I don’t reread books. But, I do rewatch movies. I have about ten or so that I sink into when I need a break from the world.
Yesterday, I ended up with True Stories, David Byrne’s 1986 satire of small town life with the soundtrack mostly written by Byrne and performed by his band The Talking Heads and various cast members. Once again, I was reminded that, within his satire, Byrne mostly got the future right, from sprawling suburbs to burgeoning conspiracy theories to emptying downtowns. At its heart, the film is the story of human beings struggling to maintain some semblance of control in an increasingly chaotic world.
As with most prophecies, we don’t always understand them at the time. I remember loving the movie and the music but missing the larger message when I first saw it on the big screen all those years ago. At the time, I was living in Los Angeles and going to graduate school at UCLA, and there were plenty of examples of Byrne’s vision for Virgil, Texas, already coming true throughout California. But, in 1986, I think the sense of the power of progress outweighed the potential downsides presented by the doomsayers.
My modern literature professor at the time made a comment that has stuck with me. He observed that modern and contemporary writers often lament the loss of innocence and fundamental disconnect from natures that seem to come with progress. He went on to comment that he had trouble helping his undergraduates understand this point of view. After all, living in the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles, they saw parking lots not as eyesores but as a place to park their sports cars.
If you haven’t ever watched True Stories, it is available at various streaming outlets. Two clips, in particular, show Byrne’s prescience. One features the “perfect” family of the CEO of Varicorp, the town’s computer manufacturer. The parents do not speak directly to each other, instead using their son and daughter to communicate. In the clip, the CEO played by Spalding Gray, uses the dinner table to envision the new world order:
The second clip features John Ingle as an evangelical preacher with a brief appearance of Jo Harvey Allen, simply known as the lying woman. We wade into the world of religious prophecy and conspiracy theory, underscored by the Talking Heads’ song, “Puzzlin’ Evidence”. (I can’t embed so click the song title to access.)
These two clips give a good idea of the tone of the film and I hope they entice you to watch the whole thing. According to Wikipedia (although it needs a citation), the film was not commercially successful but has become a cult classic.