CULTURE

FilmWatch Weekly: Gus Van Sant talks about his biopic of Portland cartoonist John Callahan

"Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot" follows Callahan's journey to sobriety after being paralyzed in a drunk-driving accident

One well-known Portlander tells the story of another in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot,” Gus Van Sant’s new film based on the memoir by the late cartoonist John Callahan.

Van Sant has had his eye on Callahan’s life story for a couple of decades, with Robin Williams, who had optioned Callahan’s book, attached at one point to play the lead role. After Williams’ death, the project’s realization seemed unlikely. But Van Sant recruited Joaquin Phoenix, reuniting the two after Phoenix’s breakout role in “To Die For (1995),” and a fascinating supporting cast, and here we are.

If you lived in Northwest Portland in the 1990s, the spectacle of the orange-haired Callahan speeding down the sidewalk in his motorized wheelchair was a familiar one. Even if you didn’t recognize him on the street, however, you would have almost certainly been familiar with the outrage he frequently stoked with his squiggly, single-frame cartoons, which ran regularly in Willamette Week from 1983 until his death in 2010, and skewered race, gender, and other sacred cows (including disability) with politically incorrect impunity.

Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan and Jonah Hill as Donnie star in DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT.

“Don’t Worry” focuses less on Callahan’s notoriety than his journey to sobriety, which began some time after the horrific car accident in California that left him paralyzed and bitter. Among the members of the Alcoholics Anonymous group that Callahan reluctantly joins are characters played by the likes of Udo Kier, Beth Ditto, and Kim Gordon, who’s especially convincing as a wealthy Portland housewife with a drinking problem. The group’s de facto leader is Donnie, a self-mocking sober hedonist played with impressive savoir faire by an almost unrecognizable Jonah Hill.

The rest of the cast includes Jack Black as the drunk driver behind the wheel for the fateful wreck and Rooney Mara as Callahan’s almost too-angelic nurse/girlfriend. Newcomer Tony Greenhand deserves special mention as Callahan’s wry, stringy-haired caretaker, but the less said about Carrie Brownstein’s brief appearance as a bureaucrat the better.

Van Sant was in town last month for an advanced screening of “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” held at Cinema 21, with proceeds benefitting the John Callahan Garden at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center. I met with him the afternoon of the screening at a downtown Portland hotel, where he discussed the evolution of the movie, its visual aesthetic, and why he didn’t shoot it here in town.

Continues…

Singing composer Ernest Bloch’s praises in Newport

A wayside dedication will recall the artist -- known during his lifetime as the fourth B -- with "Bloch Talks" and a musical performance

NEWPORT — He’s one of Newport’s most famous former residents, but unless you’re a classical music buff, odds are you haven’t heard of him.

Composer Ernest Bloch spent the last 18 years of his life living in Newport’s Agate Beach neighborhood. Photo courtesy Frank Geltner

That would be Ernest Bloch, the composer known in his day as the fourth B, after Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, and who composed one-third of his world-renowned compositions in an oceanfront home in Newport’s Agate Beach neighborhood.

Thanks to the efforts of Frank Geltner and a group of volunteers, Bloch’s legacy will shine more brightly. The new Ernest Bloch Memorial Wayside, located next to the street where Bloch lived from 1941 to his death in 1959 at age 79, will be dedicated Wednesday, July 18, with events continuing through the weekend.

Bloch discovered Newport while traveling from his son’s home in Portland to the University of California-Berkeley, where he was delivering a series of lectures.

“He arrived at the height of his career,” said Geltner, who is the “flamekeeper” of the Ernest Bloch Legacy Project. “All metrics which can be mustered give testimony to the impact this composer has had on his profession. Perhaps the number of recordings give the scope: about 850 CDs and 400 LPs. Perhaps the number of major awards. Perhaps when you search the name Ernest Bloch online to discover nearly 600,000 hits.”

Continues…

Photo First: The Albany Carousel

In the Willamette Valley, a small city gets a new central attraction and a thing of beauty to keep nostalgic visitors going round and round

ALBANY — Every small town wants something to put it on the map. Now, after fifteen years of hard work, Albany has that something—a remarkable new carousel.

This project, which is called the Albany Carousel over its entrance and is officially named the Historic Carousel & Museum, is the brainchild of Wendy Kirby. She has shepherded it from inspiration to installation in a perfectly designed new building at the center of the city. It is destined to be exactly what it was hoped it would be—the anchor of a downtown revitalization.

The carousel is built on a 1909 mechanical base that was donated to the project by the Dentzel family (famous in the carousel world) and was meticulously restored over a period of ten years. It is populated by a menagerie of stunning animals, both real and imagined—horses, of course, but also lions, tigers, elephants, hippocampus, and dragons. Each has been hand-carved and hand-painted by local volunteers.

In addition to the carousel the building houses a gift shop, various meeting spaces, and a café, but it is downstairs in the carving studio where the visitor is offered a unique experience, a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of these fantasies—a chance to gain insight into the processes whereby a tree trunk becomes a unicorn. A single figure takes about 1,500 hours to carve and another 700 hours to paint. There are thirty animals on the carousel at the moment, with room for twenty-some more.

Peter Daulton, a special-effects artist with Industrial Light & Magic (think Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc., etc.) has completed a documentary about the project, Ride, that has been airing on PBS stations across the country.

For the cost of a token ($2) you can revisit your childhood.

Continues…

Newberg professional theater goes beyond “The Hamlet Show”

Penguin Productions offers Shakespeare and Wilde. Also on tap: Wildwood MusicFest in Willamina, da Vinci Days celebrates the intersection of art and science

There are surely stretches over the year when not much is going on in Yamhill County, artistically speaking. Those lazy weeks will afford opportunities for deep dives into our scene, with in-depth interviews and profiles of individual artists. But July is not one of those times. So grab a pen, or fire up the calendar app on your phone — whatever you’re using these days to organize your life — and get ready, because we have a lot to cover.

Nathaniel Andalis and Patricia Alston of Penguin Productions rehearse a scene from Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” which opens July 19 in Newberg. Photo by: Kris Klancy

This is especially true in Newberg, where a remarkable thing has happened. A small group of talented and endlessly energetic young people have joined forces to launch a theater company — a professional theater company. Penguin Productions was formed in 2017 by Chris Forrer and fellow Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA) alums Daphne Dossett and Garrett Gibbs, on whose family property the outdoor productions are staged. Their mission to create “classical theater for a contemporary world” began last summer with gender-fluid productions of As You Like It and Macbeth.

This week, they kick off the 2018 season with what Forrer promises will be a brisk Hamlet (around 2 hours and 40 minutes) and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, in which politics with a capital “P” plays out in contemporary Washington, D.C. (thanks to a 1895 script that falls well within the public domain). Shows start Thursday, July 19, and run through Aug. 4, with four performances of each. Tickets are $8 to $15 and may be purchased at the website.

Hamlet, directed by co-founder Gibbs, sounds particularly interesting. The company’s take, basically, is that Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius have, in their own way, been painted into the corner of caricature over the years in ways that are not necessarily supported by Shakespeare’s text. The play, Forrer told me, is much more interesting with a charismatic and even likable Claudius. Gertrude isn’t necessarily cold and distant, and Polonius (played here by a woman) is not an idiot. Forrer thinks the text supports Gibbs’ direction and makes for a much more exciting story than what all too often becomes “The Hamlet Show.” Sure, it is that, but you know what he’s saying.

Continues…

Portland Meets Portland

The innovative "Pass the Mic" summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.

It used to be that a piece of good news brought some cheer and then I’d move on. I don’t know if it is true for you or not, but these days a piece of good news makes me also feel a palpable sense of relief that not all is bleak in this world of ours. That is particularly true if it concerns issues around refugees and immigrants, a domain where misery and heartbreak dominate the current news cycle.

So share my joy in reporting about the newest venture by Portland Meet Portland, a young organization that provides one-on-one professional mentoring, citizenship and language classes, youth leadership development, and cross-cultural dialogue for immigrants and refugees: It calls itself “a cultural exchange right in your backyard.”

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

It also offers music, in the new summer camp Pass the Mic, which will culminate in a free, open performance on Friday, July 20 by the youth bands taking part in the camp. Twenty-five young musicians, originally from Africa, India, and South America, have been at the camp, working with 10 experienced Portland musicians.

Continues…

Coast through summer: theater, music, visual art along the beach

Entertainment along the Oregon Coast includes old-time melodramas, jazz performances and art celebrating birds.

Hot, sunny days make it prime viewing season for the art and entertainment nature offers along the Oregon Coast. But when the sand, wind and occasional rain get to be too much, beachgoers can find plenty of manmade amusements. Summer on the coast brings theater performances, gallery shows and music.

Not every stage welcomes cheers, boos and popcorn-throwing, but that’s how The Astor Street Opry Company defines audience participation during their performances of Shanghaied in Astoria. Given this is their 34th season presenting the play, they must be doing something right. In their words, it’s live, award-winning, family friendly, historical and hysterical; part vaudeville, part soap opera and an entertaining look at cultural folklore on the Columbia River. The story, directed this year by Ashley Mundel, centers on the “shanghaiing” of the play’s hero and his daring rescue in melodramatic style. It runs at 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, July 12 through Sept. 1. Tickets range from $10 to $20. Get the details here.

The Astor Street Opry Company is presenting its 34th season of “Shanghaied in Astoria.”

“Saxophonist to the stars” Patrick Lamb takes the stage at the Coaster Theatre Playhouse in Cannon Beach at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 15, as part of the Tom Drumheller Summer Series. Lamb’s last three singles have made the national Billboard Charts, and he was recently inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. He’s toured with Smokey Robinson, Esperanza Spalding, Gino Vannelli, Bobby Caldwell, Jeff Lorber Fusion, among others, and is now touring solo.

Continues…

Beautiful Lives, remembered

Artist Quin Sweetman gathers 55 artists to paint portraits of the 58 people murdered in last October's mass shooting in Las Vegas

By BONNIE MELTZER

The Beautiful Lives Lost exhibition at the Art Institute of Portland during July is a tribute to honor the fifty-eight people whose lives were cut short by senseless gun violence in Las Vegas on Oct 1, 2017. Artist Quin Sweetman organized the project to help us grieve this national tragedy, in which a lone gunman firing into the crowd from above at a country music concert killed 58 people and injured another 851. She gathered 55 artists to make portraits of the 58 people murdered.

“We really don’t like referring to the people who lost their lives that day as victims,” said Sweetman. “All of them were people, not statistics, living rich, rewarding and beautiful lives. They were invisible to the perpetrator, but all the artists who committed to this project clearly see their humanity. The artists recognize, remember and honor those lost lives with their artworks. They volunteered their time, materials, and talents as a loving gesture to bring some comfort to the families, loved ones and communities by showing that people care about their loss.” Following the exhibition, all portraits will be given to the families.

Charles Hartfield. Oil on canvas; artist Quin Sweetman.

A powerful visual impact is created by showing all of these portraits together. Each face told a story of a life lived. We are all reminded of that the common thread that bound them together — their love of country & western music and their curtailed lives. The opening reception was a joyous event even though its origins were seeped in sadness. The portraits evoked life and joy.

Continues…