TNB Night Owl–Before They Were Stars

Every now and then you hear of stars bursting onto the scene making a big splash with their first film. Usually they start off with bit parts or self-produced micro-budget films. The occasional one like CLERKS (1994) get catapulted into the limelight. Most early films languish in obscurity.

Director Craig Brewer became famous for his acclaimed HUSTLE AND FLOW (2005), and continued his career with BLACK SNAKE MOAN (2006), the FOOTLOOSE (2011) remake, and the upcoming Rudy Ray Moore biopic, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME. HUSTLE AND FLOW was not his first feature. That was THE POOR AND HUNGRY (2000) made for a $20,000 inheritance while he was a manager at a Memphis Barnes & Noble. It tells the story of a car thief looking to get out of the business who ends up falling in love with the owner of his latest vehicle. It’s a quiet, understated movie that is simply well put together. Brewer still considers it his best work and has made it available for a free download (although you are welcome to purchase a DVD or Blu-Ray).

Tim Curry had a handful of television credits to his name before his first starring role as a sexually menacing psychopath who may or may not be real. No, I’m not talking about ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). The year before that one hit the screens he starred in an episode of the BBC series “Play for Today” titled SCHMOEDIPUS (1974). He co-stars with Anna Cropper who plays Elizabeth, left alone on her fortieth birthday by a cold and distant husband. A few minutes after he leaves the house, Curry’s Glen shows up at her door, claiming to be the illegitimate child she was forced to abandon after a teenage pregnancy. As the show progresses we realize there was more to his birth than originally led to, and we have to question if he is really her son, or does he even exist at all. Once believed to be lost, a time-coded copy of unknown origin has appeared on YouTube.

Trent Harris’s THE BEAVER TRILOGY (2000) has a unique claim to fame in being the first starring role for two soon-to-be stars, Sean Penn and Crispin Glover. I know you’re looking at the date and wondering how this can be. As suggested by the title, THE BEAVER TRILOGY was filmed in three parts. First is a non-fiction short made in 1979 while Harris was a cameraman for a Salt Lake City news program. A young man who went by the name “Groovin’ Gary” saw the camera and immediately started performing a series of celebrity impressions. Charmed by this guy’s unabashed enthusiasm, Harris agreed to see him perform at a local talent show. There, Groovin’ Gary revealed his drag persona, Olivia Newton Don. Unable to get Gary’s story out of his head, Harris filmed a fictionalized version in 1981 with then-unknown Sean Penn. Penn would see fame later that year with the release of TAPS. Four years later in 1985 Harris made yet another go at fictionalizing Gary’s story, this time with a young Crispin Glover as the Olivia Newton John impersonator from a small town. Like Penn, Glover saw fame that same year with the release of BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985). Due to rights, licensing, and rumored embarrassment by one or more of its stars, it took another fifteen years before it saw an official release. It’s currently for sale, self-published, by Trent himself. There is also fourth part, BEAVER TRILOGY IV (2016) that revisits Groovin’ Gary himself as a middle-aged man, unaware he’d become a cult legend. It’s on both Amazon Prime and rental from YouTube.

It’s no surprise that Robert Downey Jr. made his debut in a movie directed by his father, underground auteur Robert Downey Sr. A then-five year old Downey played a puppy in a surrealistic piece about animals awaiting either adoption or euthanasia at a local POUND (1970). It’s a strange movie, and if watching people embody the physical and behavioral attributes of animals is your thing, it’s worth a watch. Downey was blessed with the most memorable first line of any kindergarten actor in film history: “Have any hair on your balls?”

Question of the night: what’s your favorite low-budget film?

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