When folks speak of feature films that have been made (or partially made) in Savannah, there are a few obvious, well-known titles that always garner a name-check: "Forrest Gump," "Glory," "Forces of Nature," "The Legend of Bagger Vance," "The General's Daughter," "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and the original "Cape Fear," chief among them.
However, over the past six decades, scads (pun intended) of other movies have showcased the charms of our fair city. Many of these have been "B," "C" or even "D" grade pictures, often devoid of critical and/or audience acclaim. Some duds, such as the recent, spectacular misfire "CBGB" or forgotten obscurities "Claudine's Return" and "Love Crimes," went virtually straight to video or received only the most cursory, contractually obligated theatrical runs in a handful of major markets before being dumped onto VHS or DVD.
Yet, there remain a handful of locally lensed feature films of legitimate merit that are deserving of serious consideration, but which, for a variety of reasons (mostly tied to either lingering legal disputes among producers and distributors or to logistical conundrums regarding copyright clearances for key songs on their soundtracks) remain either completely unavailable commercially or simply frustratingly unknown in mainstream circles. One such film is legendary director John Huston's "Wise Blood."
Shot on location in 1979 in and around Macon and Savannah, this minor masterpiece of provocative, sardonic drama takes place not long after WWII and stars the reliably unhinged Brad Dourif ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Blue Velvet") as bitter U.S. Army veteran Hazel Motes, who, after he's mistaken for a traveling tent preacher, decides to form his own aggressive, mocking "Church of Truth," despite the fact that he does not believe in god.
Based on the 1952 debut novel of the same name by Savannah's own literary icon Flannery O'Connor (which was a conceptual reworking of her early short stories), the indie film, which also stars grizzled screen actor Harry Dean Stanton ("Cool Hand Luke," "Paris Texas," "Pretty in Pink," "Renaldo & Clara") and beloved star of TV, stage and screen Ned Beatty ("Deliverance," "Superman," "Homicide: Life on the Street"), enjoys a fervent cult following worldwide, despite being almost completely out of circulation for decades. It was recently reissued in a deluxe DVD edition, leading to a small burst of notoriety and critical reappraisal. The momentum continues with a special showing Feb. 6 at the Lucas Theatre.
The screening will be preceded by a panel discussion featuring noted, locally based movie producer Stratton Leopold (who worked on the film early in his esteemed career) and Dr. Bruce Gentry, editor of the Flannery O'Connor Review. Showtime is 6 p.m. and tickets are $8.50 (or $5 with student ID). If you've never seen this delightful, idiosyncratic movie, I recommend wholeheartedly that you do your best to attend. It's really a phenomenal piece of Southeastern melodrama, with a truly unforgettable performance by Dourif.
The next night, Feb. 7, the Lucas kicks off a pre-Valentine's Day weekend of contemporary classics of heartwarming cinema with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's clever 2001 romantic-comedy "AmÃ©lie," starring Audrey Tautou. The story of a shy restaurant server who, in response to a rather unlucky love life, devotes herself to closely studying the lives of her quirky neighbors in an attempt to bring them happiness, it's an international smash that won more than 50 major film awards worldwide and earned five Oscar nominations. It's also a joy to behold.
Suitable for mature audiences, the film is in French with English subtitles. Tickets for the 7 p.m. show are $8 ($5 for students/seniors with ID), or couples can buy a special package of two tickets, two soft drinks and one popcorn for just $15.
The same discount package is available for the Feb. 8 Lucas screening of director Anthony Minghella's sweeping 1996 epic "The English Patient." Set against the backdrop of WWII combat in Italy, this emotionally draining "tragic romance" stars Juliette Binoche as a nurse who finds herself caring for a burned pilot (played by Ralph Fiennes) who was found with no ID and no memory. During his long recuperation, the nurse pieces together the backstory of how this man - known only as "the English patient" - came to be in her care.
Filled with intrigue, mystery and an eye for period detail, this film also stars Willem Dafoe, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Colin Firth. It walked away with a whopping nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing and Best Supporting Actress. It's recommended for mature audiences only.
The Psychotronic Film Society gets in on Valentine's Day with a Special Mystery Screening at The Sentient Bean. On Feb. 12, they'll show a rare and bizarre early '90s romantic-comedy with a loyal, if miniscule, cult following. It has never been released on DVD and is virtually unknown, even to lovers of the genre. The title of the film will not be revealed until showtime, but let's just say fans of the long-gone TV series "Xena: Warrior Princess," or the original "Evil Dead" franchise will likely find plenty to enjoy in this truly twisted and surreal flick. Admission is $7 for mature audiences and showtime is 8 p.m.
See you at the movies, and don't forget to turn off that cellphone. We all know what that can lead to.
Jim Reed directs the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Read more at www.filmsavannah.com.