Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Beaver Trilogy (Trent Harris, 2000)

I love Olivia Newton-John. Now, in some less progressive circles, a statement like that might come off as a tad queer. But it's the truth, I love Olivia Newton-John, and I don't care who knows it. Oh, you're probably thinking to yourself: There's nothing queer, or even faggoty for that matter, about loving a woman, especially one who is a British-born Australian singer-songwriter and actress. That's true, you would think the sight of a man loving a woman would endear oneself to the heterosexual overlords who oversee all that goes on within the ovary-antagonizing gefilte fish factory that is the straight universe. But they're not. In fact, there's nothing more subversive than a man loving a woman. In an ironic twist, this is particularly true in a Utah town called Beaver. (Ironic? Twist?) I don't know how many people know this, but Beaver is another word for cunt. And the last time I checked, most women are fitted with the complex box-like doohickeys that are some times referred to as beavers and cunts. (That makes sense.) You see, the heterosexual overlords don't want you to love women, they want you to procreate with women. (There's a difference?) You bet your ass there is. Love is for sissys who regularly clip their toe nails. Real men, on the other hand, fuck pussy whenever possible. And the latter activity, which any doctor will tell you, is the leading cause of pregnancy the world over.

What if you loved Olivia Newton-John so much, that you wanted to be her? And by "be her," I mean the way she appears on the cover of her 1979 album "Totally Hot." You would most likely think that this person had totally lost his marbles. Well, in Trent Harris' The Beaver Trilogy, this question is explored not once, not twice, but three times!

Whenever I hear someone use the word "meta" in a sentence, I always wonder to myself: What the fuck does that mean? Using something called a "dictionary," or at least the modern equivalent of one, I looked the word up. After reading the definition of "meta" multiple times, I began to understand the word's meaning.

The reason I'm talking about the word "meta," is because I think it applies to this film. Truth be told, if I was in charge of writing the definitions in dictionaries, I would say The Beaver Trilogy is the definition of meta. I'd even go as far as say that I don't think a film has ever been this meta.

Anyway, moving on to less meta ground. Who would have thought that Trent Harris' chance meeting with Groovin' Gary in the parking lot of a Salt Lake City television station in 1979 would lead to a film that deftly explores the topics of fame, celebrity, intolerance and mortuary makeup application, and do so in a manner that would elicit so much humour and pathos? I know I sure didn't. I mean, when I first saw Trent Harris (Rubin and Ed) point his video camera at the world's biggest Olivia Newton-John fan, I had no idea what kind of poignancy lay ahead of me.

You know when Grandmaster Flash says, "Uh huh ha ha ha" at the end of raping the lyric, "It's like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under" on the classic track "The Message"? Well, Groovin' Gary punctuates his sentences the same way.

Wearing bell bottom jeans and a rugby shirt covered in stripes (the stripes kind of reminded me of those old jerseys of the Vancouver Canucks used to sport), Groovin' Gary starts doing impressions of John Wayne, Sly Stallone and Barry Manilow for the cameraman. It's obvious right away the self-proclaimed "Rich Little of Beaver" loves being in front of the camera. After showing Trent his white 1964 Chevy Impala, Groovin' Gary drives off. But not before promising to contact the cameraman if any "good stories" occur in Beaver.

I don't know how much time passes, but Trent gets a letter from Gary informing him that there's a talent show happening in Beaver and that yours truly is headlining. Insisting that he attend, Trent drives down... or was it up? Trent drives to Beaver with his camera in toe. While it's clear, judging by his car, that Gary loves Olivia Newton-John (he has Olivia's name and likeness stenciled on the passenger side window). But just in case anyone in the audience had any doubts regarding his devotion to her, Gary plans on unleashing Olivia Newton-Don at the talent show.

Meeting Gary at the local funeral home, Trent films him as he gets makeup done. It's here where that film starts to really show its off-beat charm, as Gary repeatedly reminds everyone watching that he is in fact a man. But at the same time, he can't help but extol the many virtues of Miss Newton-John: "I love Olivia Newton-John... This is just for fun... I'm a man, not a girl. I enjoy being a guy... Where's my purse?"

After enduring some of the other local talent, it's finally Groovin' Gar... or I should say, it's finally Olivia Newton-Don's time to shine, as we get a wonky rendition of ONJ's "Please Don't Keep Me Waiting." Oh, and like I said before, Gary is dressed like Olivia as she appears on the cover of her 1979 album "Totally Hot."

If you want to know what life was like for Gary before being filmed in the parking lot of that Salt Lake City television station, you're going to have to wait until chapter three. But the black and white "Beaver Kid #2, starring Sean Penn as "Groovin' Larry," does explore the aftermath of his Beaver talent show appearance. And let's just say, it takes a dark turn. For starters, in this chapter, the cameraman, now played an actor, seems to have duplicitous intentions. It also implies that Larry's fellow Beaverites might not be all that thrilled to have a male Olivia Newton John impersonator living in their town.

While watching "The Beaver Kid," it never occurred to me that some people would frown upon having a male Olivia Newton John impersonator in their midst. However, "Beaver Kid #2" smashes any naive notions I had about small town tolerance.

The most relatable scene in the entire trilogy has to be the sight of Sean Penn in a blonde wig singing Olivia Newton-John's "Please Don't Keep Me Waiting" into a hair brush in front of a Xanadu poster. I mean, who hasn't done that? I'm a man, by the way. Don't get me wrong, I love Olivia, but just  not as much as I love being a guy.

Getting back to smashing naive notions. Part 3: "The Orkly Kid," smashes them even further by fleshing out the back-story of Groovin' Gary/Larry even further. What does Larry do when he's not hanging out in the parking lots of Boise (the action has now moved to Idaho) television stations or singing in Olivia drag at talent shows? He survives, that's what he does. He has a dream, and that dream involves being accepted for who he really is. Well, I have bad news for you, fella. It ain't going to happen in Orkly.

You would think that Carrissa, the diner waitress played E.G. Daily (Valley Girl), would more accepting of your unique lifestyle, but she's just as bad as the rest of them.

It's true, the first two chapters in The Beaver Trilogy lay a lot of the groundwork. However, The Orkly Kid is the jewel in The Beaver Trilogy crown. Anchored by a terrific performance by Crispin Glover, and great supporting work by Stefan Arngrim (Class of 1984), as Larry's "friend," The Orkly Kid takes the premise of an Olvia Newton-John obsessed eccentric from in a small town in Utah, and runs with it. Now, the fact that I watched the entire film in one sitting, means that I had to listen to "Please Don't Keep Me Waiting" at least six times. Meaning, you'll probably never want to hear the song ever again. That being said, the film is kind of rewarding... in a "This is awkward... make it stop" sort of way.

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