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Keillor's 'Home Companion' Onscreen

Our film critic reviews A Prairie Home Companion, Robert Altman's film adaptation of Garrison Keillor's long-running public radio show.


Other segments from the episode on June 9, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 9, 2006: Interview with Neil Young and Jonathan Demme; Review of the film "A prairie home companion;" Review of the television show "Deadwood."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews film "A Prairie Home
(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) "Oh, hear that old piano from down the avenue.
I smell the pine trees. I look around for you. Oh, my sweet..."

(End of soundbite)


A lot of public radio personalities are showing up on the big screen in the
next two weeks. Tom and Ray Magliozzi of "Car Talk" have a cameo in "Cars"
and puzzlemaster Will Shortz is the focus of the documentary "Wordplay." And
then there's the film "A Prairie Home Companion," written by Garrison Keillor
and directed by no less than the revered American maverick, Robert Altman.
Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: It must have been strange for Garrison Keillor to have
an even bigger auteur in the house for his cinematic fantasia, also called "A
Prairie Home Companion." He and Robert Altman make a fascinating fit. They
both grew up in the Midwest and in life are famously taciturn. Although I
suspect they differ in their religious outlooks, what they share is a faith in
the transcendent power of performance. And that's enough to make their
collaboration a holy moment. The movie is both a celebration of radio and a
wake for radio. Set on the night of the last broadcast of "A Prairie Home
Companion," here a parallel universe show, not nearly as renowned. The movie
is redolent of death but it also teams with country Western folk and gospel
music, along with a heap of corny jokes, and it features stars who appear to
be having an obscene amount of fun in one another's company. Among the
characters are figures from "Prairie Home" sketches made flesh: the detective
Guy Noir, played by Kevin Kline, and the cowboys Dusty and Lefty, played by
John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson, here a rambunctious singing duo. The
musicians are "Prairie Home" regulars and people we wish were, like the
Johnson sister, Yolanda and Rhonda, played by Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin.
And there's Keillor himself, both the center of the movie and a dazed

Altman is a virtuoso of ebb and flow, and he's in his element, in a backstage
teaming with chatterboxes. The camera travels up and down and side to side,
trailing characters as they hurtle from dressing rooms to wings to lobby.
Keillor's dialect comedy sounds better when delivered at overlapping speed,
Altman speed. Take the scene where Streep and Tomlin reminisce about their
early years on the road, while Lindsey Lohan, as Yolanda's daughter, listens.

(Soundbite of "A Prairie Home Companion")

Ms. LILY TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) And the next week we're back doing the county
fair circuit, changing our petticoats in the ladies' toilet and the boys
trying to peek in.

Ms. MERYL STREEP: (As Yolanda) (laughing) Yeah.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) That was the only good part about it. Then you have
to go outdoors and sing in the open air with a cloud of mosquitoes around your

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) Yep.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) Remember that time? Honestly, Lola, honest to God,
a dragonfly flew right in my mouth.

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) Oh, oh, yeah.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) It was this big.

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) Was it?

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) I thought it was a bird.

Ms. LINDSEY LOHAN: (As Lola) How old were you then?

Ms. TOMLIN: I was 13, your mother was 10...

Ms. STREEP: I was...(unintelligible).

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) Wanda was what?

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) Oh, Wanda was 16, Tiny, 15.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) Yep. That was the end of it, the end of the road.

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) That was a great--you know, Wanda took it real
hard, didn't she? A week later, she got arrested.

Ms. LOHAN: (As Lola) For what? You never told me this.

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) Shoplifting and I did tell you.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) No, no, she was in a cafe having...

Ms. LOHAN: (As Lola) Mom, you're going senile. You didn't tell me that.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) Come on, Yolanda.

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) Nooo.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) She was having a cup of coffee in the cafe. She

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) Yeah.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) ...a glazed doughnut...

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) She was...

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) ...and started eating and she got a sugar rush.

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) She got a rush and then...

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) She was diagnosed hypoglycemic and so she forgets
she didn't pay for the doughnut, and she walks out the door...

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) But they arrested her for shoplifting.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) Within two minutes the red lights are flashing, and
she's in handcuffs.

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) They had a policeman there. Yep, she was.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) And the cameras, the TV cameras, the station came
right down.

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) Oh, sure, it was on the news. It was on the news.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) And her hair's like sticking out like this...

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) She had beautiful hair.

Ms. TOMLIN: (As Rhonda) ...and she's bawling, and Daddy sees it on the 10:00

Ms. STREEP: (As Yolanda) Daddy saw it 'cause he was in the hospital with
Mama. She was having her tubes tied after Janny was born. Thank you.

Ms. LOHAN: (As Lola) Didn't need to know that.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: In Altman movies, actors are reborn. I can't think of a
performance by Streep I've loved this much. She's loosey-goosey, and when she
plays a performer,a childish joy shines through. And Tomlin's dryness makes
her the perfect foil.

"A Prairie Home Companion" does have off notes. A device with Virginia Madsen
as an angel of death gets by only because Madsen is so radiant. And Keillor
has too many defense mechanisms to open himself up to the camera. I know
people who ridicule the radio version of "Prairie Home Companion" for what
they regard as elitism masquerading as folksy populism. But what keeps me
listening is the underlying misery. Keillor's monologues suggest the pain of
growing up big and weird-looking in a small town in northern Minnesota where
people are too buttoned-up to dramatize their unhappiness. And with a
religion, Lutheranism, in which you're a sinner until proven innocent, which
is basically never, no wonder Keillor wasn't at home in his body, and how
fortunate he found a new life through his voice, the most plangent base in
radio. His variety show isn't salvation but it's a tender mercy.

Altman, meanwhile, is a genius at balancing the boisterous and the melancholy.
At age 81, with an honorary Oscar, the kind that might as well be shaped like
a tombstone, he's probably thought as much as Keillor about the hovering
presence of death. But "A Prairie Home Companion" isn't meant as his own
eulogy. If the movie's any indication, between now and his last rites, he'll
be making a glorious rumpus.

BIANCULLI: Dean--David Ebel--David Edelstein is film critic for New York

Coming up, rough riders return to HBO. We'll take a sneak peak at the third
season premier of "Deadwood." This is FRESH AIR.


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Review: Guest host David Bianculli reviews HBO series "Deadwood"

To close today's show, I'd like to shift over to my duties as a TV critic,
because one of my favorite TV shows is returning this weekend, and I want to
make sure everyone knows it's coming. It's the HBO Western series "Deadwood"
by "NYPD Blue" creator, David Milch, and its third and final full season
begins Sunday night in the time slot held formerly by "The Sopranos."

"The Sopranos" this year was more promise than execution and teased a lot more
than it delivered. "Deadwood," which tells of the frontier gold rush town and
all the people jockeying to profit from it, is exactly the opposite. For the
first two seasons, Milch built the town of Deadwood as we watched, literally
with the town growing, building by building, as the rich gold in the mines and
streams drew scores of dreamers, opportunists, laborers and rich investors.

"Deadwood," the series, spent two years introducing and fleshing out more than
18 rich, diverse, fascinating characters, any one of whom could have carried a
series on his or her shoulders. And now, as season three begins, it's as
though the chess game of power, with pawns being moved gingerly around the
board as the larger pieces jockey for position and advantage, has escalated to
an unavoidable, imminent explosion. When any two of the alpha males of
Deadwood enter the same room to converse, there's no telling how many will
emerge alive. That goes for the alpha females, too.

The established power centers of Deadwood, the town, and "Deadwood," the
series, are: Ian McShane as the rugged town's top alpha dog, Al Swearengen;
Powers Boothe, as Swearengen's whorehouse-owning rival, Cy Tolliver; Timothy
Olyphant as the temperamental sheriff Seth Bullock; and Molly Parker as the
wealthy, unpredictable Alma Garret Ellsworth.

But as this third season of "Deadwood" begins, Gerard McRaney stirs things up
violently as George Hearst, the rich and ruthless gold mine investor. Hearst
has settled in Deadwood to protect his interests, crush talk of a mine workers
union and weaken or dispatch his rivals as quickly as he can identify them.
One by one, the other power players of Deadwood call on Hearst to size him up,
and this is where Milch and the actors really shine. As the characters circle
each other like Sumo wrestlers, looking for the moment to strike, their
dialogue is stilted, aggressively, impossibly, civil and lyrical. But in each
case, Hearst is looking for the opening, the leverage that will catch his
opponent off balance and expose his or her raw underbelly. When he finds it,
there's usually a sudden burst of profanity from the victim as Hearst strikes
gold as surely as if he were working one of his own mines with a pickax.

Here's McRaney as Hearst, having one of those initial volatile conversations
with town sheriff Seth Bullock, played by Timothy Olyphant. Bullock, who is
married, recently carried on a heated, secret affair with Alma Garrett, the
widow whose Deadwood mining claim made her the town's wealthiest citizen,
until Hearst arrived. Now, after one minute of polite conversation with the
sheriff, Hearst hits on the topic of the recently remarried Alma, and once he
senses Bullock's agitated reaction, he refuses to let go.

(Soundbite of "Deadwood")

Mr. GERARD McRANEY: (As George Hearst) Extraordinary, the story of that
woman's adventures. Do you suppose that its future chapters might be written
elsewhere than the hills?

Mr. TIMOTHY OLYPHANT: (As Seth Bullock) What are your intentions?

Mr. McRANEY: (As George) As to Mrs. Ellsworth's holdings, I would shape
those to the lady's preferences and be pleased and grateful if you told her.
Do you need a handkerchief, Mr. Bullock?

Mr. OLYPHANT: (As Seth) No.

Mr. McRANEY: (As George) Unfortunate incident this morning at Swearengen's
saloon. Do you know about it?

Mr. OLYPHANT: (As Seth) No.

Mr. McRANEY: (As George) One of my workmen was killed in a drunken shootout.

Mr. OLYPHANT: (As Seth) Mmm.

Mr. McRANEY: (As George) How would you deal with that, sheriff?

Mr. OLYPHANT: (As Seth) Depends. What it was about, who makes complaints.

Mr. McRANEY: (As George) Mmm. My worker was Cornish, they are a clannish
people. I suppose another Cornish might complain.

Mr. OLYPHANT: (As Seth) I'd need to hear what he said then.

Mr. McRANEY: (As George) He may also indict the sunrise. For men of that
sort, events such as these are as natural. Anyways, may we speak of your

Mr. OLYPHANT: (As Seth) Another time.

Mr. McRANEY: (As George) I would want to support them, you see. I would
want to back you, to thank you for taking her my message.

Mr. OLYPHANT: (As Seth) I never said I'd take her your message.

Mr. McRANEY: (As George) Are you saying now that you won't?

Mr. OLYPHANT: (As Seth) You stay out of our (censored) affairs.

Mr. McRANEY: (As George) Oh. Affairs of that sort are not my interest, Mr.
Bullock. My only passion is the color.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: The color to which Hearst refers is the color of gold but red, the
color of blood, runs just as deeply in Deadwood, and the violence is just as
raw as the language. Characters are likely to lose fingers or eyes just by
provoking someone meaner than they are, and in this season's first five
episodes, they do just that. And while the tension is pervasive, so is the
humor and intelligence, because the town of Deadwood is populated by more wry
and funny characters than any other series on television. It's a show too
good to miss. Great stories, great acting, great (censored) language, even a
great theme song.

(Soundbite of music)


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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