Those of you who like to plan out your excursions in advance are hereby put on notice: At 7 p.m. March 7, SCAD will host the 33rd annual Black Maria Film and Video Festival at Trustees Theater.
One of the most revered traveling exhibitions of short films, the Black Maria (which is an offshoot of New Jersey's Thomas A. Edison Media Arts Consortium) has been stopping in Savannah for well over a decade. It's a welcome highlight each year for those who appreciate inventive, personal and - at times - groundbreaking cinema in a variety of genres. This will likely be one's only opportunity to view most if not all of these shorts, so do consider saving the date, and look for more details on this fantastic little festival in next week's Film Scene.
In the immediate future, two other noteworthy independent movie events over the next seven days are deserving of attention.
First up is CinemaSavannah's special engagement of the multinational production "Julie Walking Home" on March 1 at Muse Arts Warehouse.
Also known as "Julie's Return" and "The Healer," this 2002 drama from acclaimed Polish director Agnieszka Holland ("Angry Harvest," "Europa Europa," "In Darkness") stars Miranda Otto ("The Lord of the Rings" saga), William Fichtner ("The Dark Knight," "Black Hawk Down," "Elysium") and Lothaire Bluteau ("Jesus of Montreal"). Despite receiving decidedly mixed reviews, it was nominated for the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion Award and enjoyed a modicum of international attention before lapsing into moderate obscurity. A highly emotional film, it concerns a mother of twins who is going through a difficult split with their father when one child is diagnosed with what appears to be an incurable disease.
Praised by some critics and viewers as a complex and nuanced portrait of the messy emotions and difficult philosophical issues which surround the mysteries of life, death and love (CinemaSavannah director Tomasz Warchol, an acknowledged fan of this thrice-Oscar-nominated filmmaker, describes it as an inspiring gem), the film was also panned by many who found the tale (which was based in some measure on a real-life incident) far-fetched and heavy-handed, with a needlessly complicated plot structure. Regardless of which camp you may find yourself in after seeing the movie, the level of dichotomy between such impressions would tend to indicate this feature is a strong piece of work worth experiencing on the big screen.
Shot on location in Poland, the film is in spoken English, Polish and Russian, with English subtitles. Showtimes are 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. with an $8 admission.
Now, you may recall that a few months back, SCAD's Cinema Circle showed Arthur Penn's classic 1967 true-crime flick "Bonnie & Clyde" at Trustees Theater. Well on March 5, the Psychotronic Film Society pays tribute to that same Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway vehicle in its own unique way with a rare public viewing of the little-known Italian-made "homage" to Penn's box-office smash at The Sentient Bean.
1972's "Sonny and Jed" was directed by the great Sergio Corbucci, who wrote the screenplay to the classic 1964 Barbara Steele gothic horror masterpiece "Castle of Blood," and claimed to have been the first director to realize the potential of using the Italian and Spanish countryside to shoot U.S.-style westerns, a distinction many attribute (perhaps wrongly) to his compatriot Sergio Leone, director of the groundbreaking international hit "A Fistful of Dollars."
Although that 1964 film was the first of the so-called "Spaghetti Westerns" to make a worldwide splash - and spawn innumerable ripoffs - it was Corbucci's highly stylized "Django" of two years later (key inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's own "Django Unchained") that would elevate the genre onto a somewhat higher plane by incorporating pathos and sly comedy into the fairly straightforward formula of guns, hats, dust and double-crosses.
This film, known in some markets as "Bandera Bandits," reportedly went through a number of script revisions before ending up in its final state. As it stands, it's an unusual portrait of the tense and distrustful relationship between two very different partners in crime. That's somewhat typical of Spaghetti Westerns, but in this odd entry, the partners are lovers, just like Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
Sonny, a tomboy played by the fetching British actress Susan George ("Straw Dogs") fantasizes of becoming a famous outlaw and latches onto roving bandit Jed, played by the reliably great Tomas Milian ("Winter Kills," "The Last Movie," "Traffic"). The hilariously macho chauvinist treats her with complete disdain until realizing the great potential they have as a criminal team. They find themselves hounded by a vengeful lawman played by the late, great Telly Savalas (TV's "Kojak").
A crude and at times over-the-top film considered a commercial failure when first released, in hindsight, it's actually a fairly daring attempt to showcase all manner of societal outcasts, from petty thieves to dangerously obsessed authoritarians.
There are moments where the nasty, bickering interaction is hard to watch, but the two stars have an undeniable onscreen chemistry that also makes it hard to look away. One critic even noted a similarity between this film and Fellini's "La Strada" - going so far as to intimate that this is a visually beautiful, and at times unusually touching, retelling of that landmark 1954 drama in western form.
Whether "Sonny and Jed" is a great Spaghetti Western (or even one of Corbucci's best efforts) is certainly debatable. However, it is undeniably a forgotten slice of U.S.-inspired world cinema which attempts to blend violence, misogyny, action and romantic comedy - a tall order to be sure. The PFS will screen the full, uncut widescreen version at 8 p.m. and admission is $7 for mature audiences only.
Until next time, see you at the movies, and don't forget to turn off that cell phone. We all know what that can lead to.
Jim Reed directs the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah. Read more at www.filmsavannah.com.