True Stories (1986)

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Released 14-Oct-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 85:25
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Byrne
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring John Goodman
Annie McEnroe
Swoosie Kurtz
Spalding Gray
Pops Staples
Tito Larriva
David Byrne
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $14.90 Music Talking Heads


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, end titles over last scene

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Does anyone remember the documentary series entitled Americana, featuring Jonathan Ross, which screened in the mid-90s on SBS? In it, Jonathan explores the kitsch and trash of American culture in three brilliant episodes (appropriately) entitled Fat, Dumb, and Rich.

    If you loved that series, as I did, you will find True Stories eerily familiar. It is a "fictional" documentary about a small town called Virgil, Texas, directed and co-written by David Byrne (from the band Talking Heads).

    It comes across as a mixture of social commentary, in the style of Koyaanisqatsi, and a celebration of the wholesomely whacko that reminds me of Fellini's Roma (particularly the fashion show). In addition, some scenes almost have a Monty Python feel about them. Parts of the film are edited like a music video, accompanying various Talking Heads songs that David composed especially for the film.

    The documentary is ostensibly about the 150th anniversary of Texas as an American State, and Virgil is celebrating it with a street parade and a talent show called Celebration of Specialness." David quips "but the town is completely normal!"

    David not only provides the voice-over narration to the "documentary", he also features in the film itself, interviewing the various inhabitants of the town. He starts off providing a somewhat farcical "history" of the area, accompanied by some stock footage black and white stills, then visits the corporate headquarters of Varicorp, a semiconductor manufacturer that just happens to be the major employer in the area.

    There he meets a computer nerd (Matthew Posey), a woman (Jo Harvey Allen) who is an incorrigible liar, and Louis Fyne (John Goodman). Louis is one of the workers in the plant, and in his spare time he is desperately searching for a woman - a very special woman to be his wife. A lot of the film features Louis in various bizarre blind dates courtesy of a computerized dating service he subscribes to. He is so desperate he even consults the local voodoo shaman. We also meet a woman (Swoosie Kurtz) who is so rich she refuses to get out of bed and lives out her life by being served in bed by human and automated help. There's even a white gospel preacher (John Ingle).

    The film takes us through a portrait of life in a small town. We experience the local nightspot, "Cajun Cool", the shopping mall (including a rather bizarre fashion show), a street parade, and a talent show. We even meet the Culvers, the "First Family" of Virgil and join them at the dinner table, and discover that Earl (Spalding Gray) and Kay (Annie McEnroe) have not spoken directly to each other in years.

    David also takes the opportunity to lecture us on a few subjects, including the "culture" of freeways, suburbia, and consumerism/advertising. Captions preface certain parts of the film, like "Shopping Is A Feeling," "Puzzling Evidence" and "Architecture."

    I quite enjoyed the quirkiness of this film, although the quirkiness is somewhat studied and mannered rather than genuine. Apparently, the characters in this film are based on magazine stories - that explains a lot.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The intended aspect ratio is 1.85:1, based on a 35mm film source. Curiously, the last scene and closing credits are presented in approximately 1.61:1 (16x9 enhanced, black bars on the sides).

    The transfer quality is above average given the age of the film. The print is relatively clean, and grain, although visible in various places, is acceptable.

    Detail levels are about average, and colour saturation is near perfect.

    Compression artefacts are limited to low level Gibbs effect ringing. I also noticed a fair amount of telecine wobble at the beginning and end of the film.

    There are two subtitle tracks: English, and English for the Hearing Impaired. They are both very similar, apart from the inclusion of transcriptions of a number of Foley effects in the latter, plus a few instances of dialogue attribution.

    This is a single sided single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one audio track on the disc: English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded (192Kb/s).

    The audio transfer quality is acceptable, though the audio track sounds a bit thin. The songs come across quite well, though.

    I did not really detect any significant usage of the surround channels except perhaps for a bit of ambience during the songs.

    Speaking of songs, the film features quite a few songs composed by David Byrne specially for the film. Some of these are performed by the Talking Heads, others by the cast of the film.

    The rest of the film is dialogue focused, although there's normally quaint background music playing. I particularly liked the reference to Philip Glass' score for Koyaanisqatsi used early in the film. A lot of the background music is instrumental, light and breezy with a bit of a country twang.

    I did not notice any issues with audio synchronization.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras. The menus are 16x9 enhanced but static.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:

    The widescreen 16x9 enhanced transfer makes R4 an easy winner.

Summary

    True Stories is a fictional documentary about the inhabitants of a small town in Texas called Virgil and focuses on their sesquicentennial celebration of the birth of Texas as a State. It is narrated, directed and co-written by David Byrne of Talking Heads.

    The video transfer is above average.

    The audio transfer is acceptable.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Thursday, February 05, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDCustom HTPC (Asus A7N266-VM, Athlon XP 2400+, 512MB, LiteOn LTD-165S, WinXP, WinDVD5 Platinum), using RGB output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum/AVIA. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE (upgraded)
SpeakersFront and surrounds: B&W CDM7NT, front centre: B&W CDMCNT, surround backs: B&W DM601S2, subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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