Sellwood resident Chuck Linville is an ordained minister who decorates his cars with paint, toys, and dangerous objects. Why? Because he can.
At least, that's the conclusion that local filmmaker Greg Hamilton reaches in Thou Shall Not Tailgate. The documentary, which will premiere at the Hollywood Theatre this Sunday, profiles 67-year-old Linville and his eccentric cars.
WW spoke to Hamilton about his new film, Linville's lifestyle and Portland's good old days of not-for-profit strangeness.
WW: You knew Chuck for a decade before deciding to tell his story. How did you meet?
Greg Hamilton: We crossed paths through our mutual interest in the Portland Cacophony Society. I had connections and friends through them, and attended some events. One of them was a wedding that Chuck hosted at his house for a couple members of the Society. That was my first experience meeting Chuck and getting to know him a little bit. That planted a seed for Thou Shall Not Tailgate, because I looked at the world that surrounds him and thought, "This is an unusual and unique person."
His art is visually pretty wild. How would you characterize his work?
His expression isn't specifically artistic. He does the things that he does out of boredom, out of the desire to provoke conversation. It's about him playing with the system, and having fun with it. He's got four different art cars, including "Our Lady of Eternal Combustion," featured at the beginning of the film. It's covered in all sorts of tchotchkes and toys and lots of different things. It's almost chaotic, but intoxicating to look at.
His house is similarly adorned; he lives out in the Sellwood district, in this house he's lived in for 20 plus years. Every room is a different theme. His living room walls are covered in board games. The bathroom is covered in Big-Mouth Billy Bass, the animatronic singing fish, and they all activate when you walk in there. So when I saw that I thought, "That has to be captured. That has to be documented. That has to be explained."
So it was a visual attraction that got you thinking about this idea?
Oh, for sure. The visual aspect of Chuck's work is what interests people the most. And these cars are his daily drivers, so he'll go out and run errands in them. He'll have people staring at them [in public] trying to figure out what's going on. That's what he enjoys the most; the curiosity and the confusion that comes when [people] are faced with something way outside the mainstream.
This film is mostly about Linville, and his art. But the film also explores the world around him, and how he operates in that world.
When we shot it, we weren't exactly sure how we were going to approach it. We did sit-down interviews with him several times, and tried to get insight into what makes him tick. And so the film is an organic construction of everything we pulled together. It's a combination of his background, his history, but also it involves some of him telling stories. He'll talk about interactions he's had that involved the car, or the perspectives that drive some of his art. It's not a traditional documentary. There are no sit-down interviews [on screen], it's all audio-narrative that is put over the visual material. You hear him talking through the whole piece, but you never see him visually talking to the camera. You're looking at his world as he guides you.
What makes Linville a great documentary subject?
The thing that attracts me most to Chuck's story is that he's an individual that stands outside of mainstream culture. There are very few of those people left. He is part of what old Portland used to be. There was a strangeness, a weirdness, that you don't really find anymore. What you find [in Portland] now is kind of pasted-on weirdness. Weirdness sold for profit. Chuck's weirdness comes out from within, and is a representation of a time when Portland was a much stranger place. His house sits in a nice little neighborhood with groomed yards. And it stands out. When people walk by it, they nearly fall over. That's why I want to celebrate it. He represents what Portland used to be, but also really unrefined and beautiful individuality.
In that sense, what do you hope people take away from the film?
Well, I want people to be able to relate to him. When most people see Chuck and look at his work, they say, "That guy is strange, that guy's dangerous." Chuck's actually a very normal human being, who just chooses to live the way that he wants. It's important to celebrate that.
SEE IT: Thou Shall Not Tailgate screens at Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., hollywoodtheatre.org. 6 pm Sunday, Feb. 4. $5.