“Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision?”
—David Bowie, “Sound and Vision.” Low.
The rain had died down to a fine mist by the time we approached the theater, giving the famous neon sign an extra blinding sheen. I read the marquee as we passed below it: PORTLAND MUSIC VIDEO FESTIVAL. The grandeur of the Hollywood Theater never fails to make one feel as if they are venturing out in the early twentieth century, about to witness the miracle of technology that is cinema. My goosebumps had not yet faded as we stood in the concession line, intent on helping ourselves to some of the best popcorn in Portland and a hearty sampling of whatever they had on tap for the night.
We settled into our seats in the front corner of the theater. Between long sips of marionberry cider I counted the number of beard-and-black-beanie combos in the crowd, passing time until a young man stepped forward below the screen. He introduced himself as Dustin Morrow, a local filmmaker and author, as well as a professor in the Department of Theatre at Portland State University. He also introduced his co-founder of the event, Kat Audick, a Portland-based director and production designer. With a brief but nonetheless inspiring David Bowie quote, the fifth annual music video showcase began.
The selection of videos was unexpectedly diverse. Of the twenty-four music videos, only nine came from Portland — a fact that caught me off guard, as I had assumed that all the videos were produced by local filmmakers. What was even more shocking was that a whopping seven videos came from outside of the U.S., from places as obscure as Frederiksberg, Denmark. The level of talent required to be presented was evident; no video left its audience bored or disappointed. By the fifth video it was clear that this festival had no barrier of genre. The first video was a somber song set to suburban-based drama; the fifth was a gimmicky video for a rap song featuring Killer Mike.
Although the excitement of seeing one’s city represented on the silver screen warmed me, I’ll have to admit that I was drawn to many of the videos from California (I know, I know, take that as you will). My personal favorite from California was the music video for “Casual Party” by Band of Horses. The song itself criticizes the idea of the “casual party,” dwelling on the seemingly endless, meaningless conversations that take place and expressing one’s hope to leave every second. The concept of the music video compliments the song perfectly; we see the band members as guests at a house party with a variety of strange monsters. It illustrates perhaps the exact opposite of the sort of party the song discusses, celebrating odd friends and strange party activities, which is what makes it such an excellent pairing for the song.
Of the international videos, one stood out in particular: “Kubrick” by Stig of the Dump, a rapper from London. As a self-proclaimed Kubrick fanatic, this video made me swoon. As one can infer from the title, the song is a tribute to Stanley Kubrick. Surprisingly, the form of a rap does a level of justice to the cold, methodical style that Kubrick was known for. The lyrics are loaded with references for the die-hard fan, and the video pays homage to a wide selection of the director’s films. Each scene featured the rapper as a character from a Kubrick movie: from ‘Gomer Pyle’ in Full Metal Jacket to Jack Torrance in The Shining. Kubrick fan or not, the video had everyone in the audience laughing, if solely due to the incessant mugging of the artist for the camera.
At the end of the night, a few members of the crews for the videos stepped forward and answered some questions for the audience, although a majority of the artists and producers were not in attendance. Regardless, the night offered a rare opportunity to get exposed to a wide genre of music in the most immersive way possible. If you find yourself bored around this time next year, do yourself a favor and pop over to the Hollywood Theater for the sixth annual Portland Music Video Festival. The cider alone was worth it.