Thursday, October 11, 2012


Born Jerome Felder, Doc Pomus was an extraordinary figure when he first hit the music scene, a white, Jewish blues singer paralyzed by polio as a child.  The fact that his music was exceptional only added to the befuddlement of audiences and record executives.  The new documentary AKA Doc Pomus delves into both the striking figure he was as a performer as well as the absolute phenom that he later became as a songwriter in the Brill Building scene of the early rock and roll era, penning such classics as "Save the Last Dance for Me," "This Magic Moment," "Little Sister," "A Teenager in Love," and countless more hits.

Drawing from a wealth of interviews ranging from conversations with his ex-wives and son to the many musicians whose paths intersected with Pomus (Ben E. King, Lou Reed, Shawn Colvin, B.B. King, Dion, etc.), the documentary paints Pomus as a sometimes tortured genius who was blessed with extended periods of reprieve from his sorrows while effortlessly drawing from them for lyrical inspiration.  The endless soundtrack of hits speaks far more loudly than any of the interviews could about this man, responsible for so many of the songs that defined the times in which he lived.

If there's a fault to find, it's in the repetitive nature of the interviews as the discussion shifts to the end of Doc's life, something that commonly occurs in these kinds of biographical documentaries (see the otherwise fantastic Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)? for another example of such missteps).  Overall, AKA Doc Pomus is a treat for fans of both his songs and the particular era of rock and roll in which he wrote them.

AKA Doc Pomus screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) as a part of the Reel Music Festival series on Friday , October 12th at 7pm.  More info available here.


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Focusing on bringing cinematic depictions of Latin American culture to PDX, the annual Portland Latin American Film Festival returns this Friday for its sixth year run.  The 2012 lineup sports films from Chile (Violeta Went to Heaven), Peru (The Bad Intentions), Mexico (Hidalgo, The Untold Story, starring Academy-award nominated actor Demián Bichir, and Tijuana's Nortec Sounds), Ecaudor (Fisherman), Brazil (The Sky We Were Born Under), Cuba (Fabula), and Spain (the Oscar-nominated, animated film Chico & Rita).

All events will be held at the historic Hollywood Theatre.  Ticket info can be accessed here.

And now, because I know everyone just wants to take a look at what's in store for them during the festival, on to the trailers:

The 6th annual Portland Latin American Film Festival runs from Friday, October 12th through Thursday, October 18th at the Hollywood Theatre.  More info available here.

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Photographic Memory marks the welcome return of documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee (Sherman's March, Time Indefinite).  When McElwee first burst on the scene, his work was unique for the way it blurred the line between subject and maker; McElwee has always been front and center in his films, using the base materials of his life as narrative elements that guide his stories towards undetermined places. 

For better or worse, his style has become a common strategy in non-fiction filmmaking, so much so that when I recently tried to explain who McElwee was to a friend, they responded, "so is he the one to blame for Morgan Spurlock, then?"  Which is kind of neither here nor there, as Spurlock has made good work in the past and has even shown some signs of growth in his recent projects.  McElwee, on the other hand, has never exploited his style in a self-aggrandizing way; in fact, most of his films have been deeply introspective, questioning his own flaws and always finding a larger theme to anchor the overall piece.

Such is the case with Photographic Memory.  The film finds McElwee struggling to understand and connect with his teenage son Adrian.  Ross shares the worries that many have about their kids, that they're unfocused, lost, experimenting too heavily with drugs, alcohol, and other risky behaviors.  Adrian has many creative interests.  Like his father, he's constantly filming himself and his friends (mostly while snowboarding backwards).  He's also interested in web design and is trying to become an entrepreneur of sorts.  But, as Ross points out, there are just far too many interests and only so much energy, so much of what the younger McElwee begins ends up poorly done or unfinished.

While questioning his son's behavior, McElwee begins to dive back into his own past to examine what he was up to when he was his son's age.  The investigation sends him back to St. Quay-Portrieux in Brittany where he once worked as a photographer's assistant, before being fired in a mix-up about lost negatives.  McElwee searches for his former employer as well as an old flame, ruminating on his past as he journeys through the familiar and forgotten spaces of the small French town by the sea.

Photographic Memory feels like a warm reunion with an old friend.  If you've loved any of McElwee's prior works, you'll instantly be drawn back into the kind of unguarded, reflective video journals that McElwee is brave enough to share with his audiences.  For those who have never encountered a Ross McElwee film, this is as good enough a place to start as any, as it certainly contains more than enough universally experienced material as it filters through its maker's most recent set of concerns. 


Photographic Memory screens at the IFC Center in NYC on Friday, October 12th.  More info available here.


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Not all the good film events in Oregon happen in Portland.  Yeah, I know, it's hard to believe but there are great things happening outside the borders of our fair city.  Think about it, there's BendFilm, the Ashland Independent Film Festival, and now there's The Living River Film Festival in Eugene.  Presented by the McKenzie River Trust, the festival concentrates on "the stunning and unique landscapes that surround us...connecting audiences to our Oregon landscapes, celebrating them through film."

The Living River Film Festival is a three-day fundraising event with chances to meet and greet filmmakers and guest speakers, watch movies with a like-minded audience, and, yes, because it is Eugene, even participate in tree-climbing events.  Oh, and did I mention that Eugene's own "Slug Queen" will be there on Sunday?  Yeah, that's happening!

The bulk of the films will be shown on Saturday at the Bijou Art Cinemas.  Selections include Sometimes a Great NotionA River Runs Through It, the short-form works of Portland's own John Waller, and much more.

Here's a mess o' trailers from the festival lineup:

More info on the festival can be found here.


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