Here’s a look at some new titles on Portland screens big and small:
Movie of the week: The story of a three-day pass.
The most groundbreaking “new” movie to hit Portland this week was 1968, of course. Maverick filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles’ debut feature, which would make the film even more influential Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss song two years later, is a sharp underhand withdrawal from American racism, especially its internalized effect on the psyche of black Americans.
It would be an exaggeration to say that this film could not have been made in the United States, but it certainly helps that it was made in France, after Van Peebles was rejected in his initial efforts to break into Hollywood. At an American base near Paris, Corporal Turner (Harry Baird) receives a promotion and a weekend pass from his swaggering white commander. Van Peebles immediately evokes the Boisian’s “double consciousness” by accusing Turner’s reflection in a mirror of receiving these favors only because he’s an obsequious Uncle Tom. Surrealist elements like this permeate the film, which clearly drew on French cinema of the decade as much as it did on Paris itself, where Turner is heading towards his 72 hours of freedom.
After a variety of fun incidents roaming the city, many of which reflect Turner’s surprise at the lack of racial restrictions on his movements and activities, he ends up meeting a white woman named Miriam (Nicole Berger, who had appeared in from the films of Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc Godard, and who was tragically killed in a car accident before the release of this film). The scene of their initial encounter is full, perhaps even crowded, with New Wave stylistic shenanigans, sometimes awkwardly executed but well suited to communicate the dislocation and energy of Turner’s experiences.
In short, Turner and Miriam get along and decide to head for the coast to regain his freedom. Unlike the Hollywood films of the time (it was only a year later Guess who’s coming to dinner), The story of a three-day pass allows her interracial couple to express spontaneous affection, to frolic freely and without anxiety or shame, and, yes, to sleep together. Everything is fine until, of course, America catches up with him. In one case, he reacts violently when a Frenchman calls him “nigger,” which usually translates to Negro (relatively anodyne ergo at the time), but which Turner interprets as a much more objectionable N-word. In another, Turner’s homeland literally catches up with him, when a group of white soldiers cross paths with him with Miriam frolicking on the beach.
I first saw this movie over 25 years ago, on a muddy VHS release from a company called Xenon Pictures, which was instrumental in introducing a number of early films centered on blacks in the home video market. Now, after being blessed with 4K digital restoration that restores its crisp black and white cinematography, it’s another reminder that American independent cinema didn’t start with Steven Soderbergh and Jim Jarmusch, and that Van Peebles was fine. more than just a provocateur. (Available to stream via the Hollywood Theater)
The chronicler: This Dutch black comedy (is there another genre?) Tackles the low, albeit deserving, fruit of Internet trolls. A newspaper columnist with the excellent name of Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) finds herself unable to stop reading comments on articles of her work. Unlike her work nemesis turned boyfriend, the equally aptly named Steven Dood (Bram van der Kelen), Femke takes anonymous and misogynistic rants personally – so personally, in fact, that she begins to hunt down the rants and make them. murder. Meanwhile, her teenage daughter is fighting for free speech at her school. Irony, right? (Available to stream via the Kiggins Theater)
The murder of two lovers: It looks like the title of writer-director Robert Machoian’s intense drama will come true in its opening scene, as David (Clayne Crawford) stands above the bed where his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) sleeps, pointing a gun and preparing for the act, only to be interrupted and pissed off by the flushing of a toilet down the hall. It turns out that newlyweds David and Nikki recently separated and agreed to see other people, but David is struggling with that arrangement. He wants to be a good husband and a good father to their four children – a teenage daughter and three young sons. But his rage and jealousy threaten to take over him, especially when the presence of a new man (Chris Coy) in Nikki’s life becomes more and more evident. There are definitely times when it sounds like the all too familiar story of a frustrated white dude who just can’t contain his emasculated rage. There’s a resonant, jarring soundtrack meant to emphasize David’s torn state and unpredictability, and a frowning performance by Crawford that effectively oscillates between revenge and resignation. Machoian’s management also alternates between the claustrophobic confines of David’s truck cab and the great outdoors in rural areas – though even the latter feel locked in thanks to the slightly pretentious use of a 1-aspect ratio, 33: 1. There is nothing terribly unknown here, but there is also enough talent on display to make you want to see what these people do next. (Reading at the cinema 21)
Those who wish me death: If it had come out in 1947 and starred Gloria Grahame, Robert Ryan, and Peter Lorre, it would be remembered today as a solid, if unlikely, B-movie thriller set against the backdrop of an infernal forest fire. Today we reflexively need more of something we call realism from images like this, which makes Taylor Sheridan’s third feature film as a director (he has also directed many episodes of the television series. Yellowstone) feel like a throwback, for better or for worse. Instead of the aforementioned trio, we have Angelina Jolie as a smoke bomb from Montana haunted by recent trauma, and Nicholas Hoult and Aiden Gillen as the Mutt-and-Jeff hitman that she’s forced to wrestle with. The Villains Wanted MacGuffin is kind of scribbled evidence that the teenage son (Finn Little) of a murdered forensic accountant has in his possession, but in essence: the bad guys are after the boy, Angelina protects the boy from the bad guys, the fires forests rage around them. There’s also a local sheriff’s deputy and his badass, heavily pregnant wife, who find themselves stuck in chaos. In fact, the MP’s wife (Medina Senghore) receives the biggest cheers (or would, at least in a crowded theater) when she comes out of the darkness on a horse wielding a shotgun. Sorry, spoiler alert, I guess. (Streaming via HBO Max, also showing in select theaters in the region, including Cinemagic, Baghdad Theater, and Living Theaters.)
Punk the Capital: Building a healthy movement: In a way, it makes perfect sense that Washington would become a hub of punk rock activity in the 1970s. After all, it’s hard to imagine a better place to complain about conformism, materialism and the hypocrisy. On the other hand, a city of civil servants does not necessarily provide an enthusiastic audience. Nonetheless, groups such as Bad Brains and Minor Threat emerged as mainstays of hardcore, armed with moral outrage and political intent that offered a stark contrast to the New York scene infected with the Sex-inspired heroine. Pistols. This documentary uncovers a wealth of compelling stock footage, including performances from early-stage actors like The Slickee Boys and Teen Idles, and features entertaining interviews with Bad Brains’ HR, Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye and the ever talkative Henry Rollins. (Streaming through the Hollywood Theater)