“Tradition!” Tevye the milkman barked, and with that emphatic proclamation the song and dance reeled on. The traditions that last the best are the ones that constantly reshape themselves within the structures they’ve set up, and certainly the Northwest Film Center’s Reel Music Festival, which spools into its 34th annual edition on Friday, fits that category. The basic idea is the same as always: pull together a whole bunch of films about music and musicians (documentaries, primarily), but do new ones every year, and let the good times roll. Or reel.
This year’s edition, which runs through February 5, kicks off with a foulmouthed film about the Rolling Stones (Robert Frank’s 1972 Cocksucker Blues) that followed the band on tour after the Altamont debacle, and was so raunchy and revealing about the seedier side of rock that it was shelved, and is only rarely seen. Here’s your chance. You might want to pair it with the more genteel, if that’s the right word, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!, filmed on last year’s Latin American tour. I like the looks of 1957’s The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, filmed by the Life Magazine photographer when he lived and worked in an illegal loft teeming with artists and musicians and house parties and jam sessions in Manhattan’s Flower District during a golden age of jazz; A Poem Is a Naked Person, a cinematic portrait of Leon Russell directed by Maureen Gosling and the great Les Blank that was unreleased for 40 years because Russell, a co-producer, didn’t like it; and Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues, Paul Bernays’ portrait of the essence-of-hip pianist and singer who was yet another member of last year’s sizable artists’ march into the final sunset. You, no doubt, will find your own favorites. Check the schedule and put on your toe-tapping shoes. It’s a tradition.
A FEW THINGS TO WATCH FOR ON THIS WEEK’S CALENDAR:
El Payaso at Milagro. Milagro’s newest national touring show, which gets its premiere starting Thursday in the company’s hometown, takes its inspiration from Ben Linder, the young engineer from Portland who was killed by Contra fighters in 1987 while working to build a small hydroelectric dam in one of Nicaragua’s poorest areas. The story, by Emilio Rodriguez, sends a contemporary Latino student to Nicaragua to see the outcome of Linder’s work thirty years ago. El Payaso is bilingual, with some lines in Spanish and some in English, and it’s part of Fertile Ground, getting an early jump on the citywide new-performance festival’s January 19-29 run.
CoHo searches for D.B. Cooper. The premiere of db, Tommy Smith’s play about the infamous hijacker who boarded a plane in Portland in 1971, rerouted it to SeaTac, picked up $200,000, then parachuted out with the loot somewhere over the wilderness of southwest Washington state, opens Friday. Isaac Lamb directs a promising cast including Duffy Epstein, Rebecca Lingafelter, and others. It’s an early-entry part of Fertile Ground, too.
Fly Guy: The Musical. Oregon Children’s Theatre’s newest world premiere is about a kid named Buzz and his pet Fly Guy and Fly Guy’s friend Fly Girl and an unfortunate school field trip to a flyswatter factory, and with a plot like that, what could go wrong? Saturday through February 12 in the Newmark Theatre.
Atlas Art: Title Pages and Frontispieces, 1493-1852. The Collins Gallery at the Multnomah County Central Library downtown regularly hosts intriguing exhibitions, and this one looks especially fascinating: a show of art from print atlases from almost as far back as Gutenberg (his movable-type press debuted in 1439) to the middle of the 19th century. The exhibit opened Saturday, in the midst of Snowpocalypse, and the reception was postponed until 2-5 p.m. this Saturday, January 14. It’s on view regular library hours through February 27. UPDATE: Reception postponed (again) to Saturday, Jan. 21, because of weather.
brownsville song (b-side for tray). The informal play-reading group The Reading Parlor, which attracts some of the best actors in town for its cold readings of recent scripts, takes on Kimber Lee’s 2014 drama about the aftermath of the slaying of an African-American high school kid in Brooklyn: “He ain’t run with no crew. He ain’t beef with nobody. He was not the same old story.” 6:30 p.m. Monday, January 16, Cerimon House.
Variations on the Death of Trotsky, and other comedies. Just in time for the inauguration, a little revolutionary comedy: three short plays from the witty pen of David Ives, a fourth by Rich Orloff. In the title play, Trotsky takes the stage with a climber’s ax stuck in his skull, and proceeds to riff. Staged readings by Readers Theatre Repertory, Friday and Saturday at Blackfish Gallery. UPDATE: This show has been canceled because of weather.
Scorsese, the high priest of cinema, returns to the pulpit with Silence. Cinema is a religion, Marc Mohan asserts, and in his newest movie director-priest Scorsese, raised a Catholic, “wrestles with agonizing theological dilemmas, most prominently the willingness of a supposedly omniscient and omnipotent God to allow human suffering.”
DanceWatch Weekly: scanning a new year in Portland dance. In her first weekly dance column of 2017, Jamuna Chiarini gives readers an especially helpful calendar of Portland dance events into June.
Stardust memories: finding our own Peter Pan. The Broadway tour of the musical Finding Neverland stopped over at Keller Auditorium last week, and ArtsWatch’s Christa McIntyre was there to see how the whole thing flew.
Snow Queen 5: esprit de corps and Snow Queen 6: scenes into sounds. Eugene arts journalist Bob Keefer’s series on the making of a new Snow Queen at Eugene Ballet continues with reports on how two young dancers from the Midwest fit into the picture, and about the engineering challenges of recording the new ballet’s score. (And congratulations to Keefer, who begins tomorrow as arts editor of Eugene Weekly, bringing his years of experience and knowledge to coverage of the downvalley city’s vital arts scene.)
MusicWatch Weakly: slim pickings. Slim scheduling for the first week of the new year, coupled with a host of cancellations and postponements because of the weather, made it a very light week on the music front, Brett Campbell writes. But his most recent column also touches on some interesting news, from a newly named ocean wayside for composer Ernest Bloch to a new pilot program naming Portland and three other cities as “JazzHubs.”
About ArtsWatch Weekly
We send a letter like this once a week to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.
We end with a couple of requests. First, if you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy our cultural writing online, could you please forward this letter to them? The bigger our circle of friends, the more we can accomplish. Second, if you’re not already a member of ArtsWatch, may we ask you to please take a moment and sign on? What you give (and your donation is tax-deductible) makes it possible for us to continue and expand our reporting and commenting on our shared culture in Oregon. Thanks, and welcome!