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Based on the popular and long-running radio program, veteran director Robert Altman creates a comic backstage fable about a fictitious radio variety show on the night of its final broadcast. The all-star ensemble cast includes writer/creator Garrison Keillor; Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as country duet act Yolanda and Rhonda; Lindsay Lohan as a debut performer who forgets the words to her song; Kevin Kline as a backstage doorkeeper; Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as singing cowboy act Old Trailhands; plus Tommy Lee Jones, Maya Rudolph and Virginia Madsen.
 

 A Prairie Home Companion

When people ask you where you’re from and you say, “Minnesota,” they say, “Oh,” and there is a pause while they search the hard drive for Minnesota-related items, and then they say, “It gets cold there, doesn’t it.”

Yes, it does. Not as cold as when I was a child, and it was 40 below zero every morning and we huddled like war refugees waiting for the school bus, but it can get cold. Indeed. Cold, however, is a stimulant and heat is a relaxant and just looking around America I would say that Our People could use more cold weather as a way of focusing their attention.

Sometimes I tell people that my parents were New York actors on a tour of the Midwest and I was lost in a snowstorm and since there were no milk cartons at the time, only milk bottles, missing children had to stay where they were. You couldn’t etch the picture of a missing child onto glass, the expense would be prohibitive. I tell people this in order to test credulity, which a writer must do from time to time—you must know what people are willing to believe—and some people believe the Lost in the Blizzard story.

Other times I’ve said that I’m from Paris, France, the child of communists, but nobody believes that for some reason.

I was in Paris in January some years ago and it was bitterly cold, and yet one does not associate Paris with cold, one associates it with grand avenues and charming streets full of small exquisite shops and with a quality of light, and that’s how I feel about Minnesota. It’s the place where the sun has always shone for me. Or was filtered in interesting patterns by clouds.

That January I was in Paris I was at a famous bistro, La Coupole, jammed in, elbow to elbow and haunch to haunch, with gaunt young people in ratty black outfits and ancient communist existentialist philosophers with enormous eyebrows and heavily-rouged matrons with veils, everybody chain-smoking Gauloises and drinking tiny cups of bitter coffee and vials of absinthe, and there I was in my nice new clothes attempting to respirate, and a skinny woman whose knee was in my groin asked me, “Where are you from?” and I said, “Je suis du Minnesota” and she said, “So this cold weather must be nothing to you.”

Last year, for the month of July, St. Paul was visited by a bunch of extremely famous people, and one evening, because they were acting in a movie that I wrote and because I had invited them, they all sat around a table on the brick patio behind my house in St. Paul and drank iced tea and munched on little bits of seafood and cheese-filled celery and the like and looked around at the lilac bushes, the roses on the trellis, the overarching oak trees, and took a deep breath of the grassy breeze from my neighbor’s new-mown lawn, and they said—not these exact words, but something like this—“It’s hard to believe that we’re in Minnesota.”

We Minnesotans are used to people saying things like that. If it ever upset us, we’re over it now.

The one thing that I regretted about the movie I wrote (called A Prairie Home Companion, if you must know) is that almost the entire movie takes place indoors, except two outdoor scenes at night, so the whole thing could just as easily have been done in Ontario, or Boise, or a soundstage at 20th Century Fox. We made the movie in paradise, but within a box.

So I am busy writing my next movie. It will be set in a small town on a lake and there will be boats and swimmers and green lawns and giant hydrangeas and gentle soft-spoken people sitting on porches and saying things like, “I’ve never been to California but I understand that parts of it are quite nice.”

 
 

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