Portland’s hunger for all things trashy has hit a nexus, flooding cinemas with amateurish depravity. Hollywood Theatre programmer Dan Halsted balances the venue’s artsy fare with ample fartsy, including monthly B-Movie Bingo and regular grindhouse flicks. Cinema 21 is getting trashier, screening Tommy Wiseau’s surreally shit-tastic The Room with a regularity trumped only by Clinton Street Theater’s Repo! The Genetic Opera screenings. Beer and Movie—the festival curated by WW screen editor Aaron Mesh and schlock purveyor Jacques Boyreau—has brought everyone from Chuck Norris to Tom Six to theater pubs.
Yet we’re pretty snooty when it comes to locally sourced film. The conversation for most begins with Mala Noche and ends with Gus Van Sant’s next project. It’s centered on documentaries like How to Die in Oregon. Few know about the city’s smutty roots.
Sure, there’s a big-ass photo of Raquel Welch in the Kenton Club, but few know how the bar featured in Kansas City Bomber, a 1972 roller-derby pile-up that somehow isn’t screened before every Rose City Rollers bout. Tom Shaw doesn’t even register in the archives of Movie Madness, but the “Ed Wood of Portland” was instrumental in the rise of young Portland filmmakers such as Van Sant, to whom he lent his equipment.
David Walker is bringing the garbage back home. This Sunday, the filmmaker, historian and former WW movie critic takes the Hollywood Theatre stage for PDX B-Movies, recalling our rich history of disreputable cinema—particularly lost flicks from the boom era of 1972 through the early ’90s.
“If people are coming expecting to see a best-of-Gus Van Sant reel, they’re not going to see that, because Gus Van Sant made good movies,” says Walker.
The presentation features a reel of clips from Portland-filmed crap. There’s Ironheart, a 1992 Van Damme knockoff with Bolo Yeung. Then 1990’s Fatal Revenge, a batshit-stupid cop flick in which Walker himself meets an untimely death. Don Gronquist’s elusive 1975 opus Rockaday Ritchie & Queen of the Hop is followed by Shaw’s maniacally inept and wonderful Death Wish knockoff, Courier of Death.
“There are more films that people forget, and more filmmakers that people forget, than they actually remember,” says Walker. “That’s a hard truth. Movies get made, and they can be forgotten really, really quickly.”
With the possible exception of the 1993 Andrew Dice Clay wank job Brain Smasher…A Love Story, these are obscure films. But it’s amazing they haven’t resurfaced amid the current Portland cinema climate. Crowds like the ones that pack the Hollywood on exploitation nights would erupt in glee at a scene in Courier of Death in which the hero bites a woman’s leg so savagely that she flips over, or at the sight in Fatal Revenge of the banks of the Willamette River playing host to a kung fu melee apparently coordinated by a yellow belt.
These are time capsules of the city itself, showcasing an era when the Pearl was a suitable setting for a drug den and pastel suits weren’t the least bit ironic. Walker’s presentation is a great primer, but in a town so proud of its DIY image, it’s crazy to think that we’ve barely canvassed our contributions to video junk bins. Somewhere out there is a canister containing a film by the late Mr. Shaw just waiting to be resurrected—pulled from the trash bin and finally shown in all its schlocky glory.
SEE IT: PDX B-Movies screens at the Hollywood Theatre at 7:30 pm Sunday, Dec. 4. $7.