Culture Cheat Sheet: Movies

The Ultimate DIY Oregon Film Festival

Clear your weekend. Here’s a seven-movie crash course on Beaver State screentime.

By Fiona McCann November 14, 2016 Published in the December 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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We’ve designed a seven-movie marathon—with suggested guests, plot synopses, some PDXplainers, and post-film posturing—to fill you in on Oregon’s reel life. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975

Friday, 9 p.m.

Invite: Your workmates (or anyone with whom you are incarcerated daily)
What it’s about: An Oregon convict gets transferred to a mental institution and leads his fellow inmates in an insurrection against their nemesis, the gimlet-eyed Nurse Ratched. Based on Ken Kesey’s classic novel.
Super-Oregon because: Inspiring but ultimately doomed stands against Authority are very on-brand for us.
Sound smart: That’s the Oregon State Hospital, right there on screen, where almost 500 people were once poisoned—dozens to death—when a cook used cockroach poison instead of dried milk powder in the scrambled eggs. Popcorn?”

The Goonies, 1985

Saturday, 2 p.m.

Invite: Small people. Also larger people who were small in the ’80s.
What it’s about: A bunch of misfit kids in Astoria find a treasure map in the attic that sets them on a wild adventure of dubious but strangely enduring cinematic quality.
Super-Oregon because: A scheme to seize Astoria real estate kick-starts  the plot, anticipating the town’s gentrification by 30 years.
Sound smart: So, it turns out the woman who owns the Goonies house in Astoria has closed all access to tourists after she started getting over 1,000 visitors a day. Word is, not even a Truffle Shuffle will get you in there these days.”

Wild, 2014

Saturday, 8 p.m.

Invite: Your mom. Or your daughter.
What it’s about: A young woman deals with her mother’s death and her subsequent personal spiral by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Based onCheryl Strayed’s mega-selling memoir.
Super-Oregon because: Only here do we view extremely punishing hiking as a cure-all for addiction and existential malaise. Also, the Art Alexakis cameo.
Sound smart: “The filmmakers violated the sacred ‘leave no trace’ rule by leaving behind Reese Witherspoon’s boot, which she chucks over a cliff in the opening scene. This being Oregon, one intrepid hiker went back and found it two years later, near Government Camp. Apparently, he keeps it on his bookshelf now.”

My Own Private Idaho, 1991

Saturday, Midnight

Invite: An “Old Portland”-er
What it’s about: A narcoleptic street hustler falls in love with another hustler, who’s also the son of the mayor of Portland. With Shakespearean overtones. 
Super-Oregon because: It allows natives to claim now-vanished grit without having to continue to experience it. 
Sound smart: “Homeboy River Phoenix knocked it out of the park as the gay street hustler Mike Walker, but the best performance was probably by that crew member pretending to be a statue on top of the downtown Elk Fountain.” 

Without Limits, 1998

Sunday, 2 p.m.

Invite: A Nike employee
What it’s about: Coos Bay hero Steve Prefontaine’s rise to become one of the greatest runners of all time
Super-Oregon because: The protagonist’s story combines work ethic, gnarly attitude, and a great mustache with multinational corporate branding.
Sound smart: That Nike origin story took some serious poetic license. As you no doubt know, Bill Bowerman did not come up with the swoosh (hats off to Carolyn Davidson for that). But Prefontaine? Yeah, he was a badass.”

Old Joy, 2006

Sunday, 8 p.m.

Invite: Your dog 
What it’s about: Two old friends reunite for a weekend camping trip in the Cascades. Nothing (and everything) happens. Based on a story by Portland writer Jonathan Raymond.
Super-Oregon because: A bearded man and his bestie get naked in the woods and listen to radio shows about the problems with a two-party system.
Sound smart: “Will Oldham and Daniel London ending up at Bagby Hot Springs in a film that went on to win awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and at the Rotterdam and Sarasota Film Festivals ... kind of ruined the place for the rest of us.”

Green Room, 2016

Sunday, Midnight

Invite: Your band
What it’s about: A punk group plays at a skinhead bar in the Oregon woods, and a dead body shows up. Bad news for all. 
Super-Oregon because: It harks back to the lost youths of the disproportionate number of Portlanders who are/were in punk bands, albeit with lower body counts.
Sound smart: “The budget for this one came in at under $5 million, at least some portion of which was spent on two acres of corn in a cornfield in Clackamas so the farmer wouldn’t harvest it before shooting.”

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