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Grand Theft Parsons (2003)
An affectionate tribute - Gram fans will be happy
As a Gram Parsons fan of many years I was eagerly awaiting the appearance of this movie. Finally, having read brief snippets about it on-line and in magazines over the last year, I finally got the chance to see it at the Dublin International Film Festival in Feb 2004.
This is not a straight bio-pic of Gram's life, nor does it attempt to be. It is a good-natured, affectionate comedy road-movie that is based on the recollections of Phil Kaufman, who was Gram's 'executive nanny' in the last couple of years of his life and who made the strange pact with GP that is the focus of this film.
Phil Kaufman is played by Johnny Knoxville in his first lead role. Strange choice, you may think? Well, I was sceptical too, but Knoxville turns in quite a competent performance, effectively conveying the close bond that existed between Kaufman and Gram. But his companion in the coffin-thieving escapade steals the show - a hippy going through drug withdrawal, played with a subtle comic touch by Michael Shannon. Some of the characters in the film are fictional, not least the father figure of 'Stanley Parsons' and the Christina Applegate character 'Barbara'. This doesn't detract from the overall impact though. In order to simplify things, the writer and director decided not to incorporate the complicated Parsons family history into the film (few people seeing this movie will be aware of the existence of GP's step-father and his biological father). So the character we see is really Gram's biological father brought back to life, in order to witness the wonderful achievements that his son had made through creating his music.
And what about that music in the film? Well, I had shivers running up my spine when the full force of tracks such as 'Return Of The Grievous Angel' and '$1,000 Wedding' came over the sound system in the theatre. And there was almost a tear in me eye as the coffin went up in flames as 'A Song For You' played. A wonderful moment.
Hopefully people who have never heard of Gram Parsons and his music will go to see this movie because Johnny Knoxville is in it, or simply because it's a fine, lovingly crafted low-budget comedy drama. And they may well come out converts to GP's fantastic music. As for us Gram fans, well it's a must see - touching, funny, poignant and a suitably fitting tribute.