July 19, 2013

The Forgotten Filmcast: True Stories (1986)


Last week, I joined host Todd Liebenow on the Forgotten Filmcast to discuss a gem that deserves more attention. Released in 1986, True Stories was directed by David Byrne at the height of his popularity. He’s known as the front man for The Talking Heads, but this isn’t just a vehicle for their music. Instead, it’s a charming look at a fictional Texas town. Virgil includes colorful individuals with their own quirks. This is hardly a nasty satire, however. Instead, Byrne takes a warm look at their odd behavior and appreciates the unique traits that make us human. He visits the local mall for an unconventional fashion show, hangs out with the hopeful romantic Louis (John Goodman), and shows what makes this community tick. The result is a mellow, engaging little film that has mostly disappeared. While The Talking Heads remain well-known, this movie has drifted into the background.

Byrne plays an unnamed narrator who drives into town in a red Chrysler Lebaron convertible. He presents the story like a documentary filmmaker who takes himself a bit too seriously. His reverence for the shopping mall and other basic aspects of life seems odd today. He never winks at the camera, and that’s the main reason the character works. Along with a likable performance from Goodman, the supporting cast includes Spalding Gray, Swoosie Kurtz, and Jo Harvey Allen in a scene-stealing performance as a woman who lies about everything. The slow pace gives us time to get to know these characters and understand how this town functions. The film is set up as a collection of interludes that could give it a meandering feeling, but that tone seems right for this material.

One of the best parts of True Stories is the music, which keeps it from becoming too dry. The standout is “Wild Wild Life”, performed at a karaoke club by a group of people dressed as rock icons. The cast includes several music stars, most notably Pop Staples as a voodoo practitioner. Goodman even gets in on the action and sings “People Like Us” during the finale. The mix of humor, mellow charm, and music works better than you might expect. You can listen to this episode of the Forgotten Filmcast through this link. Todd does an excellent job and has covered other gems like Condorman and Streets of Fire in previous shows. I had a great time talking about this film and highly recommend adding it to your weekly listening.

4 comments:

  1. I love this film. Love it. The surreal fashion show, the bizarre dinner, the voodoo priest...everything about this makes me happy. Mostly, I like it because there is literally nothing else like it.

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    1. Steve, I definitely agree that True Stories is a very unique movie. I enjoyed it even more this time, especially all the subtle touches. Hopefully you'll get a chance to get out the podcast!

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  2. I like the Talking Heads and I've been wanting to see this. Notably as I have all of their albums and aware that the band Radiohead got their name from a song from that album.

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    1. If you're a Talking Heads fan, I think you'll enjoy it and should check it out. Although the music is sung by a bunch of different people, it still fits with their style. I'd forgotten that Radiohead got their name from the song in this movie until I watched it again.

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