Right now on YouTube you can watch a brief clip of R.E.M.‘s semi-legendary side project from 1983/4, Just Like a Movie—this was a low-budget movie shot by Laura Levine in Athens, Georgia, featuring all four members of R.E.M. as well as some members of Pylon. In the clip Michael Stipe does a rendition of “Pale Blue Eyes” by the Velvet Underground. There’s even a nice Georges Meliès effect! The movie has been described as the “Holy Grail” for R.E.M. enthusiasts—here’s writer Alan Cross on the subject:
One of the most rare and most collectible things an R.E.M. fan can ever hope to have is a 45 minute film called Just Like a Movie.
It’s a pretty primitive thing, shot on Super 8 film in the fall of 1983. It features all the members of R.E.M. plus people like Michael Stipe’s sister, Lynda.
There’s really not much of a plot. It’s basically just a bunch of people cavorting around Athens, Georgia—-but it does feature Michael singing the Sonny and Cher song, “I Got You Babe.”
Just Like a Movie has rarely been shown in public (just once, from what I can tell) which makes it sort of a Holy Grail among those who source out R.E.M. artifacts. I can’t even seem to find it on YouTube.
Here’s Levine discussing shooting the movie:
I made the film, Just Like A Movie, during one of my longer visits to Athens, in the fall of 1983. I’d gotten a used Super-8 camera the year before and had been shooting a lot of home movies on the road with them and some other bands, so I decided to try my hand at a more narrative film. I had just seen D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back so I used it as a jumping-off point; there are parts that are an homage to that film (for example, Michael Stipe presents the credits with cue cards a la Dylan). I was aware that R.E.M. at that time were in a similar place to where Dylan was when Pennebaker made his film; you know, just on the cusp of fame but not quite there yet, taking it all in, dealing with it. So I brought my camera, 60 minutes of black-and-white Super-8 film, and my Walkman down to Athens. The film was very much an improvisational affair – the cast came up with their own characters’ names and costumes and we pretty much improvised the scenes. The basic premise was that there were two rival musicians performing on the same night (similar to the Dylan/Donovan rivalry that existed when Dylan came to London to perform), each with their own entourage. They meet and fall in love, but evil forces keep them apart. Linda Hopper from OH-OK played the “Donovan”-inspired character, and Michael Stipe, the “Dylan”-inspired one. The other players included Lynda and Cyndy Stipe, Matthew Sweet, Jerry Ayers, plus of course all of the members of R.E.M. and Oh-OK. Members of Pylon and pretty much anyone else from the Athens scene who was in town that week also made an appearance. A few of them were in drag.
Thank you Annie Zed!