Category Archives: Portland

Are All Oregonians Secretly French?

How French is Oregon?

I addressed this question in 2009, during the Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival. Here is the abbreviated version of my argument.

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James Blue (1930-1980) won the Critics Prize at Cannes in 1962 for his French language feature, The Olive Trees Of Justice. He was a graduate of Jefferson High School ’49 in Portland, University of Oregon ’53  in Eugene and L’Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) ’59 in Paris.

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Currently, four Oregon directors are beloved by French audiences.

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James Ivory (Klamath Falls), 6 nominations for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Winner of Cannes 45th Anniversary Special Award for Howard’s End (1992).

US director Gus Van Sant poses 21May 200

Gus Van Sant (Portland), 3 nominations for the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Winner for Elephant (2003). Winner of the Cannes 60th Anniversary Special Award for Paranoid Park (2007).

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Bill Plympton (Oregon City), 2 nominations for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. His Idiots and Angels (2009), received theatrical release in France, and was seen all across that country. His Cheatin’ (2014) just won the Jury Award at Annecy

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Penny Allen’s (Portland) latest film, En Retard Pour L’Enterrement De Ma Mere (Late For My Mother’s Funeral), is a French language feature length documentary-narrative film hybrid. Like The Olive Trees Of Justice, it was shot entirely on location in Algeria, and features a cast of non-professional actors.

How French is Oregon?

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Oregon is so French, Bill Plympton says that everyone in France accepts without question the immediate assumption that Pink Martini is a French band.

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This post first appeared on Anne Richardson’s Oregon Movies, A to Z, during the Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival at Maryhurst University in 2009. It has been amended to include James Blue. I learned of James Blue from James Ivory during his appearance at that festival.

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James Blue‘s French language feature, The Olive Trees Of Justice, will be presented at the upcoming Mid Century Oregon Genius screening series at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon. Non French language films in the series are by Harry Smith, James Ivory, and Homer Groening, the senior member of the two generation Groening dynasty.

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Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to cover the 2014 James Blue Tribute. The six month long Tribute celebrates the bequest of James Blue’s films to the University of Oregon by The James and Richard Blue Foundation, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue.

Notes On James Blue is supported by The James and Richard Blue Foundation. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

What Do Pictures Want: Oregon Artists In Diaspora, 1972

“Analysis shows that a relation (always social) determines its terms, and not the reverse, and that each individual is a locus in which an incoherent (and often contradictory) plurality of such relational determinations interact.” Michel de Certeau

Analysis of Oregon film history shows that the incoherent plurality of relational determinations occasionally recedes to reveal unexpected unity.

For example, the collective decision far-flung Oregon filmmakers made in 1972 to undertake and/or interrogate and/or horse around with anthropology.

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Kenya Boran (shot in 1972/completed 1974), dir. by James Blue & David MacDougall in Kenya. (Blue in headphones.)

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Adventures Of A Brown Man In Search Of Civilization (1972) dir. by James Ivory in London. (Ivory in headphones.)

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Savages (1972), dir. by James Ivory in Tarrytown. (Actors in mudface.)

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Mahagonny (shot 1970-1972, completed 1980), dir. by Harry Smith in Manhattan. (Image as ritual.)

Bonus 1972 Oregon film:

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Drugs: Killers Or Dillers (1972), dir. by Tim Smith & Matt Groening in Portland. (Groening in ferns.)

If I was on Twitter, I would tag this post #crosscultural #transnational #transcultural #transmodernity #postmodernity #altermodernity #postcolonial #neocolonial #decolonial #pluriversal #borderstudies #migratoryaesthetics #whatdoimageswant

We need to reckon with, not just the meaning of images, but with their silence, their reticence, their wildness and nonsensical obduracy. We need to account for not just the powerfulness of images, but their powerlessness, their impotence, their abjection. We need, in other words, to grasp both sides of the paradox of the image: that it is alive – but also dead; powerful – but also weak; meaningful – but also meaningless.

W. J. T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images

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Films of Harry Smith, James Ivory, James Blue and Homer Groening, the senior member of the two generation Groening dynasty, will be screened at the Hollywood Theatre during the upcoming Mid Century Oregon Genius screening series.

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Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to document her own learning curve as she attends the 2014 James Blue Tribute.

Notes On James Blue is supported by The James and Richard Blue Foundation, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue. All thoughts, opinions, and errors belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

Understanding Blue: Politics, Pluraversality, and the Muse of Form

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks never met James Blue, but she is a member of the pluriverse he loved.

She lives in Utopia (true!). I saw her on the internet, where I also saw this:

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Both videos are examples of regional film.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks addressed her remarks to a live audience in Australia. Toni and Candace first deployed their withering lack of respect for logic in a no-budget web series, Thunder Ant, shot in Portland, not far from the house where James Blue grew up.

Blue believed that regional film = democratized media = increased diversity of voices being heard. As a member of the NEA’s first media funding panel, he voted to fund a network of regional film centers, all four of which still exist today. One of them is the Northwest Film Center, where The  March and A Few Notes On Our Food Problem screened on April 25, 2014 as part of the James Blue Tribute.

Blue believed stories could change things. He was fascinated by the exercise of power which came with access to a camera, and never resolved his ambivalence about his privilege as a gifted filmmaker. His awareness of privilege fueled his activism as an educator. It drove him to leave Hollywood. It inspired him to place cameras in the hands of his subjects. He incorporated it into his work.

Was James Blue a political filmmaker?

In the discussion which followed the screening, Brooke Jacobson, an NEA colleague of James Blue, was startled to hear the audience conclude he was not.

There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. Wendell Berry

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Blue shot Who Killed The Fourth Ward?  on 8mm with a two person crew for community television. By contrast, he shot The March, fourteen years earlier, on 35mm with seven two person Hearst Metrotone newsreel crews and the mandate of the President.

The March and A Few Notes On Our Food Problem, made by Blue for USIA and USIAD respectively, deliver a sense of the world as troubled but benign. In Who Killed The Fourth Ward? and The Invisible City, made for KUHT community television, that surety is gone. In them, Blue, following a new muse of form, relinquishes his duties as omniscient, unseen narrator, and enters the film as a participant. He is asking questions, and bringing along a camera to make sure he gets answers. It is easy to imagine if the same Northwest Film Center audience had seen those two later documentaries, they would have had no trouble labeling Blue a political filmmaker.

But was Blue, in Houston, a newly political filmmaker?

The full title of the March On Washington was March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom. Employment, voting rights, the elimination of Jim Crow – these are not minor demands. The organizers had been preparing for this event for decades. In Blue’s voice over narration, he speaks about the potential for violence, and shows the steps the organizers were taking to keep control of the crowd. Feed people, use walkie talkies, maintain a chain of command.

Blue understood what could happen if thousands of citizens squared off against police. He knew what it was like to live in a world where violence had overtaken the civic order. He had directly experienced the war behind the recent Paris Massacre. Disaster, for Blue, was within the realm of the possible.

The narrative Blue chose for his coverage of the March focused on the arriving marchers. It focused on the leadership, including young black men, who, at that time, were never seen in media as being calm, purposeful and in charge, but in Blue’s film are shown to be just that. They were entrusted with keeping safe the 200,000 Americans who had arrived to exercise their constitutional right to assembly. Blue leaves out guest speakers Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Bob Dylan and Harry Belafonte and shows us the politically engaged nobodies who came to walk, talk, listen, sing, and cool their feet in the reflecting pool. He photographs them as if they are a miracle, because to him, perhaps, they are.

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They are the pluriverse he has come to recognize as valuable.

The March is about them.

Is that political?

For perspective, James Ivory, James Blue’s friend and near exact contemporary, when asked which of his own films he thought was most political, retorted that they all were, or at least he hoped they are all were.

The March and A Few Notes On Our Food Problem were screened at the Northwest Film Center on April 25, 2014 as part of the James Blue Tribute. Brooke Jacobson, co-founder of the Northwest Film Center, was in the audience.

So was Sheldon Renan, the author of the proposal that the NEA fund a network of four regional film centers, of which the Northwest Film Center was one. Sheldon Renan, Brooke Jacobson and James Blue all share two distinctions. They all came from Portland, and each one served as an advocate for regional film at the NEA.

Richard Blue, who advised James Blue on A Few Notes On Our Food Problem, and Gill Dennis, who wrote the voiceover narration for A Few Notes, participated in an onstage panel discussion following the screening as did Christina Kovac, who led the NARA restoration of The March, and Gerald O’Grady, a long time Blue colleague and friend, who is an historian of films of the Civil Rights Movement.

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Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to cover the 2014 James Blue Tribute, organized by the University of Oregon.

Notes On James Blue is supported by The James and Richard Blue Foundation, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

The March (1963)

All the past we leave behind;
We debouch upon a newer, mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march, Pioneers! O pioneers!

Walt Whitman

I don’t care how many times I see The March. Every time I see it, I am in it.

I am there, getting on the bus, getting off the train, stapling signs, following directions, listening to Ossie Davis, Joan Baez, Odetta, Marian Anderson, and A. Philip Randolph. When Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech enters public domain in 2038 (fingers crossed), and is returned to the soundtrack, I will hear him as well. I know all the songs. I know them by heart.

It is impossible to watch The March, and not go on the March.

James Blue brings us into the mix, and we find ourselves at home in the crowd, walking, talking, laughing, singing. Waving to our friends. We have found each other! We are together. This is Woodstock without the mud. James Blue, who, in 1963, had never heard of a rock concert, much less attended a rock concert, shoots and edits The March as if it was one. Swap out Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech for Jimi Hendrix’s electrified national anthem. Swap out the Lincoln Memorial for a cow pasture, and a short haired crowd for a long haired one. “We shall not, we shall not be moved” they sing, “Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved.”  Who are these people, who traveled long distances to stand in the sun and sing together? They are us. James Blue makes sure we understand this. The swell of joined voices we hear on the soundtrack is counterpointed by closeups of individual participants.

“We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday.”

When James Blue began working for USIA in 1962, he was asked to create a film about race in America which would address international criticism of our very evident hypocrisy. The argument Blue made, in an extraordinary memo which is now part of the James Blue Collection at the University of Oregon, was that the best way to disarm the critics would be to honestly confess the problem. He advised against concentrating on the problem of integrating black Americans into the social fabric of their own country. Instead he articulates the real problem: the difficulty of reeducating white racists.

That’s one half of the origin story behind The March.

The other half of the story began when A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin announced plans, in 1941, for a massive grass roots demonstration in Washington calling for the desegregation of both the military and the war industry. Roosevelt said no on desegregating the military, but yes to desegregating the war industry. The full origin story behind The March is that A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin were prepared to create a multi racial mass demonstration on the Washington Mall a full 20 years before they actually did it.

Their successful push for desegregation of the war industry resulted in Portland’s first black population which did not work as janitors, maids, waiters or red caps. African American workers  arrived to work in the shipyards during the same wartime boom year as Harry Blue, James Blue’s father, arrived in Portland to work as a housing inspector for the Federal Housing Authority. The city, accustomed to decades of institutionalized racism, did not adjust quickly to forced change. In the movie theaters James Blue attended, black ticket buyers were directed to the balcony. He likely sang the state song, which enshrines the vision of white supremacy, and all but name checks the deified missionaries, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, whose deaths at the hands of Native Americans finalized statehood.

Land of the Empire Builders,
Land of the Golden West;
Conquered and held by free men,
Fairest and the best.
Onward and upward ever,
Forward and on, and on;
Hail to thee, Land of Heroes,
My Oregon.

Land of the rose and sunshine
Land of the summer’s breeze;
Laden with health and vigor,
Fresh from the Western seas.
Blest by the blood of martyrs,
Land of the setting sun;
Hail to thee, Land of Promise,
My Oregon.

The yearbooks for James Blue’s four years at University of Oregon contain hundreds of pictures of white students. But black skin? The only black skin I saw in UO’s yearbooks, for the years James Blue attended, was from black makeup applied to white skin for a student minstrel show. Later, Ken Kesey himself wore blackface for a student skit at the university. Blackness in Oregon was something which we performed. Blackness was a white thing in Oregon. We did black. We owned black. In other words, black didn’t exist.

By 1963, the year of the March On Washington, Portland’s Albina neighborhood, where James Blue had attended Jefferson High School, was redlined. We all knew the boundaries. I grew up eight blocks away from the street which divided black from white. At high school dances, we had two bands, one white and one black. We would take turns dancing. White and black students sat separately in the lunch room. All of this was unofficial, and enforced by custom. The one black grade school classmate I had lived directly across the street from the front door of the school. It was as if his parents, determined not to have a line redrawn to exclude them, moved as close as humanly possible. We all knew their house was rented, not owned.  No black family could own in a white neighborhood. When I ventured into Albina, as a teenager, on a bike, rocks were thrown at me.

 THE MISSION OF A UNIVERSITY

The university process +++ is a social process that does not stop short of transforming men +++ to achieve such profound results it must utilize the principle of all for each and each for all directed to the highest ends of life +++ its organization must evoke the most intimate interplay of thought and purpose it must amount to a life process fully socialized ++ from now on it must be a climb if our nation is to hold its position among the nations of the earth ++ it means conservation and betterment + not merely of our national resources but also of our racial heritage and of +++ opportunity to the lowliest +++ this must be our passion +++ and the universities must be its prophets +++

Frederick George Young BA LLD, 1858-1929

Professor of Social Science and Dean of Sociology, 1895-1928

I include the full text of this message, permanently engraved onto the walls of the very beautiful 1937 University of Oregon building now known as the Knight Library, because it conveys the exact tone of our regional racism. “We” are white. The nature of “our” racial heritage is assumed. Non-white Oregonians are forgiven for their shortcomings, and generously extended honorary whiteness. This is how we keep Oregon white. If a non-white person has, due to circumstances beyond their control, failed to be white, we, the mighty majority, will extend to that person the privileges of citizenship anyway. In spite of their skin color. Because we are kind. Because we see beyond skin color to a non-white person’s essential, inner, whiteness.

James Blue calls out this racism in his USIA memo about the film he wishes to make. 

The March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom was always conceived as a media event. The organizers, a tense coalition of labor, civil rights and church leadership, knew they were orchestrating an enormous photo op, so primary credit for the images which are so powerful – the peaceful assembly of 200,000 freedom loving, politically empowered, human beings – belongs to them.

But what does it take to create the filmmaker who can cover that event with Zen like simplicity? One who conveys, in every image, his high regard for the nameless marchers?

“Keep your eyes upon the prize, hold on.”

I will write again about The March. Too much to say in one post!

Coming up in the James Blue Tribute:

At 8:00 PM on April 25, 2014 at the Whitsell Auditorium, Richard Blue, Gerald O’Grady, Dennis Gill, and Christina Kovac will introduce The March and A Few Notes About Our Food Problem.

Tickets can be purchased here.

More information about other James Blue Tribute events can be found here.

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Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to cover the 2014 James Blue Tribute. The six month long Tribute celebrates the bequest of James Blue’s films to the University of Oregon by The James and Richard Blue Foundation, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue.

Notes On James Blue is supported by The James and Richard Blue Foundation. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

Who’s James Blue?

There is no book about James Blue. Most of what I have learned about him comes from his films, his print interviews, and from people who knew him.

Here’s where I was in October 2012:

James Blue (1930-1980) grew up in Portland. He studied speech and theater at University of Oregon, graduating in 1953. After some years of military service, he entered film school in Paris where he was influenced by Jean Rouch. (Anne’s  note: now I am not sure this is true – not sure if he studied with Rouch or not) Although he first distinguished himself by winning the Critics Prize at Cannes for The Olive Trees Of Justice, a feature length narrative film, he spent the rest of his life making socially engaged documentaries.

Blue was a man of firsts. First Oregon director to go to Cannes, and the first to receive an Oscar nomination. First person ever to receive Ford Foundation funding for a film project. He helped start the Center for Advanced Film Studies at American Film Institute. The documentary programs at Rice University and at the Center for Media Study in Buffalo were both established by him. He served on the 1972 NEA media funding panel which launched the first network of regional film centers, as proposed by Sheldon Renan. Northwest Film Center is the result of that NEA initiative.

Two years later, I see how much this thumbnail portrait leaves out. Who was this man?

All personal accounts are in agreement that there was very little separation between Blue’s professional life and his personal life. His friends became his colleagues. His obsessions became his films. Reading a fuller list of his accomplishments,  you begin to understand that every minute of his day was involved in some kind of work, but work that he loved. He held down two parallel careers, as a filmmaker and as a film educator, and excelled in both.

By writing in more depth about each of his films, I hope to discover exactly what I think about this mysterious, forgotten, and influential American filmmaker from my hometown.

Who was James Blue? What impact did he have?

Gentlemen, start your engines.

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Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to cover the 2014 James Blue Tribute. The six month long Tribute celebrates the bequest of James Blue’s films to the University of Oregon by The James and Richard Blue Foundation, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue.

Notes On James Blue is supported by The James and Richard Blue Foundation. All thoughts, opinions and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.