For the last twenty minutes I’ve been cleaning the bathroom, but only five songs into Galaxie 500’s This Is Our Music, some minor back pain means I’ve decided to wait on scrubbing the bathtub. Which is okay, though, because while on my hands and knees with the rubber gloves and the 409 just now I’d been thinking how this past weekend was an eventful one.
Valarie and I usually look toward a weekend with no plans or commitments with much rejoicing. But this weekend kept our inner hermits at bay, and for the most part happily so.
Friday night Valarie went to see Paul McCartney with my mom. (I’d already seen him back in 1989). Valarie’s like most of us in that there are not any solo McCartney records in her collection, but she loves The Beatles. And my mom had actually seen The Beatles in 1965 at Portland’s Memorial Colisseum, next door to the Rose Garden where McCartney played on Friday. Luckily, though, she didn’t flick on a cigarette lighter this time, as she did at the concert I attended in sixteen years ago. (Not that I don't appreciate the chance to see one of The Beatles, of course. It was a highlight of my life.)
Meanwhile, while Valarie was at the concert, I met a group of old friends from my hometown of McMinnville at a Chinese restaurant in Portland's Chinatown called the House of Louie for our friend Joel's birthday. I ate Chinese food all the time growing up; that, Mexican and Italian were virtually the only ethnic cuisines in our town. But I’ve hardly eaten it at all in recent years. Chinese has been losing out to Thai and Vietnamese. (That's pho sure!) So it was great to chow down on moo-shoo pork, Mongolian beef, pot stickers and rice. And it was also a real delight to be in a quintessential Chinese-American restaurant of yesteryear like the House of Louie is, complete with the red vinyl booths and tabletop lazy Susans.
I'd neglected to buy Joel a present, so late Friday afternoon I went through a photo album and scanned some shots taken on the drive across country he and I took back in 1993. (Which was a total blast.) In one of the photos there's a gas station in Wyoming with gas for 91 cents per gallon. I'm also fond of a picture taken of the Jan-D Lounge in Kimball, Nebraska, where we stopped for lunch on day 3.
Later on Friday night, fellow ex-McMinnvillan Ned and I went to the opening night party for the Northwest Film & Video Festival. But unfortunately the party was somewhat of a dud because the planned location, one of the Portland Art Museum’s newly restored ballrooms, had to be scrapped at the last minute. (I smell a rat on PAM’s side of that equation; they always treat the Northwest Film Center, which put on the fest, like a burdensome stepchild.) Still, it was fun to be there, because Andy Blubaugh, who co-coordinates the fest, is a friend, as are some of the other usuals each year at this party. Plus I had a film in this year’s fest (it's my first one to play in a festival), a short called Tsukiji 5AM. So I wanted to soak up the moment a bit.
The next morning, though, I woke up feeling oddly depressed. I had these sudden feelings of inadequacy about my film being in the fest. It’s rough in style, hand-held digital video, and there’s no real narrative. It’s just a series of shots taken at a big Tokyo fish market. In retrospect, though, the insecurity was mostly short-lived. But with Valarie’s agreement, I decided it would be nice to have breakfast at the Doug Fir Lounge, which is now unequivocally my favorite place in Portland to go for breakfast.
The design of Doug Fir would be reason enough to go there. As locals know, it’s part of a renovated midcentury-era motor hotel called The Jupiter. Both the motel and Doug Fir, its coffee shop, have a very modern but unique design character—paticularly Doug Fir. The restaurant’s interior is clad in wood logs reflecting Oregon’s timber country identity, but with a very clever contemporary eye. As it happens, though, Doug Fir also has delicious, reasonably-priced coffee shop cuisine. (I always go for the Logger Breakfast, with eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy.) And the people who work there are exceptionally friendly on a day-in, day-out basis.
For about four hours on Saturday afternoon I was beside myself with anxiety over the Oregon Ducks game against California. As I’ve previously mentioned, the team was 7-1 going into the game—the makings of a potentially very special season capped by a BCS bowl on New Year’s Day. (For what it's worth, ESPN currently is predicting an Oregon-Notre Dame matchup in the Fiesta Bowl.) But then senior quarterback Kellen Clemens broke his leg. This was the first post-Clemens game, and the team won in overtime after alternating two young, talented and inexperienced quarterbacks: Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf. (The latter is the younger brother of former Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf). I’d been prepared for the notion of Oregon losing, but after the Ducks' being either ahead or tied the whole game, I got my hopes way up for a win. When the game ended with my team victorious in overtime, I screamed with that ecstatic joy you can only get as a rabid fan following meaningless sports contests.
Right after the game, I drove across town, oblivious to the dark dreary rain outside, to the home of filmmaker Nick Peterson. Nick has received a lot of attention and acclaim locally—deservedly so, too—for a series of sparing, poetic, beautifully photographed 16mm films about the ebbs and flows of turbulent young lovers. (Gus Van Sant is among Nick’s fans.) Now, Nick is not only making his first feature, but he’s making a musical. In addition to the strong Yasujiro Ozu influence on his previous work, Nick’s also become a huge fan of Ernst Lubitsch’s musicals. So for this film, called Yellow, he recruited musician Eric Schopmeyer to write a series of songs to go with his story.
And Eric, incidentally, is also a friend and a very multitalented guy. Not only is he the composer, but Nick also cast Eric in the lead role. Outside of this project, Eric teaches music at a local elementary school and has received lots of positive attention (including a Willamette Week article by yours truly) for the marimba group he established there, which has played all over the state and recorded two or three CDs. Eric is also part of the now-dormant documentary filmmaking trio archipelago, which has made three exquisitely good films (or at least two of them, along with a pretty good debut) and is comprised also of two of my best friends: Ady Leverette, Eric's wife, and Rob Tyler.
Saturday night Valarie and I went to see the Oregon Symphony perform. The concert was conducted by resident musical director Karlos Kalmar, who we like a lot (although we also really love, and maybe even prefer, frequent visiting conductor Yakov Kreizberg). The highlight of this concert was a performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with English pianist Freddy Kempf seemingly doing the impossible in playing this ridiculously intense, long, fast, frenetic piece. I’m a big fan of the early 20th Century Russian composers, so this was a major treat.
As if all Saturday’s activity weren’t enough, that night Valarie and I stayed up until about 2:30AM watching Batman Begins. As a rule I hate most Hollywood blockbusters, but this one was superb, I thought. The director, Christopher Nolan, was already a favorite; his previous film Memento was #1 on my top 10 list in Willamette Week a couple years ago. Plus Valarie and I are also huge Christian Bale fans—particularly ever since American Psycho.
Sunday was less eventful, unless you call a trip to the adidas store and sitting in front of the TV watching NFL football eventful. But that evening brought the “Shorts III” program with my little video. When it played, I at first was a bit mortified because this was the first time I’d seen it blown up on a big screen, and the picture quality (including even the credits) suffered a lot. But ultimately I was very, very happy having the experience of a festival screening for my work.
At the end of the program, they brought all the filmmakers in attendance to the front for a Q&A session. First all the questions went to the guy who directed a clever spoof of TV commercials, but then I was asked a couple of questions as well. Waiting and hoping to be chosen like that, under the bright lights, reminded me of being on the Ramblin’ Rod Cartoon Show in 3rd Grade. I certainly wasn’t seeking the spotlight, as had been admittedly very much the case back then with Rod's TV show. But when the last questioner had some flattering words about Tsukiji 5AM and asked a wonderful softball question about my approach, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good. Still, though, I come out of that festival all the more humbled, and reminded of how much of a novice with filmmaking I still am. But I’ve thought a lot about what I want to do, so maybe on some level that helps.
Great weekend, although in a few days Valarie and I will probably be rooting again for there to be nothing on the agenda except solitude.