Hollywood Theatre

Film Watch Weekly: A Saudi surprise, plus hot and cold running French movies

Plus: Portland's Hollywood Theater gets ready to welcome live audiences, and the Church of Film resumes its live monthly screenings

But first, a couple of re-opening news items: The Hollywood Theatre has announced that it will reopen to the public on July 2, with screenings of the highly anticipated music documentary Summer of Soul. Sounds like a feel-good title to commemorate a feel-good event. And the long-running labor of love known as the Church of Film resumed its monthly screenings this week with a showing of the 1977 Spanish transition narrative Sex Change at the Clinton Street Theater. Both are welcome indicators that things continue to move in the right direction.

The Perfect Candidate is about a doctor named Maryam, who works at a run-down, underfunded rural clinic. She decides to travel abroad to a convention and interview for a position in a larger city, but a screwup by airport security threatens to ruin her plans. In the process of asking a politically connected family friend for help, Maryam accidentally ends up registering to run for a seat on her town council. She then decides to actually do it, undertaking a crash course in electoral campaigning and emerging as a scrappy underdog.

Mila Al Zahrani in The Perfect Candidate

This outline, as well as other plot details, could easily have come from an American movie about a smart, stubborn woman who refuses to let the chauvinistic world around her keep her down. But the fact that The Perfect Candidate is a Saudi Arabian film illustrates exactly how brave and determined Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) is. The airport security incident is prompted by the fact that all women require the permission of their male “guardian” (usually father) to travel out of the country (Maryam is heading for Dubai). It would be wrong to say that her decision to stand up to the patriarchy is any more courageous than that made by other women in other cultures, but she certainly faces longer odds than most.


The race is on. Ready for live events?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Ready or not, things are opening. Plus Lillian Pitt & Friends, opera breaks the mold, movie time, poetry all over

THE RACE IS ON, as George Jones famously crooned, and if it’s not pride up the backstretch and heartaches goin’ to the inside, as the song’s lyrics breathlessly declare, the stakes may be higher: Can we get the nation and world successfully vaccinated before relaxed safety standards and unchecked viral variants send us back to the starting gate? As warmer months approach, and vaccination rates improve, and people become more restless after more than a year in shutdown, the urge to get out and do things grows stronger – but is it jumping the gun? This week the state reclassified Multnomah and Clackamas counties, with a combined population of more than 1.2 million, from “moderate” to “high risk” for coronavirus. (Washington County, with a population of almost 600,000, maintained its “moderate” status.) The question is vital and controversial, and it goes beyond schools and workplaces and houses of worship and even a weekend at the coast. It has a deep and direct impact on cultural life, too.

Young blues phenom Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, from Clarksdale, Mississippi, had the crowd roaring at the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival. The festival, a Portland July 4 Weekend tradition, was canceled in 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions but will return in July 2021 at the new Lot at Zidell Yards, south of its usual sprawling location on the downtown waterfront. This year’s acts have not yet been announced, and crowd size will be controlled. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Things are stirring. Restaurants have opened for indoor dining. Even theater, beyond the Covid-special videotaped virtual version, is taking tentative steps. Portland’s Triangle Productions has just gone into rehearsal for Joe DiPietro’s four-performer throwback comedy Clever Little Lies, with plans to open to a live audience on May 6, and it could be just the sort of nostalgic escapism that cooped-up audiences will be craving. Movie theaters are reopening (see Marc Mohan’s “Streamers” column, linked below). A consortium of Oregon large-event venues, meanwhile, has written Gov. Kate Brown pushing for guidelines and permission to reopen, arguing that they know how to control crowds and should be part of the decision-making process. The letter includes about fifty signees, ranging from the Pendleton Round-Up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Sisters Folk Festival, and the Portland and Eugene symphonic orchestras.


Streamers: Portland theaters’ reopening plans, Oscar-nominated shorts, French ski drama

Ready or not, movie theaters are starting to open again in time for the Oscars and summer blockbuster season. Plenty is still streaming, too.

As vaccines continue to make their way into the arms of more and more Oregonians, and the state in general dares to look forward to the resumption of some version of normality, it’s a good time to check in on Portland movie theaters and their plans. It should go without saying that these plans are extremely subject to change: Both Clackamas and Multnomah Counties are moving from Moderate Risk back to a High Risk status on Friday, April 9, which means that maximum allowance at theaters will move from 50% of capacity back to 25%, while Washington County will remain in the Moderate Risk category for the time being. That said, here’s a rundown of announced reopening plans.

Several independent Portland-area theaters have already reopened, including the six-screen Living Room Theaters, Cinemagic, the Moreland, Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre, and the Liberty Theatre in Camas. Among the titles showing on their big screens are Oscar nominees Nomadland and Minari, as well as more mainstream fare such as the Bob Odenkirk action flick Nobody and the monster mash Godzilla vs. Kong. The venerable Clinton Street Theater is resuming its traditional Saturday night Rocky Horror Picture Show events, although at 9 p.m. instead of midnight due to county restrictions.

One mainstay of Portland’s movie scene, Cinema 21, recently announced plans to open to the public for the first time in over a year on April 23 with a pair of documentaries: Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street and The Truffle Hunters. Another, the Hollywood Theatre, has yet to indicate a timeline, although it continues to offer remote programming, including an upcoming remote master class on the films of director Richard Linklater. The Northwest Film Center at the Portland Art Museum remains closed to the public as well, although it is opening experimental filmmaker Sky Hopinka’s poetic debut feature Małni—Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore virtually on Friday, April 9.

Two chains operate theaters in Portland. Century Cinemas have opened their multiplexes at Eastport Plaza and Cedar Hills Crossing, while the screens at Clackamas Town Center remain dark for the time being. Regal Cinemas is planning a phased reopening. Bridgeport Village will begin on April 23, with the bulk of its Portland screens to follow on May 14. (The Pioneer Place theaters will wait until the following week, May 21.) Obviously, the summer movie season beckons, and these places are understandably eager to welcome paying customers once again. Personally, I don’t plan on setting foot in an indoor theater until, at the very earliest, I’m fully vaccinated, but once it seems safe to do so, I plan on making up for lost time with a vengeance.


A scene from the Oscar-nominated “Do Not Split”

IN THE MEANTIME, many Portland-area theaters continue to offer expansive selections in their virtual cinemas, and will presumably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. They provide a great way not only to help support exhibitors during this disastrous time, but also to keep abreast of exciting cinema that doesn’t necessarily get showcased on Netflix or Disney+.


Profane documentaries about profound artists: “Wojnarowicz” & “F.T.A.”

Streamers: Marc Mohan goes to the movies from home and emerges with an F-load of features, plus some movie news

This week’s column is brought to you by the letter “F.” A pair of documentaries, each available to rent through virtual cinemas, employ profane F words in their titles as they separately capture the energizing spirit of artists giving the middle finger to the establishment.

David Wojnarowicz’s 1984 work “Fuck You Faggot Fucker”

Director Chris McKim’s film about the queer New York artist, photographer, and activist David Wojnarowicz takes its confrontational title from one of his best-known works. Wojnarowicz: Fuck You Faggot Fucker traces the path of its subject’s life, from his abusive childhood to his career among the East Village art scene that blossomed in the 1980s, to his death from AIDS at the age of 37. Wojnarowicz kept a journal on audio cassette, and McKim uses those recordings, as well as a plethora of fascinating archival material, to recreate the feel and spirit of the fertile subculture that also produced Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Karen Finlay, Richard Kern, and so many others. In more recent interviews, gallerist Grace Mansion and (of course) Fran Lebowitz share their memories of David and that gloriously grimy scene.


Streamers: “One Night in Miami” plus much more

Movie extravaganzas are in short supply these days, but great films aren't

Herein find a passel of viewing options for the homebound film buff, or as we call them these days, film buffs.

“One Night in Miami”

Okay, so Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown walk into a Miami hotel room in 1964. It’s no joke. On the February night when Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world, these four Black icons really did gather at a small motel in Miami. What they talked about, no one knows for sure. But it could hardly have been much more fascinating than the fictionalized version of their conversations depicted in Regina King’s film, based on a stage play by Kemp Powers.

(L-R) Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Aldis Hodge star in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

Powers’ screenplay mostly succeeds in its effort to depict each of these out-sized personalities as both a sociopolitical emblem and a fully realized individual.  Clay (Eli Goree) is all swagger until he’s not—a mere kid, muscle-bound and velvet-tongued but also intelligent and righteous to the core. He’s meeting this night with Malcolm (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to discuss his pending announcement that he’s joining the Nation of Islam, which Malcolm hopes will improve his own standing in his ongoing power struggle against the Nation’s leader, Elijah Muhammad.


Streamers: The end of movie theaters? Not so fast.

The movie theater is not dead: Long live the movie theater!

The big news in the film industry this week was the announcement by Warner Brothers that all 17 of the company’s feature films originally scheduled for a 2021 theatrical release would be debuting simultaneously on the company’s HBO MAX streaming service. While the studio is claiming that this is a unique, one-year arrangement made necessary by the pandemic-related closure of so many movie theaters, many are taking the move as something like a death knell for the big-screen, communal experience that has been the heart of cinema since its invention.

I’m reminded by these concerns of the agita surrounding the video rental industry in the 1990s, when I managed one of Portland’s many fine independent rental stores for several years and then owned another for several more. As high-speed internet (or what passed for it then) became more widely available, trade magazines were full of doomsaying. Once the masses can order up “Jurassic Park” from the comfort of their living room, after all, why would they traipse to the local Blockbuster and face the prospect of extortionate late fees?

Well, it took a while for the intertubes to get big enough that video streaming and downloading was an affordable option for the average household, but when it did, those Cassandras turned out to be correct. Impersonal, corporate chain stores such as Blockbuster and Hollywood went from cultural mainstays to bankrupt dinosaurs virtually overnight. I’d always thought that those places, which made their money by catering to customers who rarely ventured beyond the New Release wall, would be the most vulnerable to the technological shift. And, for once in my life, I was right.


Streaming: Fall film fests flourish from afar

Three Portland film festivals have figured out how to keep the images streaming, one way or another, during the pandemic

Around the globe, it’s fall film festival season, but of course it’s a season the likes of which has never been seen before (and with any luck intelligence, won’t be seen again). Industry pros, major critics, and the pass-buying public have been getting socially distanced sneak peeks at awards-caliber movies coming soon to a screen near you. Whether that’s a laptop screen or a theater screen, of course, remains to be determined. The Toronto, San Sebastian, and Venice Film Festivals have all limited public screenings, and the ability of festivalgoers to travel to them has been, of course, almost totally curtailed.

Closer to home, it’s fall film fest times, too. Perhaps the cruelest blow to Portland’s cultural corpus administered by the pandemic was the abrupt shutdown of the Portland International Film Festival in early March. The pain was especially acute since this was the first iteration of the city’s premiere filmgoing event to be conducted under the leadership of the Film Center’s new Director, Amy Dotson. Dotson brought a dramatic change in focus to the institution, intent on leaning forward into new technologies and new venues for both filmmakers and filmgoers.

The 42nd edition of PIFF, appropriately branded as Cinema Unbound, got off to an impressive start with a snazzy awards ceremony and a variety of nontraditional cinematic experiences on tap, along with a renewed focus on regional filmmakers. All that, of course, came to a screeching halt along with most other aspects of normal life, and with theaters still unable to host crowds for the foreseeable future, the Film Center has offered up PIFF 2.0, a weekend of screenings featuring works originally scheduled to show back in March.