Going to the Gym's trailer is dryly absurd. Standing outside the Hawthorne neighborhood house where he's lived since 1973, Paul T. Lambert twirls his cane. Lambert, 67, calls it his cane trick, and explains that it's his primary workout at the gym. "I do three sets of 10, and I can't tell when one set ends or another begins. When I do it, I kind of feel lost," says Lambert. "Nobody else does cane tricks at the gym, but I'm hoping one of the other senior citizens will pick it up and then maybe eventually we could have classes."
A stand-alone film rather than a clip from the movie, the trailer will screen along with the premiere of Going to the Gym this Thursday. Somewhere between experimental and totally banal, Going to the Gym is a strange film. Just under 30 minutes, it follows Lambert on the walk from his house to Loprinzi's Gym, which first opened in 1948. On the way there, he delivers a totally unscripted, stream-of-consciousness monologue. He names flowers he walks by and comments on neighbors past and present. As his rambling picks up speed, he eventually drifts into his semi-Bohemian past as an artist in Portland. He was able to live rent-free when he was the resident caretaker at The Old Church and sold his pottery at Saturday Market before it was called Saturday Market. He started working at Pratt & Larson's tile factory in the late '80s, but continued to make art, and even got involved with avant-garde literary groups in Paris and Italy.
It's not a film about Old Portland versus New Portland. It might not be a film about anything at all, but whenever Lambert points out houses that used to be cheaper or are suspected Airbnbs, it doesn't come off as cynical. Going to the Gym is like an oral history, but without any particular focus and totally non-linear.
According to director Adam Moser, the inspiration for the film was hardly high concept. "Every time we saw Paul, he'd say "I'm going to the gym' or 'I just got back from the gym'," says Moser. "And that was intriguing to me."
Moser stands behind the bar at Likewise, the Hawthorne Street artist collective and bar he co-founded. Thirty-six years Lambert's junior, Moser wears a black snapback and plays Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar over the bar's speakers. It's a typical Tuesday-evening scene: Lambert sits at the other side of the bar drinking San Pellegrino. On the wall next to him is a poster for Going to The Gym, on which Lambert looks into the camera and flexes his bicep, his cane propped up against his hip.
"[Moser] told me one time, 'You never talk about the gym'," says Lambert. "All you talk about is Taqueria Lindo Michoacan, East Side Deli. I think that's part of his thing that he thought was funny was that I was un-gym like."
Lambert met Moser when he stopped into Likewise one day on the way home from Loprinzi's. "He spoke to me verbally right away," remember Lambert. "I think he said something like 'hi.'"
Soon after, Lambert became a Likewise regular. "I started doing some handyman stuff for him around his house and we started hanging out more and more every week," says Moser. "I started taking videos and I would usually just share them with my girlfriend like 'look how Paul cracked me up today.'"
Moser had vague plans to film a movie all one shot. As he got to know Lambert, he realized he had found the subject he had been looking for. After a failed attempt of filming Lambert's walk from the top of a moving car, Moser enlisted cameraman Everett Nate Yockey, who specializes in steadicam rigs.
Lambert's dry sense of humor is what makes Going to the Gym entertaining, but Yockey's fluid camera work is what makes it transfixing. Filmed on a sunny morning this past summer, Going to the Gym basks in soft cinematography. The camera is as rambling as Lambert, and occasionally pans across the street toward lawn sprinklers or into shady gardens. When Lambert walks across the intersection of Lincoln and Cesar Chavez, Yockey seamlessly crosses to the other side of the street, allowing bikes to zoom through the shot.
If nothing else, Going to the Gym is a technical feat. Still, there seems to be more to it than just aesthetics. Like Winnie the Pooh, Lambert's bumbling demeanor is almost profound—he seems perfectly content with the slipperiness of time.
But for Lambert, the appeal is much simpler. '"I get a kick out of Paul," says Moser. "A big part of it is just wanting to share that with other people."
SEE IT: Going to the Gym is at Laurelhurst Theater, 2735 E Burnside St., laurelhursttheater.com, 503-232-5511. 7 pm Thursday, Oct. 5. $5.