Lubbock, Texas-based filmmaker Bill Brown claims to have racked up more than 10,000 miles traveling throughout North America by Greyhound. Once you see his films, it'll come as no surprise.
Like a hipster Charles Kuralt with the eye of Ansel Adams, Brown captures the shabby splendor and unassuming quirk in out-of-the-way locales that our preference for airborne continental crisscrossing has relegated to near-oblivion. Part travelogue, part monologue, his films are collages of images and anecdotes that give his destinations a poetic sense of place. In literature, on television and elsewhere, travel stories have become big business. As if to forge a path of his own, Brown finds wistfully romantic beauty amid North America's armpits.
In 2001's Buffalo Common, for example, nuclear-missile silos give the destitute North Dakota farmlands surrounding them an alternating sense of both purpose and shame. When the missiles are decommissioned, it sets off a new battle to write their history. Roswell, Brown's 1994 debut, mines our fascination with UFO mythology to explore the nature of wanderlust on America's seemingly limitless plains. And in 1997's Confederation Park, the happy-go-lucky Canadian spirit quietly undermines the timbre of bitter separatist violence in Quebec.
Both visually and verbally, Brown's films perform a balancing act in which idiosyncrasies are celebrated with the knowing perspective of the much-traveled drifter, yet never exploited for more than they really are. Brown is the best kind of storyteller, and he proves anew the old cliché about truth vs. fiction.
This week, Brown will be appearing at Four Wall Cinema to introduce his retrospective. Not only is it a rare opportunity to catch up with the elusive nomad of America's ever-burgeoning experimental-film scene, but it's also a perfect setting for the occasion. No doubt Brown will appreciate how the clanging of freight trains in Southeast Portland's industrial district becomes assimilated into Four Wall's onscreen fare, the best alt-film badge of honor since the wallet chain. Who knows? Brown might even get inspired before he boards the next morning's Greyhound to nowhere.
Four Wall Cinema, 425 SE 3rd Ave., studio 400, 231- 6548. 7:30 pm Wednesday- Thursday, April 3-4. $6 suggested donation.