|From the Willamette Week website:
"Portland filmmaker made her directing debut in 1977 with Property, a docudrama about a neighborhood's battle against gentrification, followed in 1982 by Paydirt, an action film about three Oregon winemakers who resort to growing pot to pay the bills. Allen is now a free-lance writer living in Paris, where she recently discovered the long-forgotten grave site of early Portland feminist and John Reed protegée Louise Bryant."
I saw Property years ago at a New York film festival and have thought about it (off and on) ever since. As I recall, it's not really about a "neighborhood's battle against gentrification" but rather the efforts of a group of Portland bohemians to buy a block of Victorian houses where they've been living in semi-communal squalor. It's kind of an elegy for the '60s, depicting a moment when "hippie chicks" were turning to hooking rather "selling out," men were connecting with the drug underworld (and prison) for the same reason, and no one had any idea the Reagan era was right around the corner. It's not really a documentary, but it feels so real it might as well be. I found it incredibly wistful and romantic.
In retrospect, the movie was notable for launching the career of cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards, who has contributed his unmistakable handheld-verite style to a magnificent run of films, including My Own Private Idaho, To Die for, Kids, and Flirting with Disaster. It was also the first film of "little person" Cork Hubbert, who gave a standout performance and has since had a long and varied resumé (Where the Buffalo Roam, Legend, and countless TV roles). I don't think Property ever made it to videotape; there's probably a slim chance it'll be seen again. That's a shame: the film's time, place, and outsider point of view were unique, and in their own modest way, indispensable.
According to Blockbuster, Penny Allen is also a stage actor and has supporting roles in such films as Dog Day Afternoon, The Bad Lieutenant and a recent one I hadn't heard of; Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her. They also provide this synopsis for Property:
Tom here. I asked my friend Fred Gordon, a long-time Portland resident who runs a consulting group specializing in energy conservation program planning, to comment on this discussion thread. He sent the following, by email:
"Looked at the Penny Allen [thread]. Have to disqualify myself with respect to her films, which I read about in the Willie Week (classic uneven hippie arts paper evolving into uneven corporate left arts paper; staff evolves from groundbreaking thinkers to a bunch of sniveling would be hipsters with an occasional real thinker showing up every now and then. Still occasionally seminal)
"But I never saw them. However, I'm part of the puzzle and as a recovering urban planner and gentrifyer myself, the sociology of what happened was fascinating to me. Forgive me as I delve from art to sociopolitics, but that's what I breathe.
"Portland somehow came thru the '60s and '70s without physically destroying its inner city neighborhoods (mostly) when everyone else did. Part of this was good regional and city planning; they stopped a big, unneeded freeway that would have gone right thru my current living room and pushed light rail bigtime. Part of it, to be indelicate, is that most of the poor folk living near town were white, and the rich folk weren't as scared of them, so they didn't mow the place down. And part is that there wasn't enough money around here to really ruin things. The rich folk stayed in the West Hills and left a lot of the other neighborhoods alone. Until there were too many and they poured down the hills.....As Portland went from timber banking center to a more diversified services center and many times more money poured in. And because the regional planning laws focused more of the growth in the cities AND people discovered they LIKED the city.
"Of course urban renewal and highway construction did a fair piece of damage, for example, removing the old Jewish neighborhood, lots of the folks went to a single Vermont Hills neighborhood higher up on the West HIlls slopes. Where a good bagel is still to be had. By the way, one of my Jewish friends here has family roots that came over via Siberia!. Things do look different here.
"Anyhow, there was a lot of hippies landing here after the '60s. When I came over in '79, I was told that Portland was where the old hippies came to die. Certain inner city neighborhoods evolved into little old lady and hippie districts, poor but thriving in an odd way. Buckman, to the north of me, was full of leftists. Sunnyside, where I first landed, was less activist but otherwise the same. Northwest was more or less rescued by the gays, who over time restored the Victorians and put in nice little shops just down the hill from the moneyed West Hills. As more money poured into Portland starting in the mid-80's, Northwest went from being a dump to being a restored gay district to being a very individualized upscale shopping, restaurant and so on district. A few of the activist roots still show, but it's pretty pricey shops now, not a lot of corporate McMoney but it's starting to slowly seep in and take over from the local innovators.
"Well, it wasn't all gays, but they were the driving force. Out and active and effective both in neighborhood politics and in capitalizing the change.
"On the southern edge of Buckman (SouthEast, 2 miles away) is Hawthorne street. This was the center of the hippie/leftist nexus. !/2 mile North of People's Food Coop (NW still has Food Front).
"The turning piont for Hawthorne, in the '80s (after the film) was some old activists, clients of my bookkeeper roommate of the time, deciding to start a shop selling fresh pasta. We took bets. The longest is that they'd last 8 months. Fresh Pasta? Anyhow, Pastaworks (now a large, diverse, Italianophile grocery) created a commercial district that, for a variety of locational and urban design and values reasons, will never go as upscale as NW. I call it 'Berkeley without the Brains.' But it's become middle class hippie in a lot of ways. Fewer head shops, more fair trade coffee and feminist god icons. Less dogma, but $2 movies with microbeer in a restored 1920's Lawrence of Arabia movie house. Two wine shops, but the really snooty wine snoids go to the more posh shop in NW.
"Increasingly the poor folk are commuting in by bus from the outer city and burbs, while the yuppies like myself drive their land barges in two miles or less to work downtown.
"Maybe two points: (1) I wonder if Penny merged two neighborhoods for her movie. (2) Just showing where a lot of that energy wound up. And that it really was kinda like that.
"Naw, more. (3) There really was a fight to save a bunch of Portland, and to avoid gentrification, and it was always two edged. Keep the houses and the city from falling apart without throwing the denizens out. Some of the denizens were working folks, some didn't work, some stole for a living. My little neighborhood is a small historic district (around here 1905-1910 is historic. When I moved in there was a crack house a block down and a burnt out half of a duplex behind and beside my house where hobos lived. I was part of the conquering force I guess (altho i still drive a 78 Celica and mostly bike downtown). Now prices have tripled, the little grocery sells no fortified wine, but sells flowers. The hobos are still around, but have fewer broken down garages to hide in. We have a recovering hobo living in our basement and babysitting our kid, but that's a unique and very complex story.
"Another slice. Portland was a great arts and music town because rent was cheep, lots of movies and local cheap food, not the strongest arts core, but a very supportive local community, easy to get theater space, lots of people with at least some ideas if not the biggest or the best. The artists are being shoved from district to district as the gentrivirus hits various neighborhood (that's why you're in Jersey!). I wonder if a lot of the energy they put in, which made this such a desirable place, will be gone in a few years, because they'll have to move out to Oregon City (declining exurb) to survive. They just closed down the 24 hour Church of Elvis. Hmmmm.
"Portland is one of the most difficult cities in the country to evict anyone, which slows down gentrification only a little. I think this law happend in the '60s, but I'm not sure.
"Now, the same forces have finally hit North Portland, the district with the highest black population, and has thus become more visible and political. More prosperity in the 'sorta ghetto' but the black community is dispersing. Some selling out and moving up, others simply getting chucked out.
"A bunch of the stuff that's happening in the '90s and '00s in terms of downtown renewal started happening here decades earlier because of good planning, good housing stock, and a bunch of hippies who liked it. This probably started in a haze of ganja smoke and bad philolophy and evolved into a middle class movement, with victims and accomplishments both. It was probably more humane here because of the leftist politics and the modest money, but people still got tossed about.
"One of the coolest things in Portland is REACH, a nonprofit group that has built or rehapped a ton of low income housing, acting as a modest balancing force against gentrification. They have picked the housing and neighborhoods that are not 'downgraded blue chip,' where working class communities can survive. And they've helped keep people in their homes, and given others a shot at owning homes.
"So Penny's first movie, sounds like, centers on the core of a bunch of big changes that happened early and a little different here, and were some of the roots of the big national downtown revival/gentrification movement. But I didn't see the movie, so this may be all wrong."
Property is available as a DVD on Penny Allen's website (watch the clip!).