Friday, January 14, 2011

Worth Mentioning - Completely Cool, Multi-Purpose

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

This week, Cody recommends the quirky musical True Stories and the filmmaking documentary Finishing Heaven.

"You can never explain the feelings of connections to anyone else. Figuring something out, something that's never been understood before, is a rhythmic experience."


Talking Heads frontman David Byrne directed, co-wrote, and stars in True Stories, "A Film About A Bunch Of People In Virgil, Texas."

It's the 150th anniversary of the state of Texas, and Byrne's narrator has rolled into the small town of Virgil as the locals prepare for their own sesquicentennial celebration, a "Celebration of Specialness" which will consist of a parade and a talent show sponsored by the computer factory Vericorp.

We are introduced to several of the townspeople, all of whom have their own special quirks - the man with a "radio head" who can pick up on others' wavelengths, the married couple who don't speak to each other, the woman who's so rich she doesn't have to get out of bed, the conspiracy theorist preacher, the woman who's constantly telling tall tales, even claiming to have been in Vietnam with the real Rambo. The standout of the bunch, one whose life gets major advancement over the course of the film, is Louis Fyne, played by John Goodman. Louis is desperate for a wife and is constantly searching. He looks for his soulmate in clubs, where he's a self-described "dancing fool". He puts a "Wife Wanted" sign in his front yard. He even makes a TV commercial, looking for a woman who will accept him and the "very consistent panda bear shape" that he keeps.

As you may expect from Byrne, there is a large musical element to the film. Characters break into song, lip sync to a Talking Heads song in a club, even watch a Talking Heads video on TV, and of course there are musical acts at the talent show

There's "a different kind of attitude" to this film. The world of True Stories - or more specifically, its town - is a very pleasant and enjoyable place to visit.

Byrne's co-writers were playwright Beth Henley and the awesome character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. Tobolowsky has a podcast now that I highly recommend, The Tobolowsky Files at /Film, where he tells personal stories of life, love, and the entertainment industry. It's a very heartwarming and inspiring podcast, and Tobolowsky has said that a story about True Stories is on the way in a future episode.


In 1970, ambitious twenty-two year old film student Robert Feinberg and his off-Broadway actress girlfriend Ruby Lynn Reyner made a movie called Heaven. Filming in the New York art scene, they cast friends and Andy Warhol cohorts (including Mary Woronov) and were aided by Feinberg's NYU teacher Martin Scorsese... for a while, until Scorsese pulled back a bit over content issues.

Thirty-seven years later, Heaven remains unfinished. Feinberg and Reyner broke up long ago and haven't spoken to each other in years. Feinberg describes himself as "basically unemployable" and now works greeting and boarding cruise ship passengers. Then a phone call from Reyner, during which she asks about Heaven, inspires Feinberg to really try to get the film completed.

In exchange for permission to shoot Feinberg's story, director Mark Mann and producers The Shapiros have his 16mm film transferred to digital. Then the real challenge - Heaven had no real script, no clear linear narrative line. Feinberg and his editor have sixteen hours of unedited footage and they have to cut it together in a way to make it all make sense.

While we follow the progress of the film being edited, scored, having narration recorded, we also get to learn more about Feinberg and Reyner. Their lives, their struggles, their past and present.

There were a lot of things in this documentary that I could really relate to. Feinberg being from a small town and wanting to be a filmmaker, so much so that it eats away at him, but being held back from fully pursuing his dreams and living up to potential by fear of failure and rejection. This is something I deal with myself every day. Feinberg made his film, but couldn't finish it. I haven't even made it to filming yet. But there's always hope that we'll get our goals accomplished.

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