“There’s been a lot of Charlottesville movies,” Jeffrey Martin said, “but this one is about Charlottesville.” He’s talking about My Fool Heart, a feature film directed by Martin and produced by his wife Lucinda Buxton, which has been in production locally for the past three years. The couple recently relocated to San Francisco, but Martin is back in town for the film’s test screening.
The movie stars Jim Waive, a monumentally talented local songwriter and performer who has gained a strong following, both with his band The Young Divorcees, and through his weekly solo performances at the Blue Moon Diner. After his most recent Blue Moon gig, Waive and Martin sat down to recount the long process of putting the film together, trading anecdotes and dry witticisms over a chicken pot pie.
In addition to Waive, the film features a wide selection of local characters and locations. “Lucinda grew up here, and I came here from California in ’72,” Martin said. “To me it’s a certain culture—it’s not the culture that I’m from, coming from out West. But I tried to put it on film. We shot at Crozet Pizza, Timberlake’s, the old Fry’s Spring Beach Club, Fitzgerald’s Tire, the train bridge at 250, west of Ivy, and of course at Blue Moon—it’s an older Charlottesville.”
Apart from the local flavor, the main draw of the film is the music. It’s filled with folk and country tunes, and features a number of live performances by Waive. Music seeps into every aspect of the film’s production, although Martin has never been a performer himself. “I’m not a musician. I’m the empty vessel. It’s not my thing—listening to it is my thing. I think it helped for the film. When I’m shooting a performer, I’m not the sort of person who’s going to get in their way, asking questions like, ‘are you playing an A or a G?’—I don’t even know if that’s a real question.”
“That is a real question,” said Waive. “See, you do know music. You know just enough to get yourself punched.”
Waive has no previous acting experience, though he can readily recount the plot of almost every Elvis Presley vehicle. In My Fool Heart, he plays a country singer named Jim Waive. But both he and Martin stress that the film is not a documentary: “It’s different than anything I’ve ever done,” said Waive. “Jeff just told me to be myself. The character is ‘me,’ but it isn’t based on my life. The basic similarities are that the character is named Jim Waive and he plays in a diner, but that’s about it.”
“Jim’s character is a water and sewage department employee, which he never did in real life,” said Martin. “I was a garbage man, though, for a while,” Waive said. “I worked in a landfill.”
The plot concerns two men who arrive from England, and have been hired to kill Waive’s character. “Some people have asked if it’s a black comedy,” said Martin.
“I want to think of it that way,” Waive said. “Some of the stuff we shot, I found funny.”
“But it doesn’t come from a black, or bleak, point of view,” Martin added. “In terms of the Aristotelian sense of comedy, it’s got a happy ending, so I suppose it’s not a tragedy.”
In addition to a large cast of local locations and characters (including, reportedly, this writer), the film boasts an impressive roster of guest appearances by legendary performers, including Charlie McCoy, Wayne Henderson, and Jesse McReynolds. “Elizabeth Cook plays God,” said Martin. “Justin Townes Earle is this mysterious young character wandering around—you don’t initially understand what he’s up to, but it pays off at the end. Merle Haggard plays a country preacher. Ralph Stanley plays Jim’s grandfather, which is of course totally fictional.”
Martin was especially drawn to performers who shy away from frequent cameos or vanity projects. “I wanted all the people who don’t really do this sort of thing,” he said. “The people who would say ‘no,’ the tough types. Our motto was ‘no bullshit.’ Like Charlie McCoy—if he tells you something, it’s because it really happened. There’s all these crazy stories about him and Bob Dylan, and about playing with Roy Orbison. But if it’s a story that makes him sound big, he’s gonna tell you the truth instead. Almost everyone we asked said yes.”
“Some people said no,” corrected Waive. “But we got better people.” Notably, the film marks Merle Haggard’s first acting role in several decades. “I ended up including everything we shot with him,” said Martin. “It would not be fair to people to not put all of it in there.”
My Fool Heart shows at the Paramount on Saturday, November 17 at 7:30pm. The event will also feature live musical performances and a Q&A with the filmmakers. Tickets are $12-15.
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