“Entertainment” and quenching Richmond’s thirst for arthouse

Photo by Julie Tripp
Photo by Julie Tripp
Photo by Julie Tripp
A stencil for the arthouse film “Entertainment” hangs on a wall outside of Hibachi Box restaurant on Laurel Street. Photo by Julie Tripp

Hot off the heels of showings at film festivals like Sundance, the dark arthouse film “Entertainment” will be screened at the Byrd Theater on Nov. 8. Similar to the work of David Lynch and Werner Herzog, this film is not traditional by any stretch of the imagination.

The director is Richmond’s own Rick Alverson, who will be at the screening along with lead actor Gregg Turkington. “Entertainment” will be presented by the Bijou Film Center five days before its official premiere in New York City.

The movie stars Turkington playing the character Neil Burger, who is simply referred to as “The Comedian” in the film. Burger is a failing performer whose material garners little to no reaction from the patrons at the dive bars and dirty clubs he performs in.

Traveling through the Mojave Desert to supposedly meet with his daughter, The Comedian simply observes life in between gigs. While he does have a semblance of a mission — trying to get to his estranged daughter — much of the film is dedicated to bizarre vignettes that force the audience to question what is real and what is simply going on inside the actor’s head.

The Guardian’s Jordan Hoffman describes the movie as “a comedy about emotional collapse and existential despair.”

This screening is presented by the Bijou Film Center in their continuing mission to bring arthouse cinema to the city. This is their fourth event, and the operators of the center hope it will be their most impactful.

“I think Richmond’s ready to support a little cinema,” said James Parrish, one of the co-founders of the Bijou. “(It’s) where we can bring the films that are playing in New York and L.A, that are not coming to Richmond, and give them a nice showing here.”

Parrish and his partner-in-cinema Terry Rea are local film lovers who want to open their own small arthouse theater here in Richmond. An arthouse theater is usually reserved for smaller, independent films that are not traditional blockbusters. Both men want to provide a place where fellow film-lovers can see these films and are encouraged to discuss their meanings afterwards.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations in movie theater parking lots, and I’d much rather be sitting, having a beer in a café,” Parrish said.

Parrish and Rea are veterans of Richmond’s film culture. Parrish co-founded the James River Film Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to film as an artform, and Rea ran the Biograph Theater from 1972 to 1982.

Bijou has hosted three events to raise money to open their theater — all of which were designed to showcase of the type of films they’re looking to present.

They’ve shown mainstream classics like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “The Third Man,” but they also showed the 2014 documentary “Finding Vivian Maier,” a film about discovering an artist’s work that garnered some award buzz around the time it was shown, including an Oscar nomination for “Best Documentary.”

Parrish, commenting on this range of films, said “We’re a film center dedicated to the whole of cinema, not just what’s the Hollywood mainstream.”

Director Rick Alverson also supports the Bijou, offering them the chance to show his film five days before the official premiere in New York City. Alverson said he has seen films that would please any movie-lover in cities like Baltimore, D.C, and New York, but they always seem to pass by Richmond.

“For 20 years, I’ve had to watch the majority of the films that educated me as a filmmaker either by getting them from a video store or watching them online,” Alverson said. “It’s incredibly vital, culturally, for a town like Richmond to step over and say ‘Hey, we’re a metropolis, we’re not some sort of starter city.’”

Parrish and Rea are also fans of Alverson and “Entertainment,” putting interesting spins into advertising the screening. They’ve put Banksy-esque graffiti on places around Richmond, like Edo’s Squid, showing the lead actor in a monochromic profile that includes his microphone, and the date of the screening.

Both men said they want people to see Alverson’s film, and appreciate his bold artistic ability.

“I have a good sense that he’s on his own path,” Parrish said. “He has his own vision, his own style, his own way of making films, and it’s not like anybody else.”

Rea also had good things to say about Alverson, commenting on his method of storytelling.

“Like good European films, he’s not taking you by the hand,” Rea said. “Instead, he’s taking you out there and at some point, you give in. You say ‘Alright, I’m along for the ride.’ And that, to me, is a success.”

Rea compared the movie’s bizarre and unconventional storytelling, to the films of Robert Bresson and David Lynch, specifically “Eraserhead.”

While both men admit that this film is not for everyone, Parrish and Rea are confident that this event will represent what the Bijou is willing to do for local film lovers and filmmakers alike.

“Taking the risk with an edgy film like this says something about the Bijou: how it will be a place not afraid to show edgier films that will challenge people, because that’s what an arthouse is supposed to do,” Parrish said.

Admission costs $10 at the Byrd box office, while advance tickets can be purchased for $7. There will be a happy hour beforehand at the Portrait House, which is across the street from the theater, from 5-6:30 p.m. After the screening, there will be a party at the New York Deli, where there will be a comedy showcase hosted by Herschel Stratego.

The Bijou invites anybody who wants to watch something different from what they’re used to, who are willing to take a risk with “Entertainment.” For those who can make it to the screening, Rea has one bit of advice: “Leave your expectations at the door.”

Article by: Samuel Goodrich, Contributing Writer

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