One of the reasons why I and so many other people love documentaries is that they inform and engross us with stories about subjects we never would have given attention to. You don’t have to watch sports constantly to love a good 30 for 30 or be a chef to understand the craftsmanship show by The Chef’s Table. As we’ve just talked about a historical documentary in the form of 25 April, this time we get history lesson that concentrates on one individual’s interesting life.
As for who we cover in today’s coverage? Let’s just say his story is rather…nutty to put it politely. Save me from this joke, Maciek!
OH, BOY! It’s one thing for a fictional story to trick me into believing its based on facts. Here I was, one hundred percent sure I’m watching an obviously absurd story that’s doing it’s darndest to convince me it’s real for comic effect, but nope, it’s all real (well, mostly). I can’t be sure what is real or not anymore. The title couldn’t be more perfect and that sense of uncertainty may set the best possible mood for the story.
Much like ‘25 April,’ ‘Nuts!’ takes the form of an animated documentary, but chooses not to animate everything. The film mixes events recreated in animation with silent, 1930s live action archive footage and interviews. The movie tells the story of the life of John R. Brinkley (1885-1941), a colorful character from Kansas to say the least. Some claimed he was a quack, con-artist and a charlatan. Others believed he was a miracle maker and genius. He was apparently known for inventing a full proof way of dealing with male impotence by transplanting goats glands into human genitals, resulting (surprisingly) in hundreds of satisfied customers.
Yep! Again, based on a true story. As his unorthodox method grew in popularity giving Brinkley plenty of followers (apparently including Rudolph Valentino), the film follows his life and fascinating careers. He runs for Kansas governor, opens an independent radio station in Mexico that becomes popular in America, and fought against the current version of the FCC, all while dealing with his opponents in “controversial” ways.
The director, Penny Lane, nicely uses the animation through various forms to reflect different chapters of Brinkley’s life, starting from simple paper-cut, to much more classical styles. The storytelling form is almost experimental, as the first 2/3rds of the film are told in documentary format, while the final act feels more like a traditional narrative.
For most of the time, the movie does a nice job of not painting a clear picture on how to feel about Brinkley. You can see him as brilliant strategist and an empire builder in one moment, and then as a crazed charlatan in the next. Whatever your take ius from this story, the film is a fascinating study on the mentality of some people during Brinkley’s time.
However, despite being highly entertaining for the most part, there were several moments where the jokes felt particularly forced and out of place.
Even though the humor didn’t always land, I’m glad I saw ‘Nuts!’, as it showcased the life of fascinating man of whom I would probably never hear of. Brinkley wasn’t a particularly influential figure, or one that left some kind of legacy behind, but he was certainly an oddity of his time that shouldn’t be forgotten. I tip my hat to the director Penny Lane, who did a great job with both the film’s visuals and storytelling. While ‘Nuts!’ not a movie for everybody, I would still recommend giving it a watch.
Nuts! is exactly the kind of documentary I would love to catch in the theater or from Netflix. You can find real diamonds in the rough searching for super personal documentaries, such as Buck, the story of “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman or Supermensch! about legendary film, music, and celebrity chef manager Shep Gordon. There are so many weird characters in the USA’s history, especially around that time period where we were just on the brink of industrial revolution so people would experiment with all kinds of ideas during the Western Expansion.
Handling it as a live-action/animation mix might omit it from an awards nominations, but I believe Penny Lane wanted to simply detail the life of a very fascinating, bizarre man. The style takes me back to watching Dr. Katz, but in much more deranged, yet emits an aura of importance to our current pop culture atmosphere. The director made her first film Our Nixon simply by cutting together archival Super 8 footage to create a movie, but has expanded beyond one medium to create a special type of narrative.
Now I missed a chance to see Nuts! not too long ago and I’m kicking myself for it. The film’s website does have a schedule available to catch upcoming screenings and I can’t help but notice how several of the screenings are hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse. Perhaps the after this and 25 April, we will see the rise of the animated documentary. Considering there are so many great stories to tell about and/or using the animation world…I’ll be more than happy to watch the change.