The second installment in a triptych of performances from Austin’s multiyear (Un)Made project, The Last Bell Rings for You, assembles a cast of more than 25 to shuffle, roll, shimmy, saunter and explore the small warehouse space of Shaking the Tree Theatre.
Austin’s core collaborators are joined by 18 members of the community with varying levels of experience who were given one week to rehearse. The resulting performance unfolds organically like a creeping vine—it doesn’t necessarily need to know where it’s going to look beautiful.
The performers are given free rein in the space, alternately flitting from spot to spot like butterflies before falling into marching band-style formations and quickly dissolving again. Every shuffle of shoe and slap of foot becomes part of the hypnotic rhythm of the sparse and primarily sound-based score. Ordinary objects—a basketball, an empty box, a potted plant—are examined as if alien artifacts or holy relics. Singing and vocalizing ranges from silly to haunting, and light and shadow become performers in and of themselves with the help of lighting designer and PWNW co-founder Jeff Forbes.
The purpose of the (Un)Made series is equally open-ended, intended by Austin to exist as both “experiential inquiry and staged performance.” It would be easy to ascribe meaning to each abstract movement, from our struggle between solitude and connection, to the arbitrary importance we imbue into everyday objects. But that would miss the point, or rather, force one where it is simply unnecessary. Like so many millions of lives lived every day in a web of the ephemeral, the beauty is in the being. Just enjoy the kooky nonsense. PENELOPE BASS.
SEE IT: The Last Bell Rings for You plays at Shaking the Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant St., pwnw-pdx.org. 8 pm Thursday-Sunday, through Nov. 20. $15.
Even before Trump began mulling wallpaper for the Oval Office, DawN Crandell’s Xenophobadelica was designed to bring humor and solidarity to minorities. Now, Crandell intends to keep stirring the pot with her part-burlesque, part-poetry slam one-woman show.
“As I’ve grown up, I’ve been less concerned about fitting into one community and more confident that if one community is not accepting of all of me, then just no,” says Crandell, who is a half-white POC queer artist.
The jack-of-all-trades solo show is personal for Crandell. Xenophobadelica is designed to illuminate the hypocrisy of those who overlook the sensitivities of intersectionality. Her show is rooted in her own experience, but it’s also inspired by an unfriendly tweet.
“I get really frustrated with having to compartmentalize myself because a certain group likes this part of me but not that part,” explains Crandell, who also answers to her burlesque stage name, AuroraBoobRealis. “I happened to notice this woman I follow on Twitter—an inspiring black burlesque dancer who is also a holistic educator about women’s sexuality—posting a transphobic, misogynistic tweet. All the people on her feed were blindly agreeing with her, and that kind of thing really frustrates me. She might accept my blackness, but not other parts of me?”
Much like its target audience, Xenophobadelica submits to a variety of identities, and rallies many of Crandell’s collective talents and passions. As a teen, she was a slam poet, and later in life she became a solo-show artist and a burlesque dancer.
“At 18, I started stripping at clubs, and with stripping, you need to convince a customer that they’re the only one who matters so they’ll tip you more,” explains Crandell. “I wasn’t interested in theater where people just applaud at the end and there’s no eye contact with the audience. Here, I’m really talking to them.”
The show itself was born in 2011 in Manchester, England, where Crandell was asked to design a short for an event called Queer Contact, which would later become a piece of the Xenophobadelica we see today. The show also serves as a tribute to Prince, whose song “Shockadelica” inspired its title.
“There are stories about what [Prince] meant to me in the show, and definitely as a performer, you’ll see the influence he’s had on me,” says Crandell.
But is Xenophobadelica really chicken noodle soup for the souls of the social groups most fearful of conservative tyranny?
“We need more love in this world, more standing tall in our truths and embracing the totality of ourselves,” explains Crandell. “The people who are scared or saddened about the fact that [Trump] is our president-elect collectively need joy in their lives right now, and stories of inspiration and growth and moving through challenges. We need to laugh together. I feel Xenophobadelica can be that, for just over an hour.”
SEE IT: Xenophobadelica plays at the Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St., pinkhanky.org. 7:30 pm Friday, Nov. 18. $15 advance, $20 day of show.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from Elaine May’s Ishtar, it’s that the road to $40 million hell is paved with good intentions.
The 1987 action-comedy started as payback of a debt owed to May, a comic legend who, alongside her partner Mike Nichols, was one of improv’s first stars in the 1950s and later a prodigious, Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Heaven Can Wait, Primary Colors). Ishtar co-starred Warren Beatty at his peak. He’d won an Oscar in 1982 for directing the historical epic Reds, to which May contributed a massive, uncredited rewrite. Beatty intended to return the favor by producing and starring in the globetrotting screwball comedy directed by May.
Beatty and Dustin Hoffman play two aging, low-rent singer-songwriters whose attempts to launch musical careers fall flat. When their agent, Marty Freed (Jack Weston), lines up a gig for the duo in Morocco, they end up embroiled in a power struggle between the despotic Emir of neighboring Ishtar, its resistance movement led by the mysterious Shirra Assel (Isabelle Adjani), and the CIA, represented by agent Jim Harrison (Charles Grodin). Not a bad premise for a late-’80s buddy comedy.
But Ishtar—which shows this week at Portland State University’s student-run 5th Avenue Cinema as part of a fall season that focuses on box-office flops worthy of revival—would mutate into one of Hollywood’s most notorious disasters. A cascade of production problems and ego clashes lost Columbia Pictures nearly $40 million and is likely to have played a part in the studio’s then-owner, Coca-Cola, selling it to Sony in 1989.
Peter Biskind chronicles the debacle in his biography of Beatty, Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America. There are many stories, but here’s one that has since become Hollywood lore: Coca-Cola greenlit May to film Ishtar’s extensive desert scenes in Morocco, an impoverished country in a politically volatile region that had little apparatus for supporting a major Hollywood production. Animal trainer Corky Randall was tasked with tracking down a blue-eyed camel. At the camel market in Marrakesh. the crew found a perfect specimen for $700, but tried to find a second camel to get a better deal from the merchant. Little did Randall know that blue-eyed camels are rare, and a second one of reasonable quality couldn’t be found. When the crew returned to the merchant days later to buy the first camel, they learned he’d eaten it.
This was one of many disasters, and a comparably minor one. May and Beatty, both notorious perfectionists, fought a cold war over the direction of the film, with Hoffman having to act as intermediary at times. May quarreled with her cinematographer, the renowned Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Last Tango in Paris), having him shoot more than 100 hours of raw footage, more than three times as much as the average comedy.
Once the film missed it’s Christmas 1986 release date, critics caught wind that Ishtar was gearing up to be an enormous bomb. Scheduled to cost $28 million, the film’s final budget exceeded $51 million—compared to the average production budget in 1987 of $17 million. Before its release May 15, negative buzz about the movie was bountiful, and it was believed that the then-president of Columbia was leaking negative stories to the press.
A bomb it was, one of the biggest in history. Ishtar took in $4.2 million in its opening weekend, beating the starless, low-budget horror film The Gate by only $100,000. Reviews were mixed: Janet Maslin of The New York Times called the film “a likable, good-humored hybrid, a mixture of small, funny moments and the pointless, oversized spectacle that these days is sine qua non for any hot-weather hit,” while Roger Ebert excoriated it as “a long, dry slog. It’s not funny, it’s not smart and it’s interesting only in the way a traffic accident is interesting.” Ishtar grossed less than $15 million at the box office, not even recovering the cost of film prints and marketing.
Which is a shame, because Ishtar isn’t a bad ’80s buddy comedy.
Beatty and Hoffman both deliver incredible comic performances, deliberately cast against type, with Beatty’s rugged physicality transformed into bumbling insecurity and Hoffman’s tightly wound anxiety worked into blind confidence. They perform composer Paul Williams’ deliberately bad songs with the confidence of those too dumb to know they’re dumb.
The supporting cast is just as good. Weston as the sleazy agent embodies a kitchen garbage can that’s been left out a week too long. Grodin is as good a smirking government villain as you’ll see, and Isabelle Adjani maintains the ludicrous pretense that a stunningly beautiful woman can be disguised as a teenage boy with grace.
Ishtar isn’t perfect. Once the film moves to Morocco, the jokes are less consistent and the action scenes are wholly unnecessary. But what we do have is a rare instance of a deeply talented cast and crew, one of history’s great comic writers teaming up with a legendary cinematographer and two Oscar-winning actors to make an idiotic comedy in the middle of the desert. You aren’t going to find a shot of Hoffman screaming gibberish at Bedouin tribesmen more beautifully framed anywhere else.
SEE IT:Ishtar screens at 5th Avenue Cinema. 9:15 pm Friday-Saturday, 5:15 pm Sunday, Nov. 18-20.
When people’s lives are being threatened because of the color of their skin or the way they pray, when people are having bottles broken over their noses because of whom they love, when families have to worry about being separated by mass deportation, when swastikas are being etched on walls, when nothing feels safe anymore, it’s easy to think that art doesn’t matter.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Never is art more essential than in times of separation; it is the ultimate force of creativity, hope, reflection and revolution.
What art does best is to hold up a mirror to the full spectrum of our humanity, to shine a light on our greatest failings alongside our greatest virtues.
I have seen so many things in the past year that have given me reason to feel optimistic at a time when it feels like the world is crumbling.
At Portland Art Museum, I witnessed Native photographers Will Wilson, Wendy Red Star and Zig Jackson gracefully challenge the legacy of Edward Curtis, the white ethnographer whose documentation of Native communities had frozen them in time for a century. These artists took back agency and humor, they honored the women that Curtis had effectively erased from history, they offered collaboration in place of exploitation.
I saw an exhibition at Blue Sky Gallery by photographer Jim Lommasson, who travels the country collaborating with Iraqi and Syrian refugees for the project What We Carried. Lommasson photographs the objects that are most dear to his collaborators and invites them to write their stories on the photos. He has recently been asked to extend the project to include Holocaust survivors.
I met an artist named Erica Thomas who challenges the patriarchal notion of what success in the art world should look like. She hangs a neon “Artist in Residence” sign in the window wherever she is working, creating a lifelong self-proclaimed artist residency. Her marriage appears on her CV as an ongoing project, the most collaborative work of her life. She empowers us to create without first having to ask for permission.
I sat for a one-on-one performance with artist Sharyll Burroughs, who rejects the label “artist of color,” because her work seeks to prove that all language and categorization is too small to contain the full breadth of our humanness.
At the showThe Soul of Black Art at Upfor Gallery, I wept in front of a pair of images, hung side by side. The first was a photo from the Jim Crow South, in which an elderly black man climbs a steep set of stairs to get to the colored entrance of a movie theater. In the photo next to it, another black man climbs another steep set of stairs, but it was President Obama boarding Air Force One.
Before I had a chance to allow the full extent of that progress to wash over me, I turned to the adjacent wall. On it hung a diptych by painter Arvie Smith depicting a mob of white women and men with guns hanging black men from trees by shackles, slave ships in the distance.
This is art’s job. It keeps us honest by telling us how far we’ve come in the same breath as it reminds us how much farther we need to go.
To those of us in the art world who care so deeply about nurturing a culture that is inclusive, this is our time to be activists. Curators, arts writers, arts editors, gallery owners, board and jury members, administrators of large funding bodies: We must recognize the awesome responsibility of being gatekeepers, of being among the privileged few who help to determine an artist’s creative and financial viability in the marketplace. And we must use that power with care.
To my fellow arts writers: Go out of your way to see shows of underrepresented artists. Every review you give to an artist of color, a female artist, or a queer artist adds a line to their résumé, which makes him or her a more competitive candidate for grants, fellowships, residencies and future exhibitions. And if you are a white writer reviewing an artist of color, if you are a man reviewing a woman’s show, if you are a straight person reviewing a queer artist, be mindful of how you impose your experiences and your perspective on their work; we are not always equipped to properly contextualize it. Through interviews, we can allow these artists to speak about their work in their own words before we seek to comment on it. Take the extra time to get the artist on the phone.
To all of the curators, gallery owners, and executive directors of arts institutions: Continue showing work of underrepresented artists. Double down. But don’t expect that this in itself will be enough to engage the communities that have felt unwelcomed, unwanted and unrepresented for a long time in the white-box art world.
Most of the people who have influence in the art world have slowly worked their way up within galleries or arts nonprofits. So if you’re in a position to hire people for entry- and midlevel positions, extend your search beyond the pool of graduates from the local art schools and consider interns, preparators and gallery assistants from other communities. Establish curatorial fellowships for people who have an abiding passion for the arts but have not, perhaps, had the luxury of consistent exposure to the art world or a formal arts education.
To those of you who, so far, think that this article doesn’t pertain to you because you don’t consider yourself to be a part of the art world, please hear me: You are even more essential to the arts than the rest of us. You are the audience. You are, quite literally, our reason for being. So, please, after you’ve taken to the streets, take to the galleries and the museums. In our city, where 42 percent of the population is without religious affiliation, these institutions are our houses of worship. They connect us with something greater than ourselves. They offer the comfort and solace of beauty, and provide endless examples of what the human hand can do when it is guided by the heart. I promise it will astonish you.
Going to the galleries is always free, and the Portland Art Museum offers free admission on the first Thursday of every month, so if you’re a student or you have a large family, please don’t let finances be a barrier. If you want to go to the galleries but you feel unwelcome or intimidated by the prospect, or if you feel self-conscious about asking the wrong questions, email me and I will take you on a tour myself. (It is worth noting that you are in good company; I do this for a living, and there are still a few galleries where I, too, feel unwelcome.)
And to all of the artists out there: Take to your studios. Channel your outrage, your fear, your anger and sadness into a painting, a sculpture, a play, a dance performance, a film, a photograph, an essay, a drawing. Channel your optimism into something beautiful. Your creativity gives us hope; it opens up pathways of empathy, vulnerability and understanding. Creation counteracts destruction. Keep creating, friends. Keep putting meaningful things into the world. For yourself. For all of us. We need you now more than ever.
Billy Lynn (Joe Alwayn) and the other soldiers of Bravo Squad are brought home from Iraq for a Thanksgiving victory tour, culminating in a halftime show appearance at a football game, after a terrifying battle. Based on Ben Fountain’s National Book Award-finalist novel of the same name, director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) contrasts chintzy, flag-waving patriotism with the horror of modern combat. Not screened for critics. R. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport.
Bleed for This
It’s Oscar season, and you know what that means: Hollywood’s annual movie about boxing. This time it’s the story of Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), the world champion boxer whose career was derailed in the early ’90s by a bad car crash. Will he ever fight again? My guess is that at least one montage will be devoted to finding out. R. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Vancouver.
Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is a young TV broadcaster in 1970s Florida, trying to get out of small-town Sarasota and into a bigger market. As she struggles with depression and a boss (Tracy Letts) who keeps pushing for more sensational news stories, her personal and professional life begin to spiral out of control. Not screened for critics. R. Living Room Theaters, Kiggins.
Edge of Seventeen
B+ The first we see of Nadine are her high-top sneakers booking down a high school hallway. The shot speaks loudly—the hard-charging teenager is going to own this movie, though it’ll be a lonely march. We see in flashbacks that she’s never fit in, and then her lifelong best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), begins dating Nadine’s conceited older brother (Blake Jenner). She was a curmudgeon already, but this betrayal opens the insult floodgates. As Nadine, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Pitch Perfect) delivers one winsome tirade after another, often in a standout salty rapport with Woody Harrelson playing her bleary-eyed history teacher. She has a vocabulary of long-winded and existential “FML” synonyms beyond her years, but Steinfeld’s performance never sells short simple adolescent growing pains. It’s the best combination of well-written ranting and genuine alienation in a high school comedy since Easy A. Though Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut doesn’t break new ground in the genre, Edge of Seventeen has an admirable grip on the stakes of being this antisocial 17-year-old. It sucks to be the uncool kid in a Hollywood depiction of high school, and it hurts more to realize there could be normal, human reasons for it. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Vancouver.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
C J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter saga gets a retro makeover in this bland romp from longtime Potter director David Yates. The film begins in 1926, when Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City with an enchanted suitcase packed with strange creatures. He’s barely set foot in Manhattan when the beasts make a run for it, smashing and crashing their way through the Big Apple while the harried Newt tries to recapture them with the help of a blundering baker (Dan Fogler) and a magical cop (Katherine Waterston). Their adventures are meant to be spirited and suspenseful, but the cast has no chemistry, and the beast-induced mayhem looks so tacky that Newt’s menagerie might as well be a collection of cheap Christmas ornaments. Even the movie’s stab at social commentary deflates—a subplot about a tormented orphan (Ezra Miller) being abused by an anti-magic extremist (Samantha Morton) seems to be a metaphor for racism and homophobia, but offers only a superficial sheen of relevance. And though the movie was written by Rowling herself, it lacks the emotional pull that propelled the Potter books and films to the rafters of pop culture. Nothing in Fantastic Beasts rivals Harry’s journey from the cupboard under the stairs to the towers of Hogwarts. That brand of wizardry—the truest magic in Rowling’s world—has vanished. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bagdad, Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Lloyd, Pioneer Place, Roseway, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Tigard, Vancouver.
B The half-baked idea that America could ever win a war on drugs is fading away. Generation Found is a documentary focused on alternative means of treating drug abuse in young people in Houston that offers an insightful and hopeful glimpse at successful resources for kids and families struggling with addiction issues. Filmmakers Greg D. Williams and Jeff Reilly’s overall tone is inspirational, but they don’t shy away from addressing the tragedies associated with narcotics. A father details his son’s overdose and his most recent visit to the boy’s grave—a powerful reminder that there are real consequences to addiction. The film does not sensationalize, romanticize or politicize drug abuse, though it fails to explore the complicated relationship between race and drug policy reform. The audience is given just a few moments to hear anything about the particular struggles of POC kids grappling with drugs in the inner city. Despite dealing with prevalent and devastating subject matter, Generation Found finds a way to offer a few laughs while expressing all the optimism of the film’s tagline: “‘Just Say No’ was a slogan. This is a revolution.” NR. CURTIS COOK. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 7 pm Monday, Nov. 21.
Kate Plays Christine
C+ Christine Chubbuck, an unremarkable TV newscaster in 1970s Sarasota, Fla., got a lot more interesting the moment she shot herself in the head while on the air. But as the event has faded with time from Sarasota’s collective memory, so little else is remembered about Chubbuck that her story is defined by how it ended. This latest from documentary filmmaker Robert Greene follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards, Listen Up Philip) as she prepares to play Chubbuck in a never-to-be-made biopic (not to be confused with Antonio Campos’ Chubbuck biopic Christine, also showing this week). With the close-ups, dark colors and sparse, ominous string soundtrack of a psychological thriller, the basic tension is that Sheil’s envelopment in the role affects her psychologically, so much that she can’t go through with it. While meant to venerate Sheil’s artistic empathy, this ultimately feels whiny. Sheil stresses in interviews that she doesn’t want to “romanticize” or “fetishize” the complex reality of suicide. Sadly, since Kate Plays Christine necessarily focuses more on Sheil’s character work than on Chubbuck’s life (or suicide in general), the film does just that. By trying to be both a documentary and a biopic, the film fails to be either, and its central dual characters fall flat. NR. ISABEL ZACHARIAH. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 22.
The Love Witch
Presented in 35 mm, the new movie by cult director Anna Biller (Viva, A Visit From the Incubus) follows Elaine, a young, modern-day witch who uses magic and potions to seduce men. But what happens when one of her spells works too well? Not screened for critics. NR. Hollywood Theatre, Living Room Theaters.
A- 2016’s post-election social apocalypse summons an inviting atmosphere for an optimistic period piece like Jeff Nichols’ Loving. As a filmmaker, Nichols is known to rotate between manufacturing Southern family dramas (Mud) and supernatural indies (Midnight Special). This time, he tackles a film set within a familiar geography, but with a newfound foreignness. Namely, this is Nichols’ first historical drama, bolstered by the true story of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), the interracial couple who challenged U.S. miscegenation laws all the way to the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia in 1967. In contrast with the stressed, verbose Loving legacy, Loving itself emits slow, relaxed scenes that rely on touch rather than dialogue to illustrate the Lovings’ palpable tenderness. In fact, the gravity of their relationship relies on the senses, whether Richard extends his hand over Mildred’s during a slow midday car ride, or is pried out of bed and violently shackled by police. Ultimately, Loving provides a timeline for the social evolution that would enshrine love, however blind, into law. Nichols’ true success is, in contrast with this rampant political change, in how he captures the unwavering love between Richard and Mildred like the rare tree that doesn’t shed its leaves during winter. PG-13. JACK RUSHALL. Living Room Theaters.
Monumental: Skiing Our National Parks
Powder magazine’s first feature film, made in cooperation with REI, is both a solemn ode to the graceful, ancient mountains of America’s national parks, and a solemn ode to all the sick-ass motherfuckin’ tricks you can do on two skis off of said mountains. A Q&A follows with featured athletes and filmmakers. NR. Laurelhurst Theater. 7 pm Wednesday, Nov. 16.
Screening as part of the Portland Latin American Film Festival, this new film from Rodrigo Guardiola follows Mexican alt-rock act Zoé on a two-year international tour. PG-13. Hollywood Theatre. 6:45 pm Thursday, Nov. 17.
A Fish Called Wanda(1988)
Charles Crichton’s award-winning final movie (co-written with Monty Python’s John Cleese) follows an Anglo-American gang of diamond thieves (Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin) who double- and triple-cross each other to steal the loot from a massive jewel heist. Laurelhurst Theater. Nov. 18-23.
The Mission celebrates the 20th anniversary of Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s 1950s period piece about two Italian immigrant brothers—the cringingly named Primo and Secondo—trying to save their restaurant as they should, with a classic six-course Italian feast culminating in a gigantic timpano, courtesy of the Zeus Cafe’s Warren Pinkston. Tickets ($110) include dinner and wine. Mission Theater. 6:30 pm Thursday, Nov. 17.
Church of Film is back at it, keeping things extra weird with a new series exploring the oft-overlooked world of Soviet and post-Soviet cinema. This week’s offering is Ukrainian director Oles Sanin’s Romeo and Juliet-style love story, but with Cossacks and Tartars replacing Capulets and Montagues on the steppes of medieval Ukraine. North Star Ballroom. 8 pm Wednesday, Nov. 16.
The Silent Partner(1978)
The Hollywood screens a 35 mm print of Daryl Duke’s rare Canadian heist flick as part of its Grindhouse Film Festival. When bank teller Miles Cullen (Elliot Gould) learns that his bank is going to be robbed, he hatches a plan to make a profit while pinning the blame on the robber. But his plan goes sideways when the psychopathic stickup man (Christopher Plummer) gets wise to Miles’ scheme. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Tuesday, Nov. 22.
Cléo From 5 to 7(1962)
With cameos from Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy, Agnès Varda’s existentialist tale of a young woman waiting for the results of a medical test is something of a who’s who of French New Wave cinema. Varda’s breakthough was one of the first New Wave films to tackle the movement through a woman’s perspective. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 3:30 pm Friday, Nov. 18.
5th Avenue Cinema: We Won’t Grow Old Together (1972), Nov. 18-21. Academy Theater: The City of Lost Children (1995), Nov. 18-24.Hollywood Theatre: Addams Family Values (1993), 9:30 pm Thursday, Nov 17; Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Nov. 18-20. Mission Theater: Hook (1991), Nov. 16-21; Jumanji (1995), Nov. 16-22.NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium: Rue Mallet-Stevens (1986), Hôtel Monterey (1972), Trois Strophes Sur le Nom de Sacher (1989), 7:30 pm Friday, Nov. 18; Saute Ma Ville (1965), Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), 7 pm Saturday, Nov. 19; The Commissar (1966), 4:30 pm Sunday, Nov 20; The Anonymous People (2013), 7:30 pm Sunday, Nov. 20.
Portland filmmaker Lara Jean Gallagher has no problem making something from nothing. After her first short film, American Gladiators (aka Tumorhead), garnered several awards on the festival circuit in 2014, her ability to churn out flashy, expensive-looking films for cheap has made her a favorite for independent record labels looking to capitalize on the modest promotional budgets allotted to their artists. Even a label as recognizable as Merge—home to indie titans like Arcade Fire and Magnetic Fields—call upon Gallagher when it requires large returns on minor means.
Concept and story take priority with Gallagher, even in a four-minute music video. Casting career indie punk Mary Timony and the members of D.C. power-pop act Ex Hex as characters from Lou Adler’s 1982 cult classic Ladies and Gentleman: The Fabulous Stainsprovided a clever, retro aesthetic showcasing the band as campy, but chic. In Mikal Cronin’s “Peace of Mind” video, Gallagher contrasts the quotidian dredges of a cheap motel with quick cuts of floating bedsheets and tumbling laundry, evoking a depth far beyond the modest setting.
This weekend, NW Documentary is partnering with XRAY.FM to showcase some shoestring-budget efforts by Gallagher and other local filmmakers who specialize in extracting results from measly resources. You should check it out, because Gallagher is poised to blow up any minute now.
Earlier this year, Gallagher traveled with her producer, Karina Ripper, to Italy for the Venice Biennale’s Cinema College—a 10-day intensive where filmmakers take script concepts and workshop their story with an international team of industry professionals. Their project was the only American submission selected from a field of hundreds of applicants.
Their submission is Clementine: the story of a heartbroken woman who heads to her ex-lover’s vacant lake house, where she becomes involved with a 16-year-old girl. “Our visual adviser, Alec Von Bargen, had us lie on tables in a darkened classroom,” Ripper recalls. “We’d describe the setting where Clementine takes place. It was incredibly focusing and helped us to better visualize the atmosphere of the film and strengthen the characters.”
Once the projects are drafted and honed, the Biennale awards £150,000 each to three films. Once finished, the films premiere at the Biennale the following year.
Gallagher and Ripper plan to shoot in Portland and elsewhere in Oregon once they scout their perfect lake house. Until then, they’re still waiting to hear which film concepts will be awarded funding.
“It’s part of being a filmmaker,” Gallagher says. “Using what you have because that’s what the budget allows. We’ll just cut it to whatever cloth we’re given.”
SEE IT: XRAY Film Collective presents We Heart Music Videos at NW Documentary, 6 NE Tillamook St., 503-227-8688. 6 pm Friday, Nov. 18. Free.
As Donald Trump is elected with promises of retracting reproductive rights, Emily Witt has been charting the places sex has been heading in an age of relative freedom, collected in her new, oddly moving book Future Sex (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 210 pages, $25), which I now want to buy for everyone I know. We can only hope the new frontier of free love Witt wryly explores through research and personal anecdotes—more open, honest, female-centric sex, assisted by New Age ideals and the tech industry—can continue to exist. Here are four of the most interesting moments and insights from Future Sex.
1. There is something called orgasmic meditation, propelled by San Francisco company OneTaste, whose mission is to “bring female orgasm to the world.” The woman lies on a towel while the man puts on gloves with a dollop of lube and rubs her clitoris for 15 minutes. The practice is meant to allow for an intimate connection but preserve an emotional distance: “Her partner needed only to know what he was doing and respect the boundaries. She did not have to love or even like him,” Witt writes.
2. Match.com was created by a self-described “kind of loser” computer scientist, but had a sexist reputation because the early internet excluded women—so he hired a team of female marketers. They forbade sexually explicit content, included questions about relationships and children, banned the mention of biological clocks, and published content offering women safety advice. They gave the site its clean interface and heart-shaped logo. Now, it’s the most-used dating site in the country.
3. A 1984 early feminist porn video shows a woman having unfulfilling sex with “an uncaring bodybuilder type” before asking him to leave. She sits alone underneath a Georgia O’Keefe-style painting before having sex with someone else “over animated backdrops of autumn leaves and lotus flowers.” Climax is depicted by “an explosion of early-1980s computer effects with a roiling saxophone accompaniment.” Today, there’s a feminist porn video depicting “a woman being turned on by watching a man assemble IKEA furniture.” Hot.
4. On a website called Chaturbate, Witt watched 19-year-old Edith who, for hours, “seduced her audience by dressing like an American Apparel model, revealing the depth of her existential despair,” discussing Camus and talking about why she was celibate. “For more than 1,700 viewers, she sat on the floor naked next to a pair of ballet slippers with an unlit cigarette in her hand.”
SEE IT: Emily Witt reads at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 503-228-4651, powells.com, on Thursday, Nov. 17. 7:30 pm. Free.
Andy Mingo—who’s currently co-writing and producing the film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Lullaby, has optioned Oregon Book Award-winner Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir The Chronology of Water.
The book has won a slew of awards and amassed a cult following for Yuknavitch’s intensity, rawness and depth of life, which includes early sexual abuse, addiction, swims with Ken Kesey and an exploration of bisexuality and S&M.
Yuknavitch is one of the few authors to receive the Oregon Book Awards People’s Choice Award for two books—Chronology of Water and The Small Backs of Children. The latter also won the Ken Kesey Award for best work of fiction published by an Oregon author. Local authors Cheryl Strayed, Chuck Palahniuk and Chelsea Cain—who all wrote blurbs for Chronology—are also big fans.
Yuknavitch and Mingo, who are married, are planning to write the screenplay together.
“If the memoir didn’t affect our marriage, I don’t think the film would. It’s totally fine,” Mingo says. “Lidia and I have written things together before, so this will be a really fun experience to collaborate. She doesn’t write screenplays, so it’ll be me bringing the structure and her brining the raw emotion.”
The film is in very early stages, especially because Mingo is currently in the middle of casting Lullaby, with production slated for 2017.
“The Chronology of Water has gotten some nibbles from agencies from L.A. for a while and nobody’s picked it up outright—and it seemed like perfect time to pick up the option, secure the rights and make this happen, especially since we’re having such a lot of momentum right now with Lullaby,” Mingo tells WW. “The Chronology of Water made so much sense because it’s a cult icon and people really love the story.”
As for who will play Yuknavitch, Mingo can’t yet say. He also hints that the film might have a female director.
“We do have a couple people in mind who are wildly popular and are also fans of the memoir,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure, but this is the type of story that may need a female director to bring in that perspective the story needs.”
Aesthetically, Mingo says he’s imagining a lot of art direction and 1980s and ’90s clothes.
“It’s a little bit of a period piece so there’s going to be that element to it and it’s going to have to be a little bit dated,” he says. “Oregon has some pretty great film incentives, so we would love to partake in that and look for every opportunity to film as much as possible.”
A In this unshakable odyssey of sadness and hope from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario), 12 slender spaceships hover quietly above Earth. People around the globe quickly discover that the ships are home to graceful, squid-like creatures who communicate using smoky-looking symbols, which shatteringly sorrowful linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) gradually begins to decode. Her quest to understand why these many-armed visitors have parked above this particular planet has a dreamy repetition—day after day, Louise enters one of the spaceships, gazes at the symbols conjured by the aliens and updates a squad of tense U.S. soldiers who guard the landing site. All of this is captured with extraordinary grace by cinematographer Bradford Young, who imbues the looming spacecraft and even the grass it floats above with somber beauty. Beyond the ship, the world is less tranquil—the aliens’ arrival rouses humanity’s ugliest impulses in both America and beyond. Yet Arrival inspires because of Louise, who enters the movie shrouded in grief but still has compassion for both the aliens and humanity. Her conviction is the movie’s gift to us, a reminder that the future of Earth depends on our capacity to love one another, no matter what’s lurking overhead. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Fox Tower, Lloyd, Tigard, Vancouver.
Peter and the Farm
This new doc from Tony Stone follows Peter Dunning, an isolated farmer in Vermont who came up as an artist in the 1960s counterculture movement and has since turned into a hard-drinking loner. Not screened for critics. NR. Hollywood Theatre. 2 pm Saturday, Nov. 12.
Naomi Watts stars as a psychologist whose husband is killed and teenage son is left brain dead by a catastrophic car accident. When a deadly winter storm hits her isolated home, she comes to believe an intruder is trying to harm her and her son. Not screened for critics. PG-13. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport.
Portland Center Stage’s attempt to appeal to millennials isn’t exactly sly. The plot of the new comedy, The Oregon Trail, relies on nostalgic association with the floppy-disc computer game of the same name that was a staple of middle-school computer labs. Not only does The Oregon Trail feature an HBO-style lack of censorship (including a bare-vagina, bare-butt doggy style sex scene), but there’s also a photo booth outside the theater that suggests the play’s title for your hashtag.
Given the title of local playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s work, it could be easily mistaken for a period drama. And in the loosest sense possible, half of it is. Oscillating between 1848 and 2009, it’s a tale of two Janes: one a hopelessly depressed modern-day Oregonian (Sarah Baskin) and Jane’s great-great grandmother (Alex Leigh Ramirez), forced to follow the grueling Oregon Trail.
Propelled through time by a narrator (Leif Norby), Now Jane is a broke college grad kicked out of her parents’ house, unable to find a job and paralyzed with fear at even having to choose one. In a depressive stupor on the couch of her well-adjusted sister (Emily Yetter), Now Jane sits at her laptop and plays The Oregon Trail, craving distraction but instead gaining insights into her family’s history of depression.
But it’s never exactly called that. Now Jane is seen on the couch at all hours, promising to clean her space and never doing it, lying to her sister about spending the day searching for jobs, chugging whiskey from a bottle, sleeping all day, watching loud TV all night, neglecting personal hygiene, and talking to herself: “Get up. Get up right now. Now.”
When Now Jane meets up for an ill-advised drink with her middle-school crush Billy (Chris Murray) and mentions she’s been “sort of depressed,” he says, “Like, clinically?” She denies it, panicked and embarrassed.
Other than this brief mention, Now Jane’s depression is only referred to as “sadness,” “melancholy” or an unnameable “weight” on her chest. Never is there mention of therapy or medication, despite several casual mentions of suicide.
The play’s fundamental concern with sadness makes its two central characters less dimensional. Then Jane’s rebellious negativity can be easily explained by the deaths of those she’s close to; Now Jane’s shoulder-slumped helplessness is the defining characteristic of her life. This feeling of flatness was in no way the fault of the actors, though: Baskin brings remarkable complexity to Now Jane’s character.
The Oregon Trail’s premise is fresh, and some parts are quite funny, but it misses the greatest opportunity it carves out for itself: a chance to really talk about depression. The play’s “somebody else had it worse” philosophy does not actually help depressed people—and neither does making light of hopelessness and poor life decisions, which The Oregon Trail does constantly. The play leaves its audience with the vague, unhelpful advice to just “continue on the trail.”
SEE IT: The Oregon Trail plays at Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th Ave., pcs.org. 7:30 pm Tuesday-Sunday, 2 pm Saturday-Sunday, noon Thursday, through Nov. 20. No 7:30 show Sunday, Nov. 13. $25-$70.