True Stories (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Byrne|
|Produced by||Gary Kurfirst|
|Written by||Stephen Tobolowsky|
|Music by||Talking Heads|
|Edited by||Caroline Biggerstaff|
True Stories Venture
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|October 10, 1986|
|Box office||$2.5 million|
True Stories is a 1986 American musical satirical comedy film directed by David Byrne, who stars alongside John Goodman, Swoosie Kurtz, and Spalding Gray. The majority of the film's music is supplied by Talking Heads. A soundtrack album, titled Sounds from True Stories, featured songs by Byrne, Talking Heads, Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Band, and others. Around the same time, Talking Heads released an album titled True Stories, composed of studio recordings of songs featured in the film.
True Stories was released by Warner Bros. in the United States, Canada, Italy, and Sweden in 1986, with limited release elsewhere the following year. Byrne was given much creative control over the motion picture's direction, largely due to the mainstream success of Talking Heads' 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense.
The film is presented as a series of vignettes centered around Byrne as an unnamed, cowboy-hat-wearing stranger who visits the fictional Texas town of Virgil, where he observes the citizens as they prepare for the "Celebration of Specialness" to mark the 150th anniversary of Texas' independence. The event is being sponsored by the Varicorp Corporation, a local computer manufacturing plant.
Among the many characters the visitor meets and interacts with, the most prominent are:
- Louis Fyne, (John Goodman), a country-western-singing clean room technician at Varicorp who is unlucky in love,
- Civic leader Earl Culver (Spalding Gray), who never speaks directly to his wife, Kay (Annie McEnroe),
- Miss Rollings (Swoosie Kurtz), who never leaves her bed,
- Mr. Tucker (Pops Staples), Miss Rollings' personal assistant, a kindly voodoo practitioner whom Louis hires to help him find love,
- A conspiracy theorist preacher (John Ingle) whose shtick owes a great deal to the Church of the SubGenius,
- Ramon (Tito Larriva), a Tejano singer who claims to hear tones from people,
- "The Lying Woman" (Jo Harvey Allen), who recounts fantastic episodes from her life to anyone who will listen.
- David Byrne as The Narrator
- John Goodman as Louis Fyne
- Spalding Gray as Earl Culver
- Annie McEnroe as Kay Culver
- Swoosie Kurtz as Miss Rollings
- Pops Staples as Mr. Tucker
- John Ingle as The Preacher
- Tito Larriva as Ramon
- Jo Harvey Allen as The Lying Woman
Stephen Tobolowsky recounts in an episode of his podcast The Tobolowsky Files that his girlfriend Beth Henley and he met David Byrne and Talking Heads when Jonathan Demme invited them to a preview screening of Stop Making Sense. Shortly afterward, Byrne invited Henley and Tobolowsky over to his house and showed them a collection of hundreds of drawings he had made and put up on his wall. He explained they were based on clippings he had scrapbooked from tabloids as the band had been on tour. He had been intrigued by the idea of making a movie based on the premise, "What if all these stories were true?" and wanted Henley and Tobolowsky to write the script based on those drawings.
Tobolowsky was aware that Texas was coming up on its sesquicentennial celebration, and thought that would provide a good framework for the characters Byrne had invented. Henley and he wrote a draft and provided it to Byrne, then did not hear back from him for about a year. It later turned out that Byrne had rewritten their script almost entirely, keeping only a few lines and the sesquicentennial framework from the first draft. However, he asked Tobolowsky and Henley for permission to list their names ahead of his as scriptwriters so the movie would seem less like a "vanity project."
During Tobolowsky's early talks with Byrne, he related to Byrne the story of a series of psychic experiences he had during college, in which he had been able to hear "tones" that told him things about other people. Byrne incorporated this story into his rewrite, using it as the basis for Ramon's psychic powers and the song "Radio Head."
An early working title for the project (endorsed by bassist Tina Weymouth) was Wild Infancy. Locations for the filming took place in Dallas and its suburbs Allen, McKinney, Mesquite, and Red Oak. The interior mall and fashion show scene was filmed in NorthPark Center in North Dallas, and the exterior mall was filmed at the now-demolished Big Town Mall in Mesquite. The parade scene at the end of the film includes various local groups, including the Tejas Low Riders Club and the Sunset High School Marching Band.
True Stories was not a commercial success at the time of its release. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 76%, based on 21 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. Roger Ebert gave it a glowing review with a rating of 3.5/4 stars. It has achieved success in home video release as a cult classic among fans of Byrne's work.
Home video releases
True Stories features a number of songs written by Byrne and performed by various members of the cast as well as by Talking Heads (the members of which make cameo appearances).
Talking Heads released an album titled True Stories in which the band performs most of the songs from the film, including songs that were performed by the actors in the movie. As such, the album is not generally considered a true soundtrack album, a fact Byrne points out in his liner notes on the release. Later, Byrne released an album containing primarily instrumental music from the soundtrack titled Sounds from True Stories, though it was never released on CD.
While several of the cast performances were released as bonus tracks on 12-inch single releases, no full album of cast performances was released until 2018 (see below). Prior to 2018, few of the original versions of songs from the film found official release. The St. Thomas Aquinas School Choir's version of "Hey Now" was released on the 1987 Talking Heads UK CD single, "Radio Head"; the Pops Staples version of "Papa Legba" and Tito Larriva's version of "Radio Head" appear as extra tracks on the 2006 Rhino reissue of True Stories; and John Goodman's version of "People Like Us" was initially released as the B-side to the single for "Wild Wild Life" and later was released on the 2006 digital compilation Bonus Rarities and Outtakes, but the rest of the songs whose versions differ between the movie and album (John Ingle's "Puzzling Evidence" and Annie McEnroe's "Dream Operator") were not officially available. "Cocktail Desperado", recorded by Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band and featured in the film, is included on the Sounds from True Stories LP.
The music video version of "Wild Wild Life" that debuted on MTV is largely a scene taken from the film, in which many of the film's characters (including John Goodman) lip-synch to the music in a night club; the video version is more risque and features more pop music references/parodies than seen in the film; the Prince and Billy Idol parodies remain in the film version. Similarly, the video for "Love for Sale" is the same as that seen in the film (in which Kurtz's character is shown watching it on TV) except the video version has additional footage of Talking Heads, more references to recognizable TV commercials of the day, and no intercuts to any of the film characters.
Coincidentally, the final hit of Pops Staples' group, The Staple Singers, was a cover of Talking Heads' "Slippery People," which was released two years before this film.
In November 2018, True Stories, A Film by David Byrne: The Complete Soundtrack, a comprehensive soundtrack album with 23 songs as they were recorded for the film, was released. This marked the first time that the complete True Stories soundtrack was made publicly available, 32 years after the movie's original release. The soundtrack was issued to coincide with Criterion's 2018 DVD and Blu-ray release of the film, the latter of which it was also packaged with. The new-edition soundtrack omits the Talking Heads renditions of the songs, with the exception of the three featured in the movie. The new edition includes the first official commercial release of McEnroe's "Dream Operator" and Ingle's "Puzzlin' Evidence".
American political comedy writer Virgil Texas takes his pseudonym from the film's setting.
In January 2017, Red Letter Media published a video where Jay Bauman and Josh "The Wizard" Davis gave a retrospective review of the film. They focused on the eccentricity of the characters, the performance of David Byrne as the film's narrator, the way the film extensively incorporates music, and the observations the film makes about American culture. Both hosts praised it, and Davis said of the film, "It never gets old for me, and I've shown it to so many people".
- "The Tobolowsky Files, Episode 44: The Voice from Another Room". /Film. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
- "1985 - Transcript of interview picture disk (BAK 2017)". Web.archive.org. 16 July 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter
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- "True Stories (1986) - Overview". TCM.com. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
- "True Stories (1986)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
- "True Stories Movie Review & Film Summary (1986)". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. 31 October 1986. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
- "Talking Heads - True Stories". Discogs. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- "True Stories (1986)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- "True Stories - re:View". YouTube. Red Letter Media.