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The Olive Trees Of Justice (1962)/A not quite lost film

October 15th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · 1960's, Lost film, Oregon director, Oregon film, Oregon film new definition, Secretly French

The first person to tell me about Oregon filmmaker James Blue was James Ivory.

Then Penny Allen told me that James Blue was the first Oregonian to take a film to Cannes. Blue was awarded the Critics Prize at Cannes  in 1962 for his first feature length film, The Olive Trees Of Justice.

I don’t know much about Blue! He grew up in Portland and graduated from University of Oregon in 1953.

Richard Engeman did a little sleuthing:

The Oregonian reported on February 1, 1953, that James Blue was starring in “Death of a Salesman” at U. of O, where he was a senior in speech. Earlier, on October 14, 1951, he was noted as the chief carpenter for a U. of O. production of “The Madwoman of Chaillot. He also won the Oregon State Broadcasters outstanding performance award, give at the U. of O. May 14, 1953 (Oregonian, May 15). There are a number of Oregonian pieces about, or mentioning him, 1962-1980. He’s buried in Willamette National Cemetery.

The Olive Trees Of Justice, Blue’s only narrative film, was based on the novel of the same name by Algerian novelist Jean Pelegri. It was shot in Algiers, with Pelegri playing a leading role in a cast of non-professional actors. The score is by Maurice Jarre.

Here’s a description from TCM.

Jean, a young Frenchman born and reared in Algiers, returns to his native land from Paris to be with his dying father. It is during the Algerian war of independence, and as Jean sits at his father’s bedside, he recalls his happy childhood in the family vineyards, where he played with French and Arab friends. Later he walks through the strife-torn Algerian streets and feels the terrible presence of war. One day his father dies peacefully in his sleep, and relatives and friends, both French and Arab, come to pay their respects. Jean has a long discussion with an Arab friend and attempts to explain why he must return to the peaceful life he has made for himself in Paris. After his father’s funeral Jean sees his normally chauvinistic aunt hasten to help an Arab boy who has been struck by a passing truck. Moved by this genuine expression of human concern regardless of nationality, Jean decides to remain in Algeria.

James Blue was born in 1930 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He arrived with his family in Portland in 1942. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1969. He died in 1980.

I hereby claim  The Olive Trees Of Justice as an Oregon film, on the basis of James Blue’s contribution as director.

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Oregon’s Mysteriously Authentic Cult Of Authenticity: Plympton, Kesey, Blashfield, Sacco, Renwick, McCormick, Love Perform The Rites Of Spring

May 29th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · News

Walt Curtis and Matt Love celebrate Matt’s new book SOMETIMES A GREAT MOVIE …..Photo credit: Paige Tashner

Last weekend, as if to keep an invisible, necessary balance in Portland’s cultural eco system, we celebrated director Bill Plympton at the Bagdad, writer Ken Kesey at the Hollywood, and cartoonist Joe Sacco at Mercy Corps Action Center. Never have I seen such swift response to criticism in my life! Portland seems to have taken seriously my request for more ancestor worship, in the arts department.

I take entire responsibility for this surge of civic pride.

I use the word surge advisedly. Greg Hamilton reported 150 Ken Kesey/Matt Love fans were turned away from Saturday night’s screening of SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, held to celebrate the publication of Matt Love’s Sometimes A Great Movie.

Hey! Here’s a new niche for The Hollywood Theatre to occupy: film experiences for people who love being surrounded by other people.

Hundreds and hundreds of other people.

Time to restore the balcony seating, what say, Doug Whyte?

How about asking an architect to invent a flexible wall system so the second floor can either serve as two screening rooms (as it is now), or be opened up, as needed, to temporarily reassume its original identity as a balcony.

Back to this extraordinary weekend…..

Balancing out all this ultra regional genius, and ensuring that we don’t collapse upon ourselves in self regard, Hannah Piper Burns and Ben Popp scheduled Portland’s first Experimental Film Festival. International in scope, the five day festival included work by founding Oregon avant garde scenesters Jim Blashfield and Vanessa Renwick. Matt McCormick, whose own Peripheral Produce Festival helped launch the turbo charged indie energy which swirled all over the Rose City this weekend, gallantly used his time in front of an EFF audience to show work by other filmmakers, not his own.

In a similarly large hearted gesture, S. W Conser arranged a party at Jack London Bar specifically so that boundary defying artist John Frame could see rare stop motion animation from Dennis Nyback’s equally boundary defying collection.

So concludes the weekend wherein Portland’s major export was pure authenticity. The weekend gave every appearance of a well coordinated festival of Oregon arts – yet it just happened spontaneously. Each individual arts organization toiled in darkness for weeks/months of planning, emerging with miraculous simultaneity into the spring sunshine.

And its not over yet.

Tonight Brian Kellow, author of Pauline Kael: A Life In The Dark, speaks at NWFC. Born and raised in Tillamook, Oregon, educated by OSU, Kellow now lives in New York, edits Opera News, and writes the occasional book. If you lived in New York, you would understand what this means: Mr. Kellow is the winner of the Game of Life.

Speaking of NWFC, indie legend Jon Jost, familiar to readers of Oregon Movies, A to Z as a well qualified lillypadder, having made his first film in Cottage Grove about a zillion years ago, will introduce the May 31 screening of Last Chants For a Slow Dance ( 1977), one of his most highly regarded films.

I am aware not everything happens in Portland! This weekend, just up the river, writer-producer-actress Carrie Brownstein performed with Wild Flag at Sasquatch. But some important stuff does happen here. Or at least will, come next September. It only took 50 hours on Kickstarter for Andy Baio’s Portland-centric XOXO Festival to sell out.

That’s pre-selling tickets at $400 a pop!

As Portlander Curtis Salgado, no slouch himself when it comes to authenticity, recently opined:People came from blocks around/Just to hear his righteous sound

Given the turnouts at the multiple arts events in Portland this weekend, I have to say …..seems to be true!

Here are the organizations behind the above described synergy:

Clinton Street Theater

The  Dill Pickle Club

Experimental Film Festival

Hollywood Theatre

Jack London Bar

KBOO’s Word & Pictures

McMenamins/Bagdad Theatre

Mercy Corps Action Center

Oregon Cartoon Institute

Oregon Media Producers Association

Portland Art Museum

Northwest Film Center


XOXO Festival

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Hats Off To Bill: A Tribute To Bill Plympton

May 22nd, 2012 by Anne Richardson · Bill Plympton, Oregon animator

I first met Bill Plympton at the Oregon Book Awards. He arrived at the Scottish Rites Temple with Walt Curtis, who was wearing a tie and jacket several sizes too large, his hair in its signature white aureole around his poet’s brow. Walt was with Marjorie, his long time friend and familiar. They entered single file, circling around the back of the room.

I was at the refreshments table, eating miniature cream puffs. Bill joined me, and we began discussing the evening’s awards, our shared New York City citizenship,  and fact that I had been to a party he gave in New York some years before, although neither he nor I remembered anything about it. We stood there talking these things over, and I remember realizing that I was thinking of things to say so that I could continue eating cream puffs, and furthermore, that he was doing the same thing. That was my bonding experience with Bill Plympton. Eating cream puffs, waiting for Ken Kesey to receive a lifetime achievement award, and silently plotting how to meet Walt Curtis.

The next time I met Bill Plympton, I was with Walt Curtis, taking him around New York.  Walt had come to give a live introduction to Peckerneck Poet, the feature length documentary Bill had made about him. Bill didn’t come to the screening, so Walt and I visited him the following day, on the roof of the building which held his studio in Chelsea. We sat around in the dusk of the city, and talked. I had picked Walt up at Bill’s apartment. It was spare and featureless, the home of a man who was never home.

The third time I met Bill Plympton was at his annual summer gathering on the banks of the Clackamas River, on his parents’ property. He was demonstrating to a young child how to use a water cannon which shot great burst of water. His mother had waved us down to the path to the river, telling us to look out for the llama. Bill was everywhere, a solicitous host. There was no hostess, although there were several women in bathing suits who were jostling for position next to Bill.

The fourth time I met Bill Plympton was at a party in SE Portland. I had come specifically to invite him to speak at a film festival the following spring. It sounds as if I only go to parties to proposition people, and that’s pretty much true. So be forewarned, when you see me at a party. Bill listened, and said yes. From that moment on, I no longer met Bill as a distant friend of a friend. By asking Bill to speak at the festival, I had invited him to join me in some serious work. This is the way to Bill’s heart, to be hard at work on something. Bill understands work. He works all the time. How else can he draw all the tens of thousands of frames he needs to complete a feature length film? Bill lives in his work. It vivifies him. Once he and I were working together on something, all the other pretexts, the cream puffs, the water cannons, the Manhattan rooftops, fell away. We achieved perfect communion in the shared vision of work. So I have been privileged to collaborate with Bill. This is what it feels like to work with an Academy Award nominated director.

It feels like this:

Bill is practical.

Bill is concise.

Bill is effective.

Here’s the things he is not:  he is not neurotic, not self aggrandizing, not long suffering, not wasteful, and not filled with false modesty.

He is extremely focused.

Bill showed me something I hadn’t known before. It is possible to carry on an extended, productive conversation with an extremely busy person IF you are willing to grab it during interstitial moments. In the months Dennis and I planned the festival Bill was coming to, he gave us more input than I dreamed he would have time to give. Some of it came over the phone from New York.  Some of it came during brief moments we could grab while he was in transit from one place to another. We talked during a ride he needed to the airport, or between courses during a dinner he was having with friends at Jake’s, or between speaking gigs at the Ashland Independent Film Festival. He wasn’t multitasking, he was eliminating empty spots in his day. Why do nothing, when he could consult with us and improve our film festival? So that’s what he did.

At the festival, Gus Van Sant tapped Bill to present James Ivory with the Oregon Sesquicentennial Lifetime Achievement Award. I knew Bill was jet lagged, so tired he could barely stay awake, so I was surprised at the end when he asked James Ivory the final question of the evening: what is your dream project? what film would you most like to make?

I never knew that film directors wondered these things about each other.

James Ivory said the film he next wanted to make was a love story set in Peru. He told us “I want people to clutch at their hearts at the beauty I’ve made.” After the festival, perhaps not coincidentally, Gus’ next film was a love story. Bill’s next film, which he is still drawing, is a love story

All of Bill’s films may well be love stories. The stories are getting deeper, the love more mysterious and spiritual. It is as if Bill, having grown accustomed to sharing his innermost sexual fantasies in vivid, comic detail, has become so divested of inhibition that there is nothing to stop him from sharing his deepest worries, his sorrows, his pain and his soul. In Idiots and Angels, the story is so large, so expansive and so filled with grief, that it requires three endings.

Since the festival, Bill has written two books, toured the world with an award winning short, adopted an entirely new identity as a film preservationist, started an animation school, and transformed himself into a married man. And all the while, he continues to draw his next feature. I won’t say “I don’t see how he does this!” I do see how he does this. He takes everything he does very seriously. He likes to work. He likes the people he works with, he is a clear communicator, and he doesn’t waste time. Bill’s  formula for filmmaking success, repeated to audiences around the world,  is “short, fast and cheap.”

Excuse me, Bill, but what an act of artistic camouflage!  Some of your films may meet these three criteria, but your entire career defies that description.  I write this appreciation as a salute to that fact.


Photo credit: Shawn Levy took the photo of James Ivory, Gus Van Sant, Bill Plympton and Mike Rich on May 1, 2009 at Marylhurst University’s Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival.

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Handy Guide To Top Ten Oregon Cartoonists

April 12th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · Handy guide series, Oregon Cartoon Institute, Oregon cartoonist, Side Notes

“Perhaps it is the climate, and then again, perhaps it is the illustrious example of the late Homer Davenport, but climate or whatever, the soil of Oregon seems to be prolific of cartoonists.”

The Oregonian, in 1914.

1. Homer Calvin Davenport (1867 – 1912) was the son of a well educated, politically progressive Oregon Trail pioneer. Brought up on a farm in Silverton, Homer became, after a series of vocational false starts, the most highly paid newspaper cartoonist in the world. His political cartoons, drawn for Hearst newspapers, were so influential legislation was introduced in New York State to outlaw them. As one of the country’s first media superstars, Homer Davenport was wealthy, powerful, well connected, and homesick. He dreamed of leaving New Jersey to return to Oregon, but his wife would not hear of it. Born in the Waldo Hills. Self taught.

2. Carl Barks (1901 – 2000) was the creator of Uncle Scrooge McDuck, and the writer-artist auteur behind Disney’s Duckville comic books. Revered for his story sense and superior draftsmanship, he has been claimed as an inspiration by figures as diverse as R. Crumb and Steven Spielberg. Barks was chosen as one of three figures to inaugurate the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall Of Fame in 1987.  Born and raised on an isolated ranch in Merrill. Self taught.

3. Basil Wolverton (1909 – 1978) was the first Pacific Northwest cartoonist to conduct his entire career by mail, without leaving the Portland area. Enormously influential, his innovative “spaghetti and meatballs” style challenged the boundaries of good taste and changed the face of American comics. Robert Crumb’s recently published Book Of Genesis is a tribute to Wolverton, while Jerry De Fuccio of Mad Magazine thought the comics industry version of the Oscar should be called “The Basil”.  Born in Central Point. Self taught.

4. Born in Oregon City in 1946, Bill Plympton worked as an illustrator and syndicated cartoonist in New York for 15 years before switching to animation. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Variety, Rolling Stone, Glamour and National Lampoon. Bill Plympton is the only filmmaker alive who hand draws feature length films. He has drawn six of them, and is a two time Oscar nominee. Matt Groening, for one, believes “Bill Plympton is God”.

5. Born in Portland in 1951, John Callahan began cartooning in the late 70‘s, after a car accident confined him to a wheelchair. He brought a portfolio of cartoons to a PSU class taught by Bill Plympton, and the rest is history. His syndicated cartoons appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Daily News, The London Observer, the Los Angles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Harpers, the Utne Reader, Willamette Week and 50 other publications. Two animated television series, Quads and Pelswick, were based on his work. He died in 2010, of complications related to his quadriplegia.

6. Born in Portland in 1954, Matt Groening is the creative force behind  the longest running scripted show in television history. The Simpsons has won 27 Emmy Awards, 30 Annie Awards and a Peabody Award. He is the third Oregonian to have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, after Jane Powell and Mel Blanc. Throughout all this, Groening has remained active as a cartoonist, publishing his syndicated strip, Life In Hell, every week since 1977. He cheerfully admits “Cartooning is for people who can’t quite draw and can’t quite write. You combine the two half-talents and come up with a career.”

7. Born in Portland in 1959, David Chelsea was selling cartoons before he was in high school. His work appears in hundreds of publications including the New York Times (where he illustrated the Modern Love column), The Wall Street Journal, The New York Press, Seattle Weekly, Chicago Tribune, Reader’s Digest, Boston Phoenix and Portland Monthly. For years, the New York Observer carried David’s celebrity caricatures on the front page.

8. Born in 1960 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Jack Ohman moved to Portland in 1983 to begin working as a cartoonist for The Oregonian. His cartoons appear in hundreds of newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Times, and The Baltimore Sun. He is the author of ten books, and winner of numerous awards, including the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the 2010 Society of Professional Journalists Award and the 2012 Scripps Howard Journalism Award.

9. Born in Malta in 1960, Joe Sacco moved with his family to Beaverton in time to attend Sunset High School. Graduating with a journalism degree from University of Oregon, he found his true calling when he began using the comic strip format to cover the war in Palestine. Internationally renowned, he is the winner of the 1996 American Book Award, 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, and the 2001 Eisner Award.

10. Two emerging Oregon cartoonists share the #10 spot.

Shannon Wheeler moved to Portland in 2010. You’ve seen his cartoons in the New Yorker.

Matt Bors received the 2012 Herblock Prize, the first alternative editorial cartoonist to win that honor.

Learn more about Homer Davenport, the first in this illustrious string of Oregon cartooning geniuses, in this month’s issue of the magazine 1859. Or attend your choice of three Homer Davenport events taking place in Portland this month:

Saturday, April 21, 2:35 – 3:45 PM
Occupy Davenport: Cartoons for the 99%”, panel at Bus Project’s Rebooting Democracy @ Backspace Cafe

Tuesday, April 24,  7:30 PM @ Jack London Bar
Stumptown Stories: Homer Davenport Covers Dempsey vs Fitzsimmons Prizefight” Speakers: Gus Frederick & Gordon Munro

Saturday, April 28, 11:00 – 11:45 AM
Homer Davenport Presentation & Panel Discussion @ Stumptown Comics Fest

All three events are the brainchildren of Gus Frederick, lead organizer of the Davenport Project. Frederick was inspired by last summer’s Mel Blanc Project, a series of public history/arts education events presented by  Oregon Cartoon Institute.


This post brought to you by Oregon Cartoon Institute, a colloquium of individuals and organizations interested in raising awareness of Oregon’s rich animation and cartooning history.

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Underground Film Is Oregon Territory: Sheldon Renan Wrote The Book

April 7th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · 1960's, Oregon writer

Everyone read An Introduction to the American Underground Film: A Unique, Fully Illustrated Handbook To The Art Of Underground Film And Their Makers when it came out in 1967. Everyone. It covers the work of Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger in Los Angeles; James Broughton, Bruce Conner in San Francisco; Harry Smith, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol and the Kuchar Brothers in New York, among others.

Its author? Oregonian Sheldon Renan.

Sheldon told me that when he was in high school, there were only three hip people in all Oregon City. He was one, and Walt Curtis was the other. I am dying to know who the third was. Sheldon went off to Yale, Walt to PSU. Both men made foundational contributions to independent filmmaking in Oregon.

Walt did this by writing Mala Noche, the novella on which Gus Van Sant based his first feature.

Sheldon did this by writing the first National Endowment for the Arts proposal for a network of regional film centers, launching the process which led to the formation of the Northwest Film Center.

Subtract Gus Van Sant and the NWFC from Portland’s current film scene, and you can see how large the contributions of these two Oregon City beatniks were.

Was Sheldon the first person to write a guide to American underground filmmaking? I believe he was.

Sheldon has returned to Oregon and continues to be hopelessly hip. The simplicity of his insight, “Devices can be small on the outside, but large on the inside”, provides the clinching argument for cyber anthropologist Amber Case’s description of Liquid Modernity.

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Chumming With Chipmunks (1921)

March 16th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · 1920's, Oregon director, Oregon film, Oregon film new definition, Videos

YouTube Preview Image

In 1921, William and Irene Finley pulled out a camera and documented their friendship with a hungry campsite visitor.

Here’s the filmmaker:

Finley was an early conservationist. Oregon’s first fish and game commission was set up in 1911, following his recommendation. You can visit William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, named in his honor, just south of Corvallis.

Here’s how short Oregon’s history is.

William Finley was born in Santa Clara California, on Aug. 9, 1876. That’s one month after Custer’s Last Stand. His parents, John Pettus Finley and Nancy Catherine Rucker, had traveled west by covered wagon. His uncle, William Asa Finley, was the first president of Oregon State University.

William himself was one of the first presidents of Audubon Society of Portland. Notice the birds on his head! He made this film the same year Rudolf Valentino appeared in The Sheik and Charlie Chaplin appeared in The Kid.

At the time Chumming With Chipmunks was made, all feature films were preceded by newsreels. So although William Finley’s chipmunk film did not win the international accolades which later came to Perri, an Oregon film with a similarly wild cast, it was seen by movie audiences across the country.

I hereby claim Chumming With Chipmunks as an Oregon film, based on the Oregon citizenship of the director William and camerawoman Irene.

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Oregon Cartoon Institute Public Meeting @ 5th Avenue Cinema/Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012/2:00 PM/FREE

January 26th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · News

Oregon Cartoon Institute is holding its second public meeting on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 2:00 PM at 5th Avenue Cinema.

All friends and fans of Oregon Cartoon Institute are invited. If you think you might belong to this group, you do.

The agenda includes a brief introduction to the all volunteer Institute, and a discussion of what is up next. We’ll have announcements from the Mel Blanc Project and the Homer Davenport Project, some proposals to consider, and some hand outs to take home.

Reminder: last time the Institute met, Dennis Nyback supplied home made refreshments.

This year our featured attraction is a rare screening of The Little Baker, a stop motion animation short by early Portland filmmaker Lewis Clark Cook (1909 – 1983). We will also screen a ten-minute profile of Cook, made for OPB in the early 1980’s by Portland artist Jim Blashfield.

Michele Kribs, who was trained by Cook to succeed him as head of Oregon Historical Society’s Moving Image Archive, will be in attendance.

In the photo above, use of which was generously made possible by the Oregon Historical Society, Lew Cook is 15 years old. That is his own 35mm camera. A doting aunt, knowing that he was in love with the movies, bought it for him. He quit selling newspapers and went to work as a newsreel photographer.

Top Four Reasons You Might Want To See The Little Baker:

4. Cook made his living as an independent filmmaker using more tricks than you can imagine. Just as Bill Plympton turned down Disney, Lew Cook turned down Warner Brothers. He chose independence. Besides Plympton, the other Portland filmmakers who followed Cook’s lead include Homer Groening, Will Vinton, Joan Gratz, Jim Blashfield, Gus Van Sant, Rose Bond and  Joanna Priestley.

3. The Little Baker was made “in the 1920’s” which means Cook could have made it anywhere between age 11 and age 20. Come help us sleuth out clues as to whether this is the work of a hard working child or an uninhibited adult.

2.  No one else you know has seen this film.

1. Although you may think The Little Baker inspired Will Vinton to consider clay animation, what actually happened was that Will saw it after he had made his start with Closed Mondays. Nevertheless, there is some powerful history here. Who knows what it will inspire you to do!


This event is a partnership between Oregon Cartoon Institute, Oregon Historical Society and 5th Avenue Cinema.

Thank you to Kerry Tymchuk, Michele Kribs and Scott Rook of Oregon Historical Society.

Thank you to Heather Petrocelli of 5th Avenue Cinema and PSU’s Public History Interest Group.

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Handy Guide To Growing Independent Film Outside of LA & New York: What Portland Did Right

November 16th, 2011 by Anne Richardson · Handy guide series

Pittsburgh has George Romero, Baltimore has John Waters, and Boulder has the memory of Stan Brakhage.

Portland has Gus Van Sant, Bill Plympton, Matt Groening, Mike Richardson, Jon Raymond, Aaron Katz, Chel White, Jacob & Arnold Pander, James Westby, Jim Blashfield, Joan Gratz, Joanna Priestley, Matt McCormick, Rose Bond, Vanessa Renwick and Will Vinton.

Ever wonder why?

For cities wishing to replicate Portland’s densely populated cinematic scene, here’s a handy “how to” guide.

1.  Start early.

As soon as people were making films in New York and Fort Lee, they were making them in Portland. Portland’s first film studio, American Lifeograph, opened in 1910. That’s the same year movies came to Hollywood.

2. Have a show business friendly mayor.

During the 16 year tenure of theater-owner-turned-mayor George Baker, downtown Portland was wall to wall theaters. John Gilbert, Clark Gable, William Powell, Edward Everett Horton and Eugene Pallette are some of the actors who jumpstarted their acting careers on the Portland stage, some of them in Baker’s own stock company. It was Baker who renamed Seventh Avenue “Broadway”.

3. Support innovation.

Oregon’s oldest source of print media, The Oregonian, responded to the puzzling new medium of radio by setting up a station, KGW, right in their own building, the Oregonian Tower. Radio later served as an Early Warning System to identify the talent of Portlanders-gone-Hollywood Mel Blanc, Suzanne Burce (renamed Jane Powell by MGM) and Johnnie Ray.

4. Grow your own film processing lab.

After WWII, Portland inventor Frank Hood went to work for a brand new electronics firm (originally conceived as a radio supply store) named Tektronix. He processed films he made for them, after losing patience with the delays of sending films to out of town labs. Eventually, he went into business as Teknifilm Lab. A filmmaker himself, he acted as teacher and mentor to customers. More important to the development of independent filmmaking in Portland:  Hood’s lax attitude toward payment schedules, which subsidized generations of Oregon artists working in film.

5. Provide a home for an exiled Hollywood film scholar.

Andries Deinum came to Portland during the blacklist. His vision of film as a mode of social discourse laid the groundwork for PSU’s Center For The Moving Image, housed in Lincoln Hall. Jim Blashfield, Bill Plympton, and Matt Groening were among the faithful attendees of the Center’s influential screening series, run by the Portland State Film Committee.

6. Provide a day job for the guy who wants to mentor the guy who wants to revive the archaic art form of stop motion animation.

Homer Groening led a dual life – ad man by day and experimental filmmaker by night. He had a family, a home, and his own business doing what he loved – and he did it all without leaving Portland. Aspiring filmmaker Will Vinton paid attention, and followed suit. His career, like Groening’s, would encompass both television commercials and art house films, but on a much larger scale.

7. Work with, not against, a pair of cinema addled students who want to start a regional film center.

When Sheldon Renan succeeded in persuading National Endowment for the Arts to seed regional filmmaking, they went looking for the right person to submit a grant for a film center in Portland. They were pointed to Brooke Jacobson and Bob Summers, members of the Portland State Film Committee. Brooke and Bob wrote the grant, Portland Art Museum acted as fiscal sponsor, and the Northwest Film Center went into business. This year marks its 40th anniversary.

8. Work with, not against, a visionary film preservationist who wants to create a moving image archive.

Lew Cook was trained as a newsreel photographer by the first generation of Portland filmmakers. His stop motion film, The Little Baker, made circa 1925, proved prophetic when it came to Portland’s future claim to cinema history. He and Thomas Vaughn conceived Oregon Historical Society’s moving image archive, and Cook personally trained the preservationist, Michele Kribs, who currently presides over it.

To re-cap: by the end of the 1970’s, Portland had a film program at Portland State University, a film archive at Oregon Historical Society, and a regional film festival (now the NWFF) located at Portland Art Museum. That nucleus of film creativity on the park blocks was balanced by a film processing lab, an emerging animation studio, and a warehouse waiting to be filled with  filmmakers’ offices over in northwest Portland. No one entity owned the scene – the infrastructure and the support system served all comers.

The following timeline concentrates on factors which contributed to a culture where independent filmmakers supported each other in Portland. It does not address the important role played by Hollywood productions shooting in Oregon. The symbiotic role of Hollywood and the Indies in Portland is embodied in the career of Gus Van Sant who slips and slides with ease between these two worlds.

A timeline:

American Lifeograph founded 1910

Lewis Moomaw makes The Chechacos 1924

Lew Cook makes The Little Baker c1925

PGE makes It Can Be Done c1936

Tektronix founded 1946

Frank Hood founds Teknifilm Lab, early 1950’s

Andries Deinum arrives 1957

Homer Groening starts his own ad agency 1958

Center For The Moving Image founded 1965

Bob Summers and Brooke Jacobson found Northwest Film Center 197o, with a push from Sheldon Renan

Tim Smith and Matt Groening make Drugs: Killers or Dillers 1972

Ron Finne, Tom Taylor and Brooke Jacobson found Northwest Media Project 1974

Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner make Closed Mondays 1974

Don Zavin makes Fast Break 1977

Penny Allen makes Property 1977

Rose Bond makes Gaia’s Dream 1982

Gus Van Sant makes Mala Noche 1985

Bill Plympton makes Your Face 1987

Matt Groening makes The Simpsons 1987

Jim Blashfield makes Leave Me Alone 1988

Joan Gratz makes Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase 1992

Gus Van Sant makes Good Will Hunting 1997.

Vanessa Renwick makes The Yodeling Lesson 1998

Miranda July makes The Amateurist 1998

Chris Eyre makes Smoke Signals 1998

Will Vinton makes The PJ’s 1999

Travis Knight makes Coraline 2009

Jon Raymond writes & Neil Kopp produces Meek’s Cutoff 2010, one of five Oregon films at Sundance in 2011.

This post is dedicated to Portland filmmaker/film writer David Walker, who inspired it by raising the question “how rare is regional filmmaking, anyway?”

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Carrie Brownstein’s Portland Posse Of Cinema Matriarchs (And A Supplemental Chorus Of Blondes)

September 19th, 2011 by Anne Richardson · Side Notes

Five years after Sleater Kinney disbanded, all three members continue to make music.

One decided to supplement her music career by becoming a television writer-producer-actress. If you decide that you would like to follow in Carrie Brownstein’s footsteps, I recommend that you live in a city which provides you the following role models.

#1. The Oscar winner. In Portland, this is Joan Gratz.

#2. The Pathbreaker. In Portland, this is Penny Allen

#3. The Visionary. In Portland, this is Rose Bond

#4. The Wise One. In Portland, this is Ursula LeGuin

To keep yourself from becoming discouraged/taking yourself too seriously, its always good to have the wisecracking Best Friend Who Has Been There Already And Survived. Portland provides young female artists with a wide assortment of these.

For example:

#5. The Crazy One. In Portland, this is Courtney Love. (OK, so Courtney’s not here any more. Mary’s Club, where she got her start, still is.)

#6. The Self Deprecating Funny Bisexual One. In Portland, this is Storm Large

#7. The  New York Times Best Selling One. In Portland, this is Chelsea Cain

Q: How many female role models does it take to achieve gender parity in the entertainment business?

A: As soon as we achieve it, we’ll know.

In the meantime, Carrie looks very at home in the spotlight at last year’s Portlandia premiere in Manhattan.

This post is the promised second installment to the first, which addressed the Portland peer group role models which might have helped influence Carrie Brownstein.

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Next Top Five Movies To See After Visiting Oregon Rocks @ Oregon Historical Society

September 16th, 2011 by Anne Richardson · Oregon musician, Videos

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6. A Date With Judy (1948) Jane Powell

Elizabeth Taylor tries to steal all her scenes by wearing a slight mustache, but Jane Powell, Taylor’s best friend and a fellow MGM starlet, is the star of this peek into America before Elvis. Powell (born Suzanne Burce) arrived in Hollywood at age 14. She would have preferred to stay in Portland, because she was looking forward to going to Grant High School, but it was not to be. Portland radio made a star out of Suzanne Burce. Joe Pasternak made a star out of Jane Powell. She made 14 features at MGM, and was the lead in all of them.

7. What’s Opera, Doc? (1957) Mel Blanc

“This afternoon Melvin Blank, a boy with a good voice, will sing a number of solos, accompanied on the piano by his brother.” Mel Blanc’s first write up in The Oregonian gives little indication of what was to come. Portland is where Mel Blanc learned to play the violin, the ukulele, the sousaphone and the stand up bass. Portland is where he became, at age 23, the youngest bandleader on the West Coast. Mel Blanc soaked up everything the Rose City had to offer him except a high school diploma. “I loathed school” he wrote in his autobiography. He  left in 1935 for Hollywood, where he would become the Man Of 1,000 Voices, one of which was Bugs Bunny.

6. Sleeping Beauty (1959) George Bruns

Here’s a music history scavenger hunt for you. Go to the Oregon Historical Society’s  Oregon Rocks exhibit and find George Bruns. He sits holding a trombone in a group photo of a 1940’s Portland jazz band. You’ll have to ID him by his signature because you have never seen his face. You have heard his music. Bruns was Oscar nominated for three of his many film scores: Sleeping Beauty 1959 (his first), Babes In Toyland (1961), and The Sword In The Stone (1963). The Ballad Of Davy Crockett , his first gig for Mr. Disney, sold more that 10 million records. That’s only a small fraction of the take generated by Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me, another Bruns composition you might possibly recognize. George Bruns was born and raised in Sandy, Oregon.

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9. Don’t Look Back (1967) Derroll Adams

Born and raised in Portland, Derroll Adams dropped out of Reed to follow his banjo. A senior statesman of the 1960’s folk scene, he famously provided Bob Dylan’s introduction to his British counterpart, Donovan. Well, someone had to do it! D. A. Pennebaker was there to catch it on film. Adams remained in Europe the rest of his life, playing folk music and teaching banjo. That’s him in the foreground at the beginning of the clip.

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10. Good Will Hunting (1997), Elliott Smith

Did Gus Van Sant cut Good Will Hunting in Portland? Or was he in LA, playing Elliott Smith in the editing room because he was homesick, when it slowly dawned on him  ”Hey I think we’ve got something here…..” ? The soundtrack for this odd little blockbuster about a neurotic orphan with a Robin Williams sized hole in his heart includes Angeles and Miss Misery, which was Oscar nominated.  The Dandy Warhols also show up on the soundtrack. Van Sant is himself a musician. Like Smith, he arrived in Portland during his high school years. Unlike Smith, he basically never left.

Bonus film:

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11. Wildwood (2014), The Decemberists

I’m just guessing here. Laika is planning a stop motion adaptation of Colin Meloy’s and Carson Ellis’ book. They may need some music, and Colin might have some ideas about where it should come from.


Miss the first installment? The first Top Five Movies To See After Visiting Oregon Rocks can be found here.

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