Rarely does a movie give us such insight into the relationship between an artist and his art.
Trent Harris is an independent filmmaker who, in the late 70s, was working at a TV station in Salt Lake City, Utah, when he met a young man so unique he just had to start filming. Known then only as Groovin’ Gary, Harris films the young man in the station parking lot talking to the camera, doing impressions of John Wayne, and talking about how gosh-darn great it would be if he somehow ended up on TV. He takes Harris for a drive in his car, which is custom decorated, including window etchings of his beloved Olivia Newton John.
We’re told that after this chance encounter, Groovin’ Gary wrote to Harris repeatedly asking him to come and cover a talent show in Beaver, Utah, where he would perform in full costume as Olivia Newton John. Harris goes and films the show, and the documentary short he created from the parking lot interview and the talent show make up the first movie of the Beaver trilogy. Harris goes on to create a fictionalized version of the story, and without spoiling the reveal, casts an unknown who would become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Not satisfied with the technical look of the movie, he shoots another version of the story, casting another star who was on the cusp of huge fame in the 80s. The documentary and these two fictionalized versions form the Beaver Trilogy.
Part IV is this movie, a feature-length documentary about those three shorts, the process of how they were made, and the mystery of what happened to that kid known only as Groovin’ Gary. And in telling the story of how those movies came to be, this movie becomes the story of Trent Harris himself.
The movie explains the history of the Beaver Trilogy, then seems to veer into the detail of Trent Harris’s career, exploring areas that didn’t seem to have much to do with the story being told up to that point. As I was watching, I didn’t understand this diversion at first, but I came to find the story of Trent Harris, his creative process, failures and achievements as interesting as the Groovin’ Gary stuff. Eventually, it ties back together in a way that makes you understand it’s all connected, and the artist is a part of the art. That’s also why director Brad Bresser might by forgiven for putting himself on screen here. A director being in his or her own documentary is usually self-indulgent, but in this case at least it’s consistent with the theme.
Beaver Trilogy Part IV will catch the attention of many scrolling through Netflix because Bill Hader of Saturday Night Live fame is listed as starring. He is, in fact, the narrator, and doesn’t appear on screen. Just seeing his name attached to this, I expected it to be comedic. It isn’t, at least not intentionally. But you won’t be disappointed.
|Title||The Beaver Trilogy Part IV|
|Starring||Trent Harris, Groovin’ Gary; narrated by Bill Hader|
|Production||Ten Acre Films|