Visitors’ Guide to Portland 2018
Welcome, cinema lover. While most cities are strangled by soulless multiplexes, Portland has a wealth of fantastic independent theaters. As chains like Regal dole out stale concessions, endless pre-show ads, and lousy picture and sound while jackasses light up the theater with their phones, Portland’s other, better theaters reflect and contribute to the city’s character and economy. In the process, they’ve made our city an unexpected haven for cinephiles.
Thanks to a combination of inventive programming, community support, and exciting events like 70mm screenings, the nonprofit Hollywood Theatre (4122 NE Sandy) has come to dominate Portland moviegoing. Built in 1926, the once-rundown theater is the reason the Hollywood District is named the Hollywood District, and now stands one of the best, most unique theaters in the country. Past screenings have included 70mm screenings of the mind-bending 2001: A Space Odyssey, a surprise Quentin Tarantino visit for The Hateful Eight, a jam-packed series showcasing Hayao Miyazaki’s animated classics, and more.
Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Hollywood also acquired Movie Madness (4320 SE Belmont), one of the country’s few remaining video stores—and one that’s unlike any other. Home to more than 80,000 films, Movie Madness offers new releases, but you’ll promptly discover (or rediscover) the joy of stumbling across bizarre stuff you wouldn’t ever think to look for—including tens of thousands of titles that put Netflix’s anemic offerings to shame. This is the place to track down Werner Herzog’s short films, forgotten BBC miniseries, or Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, but the real fun comes from browsing the genre-specific sections for weirder stuff (check out sections like “Male Chauvinist Fantasies/Nightmares,” “Rampaging Teenagers,” “Turkish Action Cinema,” and “Yahweh Is Angry”). Movie Madness also boasts a museum’s worth of original movie costumes and props—a knife from Psycho, Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie and Clyde dress, John Wayne’s Winchester from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Overhead—hanging from a chain, trapped in a net—sways a creepy-ass Mugwump from David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, staring down at you with its alien eyes, either silently approving or disapproving of your decision to take home whatever the new movie is where the Rock fights CGI animals.
You’ve got other great options, too: Northwest Portland’s Cinema 21 (616 NW 21st) offers a well-curated mix of domestic, foreign, and indie fare, and its decades-long devotion to cinema makes it well worth a visit—and unlike just about everywhere else in Northwest, it’s a place that’s actually worth putting up with the area’s nightmarish parking and even more nightmarish yuppies.
If you’re looking for first-run blockbusters, head over to Southeast Hawthorne to the Bagdad Theater (3702 SE Hawthorne), which unlike the Hollywood, has maintained its movie palace interior, retaining its balcony and its baroque, towering ceiling. It’s hands-down the best spot in town to catch new movies on opening weekend, with excellent picture and sound plus a slew of McMenamins beers and close proximity to Hawthorne’s stretch of bars for post-film discussions. It feels so much like an old-school movie palace that one can almost ignore all the McMenamins’ kitschy hippie bullshit lurking in the corners.
All the above theaters (and even Movie Madness) offer beer and/or wine, but if you want the most liquid refreshment for your buck, save on ticket prices at the Academy Theater (7818 SE Stark), where admission’s just $4, there’s plenty of pizza and beer, and the screens offer a frequently rotating selection of second-run titles and repertory screenings. Another old-school Portland favorite, the Laurelhurst Theater (2735 E Burnside) no longer offers cheap tickets and older movies—they recently switched to showing first-run titles—but maintains its chill, low-key vibe—it’s a great spot to get together with friends to catch a movie and split a pitcher or two.
Offering no beer—and no food—is the NW Film Center (1219 SW Park), which screens films in the Whitsell Auditorium in the basement of the Portland Art Museum. At first, the Film Center can’t help but feel stuffy, thanks to its moneyed, graying donors and the unshakable sense you’re stuck watching a movie in a lecture hall. But every once in a while they’ve got some great, weird programming, and keeping tabs on their lineup will give you a chance to see stuff you can’t catch anywhere else, from a series that tracked the films and influences of Paul Thomas Anderson to Takashi Miike’s Yakzua Apocalypse.