Open City Cinema presents The Beaver Trilogy
Open City Cinema presents The Beaver Trilogy
Tuesday, May 8, 7:30 PM // Frame Arts Warehouse (318 Ross Ave.)
A new local screening series, Open City Cinema kicks off on May 8th with Trent Harris’ triple-headed cult classic The Beaver Trilogy. The screening will consist of three short films, all sparked by Harris’ chance encounter with the wonderfully weird “Groovin’ Gary”, an Olivia Newton-John impersonator from Beaver, Utah. Also on the menu, will be a live performance by Winnipeg’s own Delf Gravert as Groovin’ Gary.
The saga of The Beaver Trilogy all began when Harris was testing a new colour video camera in the parking lot of a Salt Lake City news station and spotted Gary taking photos of the station’s news helicopter. Gary initially touts himself as a celebrity impersonator, performing for the camera in a way that is both genuine and bizarre. Weeks later Harris travels to the small town of Beaver, Utah to film Groovin’ Gary as he organizes a talent show in which he performs in full drag as his idol Olivia Newton-John (Olivia Newton-Don as Gary coins his alter ego). This documentary effort would become The Beaver Kid, the first installment of The Beaver Trilogy.
The first dramatized recount of this chance meeting was made a year later by Harris while in L.A. struggling to make it as a filmmaker. The Beaver Kid 2 stars a then unknown Sean Penn as “Groovin’ Larry” and is suitably shot on a incredibly lo-fi black and white video camera, which only lends to the campy and DIY nature of Groovin’ Gary himself.
The final instalment, The Orkly Kid is in vivid early colour video and stars a young Cripin Glover reprising Penn’s role as Groovin’ Gary , this time referring to himself as Olivia Neutron Bomb. Glover easily bests Penn in an acute depiction of Gary’s character that is as fascinating and hilarious as the original.
One may question what exactly triggered Harris to continue remaking this film again and again. Groovin’ Gary is indeed an intriguing individual - personable and yet awkward, alienating yet wholly endearing. Gary’s desire to perform and be loved is at odds with his unconventional behaviour, very reminiscent of Little and Big Edie in the classic Maysles doc, Grey Gardens. Gary’s ultimate obsession with fame illustrates how humanity’s pop culture has directed our ever present urge to leave a lasting impression on this world. Perhaps this was something that Trent Harris – then struggling for his shot to be a famed movie director – could identify with.
The Beaver Trilogy screens at 7:30PM on Tuesday, May 8th, at the Frame Arts Warehouse, 318 Ross Ave. For more info, check out the Facebook Event.
INTERVIEW: An Accidental Masterpiece: Trent Harris’ “Beaver Trilogy”
originally published by indieWIRE on July 23, 2000 // interview by Aaron Krach
indieWIRE: Who is the original Beaver Kid? He isn’t identified anywhere, not even in the credits.
Trent Harris: He’s just a guy. Actually he asked me to keep his name private. He’s an incredible guy, though. He knows all about the film.
iW: By never giving any explanation as to what is going on during the film, of what is documentary and what is fiction, or even saying when each part was shot, viewers are really left not knowing what is going on.
Harris: Well, join the crowd. That’s been my experience with the whole thing. I don’t know if there is such a term as “first-person camera,” is there?
iW: There is now.
Harris: It’s when you are seeing things at the same time I’m seeing them, and the audience is discovering things at the same time I’m discovering them. I’ve actually been expanding on that a lot. That’s all I shot, or all I’ve been trying to do now. It’s like following your nose and seeing where it goes. The whole project has been like that initial meeting in the parking lot. It’s all been fascinating and it’s all been interesting enough to just ride with it. It’s like, Don’t argue with it, and just ride with it. Opportunities present themselves and you just have to go with them. You don’t get a chance very often.
iW: When did you realize that you had something so special in this story?
Harris: I’ve done, Oh God, I bet I’ve probably worked on a hundred documentaries and very seldom do I ever actually film something that is real. You just never really do. I think maybe that’s happened twice or three times in my life. That encounter in the parking lot was definitely the first time and I think the best, that I actually got something that developed on film as opposed to filming something that happened in the past or filming someone talking about something that happened in the past. You are actually filming something happen, this transformation of character.
iW: It is also different from when you film someone who knows they are on camera and performs for it. They change. This guy was just so on.
Harris: Oh, he’s an incredible person, just incredible. And then there is the subtext of what’s going on. He’s saying something and we are reading something else. I think that’s what makes it work.
iW: Then there is the Olivia Newton-John song, which sounds so cheesy at first, but after hearing it several times becomes devastating.
Harris: Oh I know. The words are incredible. That’s why I wanted to stick with the song and not switch to another song. I have a whole new appreciation for Olivia after this.
iW: Has Olivia Newton-John or “her people” seen the Trilogy?
Harris: I hope so. We invited her to it. Oddly enough, Sean (Penn) bought Olivia’s house. Actually it was when he was married with Madonna, they bought their house in Malibu from Olivia. I tried to get her to look at it and I can’t remember if she ever did or not.
iW: Penn made Beaver #2 right after he was in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” are you still in contact with him?
Harris: Yeah. I don’t think he’s seen the Trilogy, but he’s seen “The Orkly Kid” and the one he did, #2. In fact, someone just sent me an article from Canada where they were interviewing him and asked, “If people didn’t know who you were and you wanted them to see one film to get a sense of who you are, which would you tell them to watch?” He said, “The Beaver Kid” by Trent Harris. He said, “If people looked at that thing, they’d leave me alone in restaurants.” No, he was really supportive of the whole thing. That shoot was like three days. I used that piece to do the film version. Sean was going to do that version, but in the mean time he got famous and ended up on the cover of Rolling Stone. I kind of lucked out though, because I think Crispin did a really good job.
iW: Each part looks drastically different; what formats did you shoot in?
Harris: It starts out on 3/4 inch video with a camera. The second one is another kind of video. The reason it is black and white is that, well, video does not hold up particularly well. What happened was, when I went back and looked at that stuff years later, it had degenerated to such a point that I put the stuff into my computer and digitized it. I tried to clean it up. But what happened was I ended up taking the color out of it because it was just so “scawampus.” The last part is film. The kind of abstract scene in it is, as well. That scene looks pretty funky on film, too. It is actually Crispin on top of his roof, but it came out like you’re up on that mountain.
iW: What happened to Crispin Glover? He’s had a very low profile lately.
Harris: He’s here in Salt Lake. We have a mutual friend, David Brothers, who’s kind of a genius at building sets and stuff like that. Crispin is making a movie here, that he’s producing and writing and all that kind of stuff. Sometimes he’s on to something and sometimes he’s not. I think he might be on to something with this one. There’s a friend here that we’ve all known, named Steve Stewart, who’s a paraplegic. What’s he got? Oh, cerebral palsy, that’s it. And he’s kinky. He’s a kinky son of a bitch and funny too. He has all these fantasies about washing newswomen’s hair. Crispin is doing the movie with Steve as the lead character. So look out. Crispin and Dave are co-directing it. They are shooting the whole thing on these built sets. I think this one will rattle a few cages.
iW: Your earlier films are classified as “low art,” albeit the best kind of “low art.” Now “Beaver Trilogy” is playing at Lincoln Center, the epitome of “high art.” How comfortable are you traveling back and forth between those unfortunately segregated worlds?
Harris: I don’t pay a bit of attention to it. I find that usually my stuff is too weird for mainstream and not arty enough for museums. To me, that’s kind of a good place to be, somewhere in this realm. Basically, I’ve given up thinking about that stuff and just try to make movies that I like. That’s really the point. If I can make something that I like, I am quite happy.