Last week in this space, readers learned about the awesome Portland tradition where a local group puts together a series of free outdoor screenings of both new and classic films, just because it’s the right thing to do for a city full of movie-hungry people. Well, I’m going to do the same thing again.
No, that doesn’t indicate some sort of scheduling mishap or fireable laziness, nor do I have that “Memento” disorder where I can’t remember local movie-related columns I wrote a week ago. It’s just that, in addition to the always wonderful Portland Summer Films in Congress Square Park, there’s a second, all-free, all-outstanding Portland summer movie series in town.
Starting Wednesday, June 13, Space’s 2018 Summer Rooftop Film Series at Bayside Bowl kicks off once again for a season’s worth of carefully-curated-for-your-enjoyment cinematic fun. Starting out with John Cameron Mitchell’s enduringly glorious 2001 cult musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” the series, selected as ever by Space Gallery and PMA Films movie maven Jon Courtney, represents a masterful mix of nostalgic favorites, recent indie gems, the occasional crowd-pleasing superhero blockbuster and some timely revivals. And if all that sounds very similar to Portland Summer Films’ mission statement, well, you’re not wrong, although there are a few key differences. Neither is better, you understand – great free movies in the cooling Maine evening? Nothing wrong with that. But let’s compare.
Portland Summer Films’ offerings screen on Sundays at dusk, while you can get your second weekly dose of outdoor movie fun at Bayside every Wednesday through the end of August – also at dusk.
Being held in a public space, Portland Summer Films has to stay relatively family-friendly. PG-13 is as risqué as it gets (like this week’s movie, Woody Allen’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery”), while the Bayside series – showing as it does at the bowling alley/bar’s outdoor deck – is free to get a little more frisky. For example, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” about a transgender punk rock singer from Germany trying to find love and success in America, is a rollicking, rocking musical triumph, featuring a heroine (played by creator John Cameron Mitchell) as unapologetically brash and sexy as the movie itself.
While both the movies at Congress Square and Bayside attract some of Portland’s finest food vendors to the nighttime entertainment (Congress Square’s curator Michael Henderson recommends the roving s’mores wagon, while Bayside boasts a stellar taco truck), Bayside – again, taking place at a bar – offers of-age moviegoers the opportunity for an adult beverage to go with the experience.
Since both Congress Square and Bayside have limited (although generous) seating capacities, everyone’s encouraged to get to the screenings well before dark, and wear both layers and bug spray in deference to the fact that we live in Maine, and nature is a harsh and fickle mistress around here.
As to the Summer Rooftop Film Series’ eclectic selection of films this season, Space’s Courtney confesses that his picks stem from a complex formula of movies that pair well with the season (like July 25’s classic surfing documentary “Endless Summer”), boisterously beloved comedies (July 18’s “Girls Trip,” Aug. 1’s “Shaun of the Dead”), the occasional shriek-inducing horror fun (2018’s version of Stephen King’s “It” on Aug. 8), and stuff that Courtney, in his cinematic wisdom, just really, really likes. In that latter category, look to sink your teeth into acclaimed recent indie fare like “Lady Bird” (June 20) and the stunningly good, micro-budgeted “The Florida Project” on Aug. 15. Says Courtney of that film, starring a never-better Willem Dafoe as the pragmatic but warm manager of a low-rent Florida motel, “I just love that film. It’s a little heavier than the usual summer movie, but I wanted it anyway.”
More on that “crowd-pleasing” side, Courtney is also bringing back perennial Rooftop favorite, Jonathan Demme’s superlative Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense” on July 11. Says Courtney, “It’s just a perfect summer film – I’ll keep booking it until people get tired of it.”
Oh, and one final similarity between the two free summer movie series is the fact that they’re both busting out a screening of the mold-breaking Marvel superhero flick “Black Panther” late in their runs. Portland Summer Films concludes its season with the Chadwick Boseman-starring action spectacular on Aug. 26, while Bayside is playing it on Aug. 22. The chance to see “Black Panther” twice in one week shouldn’t be a problem for fans – especially since, as mentioned, both of these lovingly presented Portland movie institutions are free all summer long.
Coming to local screens
Sunday: “195 Lewis.” This New York-set dramedy series follows a group of black, queer, poly women as they navigate relationships and life in the big city. With an appearance by “195 Lewis” co-creator Yaani Supreme.
Friday-Sunday: “RBG.” PMA has brought back this documentary about civil rights icon and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for a return engagement. Man, it’s almost like people are hungry for stories about those who respect the rule of law and human dignity or something.