Sunday, May 16, 2010

Very Popular in All Public Places!

Portland isn't a city especially well-known for its cinematic culture, but we're getting there. In addition to the Regal Fox Tower downtown, which specializes in independent and foreign fare (making it all the more aggravating when a screen is given up to How to Train Your Dragon, fine film though it is), a handful of independent ventures keep us tuned in - The Hollywood Theatre, Living Room Theaters (a misnomer, as there's only one), the NW Film Center, and my favorite theater anywhere, Cinema 21. But film culture doesn't especially permeate Portland culture.

This only makes it all the greater that the Movie Marvel Museum recently opened.

Located in the Alberta Arts District in Northeast Portland, the Movie Marvel Museum is the shortest crash course on film history one could take in that would still be incredibly, deeply rewarding. Focusing on the first half-century of film, the Museum boasts such artifacts as a Kinetoscope, a Moviola Film Viewer from the 1940s, advertisements galore, a five-seat movie theater that shows, as they put it, "the earliest films ever made" (we were treated to Scrappy and Krazy Kat cartoons), and - who would've guessed it - a Mutoscope! That still runs on pennies!

Yes, many of the electronics are interactive! Julie, my girlfriend, and I played back sound through a sound editing machine from, I believe, the 1960s, flipped through the the pictures in the Mutoscope (three rotations per second, kids), viewed some film through the Moviola, and had lunch with the Invisible Man.

What you really feel throughout the space is true love for what they've put out here, a trait not at all uncommon to Portland culture. A number of years ago, there was an absolutely amazing store here called Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Collectible Toys, and although everything there was for purchase, it really was like a pop culture museum, the history told entirely through toys. We're still best known for Powell's Books, hands down the best bookstore in the United States, which itself is sort of a museum for, and celebration of, literature. A few miles east of the Museum sits Movie Madness, a stunning video store that has, seemingly, every movie available on Region 1 DVD and Blu-Ray (and still carries hundreds, if not thousands, of VHS tapes), in seemingly every edition it's been released. It also boasts an impressive array of film artifacts, including the knife from Psycho and an array of costumes from films like The Godfather, Part II and Magnolia.

The Movie Marvel Museum is a wonderful new venture in this Portland culture built on labors of love. Bursting at the seams with memorabilia, rare artifacts (oh, how I wish projectionists still had to earn a certification card, such as the one they have on display), awesome posters (I can't tell you how many times Julie or I said "I want that for our wall!"), the Museum actively encourages enthusiasm for its subject matter. Getting to actually use these ages-old machines is amazing, and watching the short films was a blast.

If you ever find yourself in Portland, I cannot recommend enough that you check this place out. The pictures included here are the smallest sampling of what they have on display. It's not going to eat up an entire afternoon, much less a whole day (we spent a solid hour in there), but it's an intimate, personal, enthusiastic look at film history, and by extension pop culture history. So much of their collection encompasses a time when film defined pop culture, rather than simply emulating it.

The Movie Marvel Museum is located at 2728 NE Alberta in Portland. Admission is a mere $2.50 ($1.50 for kids!), and popcorn comes with admission (c'mon, how many other museums actively encourage you to eat in there). More information at

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