True Stories

Via The Spinning Image

By Graeme Clark

The small American town of Virgil, in the state of Texas, is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a parade and a concert. Here we dip into the lives of some of the townsfolk as they prepare for the event.

This sunny, odd musical was co-written by director David Byrne with Stephen Toblowsky and Beth Henley, and based on stories they found in supermarket tabloids. Byrne's band Talking Heads provided the songs, which are mostly sung by the cast. The whole thing is an offbeat mix of "funny old world" slices of life and pop videos.

There is no real main character, but the narrator, Byrne, introduces the town and its people with bland yet quirky observations. Louis (John Goodman) turns up most often, a worker at the electronics plant that provides most of Virgil's population with its livelihood. Louis is looking for love, a wife to "share his life" and even resorts to advertising on local TV to achieve this.

The other characters range from a woman who seems to have lived a life straight out of The National Enquirer, complete with references to space aliens and Elvis Presley, to another woman who is so rich that she spends her whole life in bed watching TV. Then there's the preacher who turns his sermon into a lecture on conspiracy theories, with gospel singers backing him up.

There are a string of sequences that start out with ingenuous scenes and turn quaintly eccentric, like the fashion show where the hostess starts to sing as the costumes become more and more outlandish, or the parade itself which features the traditional cheerleaders and majorettes, but also lawnmowers, babies in pushchairs, accordion players and men in tiny cars. True Stories may also hold the record for the most establishing shots in one film.

All this is so slight that you get the impression it may have been better off as a Talking Heads concept album rather than a quirky pseudo-documentary. Why not film real examples of American eccentricity and set that to music instead? Despite a variety of styles, the songs are not really as memorable as the band's best work, with only the singles "Wild Wild Life" and "Radio Head" standing out. Still, it's a good natured film that quietly celebrates this way of life rather than patronising it. Also with: Victor Kiam on TV.

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