I started dreaming up a film about John Brinkley in 2009, after coming across the book Charlatan in my local public library. In conversations with friends I would mention this guy who transplanted goat testicles into men to cure impotence. And a lot of people would ask me, “Well, did it work?”
Well… no, of course it didn’t. But I began to think about how much people want to believe in miracle cures. The weirder the better, really. How “one weird trick to melt belly fat” is way better click-bait than “eat less to lose weight.” Who doesn’t sometimes wish the world was more interesting, more magical, more colorful than it really is? This is why the highest-rated Animal Planet program of all time was a fake documentary about mermaids. This is why Water Kirn falls for Clark Rockefeller. Why conspiracy theories are so compelling. And why we fall for quack doctors, time and time again: they sell us a story we want to believe.
I believe that more than any other single human quality, it is our love of great stories that makes us so endlessly susceptible to being conned. We believe the stories we want or need to believe, and we believe anyone who tells them to us. Con men know this. So do politicians, propagandists, pitchmen, cult leaders, televangelists, pick up artists and manipulators of all kinds – including documentary filmmakers.
And so, NUTS! is not a film that allows us to sit back and laugh at the dummies who fell for Brinkley’s bullshit. Instead, it’s a film that shows we are all those dummies. Unlike Brinkley, however, I seduce you, and then I show you how I did it. Brinkley’s story is not presented as the object of a neutral nonfiction gaze, but as an opportunity for viewers to actively wrestle with the ethical and epistemological issues central to the narrative nonfiction form.
And since I am on a mission to prove that watching documentary films isn’t just about eating your vegetables, the viewer is supposed to have fun while they wrestle with this stuff. Ultimately, NUTS! is still just a good old story about a big fat liar, some goat balls and a million-watt radio station. Because who says smart films have to be boring?
– Penny Lane (February 10, 2016)