2019 HAS been a really, really difficult year. I say that not only in reference to myself, but in reference to most each and every person I know or am personally aware of around the world.
Between political division the likes of which have perhaps not been seen before in my lifetime, an extreme uptick in racial, religious and ethnic unrest and violence and an international breakdown in social mores have all combined to leave most of us feeling unmoored and vulnerable in ways we may never have dreamt we’d experience.
As Lou Reed once sang, “the bow’s being ripped to shreds, men (are) fighting down below.”
It’s enough to make you reach for a belt or a slug or a whip or a pillow.
But despite the madness and intolerance and narcissism and fear and paranoia and aggression and hypocrisy and Greta Van Fleet, there is still much, much more than a glimmer of hope for a better future. (At least as long as the sun’s burning rays will allow.) And that glimmer of hope is reflected in and through creative pursuits and public works of art.
Cinema stands at the height of our culture’s fine art forms, if only in the sense that it combines literature, illustration, graphic design, architecture, construction, music, photography, painting, fashion, motion, drama, comedy, rage, terror, romance, mystery, spirituality, light, shadow, truth, myth and fantasy all in one extant artistic vision.
As always, I encourage everyone to seek out and avail themselves of the most challenging examples of motion picture art (whatever that might mean to you) – ideally in a public, theatrical –or non-theatrical– setting (as the simple act of sharing the same space with both friends and strangers of all sorts for an hour or two to observe a subjective work such as a feature film can be a powerful and transformative experience).
This column is meant as a weekly signpost to assist adventurous film lovers to locate and hopefully make plans to attend such screenings which might otherwise go unnoticed.
The next several weeks will find alternative cinema offerings in our area increase in both frequency and diversity, with numerous classic and beloved feature films scheduled for one-show-only revivals at a few historic theaters and non-traditional viewing spaces – and a handful of noteworthy first-run independent and foreign gems also appearing in our area for one-show-only.
Connect Savannah’s Film Scene is the definitive source for advance information on those events and more. Please check back here every week for details on these and other cinematic happenings, and consider sharing a link to the online version of the column on social media.
As always, if you are involved in helping to present any sort of specialty film screening in the greater Savannah area, make sure to send full details on such events to firstname.lastname@example.org at least 14 days in advance, for possible inclusion in this column.
Now, here are the notable shows we’re aware of which are taking place over the next seven days:
Jan. 2 finds the historic, restored Mars Theatre in nearby Springfield, Ga. launching a seven-day run of the latest effort from acclaimed writer-director Rian Johnson (“The Last Jedi”). “Knives Out” is a tightly-wound, old-school “whodunnit” that’s built on the bones of a couple handfuls of vintage British and American murder mysteries from the 1970s and 1980s.
Boasting a star-studded cast (most of whom are hamming it up and seemingly enjoying the chance to play against type) and a convoluted plot with more twists and turns than North Carolina’s Tail of the Dragon, it’s a love letter of sorts to the old-fashioned Agatha Christie-inspired popcorn flicks many of us used to enjoy tremendously as kids (think “Murder By Death” or “Sleuth”).
While not nearly as amazing a movie as some reviewers might have you believe, “Knives Out” is definitely a rock-solid piece of work that features a handful of memorable performances and once again showcases Daniel “James Bond” Craig as a more than competent comedic foil. Plus, anytime you get to see Don Johnson chew the scenery on a big-screen is a treat in and of itself.
Make sure you watch every scene carefully, as it’s the little things that count most in a film of this sort. And, whatever you do, keep the murderer’s identity a secret so as not to spoil the fun for those who have not yet seen the picture. 7 p.m. showtimes on Jan. 2, 3, 4, 9 and 11, with 3 p.m. matinees on Jan. 5 and 12.
Heading out to Tybee Island, the restored, historic Tybee Post Theater, which is similar in size and scope to the Mars, opens the recently-released and well-received docudrama “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” on Jan. 3. Though the commercials and trailer for this heartwarming feature make it appear to be a fairly straightforward biopic of the late, beloved children’s educator and TV personality “Mister” Fred Rogers (portrayed ably by Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks), the reality is that Rogers is more of a key supporting character in this tale of a journalist whose interactions with the iconic and famously inspirational TV show host winds up having an unexpectedly cathartic and healing affect on his own life.[image-2]
Make sure to grab some extra napkins from the concession stand, as I am told a mysterious prankster has been showing up at virtually every screening of this film around the world and furiously chopping onions in the back row. 7 p.m. showtimes on Jan. 3, 4 and 5, plus 3 p.m. matinees on Jan. 3 and 5.
And finally, if you’re a fan of underrated character actors (and seriously, who isn’t?), you may be thrilled to learn that the Psychotronic Film Society’s long-running weekly series of standout feature films from around the globe continues on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at the Sentient Bean Coffeeshop on Forsyth Park with a rare public viewing of the infamous yet essentially unknown 1977 exploitation thriller “Fight for Your Life!”, which stars an impossibly young William Sanderson in his first-ever movie role.
Not familiar with Sanderson by name? Well, you’d likely recognize his craggy face, soft southern drawl and the simmering intensity this almost criminally underrated actor has brought to such feature films as “Blade Runner,” “Savage Weekend,” “The Client,” “Gods and Generals” and “Avatar,” – not to mention his stellar episodic TV work as a key supporting actor on such fondly remembered series as “Newhart” (in which he played the backwoodsman “Larry”), “Deadwood” (in which he played obsequious wild west hotelier E.B. Farnum) and “True Blood” (in which he played Sheriff Bud Dearborne). Much like Brad Dourif or Tracey Walter, he’s one of those great, naturalistic screen thespians who consistently turns in phenomenal work often relegated to subplots and overshadowed by main actors.
However, in this, his earliest onscreen appearance, he is the main actor. And the Memphis, Tn. native goes for the gold in an intense, over-the-top performance as Jessie Lee Kane, a horribly bigoted redneck convict who escapes from prison with two other violent criminals, one of whom is Mexican and one of whom is Asian. Together they stage a home invasion and take a black Baptist minister and his family hostage, terrorizing them in the process.
Yes, this entire plot sounds like the setup to a very offensive joke, and, in a way it is. By that I mean that “Fight for Your Life!” is inherently ugly, disturbing and inappropriate. Especially in the way it traffics in outdated and unpleasant stereotypes.
However, the film also operates on several other levels, and a compelling critical argument has been made that it’s actually a very sly sendup of racially offensive “blaxploitation” films – albeit one whose winking satire was lost on most all who viewed it when first released and saw in it nothing more than vulgar depravity.
In fact, “TV Guide” magazine described it as “a vile low-budget film that couldn’t have found a receptive audience,” and to date the film remains banned in the U.K., where censors prevented it from being released in theaters and even outlawed videotapes and DVDs of the movie strictly based on the racist language used by Sanderson’s character. So, yeah, this film is not for everyone!
However, those who appreciate the opportunity to see a vintage slice of sleazy, lurid grindhouse filmmaking that was designed to push people’s buttons and force them to confront their own feelings on white supremacist views and aggressively sexist behavior will likely get a big kick out of this daring and provocative movie. 8 p.m. showtime for mature audiences only, with craft beer and organic wine on special during the film.
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 the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah.