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November 4th, 2009 AARON MESH | Special Section Stories
 

Our Own Private Hollywood

Portland filmmaking, then and now.

     
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ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (L) MILK (R)

At the 1976 Oscars, Jack Nicholson won Best Actor for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a movie filmed in Oregon. At the 2009 Oscars, Sean Penn won best actor for Milk, a movie filmed by Oregon director Gus Van Sant.

As we combed our archives and talked with film historians Dennis Nyback and Anne Richardson (a husband-and-wife team behind the Oregon Cartoon Institute), we found that the seeds of Portland’s moviemaking scene took root 35 years ago.

THEN

Will Vinton hauls his Claymation equipment and a team of three colleagues up from Berkeley to a garage on Northwest Vaughn Street, where in 1974 they create Closed Mondays—a 7-minute ruckus about an old man’s psychedelic encounters in the Portland Art Museum. It wins the Oscar for Best Animated Short.

NOW

Nike billionaire Phil Knight has usurped Will Vinton Studios from its founder, renamed it Laika and made it a player in the global stop-motion animation game. Laika debuted its first feature, Coraline, to $120 million in worldwide grosses earlier this year. The company is supposed to open a 30-acre Tualatin campus—but big-name director Henry Selick just quit, and the company laid off 63 workers.

THEN

Storefront Theatre director Penny Allen spends $200,000—$65,000 in federal grants—to make Property, a 1978 satire of gentrification in Corbett-Terwilliger starring poet Walt Curtis. She hires her neighbor Eric Edwards as cinematographer. He brings along a buddy named Gus Van Sant to work sound. On set, Allen gives Van Sant a copy of an unpublished manuscript by Curtis. It’s called Mala Noche.

NOW

Penny Allen lives in Paris. Walt Curtis sometimes lives in an apartment off a Southeast Portland bar. Eric Edwards is the cinematographer for Knocked Up and Couples Retreat. Gus Van Sant is Gus Van Sant.

THEN

In 1971, Raquel Welch comes to town to shoot the critically dismissed roller-derby movie Kansas City Bomber. Extras are recruited for crowd scenes with a washing-machine raffle.

NOW

In 2008, Jennifer Aniston comes to town to shoot the critically dismissed stalker comedy Management. Paparazzi hide in trees to get her picture.

THEN

Designing sets at the Storefront Theatre, painter Henk Pander is at the center of a budding filmmaking scene—including Matt Groening and Jim Blashfield—that remains mostly under the national radar. Bill Plympton is there too, drawing dirty pictures.

NOW

Henk’s sons Arnold and Jacob Pander are at the center of a budding filmmaking scene—including James Westby and Matt McCormick—that remains mostly under the national radar. Bill Plympton is there too, drawing dirty pictures.


LEARN MORE: Anne Richardson tracks Portland film history on her website Oregon Movies, A to Z (talltalestruetales.wordpress.com).
 
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