I must admit, I don’t pay that much attention to the Academy Awards anymore. However, how cool is it that the most recent Savannah Film Festival prominently featured advance screenings of “both” this year’s Oscar winners for Best Picture?
Kudos to the programming team at the SFF for their continued diligence in showcasing some of the finest features on the festival circuit. Here’s to a great 2017 lineup.
And now, on to our weekly preview of upcoming alternative cinema events in our area.
Ever since word came down that Haiti’s former Minister of Culture, the respected filmmaker and political activist Raoul Peck, was directing a documentary on the late, great African-American essayist, playwright and public intellectual James Baldwin, I have been stoked to see what sort of motion picture this acclaimed, multi-disciplined artist and worldly provocateur would deliver.
Would Peck find a cinematic path that could draw a new generation to this brilliant, visionary mind — while simultaneously reaffirming to those of us from an earlier time just what it was about Baldwin’s bold, individualistic stance against entrenched racism, sexism and patriarchal authoritarianism that made him one of the most endearing figures associated with both the U.S. civil rights movement and the mid-century literary world? Judging from ecstatic reviews of the Oscar-nominated “I Am Not Your Negro,” the answer is a resounding yes.
Based upon Baldwin’s last book (which remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1987 at age 63), Peck has taken creative license to extrapolate from Baldwin’s own words relating to his personal reflections on the assassinations and legacies of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Medger Evers and Malcom X to shine a light on America’s current racial climate. A smash at major film fests worldwide, the film is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, and has been hailed as one of the finest nonfiction films of the year.
Says the New York Times: “You would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force, insisting on uncomfortable truths and drawing stark lessons from the shadows of history.” This noteworthy doc will be screened locally for one show only March 4 at the Jepson Center downtown on Telfair Square. It’s a joint presentation of local organization CinemaSavannah and Telfair Museums, and will likely be the movie’s sole local engagement. Showtime is 7 p.m., with $8 admission.
Europe’s view of WWII
Four nights later, at The Sentient Bean on Forsyth Park, the Psychotronic Film Society offers up a distinctly different one-show-only engagement. They’ll screen the little-known Italian-made WWII action-drama “Red Roses for the Fuhrer,” which despite being made in 1968, has never been released in the U.S.
Also known under the alternate title “Code Name, Red Roses,” this engaging military thriller deals with a group of allies who land in occupied Belgian territory during the second World War. It seems a top-secret military memo has been intercepted by the Nazi regime, and these allies must partner with the Belgian resistance movement to try and reclaim the information at all costs. Traitors in the midst deliver all manner of double crosses to the main protagonists in a surprisingly well-rounded flick that carries a powerful anti-war message.
For those who have seen plenty of WWII dramas, but only from the U.S. perspective, the opportunity to view a European take on that conflict (made just a touch over 20 years after the war’s end) can be an eye-opening experience.
This forgotten gem marks the directorial debut of none other than the infamous Fernando Di Leo, a filmmaker and screenwriter who got his start writing spaghetti westerns, but later evolved into one of the greatest “Eurocrime” directors of all time. His gritty, violent and at times nihilistic police features of the 1970s and 1980s remain highly regarded to this day and continue to influence such later respected action film directors as Quentin Tarantino and John Woo. Showtime is 8 p.m., with $7 admission. The film will be shown in spoken English, and there will be discounts on organic wine and craft beer during the screening.
Rated X (but not really)
And finally, on March 9, the historic Tybee Post Theater presents a one-show-only booking of director John Schlesinger’s landmark 1969 counterculture drama “Midnight Cowboy,” starring the unlikely pairing of Dustin Hoffman (“Marathon Man,” “Lenny”) and Jon Voight (“Conrack,” “Anaconda”) as, two desperate, down-and-out, would-be prostitutes adrift in the seamy social underbelly of late-’60s New York City. Despite moments of genuine levity, “Midnight Cowboy” is a dark and depressing film, albeit a stunningly well-made and well-acted one.
Originally rated X in its earliest theatrical releases (because of an almost hilariously misguided and outdated notion that blatant homosexual content in any way shape or form would be dangerous for viewers between the ages of 18 and 21 to see), the film’s rating was later reduced to R as society’s views on sexuality caught up with Mother Nature’s. Still, just for a laugh, let’s raise a glass to the Tybee Post for proudly showing an X-rated film, shall we?
Despite its rating troubles, “Midnight Cowboy” wound up winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director — which I believe makes it the only X-rated film to ever win any sort of Academy Award. It also took home six BAFTAs (the U.K.’s equivalent of the Oscar). Look out for an amazing supporting cast, including memorable turns and cameos by the likes of Sylvia Miles, Brenda Vaccaro and the reliably terrific Bob Balaban. Showtime is 7 p.m., with $10 admission (which includes a glass of wine for those of legal drinking age, and a chocolate kiss). As one might imagine, this film is recommended for mature viewers.
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.
James Baldwin’s writings and ruminations on the internal and external dynamics that create strife and impediments for members of such traditionally disenfranchised societal groups as black folk, as well as gay and bisexual men, are widely considered some of the most erudite and astute put forward. He experimented with existing literary constructs throughout his career, publishing plays, novels, short stories, essays and semi-autobiographical works.
Infamous Italian exploitation and horror film director, producer, cinematographer and screenwriter Joe D’Amato (real name: Aristide Massaccesi) made more than 200 features before his death in 1999 at the age of 62. However, “Red Roses for the Fuhrer” stands as one of his very first professional credits in the movie business. He was the camera operator on Fernando Di Leo’s directorial debut.
Fred Neil scored a massive pop radio hit with his folk-rock tune “Everybody’s Talkin’” from the “Midnight Cowboy” soundtrack. It wound up winning a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. However, what most folks do not know is that Bob Dylan was originally approached to write a song specifically for the film. His submission, “Lay Lady Lay,” was finished a few days too late to be included, which resulted in Neil’s track being substituted. When released as a 45 single, “Lay Lady Lay” wound up as one of Dylan’s biggest chart successes, hitting the Top 10 in both the U.S. and the U.K.
IF YOU GO
What: “I Am Not Your Negro”
When: 7 p.m. March 4
Where: Jepson Center for the Arts, 207 W. York St.
What: “Red Roses for the Fuhrer”
When: 8 p.m. March 8
Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.
What: “Midnight Cowboy”
When: 7 p.m. March 9
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.
Cost: $10, includes glass of wine