Willy Vlautin

The Artist Series: Writers

In the first of a new series of portraits, K.B. Dixon concentrates his lens on the faces of 10 leading contemporary Oregon writers.


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


This is the first in what I hope will be a long series on local artists—in this case, writers, the unusually talented people who work in words, the most common and most difficult of mediums.

The writers here are some of Oregon’s most accomplished and decorated. Their work offers the reader that unique adventure that only the evolutionary miracle of language allows—access to other worlds, both real and imagined.

The visual approach to this new series of portraits differs greatly from my previous series, In the Frame. Here the environmental details are kept to a minimum. The subjects have the frame to themselves and do not compete with the context for attention. This provides for a simpler, blunter, more intense encounter with character.


KIM STAFFORD


Oregon’s Poet Laureate, and Director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis &Clark College. His latest collection of poems is Wild Honey, Tough Salt.

“Among the many forms of wealth,
in the catalog of luxuries, I choose
the right to be forgotten on a quiet
morning such as this….”

– Excerpt from the poem “The Right to Be Forgotten,”
in the collection Wild Honey, Tough Salt

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ArtsWatch Good Reads 2018

2018 in Review, Part 9: A Fab 15 of ArtsWatch well-told tales worth a second look

Marc Mohan wonders if it matters that the Oscars are a flop. Martha Ullman West revisits the Big Apple of her youth. John Foyston considers sleek cars and fast motorcycles at the art museum. John Longenbaugh starts a podcast “for some very stupid reasons.” Maria Choban and Brett Campbell relate the fascinating tale of a Sri Lankan engineer determined to build the first Pandol new year’s shrine in America. David Bates dives deep into the strangest epic poem you’ve never heard of. Laura Grimes recalls a day of traffic jams, lost glasses, Ursula K. Le Guin, and … pickles. TJ Acena talks gentrification with performance artist Penny Arcade.

The world’s overflowing with stories, and in 2018 ArtsWatch writers grabbed hold of a bunch worth a second look. Here, for your enjoyment, is a Fab 15 of tales well told.

 


 

The Oscars are dying. So what?

March 9: “This year’s telecast drew record low ratings, down a whopping 20 percent from last year’s already dismal numbers,” Marc Mohan wrote in the wake of this year’s television debacle. “… As someone who religiously watches, and even generally enjoys, Tinseltown’s annual festival of self-love, I find myself, perhaps surprisingly, not the least bit perturbed.

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“Lean on Pete”: Horses and heartbreak in film version of Willy Vlautin’s novel

British filmmaker Andrew Haigh keeps true to the spirit of Vlautin's story about a horse and his boy

Willy Vlautin is a Portland institution, the author of five novels and the lead singer and primary songwriter for the band Richmond Fontaine.  Andrew Haigh is a rapidly rising figure in international cinema, having made a splash with his debut feature “Weekend,” in 2001, and steered Charlotte Rampling to an Oscar nomination in 2015’s “45 Years.”

For his third feature, Haigh has adapted Vlautin’s third novel, “Lean on Pete,” which centers on Charley Thompson, a teenager living in Portland with his less-than-perfect dad. Charley gets a part-time job at the Portland Meadows horse track, helping out a grizzled, ethically suspect trainer (Steve Buscemi) and befriending a jockey (Chloe Sevigny). When his home life grows intolerable, Charley takes off with Pete, a played-out old horse he’s taken a shine to, on a trip across the American West in search of family and stability.

Charlie Plummer in “Lean on Pete”

“Lean on Pete,” the book, is, like much of Vlautin’s writing, spare, heartbreaking, and utterly human, sparing neither its characters nor its audience from the cruel realities of life. It’s this stringent unsentimentality, though, that makes their hard-earned, potentially trivial triumphs so emotionally potent. Charley Thompson is played by Charlie Plummer, the young actor who also recently starred in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World,” and the relatively inexperienced Plummer handles a difficult role with astonishing skill. “Lean on Pete,” the movie, which is currently playing at Portland’s Living Room Theaters, captures the clear-eyed empathy that makes the book so impactful.

Haigh and Vlautin sat down recently for a wide-ranging discussion about the making of “Lean on Pete,” the experience of shooting in Oregon, and why there won’t be a sequel.

Andrew, you recently did a list of your top ten films from The Criterion Collection, and there were a couple titles that seemed particularly appropriate or influential in relation to “Lean On Pete.” One was Lynne Ramsay’s “Ratcatcher” and the other was Bob Rafelson’s “Five Easy Pieces.”
Andrew Haigh: “Ratcatcher” is one of my inspirations for wanting to make films to start with. It’s pretty grim and depressing, but really lyrical and tender, sweetly emotional without being sentimental. And I think Bob Rafelson is an oddly underrated director. I suppose there’s something about both of those films and their unsentimental depiction of the world, especially “Five Easy Pieces.” It’s set in the American landscape—I think some of it was even filmed in Oregon—but it’s about a person’s struggle to make their way through that landscape and understand themselves within that landscape without being overpowered by that landscape.

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Act globally, view vocally: PIFF’s Portland ties

The Portland International Film Festival's second week is dotted with Oregon-sourced cinema

As the 41st Portland International Film Festival rounds the far turn and enters its second week, a mouth-watering array of cinematic flavors remain to be sampled. (We’ll even mention a few of them below.) But PIFF has always done an excellent job demonstrating that Northwest films and filmmakers can stand shoulder-to-shoulder alongside their intercontinental kin—and that they can do so without losing their unique local charms.

Greg Hamilton has been a familiar figure in the Portland film firmament for years. He’s organized tributes to director Les Blank, single-handedly kept “Fast Break”—the classic documentary about the 1977 NBA champion Portland Trail Blazers—in the public eye, and serves on the board of the Hollywood Theatre. Now he’s making his debut as a director with a portrait of another local institution: “Thou Shall Not Tailgate” profiles the Rev. Chuck Linville, an old-school Portland oddball who drives his elaborately festooned art cars around town when he’s not relaxing in his home amid equally eccentric decor.

Greg Hamilton, director of “Thou Shall Not Tailgate.”

The 25-minute film, screening as part of the shorts program “Made in Oregon 2: Wilderness,” lays interview audio with Linville over archival footage of his automotive exploits. Linville really is an ordained minister (Hamilton first met him at a wedding he performed), as well as a former Postal Service worker and an original member of Portland’s Cacophony Society. There’s a whole section devoted to him in Chuck Palahniuk’s myth-making Portland travelogue, “Fugitives and Refugees.”

One of the creations of the subject of the documentary “Thou Shall Not Tailgate.”

In other words, Linville and his Church of Eternal Combustion are the epitome of what we talk about when we talk about “Old Portland.” He’s not trying to create a personal brand, or exude some sort of cultivated weirdness. He’s just a guy who, as he puts it, gets bored easily. And who likes to glue hundreds of baby-bottle nipples to the top of his station wagon. “Thou Shall Not Tailgate,” though, isn’t meant as a simple nostalgic gesture, says Hamilton. Instead, it’s “paying witness to the transformation of Portland,” perhaps trying to inspire future kooks by spotlighting those who know how to do kooky right.

(“Shorts 4: Made in Oregon 2: Wilderness” screens at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Whitsell Auditorium.)

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By BRIAN KEARNEY

It’s been a rough few years for Wordstock by the sounds of it. There’s been trouble with management, trouble with venues and a history of financial woe that led to the Portland festival taking 2014 off. But if the 2015 festival, which took place in and around the Portland Art Museum last Saturday, was anything to go by, it looks like the dark times are over.

Part of the reason this year’s festival was so massively enjoyable was that unlike previous years, this time the event was packed into one very full day, with three main stages offering nine consecutive hours of high-quality literary chat. And consecutive they surely were. To be fair, the events were kept diligently on time, but if your next chosen event was on a different stage, that left only a couple of minutes to push through the crowds and duck between buildings to catch it from the start. It did give the day a real momentum, but combined with the art museum’s handful of restrooms it also meant that anyone determined not to miss a thing had to choose between punctuality and their bladder. But it’s a small complaint, and nothing a few Honey Buckets won’t remedy next year.

Editor’s Note: Angie Jabine was also on hand for Wordstock and caught an entirely different lineup of authors. Read her report here.

So who was there? Simon Winchester for a start, resplendent in a tan sports coat and jeans, talking to OPB’s Geoff Norcross about his new non-fiction book, Pacific. The Wall Street Journal hates it apparently, but Mr Winchester didn’t seem too put out.

“Now all I want is for Bill O’Reilly to hate it,” he said, and to judge by the giggles from the audience there’s no major overlap between the Fox crowd and the book crowd. Winchester, it seems, knows something about everything and spoke engagingly on plate tectonics, weather systems, the militarization of the Pacific, the origins of surfing, nuclear testing in the Bikini Islands, deep sea mining and more besides. And it was remarkably bright and breezy for a talk with such key points as the inevitable decline of the United States and the possibility of total human extinction in the next 500 years.

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