The Beaver trilogy ( A movie review)

Sometimes I like to take a break from my usual posts and write about anything else unrelated. I have a passion for film and art and just plain weirdness. In fact when it comes to art, the weirder the better.  A few years back I downloaded this video from Youtube and it was entitled “Lost and found video night”   It is a VHS rip of compilation of various clips taken from tv and movies, a lot of cable access shows, random bollywood clips, everyday people’s home video recordings, even funny edited content like NWA playing over an episode of Fat Albert, just wild stuff.  Anyways the video featured some stuff from the actor Crispin Glover, he played George Mcfly in Back to the future.  On the video was from some random movie where Crispin Glover is dressed in drag as Olivia Newton John and singing in a cheesy talent show.  The clip was just him singing and it was grainy and was in bad quality, I had no idea what this was but it was fascinating to me. It was like a train wreck and without context, it left me wondering what the hell this was.

I did a quick online search to find the clip on Youtube and it turned out it was something called the “Beaver trilogy”   I was intrigued and needed to see it but of course, it was unavailable except in short clips.   Over the years I forgot about it, until I watched the lost and found video again with the Crispin Glover clips.  Yesterday I managed to track it down and finally watch it. it was one the most interesting pieces of film I had seen in a long time.

The Beaver trilogy starts off as a documentary short in 1979.  The director Trent Harris was working at a television studio in Utah. He was outside packing up and he sees this kid taking pictures of the news helicopter.  The kid walks up to him and introduces himself and says he is 20 years old.  The movie dubs him “Groovin Gary: although that wasn’t his real name. He looks like a typical stoner of the 70’s he has the Jeff Spicoli laugh and feathered hair and bell bottoms, he seems excited to be on tv, like it’s his big break. He comes from a small town called Beaver, Utah ( Hence the name “The Beaver Trilogy”)   He claims he’s the Rich Little ( Google it) of Beaver and proceeds to do impressions of John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, Barry Manilow and mentions he also does an Olivia Newton John impression which he dubs “Olivia Newton Don”.  It’s obvious this guy loves being on camera and talks about the town of Beaver and shows the camera man his car which is a 1964 camaro with red upholstered seats and an 8 track tape deck with an Olivia Newton John tape stuck inside and photos of Farrah Fhacet and Olivia Newton John ingrained in the car, clearly the guy was a fan of Olivia Newton John.  Groovin Gary and Trent part ways for the moment.

In the next scene, Trent is reading a letter that Gary had sent to him explaining that he was organizing a talent show in Beaver where he would do impressions and perform as Olivia Newton John. Gary begged them to come film the show and the director seemed to take some humor in this and agreed.   They arrive at the local mortuary where apparently this is the only woman in town that agreed to do Gary’s makeup. I’m sure some of it also had to do with fear on Gary’s part.  So it’s a scene of her applying make up on Gary while he explains  he’s not a “Girl”.  He’s just a guy who dresses up like Olivia for kicks, to make people laugh. he doesn’t want to people to think he’s gone “totally nuts”  He eventually puts his wig on leather boots and he is dressed as Olivia.

The last scene is the talent itself.  It looks like it was Gary”s old high school auditorium. The directed managed to film some of the preceding acts which gives a clue of how conservative and boring this town is. There is a number where two sisters are singing some old song from the 50’s, another number where it some kind of choreographed dance routine  with cheerleaders twirling batons. Just really awful, even by talent show standards. It’s hard to be believe this was a documentary and not scripted.  So after that Olivia Newton Don ( Groovin Gary) enters the stage and it just gets really uncomfortable.   People were expecting Gary to do a Barry Manilow impression or something and instead he comes out in drag. You have to realize this is a small conservative town in 70’s, I don’t think anyone was prepared for his. He sings the song “Please don’t keep me waiting” by Olivia Newton John, in a terrible singing voice but he seems so emotional, really owning the song, to the point where he’s almost in tears, maybe from feeling humiliated.  After the song, he is carried off of stage by a masked man ( a skit) and that was the end of the talent show.

The documentary ends with Gary summing ti up as really going well.  He says people enjoyed  it and got a laugh but it’s unconvincing. He looks defeated, it was probably one of the most humiliating moments in his life and I am sure the whole town judged him.  A strong part of me thinks that he was struggling with homosexuality in a small judgemental town in the late 70’s and how alone he felt. And this talent show was him coming out, although he didn’t plan it that way. I think he was passionate about singing and having fun and thought others would enjoy it too.  He thought this would be his big break to be on television and I think he may have felt like a fool and that everyone was going to see it. It was just a look of regret.   The very last footage we have of Gary is him standing by his car as the director is in his car, driving in the distance. And it I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to that guy. How did the town react? It just left so many questions.

Now if it had just been the short documentary, it would have been interesting enough but the director decided to make 2 more short fictionalized dramatizations about the story of Groovin Gary, one short played by Sean Penn in 1981, right after filming “Fast times at Ridgemont High”  the other short starred Crispin Glover in 1985, around the filming of Back to the future.    The Sean Penn short was in black and white and he sounded just like Jeff Spicoli, with his stoner laugh. Trent Harris hires an actor to play himself. In both dramatized shorts, the tape in the camera breaks and Gary’s segment is never recorded.   Sean Penn pretty much acts most of the dialogue from the documentary including the scene at the mortuary and the talent show. Trent Harris portrays himself as a smug jerk who exploits Gary for laughs and uses it to propel his television career. When Trent and his friend are driving to Beaver, Utah. They are smoking a joint and laughing at the prospect of this kid singing in drag.

The talent show is pretty much the same as in the documentary although it pans to the audience to see their shocked reactions and gasps as Gary walks out as Olivia Newton John.  After the number Gary is confronted by the Emcee who tells him he is a disgrace and humiliated himself and the whole town on television. He calls him a “Fruit” and tells him to wash his face, as if he is his father.  Gary is clearly humiliated because he thought everyone would laugh with him and not at him. He didn’t create this talent show to make a spectacle of himself. In fact, he is the one that organized all so it so he could show off his Olivia Newton Don persona, he really thought people would enjoy it.

The rest of the movie is drama.  Gary is in his room with a large picture of Olivia Newton John behind him.  He makes a phone a call to Trent and begs him not to put the talent show on television. Trent says that it was great and he has a deadline, he worked really hard to film it and he wasn’t going to remove it.  Gary hangs up the phone while Trent is talking. He goes to the closet and pulls out a shotgun.  He places the gun his mouth and tries to pull the trigger but is interrupted by a phone call.  It’s one of his female friends who says that she loved the show and could he do his Olivia impression at party of hers.   He says nothing and the movies ends with just the image of the post of Olivia Newton John.

The third and final short with is with Crispin Glover, the short creates more of a cohesive backstory. This time everything takes place in Idaho and his name has been changed to “Larry”  It is also filmed in color and is of better quality.  Larry is an outcast in this small town is bullied and mocked by some of the townspeople. He is in his room, wearing a blonde wig and his mother wants to know whats bothering him, he tells her some story and she goes back downstairs. He goes to a local dinner and when he asks for coffee, the waitress just ignores him. He meets an older man and he offers Larry a job the next week.  These guys bully him and put a tack on his chair and everyone laughs except for the old man who kicks them out. Apparently this old guy is fond of Larry and protects him.  There is also another scene in the diner where Larry is meeting his friend and he is getting hassled again by the same guys. It sort of reminds me of the scene in the diner in “Back to the future” where George Mcfly is getting bullied, maybe that’s where they got it from.

There is way more drama in the last short.  They show Larry getting ready before the talent in the boys room at the old high school. While he’s changing, two guys walk into the bathroom and Larry walks out. They have a look of disbelief and laugh at him, Gary looks humiliated, he is already regretting this.  He goes backstage and his friend ( the one in the diner) who was supposed to help him with the music, sees Larry in drag and asks him what the hell he’s doing. He refuses to take part in it and calls him sick and you could tell Larry is really hurt by this, mostly likely because this may have been his only friend and he was abandoning him when he thought that he’d be there to help. Just like the other short, it painful to watch.

When Larry finally walks on the stage as Olivia Newton Don, the crowd gasps in horror. And his mother who is in the audience has a shocked look on her face and walks out the auditorium.  He play the number as the audience sniggers but he continues until the end.   He excitedly runs backstage to see the old man from the diner.  The man calls him a “fuckin disgrace” and that he humiliated himself and the whole town. He alludes to Larry being gay and regrets that his daughters took part in the talent show. Larry is left looking defeated and humiliated, He truly thought that everyone would enjoy the show and clearly it became a spectacle, one he didn’t plan.

The last scene, Larry drives up to the diner. And sees everyone inside.  He puts on his blonde wig, walks in, orders a coffee to go and promptly leaves town, smiling and laughing. All while Olvia Newton John;s song “Please don’t keep me waiting” plays in the background.  He could finally leave this judgemental town and be himself, he was free. And the film ends there.

I don’t why know this affected me because it left an impact on me. I’m not gay nor I want to dress in drag but this was heartbreaking in many ways. It was heartbreaking that Gary wanted to be accepted so bad by others and all they did was hate him, because he was different, I could relate in a sense; being passionate about something ( especially writing) and feeling like you can’t share with others in real life because you fear you’ll be judged.  It was sad that Gary was exploited by this director and how the media ( and it’s viewer) are entertained by laughing at the expense of others.  Gary wasn’t an actor, he was a real person and his goal wasn’t to be laughed at but he was and I am sure it destroyed him as well as unintentionally outed him in a most likely homophobic town.  I wonder if some of those fictionalized scenes were based on truth.  Did Gary really ask for Trent to not air his talent show on television? Did Gary really try to kill himself?  I couldn’t find much information. I do know that Gary died about 10 years ago from a heart attack and he was married to a woman without kids.  He even reunited with Trent Harris at the Sundance film festival where they showed the Beaver trilogy in it’s entirety.   It just an interesting piece of 80’s underground cult cinema that I wanted to share with you. Now go out there and find it because it really is an interesting film especially if you are fans of Sean Penn or Crispin Glover








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