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The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico (2005)

by on 2013/02/18

The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico (2005)“The songs are so good he gets away with it.”

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Who is – or was – Guy Terrifico?

Assuming he really is – or was – at all.

According to this Canadian music mockumentary, Terrifico was “born” in a hotel room or a hospital, the result of a lottery-funded drug trip and a kick in the head by a horse. From that point on, the former Ukranian-Albertan James Jablowski ascended to country music infamy.

Never actually finishing the recording of his debut album, he surges through various phases of folk, country, rock, rockabilly, and gospel before emerging as a singer-songwriter. Apparently trapped in the Seventies, he evolves but never moves through his time warp. And when his lowest common denominator audience rejects his later ascendance, he’s promptly shot onstage . . . or is he really?

The stories of the participants rarely fit together, but they’re so outlandish, it’s clearly an absurdist legend. Even those reflecting on his comparatively recent death seem not to have gotten their stories straight, which offers hope . . . or doubts for their sanity. The disparity works in the manner it should have – but didn’t – in The Canadian Conspiracy. Comedy is kind of, er, funny in that way.

It’s a wry experience, but bolstered by some very solid music, courtesy of writer/director Michael Mabbott and his leading man, Matt Murphy. They’re abetted by a respectable number of musicians and other familiar faces, including The Band’s Levon Helm, Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, Merle Haggard, Ronnie Hawkins, Kris Kristofferson (Blade), Colin Linden, and George Stroumboulopoulos. Bruce Cockburn doesn’t appear in person, but a favourite song of his does: “Going to the Country” covered by Murphy.

And speaking of absent influences, Johnny Cash (Walk the Line) is all over this film. He’s shown in stock footage, and referenced explicitly. Terrifico, in an early bit, is said to have shot a man . . . naturally because he wanted to see him die. His partner is referred to as “his June Carter Cash” and, in a later scene, they attempt to cover one of the more famous couple’s duets. Even the cinematography of a later concert performance resembles the grainy blue photos from the Live at San Quentin album.

I found such little treasures nestled everywhere throughout, a boon for fans of Canadian content, comedy, or good music. Count me as surprised as anyone, for this video falls in the category of watched-it-years-ago-and-just-didn’t-get-it-at-the-time. Fortunately, a second chance has redeemed it in my eyes (and ears). The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico is appropriately terrific.

Now, if you will excuse me, its soundtrack is calling.

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Rated 14A

86 minutes

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