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ArtsWatch Weekly: let the good times reel

NW Film Center’s “Reel Music,” plays about D.B. Cooper and Ben Linder and a guy named Fly Guy, atlas art from post-Gutenberg days

“Tradition!” Tevye the milkman barked, and with that emphatic proclamation the song and dance reeled on. The traditions that last the best are the ones that constantly reshape themselves within the structures they’ve set up, and certainly the Northwest Film Center’s Reel Music Festival, which spools into its 34th annual edition on Friday, fits that category. The basic idea is the same as always: pull together a whole bunch of films about music and musicians (documentaries, primarily), but do new ones every year, and let the good times roll. Or reel.

Thelonious Monk with his band in 1959, from “The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith.” Credit 2016 The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, FilmBuff

This year’s edition, which runs through February 5, kicks off with a foulmouthed film about the Rolling Stones (Robert Frank’s 1972 Cocksucker Blues) that followed the band on tour after the Altamont debacle, and was so raunchy and revealing about the seedier side of rock that it was shelved, and is only rarely seen. Here’s your chance. You might want to pair it with the more genteel, if that’s the right word, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!, filmed on last year’s Latin American tour. I like the looks of 1957’s The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, filmed by the Life Magazine photographer when he lived and worked in an illegal loft teeming with artists and musicians and house parties and jam sessions in Manhattan’s Flower District during a golden age of jazz; A Poem Is a Naked Person, a cinematic portrait of Leon Russell directed by Maureen Gosling and the great Les Blank that was unreleased for 40 years because Russell, a co-producer, didn’t like it; and Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues, Paul Bernays’ portrait of the essence-of-hip pianist and singer who was yet another member of last year’s sizable artists’ march into the final sunset. You, no doubt, will find your own favorites. Check the schedule and put on your toe-tapping shoes. It’s a tradition.




“El Payaso,” opening at Milagro Theatre. Photo © Russell J Young

El Payaso at Milagro. Milagro’s newest national touring show, which gets its premiere starting Thursday in the company’s hometown, takes its inspiration from Ben Linder, the young engineer from Portland who was killed by Contra fighters in 1987 while working to build a small hydroelectric dam in one of Nicaragua’s poorest areas. The story, by Emilio Rodriguez, sends a contemporary Latino student to Nicaragua to see the outcome of Linder’s work thirty years ago. El Payaso is bilingual, with some lines in Spanish and some in English, and it’s part of Fertile Ground, getting an early jump on the citywide new-performance festival’s January 19-29 run.

CoHo searches for D.B. Cooper. The premiere of db, Tommy Smith’s play about the infamous hijacker who boarded a plane in Portland in 1971, rerouted it to SeaTac, picked up $200,000, then parachuted out with the loot somewhere over the wilderness of southwest Washington state, opens Friday. Isaac Lamb directs a promising cast including Duffy Epstein, Rebecca Lingafelter, and others. It’s an early-entry part of Fertile Ground, too.

Fly Guy: The Musical. Oregon Children’s Theatre’s newest world premiere is about a kid named Buzz and his pet Fly Guy and Fly Guy’s friend Fly Girl and an unfortunate school field trip to a flyswatter factory, and with a plot like that, what could go wrong? Saturday through February 12 in the Newmark Theatre.

Atlas art at Central Library. Venice, 1779.

Atlas Art: Title Pages and Frontispieces, 1493-1852. The Collins Gallery at the Multnomah County Central Library downtown regularly hosts intriguing exhibitions, and this one looks especially fascinating: a show of art from print atlases from almost as far back as Gutenberg (his movable-type press debuted in 1439) to the middle of the 19th century. The exhibit opened Saturday, in the midst of Snowpocalypse, and the reception was postponed until 2-5 p.m. this Saturday, January 14. It’s on view regular library hours through February 27.

brownsville song (b-side for tray). The informal play-reading group The Reading Parlor, which attracts some of the best actors in town for its cold readings of recent scripts, takes on Kimber Lee’s 2014 drama about the aftermath of the slaying of an African-American high school kid in Brooklyn: “He ain’t run with no crew. He ain’t beef with nobody. He was not the same old story.” 6:30 p.m. Monday, January 16, Cerimon House.

Variations on the Death of Trotsky, and other comedies. Just in time for the inauguration, a little revolutionary comedy: three short plays from the witty pen of David Ives, a fourth by Rich Orloff. In the title play, Trotsky takes the stage with a climber’s ax stuck in his skull, and proceeds to riff. Staged readings by Readers Theatre Repertory, Friday and Saturday at Blackfish Gallery.