Savannah Film Festival: A reporter's notebook 

A boffo opening weekend

ALTHOUGH I WAS UNABLE TO MAKE the opening night of the 11th Annual Savannah Film Festival, I’m told that Darren Aronofsky’s latest critically-hailed offering, The Wrestler, did not disappoint.

In fact, despite the fact that the screening (held in tandem with a Lifetime Achievement Award presentation to Variety Magazine’s Vice President and Editor-In-Chief Peter Bart for Outstanding Contribution to Entertainment Journalism) began almost an hour behind schedule, several folks I spoke with said the film —which is being almost universally viewed as a late-career high-watermark for lead actor Mickey Rourke— was fantastic.

Apparently, so is his co-star Marisa Tomei’s naked body, which is reportedly displayed prominently during the film. One might assume the actress recently paid a hefty sum for the upkeep of that scarily taut instrument, as she has chosen at this stage in her own career to graphically bare all in both this motion picture as well as 2007’s Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead.

9:30 am the next morning was way too early for the engrossing and disorienting Your Name Here — writer/director Matthew Wilder’s wildly ambitious (yet inherently flawed) debut feature. It’s a decidedly art-house picture starring the reliably captivating Bill Pullman as a ‘70s-era sci-fi author turned counterculture hero who —after years of abusing methamphetamine— finds himself slipping unwillingly into altered states of consciousness.

The resulting psychotic episodes, which vacillate between anti-establishment paranoia, euphoric delusions of grandeur and creepy, sexually charged fantasies make for a non-stop, hallucinatory roller coaster ride of emotion that I found compelling and impressively executed (think a cross between Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch). But the budgetary constraints and sloppy sound mix (which often found the score annoyingly drowning out key dialogue) left me awash in the sadly unfulfilled potential of greatness.

Fans of iconic writer Philip K. Dick will grok that Pullman (channeling tics from perhaps his greatest —and least known— role in The Zero Effect) is effectively playing an imagined version of that cult scribe — albeit one whose name has been changed (to, of all things, William J. Frick) so as not to run afoul of Dick’s estate, nor Paul Giamatti’s upcoming Dick biopic, which is currently in production.

Sunday’s screening of The Wrecking Crew, first-time director Denny Tedesco’s love letter to his father, legendary L.A. session guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and his cadre of extraordinary studio musicians, was well attended, and received thunderous applause.

Packed with amazing songs which highlight the hundreds of hit singles and classic albums from the ‘50s through the ‘70s that were secretly crafted by a little over two dozen highly paid, virtually unknown masters of their instruments, it’s a dazzling and eye-opening look at the golden age of the U.S. record business.

Many in the audience seemed agog to learn that despite whose pictures were on the record covers, the backing musicians in such disparate groups as Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, The Monkees, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Association, The Carpenters, The Righteous Brothers, The Captain & Tennille, The Mamas & the Papas and more were all the same folks.

They also served as anonymous players on smash sides by both Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Ike & Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, Sonny & Cher, The Ronettes and more. Unlike 2003’s Standing in the Shadows of Motown —which this film is sure to be compared to— it does not reunite living Crew members for a triumphant concert.

Instead, revealing and candid interviews with key players (shot over a 12-year period) are paired with rare 8mm film footage and behind-the-scenes stills to paint a vivid portrait of one of the most incredible —and incredibly unknown— “bands” that has ever existed.

Later that evening, after accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award of his own (which he accidentally dropped and broke backstage just before the ceremony), celebrated British actor Malcolm McDowell gamely took questions from the Trustees Theater crowd about his illustrious career and his latest film, Never Apologize, which documents for posterity a one-man stage show he wrote and performed in honor of his late mentor and friend, director Lindsay Anderson.

(He had also spoke at length earlier that afternoon following a screening of perhaps his most famous starring role in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.)

Affable and erudite, he was effusive in his praise of the Savannah Film Festival — noting that it is the only such event he is aware of which is held in tandem with a college level film and video department.

“Savannah is lucky to have a school like SCAD here,” he said, adding, “and SCAD is very lucky to have a town like Savannah.”

Threading the fingers of both hands together in a symbol of cooperation, he arched one eyebrow and said with a playful smile, “It’s called synergy.” cs


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