Jim Reed

My Favorite Savannah Things #1: The Psychotronic Film Society

I shall perform a public service and begin listing, one at a time, all the things to do or places to go in Savannah that I think not enough visitors (and sometimes locals) know about. Many of these will be things I regularly post about on my Facebook page or events I list on my website calendar, but I will be able to include more detail here. This is the place to find out who these people are, what such-and-such organization is all about, and what the venue is like. 

The first entry on my list of favorite things? The Psychotronic Film Society. I love it so much and I want to share the love with others so much, I would bodily shove my tourists in the door and force them to partake if I didn't know such rudeness would tank my TripAdvisor rating. And what the hell is the Psychotronic Film Society? In brief, it's a film screening at a downtown café called The Sentient Bean almost every Wednesday night at 8pm, and sometimes special screenings at The Muse Arts Warehouse. Who runs this so-called "society"? Really it's just the one guy. Just Jim. I've mentioned him before- he's the drummer for local band Superhorse. Before I ever knew he was a musician, though, he was the guy who showed the weird movies. Some people know him only as "MOVIE MAN!" like he's some kind of celluloid vigilante. I cannot remember my first encounter or conversation with the weird-movie-guy any more than I can remember what was the first Psychotronic Film I watched. I only know it is meet and becoming that Jim and the PFS are a part of my life now.

What can you expect when you attend the Sentient Bean on PFS night? What does Jim do, exactly? The Celluloid Avenger rescues cinephiles from mediocrity by showing only two types of movies: very good ones and very bad ones. The picture may not be one you like, but it will be one you always remember. Some of the best movie-viewing experiences I've ever had were on PFS night. Ticket prices usually range from $6-$8, purchased at the register. The café has coffee, food, and a little beer and wine as well.  

Sometimes Jim's choice is nearly mainstream, such as when he screened The Wicker Man as part of the Psychotronic Film Festival one year. Not the crap one with Nicholas Cage, the good one with Christopher Lee (may he rest in peace). That was the first time I had ever seen it (it's one of my favorite movies now) and also the first time I ever saw a standing room only crowd at the Sentient Bean. Jim screened a fairly well-known Finnish film for Christmas one year called Rare Exports. I've been begging him to reprise it every Christmas since. However, severe obscurity usually characterizes the offerings. The movie that blows my mind the most even now is a Czech film called Tomorrow I'll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea. I have never seen a movie succeed so well as both a time travel story and a comedy. (Yes, it's better than Back to the Future.) And there were Nazis! Time-traveling Nazis! (Take that, Robert Zemeckis.) 

On the opposite (terrible) end of the spectrum, there have been some Godfrey Ho movies; various cheesy rip-offs of mainstream blockbusters; and, yes indeed, a special screening of Tommy Wiseau's The Room. The most recent bad movie I saw at The Bean was a sweaty train wreck called The Maddening. It was not merely bad, it was ambitiously bad. John Huston's son Danny Huston directed it and you could tell he really believed he was making a good movie. He put so much love into that movie. The cast was crawling with A-listers and character actors and a fully insane Burt Reynolds. It just... it all went horribly, gloriously wrong somehow, and we the audience were privileged to revel in this overwrought dreck. Imagine if Alfred Hitchcock had been great with camera work, but God-awful at script writing. Something like that. It was magnificent.  

What else do I like about PFS night? The crowd. Sometimes there are a fair number of people, but mostly there are regulars- we happy few that return week after week, ready to buckle up and let Jim have the wheel. Illuminating the PFS roster are Jack, former guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers; David Stone, Academy Award winning sound designer; Axelle Kieffer, local artist; a rotating assortment of activists, baristas, social butterflies; and, of course, one tour guide who usually takes Wednesdays off. The truth, however, is that the regular crowd doesn't come just for the movies. They come for Jim. Each Wednesday is a ritualistic show of devotion and support for a good friend. Warm affection suffuses the room just as much as the scent of warm coffee. It's a good vibe, is what I'm saying.

Why is Jim so damn special? I dunno. Because he's always broke, but never bitter? Because each and every answer he gives to any question is a masterclass in circuitous storytelling? Maybe because he prefaces almost every film screening with a 25-minute lecture about that movie and the people who made it, usually concluding with the phrase "This film is extremely rare and has never been released in any format anywhere in the world," or "All the original negatives were destroyed in a warehouse fire," or "The studio was embarrassed and didn't want anyone to ever see this picture and destroyed all copies." (None of these is an exaggeration.) Or maybe it's because whenever I ask him, "Well then, Jim, how did you get a copy?" he's managed to avoid giving me an answer for years. Clearly, Jim is a wizard and each and every screening is actually some kind of magic show.  

So come and be spellbound either by the movie, the local characters, or the caffeine buzz. What better way to elevate a day as lame as Wednesday? You can keep up with the PFS by asking to join Jim's mailing list (psychotronicfilms@hotmail.com), visiting the Sentient Bean's website to check their events calendar, or following Jim's Film Scene column in our local newspaper. 

A night at The Jinx with Superhorse, an Evening with Legs McNeil

Yeah, it's been too long since my last post. I know that. Whatchu gonna do about it, huh? Huh?! I do have one or two good excuses on top of my usual laziness: family emergency and then the computer died. Don and I had to replace the hard drive. Work is slow, but I've been trying to fill my days with interesting things. I spent the night of Saturday, January 5th doing something I've never done before: working for a band! The band in question is a local group called Superhorse, often referred to as a "superband," though I'm not sure if that's a comment on the quality of their music or the unwieldy seven man lineup. I'm friends with the drummer, Jim- the same Jim who runs the Psychotronic Film Society. So, there's one drummer, one keyboardist, one bassist, and... four guitars? One of them belongs to the lead singer, though, and he doesn't play on every song, so I guess sometimes it's just three guitars. You can read a good write-up about the band in this Connect Savannah article. You can listen to a selection of their music here.

So, I knew Superhorse was gonna be playing The Jinx that Saturday, but I didn't plan on going because I'm too poor to pay a cover charge and I'm more devoted to local theatre than live music and the music's always too loud for me anyway and blah blah blah, but then Jim put out an APB on Facebook for someone to work the band's merchandise table. Don and I had just seen The Hobbit a few days before, so I kind of had a Bilbo Baggins moment and decided I would volunteer myself for a night of adventure. I guess that would make Jim... Gandalf? And the other band members would be a company of six doughty dwarfs on a quest to, um.... eh, that analogy got away from me. Anyway, Jim was glad to have someone he knew in charge of the money, plus my handy dandy iPhone with the handy dandy Paypal Here app would make it possible for them to accept payments other than cash. No one in the band has a smartphone, so it has to be all cash all the time whenever Superhorse plays. You'd think out of seven guys, statistics would favor one of them having acquired a smartphone by now. And anything that makes it easier for people to give you money is a good thing. Jim said they didn't usually sell a whole lot, though, so no one worried about it much.

The music wasn't even set to start until about 10, so I arrived at The Jinx around 9:30. Knew it was gonna be a late, late night, but hey, sleeping in is what Sundays are for! The Jinx is a fixture among live music venues in town, but I had never been to the place. I took some pictures before it filled up and during the performance, which you can see on my Pinterest right here: Bonnie Blue Tours Pinterest- Downtown Events and Venues. I also just added a couple of new shots from last night's outing to the Bay Street Theatre to hear Legs McNeil read from his book Please Kill Me as well as his newest book, soon to be published yet still untitled. More on that later.

Jim set me up with Superhorse merchandise: t-shirts, a special edition poster, their first album (rock) and their (sort of country) EP, and chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were there basically because Jim had joked with someone about selling cookies at the show, so he actually brought some to sell at $1 for a bag of two. Or at least sell the ones he didn't go ahead and scarf down. Cookies and beer, the dinner of champions! Jim also brought a jar of earplugs to sell for $1 a pair, which strikes me as somehow genius, considerate, and cynical all at the same time. I had the good sense to bring my own earplugs from home. I'm not very experienced at this "going to clubs and listening to live bands" thing, but I'm no fool either.

I set up like a good little merchandise girl, folding and stacking the t-shirts just like I used to do when I worked cash and retail at Cracker Barrel, oh, so many years ago. There were two different shirt designs and Jim had me clip one of each, along with a few bags of cookies, to the suspended section of chain-link fence that served for display. The Jinx is that kind place. The decorating scheme abounded with bats and skulls, the bartender looked like the only thing longer than his beard was his rap sheet, and every hand had a PBR Tallboy in it before the end of the night. My base of operations was in the back corner to the left of the door as you walk in. The floor rises up a couple steps and there are some booths and tables along that wall. The rise on the left side coupled with the bar on the right side creates a kind of canyon in the middle of the club that pushes all the people toward the stage like a human waterfall crashing down onto a drum kit. Funny thing about those booths- the tables are actually old arcade games. Working ones! My merchandise table was Frogger and I think the people one booth over from me were sitting down with Mrs. Pac Man.

The opening act was supposed to be a San Francisco group called Whiskey Pills Fiasco, but they missed their flight so Superhorse had to scramble. That's why the show started late. Luckily, local band Bottles & Cans was just finishing up a set somewhere else and didn't mind racing down the street, picking up Superhorse's instruments, and playing a bit to warm up the audience. As I once explained to a friend, I can hear the difference between good music and bad music, but I can rarely tell the difference between good music and great music. Jim sat down with a beer and assured me that Bottles & Cans is really good. He said their guy plays the drums better than he does, but it's not like I would ever know the difference. The music sounded good enough to me, especially once I put in my earplugs. It's nice to have that "listening from across the street outside" sensation while being able to remain in the room. Bottles & Cans are kind of blues-rock-ish or something. Their singer sounded a lot like Louis Armstrong with some extra handfuls of gravel in his throat. The audience swelled and swelled and swelled and loads of people I knew showed up. Hm, when and how did I ever become so connected? Sales were actually quite brisk, especially the earplugs. Those sold like hotcakes, though there was still no shortage of people out on the floor who seemed to think a live music experience wasn't complete unless you left with a hearing impairment.

I had the presence of mind to shoot a little video with my phone. I still forget about all the things an iPhone can do. I caught most of Superhorse's first number (minus the opening verses), which you can view here: Superhorse- Shadows and Shapes. That's the video of it I posted to Superhorse's Facebook. I tried to upload the thing from my phone to the computer, but stupid Windows Media Player kept playing the video upside down! What is wrong with you, Windows? And now with the new hard drive and re-installation of Windows, the Media Player says it doesn't recognize the format (.mov) at all. Ugh, seriously Microsoft, how did you become the only game in town? Here's a second video I took later in the night: Superhorse- Joyride. I got cut off because of this guy who was trying to get my attention. I thought he wanted to buy something; turned out he was just asking if he could fold up his jacket and leave it with me.

That was another quirky development of the evening: my little space became Coat-Check Corner. I think it was JinHi who started it when she asked if she could leave her jacket there with me. Then she bought a t-shirt and I stashed that for her too. Then Jamie bought a poster, but didn't want it to get creased up, so I hid that for her in the box behind me until she came back for it at the end of the night. Then Mandy came in and asked if I would hold on to her coat too and, Jesus, I think I had a whole department store's worth of outerwear tucked into the booth with me by the time the show ended! I guess once everyone I knew had put me in charge of their clothing, I should not have been surprised when strangers began to follow suit. The guy who interrupted my filming process was a nice young man in a button-up shirt who thoughtfully offered to share his shrooms with me when he discreetly pulled the baggie out of his jacket pocket. I politely declined.

So, a good time was had by all and a very good time was had by some. The band made out better than usual in terms of merchandise. Plenty of the sales were cash, but having the use of my phone did nab about $90 the guys would have missed otherwise. They sold around $300 worth of stuff all in all, which Jim told me that was three times what they usually sell. He thought it was because a lot of new people came to see the band that night, but I noticed more than a few familiar faces at my table. Plenty of friends and acquaintances bought stuff just because they like Jim and wanted to be supportive. He has the novel effect on people of making them want to give him money, while also having the misfortune of knowing only a bunch of penniless losers such as myself. He'd be all set if he'd start hanging around with a more well-heeled crowd. I finished up the night by going all middle-school and having Jim write his PayPal ID on my arm so I could transfer the band's money to him from my account. I was traveling light and hadn't bothered to carry my purse, so I was bereft of things to write on and things to write with.

I snagged a cheap hot dog from Sweet Melissa's on my way back to the car. They make a killing being the only place open after the bars close down. I got bumped into by some drunk guy, kidded around with by some other drunk guy, and finally got home and made it into bed sometime after 3am, I think.

My little excursion to the Bay Street Theatre last night was also rock 'n roll, but less drunk and noisy. Jim runs an organization called Knocked Out Loaded through which he promotes live music and other music-centric stuff. He snagged Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain for a stop in Savannah to answer questions and read excerpts from Please Kill Me! The Uncensored History of Punk as well as from McNeil's newest book, which he hasn't even given a title to yet. I know exactly squat about the history of American music, rock music, or punk rock, but even I still know that sitting in a room talking with Legs McNeil about The Ramones and Iggy Pop is totally cool. In case you don't know, Legs McNeil is the guy who started Punk Magazine back in the 70s and is credited with giving the genre its name. He hung out at CBGB's night after night with people and bands who are the stuff of legend now. I still wasn't going to go because I'm not that much of a fan girl and, as usual, I'm poor and didn't have $10 to spare for a ticket. But Jim came through again with the need for someone to sell merchandise, just some special posters he'd had made, and offered me the job. So, I got to enjoy the reading after all.

This January was bookended by serious rock 'n roll submersion, which surprises me. I'm not sure how that happened. I think I was minding my own business and got sucked into this punk rock vortex. I mean, Jim showed the movie Rock 'n Roll High School last summer, then CBGB filmed here, then I heard Superhorse play for the first time (and got to take home each of their cds for working the merch table!), then Legs McNeil came to town. What's next? Whatever it is, I hope it involves Alan Rickman filming another movie here.

For the love of potato latkes

Ah, October: the month when Savannahians can finally wipe the sweat from our brows, shake off the indolence of a sweltering summer, and PARTY! Fall is a big festival season here. Savannah has 7 large scale celebrations that take place in October, to say nothing of smaller events put on by individual organizations and business owners. The first of those big parties, Oktoberfest, is of course dedicated to booze. Two others, the Greek Festival and the Shalom Y'all Jewish Food Festival, are all about the food. Three more are all about movies and music. The one outlier is the Tybee Island Pirate Fest, although maybe that should fall under the "booze" category. I think the focus on food, booze, and sitting on our butts watching movies is a survival tactic. We stuff ourselves and fatten up in the fall so we can hibernate straight through the winter until February, when the Spring festival cycle begins. The Shalom Y'all Jewish Food Festival was on Sunday in Forsyth Park. I went last year, since I had never gone before and it was easy to walk over there after finishing my afternoon tour. Don didn't go because he was working. This year, however, he has a job with a sane schedule, so both of us got to enjoy some kosher deliciousity! I skipped breakfast because I knew what I was in for... and because I got up late. The two of us walked down to Forsyth- man, I love living where I can walk to stuff- and got there about 20 minutes into the festivities. There was already a ton of people. It made me glad we didn't have to drive and fight for parking.

Though bustling, the place had still not gotten as crowded as I expected and I realized the cleverness of holding this particular festival at mid-morning on a Sunday: the Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday, which frees them up to be first in every line on Sunday while the silly gentiles are sitting in church. Brilliant! I actually bumped into a couple of church-going friends, Kim and Deborah, about 1 o'clock as Don and I were leaving. They had just left Asbury Methodist and confessed it was hard to sit through the service knowing there was so much tasty food only a few blocks down the road. Kim told me most of the congregation could be found re-congregating at the Jewish Food Festival as soon as they got out of church. We joked how the minister, Billy Hester, should just declare that particular Sunday every year a field trip day.

Anyway, Don and I bought our tickets and split up. I hustled over to the matzoh ball soup booth for some lunch, which I ate while sitting on a bench next to the Forsyth fountain. Just like last year, the event organizers had set up a small bandstand there with a couple of violinists from the Savannah Philharmonic. Throughout the day, I heard klezmer, tunes by Jewish composers, and, naturally, the most famous tracks from Fiddler on the Roof. After my soup, I zoomed down the sidewalk for some potato latkes. The line was atrociously long when I got there at last year's festival and I was hoping I wouldn't have to stand around all day this time around. The potato latkes are the most coveted delicacy at the festival. Surprisingly, there were only about half a dozen people in line ahead of me, I guess because it was still early in the day. I grabbed my precious, precious latkes and made my way back toward the fountain, where I found an empty chair at a table.

The funniest thing happened while I was sitting there munching away. This guy with his wife came out of nowhere and asked me where I had gotten my shirt. It's a t-shirt Jim Reed had made especially to celebrate Leonard Nimoy's 80th birthday, which he also celebrated with a special movie screening by the Psychotronic Film Society. He did something similar to celebrate William Shatner's 80th birthday a couple years ago. I don't have one of the Shatner shirts, but I am kind of a Spock fan, so I ponied up for a Nimoy shirt. It's light green with the design done in purple: a picture of Nimoy (from the 70s, with a mustache) with a tiny Star of David on the left and the phrase "Living long and prospering" down below. I put the thing on that morning because it's soft and comfortable, not because I was going to a Jewish festival and Leonard Nimoy is Jewish. I wore a t-shirt with a picture of a well known Jewish actor on it to a Jewish festival without even thinking about it because I had completely forgotten he's Jewish! It did not occur to me until later how intentional my oblivious wardrobe choice must have seemed. Anyway, I explained the unique genesis of the shirt to the man and his wife and wrote down Jim's contact info for them because I'm pretty sure he still has one or two of them floating around. The couple told me they were visiting and had just gotten into Savannah, so I handed them my business card and let them know they might find my website useful. The woman, it turns out, had come here to research her 6th cookbook. I was too stupid and distracted to ask their names or I would be able to tell you who she was. Anyway, those two picked a good week to be in town!

So, after my latkes, I ambled over to the drinks stand and got a Brown's Cream Soda, then used my last two tickets on some cheese blintzes for dessert. My dessert last year was a muffin or cookies or something. I can't remember. But I'd never had blintzes and thought I'd give them a try with some strawberry topping. I stood at a table where some acquaintances of mine also happened to be, Trish and Chris, whom I see at the occasional Drinking Liberally function. We all had a hard time recognizing each other out of context, but we figured it out. We b.s.ed a bit about the presidential debates and I shared with them my idea of giving every moderator a paint ball gun and permission to shoot any candidate that is rude or talks beyond their time limit. Somehow that seems less petty and more satisfying than simply cutting off their microphones.

Trish and Chris drifted away, Don reappeared at my side, and I told him we couldn't leave until he'd eaten some potato latkes. It just wouldn't be right. Since he had used up all his tickets, I gave him $5 to buy some more and told him I would stay put while he stood in line. So, off he went. Some other group of people ended up at my table and I heard one of the ladies comment on how great the weather was for the festival and what would the planners have done if it were raining? I couldn't resist chiming in with, "Well, it's a Jewish festival, so if it had rained, they all would have sat around and kvetched about it." That got a laugh out of them. The weather really was great, clear and sunny and the perfect temperature, same as last year. Maybe the Jews really are God's chosen people? Hm, by that logic God must also really love gay people since the Pride festival almost always has beautiful weather as well. I guess we'll just stick with the more reasonable assumption that late October is a good time in Savannah.

I waited and waited and waited and waited for Don to return, but it became obvious he had been sucked to his death inside the latke vortex or something. Some acquaintances of mine strolled by and we chit chatted for a while, then I finally walked past the fountain and down the sidewalk to see what was up. I found the latke line had expanded like a slinky unleashed in the short interval between when I was there and when I sent Don there. Oops. The necessity of changing the oil on the fryers had also caused a severe backup of people. They were just about ready to get things sizzling again, though, so Don asked me to get him a cup of coffee while he waited, which I did, and we met up again a short while later.

We sat down in the grass and pondered... um... stuff about food. Do you ever notice that completely unrelated cultures seem to develop similar tastes in the preparation of certain foods? Fried dough, for one. All over the world, peoples who have no connection to each other came up with variations on the same thing: take dough, fry it, cover it in something sweet. In America we have doughnuts. The Creoles invented beignets. The Greeks have honey puffs. It was the honey puffs at the Greek festival that got me thinking about it. Fried potatoes are like that too. The Belgians invented French fries (maybe), Southerners love hash browns, and the Jews have potato latkes. I think it's strange that antisemitism should ever have been a thing in the South, since the two cultures really have so much in common. Both love deep-friend, cheesy, carbohydrate-laden goodness. Both love to maintain their own distinctive society and history within the country they occupy. Jews are known for manipulating guilt; Southerners love to hold a grudge. Those are just two manifestations of the same impulse, right? Both originate from a hot and hostile climate. Jews and Southerners were practically made for each other!

It worked out well in Savannah at least. The synagogue that sponsors the festival, Mickve Israel, is the third oldest Jewish congregation in America. Georgia's English (and therefore Anglican) colonists got here in February of 1733. The very next people to arrive were a boat full of Sephardic Jews in July. The English had very good reasons at the time for not immediately going "Ack!" and telling them to clear out, but you have to take my tour to hear that story. All you need to know is the Jews stayed, nestled themselves into Savannah society, and have been here ever since. Thank God. Otherwise, we'd have one less tradition for the frying of potatoes.