Vernon, Florida

1981 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Errol Morris visits the eccentric inhabitants of the titular rural community. They wax poetic about turkey hunting, worms, the human brains, gophers/turtles, God, crime, and sand.

I popped this delicious slice of life in because it was at the tail end of a list of somebody's favorite movies. I'd seen and loved everything else on the list, and I've enjoyed all the other Errol Morris documentaries I've seen. This one is just under and hour, but it's an hour jam-packed with comedy gold. Like a folklorist, Morris just turns the camera on these folks and lets 'em have the floor. There's no polish, no explanation, no real organization that I could see, just interwoven snippets of these (almost all) men sharing their odd obsessions with the camera. Interestingly, Morris actually was drawn to Vernon because in the late 50s/early 60s, two-thirds of self-amputation accident insurance claims came from there. The documentary doesn't address amputation at all though. You get a wild turkey hunter sharing stories of his greatest triumphs; an old man who seems to be an expert on the brain ("You ever see a man's brains? I've seen them. I've picked them up, scooped them out, put them in, do them up like brains."); a "wiggler" farmer who at one point is just showing off when he says the words "regular wiggler;" the Steve Irwin of Vernon who shows the camera a turtle and says, "Now this here is a gopher" and later claims that he could get 1,200 or 1,500 dollars for a possum in an auction; a cop whose biggest concern might be people stealing clothes pins; a guy with a jewel; and a woman with a jar full of "growing sand." Yeah, sand that grows. In a couple years, that sand will fill the jar. The style and pace and pointless subject matter will try the patience of some of my readers (looking at you here, Barry), but I thought it was fascinating and very very funny. The most bewildering moment for me: a guy tells a story about a 65-year-old mule with a hole in his throat. I had trouble understanding the guy, but I think he was describing pulling the mule out of the river and finding that a whole bunch of fish were swimming around the inside of it. Or something. Other things to look out for: At the 32 minute mark, a guy picks his nose with his thumb. And at the 36 minute mark, you get to see Michael Cera singing in the back row of a choir. I don't know exactly what Errol Morris's real intentions were, but if it had something to do with filling Shane with joy, it's a success.


Matt Snell said...

I saw this movie at the right place at the right time with the right people and it was a near-religious experience. If you want to see an example of how to take the same premise but go about it the wrong way, it pairs nicely with Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. That`s not exactly a recommendation, though. Glad you liked Vernon, Florida!

Shane said...

I appreciate the sort-of recommendation...

That Jim White album ('Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus') was such a disappointment to me. I heard the song where he sounds a lot like Tom Waits on a college radio station (the host also read the entire short story in the liner notes) and scooped up the album...nothing else came close to that song.

I saw 'Wrong-Eyed Jesus'...not on the blog though.

Josh said...

Wow. That was random. But, I will say that I have family who fit the bill when it comes to the caricatures of these people. I'm fascinated by old people especially. I never give them credit for being smart or intelligent, but I will never take away the countless experiences of the elderly. Experience is the definition of life, THEREFORE, we must listen to what they have to say (we can quickly discard it afterward, however).

The youngest subject (the turkey fetish guy) definitely had a few ways to "mount" his turkeys. I know men who behave as if they are the master and commander on a given subject. I hate it. His braggadocious rhetoric and glorification of something as trivial as killing a turkey is just comedic gold.

My favorite part (character) is the old man whom we are introduced to as he talks about seeing people's brains. Being able to write "cat shit" with one hand and "dog shit" with the other is unforgettable!

Shane said...

Yeah, it's one I enjoy. Surprised to see it on Netflix and thought I'd throw you the recommendation.