The Beaver trilogy is a series of three vignettes about an impersonator called Groovin’ Gary (Richard Griffith) that director Trent Harris (Rubin and Ed, Plan 10 From Outer Space) met by chance in a parking lot whilst testing out a new colour video-camera. The Beaver Trilogy is a sort of documentary account and reinterpretation of their meeting and the events that unfolded afterwards. You could go as far to say that the first segment is life imitating art, and the second and third segments are art exaggerating life.
In the first vignette (filmed in 1979) Trent Harris spots Groovin’ Gary taking pictures of a helicopter in a Utah car park and proceeds to engage and film the charismatic 21 year old. Gary informs Trent that he is an impersonator and proceeds to do several impersonations including John Wayne. Gary is certainly a memorable character and his car (a Chevy named Farrah) is even more so with it’s engravings of Farrah Fawcett and Olivia Newton John on it. Without spoiling too much of this segment, Trent and Gary part ways and then Trent receives an invitation to a Talent Show that Gary will be performing at in Gary’s hometown of Beaver. He will be performing as Olivia Newton Dawn.
In the following two segments Trent has explored possible scenarios, themes and motives from the context of the original film. He was free to create a myth around Groovin’ Gary and has done so in the most humanly compassionate and purest way. Harris is even portrayed as a bit of a foul mouthed, insensitive jerk and taunts and ridicules Larry, when obviously if one knows enough about Trent’s films or cares to think about it, knows that he must not have felt this way at all or else this project would not exist…if Trent did not show a genuine and compassionate interest in this interesting character, then the footage would be serving as a clip on America’s Funniest Home Videos or would be something he would pull out at parties for a laugh.
The second (filmed in 1981 with a budget of $100) stars a then unknown Sean Penn as Groovin’ Larry and was the closest to Gary’s segment, almost word for word, Penn even had the laugh down. As in the first segment with Gary, certain scenes are shot for shot, detail for detail, such as the morgue scenes and the talent show where he performs as Olivia Newton Dawn, but scenes that we didn’t see of Groovin’ Gary are added in this segment such being Groovin’ Larry in his bedroom dressing up and lip-synching and a few more I won’t mention.
The third and last installment (1985 titled The Orkly Kid) stars Crispin Glover and has a lot more back-story, its a little more free range and varies a lot from the previous segments. This one was almost heartbreaking at parts as the small town mentality is so evident and crude, as mentioned above there is a lot more back story in this segment that is mostly set in the diner where Larry is treated as the town reject . Glover’s ability to draw emotion innocently is amazing. His version (performing as Olivia Neutron Bomb) of Olivia Newton John’s Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting was so raw and self affirming I felt like I was witnessing some important sexually liberating event.
I did not find this movie hilarious as most IMDb reviewers did, I found it to be an inspiring case study and an affirmation that these so called weirdos of society are so innocent and enthusiastic for what they do, and that the rest of us are just assholes for ridiculing them because really we are the ones who are afraid to embrace our inner creativity, let go of our inner control and kick against the pricks. If you watch this film, and you find the character boring, psycho, loony or a nut job, you need to ask yourself why, because he is just a guy living for his passions, doing what he does to fulfill his life and be happy, and here you are writing on IMDb about how much of a loser he is.
I did not expect to draw such a powerful conclusion from watching this, all I can say is that it was just a really unique piece of cinema that totally deconstructs the idea of documentary and truth.
Available on DVD from Trent Harris’ website EchoCave.