Lincoln Park, amid brown brick apartment buildings, laundromats and grocery stories, sits a building that Roger Ebert dubbed “a temple of great cinema.”

Founded in 1970, Facets Multimedia, 1517 W. Fullerton Pkwy., is a nonprofit organization that offers video rentals and film screenings to Chicago film fanatics. Both the rental store and the theater, according to Facets employee Bryan Wendorf, focus on “foreign and classic films that often get overlooked.”

The Facets rental store, or Videotheque, carries films in a variety of genres, including war and westerns, children’s films, science fiction, cult classics and film noir, as well as films produced under Facets’ own label. Visitors initially might be disappointed if they are accustomed to video rental chain stores. The movie cases are tightly packed on shelves, and what’s on the sales floor doesn’t reflect their seemingly limitless stock.

“We have about 30,000 titles on VHS and DVD,” Wendorf said. “The entire basement is a sales warehouse. Through our video rentals, we have the most diverse collection of titles in the country, and you’re going to find stuff you’re not going to get at any Blockbuster.”

The Videotheque also sells books of critics’ picks, film magazines and biographies on famous filmmakers like Francois Truffaut, Jean Renoir and Alfred Hitchcock.

Access to Facets’ rentals isn’t limited to people in the Chicago area, though. For a fee of $24 a month, customers across the country can make selections with Facets’ phonebook-sized catalog and order by phone, mail, the Internet or fax. The membership includes unlimited rentals and the elimination of due dates. “We also do wholesale and ship to other stores,” Wendorf said. “We have a very wide clientele.”

Facets’ Cinematheque, a theater that seats 120, screens films daily, and strives to “cultivate an appreciation of what’s available on an international level.” This weekend the Cinematheque will feature Hungarian director Bela Tarr’s “Macbeth” and two films by Spanish surrealist Fernando Arrabal, “Viva la Muerte” and “I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse.” Arrabal will appear after the films for what Facets calls a “cinechat” — a discussion with the audience.

Facets also hosts several small film festivals every year, including the Festival of New French Cinema the first week of December. “People will see ‘Amelie,’ but they won’t see the other top 20 French films of the year,” said Facets film program director Charles Coleman, stressing the festival’s importance. “We’re here to make sure the opportunity to see these films is still there.”

Facets definitely has attracted a following in Chicago, but Coleman admits that Cinematheque ticket sales could be better. “We don’t have a parking problem, but I’m just trying to fight for recognition,” Coleman said. “If (what I play) makes money, that’s great, but I’ll just play it if I like it.”

And if visitors feel intimidated by the obscure titles and the knowledgeable staff, they can enroll in a class in the Facets film school. Facets offers 16 six-week courses every year — in topics ranging from 1940s gangster films to movie censorship and American culture — to teach the history and aesthetics of filmmaking. “People started looking at box office numbers,” Coleman said. “That’s become the defining algorithm of validity, but there are still some lost tribes out there that still want to talk about the films.”4

Medill sophomore Ryan Wenzel is the PLAY film editor. He can be reached at [email protected]