From bowling alleys and pool halls to bars and beauty salons, Portland State’s campus is home to several recreational amenities. Among these, unknown to many who have passed it on its eponymous avenue, is Oregon’s sole student-run cinema. Operating as a non-profit since 1989, 5th Avenue Cinema offers an eclectic selection of films, new and old, and screens most of them in 35mm to boot.
Not only is the caliber of films consistently impressive, the quality of the relaxed atmosphere succeeds in inducing a sense of intimate camaraderie. Managed by a politely familiar staff, the theater itself boasts a cozy, quintessential setup: comfortable seats close but not too close to each other, complete with cushions and cup holders, lined up along the central alleyway of a charming auditorium. With free popcorn in the mix, free tickets with a PSU ID, and five dollar tickets for all others, 5th Avenue Cinema is the ideal venue for the hungry, movie-less student.
Just in the past few weeks the cinema has screened several cult films, including SLC Punk, the bizarre and hilarious story of Stevo (Matthew Lillard) and his life as an anarchist in Salt Lake City. Along with his friend, “Heroin” Bob (Michael Goorjian)—ironically nicknamed due to his irrational fear of needles and all drugs in particular (save for alcohol and cigarettes of course)—Stevo strolls through the city living the punk life, going from party to party and getting in fights with various subcultures of people—but mainly rednecks.
Stevo’s father, whom Stevo detests for selling out and becoming a Reagan Republican, eventually tries to persuade him to attend Harvard Law School, to which he had been accepted due to his impeccable grades. This goes against everything the anarchist life has taught him. Sadly, life does not always turn out the way we want it to, and we’re forced to accommodate just to survive. SLC Punk is a testament to that.
Loosely filmed with pleasantly casual dialogue, the film is entirely easygoing and entertaining. The story doesn’t travel far, but the idiosyncratic characters are the true focus. Narrated by Matthew Lillard, the progression of Stevo keeps you guessing while remaining undeniably hysterical.
Black Power Mixtape
The following weekend showcased the documentary film The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975. Directed by Swedish filmmaker Göran Olsson, the film chronicles the evolution of the civil rights movement from 1967 to 1975 through the eyes of a group of Swedish journalists traveling to America amid rumors of urban turmoil and rebellion. Chronologically detailing the varying hurdles the Black Power Movement faced, the film presents footage of prominent historical figures that were pivotal to the crusade, including Angela Davis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael.
Having been shot and edited by a foreign, third-party perspective gives the film a certain honest credibility. The film tells the stories behind the interviews with clarity and authenticity, emboldening the message in a way that effectively inspires and galvanizes the hearts of the viewers.
Night of the Living Dead
Later the same night, 5th Ave. screened the mother of all zombie films, Night of the Living Dead: a strenuous hour and a half of tensions flaring up as zombies close in around the only safe house within miles. With all too little help from his six companions, Ben (Duane Jones) takes it upon himself to board up the house where they’ve all taken refuge in an attempt to keep the zombies ambling outside at bay. Realizing they will have to escape at some point, the survivors do their best to prepare for a getaway, but are repeatedly impeded by various obstacles: mostly zombies. Directed by George A. Romero, Night of the Living Dead is renowned for sparking the zombie-movie frenzy, eliciting five subsequent films and inspiring two remakes (to say nothing of sprinting zombies, ice zombies, space zombies, and so on). The film does well to instill a sense of dread and unrest while playing on some of mankind’s greatest fears: zombies that know how to open car doors, use bricks to break windows, and wield garden tools. Luckily, this was a time before zombies had relentless stamina, so one could prepare for an hour before a zombie could lumber across the street.
Other films you’ve missed while reading this: Sally Potter’s Orlando and Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education…but it’s not too late to catch Craig Atkinson’s police documentary Do Not Resist, Andrew Jarecki’s All Good Things (starring Ryan Gosling as a young but already creepy Robert Durst analogue), Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads concert-movie masterpiece Stop Making Sense, and plenty more.
Situated right on the corner of 5th and Hall, the only student-run cinema in Oregon prides itself on its diverse array of acclaimed films, both vintage and modern. Nothing to do on a weekend night? Check out 5th Avenue Cinema. Dreading Friday traffic heading home to Beaverton or Vancouver? Wait it out at 5th Avenue Cinema. Disappointed there are no cult classics being shown in theaters anymore? 5th Avenue Cinema begs to differ. Need a relaxing, intimate, and cheap place for a date night? 5th Avenue Cinema’s got your back.
Visit 5thavecinema.com for upcoming showtimes and special events.