June 19, 2016. A wealthy man with no political experience running for office? A charlatan who defrauds his clients? A stolen election? No, this is not a story about current events, or even recent history. It is the story of J.R. Brinkley, who came to prominence in the America of the 1920s and 1930s, as told by documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (“Our Nixon” 2013), in her new film, “NUTS!”
“NUTS!” is a funny, dramatic, engaging, intelligent and “off the wall” film which takes the documentary form in new and interesting directions. For me, as a college sociology teacher of mass media and popular culture, I found “NUTS!” to be a fascinating tale of a media personality.
Lane conducted four years of research for “NUTS!”, which took her all over the country. She tells Brinkley’s story as a three act tale, portraying him as a successful, “up by his bootstraps,” Horatio Alger type character who fought the “powers that be.” Lane tells this story through energetic juxtapositions of animation (including voice re-creations of events which may, or may not, have happened), newspaper clippings, photographs, stock footage, Brinkley’s home movies and present day interviews with historians. The result is a visually arresting pastiche of a larger than life character, a combination of fact and tall tale. What is true and what is not is, at times, hard to tell, but, then again, that is part of the fun of “NUTS!”
Brinkley was a doctor and a radio pioneer who used the new medium of radio to promote himself and his businesses. Lane has found the right approach and tone. She seems, for the film’s first two acts, to be appropriating Brinkley’s talent for self-promotion to tell Brinkley’s story in much the same manner as Brinkley himself most assuredly would have done, had he been a documentary filmmaker. This then leads to a concluding third act which, combined with the first two acts, makes “NUTS!” a thoughtful piece about media, truth and popular culture. Although set in the past “NUTS!” is very much a film for the times in which we live.
“NUTS!” reminded me of a favorite documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” “NUTS!” and “Exit…” are both stories about the rise of media figures in which the viewer is not always sure where the truth lies. The most obvious difference is that while “Exit…” is a contemporary story told as it unfolds, “NUTS!” is a story told many years after the fact (that is, if “fact” is the correct word to use).
“NUTS!” will open, at Film Forum, for its U.S. Premiere on June 22. Film Forum is located at 209 West Houston Street. For more information please visit www.filmforum.com.
Posted on June 19, 2016, in Film Forum, Uncategorized and tagged Cartuna, Drew Christie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Film Forum, Horatio Alger, J.R. Brinkley, NUTS!, Our Nixon, Penny Lane. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.