In 1982, famous film-director Robert Altman was at a low point in his maverick career. He had just flopped with a big-budget musical starring Robin Williams as the cartoon character "Popeye." That film is awful; the rumor that everyone in the production was high on drugs when making it was obviously true.
Soon after, Altman had to sell his film company. He had practically no money to make new pictures. Out of desperation, he decided to turn stage-plays into films. With a ridiculously low budget (under $1 Million), he shot this movie on 16mm film-stock. (Feature films usually used more expensive 35mm.) The movie is "Come Back To The 5 And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean."
Amazingly, despite Alman's lack of funds, he was able to attract several of the best female actors of the time. Cher (a pop musician who hadn't yet acquired a reputation for good acting); Karen Black (an odd-looking beauty who died last year); Sandy Dennis (one of our finest actresses who never got the recognition she deserved because of her ordinary looks); and an incredibly young Kathy Bates (in one of her first films).
A major difference between good art and bad is its capacity for nourishment. You can see an art-film several times, enjoyably, and derive more with each viewing. That's what "Jimmy Dean" does. I've seen it multiple times and each time opens a new door. I get deeper understanding with every viewing.
The entire movie takes place in one room -- a Woolworths store in rural Texas. The present action is set in 1975 but the film frequently jumps back to 1955. The occasion is the 20th year reunion (in 1975) of a bevy of gals who, in 1955, belonged to a small social club that called itself "The Disciples of James Dean." (Dean was a popular actor in the 1950's who died tragically young in a car-crash.)
As the women reunite, surprises emerge. Truths about lies they tell are revealed; deep secrets are uncovered. Who the women actually are surfaces and contradicts the misleading identities they present to each other.
I'll mention one of the surprises. Halfway through the movie, a mysterious beautiful woman arrives in town in a fancy yellow sports car. The others wonder who she is. They can't identify her. The woman says things that prove she was there in 1955; she knows who did what back then. This perplexes the others even more.
The woman is portrayed by Karen Black. Eventually it is revealed that Black's character is Joe, the only boy who belonged to the group. Twenty years earlier, after being cruelly beaten up, Joe left town. Seven years after that, he had a sex-change operation. Although the women finally recognize him, none of them can believe his radical transformation. Joe has changed his identity -- an illustration of the movie's theme.
Thirty years ago, movies about transsexualism were not common, so this one appeals to me for obvious reason. But the film goes beyond Joe's change in identity and examines the identities of the other women as well.
This film is truly obscure and, until recently, was not even available on DVD. When finally released on DVD, I snapped it up and re-watched it twice. The film stands up to the test of time. It is good art.