Property, Penny Allen, 100 mins, digital projection, 1978; Introduced by Kelly Reichardt
“What they’ve done to the Rose City is despicable.” Exasperated, a character in Penny Allen’s Property laments the encroaching gentrification of the region and adds, sighing, “Portland isn’t the same as it used to be.”
Though the lines were spoken nearly 40 years ago, the sentiment feels grimly reminiscent of a contemporary situation. Allen’s movie follows a community group as they try to purchase their block, a bohemian enclave and one of the city’s few historically African-American neighborhoods, when it conspicuously goes up for sale and the future of their living arrangements is thrown into uncertainty. Allen follows these unlikely investors—a poet, a thrift-store flipper, an ex-con, an out-of-work comedian, and a part-time prostitute—as they attempt to get out from under the thumb of their landlord while also struggling with the contradictions that come with such autonomy (“Property is theft anyway,” one member remarks in an early meeting).
Though it’s a fictional narrative, the film often possesses the feel of a documentary, in part because it replays the tribulations of a similar, real-life landgrab Allen had been involved with just two years prior. The exhaustion of consensus building among the like-minded and the frustrations of navigating the bureaucracies of banks and local government is captured with startling accuracy by a restless, searching camera; it’s as though we’re living in real time with these people. Yet the film is also full of raunchy wit and satirical bite. Gus Van Sant, who recorded sound on Property, referred to the writer Walt Curtis, one of the film’s leads, as “a kind of whacked-out Northwest version of Woody Allen.”
Like a Frederick Wiseman picture, Property locates human drama in the tangles of administration, and like Robert Kramer’s Milestones, it’s an affecting portrait of hippie hangover and political burnout, but Allen’s debut resists easy categorization. It’s a freewheeling romp about the violence of economic relations, a genre for our time though it arose in another. The original movie poster read “Portland 1977…Was the price too high?” New York 2014…How do we keep living here, and at what cost?
Tuesday, Nov 11, 7:30pm
Light Industry, facebook event
155 Freeman St, Greenpoint
Tickets – $7, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.