John Brinkley has an idea… Animation Still. Artist: Drew Chris

John Brinkley has an idea… Animation Still. Artist: Drew Christie. Courtesy of Cartuna.

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


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on June 19, 2016, in Film Forum, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: