Portland, the City in Cinema: See the City of Roses as it Appears in 20 Different Films

Last year, I posted about The City in Cinema, my series of video essays exploring cities as revealed and re-imagined by the films set in them — or rather, at that time, about one city in particular: Los Angeles, birthplace of Hollywood cinema and endlessly fascinating urban phenomenon in its own right. But ever since I first began the project, I knew I'd want to extend it to other cities. When first I stepped beyond Los Angeles with The City in Cinema, I stepped into the city I've long considered my favorite to visit in America.

And what city, exactly, would that be? "Portland, Oregon: one of the nation's most beautiful cities, with Mount Hood rising in the distance, majestic, serene, white with eternal snow," a "city of wide streets, modern buildings" whose citizens "attend many fine churches" and live in "beautiful homes," a city where "in the soft climate, gardens grow lush and green throughout the year" with roses "everywhere in profusion," a "family town, a good place to bring up children." Or so, in any case, goes the opening of Portland Exposé, a 1957 true-crime morality play, one of the very first films to use Portland as a setting, and the one that opens my latest long-form video essay, Portland, the City in Cinema.

At that time not much more than a small-to-medium-sized town in the woods, Portland claims only a scant cinematic history up through the 1970s. But every Portland movie that came out then, such as the CBS nuclear-strike dramatization A Day Called X and the bohemian land-use satire Property, boasts its own sort of interest. And then, in the 1980s, emerges Gus Van Sant, unquestionably the foremost Portland auteur of his generation. His black-and-white debut feature Mala Noche, which deals humorously with themes of homosexuality on Portland's former Skid Row (now the thoroughly gentrified Pearl District) drew the Hollywood attention that would ultimately get him making mainstream features like Good Will Hunting and Milk.

But Van Sant has, in parallel, led another career as a thoroughly independent filmmaker, and one who shoots most of those thoroughly independent films in Portland. That track of Van Sant's work has led to such formidable Portland movies, central to a project like this, as Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, and Paranoid Park. During the 1990s, the time of the "Indiewood" boom in America, other filmmakers discovered Portland's potential as a rich and underused urban setting: Annette Haywood-Carter for her adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' novel Foxfire, for instance, or Jake Kasdan for his unconventional detective story and black romantic comedy Zero Effect.

Albert Pyun, perhaps the last great B-movie auteur, also came to Portland of the 1990s for his Andrew Dice Clay vehicle Brain Smasher... a Love Story. And not much later, the city hosted the likes of Body of Evidence, a highly unerotic erotic thriller starring Willem Dafoe and Madonna. But it, too, reveals the the city's potential (or potential for misuse) as a setting, as does the more recent Untraceable, a bland compromise between techno-thriller and torture horror that at least had the money to shoot Portland from some impressive angles.

As the city of Portland has developed in a way appreciated by urbanists for its compact downtown, useful transit system, mostly well-executed architectural preservation, and overall "smart" growth (by American standards, anyway), the cinema of Portland has developed in a way appreciated by critics. The 21st century has so far seen such well-crafted, thoughtful Portland pictures as Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, Aaron Katz's Dance Party USA and Cold Weather, and Matt McCormick's Some Days Are Better than Others. But if Portland, the City in Cinema remains, in its current version, the definitive examination of the cinema of Portland, I'll be terribly disappointed. I intend it in part as an appreciation of the Portland movies already made, certainly, but in larger part as a call for more Portland movies in the future.

Related Content:

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Rollicking French Animation on the Perils of Drinking a Little Too Much Coffee

Moderate coffee consumption may decrease your risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease, reduce your risk of letting colon cancer take you to the grave, possibly help you stave off dementia, and maybe, writes The New York Times, dodge a number of other bullets--"Type 2 diabetes, basal cell carcinoma (the most common skin cancer), prostate cancer, oral cancer and breast cancer recurrence." Pour me a cup, please.

These days, I'm feeling pretty good about my last remaining vice. But, as always, too much of anything is not a good thing. And that includes coffee too. Just ask Honoré de Balzac, who, according to legend, met an untimely death by drinking 50 cups per day. Or ask the fellow featured in the French animation called Le café--or simply Coffee in English. Up top, you can find a subtitled version of the riotous film directed by Stephanie Marguerite and Emilie Tarascou. Beneath, we have a non-subtitled but higher resolution version. Enjoy, and remember to drink coffee responsibly.

More creative shorts can be found in the Animation section of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Terry Gilliam on the Difference Between Kubrick & Spielberg: Kubrick Makes You Think, Spielberg Wraps Everything Up with Neat Little Bows

Fitting, I suppose, that the only creative meeting of the minds between two of the twentieth century’s best-known film directors took place on a project about the problem of nonhuman intelligence and the dangerous excesses of human ingenuity. For both Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg, these were conflicts rich with inherent dramatic possibility. One of the many important differences between their approaches, however, is a stark one. As many critics of AI: Artificial Intelligence—the film Kubrick had in development since the 70s, then handed off to Spielberg before he died—have pointed out, Kubrick mined conflict for philosophical insights that can leave viewers intriguingly puzzled, if emotionally chilled; Spielberg pushes his drama for maximum emotional impact, which either warms audiences’ hearts or turns their stomachs, depending on their disposition.

In the latter camp, we can firmly place Monty Python alumnus and cult director Terry Gilliam. In the short clip at the top of the post, Gilliam explicates “the main difference” as he sees it between Spielberg and Kubrick. Spielberg’s films are “comforting,” they “give you answers, always, the films are… answers, and I don’t they’re very clever answers.” Kubrick’s movies, on the other hand, always leave us with unanswerable questions—riddles that linger indefinitely and that no one viewer can satisfactorily solve. So says Gilliam, an infamously quixotic director whose pursuit of a vision uniquely his own has always trumped any commercial appeal his work might have. Most successful films, he argues, “tie things up in neat little bows.” For Gilliam, this is a cardinal sin: “the Kubricks of this world, and the great filmmakers, make you go home and think about it.” Certainly every fan of Kubrick will admit as much—as will those who don’t like his films, often for the very same reasons.

To make his point, Gilliam quotes Kubrick himself, who issued an incisive critique of Spielberg’s Nazi drama Schindler’s List, saying that the movie “is about success. The Holocaust was about failure”—the “complete failure,” Gilliam adds, “of civilization.” Not a subject one can, or should, even attempt to spin positively, one would think. As an example of a Kubrick film that leaves us with an epistemological and emotional vortex, Gilliam cites the artificial intelligence picture the great director did finish, 2001: A Space Odyssey. To see in action how these two directors’ approaches greatly diverge, watch the endings of both Schindler’s List and 2001, above. Of course the genre and subject matter couldn’t be more different—but that aside, you’ll note that neither could Kubrick and Spielberg’s visual languages and cinematic attitudes, in any of their films.

Despite this vast divide---between Spielberg’s “neat little bows” and Kubrick’s headtrips---it might be argued that their one collaboration, albeit a posthumous one for Kubrick, shows them working more closely together than seems possible. Or so argues Noel Murray in a fascinating critical take on AI, a film that perhaps deserves greater appreciation as an “unnerving,” existentialist, and Kubrick-ian turn for Spielberg, that master of happy endings.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

French Vending Machines Fill Your Mind with Nourishing Short Stories, Not Your Body with Junk Food

If you’re thirsty, a vending machine is usually close by. (Especially if you’re in Japan. You’re probably standing right next to one right now!) But what if you have time to kill and you’re thirsty for literature? Then the Short Édition vending machine might be for you. Choose one of three buttons—one minutes, three minutes, or five minutes—and the cylindrical machine, currently available in France, will print out an appropriately-long short story to read on a receipt-like piece of paper.short story vending machine

Short Édition co-founder Quentin Pleple says the idea came to him, where else, at a vending machine, while on break with co-workers.“We thought it would be cool to have it for short stories. Then, a couple of days later we decided to hack a prototype.”

Though people spend a lot of their free time on their pocket devices, the Short Édition is another attempt--like the short stories Chipotle printed on the side of its drinking cups--to free us from a life of staring at glowing rectangles. It’s tangible yet disposable at the same time.

At the turn of the 20th century automation and vending machines looked to be the wave of the future, where everything would be done for us on command. And that has happened in a totally different way, through the microprocessor. It just didn't happen through the vending machine, at least not in America, where they mostly dispense food, drink, and cigarettes. Like high speed rail, Japan has picked up the slack and made the world rethink the machine’s possibilities all over again. It now looks like France and Poland (where you can find Haruki Murakami novels being sold in vending machines) are catching on.

The Short Édition vending machines, currently only available in eight locations in Grenoble, France, draw from a database of 600 stories chosen by the community at Short Édition’s website, which counts 1,100 authors as members. Presumably, all these stories are in French.

While new, the machines have gathered enough media attention to attract inquiries from Italy and the United States. So look out, you might find one in your area soon.

via Huff Po

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

The Great Stan Lee Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

What work of American poetry has proven more irresistible than Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven? Certainly we can seldom refrain ourselves from featuring it here on Open Culture. We've posted illustrations by Édouard Manet and Gustave Doré, readings by Christopher Walken, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee (all available here), James Earl JonesIggy Pop, and Lou Reed, who offered his own modernized take on Poe's words. Even notables primarily noted for something other than their recitation ability have got in on The Raven: just above, for instance, you can see a reading by none other than Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee.

We recognize Stan Lee, of course, as an icon of American culture for his achievements in the field of comics: doing his part to create enduring characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the X-Men, fighting censorship from the Comics Code Authority, introducing the concept of coherent — or at least coherent-enough — fictional "universes," and much more besides. But a decent portion of Lee's fame also owes to his seemingly bottomless well of enthusiasm, from which he continues to draw, at the age of 92, for every public address to the "true believers," and he doesn't leave that enthusiasm behind when it comes time to interpret Edgar Allan Poe.

Having previously gone on the record in interviews naming Poe as one of his favorite authors in childhood (alongside other such high-, low-, and middle-browed literary immortals as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, O. Henry, and Shakespeare), he makes a certain kind of sense as a Raven-reader. (And hasn't, say, Spider-Man's origin story passed into American myth in much the same way as Poe's tale of a lamenting lover tormented by a talking bird?) He also sets a high bar with his endearing performance itself, which should get you thinking: if you, too, one day become an icon of American culture, how will you approach your inevitable Raven-reading turn?

You can find Lee's reading in our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Poe's text lives here: 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

John Cleese Creates Ads for the American Philosophical Association

cleese philosophy psa

Creative Commons image by Paul Boxley

John Cleese, you say, a spokesman for the American Philosophical Association? Why would such a serious organization, whose stated mission is to foster the “broader presence of philosophy in public life,” choose a British comedian famous for such characters as the overbearing Basil Fawlty and ridiculous Minister of Silly Walks as one of their public faces?

They chose him, I imagine, because in his various roles—as a onetime prep school teacher and student of law at Cambridge, as a comedy writer and Monty Python star, and as a post-Python comedian, author, public speaker, and visiting professor at Cornell—Cleese has done more than his part to spread philosophy in public life. Monty Python, you’ll remember, aired a number of absurd philosophy sketches, notable for being as smart as they are funny.

Cleese has presented his personal philosophy of creativity at the World Creativity Forum; he’s explained a common cognitive bias to which media personalities and politicians seem particularly susceptible; and he had his own podcast in which, among other things, he explained (wink) how the human brain works.

Given these credentials, and his ability to apply his intelligence, wit, and comic timing to subjects not often seen as particularly exciting by the general public, Cleese seems like the perfect person for the job, even if he isn’t an American philosopher. The APA, founded in 1900, has recently hosted conferences on religious tolerance and “Cultivating Citizenship.” In 2000, as part of its centennial celebration, the organization had Cleese record 22 very short “Public Service Announcements” to introduce novices to the important work of philosophy. These range from the very general “What Philosophers Do” at the top of the post to the influence of philosophy on social and political reformers like Martin Luther King, Jr., Jane Addams, and Simone de Beauvoir (above), showing philosophy’s “bearing on the real world.”

In this PSA, Cleese makes the controversial claim that “the 21st century may belong far more to philosophy than to psychology or even traditional religion.” “What a strange thought,” he goes on, then explains that philosophy “works against confusion”—certainly a hallmark of our age. There’s not much here to argue with—Cleese isn’t formulating a position, but giving his listeners provocative little nuts to crack on their own, should they find his PSAs intriguing enough to draw them into further study. They might as well begin where most of us do, with Socrates, whom Cleese introduces below.

Hear the rest of Cleese’s philosophy PSAs at the American Philosophical Association’s website, or click here to download a zipped file containing all of these audio clips. And should you wish to dig deeper, you'll find an abundance of resources in our archives, which includes big lists of Free Online Philosophy Courses and Free Philosophy eBooks.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Jimi Hendrix Plays the Delta Blues on a 12-String Acoustic Guitar in 1968, and Jams with His Blues Idols, Buddy Guy & B.B. King

“I started playing the guitar about 6 or 7, maybe 7 or 8 years ago. I was influenced by everything at the same time, that’s why I can’t get it together now."

When you listen to Jimi Hendrix, one of the last things you’re ever likely to think is that he couldn’t “get it together” as a guitarist. Hendrix made the characteristically modest statement in 1968, in a free form discussion about his influences with Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner and Baron Wolman. “I used to like Buddy Holly,” he said, “and Eddie Cochran and Muddy Waters and Elvin James… B.B. King and so forth.” But his great love was Albert King, who “plays completely and strictly in one way, just straight funk blues.”

Since Hendrix’s death and subsequent enshrinement in pop culture as the undisputed master of psychedelic rock guitar, a number of posthumous releases have performed a kind of revisionism that situates him not strictly in the context of the hippie scene but rather in the blues tradition he so admired and that, in a sense, he came of age within as a session and backing guitarist for dozens of blues and R&B artists in the early 60s.

In 1994 came the straightforwardly-titled compilation album Blues, which celebrated the fact that “more than a third of [Hendrix’s] recordings were blues-oriented,” writes Allmusic’s Richie Unterberger, whether originals like “Red House” and “Hear My Train a Comin’” or covers of his heroes Muddy Waters and Albert King. Martin Scorsese devoted a segment of his documentary series The Blues to Hendrix, and an ensuing 2003 album release featured even more Hendrix blues originals (with “pretty cool” liner notes about his blues record collecting habits). Prolific director Alex Gibney has a documentary forthcoming on Hendrix on the Blues.

It’s safe to say that Hendrix’s blues legacy is in safe hands, and it may be safe to say he would approve, or at least that he would have preferred to be linked to the blues, or classical music, than to what he called “freak-out psychedelic” music, as a Guardian review of Hendrix autobiography Starting at Zero quotes; “I don’t want anybody to stick a psychedelic label around my neck. Sooner Bach and Beethoven.” Or sooner, I’d imagine, blues legends like Albert King, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King, of whom Hendrix sat in awe. At the top of the post, you can see Hendrix flex his Delta blues muscles on a 12-string acoustic guitar. Then in the video below it from 1968, Hendrix gets the chance to jam with Buddy Guy, after watching Guy work his magic from the audience. (Hendrix joins Guy onstage to jam at 6:24.) Beneath, see Guy and King reminiscing a few years ago about those days of meeting and playing with Hendrix.

During their conversation, you’ll learn where Hendrix picked up one of his stage tricks, playing the guitar behind his head—and learn how little Guy knew about Hendrix the rock star, coming to know him instead as a great blues guitarist.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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