I want to be Jon Raymond

January 4, 2009

Jon Raymond

Jon Raymond

I just opened the HOW WE LIVE section of Oregon’s daily newspaper The Oregonian (known to many of us as the “Boregonian”) to find a feature story written by journalist Jeff Baker about a Portland writer named Jon Raymond who, according to Baker, “With the help of his friends. . .sees the subtlety and emotional compression of his work realized in Oregon films.”

I’d be hard pressed to figure out exactly what that sentence is trying to say about Raymond’s work or about the state of Oregon, but I guess what really matters is he made a film set in Portland with his friends who just happen to include Todd Haynes: award-winning film director of Poison, The Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven and I’m Not There; Kelly Reichardt: director, screenwriter and winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for her debut film River of Grass; and Michelle Williams: actress in the teen soap Dawson’s Creek who went on to costar and fall in love with Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain; Williams won a Golden Globe plus an Oscar nomination for her portrait of a cowboy’s wife confronting the fact that her husband is gay.

When you throw all these personalities into a pot of Portland soup and stir, out pops a new film called Wendy and Lucy based on Raymond’s story Train Choir, from his short story collection Livability. The film is directed by Reichardt and stars Williams as Wendy alongside Reichardt’s dog Lucy, who plays herself.

According to the International Movie Database (IMDB) the film examines:

wendy-lucy1“A woman’s life, derailed en route to a potentially lucrative summer job. When her car breaks down, and her dog is taken to the pound, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she is led through a series of increasingly dire economic decisions.”

It is indie, it is hip, it sounds rather depressing (which is also hip) and takes place in and around the not-so-beautiful parts of Portland like the grimy, gray Walgreen’s Drugstore on North Lombard where much of the action takes place.

Lombard is a street that belongs in a city like Cleveland or Detroit, not the green, urban, cycling, hiking capital of the Pacific Northwest. Lombard is a four-lane major bus line that is a mix of gas stations, pawn shops, supermarkets, The Salvation Army Thrift Store, Master Muffler & Brakes plus homey little storefronts like The Orleans Candle Shop and Pastry Cat run by shopkeepers determined to personalize a street known for fast food joints and used car lots.

I haven’t seen the film, and although I love Williams as an actress, I’ll probably avoid it. Not because it isn’t good, it’s probably great, but because the thought of watching one hour and 20 minutes worth of Walgreens on Lombard with a dark-haired Williams wearing a blunt choppy haircut and a dog on the way to animal control seems like a prescription for Prozac. One reviewer happily noted that Williams only cracked a smile three times during the entire film. Frankly, I think I’d rather stay home and watch America’s Next Top Model as there is never any chance that the cheesy uber-model Tyra Bank’s ratings winner “Who Will Be America’s Next Top Model?” will ever, even remotely resemble my own life.

If I want to see Wendy and Lucy all I have to do is walk down Lombard to Walgreens with my pit-mix Ramona and stand outside the sliding doors and watch people come in and come out, clutching white plastic Walgreens’ bags as they face the depressing strip mall of a street.

I suppose I should find it moving that something ugly could be made beautiful through the proper viewfinder. That Raymond and his friends have discovered a way to illustrate the humanity in a big box store and a girl with three smiles. I wish I still had the desire to find that secret drop of truth buried in difficulty. Instead I prefer to take a nap or read a murder mystery, anything to block out the ordinariness of every day life.

Maybe I’ll be inspired again, but for now I’m just glad that someone like Jon Raymond is out there finding and uncovering those tiny flashes of grace that turn even the most mundane of moments into something divine.

Jon lives right down the block from me near Lombard Street. He is part of the NoPo ‘hood and I stare at his picture in The Oregonian trying to remember if I’ve ever seen him before. In the photo he is dressed in a forest green parka, hands in the pockets of his blue jeans leaning up against the trunk of a large tree; his short brown hair floats feather-like around his pale face which has neither a smile nor a frown. He just looks. . .for lack of a better word. . .nice. The kind of guy you’d find at Walgreens who would let you go first in line if you had less stuff then he did.

This is the guy, who with a small but very select group of friends, made a movie from one of his stories and now has his very own Wikipedia page. He is the guy that is nice and comfortable enough with himself that he doesn’t have to plaster on a giant smile for the camera. He is the kind of guy I want to be.

He is the guy who, with yet another group of cool artsy friends, was part of a plazm1 collective of Portland designers and writers who created and contributed to Plazm, a magazine documenting creative culture by creative people. As part of his work on Plazm, Raymond found himself running around Bagby Hot Springs with world-famous filmmaker Todd Haynes who was dressed in a Bigfoot suit for a spread in the magazine.

Haynes hired Raymond to be his assistant on Far From Heaven and in turn Haynes became a fan of Raymond’s writing which led to an introduction to Reichardt and Williams from which a creative collaboration was born.

It seems, according to Oregonian journalist Jeff Baker, that Raymond’s work and life are based on the theme of friendship. Baker writes that Raymond “mentions it repeatedly, praising his friends for their achievements and saying how lucky he is to know them. They return the favor. Haynes calls him a ‘close personal friend and creative touchstone’ and Reichardt said that she ‘can’t imagine making a film without Jon.'”

I stare at Raymond’s picture again and think of all the hours and days over all the years that I’ve wished for a creative partner, an artistic community, a mentor, a moment when everyone and everything comes together at the same time to blossom into a completed screenplay, a finished documentary, a self-published magazine or an award-winning book of essays.

I look at his face, mild and well-mannered in b&w newsprint and wonder how he has found these wonderful friends, these people who have helped him, as he has helped them, to take an idea from conception to birth and watch it grow up to a height where other people can share in his creations, comment on his books, watch his films and archive a copy of Plazm complete with Todd Haynes as Bigfoot, a collector’s item to be sure.

Lana Turner at the Lunch Counter

Lana Turner at Lunch Counter

Is it luck? Hard work? Talent? Or just being at the right place at the right time? Like the story of Lana Turner being discovered at the lunch counter at Schwab’s Pharmacy in Los Angeles. What made her go out of the house that day at that exact time to that exact lunch counter? If she’d overslept and stayed at home would another starlet have been discovered instead or would the agent have found her the next day or the next at a dry cleaners on Sunset Boulevard or working as a hat check girl at the Brown Derby?

I’ve spent my life collecting experiences and degrees in theater, drawing, printmaking, photography, design, filmmaking, television and writing. And although I have loved the first read-throughs, the messy black inks, the collection of lenses, the scripts and finally the carefully filed stories to be sent out upon request, I still have yet to be at the right place at that right time or, perhaps, to notice it when I am there.

When I grow up I want to be Jon Raymond. I want to work with people who turn their ideas into celluloid, print and paper and who want to help me do the same. I want to meet Michelle Williams, play Bigfoot with Todd Haynes and have Kelly Reichardt vow to never make a film without me.

In the meantime, I’ll be hanging at Walgreens with Ramona holding up a cardboard sign that says “Will Work For Jon Raymond,” hoping to catch a glimpse of Jon and his friends. And maybe, just maybe he’ll let me be hang with him on the sidewalk or at least let me go first in line, because I think that Jon Raymond is just that kind of guy.


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