Sunday, October 19, 2008

Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes - Heartland Film Festival review

I was 14 years old when I first started listening to Prairie Home Companion. When my sister and I would go to my dad's for a weekend visit, we always listened to PHC at dinner, moving to the living room to finish up with the news from Lake Wobegon.

Although I outgrew most of my childhood likes and dislikes – beer can collecting just doesn't have the same attraction as it used to – Prairie Home Companion has stayed with me for the last 27 years. Garrison Keillor's smooth baritone can lull you into a state of Saturday relaxation like nobody's business.

So I jumped at the chance to review Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes at the Heartland Film Festival, dangling modifier notwithstanding.

The movie is a behind-the-scenes documentary about Keillor and his steering of Prairie Home Companion through its 30 year run. We get to see how the show is made, the musicians and actors who are normally just names and voices on the radio, and Keillor's thoughts on his writing process.

I've always liked PHC because it's a microcosm of old-time radio. Back before television, radio was the only form of in-home entertainment. There were cowboy and adventure for the kids, soaps for mom, detective shows for the kids, and gospel and country music shows for background noise throughout the day. PHC recreates the sound and feel of old-time radio by packing the shows into a 2 hour summary.

PHC has enjoyed unbridled success – at least as much success as a public radio show can have; it's still just public radio, after all – but they've made a Prairie Home Companion movie with Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Tommy Lee Jones; the show is also heard in England and Australia; and, Keillor owns a home in Minnesota and an apartment in Manhattan. He writes for the New Yorker and countless other publications.

The only other way to learn what a PHC show looks like live, you'll have to travel up to Minnesota or New York to watch a live production. Or you can spend the eight bucks and see Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes. I highly recommend the latter.

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