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Mike Clark’s Movie Madness Video & More

 

The Theater: Movie Madness

4320 SE Belmont

Now Playing: Well… sort of everything and sort of nothing. See, this isn’t actually a theater. It’s a video rental store. Still, there’s absolutely no way I’d run the tour without a stop here, because this place ain’t no Blockbuster. To a movie-lover, this place should be considered sacred ground.

“If it exists in print, we can find it!” That is the solemn vow that Movie Madness makes to its customers and they do a damn good job of keeping it.

Here, you’ll find more movies than you could ever hope or want to see within your lifetime. New movies, old movies, classic movies, schlocky movies, TV shows, big-budget movies, foreign movies, indie movies, anime movies, and movies so rare and obscure that even Netflix won’t recognize them. They’ve got VHS tapes, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs — hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had some Laserdiscs and Betamax tapes in the back.

Some shelves are arranged by actor. Some are arranged by director. Some are arranged by country. An entire wall — dedicated to those films that won the Oscar for Best Picture — is arranged chronologically. Other shelves are sorted into genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres that you never knew existed.

Seriously.

And yes, they even have a room set aside for XXX titles.

More About the Place: This shrine of cinema is entirely the work of Mike Clark, a Portland native who spent years working as a film editor and a post-production supervisor under MGM and Warner Bros. When he came back home to open a video store, he only had 800 square feet, two thousand titles, and no employees but himself. That was in April of 1991.

By the Fall of 2007, the store had expanded to 6,000 square feet of floor space and over 70,000 titles. To this day, Clark still independently owns and operates this store, though he now has several employees (every one a proven film buff) to help him along. Local publications — such as the Willamette Week and the Portland Monthly — have repeatedly commended Movie Madness, proclaiming it to be the best video rental store in the city. It’s even gained recognition from Hollywood, voted as the world’s best independent video store by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and given a Bronze Halo Award by the Southern California Motion Picture Council.

Ah, but Movie Madness has two other claims to fame. First are the wonderful murals that decorate the place, both inside and outside. These paintings were done by Rebecca Wolfe, a local freelance artist/illustrator and a classically trained painter.

How many can you name?

Secondly and far more importantly, Movie Madness isn’t just a movie rental store. It’s also a museum!

This is just a small sampling of the 100+ pieces in Mike Clark’s collection. There’s also a bank note from the opening heist in Serenity, an animatronic dinosaur head from Jurassic Park, an entire wall of costumes from West Side Story, a fu dog from Citizen Kane‘s Xanadu, the dummy head that John Travolta accidentally shot in Pulp Fiction, Anthony Perkins’ prop knife from Psycho, the list goes on and on.

These pieces were all either donated to Movie Madness or won from various auctions. Fuck if I know where all the movies came from. In any case, there is so much film history concentrated in this building that I’m amazed movie fans don’t make international pilgrimages here on a regular basis.

Also in the Area: In recent years, Portland has become famous for its food carts. There are so many carts in this city, offering all manner of exotic foods and quick meals, that there is no excuse for not finding a place to eat nearby, wherever you may be in Portland. To whit, take a look at what’s sitting just next door to Movie Madness.

This is “Good Food Here,” a parking lot that’s leased out to food cart vendors, complete with a covered area for customers to sit and eat. This is only one of many such “pods” spread throughout the city, providing semi-permanent homes for vendors to sell and for customers to eat. On the one hand, this set-up is very good for reliability, as customers know they can always come here for a quick meal. On the other hand, given the huge difference in health regulations between restaurants and food carts, the growing trend of cart vendors putting down roots and expanding their establishments with solid structures (as seen above) has led to an increasing amount of controversy as to when they stop becoming carts and start becoming restaurants.

Moving right along, Movie Madness has the good fortune to be on Belmont Street. Though not nearly as large or varied as Hawthorne, NE 23rd or Mississippi Ave, Belmont is still known as one of Portland’s finer local bastions of oddity. For example, just go half a mile west of Movie Madness and you’ll find…

Though I can’t find an exact date for the Avalon Theater’s construction, it’s said to be the oldest theater currently standing in Oregon. It was purchased in 1964 by John McKee, a theater entrepreneur who later made the Avalon the state’s first theater with more than one screen. McKee would later be the founder of Wunderland, a nickel arcade franchise designed to be an adjunct to his theater business. Today, the Avalon is still open, playing second-run mainstream movies for rock-bottom admission prices.

Just west of the Avalon, you’ll find a motley collection of stores, bars and coffee shops. Stumptown Coffee, one of Portland’s most beloved and (kinda) independent local businesses, has a location here. There’s also Saint Cupcake, a wonderful little cupcake bakery on 17th.

But perhaps the strangest building on Belmont (and that’s saying a lot) is Theater Theatre. It’s a complex that houses a tea store, a wellness clinic, a womens’ spirituality organization, and a lawyer, in addition to two distinct stages shared between three separate theatre companies. All it needs is a coffee shop, and it’d be an entire season of “Portlandia” under one roof!

First among the theatre companies is Profile Theatre, one of only two companies in the entire nation that showcases a single playwright per season. They play on Theatre Noir, the 95-seat stage within the building. The other stage is the aptly-named Arena Theatre, shared by the non-profit Theatre Vertigo company and the feminist Integrity Productions company.

Oh, and there’s a second food cart pod on Belmont. Like I said, we’ve got a lot of ’em.

Personal Memories: I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first visit to Movie Madness. It was during the Summer of 2009 and my sister told me about this place I just had to see (how she learned about it, I don’t recall). After stepping inside — and my sister will surely vouch for me on this — I was quickly reduced to a blubbering, catatonic mess. This place mentally and emotionally broke me. I fancied myself a movie nerd before, but being faced with so many movies that I’d never seen or even heard of was an experience as humbling as it was (literally) mind-blowing.

I couldn’t bring myself to go anywhere near that place again for a solid year. On one level, I knew I’d be overwhelmed by the selection as with last time if I didn’t go back with a a clear plan of what I was going to rent. On another level — and I’m more than a little ashamed to admit this — I simply didn’t think I was worthy to set foot in that place again. But then, for my birthday last year, my parents gave me a white envelope. I had to read its contents at least five times before I could finally utter “Oh, you did not.”

It was a $75 gift certificate for Movie Madness. To put that in perspective, a regular movie rental (read: not a new release) costs $2.50.

Ever since, I’ve been going to Movie Madness like other people might go to church. I even say a prayer before I go in, begging whatever gods may be listening to keep this store open and prosperous so that I may continue to enjoy its services. I’ll grant that it may sound stupid, but everyone knows that movie rental stores and locally-owned businesses have been on perilously thin ice nowadays.

As for the Godfather himself, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mike Clark on two separate occasions: Once when he was working behind the counter with his employees and once at the Stripes screening (it took place at Cinema 21, but it was organized by Movie Madness). On both encounters, I found him to be very kind, very jovial, and surprisingly energetic for his age. He was only too happy to trade a few words with his customers and make sure that he was being a good host. Based on everything I’ve heard and seen, Clark is clearly devoted in mind, in body, and in soul to this store. Everything he has, he puts into Movie Madness. In short, he’s the best and most fanatical kind of film geek there is, and I’ve nothing to say against him.

Those who come through or live in Portland without coming here have no idea what they’re missing. This is an extraordinary place and no amount of written description can substitute for actually being in the presence of so many movies and memorabilia.

Film lovers of the world, I urge you: Come to Portland and see for yourself what we have to offer.

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