Tonight at the Portland Art Museum there will be a special 35mm screening of “Drugstore Cowboy”, the second feature of Portland’s own acclaimed filmmaker Gus Van Sant. This event is part of the Northwest Film Center’s series “Essential Gus Van Sant (& His Influences)”—and in honor of this series, pdx|cept is featuring an image and comment that originally posted on November 13, 2013:
Twenty-five years ago, in the fall of 1988, director Gus Van Sant and crew shot Drugstore Cowboy on location in Portland. A rare film on the subject of drugs that neither romanticizes nor moralizes their use, it would go on to become both a highly-acclaimed critical success as well as an independent film classic.
Van Sant and Daniel Yost adapted the screenplay based on an unpublished autobiographical novel by James Fogle, which follows a ‘family’ of drug addicts who rob pharamcies throughout the Pacific Northwest to feed their habits. Matt Dillon plays Bob Hughes (in an outstanding performance that won him the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead in 1989), with Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, and a young Heather Graham rounding out the cast. The city of Portland also plays a lead role, as many distinct locations provide the background and set the tone. In the opening scenes, accompanying Matt Dillon’s poignant narration, we see a series of ‘home movie’ flashbacks, with glimpses of what was then the old industrial section of the city. This area—now the thriving and popular Pearl District—used to be known as the Northwest Industrial Triangle, a vast railyard with a viaduct going over it. The scene of the first drug store robbery takes place in the former Nob Hill Pharmacy on the corner of Glisan and NW 21st Avenue (which is now a sports bar). The Irving apartment complex (at 2127 NW Irving Street) is used prominently in the film, and has since been revitalized and turned into condominiums. The entrance gate displays a plaque noting the Drugstore Cowboy filming location and the building’s inclusion on The National Register of Historic Places. The overall look of the film was created by Production Designer David Brisbin, who based his color palette on the vast, green Pacific Northwest locations. The film features every imaginable shade green— from lime green vehicles and kelly green clothing to unusual period furniture in green shades ranging from forest to chartreuse.
Under the brilliant and innovative direction of Gus Van Sant, the production design of David Brisbin, and the beautifully desaturated cinematography of Robert Yeoman, Drugstore Cowboy captures on film scenes of old Portland that, for good or bad, no longer exist.