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True Stories Review

A return to a small town in Texas wishing to celebrate their specialness was inevitable. True Stories is an infectious piece of great fun. But, upon returning to it, it is clear to see that director and musician David Byrne is taking aim at the quality of life and, by extension, the quality of people. Oddities of the world all convene at one point, growing up alongside each other. A believable, yet eccentric tale of consumerism and community. How the two interlink is just as important as the characters Byrne’s direction and writing brings to life, with a backdrop of good music and great technical aspects bringing this scathingly good condemnation of tabloid living to life.

When the beauty of modernity was still a twinkle in the eye of IBM operators and thick-rimmed, glasses-wearing geeks, there is now an extra layer of nostalgia felt throughout True Stories. Tackling the tabloid woes of 80s culture and the vibrant, post-atomic age style of living, the set design and editing style crash through the modernity of the time, jabbing at the export of culture within America. It took some time for the technological and design enhancements to make their way into the sleeping towns of the west, and the fictional town of Virgil, Texas, provides Byrne the room to explore sentimentality for kitchen top sheen and ineffective yet much-desired technology. He has his finger on the pulse of societal changes. A shopping mall replacing the town square, the fixation and almost radical-like love people have for their own vested interests and beliefs. An active, rabid love for all things community-driven. Their refusal to change almost as terrifying as their dress code and love of lip-sync karaoke.

True Stories offers a deep, sprawling criticism of mundanity and simple living. John Goodman is a catalyst for much of this. All he wishes to do is find a girl to marry. He is, after all, a natural man. “I go out at night. I’m a dancing fool.” In one of his early leading roles, Goodman strikes a tender tone, offering audiences the opportunity to smile awkwardly as they nod with automatic agreement, not listening to the bland lifestyle Louis Fyne lives, or, scarier than that, in-tune with his hobbies, agreeing with him wholeheartedly. Spalding Gray’s appearance as Earl Culver offers up much of the prophetic American dream, which had died a decade before in the fast-paced, modern-oriented cities and states of the country that draped itself in red, white and blue, and used the easy-going lifestyle of the American Dream and all its fantasies as a soapbox for the preservation of traditionalism. In these small pockets are the dying attitudes, the belief in working hard and honestly to make a comfortable living. Gray expediates the trend, his suburban, nuclear family strikes the right tone for the brainwashed American who thinks pulling himself up by the bootstraps and “getting stuck in” was still a viable solution in a conglomerate-owned country.

True Stories is driven by its thematics. It works perfectly, but that may be due to my adoration for the artistic dependability of David Byrne. He features frequently here. As the narrator, donning a ten-gallon hat and spending much of his time in a red convertible, he speaks to the camera, offering nuggets of wisdom, or at least he would have had he not left his notes at home. He dives headfirst into the culture he wishes to understand. Fractured in its approach, but tied together through similar styles and messages, Byrne grips the “commercial attitude” of the times. Much of the love for True Stories will, admittedly, come from how an audience reacts to both Byrne as an artist and as a person. His performance is strong, as are those around him, while his fleeting appearances and eye for creative flair serves him and his cast of offbeat case studies well.

A valuable piece that pairs the artistry and flair Byrne has always offered with a biting, respectful criticism of a lifestyle that still exists today. Byrne’s fascination with the quiet American lifestyle and entertainment industry brainwashing of an entire culture serves is relevant and managed well. Serving not just as a stage to promote the identically titled album Talking Heads released at the time, but also as a passion project. Byrne uses the pop-up book of advert-oriented living as both a warm embrace of this quiet country living but stabs them in the back with a frequent irony present in the idolisation of idyllic, bored living. Factory workers that wish to see the beautiful world outside of the crushing grey walls, but with no hope of doing so, their consumerist attitude closing their minds to the culture that awaits them, telling them that all they need to do is consume and celebrate their faux, individual specialness.

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet


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