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'Beaver Trilogy, The'

'Beaver Trilogy' pairs real-life misfit with actors' creations

Friday, March 16, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Groovin' Gary considers himself the Rich Little of Beaver, Utah, which should tell you something about how old "The Beaver Trilogy" is. That, plus the fact that Gary specializes in impersonations of Sylvester Stallone, John Wayne, Barry Manilow and, especially, his beloved Olivia Newton-John.

'The Beaver Trilogy'

RATING: Unrated but PG in nature

STARRING: Sean Penn, Crispin Glover

DIRECTOR: Trent Harris



Gary isn't the reason "The Beaver Trilogy" is playing this weekend at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room or why it was booked at the New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center. Credit the baby-faced stars, a 1981 Sean Penn and 1985 Crispin Glover, who re-create and reinvent the groovin' guy. This trilogy's value is as an entertainment artifact; watching the first segment is akin to sitting through a stranger's horribly embarrassing home movie.

Indie filmmaker Trent Harris first came across Gary in the parking lot of a Salt Lake City television station in 1979. The blond-haired stranger was taking pictures of the station's helicopter with a Kodak pocket camera and doing emotional somersaults at the prospect of being on television -- "Hey, Mom, I got on the set today," he imagines boasting back home.

Gary didn't actually get on TV that day, but Harris shot some footage of the 21-year-old. He does a little Manilow, punctuates it with a rat-a-tat laugh and acknowledges, "Boy, I love hamming it up. You can tell." Before driving off in his white '64 Chevy Impala, he shows off the car, with its window etchings of Farrah and Olivia and the spiffy AM-FM radio and eight-track tape deck.

Gary later invites Harris to come to his hometown for a talent show at the high school. We watch as Gary prepares for his debut as Olivia -- he gets his makeup applied at the local mortuary, dons a long, synthetic blond wig and wriggles into some high-heeled black boots. "I hope the viewer doesn't think I'm really wacked out. ... Olivia's Olivia. I'm a guy," he insists in one of those he-doth-protest-too-much moments.

Watching him and the other participants perform is painful. If you don't cringe, you have no capacity for empathy. Or unintentional humor.

In the second part of the trilogy, shot for $100 with a home video camera, Sean Penn (either 20 or 21 years old) plays the part of Groovin' Gary, here called Larry. He nails the awkward laugh and high-pitched Aussie imitation. In the third segment, Crispin Glover takes over the role. The second and third segments show the darker side of the Utah man, who finally understands that all TV exposure is not a good thing. Of course this was life before "Survivor."

Harris was lucky enough to have cast two future stars in two-thirds of his film. A chance to see their early work apparently prompted him to re-edit, compile and get "Beaver Trilogy" into circulation.

Although it's remarkable to realize what talent Penn and -- here's the revelation -- Crispin displayed in their younger years, it's impossible not to feel Harris was abusing poor Groovin' Gary. The year 1979 wasn't kind to hairstyles, clothing or a misfit living in Beaver, Utah, and apparently not exposed to cutting-edge musical tastes.

And the low-budget nature of this project is impossible to miss. Some of the footage is shot in black-and-white and is grainy. And it all begs the question: What really happened to Groovin' Gary? We know what happened to Sean Penn, Crispin Glover and even Trent Harris.

I'll say this, though. Olivia Newton-John's song, "Please Don't Keep Me Waiting," proves a haunting, perfect refrain for small-town misfit Gary and his dramatic doppelgangers.

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