The Portland EcoFilm Festival typically offers up an edifying, eclectic, earnest (and excellent!) selection of documentaries and short films. Which is exactly what you’d expect—anthropogenic climate change, habitat destruction, and stoic activism aren’t usually the stuff of rib-tickling entertainment. In a delightful change of pace, however, the closing events of this year’s festival will provoke chuckles of appreciation, disbelief, and bewilderment, while simultaneously serving up sly commentary on The State We’re In.
Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences, which screens on Thursday, June 29, is the latest film from director Cory McAbee. It uses a framing story, in which a random dude in a bar has a conversation with a robot who is scheduled to be sent into space the next week, to surround segments filmed during the live, multimedia shows that McAbee and cohorts have been touring over the last several years.
These seminar-style performances, which incorporate slides, films, and music, feature the three-piece-suited McAbee delivering truth bombs about transdimensionality, the nature of light, and the insufficiency of mere facts. Other segments are product pitches for things such as temporary amnesia pills (used to create the effect of time travel), and a plan to send thousands of “golden thumb drives” into space in the spirit of the Voyager probes.
McAbee is the onetime lead singer of the New York trio the Billy Nayer Show, with which he made his feature directing debut, 2001’s gloriously weird The American Astronaut. (Sadly, that film is unavailable to stream legally and is out of print on DVD.) He followed that up in 2009 with Stingray Sam, which was composed of six ten-minute episodes and narrated by David Hyde Pierce. (It’s similarly unavailable, except that McAbee has posted at least a couple of the episodes to YouTube. However, Movie Madness carries both films.) Struggling to raise funding to other film projects, he turned to the live performances circuit as an outlet for his ideas and a source of material for the project that became Deep Astronomy.
His persona is part Carl Sagan, part Elmer Gantry, and the balderdash he spouts inevitably hints at deeper, vaguely seen pearls of something adjacent to wisdom. The other members of this sci-fi vaudeville mesh nicely with his sincere preaching on our absurd predicament. And the interstitial scenes between our average, smartphone-obsessed Earthling and the artificial person about to be launched into the cosmos provide satisfying connective tissue. The sum is a unique gestalt that stimulates the mind and, dare I say, the heart.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! McAbee will be in attendance for the Thursday screening and will participate in a post-film show-and-tell about his newest concept, which apparently involves following the migratory paths of monarch butterflies on bicycles. And on Friday, June 30, he will present his most recent live show, Cultured Cell Culture, which bears the intriguing sub-title “Cruelty-Free Cannibalism for the Advancement of Our Species.” I’ve already got my ticket.
As Pride Month comes to a close, a pair of new home-viewing releases spotlights a pair of gay icons who couldn’t possibly be more different. The HBO documentary Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed examines the life of the masculine matinee idol whose queerness was an open secret in Hollywood and whose death from AIDS marked a turning point in the public perception of that plague. Hudson’s double life has been explored in the past, most strikingly in Mark Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, but this slick, interview- and clip-laden production is an excellent, revealing look at his off-screen self. Interviews with members of his social circle, including novelist Armistead Maupin, provide a portrait of the man the public never knew: a generous, kind, lonely man who never seems to have questioned the need to keep his sexuality hidden, but who freely expressed it in the right company. (The story of his visit to a San Francisco sex club is legitimately shocking.) The movie gives him his proper due as a titanic figure in both screen history and gay liberation, even if it wallows in the sordid a bit gleefully at times.
On the other end of the spectrum is Italian filmmaker, poet, and author Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was born three years before Hudson but never hid any aspect of being, from his homosexuality to his evolving, increasingly radical politics. Emerging from postwar realism, Pasolini (like Federico Fellini) eventually took on a more stylized, explicit approach, culminating in his final work, the unbearably graphic Salo: 120 Days of Sodom. Like Hudson, Pasolini didn’t make it to 60, but he never had a chance to succumb to AIDS: he was murdered (many say assassinated) in 1975 at the age of 53. The Criterion Collection, which has previously released Pasolini’s four final features, has now issued a beautiful Blu-ray boxed set, Pasolini 101, covering his first nine, from his 1961 neorealist debut Accattone to his 1969 adaptation of Euripides’ Medea (starring Maria Callas!). It also includes 1968’s Teorema with Terence Stamp and 1962’s Mamma Roma, which features one of Anna Magnani’s most iconic performances. Naturally, the films are all impeccably restored, and the set includes the expected array of Pasolini shorts, documentaries by and about him, and interviews with scholars and collaborators. (Is it churlish to complain about there being audio commentary tracks on only two of the movies?) There’s also a handsome 100-page book with more info on the man and his uncompromising output.
The acclaimed documentary Every Body, about the lives and experiences of intersex people, was not made available for review. (Opens Friday at Cinema 21, Salem Cinema, Eugene Art House, and others.)
The Wandering Path: The Story of Gilead Media pays tribute to the noted record label specializing in the heaviest of heavy metal bands, and its dedicated founder, Adam Bartlett. (Friday, Clinton St. Theater)
Genre legend John Carpenter gets a shout-out with screenings of his five most iconic flicks: They Live, Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China, Starman, and, of course, The Thing. (Friday-Thursday, Cinemagic)
The Hollywood Theatre has acquired its own 35mm prints of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and James Cameron’s Aliens and will be screening them both on Saturday to celebrate.
The Astral Projections collective serves up another batch of surreal 16mm treats, including an anti-capitalist documentary and a celebration of dune buggies, in Socialism: Catch the Joy. (Wednesday, Hollywood)
FRIDAY: Paul Reubens in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (through Sunday, Eugene Art House)
SATURDAY: Scholar and raconteur Eliot Lavine kicks off another series of Saturday morning classics with Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Cinema 21)
SUNDAY: Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, and Dyan Cannon in Deathtrap (Hollywood); Bruce the Shark in Jaws (Sunday [free], Tuesday, & Thursday, Living Room Theaters)
MONDAY: Gordon Parks’ Superfly (Hollywood); Tae Bo maestro Billy Blanks stars in the 1993 B-Movie Bingo candidate TC 2000 (Hollywood)
TUESDAY: Celebrate Independence Day with Dean Stockwell as the title character in the 1973 cult classic The Werewolf of Washington (Darkside Cinema, Corvalis)
THURSDAY: The King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard concert film Chunky Shrapnel (Cinema 21); Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (Hollywood); Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin (Clinton St. Theater)