5-Word 365 #203 – Vernon, Florida

After watching Tabloid last Saturday, I thought I would dip my toes a bit further into the waters of Errol Morris’ filmography, starting with this curio from 1981.

Vernon, Florida

Speeding is easy in Vernon.

A portrait of small-town America. Well, one very specific small town in America; the town of – yes, you’ve guessed it – Vernon. It’s in Florida.

Three years after his debut Gates of Heaven, Errol Morris released this rather low-key film made up of a series of seemingly random monologues (I certainly wouldn’t call them interviews) with a half-dozen or so residents of the eponymous town. There is actually another story here. The film was originally to be called Nub City. Vernon’s unofficial nickname was earned from the frankly disturbing local trend of residents cutting bits off themselves in order to claim the insurance money. Once word of the film got out, the good folks of Vernon didn’t fancy the idea of their bloody gravy train being derailed so they apparently threatened to start cutting bits off Morris. To make sure he got out of Vernon alive, he renamed the picture and recut it to instead focus on these fully-limbed eccentrics.

And what an interesting bunch they are. From an old guy who keeps a turtle and a possum in a cage in his yard, to the most devoted wild turkey hunter in probably the whole state, to a preacher and part-time house-builder who gives sermons on grammar and sentence construction, the people of Vernon seem to live completely in their own world. This is quite a bare-bones film; there is no music, nor any of the reenactments that would later become a Morris signature. The sounds of these voices become almost hypnotic as the film goes on, even while the accents are occasionally unintelligible. When you can make them out though, these people all share a very dry but humorous view of the world. At first glance it may seem that Morris is slyly laughing at the residents of Vernon and expecting you to do the same, but as the film goes on it becomes clear that there is something insightful going on here. I’ll need to watch it a couple more times before I know exactly what that is though. I get the feeling this film will be gently roaming around in my head for quite a while.

Next time you go on a turkey hunt, you’re gonna want to take Mr Henry Shipes with you. The Turkey Whisperer of the Florida panhandle.

Also, I am now thoroughly informed on the meaning of the word therefore. So that’s good.


  1. mistylayne · July 22, 2012

    Yikes, cutting off bits?!

    • Ryan McNeely · July 23, 2012

      Yeah! Back in the 50s and 60s there were about 45 people (in a town of 783 residents) who made insurance claims for things like accidentally shooting off a foot, or losing an arm in a farming accident, things like that. Nothing was ever proven though…

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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