Writing in The New Yorker in 1977, Pauline Kael called the director Robert Benton “a sensitive craftsman infatuated with a painted whore.” The movie in question was Benton’s homage to the 1940s private-eye genre, The Late Show, an excellent film but one noticeably absent either of paint or whores. I wonder, then, what Kael would have made of Benton’s newest—the filmed-in-Portland Feast of Love. In the three-time Academy Award-winner’s vision of our city, Portlanders kiss passionately in public, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any of my rounds; Mississippi District baristas shoot a porn film to snag a little rent money (are NoPo tippers really that bad?) and the camera feasts lovingly upon each one of the four young actresses—Alexa Davalos, Selma Blair, Stana Katic, and Radha Mitchell—as they bare all in the service of movie art.
I caught up with Benton a few times over the summer, and for a man who’ll turn 75 on September 29 (the day after Feast of Love opens nationwide) he can be surprisingly tough to catch. Once in Benton’s company, however, his generosity becomes instantly apparent: He’s quick to praise the actors and cinematographers he’s worked with, often crediting his films’ innovations almost entirely to his collaborators. The critic Sheila Benson has said that, “His decades of writing and directing have created the most lasting and most meaningful body of work about the American experience.” In looking back at Places in the Heart, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Bonnie & Clyde, I wouldn’t dispute the claim.