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Film Scene: Upcoming closure of Muse Arts Warehouse a blow to Savannah’s indie arts scene

 

Film Scene: Upcoming closure of Muse Arts Warehouse a blow to Savannah’s indie arts scene

14 Dec 2016

Back in 2010, the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah launched a lengthy series of critically acclaimed indie and foreign features that would otherwise not have played theatrically in our market.

I curated those special, one-day-only screenings, which were held at Muse Arts Warehouse and advertised as “Movies Savannah Missed.” Now, in hindsight, that was a somewhat ill-conceived banner under which to promote those selections, as their inclusion in the program meant that they had, in fact, been screened publicly in Savannah.

I suppose it might better have been known as “Movies Savannah Almost Missed,” but that’s a bit unwieldy and possibly confusing. Hopefully folks got the gist of the endeavor.

That rather unique and certainly eclectic series ran off and on for a few years at Muse, and seemed to make a good many people happy. I’ve been thinking about those particular screenings quite a bit over the past few months, since I first learned that quirky, irrepressible community performance space had lost its lease (due to an unforeseen property sale) and would likely cease to exist in anything close to its current form.

Over the years, the PFS has hosted dozens of special film-oriented events at Muse, from multi-day festivals devoted to obscure documentaries and films that champion civil rights causes to midnight screenings of new independent thrillers from around the world. We also offered old-fashioned, marathon salutes (sometimes lasting as long as 12 hours) to classic horror and cult movies, underrated dramatic works of William Shatner, forgotten exploitation flicks and other types of way-left-of-center filmic delights.

For a variety of reasons (both technical and conceptual) the overwhelming majority of those programming choices would simply not have been suitable — or even imaginable — at any other public location in our region.

Each of those screenings, festivals and midnight shows were held in close, kind partnership with Muse Arts Warehouse, via its creative, dedicated and indefatigable management team of JinHi Soucy Rand and Mark Rand. Every single one of the PFS’ efforts (over more than half a decade) to broaden and enrich the cultural opportunities of both locals and tourists alike within the confines of that 100-capacity, one-of-a-kind venue could never have taken place without the support and encouragement of these local arts champions. They graciously welcomed my peculiar little organization into their world and generously allowed me the opportunity to occasionally put my own temporary, creative stamp on their versatile, multi-purpose space.

I know I am not alone in this regard.

Without a doubt, Muse is — and will be remembered as — the greatest catalyst for upstart performing arts organizations and individuals the greater Savannah area has had for the past decade, and, arguably, much longer. While the Psychotronic Film Society’s home base of operations since its very inception has been the exceptionally funky and endlessly supportive The Sentient Bean, the more theatrically oriented setting, layout and vibe of Muse was often much more conducive than The Bean to presenting certain kinds of motion pictures. The fact that there was such a place within reach of a hardscrabble organization like mine is solely responsible for widening the scope of the programming I could imagine bringing to town.

It also made all the difference in the world that the folks who ran the venue were, themselves, ardent boosters of idealistic, iconoclastic local DIY impresarios such as myself and Tomasz Warchol, who runs the area’s other community film organization of note, CinemaSavannah.

That’s a far cry from the disinterested (if not downright cold) management of most other corporate-owned or managed theaters in these parts — most of whom were afforded by their out-of-town bosses little or no input into how or even if their spaces were occasionally utilized by local promoters to uniquely serve the local populace.

All of which is to say that Muse’s shuttering in just a few short months will be a very heavy blow to the local indie cinema scene in this town. Specialty screenings will continue, of course, at other DIY and quasi-DIY spaces. Great (and not-so-great) examples of filmmaking that would not otherwise be seen here will continue to be made available to adventurous, supportive viewers. And, with a little luck, there are still one or two way-cool movie events set to take place at Muse Arts Warehouse before the doors close for good (keep watching this column over the next few weeks for just such an announcement).

But make no mistake: the loss of Muse is a loss for all who treasure edgy, daring cinema options in our community. Kudos and a most sincere tip of the hat to JinHi, Mark and the tight-knit volunteer crew whose selfless hard work and steadfast dedication built and maintained that wonderful outlet for the benefit of so many others who possessed the vision to imagine inventive programming, but lacked the patience, drive, tenacity or ability to create a similar venue on their own. It will be sorely missed.

Now, looking ahead to next week or so in local alternative cinema programming …

‘Certain Women’

On Dec. 17 at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery, 9 W. Henry St., CinemaSavannah presents a one-night-only engagement of the new female-oriented feature from acclaimed indie director Kelly Reichardt, whose minimalist Western “Meek’s Cutoff” was included in the original batch of “Movies Savannah Missed” that I referenced above. Based on a trio of stories by author Maile Meloy (from her 2009 collection “Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It: Stories”), “Certain Women” boasts an enviable cast that includes Laura Dern (“Citizen Ruth”), Kristen Stewart (“On The Road”), Michelle Williams (“Manchester by the Sea”), James Le Gros (“Drugstore Cowboy”) and René Auberjonois (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”).

The picture, which won Best Film at the most recent London Film Festival, offers up subtly intertwined vignettes. Each focuses on a different strong-willed woman living in Montana and dealing with unusual (or unusually stressful) circumstances. While critics have offered raves for the nuanced acting and direction on display in this “uncompromisingly female” drama, some have pointed out that Reichardt’s trademark, sparse filmic sensibilities (which often include deliberately slow pacing, open-ended questions and unapologetically contemplative characters) aren’t for everyone.

“‘Certain Women’ requires patience from the viewer … but it’s a film of quiet and lingering beauty,” says the St. Louis-Dispatch, while the Chicago Tribune notes, “Reichardt and her first-rate ensemble find intersections of the mundane and the mysterious all around this broad, blustery landscape.”

Come prepared to be challenged, and you won’t be disappointed. Two shows, at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with $8 admission.

Holiday surprise

The very next night, Dec. 18, just a couple of blocks north of S.P.A.C.E. Gallery at The Sentient Bean, the PFS offers up a rare Sunday night event. Billed as a “Christmas Mystery Screening,” it’s one of the least-known American-made holiday-themed features of the past 50 years. It’s also a wildly entertaining romantic comedy with a pitch-perfect cast that has lapsed into unfortunate obscurity in the intervening decades since it first graced the big screen.

The exact title will not be revealed before showtime (that’s the “mystery” part), but for those of you playing at home, here are a few hints: Its lanky male lead is one of the most beloved comedic actors who’s ever lived, yet he’s only appeared in 23 motion pictures to date (he’s primarily known for his TV work); it marks the first big-screen role for its alluring female lead, who was already a household name for her work on one of the most popular TV sitcoms of its era; and it includes one of the earliest orchestral film scores by a legendary, award-winning composer, who went on to write the musical themes to many of the most successful motion pictures of all time.

It should also be noted that this screening roughly coincides with the 91st birthday of the male lead, who is still alive and occasionally appears in film and television projects to this day. Think you know what will be shown? Take a chance, buy a ticket and see if you’re right. Either way, you’ll likely enjoy this forgotten gem immensely. 8 p.m. showtime, with $7 admission.

The Grinch is back

The following day, Dec. 19, Springfield’s Mars Theatre will present a one-show-only matinee of Ron Howard’s live action adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s tale “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

Jim Carrey stars in the title role originally made famous by iconic British thespian Boris Karloff (who voiced the grouchy hermitic creature in the beloved 1966 animated TV special of the same name). The second highest-grossing holiday film made to date, it earned almost $350 million worldwide at the box office and was nominated for three technical Oscars. Still, critics said newly written material required to extend such a slim children’s book to feature length detracted from the poignancy of Seuss’ original tale, and that Carrey’s manic, unhinged portrayal of the Grinch was more frightening to children than enthralling.

Look for such ace character actors as Jeffrey Tambor (“The Larry Sanders Show”), Christine Baranski (“Bowfinger”) and Molly Shannon (“Other People”) in key roles, as well as Sir Anthony Hopkins as the narrator. It’s also worth noting that a CGI-animated remake of this timeless story (featuring no less an inspired choice than Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of the Grinch) is set to be released next year, which may well banish this 2000 effort to the dustbin of history. Tickets to this rare big-screen airing are only $7, with showtime at 2 p.m.

Finnish horror-fantasy

The following Wednesday, Dec. 21, the PFS’ regular weekly series of underappreciated cinema from around the globe unearths a true rarity of outstanding world cinema: 1952’s eerie Finnish horror-fantasy “Valkoinen peura” aka “The White Reindeer.” This gem of atmospheric B&W cinematography won the International Prize for Best Fairy Tale Film at the 1953 Cannes Film Fest (it was also nominated at for the Grand Prize at that same Cannes Fest) and took home the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film when it was belatedly released in the U.S. four years later. It also boasts an almost unheard-of 100 percent positive rating on RottenTomatoes.com.

As it’s based on pre-Christian Finnish mythology, it’s not a Christmas film per se; however, elements of its plot make it a suitably psychotronic booking for this time of year. A young, newly wed Laplander pines for her husband during his long trips away from their village, and seeks help from a local shaman to strengthen her marriage. Unfortunately, there is an unintended side effect: she is transformed at night into a shape-shifting, blood-drinking white reindeer that supernaturally attracts her fellow male villagers.

Those expecting shocks and terror are in for a surprise — this is not a frightening film, but rather an eerie, moody rumination on love, loneliness and mysticism that is set in an almost impossibly bleak and frigid landscape. It’s an unforgettable, 64-year-old snapshot of this sparsely populated and pristinely beautiful part of the world. The PFS will screen the definitive version of this exceedingly rare film, which was restored in 1986 and has never been released in the U.S. In spoken Finnish with English subtitles. 8 p.m. showtime, with $7 admission.

Girls Night Out

And finally, the next night, Dec. 22, the Tybee Post Theater offers up its latest “Girls Night Out at the Movies.” This time it’s director Richard Curtis’ seasonally appropriate 2003 romantic dramedy “Love Actually,” starring a fairly stupendous ensemble cast (including Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson and Emma Thompson). If you are one of the few who has not seen this unimaginably engrossing and insidiously cheerful look at the many facets of romantic love as seen through 10 (seemingly) separate tales that play out in the month leading up to Christmas, consider yourself publicly shamed. (I’m allowed to do that, as I am routinely publicly shamed for having never seen “The Goonies,” “Schindler’s List” or “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Ha!)

The cinematic equivalent of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, this exceedingly professional and polished piece of emotionally manipulative Yuletide cheer will charm even the most icy and broken of hearts. Trust me.

Standout performances include a breakthrough comedic comeback by deft British stage and TV actor Bill Nighy as a bitter, washed-up former pop music star (which nabbed him the prestigious BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor, the London Film Critics Circle Award for Best British Supporting Actor and the Evening Standard Peter Sellers Award for Comedy), Emma Thompson as a long-suffering wife (which afforded her the Empire Award for Best British Actress, the London Film Critics Circle Award for Best British Supporting Actress and the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress) and future “The Walking Dead” star Andrew Lincoln — all fresh-faced, lovelorn and cherubic — in a small but memorable role that earned him a nomination for the Empire Award for Best Newcomer. Showtime is 7 p.m., with $10 admission (includes a glass of wine for adults, and a package of Kleenex).

That’s it for this time, folks. 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 psychotronicfilms@hotmail.com.

IF YOU GO

What: “Certain Women”

When: 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Dec. 17

Where: S.P.A.C.E. Gallery, 9 W. Henry St.

Cost: $8, cash only

Info: cinesavannah@att.net

What: Christmas Mystery Screening

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 18

Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.

Cost: $7

Info: sentientbean.com

What: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

When: 2 p.m. Dec. 19

Where: Mars Theatre, 106 S. Laurel St., Springfield

Cost: $7

Info: marstheatre.com

What: “The White Reindeer”

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 21

Where: The Sentient Bean, 13 E. Park Ave.

Cost: $7

Info: sentientbean.com

What: “Love Actually”

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 22

Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.

Cost: $10, includes glass of wine

Info: tybeeposttheater.org

JIM’S NOTES

The Playlist’s Noel Murray called “Certain Women” an “utterly enthralling” movie that benefits greatly from the “mesmerizing effect” of its very slow pacing, while Guy Lodge (chief film critic for the U.K. edition of Variety) in reviewing the film described director Kelly Reichardt as the “quietest of great American filmmakers.”

A key plot point of the PFS’ “Christmas Mystery Film” hinges on a famous American department store chain known for starting a beloved annual televised Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“Love Actually” was a smash financial success, grossing almost $250 million at the worldwide box office on a budget of less than $50 million.

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