Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on September 26, 2010
I’m visiting Portland for the weekend and was originally planning on interviewing the TCM V.P. of New Media about his erotic fantasies involving Joe Eszterhas, but he decided to stay in Atlanta instead. (Something about a wife, a birth, and a child – but I bet what he’s really doing is hiding out in his man-cave playing Halo 3 instead.) To be fair to him, it’s not so much Eszterhas as Showgirls which gets him excited. In his words, Showgirls is “a brilliant political commentary on the moral bankruptcy and depravity of American culture. It’s film negative should dipped in gold and displayed next to the Constitution on Capital Hill with a permanent 24hr angel choir stationed nearby.” His words, not mine. Me? I’m in Portland enjoying the offerings of a vibrant film community that honors both the past and the present – no angel choirs needed, just some good beers to accentuate the good cheer.
The Portland Art Museum NW Film Center.
Picking up the weekly paper alerted me to the fact that the NW Film Center was screening a print of Badlands on the day of my arrival. Most of their screenings take place in the Whitsell Auditorium, a nice-sized venue with a fully equipped projection booth that can handle all formats. Badlands was part of a special screening package where different faculty members get to pick a title, and in this case it was Sue Arbuthnot, who introduced the film and did Q&A afterwards.
Terrence Malick is famous for his love of shooting during “the magic hour” and providing stark and lyrical contrasts between the natural word and the violent man-made one. The film is loosely based on a mass murderer from the 1950′s (Charles Starkweather) and features a young Martin Sheen – in a relevantly self-conscious James Dean mode – and Sissy Spacek (who met her future husband on the shoot, art director Jack Fisk). The film holds up beautifully on many levels and although most might remember it as shocking in its portrayal of senseless violence, it also has a great sense of humor.
This is a case where celluloid is crucial, and thankfully that’s what was screened – a very nice 35mm archive print from Warner Bros. The colors were dazzling, and all the visual poetry was fully honored with a density and grain that breathes life into space and time.
The Living Room Theater.
Zhang Yimou’s latest film, A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop, is billed as a remake of the Coen Brother’s Blood Simple, but the grotesque caricatures and slapsticky nature has more in common with Crime Wave, a 1985 mess written by the Coen Brothers and Sam Raimi (directed by the latter). Yimou’s latest is not without some pleasures (exotic red landscapes that looks like foreign planets, a playful scene involving several people making noodle dough), but these pleasures are few and far in between. Blood Simple fans will be scratching their heads for, although some semblance of the story can be found amidst the broader plot points, the two films are completely different animals. The original plan was to follow this with Centurion, the latest from director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent), but after being disappointed by the flat blacks of digital projection, it was decided that if we were going to go digital, we might as well go for the 3-D, so it was Toy Story 3 instead.
The Northwest Film Center and The Living Room Theaters play Yin and Yang to each other. The former doesn’t allow food or drink into it’s auditorium, has one large venue, and not only screens 35mm films, but has access to archive prints thanks to having two upright projectors run by experienced staff.
The Living Room Theaters, on the other hand, offers a variety of food, coffee, and microbrews – but instead of one large screen it has six small ones. The operative word is “cozy.” You can choose between a two-person love seat or a large individual chair with round tables nearby. This theater has no projection booths, as all the screens are digital presentations – the projectors are all the size of a mini-bar fridge and accessed via a cramped crawlspace about ten feet above the entry hall. To work on a projector, a ladder is hoisted against the wall and the machine is pulled out and looked at in the foyer. Digital is great for 3-D. It is also clean and crisp. But when it comes to the color black, it’s flat. Even Robert Rodriquez’ Machete (also playing at the Living Room Theaters) has perceptible “screen-door” pixalation and flat blacks, and here’s a guy doing everything possible to make his particular “film” look like a scratched up old exploitation film from the seventies. These are the quibbles of the old guard, and the fact is that it’s nice to have variety. Most people won’t detect the difference and would rather have the luxury of choosing between six different art-house or indie films vs. only having one night in which to catch an archive print.
On the whole, the nice thing is that people out here still go out in good numbers to support their local cinemas – be they big or small. Certainly the cloudy, cool, and rainy weather are very conducive to the experience. As are the beers. And, frankly, after a couple of Espresso Stouts even the digital starts to look pretty good to this old celluloid junkie.
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