“I deal with stuff that’s too dumb for people to have bothered to formulate opinions on,” David Byrne says in his 1986 film True Stories.
Byrne, front man for the band Talking Heads at the time, directed and starred in the film, which is a quirky mockumentary that purports to portray everyday life in the mythical mid-American town of Virgil, Texas.
On Dec. 9, the Yukon Film Society is presenting True Stories at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse.
Following hard on the heels of Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, and released a year before Byrne won an Oscar for his soundtrack to The Last Emperor, he appears in True Stories as an affable narrator, driving through the flat Texas landscape in a red convertible, dressed in a snappy tailor-made cowpoke outfit, complete with string tie and dapper Stetson.
It’s interesting to note that, apart from the film’s mostly whacked-out
production numbers, Byrne is the only one to be thus appareled among this town full of Texans. These are just ordinary folk, after all.
Or are they?
Byrne introduces us to the weirdest combination of characters among Virgil’s denizens — prosaic on the outside, but mostly twisted at their core — which are slightly less sinister than the townsfolk of Blue Velvet, also released in 1986. This time they’re played to comic effect, but they’re still pretty weird.
Byrne claims to have drawn from the pages of American tabloid newspapers like The National Enquirer as inspiration for his characters, so it’s debatable whether the sobriquet of “true stories” can really be applied.
The film features the characters gathered in various malls, bars and on the flavourless streets of Virgil, on the eve of the 150th anniversary of Texas. The town’s contribution to the festivities is its Celebration of Specialness.
And special they are.
They’re mostly given labels, rather than names. There’s the one identified in the credits as The Lying Woman, for instance. Perky and bubbly, she’ll regale listeners with tales delivered in hushed tones, of how she was the real reason JFK was assassinated, how she wrote Michael Jackson’s hit “Billy Jean,” and her clandestine relationships with both Elvis and “the real Rambo.”
She’s not the only one into conspiracy theories.
There’s The Preacher, an upright gentleman who showers his congregation with rantings about the Council on Foreign Relations, the media conspiracy, and the Mark of the Beast, all with the musical backing of a black gospel choir.
Keep in mind this is 1986, long before Sarah Palin, long before George W. Bush and long before the Tea Party. Byrne deserves credit for a bit of prescience.
Throw in a fashion show featuring the world’s ugliest and most outlandish clothing, a bizarre talent show, and a parade down the town’s main street featuring a brigade of children in strollers pushed by prim moms, another contingent pushing lawnmowers, and a bevy of fez-bedecked Shriners driving miniature red Mustangs, and you begin to get the picture.
Anyone looking for a coherent plot line will be disappointed.
The nearest thing to character development comes in the form of Louis Fyne, played by a slightly trimmer John Goodman. He’s a big bear of a bachelor who wants nothing more than to enter into “the holy state of matrimony,” and advertises incessantly for a wife, on TV and with lawn signs.
An off-the-wall but endearingly satiric study in the foibles of middle-class and lumpen America, True Stories plays at the Old Fire Hall at 8 p.m., Monday Dec. 9, as part of the Yukon Film Society’s monthly Available Light Cinema series.
Note the change from the usual day and location.