What REALLY goes on in a job interview? Find out in the new revision of "Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed" (Warner Books) by Tony Medley, updated for the world of the Internet . Over 500,000 copies in print and the only book on the job interview written by an experienced interviewer, one who has conducted thousands of interviews. This is the truth, not the ivory tower speculations of those who write but have no actual experience. "One of the top five books every job seeker should read," says Hotjobs.com.

A Prairie Home Companion (5/10)

by Tony Medley

”(W)ho likes popular culture?”  asked cultural historian Arthur Asa Berger, in 1970. His answer: “Many works of culture for the common people do not please large numbers of them. The answer is nobody. Nobody likes popular culture per se, but a large number of people like certain specific works of popular culture and dislike other works. I like ‘Li’l Abner’ and dislike ‘Bonaventure,’ for example. I think ‘Rashomon’ (1950) is a brilliant film and ‘Il Gattopardo’ (1963) a poor one.”

And that’s the problem with analyzing “A Prairie Home Companion,” which epitomizes “popular culture” more than a quarter century after Berger wrote. A couple of decades ago I was dating a Finnish girl. The Finnish people I met through her were not known for their sense of humor, to say the least. One day she told me about this wonderful radio program that she never missed because it was so funny. I tuned it in. It was “A Prairie Home Companion,” starring and written by Keillor. Although I tried, I did not then, and do not now, find Garrison Keillor funny.

However, proving Asa Berger’s thesis, Keillor has a following and a reputation for humor, I guess, and he wrote a script patterned after his radio show which has been broadcast on Public Radio since 1974. Keillor’s storyline is that a long-lived radio show, called, fittingly, “A Prairie Home Companion,” is being cancelled by new, absentee owners of the radio station located in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the film is the story of the last show put on in an auditorium before a live audience. Keillor got Robert Altman to direct which, as far as I’m concerned, is appropriate because Robert Altman is not my cup of tea, either. I liked his first film, “M*A*S*H” (1970), and “The Player” (1992) was OK. But others like “Popeye” (1980), “Gosford Park” (2001), “Nashville” (1975)? Ugh. Critics at the time loved them; I didn’t. That’s popular culture for you.

Altman is known for turning on his cameras and allowing the actors to improvise while the cameras continue to roll. Despite the script, all the actors were encouraged to improvise and develop their respective characters with impunity. Altman filmed scenes in their entirety with multiple camera crews capturing interactions both on- and backstage. Everyone was miked and he just filmed what happened and what they said. Actors enjoy this, but the result is stream of consciousness dialogue that can blur a premise, if a film has a premise.

Keillor is the announcer/Master of Ceremonies for the show in the movie. The cast includes Yolanda Johnson (Meryl Streep) and her sister Rhonda (Lily Tomlin) who do most of the talking, and it was mostly their talking that caused me to lose interest. They are backstage waiting to go on and they talk and they talk and they talk. I fought sleep while they talked. To me, they were not funny or even slightly interesting. Yolanda’s daughter, Lola (Lindsay Lohan), who appears unhappy for no reason that is ever explained, is also backstage writing a poem about suicide. Imported from the real “Prairie Home Companion” are the two cowboys, Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly), who sing and tell jokes on this show.

Strolling around ethereally dressed in white is Dangerous Woman (Virginia Madsen), who is an Angel of Death. Another actor in the show is L.Q. Jones (Chuck Akers), along with assistant stage manager Molly (Maya Rudolph). Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), one of Keillor’s most popular characters from the radio show, is a private eye who acts as the show’s security man, and Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones) is the man from Texas who is there to shut down the show.

The film cuts back and forth from Keillor as Master of Ceremonies of the final show, introducing acts and telling stories intended to be humorous, to the other characters backstage to the actual acts onstage. I did a lot of squirming and watch-checking when there was no music onscreen.

The film is beautifully shot; the sound is wonderful; the music (some written by Keillor) is exceptional, enhanced by the musicians from the actual radio show, called The Guys All-Star Shoe Band. If you like Keillor and/or Altman, you should like this. I was less than swept away by the story and the obscure humor, but I sure liked the music. Everyone sings and the songs are terrific. Even Lindsay Lohan sings, a version of “Frankie and Johnny,” and she has a surprisingly good voice. I didn’t laugh once, but I tapped my feet a lot to the rhythm of the captivating music.

May 26, 2006