Greetings, inquisitive friends. As that great old song by the Parliaments says, “I just wanna testify” that this next week’s worth of alternative cinema screenings in our area is easily one of the most varied and intriguing as Film Scene has heralded in many a moon.
So, screw your wig-hats on tight, and let’s get down with it, shall we?
Date Night Noir
On Jan. 12 out on Tybee Island, the wonderful little historic venue known as the Tybee Post Theater presents another in its occasional series of “Date Night Noir” — deliciously sultry and equally tense crime thrillers (with a splash of edgy romance) from decades past that are rarely seen anymore on the big screen. This time out, it’s 1974’s stone classic of seedy, hard-boiled 1930s So-Cal weaselry, “Chinatown.”
Directed by controversial, visionary filmmaker Roman Polanski, and starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and legendary movie director John Huston (“The Maltese Falcon”), it’s loosely rooted in true stories. “Chinatown” explores the sordid tale of immense greed and corruption that partially fueled the growth of Los Angeles into the metropolis it is today. Sound boring? It’s not. In fact, it’s a knuckle-biting period drama with suspense and visual style to spare that has influenced scores of lesser films for decades since.
Like I said in last week’s column: if you have seen “Chinatown,” but only on the small screen, do yourself a favor and see it in a real theater. And, if you have never seen this seminal 1970s Hollywood picture and are planning to catch it this Thursday, resist the urge to investigate it online beforehand. It’s a mystery, and nobody has worried about spoiling the major plot twists of this film for almost 40 years now. You’ll want to see it without preconceptions to enjoy it in the fullest. Showtime is 7 p.m., with $10 admission. That price includes a glass of wine (for those of drinking age), as well as a “kiss,” which we assume is made of chocolate.
Rare Bowie screening
The next night, downtown at Trustees Theater, SCAD’s Cinema Circle returns with a mega-rare public presentation of the mesmerizing 1976 sci-fi allegory “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” starring the late, great musician and actor David Bowie. This will be the first of three — count ’em — three films directed by Britain’s Nicolas Roeg that the Cinema Circle will screen over the next several weeks (including 1971’s “Walkabout” and 1973’s “Don’t Look Now”), and each are phenomenal examples of idiosyncratic, uncompromising art-house filmmaking at its finest.
Falling near the first anniversary of Bowie’s untimely death, this underrated but mightily influential feature (echoes of and references to the film can be found everywhere from the later sci-fi writings of Philip K. Dick to the recent films “Watchmen” and “Prometheus,” as well as the TV series “Fringe”) about a fragile humanoid alien (played to eerie perfection by Bowie) who travels to Earth in search of a life-saving water source for his home planet is a densely layered effort bursting at the seams with entrancing production design, surreal sequences and subtle, affecting supporting performances. Look for everyone from “The” Rip Torn (“The Larry Sanders Show”), “The” Buck Henry (“The Graduate,” “Heaven Can Wait”), Candy Clark (“When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?”) and former SCAD board of directors member Bernie Casey (“Brian’s Song,” “The Martian Chronicles”) in key roles.
Anyone even remotely interested in the far edges of ’70s cinema should run, not walk, to see what may just be the most psychotronic selection this ambitious organization has ever programmed. As with all Cinema Circle shows, it will be introduced by SCAD Cinema Studies grad students, who will also moderate a post-screening audience Q&A on the film and its legacy. Showtime is 7 p.m., with $8 admission for the public ($5 for military/seniors/students with ID) or free to those holding SCAD ID.
‘The Love Witch’
Speaking of unusual and challenging motion pictures, on Jan. 15, CinemaSavannah presents its final show at downtown’s soon-to-be-shuttered nonprofit venue Muse Arts Warehouse — and it’s a doozy. Avant-garde director Anna Biller’s new faux-vintage feminist encomium to the golden age (1960s-70s) of European sexploitation filmmaking, “The Love Witch” is the tale of a modern-day witch who will stop at nothing to find a man to be her devoted companion. It’s a high-concept film that’s rooted in the time-honored fear of strong examples of female sexuality (which, as The New York Times noted in its review of this movie, has been a staple of horror films for longer than most can remember), and resplendent in its gauzy, overdone version of pop-art nostalgia for a time period when avocado kitchen appliances and day-glo shelf paper were de rigueur for all self-respectingly swanky chaps and chicks.
This heavy-handed-yet-reverent attention to costumery, makeup, set design and props is a hallmark of Biller’s work. She is a devotee of the look and feel of low-budget retro exploitation and genre films, and adept at injecting a nuanced sense of satire into such slavishly recreated settings (as opposed to the ham-fisted parodies most lesser talents achieve when attempting to mine the same territory). Her love for these marginalized pictures shines through — right down to the fact that the careful lighting design and color palette accurately mimics the look, depth and saturation of classic Technicolor process work.
“The Love Witch” is also one of the very last feature films to ever be cut on original 35mm camera negative film, which is the way all films used to be made before digital video production became the norm.
Bright on the outside and deliciously dark underneath, this wry and violent feminist comedy was nominated for Best Picture at the most recent Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival (one of Europe’s most prestigious festivals specializing in “fantastic” and fringe filmmaking). This will be one of only very few public engagements across the U.S. Two screenings only, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., with $8 admission (cash only).
Speaking of fantastic filmmaking, one of the all-time masters of such things, writer-director-composer John Carpenter turns 69 years old next week, and in celebration of his pioneering career and artistic legacy, the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah will screen one of his most overlooked features Jan. 18 at The Sentient Bean.
Best known for such massively successful horror and suspense films as 1978’s “Halloween,” 1980’s “The Fog,” 1981’s “Escape from New York” and several genre-bending sleepers and cult classics like 1984’s sci-fi romance “Starman,” 1986’s “Big Trouble in Little China,” 1988’s “They Live” (which, contrary to what some deluded neo-Nazis now believe, is not in any way, shape or form an anti-Semitic allegory, but rather a blisteringly clever indictment of Reagan-era Yuppie-style capitalism) as well as what many view as not only his finest motion picture, but surely one of the greatest sci-fi/horror hybrids ever made: 1982’s unfrozen-alien-shapeshifter shocker “The Thing.”
While Carpenter’s output has slowed drastically over the past couple of decades, and his quality control has unfortunately diminished as well, those of us who revere his earlier glory days still harbor hopes that this infamous iconoclast will regain his creative footing and knock at least one more undeniable smash out of the park before he gives up the art form for good.
The exact title of the Carpenter film the PFS will showcase as a hat-tip to one of the most unique American genre moviemakers of all time remains a closely guarded secret until showtime. Adventurous viewers are encouraged to buy a ticket, take a chance and be dazzled by a feature they may be completely unfamiliar with. 8 p.m. showtime, with $7 admission and half-price organic wine and craft beer during the film.
And finally, on Jan. 19, the 2017 Mountainfilm on Tour Savannah Festival kicks off, with more than 30 award-winning feature-length and short films spread over three days at Trustees Theater. These selections come direct from the most recent installment of Colorado’s internationally celebrated Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, which is focused on educating and inspiring audiences of all ages to “create a better world.” The life-affirming selections come from all across the globe and both explore and promote personal adventure, environmental awareness and cultural diversity.
Now, if that’s not something we need a lot more of in 2017, I don’t know what is.
Telluride Mountainfilm on Tour Savannah is one of the coolest annual film-related events our city has to offer. Don’t pass up a chance to attend at least one block of movies, if your schedule allows. You’ll be very glad you did. Admission ranges from $5 to $15, and you can find more details in my feature article elsewhere here in Do.
Until next week, see you at the movies, be kind to those around you and don’t forget to turn off that cell phone.
Jim Reed directs Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Deeley, the co-producer of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (who also co-produced “The Deer Hunter” and “Blade Runner”), said that when Paramount Pictures’ CEO Barry Diller viewed a finished cut of the movie, he furiously refused to honor Paramount’s U.S. distribution deal, which led to a lawsuit that Diller and company lost. The film wound up with independent distribution and was shown only in a few handfuls of theaters here in the States – which helped to cement its reputation as a somewhat “forgotten” film.
In an effort to lend increased authenticity to the retro ’60s and ’70s Euro-schlock vibe of “The Love Witch,” the film (which takes place in the modern age, but is filled with retro fashions and design), director Ann Biller repurposed numerous existing soundtrack cuts from actual 1960s and 1970s European thrillers, many of which were scored by the legendary Italian composer, conductor and orchestrator Ennio Morricone.
John Carpenter’s signature style is often represented through a minimalist approach to shot composition. While he has been known to utilize occasionally elaborate Steadicam choreography, he often locks his cameras down and lets their lenses linger motionless as the action plays out in their view. Almost all of his films have been shot in extreme widescreen, and the vast majority feature soundtracks are of his own composition, which he plays himself on synthesizers.
IF YOU GO
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 12
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
Cost: $10, includes glass of wine and a “kiss”
What: “The Man Who Fell to Earth”
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 13
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
Cost: $8 or $5 for students/seniors/military; free with SCAD ID
What: “The Love Witch”
When: 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jan. 15
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703 Louisville Road
Cost: $8, cash only
What: John Carpenter Birthday Salute
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 18
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
What: MountainFilm on Tour Savannah
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 19-21; family matinee is 2 p.m. Jan. 21
Where: Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
Cost: $15 or $5 for family matinee