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The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico: That’s just Terrifico

That’s just Terrifico

Matt Murphy: What a Guy

Canadian honky-tonkumentary a paean to Toronto's 1960s country-folk heyday - and one guy in particular

Matt Murphy, onetime frontman for Halifax band The Super Friendz (and more recently, The Flashing Lights), is on the verge of becoming even more famous. As someone else. On the eve of the release of The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico, Murphy must be preparing to be most-often recognized on the street as the screen incarnation of Terrifico, a hard-living enigmatic country-rock cowboy from the 1970s who expired (or did he?) in a rain of bullets and pills just as his star was at its zenith.

First-time director Michael Mabbott’s The Life and Hard Times is a rollicking "honky-tonkumentary" destined to immortalize Terrifico, who, of course, never existed in the first place. So to be fair, Murphy is in fact about as Terrifico as Terrifico ever was. Or is.

Shades of It’s All Gone Pete Tong? Maybe, a little. But despite the gimmick (and the impressive fact that Mabbott has such luminaries as Kris Kristofferson, Levon Helm and Merle Haggard in his film, going along with the gag), repeated viewings of The Life and Hard Times certify at least one fact: Terrifico was one hell of a songwriter, especially for a guy who never existed.

Murphy, who co-wrote the songs for the movie, asserts that Terrifico’s songs were a labour of love, even if the acting part of it all was sort of an afterthought.

"I was cast kind of immediately," said Murphy when I caught up to him at the Toronto Film Festival, where The Life and Hard Times premiered after a showing at South by Southwest. "Mabbott called me up years ago and wanted help finishing some of the songs, and he mentioned also there was a chance I would get to play Guy. But he couldn’t promise anything because he was a first-time director, and I’d be a first-time actor…

"I was doing the music at the same time, right up to the time I went to Toronto to do it – I didn’t really think about the acting. I figured, ‘Well, I’ll memorize the lines,’ and I had been doing a country persona on this radio show I did with my brother in Halifax, called Country Pickup with Coonskin Kid and Little Oren Hoggett – that was me. He was a very ornery personality, a draft-dodging redneck, and I sort of thought he might want that from me. But [laughs] he didn’t want that.

"We just talked a lot about who he was, and the music dictated who he was. We looked at the Rolling Stones, because we wanted a rock’n'roll influence, but none of that went into my preparation, I just tried to act naturally, as Buck Owens would suggest you do, on camera. I tried not to just do a Gram Parsons send-up, though that would have been an obvious correlation because of the rock, and country, and his biography. But I tried to avoid that. I didn’t go too hippie, in other words."

Terrifico’s story is cobbled together, verité style, from "live" concert footage and a wealth of beautifully staged and aged period photographs from his rock’n'roll lifestyle, turning Toronto in the ’60s into the kind of place/time conflation like "Nashville in the ’50s" or "Austin in the ’70s" that sends chills up the spine of music-history fetishists.

Murphy, now back to touring with his musical projects after the shoot (he was about to play Pop Montreal when I met him in Toronto), was awed mainly by the challenge of being Terrifico musically, considering his tendencies toward hero worship.

"I just met Kris Kristofferson here in Toronto, and that was really great. In fact, that was the hardest thing about writing the music for the film with Michael, because, well, we’ve got Kris Kristofferson on camera saying this guy was a genius and a poet of some kind, how are we going to make the music, fake the music? We’re going to have to do something of a bohemian con job on people at some point, because not all of the music is going to be great, and none of it is going to be, you know, [singing] "take the ribbon from your hair…" or Sunday Morning Coming Down. It was a real challenge, you know, but it was kind of fun to try."

The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico

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  7 comments

  • by Bryan Murray - November 10, 2005, 9:33 am

    This film is both written and directed by Michael Mabbott and is based on the idea of a fictional rise of a Country and Western singer. This should be an interesting film with the looks of Kris Kristofferson, Ronnie Hawkins and Merle Haggard as suporting roles to give it authenticity. This is more of a Mockumentary than a comedy , but all die hard Country and Western fans should see this.

  • by Vladimir Joseph - November 12, 2005, 12:00 pm

    Made the mistake of going to see this movie because people keep saying it’s a mockumentary but most mockumentaries I’ve seen were at least fun, this was just stupid. If it wasn’t the fact that it wasn’t my turn to pick the movie I would have gone seen something else. Pointless. Nice music but that’s about it.

  • by Pedro Eggers - November 12, 2005, 3:26 pm

    Ok, for the record, Michael Mabbott writes and directs “The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico” but it’s Matt Murphy that plays the titular part and provides the music for “The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico”. If I were a betting man I’d lay heavy odds that Matt Murphy and not Michael Mabbott got the better end of this deal. A mockumentary that’s got no buzz and dwindling hope of making its money back anytime soon can’t be better off than a musician in a band (of the Superfriendz and The Flashing Lights fame) moonlighting in a movie, getting his name out and composing a movie sountrack. Sorry but this is one case where the peripherals are doing better than the central object of the project.
    ~
    Not to naysay or nothing like that but if you have a choice between seeing the real life of a musical icon (“Walk the Line” anyone?) done right or seeing a fake documentary about an imagined musical figure done on the cheap which would you choose? It’s your time, it’s your dime…choose wisely.

  • by Dustin Lau - November 12, 2005, 7:38 pm

    Okay, I just want to say that this Country-Rock/Honky Tonk-u-mentry might have been a bit better if it was just a little more serious. The reason why I first noticed this movie was because it was about an inebriated country-rocker who may or may not be all washed up. I also think it helped that I am a huge fan of anything Alt-country. With the help of a few country greats (including Kris Kristofferson, Levon Helm, and Merle Haggard), and some original music (which is quite good), this movie only turned out to be about an average choice. One thing this movie did do well was capture that 70′s feel, but all you need for that are some bell-bottoms, a few drugs, thick mustaches, and some loose women. With “Walk the Line” coming out so soon, (which is a True story), I would have to say that the choice of which movie to see is pretty clear. Unless you prefer silly gags over Johnny Cash’s absolute genius go ahead and wait a few more days.

  • by Charles Montpetit - November 12, 2005, 7:51 pm

    It’s not the first time that real musicians have taken part in a mockumentary about a fictional singer-this has been going on for a while, most notably in Eric Idle’s “The Rutles: All You Need is Cash,” which featured Mick Jagger and Paul Simon as themselves. As a matter of fact, current movies and television shows so often incorporate stars “as themselves,” from The Simpsons to Will & Grace, that this is progressively getting very tiresome. Let it be known that having someone famous pop in for a few seconds is *not* a joke in and of itself, so we might as well stop marvelling about this.

  • by Evan Malach - November 14, 2005, 7:44 pm

    Levon Helm, the drummer and one of the singers of The Band, makes an appearance in this mockumentary. Levon is one of the most talented honky tonkers of all time. I am awed by Helm’s stunning co-ordination on drums and the uniquely recognizable twang of his voice on tracks like Ophelia, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Acadian Driftwood and many other classics. I can not wait to see this movie which also features the pseudo-Band member Ronnie Hawkins.

  • by Stephen Talko - November 16, 2005, 8:21 am

    The musicians interviewed in the film were far more interesting than Guy Terrifico who was supposed to be the main attraction. In my eyes Guy was an ordinary fellow with little class or charisma who was so terrified by success that he vanished into thin air for a couple of years and then permanently for more than 30 years. While in the spoltlight his antics with his dressing down proved more popular than his music. Crowds came just to see Guy make a fool of himself. It was tough travelling by bus all the time. I would never want to be in his shoes. This film did very little for me.

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