IT’S NOT NEWS that beloved local musician and artist Keith Kozel has been suffering from a rare kidney malady. His family, friends, and fans have been dealing with that fact for years now, and have helped out whenever they could.
But that’s exactly why the people who care most about him are putting on a charity event this weekend: To make sure people don’t forget. And don’t stop helping.
This year’s fundraiser to help Kozel pay his medical bills is a unique triple bill of “grindhouse” style B-movies, put on by his buddy Jim Reed, fellow musician and head of the Psychotronic Film Society.
“I’ve known Keith since a few weeks after I turned 17,” says Reed. “I met him the first or second day I arrived in Savannah, and we immediately became close. Our friendship and creative collaborations over the past three decades have provided me with some of the most memorable and happy moments—and some of the most lasting artistic achievements—of my life.”
A little over a year ago, when Keith’s health began to deteriorate faster than expected, it became obvious that a lot of money would have to be raised to help pay for doctor visits, dialysis treatments and, ideally, a life-saving kidney transplant.
“My health has continued to decline, though I feel a good bit better because I am on dialysis,” Kozel tells Connect.
“My dialysis treatments leave me tired for about six hours and they take four hours, three days a week,” he says.
Kozel cites his wife Carrie and daughter Zelia as “my greatest strengths and inspirations. We have a few people who babysit for us during my treatments and that’s a huge help. Jim has been on Team Kozel putting in tons of work, my friends are all very supportive, and our families have been very much at our aid.”
Team Kozel has come up “with all sorts of ideas on unusual ways to try and generate donations from friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers,” Reed says.
Some of these ideas were Reed’s, some were Kozel’s, and some were hatched collaboratively. Last fall came a screening of Tim Burton’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure at the Lucas.
“That drew over 400 people, made a lot of folks happy, and raised a nice bit of money for Keith,” says Reed. “But Keith and I also wanted to come up with some smaller fundraisers that would be more niche-oriented.”
That’s where the Sleaze-O-Rama! triple-feature comes in. Reed says the initial idea was Kozel’s, as far back as last summer.
“I’m a huge fan of this genre of film. especially psychedelic biker flicks,” Kozel tells us.
“I’m consistently entertained by their over-the-top storytelling and politically incorrect subject matter. It’s pure escapism and the dangerous rock ‘n’ roll vibe translated into film. They are so dear to my heart that I wanted to team up with the Psychotronic Film Society and show some real freaky films.”
“Keith and I are both diehard fans of the delightfully seedy exploitation film genre of the ‘60s through the ‘80s, which includes all sorts of disparate sub-categories—like violent revenge flicks, women-in-prison movies, juvenile delinquent dramas, raunchy sex comedies and so-called blaxploitation films,” Reed explains —the latter referencing low-budget action movies with majority black casts made specifically to play to black audiences at inner-city theaters.
“Keith felt it would be a novelty to show those kinds of films on the big screen—as most folks have never seen these sorts of movies at all, and those who have usually found them on VHS or DVD, and watched them at home on a TV,” Reed says.
“None of the movies we’re showing on Saturday were ever meant to be seen on television, or for that matter, on a computer screen. Back when they were produced, there was no cable TV or even VCRs, let alone the internet. Their directors would likely not have conceived of a world where such raunchy, politically incorrect subject matter would ever be seen outside of the confines of a dark, run-down cinema or drive-in movie theater.”
Reed and Kozel hope this all-day triple feature will act as a sort of “time machine” for folks in attendance. “The idea is to come as close as possible to recreating the feel of going to see these movies back in the day at a dirty, run-down grindhouse cinema in a bad part of town,” Reed says.
Except, of course, that Muse Arts Warehouse isn’t dirty or run-down or in a bad part of town, Reed laughs.
“JinHi, Mark and everyone associated with Muse has been key to making this event happen. They support Keith’s cause greatly, and their roomy, quiet, downtown venue is the perfect place to hold Sleaze-O-Rama!” says Reed.
“There’s no other space in the city that would even remotely make sense for a quirky cinema event of this kind. So, in all honesty, this would simply not be happening without Muse’s generosity and goodwill.”
As an added attraction, Reed says, “we’ll also include a bunch of rare coming attractions for other sleazy gems before each film, and local record-collecting DJs will spin sets of vintage psychedelic soul and garage music in between shows to keep the mood going.”
The evening will also be an opportunity to really experience the breadth of offerings from Reed’s Psychotronic Film Society, dating back to its founding in 2003.
“I now have a few thousand features and trailers in the archive, many of which are either long out-of-print, or have never been commercially released in the USA,” Reed says.
“Most of these titles have been acquired over time from other private collectors around the world—many of whom actually search out and buy old 16mm and 35mm film prints of rare and/or forgotten movies and then preserve these fragile reels by transferring them onto digital formats."
For Sleaze-O-Rama!, Reed says he’s going through his vaults and browsing through hundreds of super-rare trailers to find some that might actually have been shown onscreen before each of these three features back in their original theatrical release.
For those not familiar with the genre, “Grindhouse films were made on a shoestring budget by people who either didn’t care that the films looked cheap, or who tried to squeeze every last penny as far as they could to overcome budgetary limitations. Often, all that mattered was getting a complete take that was fairly in focus,” Reed says.
“So, you either wind up with awkwardly charming time capsules of a particular time and place in society, or surprisingly charming examples of reckless and inventive filmmaking. Either one is a winner in my book,” he says.
The important thing to remember when watching grindhouse films is that virtually every one was largely seen as disposable by the people who made them.
“It was simply assumed that they’d have a limited run of a few months to a couple of years in scuzzy cinemas or drive-ins, and then vanish forever,” Reed says.
The notion that almost 40 years after The Guy From Harlem was first released “there would be somebody like myself waxing rhapsodic in a newspaper interview about how wonderfully enjoyable a film it is and how proud they are to show it at a kidney transplant fundraiser is, on its face, slightly ludicrous,” Reed says.
“I’m sure it would be quite unimaginable to the film’s director.”
Some of the films advertised on the trailers are even more obscure than the ones Reed is showing that day.
“In some cases, the films in these trailers have actually become lost forever, as their negatives and/or film prints have either deteriorated or been destroyed by folks who mistakenly thought they had little or no value. Ironically, all that remains of some of these bizarre movies are the trailers designed to promote them! To me, that’s very sad.”
Kozel, of course, has been a key component in the growth of Savannah’s music scene, as vocalist in the glam/punk/show band GAM and guitarist and vocalist in sludge/stoner rockers Superhorse.
While his health keeps him from being as active as he used to be, Kozel still keeps a close eye on what’s happening on local stages.
“There are a ton of great bands in Savannah right now. I hope we continue on that course,” Kozel says.
“Unfortunately this city is becoming less tolerant of underground culture and is making it difficult—not necessarily on purpose—to run a venue or have a band.”
As for this event and his support network, he simply says:
“I would like to say thank you to our community for coming to the aid of people in need. I love you all. We never forget those we love.”