1986 Certified Weird (The List) Comedy Criterion collection David Byrne John Goodman Musical Postmodern Technology

361. TRUE STORIES (1986) | 366 Weird Movies

Still from True Stories (1986)

“It’s like ’60 Minutes’ on acid.”–David Byrne describing True Tales

“What time is it? No time to look back.” –The Narrator, True Tales

DIRECTED BY: David Byrne

FEATURING: David Byrne, John Goodman, Swoosie Kurtz, Spalding Grey

PLOT: An keen outsider (Byrne) visits the fictional city of Virgil, Texas as they put together for the state’s 150th anniversary with a “Celebration of Specialness.” Appearing as narrator and tour information, he meets numerous people across the space, studying about their relationships, their work on the pc manufacturing plant, and their private hobbies. Probably the most outstanding of the “true stories” is would-be nation singer Louis Fyne’s seek for love.


  • After directing a number of early Speaking Heads movies and studying technical elements of filmmaking from Jonathan Demme when aiding on the modifying of the Heads’ live performance movie Cease Making Sense, David Byrne needed to attempt his arms at making his personal narrative function. Although he knew he needed to do one thing involving music, he first created lots of of drawings of scenes and characters, considering purely in visible phrases. He then added a narrative with the assistance of Stephen Tobolowsky and Beth Henley (and a few recommendation from Joan Tewkesbury), impressed by tabloid tales from the Weekly World Information in addition to the panorama and communities of small city Texas.
  • Although the movie could be very a lot Byrne’s child, he was collaborative in his working technique: he and cinematographer Ed Lachman studied current American photobooks for inspiration and collectively established a selected visible type centered round flat landscapes and balanced compositions. Actors Jo Harvey Allen (“The Lying Woman”) and Spalding Grey (“Earl Culver”) ad-libbed lots of their strains, and a lot of the expertise present and parade have been real-life native performers. Byrne’s then-wife Adelle Lutz created the larger-than-life costumes for the shopping center style present.
  • Byrne sought to showcase the skills and creativity of so-called “consumers,” these whom elitists would shut out of the bigger cultural dialog as a result of they didn’t have the “right” background or standing.
  • American photographer William Eggleston, who is understood for elevating shade images as an inventive medium within the 1970s, was invited to the set by Byrne, as his work had impressed the look of the manufacturing. Eggleston produced a photograph collection whereas visiting the areas of Texas the place they have been filming and it was launched as a part of a (now out of print) e-book that includes the film’s script and associated ephemera.
  • Whereas the album “True Stories” options Speaking Heads variations of the soundtrack songs, and “Sounds from True Stories” consists of instrumental music from the movie, Byrne had all the time needed the unique forged recording to be launched in full. Solely with the Criterion launch of the movie in November 2018 has the album lastly been made obtainable.
  • True Tales is Alex Kittle’s employees decide for a Licensed Weird film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Over an idiosyncratic household dinner, Spalding Grey supplies an enthusiastic monologue concerning the issues of recent life, utilizing numerous colourful entrees and sides as visible aides for his explanations. Because the plates inexplicably mild up and the music of a string quartet builds, Grey, in his heavy Rhode Island accent, expounds upon the merging of labor and play, and the quickly creating tech business in Virgil, ending the speech in a dimly lit household tableaux as he and his youngsters bow their heads in prayer.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Avant-garde mall style present; conspiracy concept sermon on the Church of the SubGenius; David Byrne aimlessly speaking to the viewers whereas driving round Texas

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: His goofy, gangly persona—so misplaced within the rural Texas setting—is already bizarre sufficient, however actually Byrne is exposing the weirdness of on a regular basis life, with eccentric characters, loud costumes, eclectic musical numbers, and a whole lot of fourth wall breaking. There’s a unusual merging of inventive experimentation and down-to-earth themes, and the mixed impact is each charming and weird.

Unique trailer for True Tales (1986)

COMMENTS: After imparting a quick overview of the historical past of Texas, an unnamed narrator (David Byrne) invitations the viewers into the fictional city of Virgil, which is gearing up for its sesquicentennial anniversary with a “Celebration of Specialness.” He acts as an inquisitive, neutral information to the denizens of the city and its actions, most of whom are staff of Varicorp, a serious pc manufacturing plant. He shortly befriends Louis Fyne (John Goodman), a clear room technician who’s on the hunt for a spouse—even promoting by way of an area TV advert—and who goals of being a singer-songwriter. He additionally meets Earl Culver (Spalding Grey), the city’s opinionated enterprise chief, and his spouse, Kay (Annie McEnroe); the 2 haven’t spoken immediately to one another in years, conducting conversations via their youngsters. Different notable townspeople embrace Ramon (Tito Larriva), a psychic musician who picks up “tones” from these round him; The Mendacity Lady (Jo Harvey Allen), a compulsive liar who is consistently sharing larger-than-life tales with anybody who’ll pay attention; The Cute Lady (Alix Elias), who’s so overwhelmed by something lovable she faints; Miss Rollings (Swoosie Kurtz), a rich lady who spends all her time in mattress; and Mr. Tucker (Pops Stapleton), a voodoo practitioner who helps Louis discover love.

With little driving narrative and numerous documentary-like snippets, True Tales performs out as a hodgepodge of anthropological research, quirky comedy, rock musical, and cultural time capsule. Byrne’s interactions run the gamut of semi-formal interviews, pleasant chit-chat, and silent statement, however we by no means study something about him, as focus stays solely on the residents of Virgil. They’re every eccentric in their very own means, however most are additionally likable and sympathetic, with Goodman’s affable, lovelorn Louis as probably the most protagonist-y determine. He goes on dates with a number of ladies earlier than discovering a shock match within the irritable Miss Rollings, who spends all her time in mattress watching TV and is touched by his private advert on the lookout for a spouse. The shock standout is Jo Harvey Allen because the Mendacity Lady, who spins ridiculous tales wherever she goes, claiming she wrote songs for Elvis Presley, dated Burt Reynolds, and was born with a tail that provides her psychic powers.

Visually, True Tales is a kaleidoscope of 80s Americana type, with Byrne sporting loud cowboy costumes he finds at an area mall (“I’m really getting used to these outfits. They sell a lot of them, but I don’t see anyone else wearing them!”) and others rocking vibrant patterns and cheery pastels. When casting extras, Byrne requested couples and twins who dressed alike, giving background crowds a barely surreal vibe. And naturally, there’s that bonkers trend present that includes actual grass fits, multi-tiered wedding ceremony cake clothes, and architectural costumes. The manufacturing design highlights eye-popping home interiors, crammed with kitsch work and cluttered knick-knacks. When not targeted on Virgil’s residents, the digital camera is turned to the panorama, with recurring photographs emphasizing the area’s flatness and the influence of a single construction erupting out of the horizon, whether or not it’s Miss Rolling’s nice purple home, the economic Varicorp constructing (“It’s an all-purpose shape,” the narrator observes, “a box”), or the inexperienced glowing short-term stage erected for the city expertise present. For Byrne, magnificence is discovered equally within the typical rolling fields and open sky, in addition to the pre-fab metallic buildings, in depth highways, and rows of equivalent, unassuming homes (“Who can say it isn’t beautiful?” he muses whereas driving previous one such neighborhood).

In fact, any David Byrne fan is coming into True Tales for the music, and the movie presents a variety of tunes and types, working in numerous native sounds from Mexican zydeco accordions to Southern guitar twangs. Speaking Heads carry out hits like “Wild Wild Life” (in an infectiously uplifting lip-sync quantity) and “Love for Sale” (because the band’s music video intersperses with photographs of Swoosie Kurtz exclaiming on the TV), however a lot of the songs are sung by the actors. Usually enjoyable and energetic, the outcomes are slightly looser, rather less polished than typical film musical sequences, reminding us that these are actual individuals belting their hearts out, discovering musical expression a way to share each their goals and their fears. Annie McEnroe’s skinny, excessive voice is beautiful as she sings “Dream Operator” over the avant-garde runway present, lending an earnestness to the over-the-top proceedings. Because the Preacher, John Ingle talk-sings the conspiracy-theorist church jam “Puzzling Evidence” with a full backing choir and a backdrop of mysterious discovered footage movies. Influential gospel musician Pops Stapleton bestows luck by means of his rhythmic efficiency of “Papa Legba,” which pulls in funk and Carribbean people influences. And naturally, there’s John Goodman’s climactic quantity, “People Like Us,” a country-western-style music his character writes on the aspect whereas looking for love, and performs so superbly on the massive expertise present that Miss Rollings is moved to rise up from her mattress.

What actually stands out about True Tales is Byrne’s real eagerness, his trustworthy curiosity in everybody he meets. He reminds us that even a seemingly abnormal small city is populated by oddballs and dreamers, artists and conspiracy theorists, loners and lovers. There isn’t actually any battle on this film, at the very least not within the typical three-part-narrative sense, however there’s a sense of heat and sensitivity. Even with the marginally exaggerated visible gags and satirical jokes, it by no means feels as if Byrne is speaking right down to his characters, or setting them as much as be laughed at. They’re simply… individuals. Flawed, humorous, fickle individuals who share an area on this very particular a part of America, looking for connection and understanding, and freely expressing their kooky selves.

I’d like to go away you with this small however pivotal second that I feel captures the essence of this movie, each its weirdness and its coronary heart: following the clever, monologue-fueled dinner on the Culvers’ home, there’s a brief interstitial depicting an nameless blue-lit workplace at night time, seen via a window. A middle-aged businessman faces the viewers, and dances, slowly and unselfconsciously, as a rousing string instrumental performs within the background. He flails emphatically, journeys and catches himself on his desk, and the scene modifications. With its eerie lighting, emotional musical swell, and full lack of context, this thirty-second sequence is directly humorous, unsettling, and compelling. We the viewers are invited to share in a personal, quietly lovely second, with a barely voyeuristic really feel, sharing in one thing that feels common, connecting music, efficiency, solitude, and human foibles.


“Any movie made by actors and technicians who know that the director has hired 50 sets of twins is going to be a movie made by people who think the director is a very strange man. And that will affect their work. Even the ordinary moments in ‘True Stories’ seem a little odd, as if the actors are trying to humor the weirdo they’re working for.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Solar-Occasions (contemporaneous)

“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.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Occasions (contemporaneous)

“…a totally weird, wildly idiosyncratic narrative feature…”–Jason Bailey, Flavorwire


David Byrne | True Tales | In Brief – The True Tales part of David Byrne’s web site has some behind-the-scenes pictures and hyperlinks to evaluations and articles

IMDB LINK: True Tales (1986)


True Tales (1986) | The Criterion Assortment – Criterion’s True Tales web page has the trailer, stills, an essay by Rebecca Bengal and a video essay on the style present

AFI Catalog – True Tales – The American Movie Institute’s True Tales entry consists of an informative essay

David Byrne Shares True Tales From 1986’s True Tales – Essay interview with Byrne from Penalties of Sound; additionally take heed to the temporary podcast interview with Byrne

“David Byrne’s American Triptych” – Interview and dialogue of Byrne’s fascination with Americana at Slate

True Tales, A Movie by David Byrne: The Full Soundtrack (Trailer) – A trailer Byrne created to advertise the Criterion soundtrack launch

True Tales: A Movie about Individuals Like Us – Essay on postmodernism in True Tales from Design Observer

David Byrne’s Scene From a Mall – Video essay on a single scene, by Phillip Brubaker for Fandor

TRUE STORIES (1986) – Alfred Eaker’s essay on the movie for this website

HOME VIDEO INFO: Criterion’s recently-released DVD and Blu-ray (purchase) exhibits a restored 4K digital switch, supervised by David Byrne and cinematogra­pher Ed Lachman, with 5.1 encompass DTS-HD Grasp Audio soundtrack. Together with deleted scenes, there’s additionally a brand new making-of documentary that includes numerous people related to the movie, a documentary about graphic designer Tibor Kalman and his affect on David Byrne, and a brief concerning the fictional city of Virgil, TX. The CD that accompanies the Blu-ray accommodates the movie’s full soundtrack, obtainable for the primary time. This bonus is Blu-ray solely; the CD doesn’t ship with the DVD model of the movie. The booklet is designed as a tabloid newspaper, with new essays, a 1986 piece by Spalding Grey, and clippings from Weekly World Information that impressed the movie.