Howard Mitchell is old school. The Portland filmmaker behind the TriMet Trilogy showing at Mission Theater this Sunday cites such deadly earnest (and just plain dead) heavyweights as John Cassavetes, Jimi Hendrix, Sylvia Plath and the Clash as influences. But Mitchell, who works under the pseudonym El Gato Negro, is chasing a vibe that was born long before Shadows and Are You Experienced blew viewers' minds. If Mitchell belongs to any place and time that is not here and now, it is Moscow in the 1920s, when Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov were bringing their heady theories to life with films that aimed to alter vision and change the course of history.
But Mitchell would probably chide Eisenstein and Vertov for the coldness of their revolutionary zeal. Sure, El Gato Negro has written a manifesto outlining the aims of his âNew Pure Cinema,â but his mission is messier and more abstract.
El Gato Negro just wants people to feel.
"I'm working on combining the unique abstract form of music and sound...to unlock our unconscious connection to an earlier and 'freer' form of ourselves," Mitchell explains. "When we weren't entangled by various forms of media messages."
Every firebrand needs a nemesis, and Mitchell's New Pure Cinema aims to fight the nastiest of hydras: ironic detachment. "People crave truth, and irony is just a form of dishonesty," he says. "However, most people don't really know what they want or feel."
The latest salvo in Mitchell's war against irony is the jazzy, noir TriMet Trilogy. The third film, Le Tram, will have its world premiere at Mission Theater, following previous installments The Bus and Saudade. Filmed on Portland's buses and trains over the past couple of years, Mitchell's trilogy excavates the buzzes and hums of public space for the fractional moments that brush up against the ineffable.
"The theme that connects all three stories is what I feel all of humanity craves," says El Gato Negro. "That we have a hunger for something real, and desire for 'magic' in our lives, at least if we're open to it."
It's an ambitious agenda, to say the least. Toppling irony is as quixotic as missions get, but anyone who loves humanity enough to go looking for transcendence on MAX might be worth keeping an eye on.
SEE IT: The TriMet Trilogy plays at Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St., 223-4527. 7 pm Sunday, July 26. $10 suggested donation.