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  Beaver Trilogy, The Stars In Their Eyes
Year: 2001
Director: Trent Harris
Stars: Groovin' Gary, Sean Penn, Crispin Glover, Stefan Arngrim, John Bluto, Ken Butler, Lila Waters, Shane McCabe, E.G. Daily, Courtney Gains, Kristen Johnson
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Documentary, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Back in the late seventies, filmmaker Trent Harris happened to be outside in a Salt Lake City television station parking lot testing his camera, when a young man came up to him and started chatting. He was known as Groovin' Gary, and eagerly displayed his repertoire of impersonations for the camera, including John Wayne and Sylvester Stallone as Rocky. Harris thought he'd found a real character and continued filming as Gary showed him round his beloved car, complete with engravings on the side windows, one of Farrah Fawcett and the other of - significantly - Olivia Newton John. Later on, Gary wrote Trent a letter that he was performing in a local talent show in Beaver, Utah, and would he like to come along and film it? Trent did, and the rest was underground cinema history...

Trent was so impressed with his new star that he made two subsequent shorts based on him, one shot on video and the other a more professional work shot on film, called The Orkly Kid. But he didn't hire Gary, who had essentially vanished from his life, to play himself in these, hiring instead Sean Penn in his first role and Crispin Glover for the second adpatation. While the first documentary has a goofy, if weird, charm, the next versions took Gary, renamed Larry, into gloomier and more conflicted territory; it was obvious that Gary had become something of a preoccupation with Trent, as he returned to him with variations but with certain mannerisms, "plot" and dialogue that were identical.

The centrepiece of Groovin' Gary's act was an impersonation of none other than Olivia Newton John, which he essayed in full drag and makeup under the name Olivia Newton-Don. We see Gary having his makeup applied (in a mortuary!) as he ensures we know he's not gay, and he's adamant on that point, yet this sexual ambiguity must have set Trent thinking. The talent show is full of amateur acts singing and dancing and includes a girl doing that talking out the side of your mouth joke that British viewers might recognise from a Les Dawson routine. Then Gary takes to the stage, and while his spoken impressions aren't bad at all, his singing is something of a letdown, basically raising his voice to a high wail to approximate Olivia's tones.

It goes down well, at any rate, and Gary rewards our patience with a Barry Manilow impression for an encore, though his spoken rendering of Manilow is better than his singing. And that's the last we see of him, as a couple of years later Trent created his Sean Penn version, where the tape with Larry's parking lot routine is mangled in the camera, the filmmaker representing Trent, now Terrance, is an obnoxious exploiter of Larry for his TV segment, and Larry's performance is regarded as an embarrassment, so much so that at the end he almost commits suicide. Why Trent decided to play out Groovin' Gary's tale as a small town tragedy is unclear, but it does turn oddly touching, perhaps more so when Glover takes the role and has Larry as the unappreciated butt of the locals' jokes. The indomitable cheerfulness (and nervous laugh) of the original Gary is a common thread, and the whole trilogy, assembled as a complete work about twenty years after it was started, is like the best outsider art: fascinating, uncomfortably personal and hard to forget.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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