Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vernon, Florida

Errol Morris started working on a documentary about the residents of the titular city when he heard that insurance companies were getting dubious about the amount of claims being filed by people who had lost limbs in “accidents”, a spate that earned Vernon the nickname “Nub City”.

Errol Morris stopped working on the “Nub City” story when he received death threats from certain parties who were concerned that their claims would be compromised. Morris took these threats seriously, proving that – pardon the pun – the armless aren’t necessarily harmless.

This perhaps accounts for the feeling of circumspection that hangs over the film Morris finally came out of Vernon with. Like ‘Gates of Heaven’, it’s un-narrated. Nor does he even name his interview subjects. Which makes things awkward for the reviewer. I guess I’ve got two options for this article:

(a) discuss the participants in turn, studding these few hundred words with such appellations as the Asshole Turkey-Hunter, the Ass-hat Preacher and the Ass-clown Christian Who Prayed To God For His Pick-up Truck, not to mention the Old Fart Who Claims To Be Ambidextrous, the Old Fart Who Keeps A Turtle And A Possum, the Old Fart Who Bangs On About God and the Even Older Fart Who Bangs On About God;

(b) try to present a brief overview of the film’s themes and concerns, and hopefully cling on to my sanity in the process.

What ‘Vernon, Florida’ shares with ‘Gates of Heaven’ (particularly where, in the former, the sons of Harbert are centre stage) is interview subjects who are deeply and misguidedly in love with the sound of their own voices. This is particularly true of the Asshole Turkey-Hunter, whose interminable stories about – guess what? – turkey hunts are delivered in a heavily-accented drawl that frequently drifts into incoherence. In a documentary that doesn’t quite stretch to an hour’s running time, this fella makes it feel like ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ – and the more he talks the more he seems like a cartoon come to life. You wonder if his mother demanded paternity tests of Elmer Fudd.

There’s also talk of God. Sometimes it’s of God as a supreme being who “wants to have his way with your heart” (I sniggered to hear it said and I sniggered typing it just now), but mostly of God as a provider of pick-up trucks or cheap land deals. God as the kind of guy who’s precisely and finely attuned, across the vast expanse of the firmament, with the lives and simple desires of a bunch of glass-eyed hicks from this li’l ole place called Vernon, Florida.

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