A Celebration of Specialness in Virgil, Texas, with David Byrne’s True Stories

On the road to nowhere, you may come across a quaint little town in the midst of a celebration. David Byrne rides in a red Chrysler LeBaron, a ten-gallon hat atop his head as he introduces us to Virgil, Texas and their celebration of specialness. The inhabitants of the town certainly are special. John Goodman’s Louis Fyne searches for the perfect martial partner with a series of stilted and eerily optimistic video segments and newspaper advertisements. Earl and Cay Kulver (Spalding Gray and Annie McEnroe) no longer speak to one another, but it has no effect on the love within their nuclear family and peculiarly perfect marriage. True Stories is a celebration of all things unique, and with this being the first and most prominently featured piece directed by Byrne, it’s no surprise that it is, in of itself, a celebration of specialness.  

The wholesome and calming energy that comes from Byrne’s pseudo style of delivery as “The Narrator” is a comfortable enough introduction to a film that begins with bringing us briefly through the history of time. “What time is it? No time to look back”, he says, as he drives away in that ever-recognisable convertible. With styling choices of The Narrator based on American radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, Byrne looks to mimic his style of delivery. Although welcoming and warm, it feels quite the opposite at the exact same time, a truly weird spectacle that blends cold delivery with a wry smile and a welcoming persona.  

Similar to this blend of cold delivery, yet warm dialect, the inhabitants of Virgil, Texas are a similar story. Allowing the cast to perform their own songs to an incredible soundtrack of music by Byrne’s band Talking Heads and Byrne himself, True Stories benefits from music video style segments that bring out the truly unique and trivial nature of the people that happen to reside in Virgil, Texas. Many of them are twins, for no other reason than to defy reason itself. Why not? The very point of True Stories is to show that not everything has a point. Sometimes conversation, theory and practice all just flounders into incomprehension, and ironically Byrne’s solid direction manages to pinpoint this rather accurately. Diving into interesting premises about the comparison between American and European cities, but pausing and staring gently into the camera to deliver the line “But I’ve forgotten what it is. I have it written down at home somewhere.” captures the hectic yet easy to follow style of storytelling Byrne sets out to provide us with. 

True Stories as a film manages to capture this uniqueness through a solidly weird script and uneasy direction. Smatterings of scenes that would feel out of place in any other movie work tremendously well here, with Byrne taking the time to pad out some stranger segments of his film with narration, musical set pieces or generally interesting characters. John Goodman reigns in an enjoyable performance, sharing a handful of scenes with Byrne’s narrator in the strangest of places.  

Characters that were “inspired by supermarket tabloid stories” according to David Byrne, True Stories’ namesake begins to bring on a whole different meaning when you begin to think that, somewhere out there, these characters could be real people. In some corner of the world, a celebration of specialness with even one or two of these characters is possible. True Stories is exactly that, a true story.  

TRUE CRIMES ALSO FEATURES ON EPISODE 191 OF CINEMA ECLECTICA

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