I know I'm not giving you much notice here, but Milos Forman's Ragtime screens tonight at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the basement of the Portland Art Museum). I hadn't seen the movie until very recently, and I was blown away by it. Sometimes it takes an outsider to successfully capture a particular zeitgeist with the necessary perspective; in this case, Czech director Forman adapts E.L. Doctorow's sprawling novel into an epic film that encompasses the American experience. Ragtime follows the stories of intersecting American lives in the early 20th century, and while the scope is grand, the 1981 movie is always engaging and watchable. It contains a fantastic performance by Elizabeth McGovern as a chorus girl who strikes it rich, but the heart of the movie is Howard E. Rollins Jr.'s performance as Coalhouse Walker Jr., a black piano player who seeks racial justice after being insulted by a group of Irish firefighters. Walker's exchange with Booker T. Washington is one of the best scenes in any movie I've seen lately. There are also early performances by Jeff Daniels, Mandy Patinkin (surprisingly good--he doesn't sing, thank goodness), and Samuel L. Jackson. The movie examines the tenor of American life at a time when whites, blacks, immigrants, rich, and poor were all finding their footing after the industrial revolution ushered in the modern era. Sounds stuffy and boring? It isn't.

The movie starts at 7:00 pm tonight. Sorry I didn't mention it sooner.