On the night of June 17, 2008, Dan Halsted was beat up by Portland police while walking home from a bar.
"I was only a few blocks from my house," says Halsted. "All of a sudden, I got a flashlight in my eyes and I heard a voice say, 'Get him!' I heard someone coming at me, so I turned and started to run. I thought I was just getting jumped. I had no idea it was cops."
Halsted, the Hollywood Theatre's head film programmer, was brutalized. Mistaking him for a vandal, the cops shot him with a Taser five times and threw him to the ground, fracturing his face. It took four years of lawsuits, but Halsted was awarded $200,000 by a federal jury who found that Officer Benjamin J. Davidson (still a Portland cop, now with the canine unit) had violated Halsted's constitutional rights.
During the lawsuit, the city tried to blame the movies. Deputy City Attorney James Rice told the jury that Halsted resisted arrest by using martial arts. Specifically, that he tried to use kung fu—which Rice alleged Halsted learned from his collection of kung fu movies.
"Now it sounds almost comical, but at the time it was so serious, in such a serious environment," says Halsted. "I have no idea why they didn't settle. The kung fu defense obviously wasn't going to work."
You can only imagine what the city attorney would say about Halsted's new series, Rebellion and Revolution: Insurgent Cinema. This program, kicking off this week with ultra-rare 35 mm prints of Ivan Dixon's 1973 story of inner-city revolution, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, on Saturday and Liu Chia-Liang's kung fu classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin on Tuesday, comes with a message: You aren't safe under Trump.
"I want people to be aware of how terrifying this time is that we're entering," says Halsted. "I think that so many people, white people, who have been able to coast by in life, are now realizing, 'Shit, we're entering a time when our rights are going to be jeopardized.' Our lives are going to be changed."
The Spook Who Sat by the Door is based on Sam Greenlee's award-winning 1969 novel and was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2012. But for decades, it was rarely seen. Set in 1970s Chicago, the film tells the story of Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook), a black nationalist recruited into a recalcitrant CIA as part of an equal opportunity program, which, after training him to be a spy, puts him in charge of the agency's copying machine. After resigning, he uses his training to recruit Chicago's impoverished black youth to become freedom fighters, teaching them violent and nonviolent tactics to overthrow the city's racist establishment.
"It's a really well-made movie, even though it's a low-budget, underground film," says Halsted. "The action scenes are really well done. It's an exciting, intelligent movie." Spook was so exciting that the film was pulled from theaters by its distributor shortly after its release in a campaign that Greenlee and others allege was facilitated by the FBI. The film disappeared for decades, its mislabeled (to avoid discovery) negatives stored in a vault by Dixon, until they were tracked down and rediscovered in 2004.
"They were totally terrified that it was going to spark a revolution," continues Halstead. "The movie was hidden for years; you couldn't even find it. It was never on video; it wasn't in theaters again until very recently. They had to dig up the negatives to find it." Halsted got hold of a theatrical print of Spook on 35 mm from a collector, one of a few known copies that exist on film. "You're never going to see it anywhere else. This is a once-in-a-lifetime movie."
Less obscure but equally rare on film is 36th Chamber of Shaolin, one of the most influential action movies in history. It follows the young monk San Te (Liu Chia-Hui), who rebels against the Manchu government and it's brutal enforcer General Tien Ta (Lo Lieh) by learning kung fu at the Shaolin Temple, establishing a secret school to teach laypeople how to defend themselves. "I think it's one of the greatest movies ever made," says Halsted. "It's my own personal 35 mm print, and there's only a couple out there. This is probably the only one in the Western hemisphere."
Rebellion and Revolution isn't just about watching rare prints of kickass movies. "It's really important to me to get across why we're doing this series," says Halsted. "After Sept. 11, my wife's grandma, who grew up as a black woman in the Jim Crow South, said, 'Now white people know what it's like to live in fear.' This is the same sort of situation we're entering into now. Middle-class white America is realizing that their lives aren't as safe as they thought, and that their rights could be ripped away at any point."
SEE IT: The Spook Who Sat by the Door screens at 7:30 pm on Saturday, Jan. 7, and 36th Chamber of Shaolin screens at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at the Hollywood Theatre.