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SUNDANCE: John Robie Day 6: THE BEAVER TRILOGY, LIVING BLOOD and JUMP TOMORROW

Published at: Jan. 31, 2001, 8:52 a.m. CST

Hey Folks, Harry here with Day 6 From JOHN ROBIE! He's an amazing fella really... he survived sleeping with Moriarty for over a week. I mean, gosh... Mongo stayed with Moriarty for only 6 days before his genitals were removed and his ass was sewn up... Robie seems to have done better... This day he ... ah heck, I'll just let him tell you, he typed it soooo good.

I feel like the bag of Malt O’ Meal accidentally placed on the General Mills shelf. Most probably I’m the youngest guy with a press pass at Sundance. I think that gives me license to curse more than anyone else. The appeal of youth, right? Hell yeah. I mean shit yeah. Shit fuck yeah.

We made an astounding discovery today. There are two of us. We don’t have to see the same movies. Incredible. So Moriarty went his way and saw the brand new, soul staggering, amazing, animated film from Richard Linklater and I saw an Italian movie about a tambourine player. Sorry, hand-drum player. Viva Cinema. Three movies and here we go.

Beaver Trilogy is one heck of a curiosity piece. As a thankfully way out in left field character study it succeeds. It’s the kind of thing that could – should – show up on Bravo or some other ballsy network (like Fox Family), the kind of strange rental you pick up at the video store and can’t believe exists. It does exist, and anyone else sharing your weird, tweaked sense of curiosity will reveal in Beaver Trilogy’s strange wonder.

The first part of the film is a slight documentary of Groovin' Gary, a strange, innocently fame-seeking 23 year old from the small town of Beaver, Utah. He’s shocked to be on camera – director Trent Harris’ camera – because to Gary a camera means instant fame. He’s sure this is going on TV, and he treats the chance interview like it’s the highlight of his life. He’s got Farrah Fawcet and Olivia Newton-John faces etched into the glass of his boss ‘68 Nova, and he goes onto put on a town talent show for the benefit of Harris’s camera, dressing up as Olivia Newton-John and singing "Please Don’t Leave Me Waiting." He’s actually pretty good. He sure gets into the role, replete with full-on leather outfit, make up and a big blonde wig. The only person in town that could put on his make up is the mortician.

The most interesting thing about Beaver Trilogy isn’t Groovin’ Gary or the subsequent interpretations of the character by a young Sean Penn and Crispin Glover – though the two are truly weird and great – but the role director Trent Harris takes in the crafting of the story. He’s not the cold observer. Not by a long shot and really, what good director is? Harris is as much a part of this film as the character of Gary is, and his fascination with the man – who makes 3 films about the same thing? – is fascinating. Who makes 3 films about the same thing? Ed Burns too, I guess. Only Ed Burns’ movies aren’t nearly this interesting. Not to mention good.

The real Groovin’ Gary is as funny as he is revealing and sad. Should we laugh at Gary or feel bad for the guy for being such a freak, especially one in such a straight-laced, judgmental small town? He’s the kind of wonderful misfit we all see, the kid that either fades away or that goes out in a blaze of glory. He’d be a simple fool if it were just an act. You get a sense that he’s genuine, though. He’s more innocent than idiot, and while it’s easy to laugh at the guy for putting on the wig, the leather and the make-up it’s more human to feel a little sympathy for the kid. It’s not that he’s never going to fit in; there’s some kind of glory in that, especially in a town like Beaver. The sadness comes because Garry’s probably never going to be appreciated.

What the subsequent two looks – from Penn and Glover – do so well is play on that feeling of being lost, of the honesty not seen by others. The second part of Beaver Trilogy features a young Penn (this was shot in the early ‘80s) in the role, and the short film tweaks the initial story a little, with a Penn that’s somewhere between Spicoli and Emmett Ray (sans accent) from Sweet and Lowdown. We’re forced to look at what’s basically the same story in this second part of Beaver Trilogy, and if we were at first certain Gary was an idiot, Penn infuses the guy with real sadness, with a real feeling that he’s the misunderstood freak. Penn’s got the devil-may-care attitude on the surface but he’s suffering inside.

The Orkly Kid, the final part of Beaver Trilogy, twists the idea even more. With the always great, always under-appreciated Crispin Glover in the role, the whole act of being the Groovin’ Gary character isn’t so much a goof as it is an obsession. Glover’s Garry (the Orkly Kid) has to be this character; he can’t stop himself. This one isn’t too funny because there’s so much pain in Glover’s face that you’d have to be a right asshole to giggle through the whole performance. His realization of self in the final few frames gets goofy but it’s triumphantly goofy; Glover sells the idea that Garry has realized his own worth. Sounds a little heady, but when you’ve got Glover on point most anything works. The weirder the better, and the Orkly Kid on its own beats the living hell out of most shorts I’ve ever seen. The only gripe is that the age of the piece shows in the quality of the film; it was shot in ’85 and has surely seen better days. Nonetheless having something this strange be this touching is a credit to both Glover and Harris. And I think I saw Dottie from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure as a waitress…

Trent Harris is basically the same character in all three films – a TV cameraman/producer that wants to film Gary for his TV show – and it makes sense; keep all other factors the same but tweak the main character. By doing so it forces us to really look at this kid, to see him from different angles and to question why we thought about Groovin’ Gary the way we did the first time we saw him.

It’s undoubtedly a heck of a lot stranger than anything you’ve seen lately, but it’s worth seeing at least once. If for no other reason than you get to be the cool kid on the block that saw the freak performances by Sean Penn and Crispin Glover in long forgotten short films. That and the fact that by the end of Beaver Trilogy you’ll know the Olivia Newton-John song by heart. "Please don’t leave me waiting…I can’t hold on this long." Someone really needs to cover this one.

I’ve been a fan of Italian Cinema since the crazy Italian salesman in The Return of Captain Invincible. He’s funny ‘cause he’s Italian, see? Yeah…I truly do love Italy and their cinema, though, and it’s a shame that Living Blood falls so flat. It’s about an old man in a band that plays a hand drum that runs illegal cigarettes on the side and has a druggie son that’s the epitome of disappointment. The old man’s band might get signed to a record deal, the old man wants the son – who’s extremely talented on the hand drum – to play but "I jus’ don’ wanna, daddy" and by story’s end son has come around but father has suffered for the boy’s indiscretions.

I’m all for "intense, cinema verite portrayals of ordinary people" – as the Sundance program says – but man, can’t they at least be interesting? Living Blood is beautifully shot, though I don’t know if director Edoardo Winspeare realizes that the shot of Vegas lights on a car hood is less graceful beauty than ghetto booty. The film’s got a strong lead in Pino Zimba. If Pino lived in my neighborhood he’d always address me as "my friend." Well, my friend, you’re a hell of a good actor. Though the film you’re in is a little too typical for my tastes, I hope to someday see you in more interesting fare.

Jump Tomorrow is like being caught in a hipster postcard. Everything is framed up just too perfectly, the colors just too bright and undiluted, the movement of the characters, cars, everything just too monitored and deliberate and exact. Comedy doesn’t necessarily have to be fast and loose, but it probably should be funny. Jump Tomorrow finally finds its heart near the end, and there’s a definite sweetness to the two leads, but a whole lot of film flickers by without inducing a laugh or even a smile. The movie mistakes crazy cool daddy-O shots and forced eccentricity for charm.

George (Tunde Adebimpe, thick glasses and playing bored) is set to wed a childhood friend from Nigeria, but along the way to the wedding he meets Alicia (Natalia Verbeke….hubba hubba) and the two fall for each other. Well, not quite: she’s on her way to Niagara Falls to marry her artist boyfriend. George wants Alicia, and he teams up with Gerard (Hippolyte Girardot….he’s funny ‘cause he’s French, see?) to follow her and win her hand and really, isn’t this the plot of thousands of mainstream romantic comedies? Guy’s got to get married to a girl he doesn’t want to marry, guy meets girl in same situation, guy pursues girl because dammit, he’s in love, right? I’m not saying that all independent cinema has to be lesbians, confused homosexuals, spousal abuse, sad children and lovers that express affection through physical pain, and there’s real merit in a sweet throwback to the days when romances were all about "love conquers all," but Jump Tomorrow just feels lame.

It takes a long time for George to get likeable. He’s all blank stares and furtive glances at first (and at second, at third and 80th). The man is a bore. Just because he’s shy doesn’ t mean he’s loveable. His first meeting with Alicia is awkward and totally forced. She gives him her number and gets all cutesy nervous and why? Because she sees something in him? Well….what? He’s blander than soggy white bread for the first half of the film. And then, finally, life! But it takes way too long for the man to wake up. Yes, of course, one of the points of the film is that George’s character "wakes up" and starts to breathe. Now please…I stopped buying into that one years ago.

There’s a road trip with the Frenchman and of course George and Alicia get together in the end and none of it is particularly funny. George spends the whole movie looking for Alicia. We spend the whole movie looking for a laugh. It’s not offensively bad; in fact, some of the film is slightly endearing, especially the surprisingly well played final ten minutes. It’s just bland, unsweetened eye candy. Are people going to go for this? Someone thinks so; the film has been picked up for distribution. I guess it’s just too pretty to spend eternity resting in the filmmaker’s sock drawer. Unlike myself, of course, who’s too pretty to even think of spending time in a sock drawer. Your drawers, maybe, but only if you send me a picture.

John Robie out.

Readers Talkback

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  • Jan. 31, 2001, 10:14 a.m. CST

    First!

    by Thundergod

    I am not sure what the importance in being first is, but I am happy to be first in my first ever talkback. Hurray for me. Well, this column has succeeded in listing a bunch of films I have no urge to see. It seems to me the whole thing could have been much shorter. Don't see this or this or this. they all basically sucked.

  • Jan. 31, 2001, 3:28 p.m. CST

    Jump Tomorrow

    by comafree

    Yeah, Jump Tomorrow had the pretty standard plot, but it was fun to watch. I thought the acting was brilliant and simple. I reccommend it highly, especially as a date movie. I fell asleep during Beaver Trilogy's first part (for about five minutes before I was nudged awake by a friend) but I liked the rest. I fell asleep because I had not slept in 2 days. Yes, I went to Sundance too.

  • Feb. 1, 2001, 8:50 a.m. CST

    Long live the Beaver!

    by dapascha

    I saw this two days ago at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (the Netherlands) and agree totally with your review. The Beaver Trilogy is weird, charming and gripping all at once. The performances by Penn and Glover are quite outstanding, much due to the director. Interesting to note is that not only the story changes a little bit every time it is re-interpreted, but the format as well. The first segment is a very realistic documentary, handheld, and with the cameraman never on-screen. The second hoovers somewhere between documentary and fiction, showing the makers and cameraman as well in preparing and shooting the film. The third is shot as a short movie, using classical Hollywood-editing, pov-shots, 180degree lines and such.