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Movie museum projects a new image in neighborhood

Curators look beyond clichés for NE Alberta Street attraction
by: COURTESY OF THE MOVIE MARVEL MUSEUM, Joe Boczki Jr. and Mandy Lacher curate the new Movie Marvel Museum in Portland’s Alberta district, dedicated to the history of film projection from the 1920s to the present.

Joe Boczki Jr. and Mandy Lacher are not typical museum curators.

Then again, their Movie Marvel Museum is not a typical museum.

Instead of centuries-old paintings and sculptures on flat white walls, photographs and relics detailing the history and evolution of film projection are carefully placed along self-painted black facades in what used to be a run-down storage shack in the 2700 block of Northeast Alberta Street.

'We didn't want this to be a cliché museum,' Lacher says. 'With just Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. We wanted to keep it somewhat recognizable, but really more true, behind-the-scenes.'

Adding to that uniqueness, most of the pieces are not in glass enclosures; most are out in the open, encouraging visitors to explore and learn about the history of film projection.

'We want people to feel relaxed in here. We're pretty trusting,' Lacher says.

The 'MMM' is a diamond in the rough in the still-developing Alberta arts district.

'We wanted to bring something different to this street,' Lacher explains. 'And I think we've done that.'

With old film relics like basic foot-driven projectors, signed photos from film's earliest stars and notes about every decade of the industry, the married couple want to relay that there's more than just movie posters here.

'The memorabilia here is designed to show where we've come from and how much of it has stayed the same,' Lacher says.

Walking into the MMM, Boczki and Lacher are eager to show and explain the use of every projector and the meaning of every photograph on the wall.

Often times, it's the visitors that do much of the talking.

'Once someone walks in and takes a look, we'll hear all sorts of stories from their past. We'll end up talking more about their connection to the film than the projection equipment itself,' Lacher says.

Labors of love

Opened on March 30, the museum chronicles more than just visitors' stories. A moderately priced $3.50 self-paced walkthrough sensibly starts in the 1920s and works its way up to the present.

The highlight of the Movie Marvel Museum is an old-style projection setup that shows some of the earliest films created with authentic seats from an old theater where visitors can sit and enjoy early motion pictures.

Both grew up in Portland, with Boczki spending 15 years in the film projection industry, including a year in Los Angeles, as a technician. Lacher's father, Gary, was a noted Portland TV news photographer and lifelong film collector, historian and author.

The curators also added a local flare to keep the museum interesting and relevant.

Old advertisements from the former Fox Theatre in Portland and Cinerama (which were in Portland and Seattle) dot parts of their exhibits. Special pieces include original photos of the former Music Box Theatre that was in downtown. Gems such as these showcase what Portland used to look like - something many current Portlanders have little or no idea about.

'There's such a love and appreciation for film here, it makes sense to have a museum like this in a city with such a storied history in film,' Lacher says.

Although it's obvious that these self-proclaimed 'film geeks' put their heart and soul into designing an educational, yet entertaining Mecca of film projection knowledge, it's also clear that much of the rest of the city has not caught on yet.

'We had no idea what to expect coming into this, but the first few weeks were a little slow,' she says.

Pace has picked up, but many have still not discovered the marvels that the MMM has to offer. The couple did everything themselves, from putting up new walls, to creating life-size replicas of famous movie icons like 'The Invisible Man' and 'C3PO' from 'Star Wars.'

Although both claim to be part of a community of local 'cinema nerds,' their collection is anything but nerdy. The deep, chronological progression and interesting artifacts from some very popular films illustrate that these are two 'film geeks' who are as knowledgeable as they are passionate.

'It's truly been a labor of love,' Lacher says.