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Prairie home companionship

Agriculture.com Staff 07/13/2006 @ 2:12pm

The movie "A Prairie Home Companion" is currently playing in select theaters, a fitting dessert to be savored and enjoyed during June Dairy Month.

I "discovered" Keillor's venerable radio show some years ago. It was an early Sunday afternoon, and I was spinning though the FM frequencies as I used the loader tractor to wheel bucket loads of silage to my dairy cattle.

The radio suddenly began to play a commercial for a previously unheard-of product. "This can't be real," I thought, cranking up the volume. By the time the commercial ended, it had dawned that I was listening to a spoof. I was instantly hooked.

The life of a dairy farmer can turn a person into a hermit. The workload is unrelenting; the cows don't recognize any holidays -- neither federal nor religious -- and don't give a fig about that family wedding taking place next Friday evening. All the bossies know is that they need to be fed and milked each and every day.

Entire weeks would pass where, other than my immediate family, the only conversations I had were with our cattle dog. You know you've been out in the barn too long when your Blue Heeler begins to roll her eyes at the umpteenth retelling of a shopworn joke.

Listening to "A Prairie Home Companion" became my lifeline. The show helped me feel like part of the human race instead of a machine whose sole purpose was to care for a herd of four-footed cud-chewers.

Saturday evening milkings often took longer than usual. This was because I often paused from my labors to listen to the end of a skit, ignoring the cows peering down at me from the parlor as the vacuum pump droned and the pulsators thocked their metronomic rhythm.

I have since exited the dairy biz and have had a couple of opportunities to see the "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show in person. I was also lucky enough to sell a couple of scripts to Mr. Keillor and to meet and shake hands with him.

It was thus only natural that I go see the radio show's namesake movie, a film that is basically a story about an old-time radio show that's about to be shut down.

Fans of the radio show are going to love the movie. Like the radio show, the film bears Keillor's stamp; like the radio show, it's a story within a story.

In the movie, Keillor wanders through the labyrinthine backstage area, nattering like an absentminded professor, telling several versions of a story that he never quite completes. He seems to come alive and is most fully engaged with the outside world when he steps up to the microphone.

This imagery dovetails with the impressions gathered from my brief meetings with Keillor. Whenever I spoke with him it seemed like his mind was elsewhere, as if he were holding a conversation while simultaneously calculating the square root of pi or writing a lengthy dissertation about the plot themes contained in "Macbeth."

The actors in the film were all in top-notch form. Kevin Kline is wondrously funny as the bumbling and clueless private detective Guy Noir. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly stepped right out of Keillor's imagination and into the roles of the cowboys Dusty and Lefty.

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