PERHAPS MORE THAN most feature films made in Portland, James Westby's The Auteur captures something of the local spirit. Historically a kind of national wallflower, Portland's a city to which entrepreneurial outcasts have long flocked to do things, start things, and make things on their own terms, often with a nonconformist disregard for the mainstream systems of industry. It's weird, in a nutshell. Likewise, The Auteur is a weird little film that doesn't appear to care about succeeding on a large commercial scale. It's got way too much jizz for that.
The titular auteur is Arturo Domingo (Melik Malkasian), a porn director of the highest order who makes films with the same attention to craft as the most highly regarded filmmakers outside of the porn world. But Domingo's career is on the wane: He hasn't made a decent porno in years, ever since he dissolved his partnership with Frank (John Breen), the star of all his greatest films. The Auteur opens as Domingo comes to Portland for a retrospective of his work being held at the Clinton Street Theater, his heart heavy with the possibility of reconnecting with the love of his life, Fiona (Katherine Flynn).
At its core, The Auteur is a sweet movie with a lewd sense of humor and a lighthearted attitude toward the sex industry. Using the retrospective as a vehicle, we are led through Domingo's filmography, an entertaining series of adventures in nudity. (Ron Jeremy—I kid you not—served as The Auteur's technical advisor.) Habitués of the local sex industry will recognize Viva Las Vegas, Satori, and Malice romping through most of these scenes, as well as a cameo from Portland film critic D.K. Holm.
The Auteur knows and keeps its place, sticking to a simple story and dick jokes. A film about making films, it comes off like a labor of love, a project that was made because everyone knew it would be fun, not to get rich or push a moral motive. It won't change your life, but it might make you laugh, and if you're spending time in this town, you'll feel at home among its cast of hippies, strippers, and other artistic misfits.