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True Stories (November 1, 2012)

David Byrne was born in Scotland in 1952. As a child he was brought to Canada and then to the United States by his parents. By the mid-seventies he became one of the members of a rock band, Talking Heads, which gained critical and popular success.

He wrote True Stories with Mississippi-born playwright Beth Henley and Texas-born actor Stephen Tobolowsky. Byrne directed the movie, mostly made in Dallas and its suburbs. It stars Byrne, John Goodman, Spalding Gray, Pops Staples, Swoosie Kurtz and a plethora of ensemble actors depicting the more-eccentric-than-possible inhabitants of a small Texas town seemingly, but ironically, dominated by a benevolent all-employing corporation. The photography, awash with vibrating color similar to old postcards, is by Ed Lachman. Most of the songs were written by Byrne. It was released in October, 1986.

Janet Maslin, in the New York Times of the time, wrote “The real world can be seen afresh when its simplest absurdities are regarded, as they are here, with naive fascination. And Mr. Byrne has that to spare. His presence here, as a ''friendly and straightforward'' (according to the screenplay) narrator, goes a long way toward giving the film its breezy, accessible tone. A lot of True Stories derives from tabloid newspaper clippings Mr. Byrne collected, chronicling occurrences that are much stranger than fiction. These tales might be lurid in another setting, but Mr. Byrne prefers to marvel at them in a spirit of innocent good cheer.” Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, “It's a bold attempt to paint a bizarre American landscape. This movie does what some painters try to do: It recasts ordinary images into strange new shapes. There is hardly a moment in True Stories that doesn't seem everyday to anyone who has grown up in Middle America, and not a moment that doesn't seem haunted with secrets, evasions, loneliness, depravity or hidden joy - sometimes all at once. This is almost like a science-fiction movie: Everyone on screen looks so normal and behaves so oddly, they could be pod people.”

David Byrne himself wrote, “The story is just a trick to get your attention. It opens the door and lets the real movie in.” In my mind, its oddity is a necessary complement to the dramatic Texas we’ve seen depicted so far in this series, and I hope you enjoy watching it with me tonight.