Penny Lane has spent the last eight years of her life making a film about a man whose controversial rise to power and fame in many ways mirror’s Donald Trump.
John Brinkley’s turn-of-the-20th-century empire was one built on goat testicles, sex, money, radio, politics, and deceptions so shaded it often became impossible to determine if the truth even existed at all. Lane called Brinkley’s story a “true American tragedy,” and now that tragedy is on display through the aptly-titled Nuts!
Lane, previously best known for her Our Nixon documentary, never intended on devoting nearly a decade of her life to Brinkley’s unbelievably (un)true life, but after encountering the book Charlatan she simply couldn’t get it out of her head.
More than just Brinkley’s story - although in fairness that’s one hell of a “just” - it was the labyrinthian task of discerning fact from fiction and the more formal filmmaking challenge of making a documentary with such shaky ground to stand on.
It’s about a con man, and the end questioning, what is he really thinking? Do people know he’s lying? Is he fooling himself? All those questions are so interesting, and those questions aren’t resolved by the film.
My movie had to do a lot of funky stuff with the truth. It felt like an interesting parallel to the extent to which I had to be a con man to make that movie.
Nuts! necessarily complex relationship with the truth has, and will, rekinkdle an ongoing debate about the necessity of absolute veracity in documentary, but Lane came up with a unique wrinkle to that debate.
She’s also published over 300 footnotes that attempts to transparently detail all of the point where she was forced to confront Brinkley’s own nebulous grasp on the truth. This is what it means to tell the true story of a liar, and along with a host of extras in the Nuts! Bundle, it’s a captivating additional layer to the film.
Those type of extras will provide the people Lane referred to as “fellow film nerds,” along with those who find themselves similarly obsessed by Brinkley, plenty of fodder for deeper exploration, but Lane’s also interested in watching the more general response to the film now that it’s in the wider public sphere. After all, this is a film most bluntly about sex, money and power, topics that Americans in particular seem to find inherently captivating.
Nuts! is a film that merges animation with archival footage, humor with serious depth and lies with the truth with that expansive grey area that sits between the two. It’s a film that’s both about old America and almost shockingly relevant to our present day.
It’s the kind of story you can devote years of your life to telling, and now we get to wait to see what story will obsess Penny Lane next.
[By Nathan Slavik, aka @RefinedHype]