Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself diving into each and every oddball suggestion that finds its way into my inbox. Bigfoot movie? Sure. Weeklong festival coverage? Let’s do it. Potentially awful theatrical release? Fuck it. However, what seems to keep grabbing my attention are the numerous documentaries I’ve seen over the last month.
Given the fact that many of them deal with social situations, I’m guessing the appeal is simply viewing experiences which, right now, seem like visiting another planet. Granted, there is a bit of a sliding scale. It’s a vast difference between the recent Vinyl Nation and Other Music documentaries — two recent films examining the changing face of physical music — and the strange worlds of Red White & Wasted and DTF, which would seem extraterrestrial even in the most normal of times.
I keep asking myself, “Nick, why in the absolute hell do you keep watching movies which follow terrible people around, doing horrible things?” The answer is, obviously, “I need things to write about,” but there’s also this sense of “know thy enemy,” for better or worse. The people we follow in both of these films are, no lie, legitimately terrible. They are the sort of people who, if you met them in public, you would be pushed to either run from in disgust or run toward to punch.
To whit, the plot summaries:
“Red White & Wasted follows a family of mudding enthusiasts as the last mudhole in Orlando, Florida goes up in flames and they are forced to reconsider their way of life in a city that doesn’t have room for them anymore.
“Over the course of 18 months, a filmmaker follows his friend ‘Christian’ as his career as a long-haul pilot takes him to the far corners of the Earth. Widowed and lonely, ‘Christian’ uses his career to find new love in far-off lands as the camera captures his misadventures in lust and love. From the Far East to North America, the friendship of the two men is thrown into turmoil as moral compasses are tested to the limits with a whirlwind of vice and addiction.”
Starting Red White & Wasted, I thought it’d be more on the whole mudding angle, and exploring this trashy, niche spectacle which makes dirt track racing look like Formula One. Instead, it uses mudding as the framework for the tale of Matthew Burns and his family, who exist at the margins of society. They’re a group of people who’ve rarely, if ever, traveled outside the immediate confines of Orlando, and see their experiences as being the be-all, end-all.
There’s something to be said for filmmakers, artists, or even individuals who can take a very personal story and make it feel as though it applies to a wide swathe of humanity. The people who populate Red White & Wasted are the opposite of that. Andrei Bowden-Schwartz and Sam Jones put their lens on a group of folks who take their experiences as the limits of what’s possible, and can’t seem to put themselves in anyone else’s shoes.
There’s so much ignorance on display here that Burns’ daughter dating a black man and saying that she’s stopped saying the n-word with a hard ‘R’ and instead, an ‘A’ counts as a giant leap forward, progressively. Even coming from small town Kansas and having done my share of road-tripping throughout the midwest, I was struck dumb by the sheer amount of shitty humanity on display. By the time the cameras light up on the Redneck Yacht Club — a weekend-long, cranked-up version of mudding holes with a slew of hedonistic cracker-ass motherfuckers being shitty in every way possible — you’re almost numb to what’s being presented on a grand scale, because the intimate focus on the same behavior has already shocked you stupid.
It’s a strange experience, because the film culminating with that trip to the Redneck Yacht Club demonstrates this commercialization of getting together with friends and making do with what you have. Burns almost gets it, and sees a grander picture — wherein he realizes that what he’s seeing and how he’s experiencing it is how the world at large sees what he and his friends do — but it never quite clicks. Seeing him sit next to a Florida swamp, talking about how the ever-expanding city will soon take it over, you’re sure he’s going to get it. But then he makes it about how there’s no chance they could ever drive their trucks in, and it’s like, “You almost had it!” The lack of self-awareness just kills.
A week or so after making my way through Red White & Wasted, I decided to give DTF a shot, although I definitely knew what I was getting into with this one. Filmmaker Al Bailey’s debut was pitched to me with an email subject line reading “New Doc Following Sex-Addicted Pilot Lands September 15th,” so I certainly had no illusions regarding the basic aspects of the film.
However, while I knew the basic plot outline, the specifics left me agog. I spent more than enough time in my early 20s hanging out in bars and at parties with people who were definitely prone to things like wearing a plastic wrap Speedo, or setting a jacket on fire for a laugh, and have definitely mixed Vicodin and Pabst Blue Ribbon on more than one occasion, so it’s not like I’m some babe in the woods regarding bad behavior.
All that said, “Christian” is an absolutely awful person. The whole concept of the film is a charming, if boring idea of following him around the world as he goes on Tinder dates and tries to find love after the loss of his wife. Sadly, it seems that he may have miscommunicated to Bailey just what he uses Tinder for, in that he’s definitely not looking for love, but — as he states numerous times, “a shag.”
Not to sex-shame — if two people mutually agree that they want to bone after a couple of drinks and an afternoon hanging out, that’s fine — but “Christian” pursues sex with a hedonistic lack of regard for his and others’ personal safety. He sleeps with a woman who’s HIV positive, then lies about getting tested after. He repeatedly attempts to sleep with dancers and sex workers without a condom. At one point, he is headed to meet up with a poor college student who has agreed to sleep with him if he buys her a sandwich.
He’s abrasive, unpleasant, and while you’re watching all of this, you’re also watching Bailey’s documentary fall apart. He has investors who have laid out cash for him to spend 18 months traveling the world and before they’ve gotten five minutes of usable footage, “Christian” is trying to get out of everything. It’s a nightmare, and watching DTF feels like you’re part of some terrible pact, where you have to see it through to the bloody end.
When things hit Las Vegas, shit goes downhill really quickly, and the last 20 minutes or so are maybe some of the worst things I’ve ever seen happen onscreen. It’s like found footage, but real. Like the video for the Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up,” but real. “Christian” is a terrible person for the majority of the film, but at least honest and forthcoming as to his wants and desires, but when he crosses a line after Bailey lets his guard down, he turns into a legitimate monster.
Watching Red White & Wasted and DTF are interesting, yet terrifying experiences, not unlike trying to make your way through a real life slice of found footage torture porn. After both, you’re going to be a bit shaky, in need of some after-care, and maybe kind of glad you can’t leave the house.