A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
In Buster Keaton's 1922 film "Cops," Keaton, for reasons too complicated to go into, finds himself sitting in a cart full of furniture, trying to get his horse to move faster. Keaton makes a pit-stop at a "Goat Gland Specialist," and hustles the horse through the door. Moments later, standing on the sidewalk, he looks around furtively, making sure no one is watching, and turns and strolls into the specialist's office himself. That scene would have killed in 1922, but perhaps modern audiences need back-story. Penny Lane's wonderfully entertaining documentary "Nuts!" may provide, among other things, enlightenment on what Buster Keaton (and his sluggish horse) might have been looking for through that doorway.
"Nuts!" presents the life-story of a man named John R. Brinkley, whose fame spread far and wide in the 1920s and 1930s. Apparently, one day a farmer visited Brinkley's druggist's shop in Milford, Kansas (population 300), and asked for help because he was a "flat tire" sexually, Dr. Brinkley got the idea of removing "good nuts" from billy-goats and inserting them into the "bad nuts" of impotent men. Brinkley experimented, and it worked! The farmer had a spring in his step again, happy erections, and potent sperm filled with child-bearing potential. And so began the heyday of Dr. Brinkley. Brinkley opened a hospital, a herd of virile goats chewing grass on the lawn in front. Milford became a boom town, people traveling from across the country to have the goat gland procedure. Children were born to couples who had given up. Men could satisfy their wives again with their sexual performance. Miracle!
Penny Lane's previous film, "Our Nixon," took a well-known story and viewed it from an unexpected perspective, using the intimate humorous "home" movies made by the Praetorian Guard around President Nixon in the first years of the administration. Lane has a gift for finding the unexpected in the familiar, the right narrative structure, however eccentric, to tell a story.
Her documentaries are not your typical "talking head" affairs. "Nuts!" utilizes only a couple "talking heads," each with their own area of expertise. James Reardon shares his knowledge of the history of Kansas, its demographics and politics (Brinkley, a famous man, eventually ran for office). Megan Seaholm, a medical historian, delves into the history of the AMA and its campaign against "quackery." Gene Fowler is radio historian (Brinkley's main contribution to the world may have nothing to do with goat glands but his pioneering use of radio technology.)