Collie Ryan is a folk artist who recorded three privately pressed albums in the '70s before withdrawing into the Texas desert. Andrew Bujalski is a ground-breaking indie filmmaker who over the past decade or so has directed the films Beeswax, Mutual Appreciation, and Funny Ha Ha. Bujalski's latest movie, the "sneakily brilliant" Computer Chess (out this weekend in New York), follows a 1980 gathering of computer chess programmers, but audiences may walk away humming Ryan's earthy birdsong.
Bujalski says he first heard Ryan's music through his friend Douglas Mcgowan, who runs the reissue label Yoga Records. "Her stuff is so terrifically striking," Bujalski recalls. The director took a four-day road trip with his now-wife to meet Ryan in West Texas in 2007, and he thought of the singer when it came time to make Computer Chess. "When you're making a movie about computer programmers, musically the first thing that's going to leap to mind is a lot of Casio keyboard, tinkly-winkly synthesizer stuff, and I didn't want that," Bujalski explains. "I wanted to go in a different direction. I wanted to build a contrast and bring in much more kind of organic '70s sounds. As I would make this movie, I would hear Collie's music in my head."
Computer Chess ended up including four songs from Ryan, including "It's Gonna Rain," which you can hear below. She also appears in the film, performing an updated interpretation of that song during the end credits. "It was fascinating for me to see what time had done to that song, and I was really happy to be able to bring that into the movie," Bujalski says.
Ryan doesn't have a phone, let alone email, so tracking her down could be a challenge. But maybe not as big a challenge as you might think. "If you tell her in a letter that you want to get on the phone with her, usually she can get to a phone," Bujalski explains. "She tends to write back pretty quickly. She's a fascinating human being, for sure."