Sam Burnham, Curator
Time for a retro review.
A few days ago Florida author Wanda Suttle Duncan pointed me towards a documentary she thought I would enjoy. She was right. I wouldn’t be doing my job as ABG Curator if I didn’t pass this one on to you.
Back in 1981, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris planned to produce a film called “Nub City” to document the American city with the highest rate of amputations. The premise was to highlight insurance scams using a practice of voluntary amputation. His plan backfired when the people of Vernon, Florida found out what he was up to and ran him out of town. So Morris changed the plan and used footage he had collected in Vernon and assembled it into the quirkiest documentary I’ve ever seen.
There's plenty to love about this film.
The only speaking that goes on is done by the townspeople themselves. There’s no commentary from some outsider trying to skew your thoughts into any one direction. The viewer is presented with the people of Vernon and the stories they tell. The only editorial actions would be the choice of which footage to use, which order to present it in, and the addition of music in a few places.
The stories are so unique. There’s no single thread that ties these stories together. The topics are all over the place. Morris found some true characters and turned them loose.
Several of the stories do focus on a sense of place. The land, the woods, the water, even local real estate comes up. Vernon is home and there’s no suggestion that anyone in this film has a desire to be anywhere else. Oddly, none of them seem to be an amputee, voluntarily or otherwise.
Without airing out too many spoilers I’ll say that in this documentary you’ll hear one of the best fishing stories I’ve heard since Jaws, perhaps even Moby Dick. The story involves a pond, 114 warmouth, and the bloated corpse of a 65-year-old mule.
You’ll also hear some impressive turkey hunting stories, There’s some information and commentary regarding the care and raising of fishing worms. Of course you’ll catch up on local lore, local history, and local gossip. There’s opinions on local real estate, candid remarks from local law enforcement. It’s thick and honest. The people of Vernon didn’t realize they were supposed to be embellished characters in a reality show. The results are better because of that.
Most importantly there’s a rare peek into the world of a quirky and weird corner of the rural South. Are you curious about untamed Florida? Do you want to know what that Florida Man hashtag is really all about? Do you want to see all this without the commentary of outsiders? Then I suggest a viewing of Vernon, Florida. The film is available through several online services.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire