Anne Richardson

Category: James Blue

James + James: Mid Century Oregon Genius @ Hollywood Theatre/Oct. 10 & 11

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When Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner won their Oscar in 1975, independent filmmaking in Oregon seemed to be entering a new stage. But the truth is that Oregon already had produced four successful independent filmmakers: James Ivory (b. 1928), James Blue (1930-1980), Harry Smith (1923-1991) and Homer Groening (1919-1996). All four artists had emerged a decade before Vinton and Gardiner made their breakthrough film.

Ivory made his cinematic debut from India.

Blue made his from Algeria.

Smith made his from New York City.

Groening remained in Portland, splitting his time between his advertising work and his short art films, which he sent to film festivals around the world.

In the Mid Century Oregon Genius screening series, we unite these four Oregon mid-century film artists under one umbrella. One film is shot in an Algerian war zone. One stars a Hollywood heart throb. One is shot on an animation stand which doubled as a bed for the filmmaker. Some are shot underwater.

On Oct. 10 at 7:00 PM, three time Oscar nominee James Ivory comes to Portland to introduce MAURICE (1987), starring James Wilby, Hugh Grant and Rupert Graves. Handpicked by Ivory for the screening series, MAURICE is on the short list of films for which he served as both screenwriter (with Kit Hesketh-Harvey) and director.

James Ivory grew up in Klamath Falls and graduated from the University of Oregon in 1951.

On Oct. 11 at 11:00 AM at the Hollywood, we will screen James Ivory’s AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A PRINCESS (1977), starring Madhur Jaffrey and James Mason. Ivory chose AUTOBIOGRAPHY specifically to complement James Blue’s THE OLIVE TREES OF JUSTICE, which shares its theme of post colonial identity crisis.

On Oct. 11 at 1:00 PM, Richard Blue, the brother of director James Blue, will introduce THE OLIVE TREES OF JUSTICE, an extremely rare film which won the Critics Prize at Cannes in 1962.

James Blue grew up in Portland and graduated from the University of Oregon in 1953. He and James Ivory worked together on at least one drama production at UO. Did they have any idea they would become Oregon’s first Oscar nominated directors?

And that they both would launch careers from outside this country?

On Oct. 11 at 2:30 PM, following the screening of THE OLIVE TREES OF JUSTICE, there will be a panel discussion titled  James Blue, a life in conversation.

Three panelists will talk us through James Blue’s life and career. Using archival photos from the Blue Collection to structure the narrative, we will travel conversationally from Tulsa to Portland, Eugene, and Paris, to Blue’s professional breakthrough in Algiers, his subsequent embrace of documentary, and his dual identity as filmmaker and educator.

The panelists are Richard Blue, the brother of James Blue; James Dormeyer, Blue’s classmate at L’Institut des hautes études cinématographiques in Paris and a close friend; Gill Dennis, the screenwriter of Blue’s 1969 Oscar nominated doc, A FEW NOTES ON OUR FOOD PROBLEM.

Tickets for individual events, and for the entire series, will be available online through The Hollywood Theatre and at the door.

The Mid Century Oregon Genius screening of The Olive Trees Of Justice is co-sponsored by The James and Richard Blue Foundation.

The second half of the Mid Century Oregon Genius screening series will take place on January 15 & 16, 2015. Two back to back evenings will celebrate the work of independent filmmakers Harry Smith and Homer Groening.

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More information: http://midcenturyoregongenius.wordpress.com

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The Mid Century Oregon Genius screening series is supported by grants from Kinsman Foundation and Miller Foundation. It is presented by Oregon Movies, A to Z, which is fiscally sponsored by Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, a 501 © 3 private non profit organization.

To Matt Zoller Seitz, In Advance Of His July 25 Visit To NWFC/Introducing The Royal Tenenbaums

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Dear Matt Zoller Seitz,

I’m looking forward to hearing your introduction to The Royal Tenenbaums at the Northwest Film Center on July 25. You are arriving to find Portland thrown into a tizzy, both by the revelation that the mayor has allowed the reinstatement of an openly neo Nazi police captain, and by the release of a report which predicts Portland’s population will grow to 3 million by 2030.

I’ve been looking into that crystal ball myself, over the years, and thinking hard about Portland.

You are arriving in a city which is the inverted mirror image of your own. In New York, there is nothing but success. If you are not successful, you do not exist. If you are not trying to be successful, you are not alive. Whatever you are doing has no relevance. In Portland, if you have dedicated yourself to ambition, you have similarly segregated yourself from the pack. You have chosen to howl at a moon, alone. Everything people strive for in New York – the best food, fashion, fun –  happens here, but without the careers. Instead these scenes are driven by the unemployed, underemployed, and self employed. It is an upside down kingdom, where everything elitism deals out parsimoniously to the few in the New York is limitlessly available, with no ceiling on excellence, to Everyman in Portlandia – as long as he creates it himself/herself.

But that’s not what makes for the flipped image effect. What makes Portland truly the inverse of New York is that there is no mandarin culture which monitors all this, interpreting it and recording it for others. We are a culture of participants, not observers.

The first historian to analyze Portland’s “all Indians, no chief” anti elitism was Robert Johnston, who wrote The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland. He found middle class Portlanders, particularly on the east side, unusually protective of the rights of workers, based on precinct by precinct analysis of voting records. Workers were important in Portland. The institution in which you have been invited to speak, Portland Art Museum, found its first longtime director, Annabelle Crocker, in the typing pool of one of the members of the board.

Founded in 1892, Portland Art Museum was built in 1932, during a period the whole city listened to Mel Blanc, Portland musician turned radio voice artist. Blanc grew up fast, selling newspapers on street corners and smoking a pack a day, starting in elementary school. The audition act he brought to Hollywood from his hometown was news based, riffing on material taken from the latest headlines.  Just kitty corner across the park from the museum is the building where Blanc attended (and dropped out of) high school. In the future, surely one of Portland’s projected three million inhabitants will get to the bottom of how it was/why it was Mel Blanc’s high school from which a second animation super nova, Matt Groening, would later emerge.

But here’s what I want to clue you in on: even as productive, ambitious New York appears on one side of the coin and the contemplative, creative Portland on the other, I want to tell you about the middle, where both cities meet – because this juncture happens to be professional territory you occupy. 

In 1962, James Blue was in New York writing for Film Comment magazine. In 1965, Sheldon Renan was in New York writing for Jonas Mekas’ Film Culture magazine. More than a decade apart in age, they didn’t know each other. Blue graduated from Jefferson High School, Renan from Cleveland High School, both on the east side of Portland, the area identified by Robert Johnston as the stronghold of Progressive Era Portland’s unusually confident, self empowered middle class. Blue’s father was a housing inspector; Renan’s a turkey farmer.

In 1971, Sheldon Renan and James Blue were tapped to serve on the NEA’s first media funding panel. By this time, Blue was living in Houston, Renan in San Francisco. While on the panel, Renan proposed, and Blue supported, a network of regional film centers: Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley, Northwest Film Center in Portland, Detroit Film Theater, and The Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, now named Gene Siskel Film Center. Back in Houston, James Blue would add a fifth, the Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP). All five still exist today.

When I asked you to explain to me why Austin was Texas’ indie film town, it was because I was trying to understand the Texas chapter of James Blue’s life. You explained that Austin made the decision to pursue that title. I talked to another Texan after I spoke with you, the San Antonio artist James Cobb, and he added that James Blue could not have found a more congenial environment in which to pursue the goal of regional filmmaking – that the Republic of Texas is always ready to invest in regional identity.

While James Blue was in Houston, he founded the KUHT public television program showcasing independent film called The Territory.  Maybe you saw it?

Maybe Wes Anderson, born and raised in Houston, saw it?

While Sheldon Renan and James Blue were advocating for regional film from Berkeley, Houston, and Washington DC,  the hometown which had produced them had welcomed back Will Vinton, a new graduate from Berkeley with a degree in architecture and an interest in stop motion animation. Vinton won an Oscar for his and Bob Gardiner’s first animated short, Closed Mondays, in 1975. His studio went on to train hundreds of Portland filmmakers, including, of course, The Fantastic Mr. Fox’s animation director, Mark Gustafson.

In broad strokes.

Will Vinton Studios founded, 1975.

Dark Horse Comics founded, 1986.

Matt Groening’s television debut, 1987.

Bill Plympton’s first Oscar nomination, 1988.

Gus Van Sant’s first Oscar nomination, 1998.

Will Vinton Studios becomes Laika, 2005.

Laika’s first “best animated feature” Oscar nomination, for Coraline, 2010.

Wes Anderson’s first “best animated feature” Oscar nomination, for The Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2010.

Carrie Brownstein & Fred Armisen make Portlandia, 2011.

As you see, Portland does pop. Portland is all over pop.

But, as part of a sensibility which is attuned to “the advancing present”, a phrase I love which was coined by typist-turned-museum-director Annabelle Crocker, Portland has little interest in understanding this about itself. The role it played producing the leaders who successfully advocated for federal support for regional film is not written down anywhere. I learned it entirely from conversations with participants and eyewitnesses.

At any rate, perhaps some of this history helps illuminate Wes Anderson

Or not. You tell me!

See you Friday,

AR

P. S. The James Blue/Wes Anderson overlap in the time-space continuum is as follows: James Blue arrived in Houston in 1970, one year after Wes Anderson was born. He left in 1977, leaving behind the Rice Media Center (now the Rice University film department), the Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP), and the television program, The Territory, which is produced by the Austin Museum of Art, the Southwest Alternate Media Project/Houston and KUHT-TV/Houston, and funded jointly by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Houston Endowment, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance.

The Territory is the country’s longest running showcase of independent film on public television.  Founded by James Blue, it just celebrated its 37th anniversary.