O’Brien completes Vermont film trilogy

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(Host) Vermont filmmaker John O’Brien’s new movie, Nosey Parker is the last in a trilogy of films set in O’Brien’s home town of Tunbridge. Like his two previous films, Vermont is For Lovers and Man With a Plan, O’Brien sets out to capture a disappearing breed of Vermonter.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) John O’Brien’s new film, Nosey Parker, ends with a series of grainy black and white photos of George Lyford as a boy, with a thick head of hair and chubby cheeks. When we meet George at the beginning of the film, the dairy farmer is in his seventies. Most of the hair is gone and his face is creased and weathered. George is an old Vermonter.

(Sound of from the film, Lyford speaking) “My little grandson, Jordan, he’s Alan’s little boy, he’s seven years old. He comes up to the farm a lot, he likes the farm. The other night he was telling his grandmother, ‘When I get out of school, when I get big, I’m coming up here and farming. I’m going to milk cows.’ But he says, ‘Of course, you’ll be dead.'” (Lyford laughs.)

(Zind) Like the two films before it, Nosey Parker is a comedy. It’s also an attempt by O’Brien to capture a fading way of life.

(O’Brien) “It’s a history of a small place, Tunbridge, over the last decade of the twentieth century. There’s enough anthropological meat there to make it interesting.”

(Zind) O’Brien calls his films ‘anthropological comedies.’ Most of the actors are his neighbors, simply being themselves. In Nosey Parker, two professional actors play an out-of-state couple. Natalie and Richard have just moved into a beautifully refurbished hilltop house in Tunbridge. They hire George Lyford as a handyman.

O’Brien produces laughs by bumping the new Vermont up against the old Vermont. George teaches Natalie how to drive a tractor. Natalie tells George about reflexology.

(Sound from the film)
(Natalie) “This is…”
(George) “My Thumb.”
(Natalie) “No, in reflexology, that’s your head.”
(George) “I pretty near took my head off this morning.”

(Zind) O’Brien’s most popular film, Man With a Plan, was a political satire that centered on another of his Tunbridge neighbors, Fred Tuttle. There were no professional actors in the film.

In contrast, Nosey Parker is about a group of people. It explores the relationship between Lyford and the young down country couple. O’Brien says this time he experimented by combing professional actors playing characters with locals playing themselves.

(O’Brien) “The nice thing about using the professionals this time was that I could do some scenes that had some degree of emotional intensity. There are fight scenes between this couple.”

(Sound from the film)
(Natalie) “Maybe the reason I’m with George so much is you’re not there for me! Have you ever thought of that?”
(Richard) “What are you talking about?”

(Zind) The couple has problems and Richard, a well paid psychiatrist, is stumped. George turns from a curiosity to a confidant as Richard senses that the old Vermonter might possess a little wisdom of the ages.

(Sound from the film)
(Richard) “I don’t know, George. Here I am, sitting on top of a mountain in Vermont. More money than I’ll ever spend. Beautiful wife. And I’m not a happy guy.”

(Zind) Nosey Parker is at turns simple, sweet, corny and touching. George Lyford died just two weeks after O’Brien finished filming. O’Brien says Vermont isn’t producing any more people like him. He mentions a neighbor down the road who just turned 95.

(O’Brien) “He remembers before there were any cars here, he remembers before there was electricity here, before televisions or anything like that. There were people only five miles away who he rarely saw! So that sort of tightness of community, but also how provincial Vermont was, that’s gone forever. For good and for bad.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Tunbridge.

Related information:
There will be a special screening of Nosey Parker at the Dartmouth College Hopkins Center in Hanover, New Hampshire, Friday at 7:30 p.m. Visit John O’Brien’s Bellwether Films online.

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