This early feature from director Errol Morris explores the same idiosyncratic territory with which he would later be associated in GATES OF HEAVEN (1978) and FAST, CHEAP & OUT OF CONTROL (1997). Morris originally went down to the small north Florida town of Vernon to make an movie about
reported insurance scams (the town was nicknamed "Nub City" due to the inordinate number of missing limbs among its citizenry), but naturally no one was willing to talk about it. They did have plenty to say about other subjects, and and Morris transforms their statements into a slice of Americana
at its most eccentric.
Welcome to Vernon, Florida, the type of small town that has one traffic light, a six-pack of small stores, and a wealth of colorful residents--all of whom will gladly share their life stories. We meet a pair of obsessed turkey hunters, who mount their preys' feet on their living room wall and tell
endless tales about the thrill of shooting defenseless, flightless birds. Sitting in his police car, the town's lone officer complains about how bored he is, since there's no crime to deal with. The area's oldest resident recalls when a dead mule was dumped into the stream, and later, when he
hauled the rotted carcass out, found 114 perch inside of it. He also shows off his pet possum.
Old codgers sit on the gas station's porch, arguing about the details of a local suicide; the local pastor preaches to his congregation; and another religious man explains how prayer gets him everything he needs (e.g., when he only has $5000 to buy a van, someone tells him about a man who's
selling a van in that price range). The local philosopher muses about the secrets of the universe (when he's not advocating the tar-and-feathering of criminals, that is). Finally, a couple describes their visit to the White Sands of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and show off their jar of "growing"
sand--which started out as just a handful, but is now almost full.
Keeping his film as laid back as the lifestyle of this small town (which isn't always a positive thing), Morris tags along as his handful of subjects go about their daily routine. Keeping a distance and never taking any cheap shots at these relatively simple, down-home characters, he allows them
to tell their stories, in their own fashion, without interruption or narration. This type of approach can be dangerously unfocused at times, with the film's success resting on just how interesting the subjects turn out to be. In this case, many are charming, some genuinely fascinating, while
others--such as the long-winded turkey hunters--decidedly less so. Of course, this documentary isn't just entertaining. It's also enlightening, because you'll never believe how many types of worms you can find in Florida. And while this strange array of characters wouldn't be able to set foot in a
fictional film--because audiences wouldn't believe they could actually exist--here they all are, crammed into this one seemingly insignificant town. It's further proof that truth can definitely be stranger than fiction.
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- Released: 1981
- Rating: NR
- Review: This early feature from director Errol Morris explores the same idiosyncratic territory with which he would later be associated in GATES OF HEAVEN (1978) and FAST, CHEAP & OUT OF CONTROL (1997). Morris originally went down to the small north Florida town o… (more)