Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
The incredible truth melds into credible fiction in Trent Harris’ trio of short films, shot in the early 80s and featuring youthful performances by Sean Penn and Crispin Glover. Hilarious and also rather touching, this unexpected encounter with celebrity worship and gender confusion in small-town America raises enough questions about the real, the unreal and the even more unreal, to keep the media studies industry laughing for the next decade.
In 1979, Harris walked outside the Utah television station where he worked, to try a new video camera. A strapping young man in the parking lot, attracted by the camera, introduced himself as Groovin’ Gary and had Harris film his hokey impersonations of John Wayne, Barry Manilow and Sylvester Stallone. Harris subsequently received a letter from The Kid, inviting him to a country talent quest to film his debut as ‘Olivia Newton-Don’. It’s quite a show, a drag homage so bizarrely ungainly that it’s mesmerising. Later that night The Kid called Harris and begged him not to air his footage…
In Beaver Kid #2, made a year later, Harris recreates his impromptu documentary, re-enacting much of the actual dialogue and gesture. A 20-year-old Sean Penn appears as The Kid and is, of course, riveting. In this version Harris represents himself as a gloating predator, savouring the tragic delusions paraded before him. Shot on film in 1985, the third version, The Orkly Kid, pushes the encounter further into fiction, introducing some amusingly formulaic elements to provide an undiscovered Crispin Glover with a starring role as an ill-equipped cross-dresser facing a town without pity. — BG
Watching the story reshape itself as it plays out again and again is an oddly exhilarating experience as two of Hollywood’s most embryonically idiosyncratic talents try to keep pace with a spirited amateur. Taken as a whole, Harris’ trilogy is a hilarious, fascinating document that transcends kitsch and curiosity. — Mark Olsen, Sight and Sound, 8/00
A stunning and complex exercise, an elaborate karaoke-upon-karaoke that snaps right into place with contemporary obsessions with celebrity, fame and media. — Ed Halter, NY Press, 19/7/00