Well, after several weeks of almost non-stop alternative cinema events taking place around town, we have finally reached that moment when the entire area film scene seems to be taking a breath and putting its feet up. For a moment, at least.
Over the next seven days, there are only three notable celluloid happenings going on outside of the realm of our nearby mainstream corporate-owned multiplexes. That frees up a bit of space in this week’s column which would normally be taken up with a seemingly endless parade of blurbs and short synopses of all the different offerings up for grabs.
So, allow me to take a moment, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and mention a few things about said film community that I am thankful for.
First up, I am thankful that after 15 years of continuous, weekly operation, the Psychotronic Film Society is still going strong. In the decade-and-a-half since I founded that peculiar little upstart series of overlooked, marginalized and unjustly forgotten feature films from around the world, the fiercely DIY organization has weathered all manner of speed bumps and hardships, including the theft of almost 90 percent of our somewhat legendary archive of rare and/or unreleased movies. Yet, slowly but surely, the PFS continues to fulfill its mission of providing adventurous viewers with the opportunity to discover motion pictures they might never have heard of otherwise, and to see them in a quiet and respectful theatrical, or at least semi-theatrical, setting.
Secondly, I am thankful that my fellow movie lover and champion of “difficult” pictures, Tomasz Warchol, continues to curate and run the CinemaSavannah organization, bringing a steady stream of critically acclaimed, first-run foreign and independent films to town for special one-day-only engagements. His programming choices make for a wonderful and valuable complement to those of the PFS, and without his devoted and selfless efforts, our city would miss out on the opportunity to see a couple of dozen standout titles every year.
Thirdly, I am thankful that Ryan Graveface, indefatigable proprietor of the Graveface Records retail shop and its associated Terror Vision record label, can be counted on to promote and present an impressive variety of horror-themed film screenings throughout the year in all manner of unpredictable venues. His monomaniacal dedication to all things creepy, gruesome, grisly and hilariously morbid fills a void in our area that was not even known to exist before he relocated here and made his presence and inimitable ethos known.
Fourthly, I am thankful that SCAD has continued to invest in and promote not only the annual SCAD Savannah Film Festival, the single most impressive, audacious and professional annual cinema event in the region by leaps and bounds, but also its increasingly popular yearlong series of educational screenings known as the Cinema Circle. Those one-show-only evening events at Trustees Theater find faculty members from the school’s film, television and animation departments (as well as guest cinema scholars such as myself) presenting important motion pictures and discussing their creation and legacies with the assembled audiences. Both the festival and the Cinema Circle are invaluable resources available to the general public, often for as little as $5 a ticket.
And finally, I am thankful that the good folks here at the Savannah Morning News and Do Savannah have seen fit to support and print my Film Scene column for the past several years. I know from the many folks who approach me in person to offer kind words about the column that it has become a welcome and useful aid in helping locals and tourists alike to plan their leisure time and maximize their opportunities to enjoy challenging movie-making on the big screen.
Thanks for your readership, and I hope to provide this sort of one-stop coverage of local filmic events for many more years to come.
Now, let’s take a look at what’s on tap for this upcoming week.
First up is the latest cinematic adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic 1957 children’s book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which, this time around, is simply called “The Grinch.” True, this is about as mainstream a release as you’ll ever find mentioned here in Film Scene, but the reason it’s been included is that while it can be found in numerous standard-issue multiplexes around the area, it’s also playing at the beautiful Mars Theatre in nearby Springfield.
We always like to push folks toward attending our local restored, historic movie houses, such as the Tybee Post Theater, Trustees Theater and Lucas Theatre for the Arts, and the Mars is no exception. It could be arguably the main reason to travel to the tiny hamlet of Springfield. This single-screen venue was redone a few years ago after decades out of service, and holds not many more than 200 patrons. It boasts a completely state-of-the-art sound and image system, comfy, modern seats and small-town charm to spare.
Critics are divided over this latest, CGI-animated version of the Grinch story, so beware: the movie might not be very good. But, it does star the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, and the admission prices at the Mars are considerably cheaper than any corporate chain you’ll find. So, throw your money their way and enjoy a leisurely drive there and back. Tell ‘em Film Scene sent ya. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Nov. 15 and 17, plus a 3 p.m. matinee Nov. 18.
Messy but triumphant
Now, speaking of the Lucas Theatre, I am beyond thrilled to say that on Nov. 18, they’re offering a matinee of their own, and it’s a doozy.
Every so often, the Psychotronic Film Society rents the Lucas and presents a truly bizarre and visionary motion picture that would otherwise not be seen on the big screen in our area, and believe me when I say that the film the Lucas has chosen to show that afternoon is one I have considered putting on there many times over the past decade.
It’s writer-director Bob Fosse’s infamous semi-autobiographical musical fantasy “All That Jazz,” starring Roy (“Jaws”) Scheider in the Fosse-inspired role, Jessica Lange as the Angel of Death (yes, you read that right) and the criminally underappreciated Cliff Gorman (“The Boys in the Band”) as Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce. Seriously. Wrap your head around that one.
Released to a fairly bewildered public in 1979, this wondrous, head-scratching, delightful inside-out portrait of nervous exhaustion abetted by physical and mental abuse is a true one-of-a-kind picture. That is, of course, unless you’ve seen Fellini’s “8 ½” or Dylan’s “Renaldo and Clara.”
Chain-smoking, sleep avoidance, alcohol and speed are the cocktail that keep Scheider’s stage and screen director “Joe Gideon” going as he simultaneously edits a production-troubled biopic of real-life social satirist Lenny Bruce and attempts to mount a massive Broadway production of “Chicago.” In reality, Fosse’s own 1974 biopic “Lenny” starred Hoffman as the controversial comedian. As Gideon’s health starts to deteriorate and his mental faculties start to fail him, we as viewers are treated to seeing what he himself sees from his hospital bed: vignettes from his life, filtered through his drug and death’s-door haze, staged as elaborate song-and-dance numbers.
It won the Palme d'Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival, the event’s most prestigious honor. Yet it’s not hard to find folks who hate this movie. I mean hate it. They will tell you point-blank that it’s meandering and confusing and self-indulgent and amateurish and insipid and narcissistic and embarrassing to all concerned.
Those folks would be wrong.
In actuality, it’s a beautiful, messy, glorious and ultimately triumphant display of artistic bravado that is almost too nervy and daring for some viewers to accept. They reflexively put up walls to keep out their own conflicting emotions, which are brought about by the film’s masterful blurring of reality and hallucination.
The Lucas is showing “All That Jazz” as part of a series of noteworthy musicals, and the musical numbers are indeed thrilling. But trust me when I say that there are few films ever made and released by a major Hollywood studio, in this case, 20th Century Fox, that are this flat-out psychotronic. It’s simply a must-see for anyone who likes to feel challenged by cinema instead of placated by it, and this is a rare opportunity indeed to see it in a vintage movie palace befitting the film’s pomp and circumstance. 3 p.m. showtime.
Turkey with PFS
And finally, on Nov. 21 at The Sentient Bean coffeehouse on the southern end of Forsyth Park, the PFS celebrates Thanksgiving a day early with its own tradition. It’s called “Turkey for Turkey Day.” That’s when the organization selects a supremely bad movie that is well worthy of derision. Something folks can really laugh at and enjoy for its flaws and faults rather than instead of them.
Named in honor of the 1980 paperback book “The Golden Turkey Awards,” which celebrated legendarily hilarious cinematic misfires, the exact title of each year’s “turkey” or dud of a movie is a closely guarded secret that is not revealed until showtime. It could be a drama, a romance, an action flick, a horror movie, a comedy, a sci-fi epic or a musical. All that matters, however, is that it’s terrible, and folks are encouraged to buy a ticket, take a chance and come prepared to laugh. Discounts on organic wine and craft beer during the film will help grease the wheels. 8 p.m. showtime.
Until next issue, see you at the movies, be kind to those around you and don’t forget to turn off that cell phone.
Jim Reed directs the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah.