My current students are in the midst of putting the finishing touches on their thesis scripts. Oh this time of year, so fraught with anxiety. There is this notion that a thesis short will make or break your career. This is rarely the case. And yet... Last night I went to a super rare screening of "The Beaver Trilogy" at the Mandrake bar in Culver City. It's not what you think. The Beaver Trilogy refers to a series of films made in 1979, 1981 and 1985 by Trent Harris that focus on Groovin' Gary and his talent show in Beaver Utah. The first film is a documentary while the second and third installments were made years later.
There's quite a legend surrounding this film. It is mysteriously unavailable on DVD, most likely due to song licensing issues much like the film Superstar. When I started watching part 2, featuring a very young, and then unknown Sean Penn I immediately recognized the steps to the AFI Library building in the film's opening shot. This had the look and feel of a cycle project. And indeed it is! Part 3, as it turns out is a thesis project based on the cycle project.
The trilogy was passed around for years on VHS and known only to a handful of underground film enthusiasts. In 2001 the trilogy screened at Sundance to a packed house. Groovin' Gary was in the audience and received the standing ovation he had long been waiting for.
I'm pretty sure that parts 2 & 3 are available at the AFI library. They're certainly worth checking out. It's not the most genius film but it's kind of fascinating to watch the revision process happen in successive drafts of the film. The "documentary" has far less dramatic conflict than the cycle project and subsequent thesis film. It's part of that whole "reality is no excuse for poor drama" thing. But at the same time, I think I liked the documentary the best. What's interesting is how in reality no one has a problem with Groovin' Gary dressing up and singing as Olivia Newton John. It's in the fictionalized versions that he's met with so much resistance. It sort of reminded me of Larz and the Real Girl in that the hardest part of the story to accept is that the town goes along with it. Maybe we are not as intolerant as pop culture would make us seem.