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Isolation Binge: Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah’s Jim Reed 

Film buff breaks down his most watched films during isolation

PEOPLE are undoubtedly leaning on movies, TV, and music right now in these dark, uncertain times. It might actually be the apex of binge-watching, considering that most everyone is staying indoors right now. We decided to sit down with some of the most passionate film fans and connoisseurs that Savannah has to offer, to find out what they’re watching right now and why movies mean so much to them.

First up in the series is Jim Reed, Executive & Artistic Director of the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah.

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Tell me about a movie or show you’ve watched/have been watching during isolation. What is it, and what’s a brief synopsis?

For those who perhaps know me primarily from my role as founder and curator of the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah—an organization which is, generally speaking, focused on unearthing and presenting marginalized or little-known feature films so that they may be appreciated and/or reassessed by adventurous viewers—it may come as a surprise that I have not been gorging myself on film and TV during this period of forced isolation, as it seems many if not most folks have. I suppose since so much of my time is normally spent doing exactly that (for research purposes related to programming the PFS), that it only makes sense my time in this crisis would be spent doing almost the exact opposite! [Laughs]

I certainly have been digging up some decidedly psychotronic titles that I’ve been hosting for the PFS’ Free Online Viewing Parties (which take place every Wednesday and Sunday at 8 p.m. EST, and are available for anyone to watch and then discuss in real-time via our Private Facebook Group at facebook.com/groups/2519522234807695). However, to be honest, my time has mostly been spent trying to make good on the long-overdue responsibility of sorting and pricing several thousand books, records, CDs, cassettes, VHS tapes, posters and concert shirts that I’ve been meaning to divest myself of for several years now.

My viewing habits during these past few weeks have gravitated more towards audio-visual “comfort food” than the more edgy and challenging fare I usually immerse myself in. To that end, I have been streaming a good number of mainstream TV series that I either follow as “guilty pleasures” (such as ‘The Blacklist”) or which I have never seen before but which numerous friends and acquaintances have referenced over the years. Most people always seem agog that I had never before looked into such wildly popular “procedural” medical and mystery shows like “House” or “Monk.”

Yet, as a diehard fan of the early-‘80s medical dramedy “St. Elsewhere” and the wonderfully formulaic 1970s detective series like “Columbo” and “Cannon,” I have found much to like about both of those more recent shows. “Monk” is fun to watch simply for the surprisingly high production value and the caliber of the shtick on display from all the main actors – especially Ted Levine, who’s probably best known as the twisted and perverse serial killer “Buffalo Bob” in “Silence of the Lambs,” but here instead convincingly plays a straight-laced, put-upon Police Captain. He’s Inspector Lestrade to Tony Shaloub’s simulacrum of Sherlock Holmes.

I suppose the thing I dig most about “Monk” is the same thing that perturbs me about it: it premiered in 2002 and clearly takes a healthy dose of inspiration from one of my favorite unsung films of all-time, the 1998 Bill Pullman and Kim Dickens-led mystery-romance “Zero Effect,” which served as Jake Kasdan’s directorial debut. That’s another contemporary reworking of the Holmes’ story, and one made long before the more recent glut of Sherlock reduces which have somewhat numbed one to the notion of seeing that format transposed into the present-day. By all means, I encourage anyone who enjoys a good and clever mystery to seek out “Zero Effect.” And don’t let the fact that Ben Stiller’s involved keep you away, if you don’t dig his work. He did not write or direct this movie. He’s merely a supporting actor, and he’s not really doing his “Ben Stiller” thing here, either. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would call up Kasdan, Pullman, Dickens and Stiller and offer to bankroll a direct sequel to that film, giving them carte blanche to do whatever they wished with it. That’s how much I love that movie, and especially Pullman’s unforgettable performance in it.

Why do you think you’re resonating with something like this right now?

There’s an old Frank Zappa song from the late 1970s in which he, as singer, is playing the role of an everyman who is bargaining with the devil for his own soul. At a key point in the song he says to the devil, “I’m a simple person. I have very small desires in life.” You can look up Frank’s live performance of this song from Halloween night, 1977, if you’d like. I suppose I am the same way, in the sense that despite my proclivity for oddball art and entertainment, at heart, things which many people take for granted, such as common courtesies, transient joys and the glint of the midday sun on a discarded chewing gum wrapper bring me a sense of contentment and wonder.

When I give myself over completely to a bewilderingly funny slice of British absurdist humor such as Matt Berry’s gobsmackingly brilliant satire of an emotionally stunted dramatic actor and voice-over artist, the 30-minute Channel Four series “Toast of London” (which ran for three unimpeachable seasons and is finally officially available here in the states via Netflix), or to revisiting one of my most beloved TV flops from decades past: the forgotten 1988 Canadian-made action drama “T. and T.”, which starred Mr. T as a dapper, business-suit-wearing private detective who routinely beat the hell out of people as punishment for their criminal behavior (and which was primarily seen here in the USA though syndication on local UHF stations), I am switching off my mind almost completely. I am engaging with filmed entertainment strictly on its own terms, and avoiding the very real horrors of our time – be they political, medical, ethical, moral or environmental.

Give me a breakdown of your favorite scene/moment?

I am very bad at choosing favorites of anything. That said, back in 2013, I sourced out unofficial copies of “Toast of London” episodes within days of their first release on British TV, and years before they were available in this country. I sat in bed with headphones on and watched them over and over and over again until I one day realized I could almost recite the dialog to each episode by memory. They were that hysterical and physically calming to me. Any interactions between Berry’s lead character of Steven Toast and Harry Peacock’s character of his bitter rival, actor Ray Purchase, still keep me in stitches to this day, even though I know pretty much exactly what each will say and do in a given scene. To witness top-shelf comedic timing and full committal to absurdist situations is very freeing and soothing to me. Especially now, when our uniquely human ability to summon laughter in the face of perilous adversity has never been more challenged – at least in my lifetime.

This might be the peak of binge-watching culture. Why, from your perspective, do you think people are grasping so tightly on to film and TV right now?

Because the world of make-believe is of paramount importance right now. We in this country need immediate and constant mental and emotional relief and release if we are to collectively get through the sick, unfunny joke which is the horrifically inadequate and shambolic response to this crisis that’s been offered (grudgingly, I might add) by many of our “leaders.” I am not in any way suggesting that we laugh our way through this time of strife and death. But I am suggesting that unless we collectively tap into the beneficial aspects of creative culture which we have at our disposal –such as art, music, literature, film, television, dance and poetry– our global spirit will surely degrade if not perish.

There’s a lot of anxiety in the world right now, and I think we’re seeing a shift in the way that people view creatives from a perspective of value and professional importance because of the fact that people are using art (music, TV, etc) to help them stay sane. What do you hope is the takeaway from all this, when it comes to the attitude the average person has towards someone who creates art that they may have previously taken for granted?

For decades now, in the USA at least, many who brand themselves “conservatives” –whatever that is supposed to mean anymore in the era of our current dysfunctional government– have cast themselves as vanquishers of culture. They have repeatedly attempted to minimize or completely revoke any and all public funding for the arts. In some cases they have succeeded. They have done so in an attempt to paint (pun intended) artists and purveyors of cultural education and entertainment as frivolous, non-essential elements of society at large. They have revelled in the illogical and reductive notion that a country does not need art in order to thrive and possibly not even in order to survive. They believe (or at least pretend to believe) that any and all art and culture should be financed and supported by private individuals, rather than by our country’s collective funding. This, despite the fact that most every other major country on Earth places tremendous value on the arts and culture and devotes a notable segment of their national budget to enhancing and diversifying those pursuits. These leaders claim they have taken this position because they feel that since art is inherently subjective, there is no point in trying to seek agreement on what constitutes “worthy” forms of artistic expression, and therefore no point in using taxpayer monies to support the arts.

Yet there is similarly no common agreement on when, where and how acts of violence and warfare should be perpetrated on our country’s “enemies,” though taxpayer funds are routinely used for such purposes. In 1997, the provocative fine artist Richard Prince said, “I don’t think art has a consensus. I don’t think ten people in a room talking about art could agree about whether something is good or bad art.”

Now, I, myself believe fervently that the arts are one of our greatest natural resources, because when supported, promoted and preserved, they generate incredible, intangible dividends to all who view or experience them. They allow us as human beings to triumph over adversity by boosting our spirits, increasing our fortitude, stimulating our minds and lightening (or weighing heavily on) our hearts. They bolster our empathy and foster creativity and an understanding of the commonality of the entire human race.

Richard Prince also said that “Art is a revolution that makes people feel good.” So, if some of Connect Savannah’s readers find themselves too timid for other forms of revolution which this moment in our history might seem to indicate are required for the betterment of all mankind, perhaps we can at least all agree upon supporting and upholding the type of human behavior which –by and large– makes people feel good? cs

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Sean Kelly

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