- Movie Rating -

Vernon, Florida (1982)

| January 8, 1982

Of all the avenues of the art of the cinema, I may love the documentary format most of all.  At its best, it is a window onto a world that few of us will ever experience.  We meet people.  We see how their lives are organized.  We hear their stories.  Maybe we learn something.  That is the first reason to love Erroll Morris.  His films don’t rely on an agenda.  They are populated by people that he finds interesting, people that, were they furniture, we might have instinctively sat by the side of the road.  But there’s beauty in the mundane, the ridiculous, the ordinary and in the case of this film, the obsessive.  Sometimes an old man rambling can reveal an insight that you didn’t expect.

Morris went down to Vernon, Florida to make a documentary called Nub City about a group of people who apparently hack off their own limbs in order to collect the insurance money.  The project went belly-up when he was met with hostility from the residents, received a death threat and then had to halt production when a local tried to run down his cinematographer with a truck.

Fortunately, a healthier alternative awaited him.  He switched gears when he began to meet some of the gentler locals and found them more fascinating than anything he could have in Nub City.  He found an old man who cages strange animals.  He found a cop in love with his state-of-the art equipment.  And he found a turkey hunter so in love with his chosen hobby that the seems to see it as his divine destiny.

The old man is a bewildering old gent who has philosophies on everything from God to animals to the sections of human brain that allow him to do five things at the same time.  His mind a strange and fascinating labyrinth of free-floating notions and nonsense.

The cop was interesting too.  He’s in love with his job and he feels privileged to have all the latest, up-to-date equipment including a two-way radio.  Nevermind the fact that he’s the only cop in town and the only person he talks to on the radio is his wife.  He loves what he does and he is overjoyed to show us a bullet hole in his passenger seat that, for all I know, could have been a cigar burn.

But the most amazing the turkey hunter.  This man lives, eats, breathes and thinks turkey hunting day in and day out in every way that one could possibly think about it.  The level of his voice, the dim look in his eyes, the long and drawn out explanations of how one successfully tracks a turkey are some of the funniest moments I’ve seen in any movie.  I especially love it when he stops talking because he thinks he hears a gobbler in the distance.  I don’t know, I couldn’t hear anything.  See what you think.

Morris never makes fun of these people.  If they are ridiculous, it is only because they bring their ridiculousness along with them.  The camera lets them talk and keeps focused on them for long stretches of time.  He likes these people.  He finds them interesting and he finds a common subtext underneath their rambling.  They are all looking for something.  They are attached to their pastimes and their philosophies with a fierce honest – they really believe what they are saying.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary