I recently watched, for about the 10th time, the movie True Stories. And, for about the 10th time, I started telling anyone around me who would listen about this great movie.
I find it fascinating that different folks see different themes in the same movie. Indeed, depending on my mood, I can see different movies.
True Stories is about small towns, suburbia, religion, the technology business, metal buildings, community, shopping malls, love and marriage, progress, music, other stuff. The movie cuts between David Byrne’s monolog narration, as he drives through a town in Texas, lots of lip-syncing to music by the Talking Heads, and various snippets of small town life.
Most of the characters in the movie are eccentric. This includes a man who advertises for a wife on television (played by John Goodman), an executive who uses food as a metaphor to explain the changes that technology will have on society, a paranoid preacher hooked on conspiracy theories and a pathological liar.
It’s pretty clear during the clip of “Love for Sale “, that Byrne is being condescending to advertisers and people gullible enough to fall for advertising. Yet despite the fact that the story is basically about the boring lives of bunch of oddballs, I find a more subtle and optimistic message intertwined.
The movie’s viewpoint on impact of technology on society is particularly forward looking. The almost unbelievable global change driven by the wide availability of PC computing escaped Bryne, who was commenting on the impact that a semiconductor company was having transforming the local community. Yet the exaggeration, intended to be a comical spoof, has proven to be shy of reality.
Small town life really is boring. And folks who choose to live in small towns are generally isolated enough from urban trends so as to appear unsophisticated and even intolerant. But my small town friends are not lacking in intelligence, creativity or ambition. The need to self-entertain leads to a lot of eccentric hobbies and a sensitivity and openness to simple pleasures. Most folks get that talking about the weather isn’t intellectually groundbreaking, but value having a collectively low barrier to entry to basic human interaction. As far as open mindedness goes, my experience has been that in a big town, you advertise your tolerance with a parade, and in small town, parades are not a political events and privacy is valued and respected.
The fundamental gag in True Stories is that Texas is flat, ugly and boring. Indeed the closing scene is a girl amusing herself with a sequence of different walks as she travels down a straight, seemingly endless road through the prairie. And the strange characters are a result of life in a boring, isolated Texas town. But they all seem sincere, decent, complex and genuinely entertaining.
I liked them.
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