This week our intrepid Archivist takes us into the heart and soul of Portland indie filmmaking with a recent classic, made on a proverbial shoestring, from prolific filmmaker Jon Garcia. If you don’t know Jon’s work, it’s worth starting with this one and then taking in his “The Falls” trilogy – making a day/night of it (see links below).
And if that’s not enough, Raider/Contributor Phil Oppenheim leaves us with a timeless classic quote from Abbey Road (which immediately precedes “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say…”). But don’t despair…oh wait, despair. But despair beautifully. And make sure you’re the one that gets to keep The Bends on vinyl. It’s worth it.
Sometimes love, as the poet John Mellencamp sagely observed, don’t go like it should. And while many happy couples blissfully celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers and chocolate (or so I’ve heard), the remainder of us, the cynics and skeptics who haunt dark movie theaters in search of tales of heartbreak to confirm our most fatalistic suspicions, know that love may hurt real good, but hurt it does. This month, we’ll leave it to the happier, deluded types to merrily watch greeting-card smiley-face movies through their rose-colored TV screens; the movies we’ll be watching during February’s Archive Raids will be for the Valentine’s humbugs.
Writer-director Jon Garcia sets up a narrative that promises a rekindled love found on the way to a small-scale Western migration. In Tandem Hearts, a twenty-something slacker couple from Boise decides to follow Portlandia’s siren song and head towards the Willamette Valley in search of adventure (they’re answering the call of the statue, not the TV series; Fred and Carrie put the city on American Culture Radar a year after Tandem Hearts wrapped in 2010). After an ominously mopey and romance-less night in a Pendleton, Oregon motel room, Paul and Ramona travel on I-84 side-by-side but are clearly, inexorably driving each other apart. Wandering eyes, infidelity, undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder, and generational malaise set in, and the city soon proves why it’s never considered branding itself as “Portland is for Lovers.”
Unlike his slack male protagonist, Garcia is ambitious; while his film had a used-Subaru budget ($20,000 total, including equipment costs), Garcia’s sharp eyes (and ears) for character and detail allow his film to punch far above its weight. Helping Garcia’s vision over-deliver its budget, Singer-songwriter Quinn Allan perfectly captures the self-absorbed, passive-aggressive singer-songwriter Paul; Heather Harlan’s Ramona effectively reflects her loss of patience in her face and body language long before she ditches Paul in words and unfaithful deed.
Two of Garcia’s most cost-effective devices undergird the structure for the entire film. First, Paul marks each chapter in his unraveling relationship with a shot of his hand scrawling individual cuts on a CD-R with a Sharpie (“Track 5 – The Break Up,” for example), signaling the character’s quaint retro-ness in making mix-CDs as well as guiding us to an inevitable finale. Second, Paul drives the titular tandem bike throughout the film; Ramona doesn’t like riding in the back, so he’s stuck pedaling around town solo, a rolling (if overly twee) metaphor for his solitary existence. At one point Paul explains that a tandem’s lead rider is known as The Captain and the second as The Stoker; after noting that the Stoker is usually a woman, he adds—without self-awareness— that “yeah, it’s a bit patriarchal.” And the dude wonders why his girlfriend dumps him.
Garcia also makes the most of his modest Portland environs. Local Eastside haunts dot the action of the film, setting the decaying relationship against the rapidly changing and gentrifying Hawthorne neighborhood; often, the places the characters hang out in have since either moved (The Hawthorne Strip joint, now moved down Powell Ave.) or moved on (Muddy Waters Coffee on Belmont). Portland’s shaggy-hip charm stands in for the characters’ challenges in growing into post-collegiate adulthood. As they’re on the cusp of breaking up, Ramona rants her dissatisfaction: “I’m a waitress and I’m almost 30—we were doing this in Boise, and this is worse. Do you know how many fucking 40-year-olds I see serving coffee? … I like Portland. I just don’t like to be like those people.” The couple’s tandem hearts are torn asunder by the same conflicting aspirations that are continue to challenge Portland today.
Everyone in Portland is in a band, as we hear several characters explain in the film; Garcia’s soundtrack might not corroborate the claim, but it does blanket viewers in a rich collection of local music. From The Dimes’s deceptively sweet-sounding opening track, “Paul Kern Can’t Sleep”(about the real-life man who lost the ability to sleep after getting shot in the head), to Paul’s bitter lament about his breakup with Ramona (sample lyric: “You’re a cold-hearted bitch/And you shat upon my life”), Tandem Hearts captures the rock and indie-pop spirit of the city circa the early 2010s, with wall-to-wall songs by Red Fang, We’re From Japan, Jared Mees, and Garcia himself. When Ramona finally packs up her stuff and leaves Paul, he confronts her over a box of their shared LPs, fighting her as much over a vinyl copy of Radiohead’s The Bends as her sleeping with a co-worker. Music beats at the heart of Tandem Hearts: for the broken hearts of its characters, though, its beats are irrevocably out of sync.
Watch: You can see some cut scenes and teasers at Jon Garcia’s website for the film. Watching the actual movie might be a little tricky; I rented my copy from Movie Madness’s Local Filmmakers section.
Watch: Garcia is a Texas transplant who has, after the release of Tandem Hearts, firmly established himself as a indie-cult favorite with a trilogy of films that oppose love and faith, The Falls.
Visit: There are other things to do in Pendleton besides break up (nb: the motel sequence was actually shot at a Motel 6 in SE Portland anyway). Check out the Pendleton Center for the Arts instead; they have an exhibition dedicated to Boyd Norton’s beautiful photography of Hell’s Canyon right now, and in March they’ll have a show of prints by the world-famous artist Louise Bourgeois. And when you stop by Pendleton Mills, be sure to pick me up a blanket or a sharp cardigan …
- Written by Phil Oppenheim