Grand Theft Parsons

in 47th BFI London Film Festival

by Gustavo Noriega

It was a strange event for a film festival. It was joyful, but involved a corpse – a curious blend of happiness and mourning. The 5th of November was the birthday of Gram Parsons, the great innovator of country music who overdosed thirty-one years ago with morphine and tequila, and on 5th of November the world premiere of “Grand Theft Parsons” took place at the London Film Festival, the movie directed by David Caffrey.

“Grand Theft Parsons” tells the bizarre story of Phil Kaufman, the road manager and close friend of Parsons who, after his dead and in order to honor a promise made to the singer, stole his body, took it to the Joshua Tree desert and cremated it (Kaufman could not be convicted for stealing the body but was arrested for stealing and burning the coffin!). A million miles away from solemn and elegiac rock star movies, “Grand Theft Parsons” is a gently buddy movie (Kaufman makes his strange journey with a hippie in a yellow and flowered hearse), an original road movie and a hilarious comedy. Parsons himself would have loved such homage: black humor mixed with a strong sense of friendship and loyalty.

As moving and funny as the film itself was the ceremony at the Odeon West End in London. Sandra Hebron, director of the LFF and a confessed Parsons fan, introduced the director David Caffrey, the writer Jeremy Drysdale, the producer Frank Mannion and the very same man that felt a man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do: Phil Kaufman. It was a wonderful moment to recognize in this bright tattooed old man the character in the movie: the same crazy mixture of angel and devil.

Films festivals are great, but very often they are affected by the cult of grimness and solemnity. The quest for a new and original masterpiece often gets in the way of smaller but happier little pieces. “Grand Theft Parsons” is a minor film but noble and gentle in a way movies are not supposed to be anymore. The ghost of the grievous angel, Gram Parsons, must have been around the filmmakers, singing: “Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down, and they all led me straight back home to you”. It was good to be with him once again.