NASHVILLE — How true is "Sweet Dreams," the film starring Jessica Lange and Ed Harris, which is billed as country singer Patsy Cline's "true life and love story"?
The answer depends on the person queried.
"Dreams" presents the relationship between Cline and her husband Charlie Dick (Ed Harris) as a loving, though stormy one. Dick, who is still living, is portrayed rather unflatteringly, as a hard-drinking womanizer who had no qualms about hitting his wife occasionally. Cline, who died when she was 30 in a 1963 plane crash) is shown as a woman who left her first husband the morning after she met and made love to Dick.
Husband Dick says the film "stretched the hell out of the truth," as does daughter Julie.
"Dreams" producer Bernard Schwartz ("Coal Miner's Daughter") maintains that, while events may have been juggled around, everything happened at one time or another.
Cline's mother, Hilda Hensley (Ann Wedgeworth in the film), and Cline's son, Randy, aren't saying anything at all, at least to the media.
About the only aspect of "Dreams" no one is questioning is the music, since Cline's actual recordings were used.
Hollywood's tendency to tinker with real-life stories is nothing new. Understandably, such stories often don't accommodate the plot structures film makers desire.
What is unusual about "Sweet Dreams" is the rather dramatic tinkering performed by director Karel Reisz and writer Robert Getchell, especially on the Charlie Dick character. Even more unusual is Dick's good-natured acceptance of his characterization.
"It (the movie) is a general story of our life," Dick said in an interview. "I don't think anything in there is a total lie; they just altered the sequence of events and stretched the hell out of it, that's all."
In the film, Dick is smitten by Cline the first time he sees her singing at a dance. Sometime later he meets and talks with her after she has finished singing in a honky-tonk roadhouse. The two dance by starlight and consummate the relationship in the back seat of his car. In the next scene, Cline has left her husband, Gerald.
Dick had an entirely different recollection. "I did see Patsy at a dance, but she was just another girl. I asked her to dance, but she was there with her husband," he recalled. He said that Cline had already left her husband and was living at her mother's house when he actually started to date her.
Later in "Dreams," Dick is nowhere to be found the night Cline gives birth to her daughter. Instead, he is shown drinking with his friends and, the suggestion is made, having a one-night stand with an old girlfriend.
Also untrue, Dick says. "When Julie was born, I was in the Army. The doctor told her that if she wanted me home at the right time, he would induce labor. I took Patsy to the hospital, but was told that nothing would happen that night. I was home in bed when the call came that labor had started, but by the time I got there, Julie was already there." Julie Dick, now 27, recalled in a separate interview, "I don't remember when I was born, but then again, when you grow up everybody hears about when they were born. My grandmother and my dad have both told me the same story (the one Dick recounted)."
Later, while sitting with her father she added, "There are a lot of things that have been fictionalized, technical things. I just wonder about the little old woman in Minnesota who's listened to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night. She will believe that all of this really happened the way it does in the movie."
"She's gonna come down here and shoot me!" Dick joked.
However, both acknowledged that the plot has provoked several people to ask them about the film's veracity.
"Some of the girls I went to school with were asking, 'Did this really happen that way?' " she said.
Dick said that an old girlfriend called to tease him. "She said, 'Gee, I didn't know that you were that mean.' "When a gal called me from 'Entertainment Tonight'," he added, "she asked me if I hit Patsy. I told her that I might have hit her a couple times, but if I did, after the second time, she woulda picked up a chair and hit me over the head. Patsy wasn't mean--God, there wasn't a mean bone in her body, but you didn't cross her. . . . "
During a telephone interview, producer Bernard Schwartz readily agreed that the distributor shouldn't have billed the film as a "true life and love story."
"We did take some license with the film. We didn't want this to be pure biography," he explained. "but once you turn it over to the studio, you get all kinds of elements involved, like marketing. They have to come up with an approach. How they invent these ideas--well, that's another world."
(Tri-Star executives could not be reached for comment.)
However, Schwartz, who compiled an 800-page journal of interviews he conducted with Cline's family and friends, did suggest that Dick's version of events often didn't correspond with the recollections of others, including Cline's mother.