Mule Skinner Blues

2001, Movie, NR, 93 mins


A white-trash WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, this documentary about a group of beer-soaked trailer-park denizens trying to make a movie undergoes a fascinating transformation. The film starts as a tediously cute portrait of a grizzled, obsessively cheerful old yakker named Beanie Andrews, then unexpectedly turns into a Greek tragedy full of poetic irony, self-delusion and pained humanity. In May 1997, a New York film crew descended on Mayport, Fla.'s Buckaneer Trailer Park to shoot a video for singer Jim White's song "Book of Angels"; Beanie — a white-haired, beer-bellied local who sells shrimp from an old truck, mows lawns and is convinced that deep down inside he's a professional entertainer — is picked to be an extra. Refusing to "part ways with the crew," Beanie persuades them that he and his trailer-park friends are part of an epic story worth telling. Then, scavenging a video camcorder from somewhere, Beanie declares that he's going to make himself a horror movie. Gathering an assortment of wannabe and never-were singers and musicians, with an office-cleaner/horror-movie buff to write the script, Beanie gives the crew a tour of dead-end, often alcoholic lives filled with serial marriages, few visible jobs and frequent talk of all the things they will do or want to do someday. "You gotta have dreams," says Ricky Lix, a sweet, greasy-haired, amateur singer-songwriter who is never without a beer in his hand — not even when he's being hoisted over a swamp by a crane for Beanie's movie. But not all of Beanie's friends are pathetic boozehounds. Some, like one-time New York theater costume-designer Annabelle Lea Usher, are just eccentric (Annabelle's been keeping her beloved late pit bull in a freezer for years until she can find the proper place to bury him), while others, like endearing amateur country singer Miss Jeannie, are old hopefuls who never made it. They're an entertainingly bizarre bunch, but then, like slow clarity on a hazy morning after, something happens. From this most unlikely cast of characters, a pure creative urge and a yearning for self-expression emerges, and it soon becomes clear the redemptive power of art is all that's keeping some of these people from slow suicide. As inelegant as the filmmaking can be — particularly in the use of cheesy, 1970s-era video special-effects — this is as powerful a set of evidence as you'll ever find of why art matters, and how it can resonate far beyond museum walls and through to the most painfully marginal lives. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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