Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

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Puzzlin' Evidence

Holy cow, I'm posting twice in one day!

matchstyx's recent post about the movie Equinox reminds me: I recently (and very accidentally) found a movie I'd been trying to locate for a long time.

Years and years ago -- let's say when I was in middle school, or just the end of elementary school -- I found the tail end of a movie on TV, and it fascinated me. I sat through the credits hoping that the title of the movie would be shown at the end, but instead the movie ended with a message: "If you can imagine it, it exists somewhere."

And that was it.

Eventually, I forgot what even appealed to me about the movie, I just remembered that line from the end of the credits. This was before the Internet was widely available, so I didn't really have any way of tracking the movie down. Every once in a great while I would remember the quote, but there was no easy way to search for it, and search engines (once they did show up) weren't any help, either.

So then, a couple of months ago, I was perusing matt_william's DVDs, and saw the title True Stories. It was a pretty boring DVD spine; white with black, sans serif block lettering, and a nondescript title. Matt has a pretty big collection of movies I'd like to see, so I'm not sure what made me pick True Stories up, but I was intrigued when I did. The DVD case features a picture of David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads, reading a tabloid newspaper. The back of the DVD had a quote from Time Magazine comparing True Stores to A Hard Day's Night, and the kind of vague blurb that normally gets reserved for self-important independent films that are trying to make recoup their budget via home video, but it did mention that the movie was directed by and stars Byrne.

David Byrne is a strange guy with an unusual disregard for the accepted conventions of entertainment media. He's the sort of person who, in the middle of an interview, will casually announce that he is bored and wants to talk about something else. His band, Talking Heads emerged from the same late '70s/early '80s New England art school traditions that later spawned Klaus Nomi, They Might Be Giants, and Blondie, and sometimes it really shows.

Anyway, I borrowed and watched the movie, and I can't think of a single person to whom I can wholeheartedly recommend it, but I absolutely loved it. I'm happy to see that it has a fervent cult following, despite its limited theatrical release, and the fact that the critics generally dismissed it as being pretentious, plotless, and overly artistic. I dunno, I'm going to defer to Roger Ebert, a self-proclaimed fellow Talking Heads fan, who gave the movie 3 1/2 stars and began his review like this:
"There are more than 50 sets of twins in David Byrne's 'True Stories,' I learned by studying the press notes, and perhaps we should pause here for a moment to meditate upon that fact. A hundred twins are not going to make or break a movie, and the average audience is not going to notice more than a fraction of them.

"Consider the state of mind of the person who decided the film should have 50 sets of twins."
For the most part, the twins aren't noticeable. Attention is not called to them, except in a shot or two where a set of twins is shown sharing a table in a restaurant. What's the point of deliberately casting a bunch of twins if they're not going to be part of the plot? I don't know, either.

As True Stories opens, David Byrne, dressed in a suit and cowboy hat, addresses the camera directly. He relates the history of Texas, beginning with its geological formation, the dinosaurs, and the early humans, and takes us through the history of the state, the battles fought there, the arrival of industry, and, eventually, the advent of the microprocessor. He finishes by explaining that 1986 is the sesquicentennial of the state of Texas, and that we'll be spending the next 90 minutes in the small town of Virgil, which is celebrating 150 Years of Specialness (pronounced "special ness").

The plot of the film, such as it is, introduces a number of the town's residents and just sort of... follows them around. That's it. We meet Earl and Kay Culver, a wealthy couple who are happily married but haven't spoken directly to one another in ten years. We meet The Lying Woman, who, predictably, tells nothing but lies. The local minster preaches out of the Book of the Subgenius, and the richest woman in the world spends all day in bed watching TV just because she can. Oh, and there's Radio Head, who has a radio in his head (and yes, the band lifted their name from the name of this character). The only thing resembling a real story arc here is Louis Fyne (played by a young John Goodman), who is so desperate to marry somebody that he produces a commercial: "I'm six foot, three inches tall, and maintain a very consistent panda bear shape."

Life in the peaceful town of Virgil, which plays out like a collaboration between David Lynch and Norman Rockwell, revised by Garrison Keillor. In real life, Byrne has claimed that the people in True Stories are inspired by tabloid headlines. He interacts with all of these characters, but mostly he talks to the camera. If you've ever seen David Byrne speak, you'll know that he always seems to be on the same page as those around him, but he's not reading the same book. Consider this conversation from the movie:
Louis Fyne: How 'bout them line dancers?

David Byrne: They wouldn't fit in my house.
This is the same persona David Byrne projects in real life. Who thinks like that?

True Stories isn't weird and inaccessible, though. Mostly it's folky and comfortable, and it looks like a less garish version of Shock Treatment (though that may just be the fact that it was made in the '80s). Oh, and yes, this is a musical, but not the kind of musical where the exposition is carried out in song (after all, it's hard to have exposition when your story doesn't contain a story). Most of the musical numbers in this film are like rock videos inserted into the action, though not out of an appropriate context. The song Wild, Wild Life accompanies a lip sync contest, and Love For Sale is presented as a channel surfing montage. For the most part, these songs are sung by members of the cast rather than by David Byrne, and there are a couple of gems in the soundtrack, particularly John Goodman's performance of People Like Us.

There is, as I said, a vague narrative thread involving John Goodman's character, but True Stories probably falls into the category of experimental cinema. There are events in the film, and the events form a picture, but there's no real conflict and nothing much to get excited about. I guess that True Stories is a feature film that accomplishes the work of a pastoral poem or a landscape painting or a photograph. If it has a message it is something along the lines of "stuff is interesting," and it takes 90 minutes to deliver that message. Whether or not the 90 minutes is worthwhile sort of depends on whether you're interested in this particular stuff. Apparently I was, and as if to hammer the point home, just as the credits were finishing and I was about the eject the DVD, the message I'd been chasing for years appeared, worded very slightly differently than I'd remembered: "IF YOU CAN THINK OF IT, IT EXISTS SOMEWHERE."

crabmoon walked in about 20 minutes before the end and thought it was depressing, but she did miss out on meeting all of the characters, and most of the happy songs.

At any rate, the soundtrack is pretty excellent, but the album features all of the songs performed by the band. I wanted copies of the songs performed by the cast, so I had to rip them from the DVD myself. I imagine that matt_william will be more interested than anybody else, but hey, if you read this whole entry, you deserve something:

True Stories Soundtrack (DVD Rip)

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