The 9th annual Chicago Movies and Music Festival (CIMMFEST) kicks off tonight with a 7:15 p.m. screening of the 1981 documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization, at the Davis Theater.
Submerged within the rise of the punk scene in Los Angeles, The Decline not only helps explain the music of the era, but also explores the external factors and internal feelings of those who made it happen.
It also helped establish director Penelope Spheeris as a filmmaking tour de force.
Her later achievements include 1992’s Wayne’s World, 1999’s Hollyweird, and 2011’s Balls to the Wall.
Besides launching a head-explodingly grand assortment of films, concerts and panels that will take place over the next four days, tonight’s event marks the opening number in CIMMfest’s Penelope Spheeris retrospective & The Decline of Western Civilization Trilogy.
Part II of the trilogy, 1988’s The Metal Years, screens at 9:30 p.m. It uncovers the dynamic of the artists who made hair bands so popular in the mid-to-late 80s.
Part III — which, according to the CIMMfest website, “chronicles homeless teenage ‘gutter punks’ living on the streets of Los Angeles” — plays Friday at 7:30 p.m.
In addition to showcasing Spheeris’ films, the festival will also host the director at special engagements throughout the weekend. During Saturday’s Awards Night at the Davis, she will be officially honored as this year’s Baadasssss.
According to CIMMfest Artistic Director Josh Chicoine, who cofounded the celebration with Chicago-based film editor Ilko Davidov while drinking at the Green Eye in Logan Square, Spheeris’ participation represents a goal that CIMMfest has long been hoping to achieve.
“We’ve been thinking of Penelope for several years now,” he explains. “She’s got a great fan base here in Chicago.”
Although Chicoine does not consider himself a devotee of punk or metal, he is a big fan of the trilogy.
“Penelope did a great job of connecting music to these cultures and subcultures,” he continues. “I may have passed some sort of judgment on them in high school, but the films gave me a different perspective.”
The cultural observations and historical relevance the Decline trilogy extend far beyond the offerings of typical fan-centric music movies, which nevertheless carry a certain worthiness of their own.
For those in the mood for a different tune, the Daptone documentary, Living On Soul, screens 9:30 p.m. tonight at Martyrs. The film will be followed by a Q&A with director Jeff Broadway & Daptone cofounder Neal Sugarman, moderated by Chaz Ebert.
Then comes the opening night after party, which includes a live performance by Lili K and a Sharon Jones tribute.