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Film / True Stories

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A Completely Cool, Multi-Purpose Movie

True Stories is a 1986 Mockumentary co-written and directed by and starring Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. Byrne plays a Wide-Eyed Idealist who visits the fictional town of Virgil, Texas for its Sesquicentennial of the founding of the town and the state of Texas.

Notably, despite the movie being partly a musical with several lyrical songs sung by the film's characters, True Stories didn't receive a full soundtrack album for decades. Instead, Warner Bros. had Talking Heads record and release an album consisting of the band performing the film's lyrical songs themselves, much to David Byrne's displeasure; another album containing just the incidental music was released separately on LP and cassette, but never made it to CD. It wasn't until 2018 that a proper soundtrack album containing both the incidental music and the lyrical songs performed by the film's cast was released on CD, LP, and digitally, coinciding with The Criterion Collection's DVD and Blu-ray release of True Stories.


This film provides examples of:

  • Ac CENT Upon The Wrong Syl LA Ble: The Narrator and organizers calls the talent show a "Celebration of Special-NESS".
  • Author Appeal:
    • The film features 50 sets of twins. Why? David Byrne wanted them.
    • The Conspiracy Kitchen Sink is right out of Church Of The SubGenius. Guess who's a member?
  • The Bear: Louis Fyne (John Goodman) states numerous times he has a very consistent "panda bear" shape.
  • Blatant Lies: Signature trope of the aptly-named Lying Woman. For example, she claims to have dated the real Rambo and wrote "Billie Jean" as well as half of Elvis Presley's songs.
  • Book-Ends: The movie begins and ends on the same stretch of road with a little girl humming a tune.
  • Brain Bleach: Perhaps the nicest, most idealistic example of the Trope, in which the Narrator says near the end of the film that he wants to forget everything he saw - because it's so nice to experience Virgil again as if for the first time.
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  • The Cameo: the other members of Talking Heads have cameos during the "Wild Wild Life" segment, and again during the "Love for Sale" music video.
  • Central Theme: Living out your dreams in real life. Several songs revolve around dreams, The Lying Woman invents her own Multiple-Choice Past, one character never gets out of bed, Louis strives for nothing but matrimony, and the final line of the movie states that anything you can think of exists somewhere.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Oh, a few candidates, but the aforementioned Lying Woman's lies are downright artistic. Such as on her date with Louis:
    Louis, darlin', listen, I'll tell you somethin' if you promise not to tell another livin' soul. Now, I'd never tell this to anybody else, but I believe that part of my extra-psychic ability's connected up with the fact that I was born with a tail. Little ol' bitty hairy thing about that long - had it surgically removed when I was just five years old. My Momma kept it in a fruit jar, up in the medicine cabinet, right between the 4-Way Cold Tablets and the monkey blood. I'd get up every morning - first thing I'd go in there in the bathroom brush my teeth and stare at my own tail at the same time. Now, somethin' like that can give you power - and that's the truth. Then Momma got a wild hair one Sunday and she decided to go make a lot of money off of it, you know. Took it out to a big ol' swap meet and sold it to Lyndon Johnson's top Secret Service agent. And he told a good personal friend of mine that he was gonna sell it for even more money to the Smithsonian Institution. Shoot, he might as well, it wouldn't do him any good. It wasn't HIS tail!
    • Byrne's character alternates between this and being simply innocent.
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: The Preacher who sings, "Puzzling Evidence".
    Preacher: You know how the Governor campaigned to get the FCC here? Do you know what their goal is? Well, Elvis did! Artificial intelligence! Robots! They'd like that, wouldn't they? Yes, sir! Sleep! Sleep!
  • Driving a Desk: The Narrator is seen driving a lot. In one scene, he steers up and down.
    "Yup. It's fancy driving, all right."
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Quite a few characters are simply called "The Lying Woman", "The Computer Guy", "The Cute Woman", and so forth.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes/Nice Hat: The Trope Codifier. It has a fashion show of nothing but Impossibly Tacky Clothes. Suits made of grass turf is just the starter. Ends with bridal gowns with headpieces about a dozen feet high - one causes a poor old woman to topple off the stage. Has to be seen to be believed.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Although Byrne's character, and others, break the fourth wall throughout, there is an additional lean prior to the "Wild Wild Life" musical number when Byrne says, "Maybe you saw it on television, or maybe you missed it." The "Wild Wild Life" segment was used as a music video to promote True Stories on MTV, etc. prior to the film's release.
  • Left the Background Music On: and turns it up too!
    "The radio reception's GREAT here!"
    • Lampshaded during the Culver dinner.
      Linda: Does anyone hear music?
      The Narrator: (aside to Larry) Is there something wrong with your sister?
  • Magic Realism: The Culver dinner.
  • Moment Killer:
    The Computer Guy: People at work must think I'm going nuts, though.
    Girlfriend: Well, if this is being nuts, then I don't ever want to be sane.
    (They cuddle.)
    Girlfriend: Oh... did you fart?
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The town celebrates the anniversary as "150 Years of Specialness."
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: That's band member Jerry Harrison pretending to be Prince during "Wild Wild Life".
  • No Name Given: Save for the Culvers, Louis and a couple minor characters, most characters in the film are never actually identified by name.
  • Noodle Incident: We are never told why Earl and his wife never directly talk to each other anymore.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Subverted. Nothing does, but the town treats the mundane as exciting.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Miss Rollings gets out of bed to call the talent show after seeing Louis' performance.
  • Pop Culture Osmosis: The band Radiohead takes its name from the song of the same name in the film.
  • Quirky Town: Pretty much the entire theme of the film is just how quirky one town can be. The Narrator puzzles, however, how Virgil could be "special" since he says it's completely normal.
  • Rags to Riches: The woman whose stocks in VariCorp skyrocketed just as computers became a major business.
  • Society Marches On: Shockingly, no. Aside from some obvious cultural references that were current at the time the film was make, otherwise the film is not dated at all. Even when Earl Culver (played by Spaulding Gray) talks about his employees, Does This Remind You of Anything?
    Earl: (Computer engineers) don't work for money anymore, but to earn a place in heaven, which was a big motivating factor once upon a time, believe you me. They are working and inventing because they like it! Economics has become a spiritual thing. I must admit it frightens me a little bit. They don't seem to see the difference between working and not working. It's all become a part of one's life. Linda! Larry! There's no concept of weekends anymore!
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Or possibly Spared By The Edit: in the original screenplay, the Narrator and Louis have a conversation at a funeral where the coffin and everything else is covered with cute flower displays, strongly suggesting that the Cute Woman died. This is missing in the final cut, where the Narrator is heard in voice-over.
  • Talking Heads: No, no, not David Byrne's band - the film itself is mostly characters just chatting away when they're not singing.
  • Tastes Like Diabetes: invoked In-universe, The Cute Woman just goes batshit crazy over cute and fluffy things; during the parade, she bolts excitedly out of the crowd to coo at the babies in the carriage group. When Louis describes his song on a date with her, she remarks the song is "kinda sad", and that ruins the date.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Byrne's character Up to Eleven. For example, he gazes at some ugly tract housing and muses, "Who's to say it's not beautiful?" When he points at the VariCorp facility, he comments that it's a convenient shape - a box.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Sort of. The credits close with the line: "IF YOU CAN THINK OF IT, IT EXISTS SOMEWHERE"


Example of: