Judge David Johnson can't decide if he should grow a Donegal or a Dusty Hill.
"It itches. God, it itches."
Little towns tend to have their quirks and traditions. Shamrock, Texas is no different. In this documentary, director Michael Woolf sojourns to this tiny Texan hamlet and grabs the skinny on one of the more unusual community customs: the annual St. Patrick's Day Donegal beard-growing contest.
Facts of the Case
A Donegal beard is an old-school Irish affectation that runs the perimeters of the face, leaving the upper and lower lips hairless. This unorthodox hair-growth could get you harangued probably everywhere, except on the streets of Shamrock. Here, the Donegal is a sign of majesty, and no time is it most revered than in St. Patrick's Day.
The judging of the Donegal Beard Contest represents the highlight of the day's events, capping off the parade and other assorted Irish-themed activities. The contestants are allowed to begin cultivating their beard on January 1st, and can maintain it as they see fit, to be presentable for the judging in March, where they will be judged on overall appearance.
The documentary introduces us to some of the contestants; a hodge-podge of quirky guys that yearn to be crowned as best-beard-boaster. Roy Wardlow has brought home third place, but has his eyes on bigger prizes, even dedicating wall space to his first and second-place plaques. Bill Howe is a former editor of the Shamrock Texan who pops mysterious green pills that turn his facial hair green. Mark Simpson is the good-natured, incoherent former first-place winner and reigning champion. Richard Smith is the Donegal stud, having bagged first place four times; he enters every decade to make it fair. But his streak may be endangered with the emergence of a new contenderÑ"The Hairy Outsider," Scotty McAffee a profoundly hairy gentleman.
As judging day draws closer, and the contenders size up the competition while grooming their best beard, the suspense mountsÑwho will be crowned as the Alpha and Omega of bearded men?
Aspyr Media, this is the first disc I've ever seen from your studio, but if Growin' a Beard is the norm of your product, allow me to say this: you guys are awesome.
I can't stop gushing about this set. Growin' a Beard is why DVDs were made: great packaging and interface and bursting with extras. Maybe I've been jaded by the relentless parade of bare-bones, full-frame, Dolby-stereo, no-extras-having phlegm churned out by other studios. These DVDs only differ from VHS tapes in geometric shape.
I know a quality presentation when I see one, and Growin' a Beard is it kiddos.
The feature itself is a short, charming little documentary, which sometimes seems too amateurish, but for the most part comes across as a real sweet-natured look at the eccentricities of small town life. Michael Woolf's strength here is unleashing some memorable personalities in the form of the bearded contestants. Though most of the interviews are done in awful locations and look way too home-movie-ish, these shortcomings can't deter the charm from leaking through; for example when Mark Simpson prattles on unintelligibly about the rigors of wearing facial hair, or Bill Howe offers up an obscure tale that may or may not have a point, or McAffee jokes about the curse of having truckloads of hair on his back.
But the disc shines the brightest when you look at it beyond the feature. There is so much stuff packed around this thirty-minute movie about a bunch of guys growing a beard, you'd think this was the super-extended-ultra-extreme-deluxe-special-extended edition of a big studio film.
First off, the two-disc set looks great. The packaging is top-notch, well designed, filled with pictures, a road map of Texas leading to Shamrock, and a special booklet. This booklet has profiles of the characters, but also doubles as a disc jacket for the second disc, a stand-alone soundtrack of the film, featuring Irish folk/country hybrid music performed by The Gourds. I love it when DVDs come with soundtracks, regardless if the music floats your boat. All this and we haven't even looked at the on-disc extras.
The documentary sports three commentary tracks, four featurettes, outtakes, a bonus eight-minute documentary about a man eating a 72-ounce steak, and a special subtitles section deciphering the cryptic words of Mark Simpson. The featurettes are fun and self-deprecating (note "How Not to Make a Documentary," in essence a blooper reel.) Included is footage from the world premiere, a return to Shamrock one year later, to show the town the finished movie, and an illustrated piece about St. Patrick's Day 1939. Nothing feels disposable here, and the extras either support the feature or are just plain fun, unrelated bits.
Seriously, I can't say enough about this set. It puts most big-studio "special" editions to shame.
Technically, the movie is sound, with a clean widescreen transfer and ho-hum stereo track that does its job; to be fair, a beard-growing documentary hardly demands full digital support with a kick-ass L.F.E.
A fun little documentary that never pretends to be more than what it is, Growin' a Beard earns its accolades because of the bang you get for your buck.
Not guilty! (Just do something about that ugly beard.)
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Aspyr Media
• Three commentary tracks
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