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A scene from Mali Blues

Portland’s annual tribute to music in movies, the Reel Music Festival, returns this week to the Whitsell Auditorium. Running January 13–February 5, the fest boasts more than 30 films that dive into all manner of musical genres.

From Estonian composer Arvo Pärt to Norwegian black metal, classical piano to American gospel, there are as many musical genres as there are cinematic approaches to their treatment. It’s a line-up that reveals how effectively moving image and sound can work together to showcase the range of human experience. We’ve picked six from a stellar lineup, along with a few special mentions. The full lineup is at the NW Film Center's website.

Cocksucker Blues
7 p.m. Friday, January 13
Sex? Check. Drugs? Check. Rock 'n' roll? In abundance. This rarely seen 1972 documentary of the Rolling Stones by photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank was initially only granted limited showings, thanks to intervention from the band to have it banned altogether. Take this opportunity to see Jagger and co. in all their glory and grime, while enjoying cameos from the likes of Andy Warhol and Truman Capote.

I Called Him Morgan
7 p.m. Sunday, January 15
Hailed by the Guardian as “a documentary-as-jazz,” I Called Him Morgan is crafted around tapes of an interview with Helen Morgan, the one-time common-law wife of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, and chronicles their tragic story of drug addiction, violence, and beautiful music. 

I CALLED HIM MORGAN (2016) by Kasper Collin [Excerpt, with Italian subtitles] from Richard Lormand on Vimeo.

Two Trains Running
7 p.m. Friday, January 20
In June 1964, two separate groups of music fans set out for Mississippi in search of lost blues legends Skip James and Son House. At the same time, students from all over the country were traveling to Mississippi to join the fight for civil rights. Sam Pollard’s film about the collision of all these journeys— "a compact, resonant documentary" according to the New York Times’ A.O. Scott—elucidates both the music and the political moment.

Mali Blues
4:30 p.m. Saturday, Janaury 21
This Toronto International Film Festival selection follows rising Malian star Fatoumata Diawara as she prepares for her first concert in her home country. Rap, world music, electric guitar—they’re all part of the country’s musical tapestry, and the film also sheds light on Mali’s complex history and present moment.

One More Time With Feeling
9 p.m. Saturday, January 21
One More Time With Feeling is a movie about the making of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ 2016 album Skeleton Tree. It’s also about grief and loss, and how the artist grapples with the death of his 15-year-old son, all wrapped in a black-and-white, textural tribute to the music that’s shot through with the reds and blacks of the songs’ color palette.

Yallah! Underground
7:30 p.m. Sunday, February 5
Director Farid Eslam explores the world of alternative Arab music, during and in the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions, allowing musicians and music producers to examine and explain their political struggles against their own particular soundtracks.

And if that's not enough musical movie-going for you, special mention should go to the tribute to the long-running television music show Austin City Limits, A Song for You: The Austin City Limits Story; Contemporary Color, which looks at David Byrne’s musical project with 10 color guard teams from all over the US and Canada; Pianists Street, about generations of pianists all living on the same street in Brussels; and the bonus NW Music Video Showcase, promising some of the best in the genre.

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Reel Music Festival

Editor’s Pick 4:30 PM $6–$12 per showing Whitsell Auditorium

The NW Film Center’s multiweek, music-loving festival returns for its 34th year, with a lineup ranging from a restoration of 1930 musical revue King of Jazz ...