Living Writers:“NUTS!” Challenges the Rags-to-Riches Trope


nuts for “Nuts!”:  Penny Lane’s second film, about a quack doctor from Kansas,  was shown at Hamilton Movie Theatre as part of the Living Writers series.

The premiere of “NUTS!” at the Hamilton Movie Theatre took place Thursday, September 8 as part of the Living Writers series. Directed by Assistant Professor of Art & Art History Penny Lane, the film tells the story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, who fooled the general public into thinking a goat testicle transplant would effectively cure impotence.

The theatre was filled with students, faculty and locals eager to hear the artisitic telling of such an intriguing story.  This special event featured popcorn, a red carpet and a question and answer session with Lane.

Associate Professor of English Jennifer Brice, the professor of the Living Writers course, began the evening with a kind introduction for the director. This was followed by Lane speaking about the overall process of creating the film, and why she feels it is so unique. Considering its artisitic animated qualities and  unique storyline, it would be a challenge to find another film quite like this. “NUTS!” has even been recognized at the Sundance Film Festival, winning the 2016 Sundance US Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing.

Lane’s artistic masterpiece reflects how she is truly the product of a liberal arts education, receiving her Bachelors of Arts from Vassar College in 2001 and her Masters of Fine Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2005.

The film, about an hour and a half long, uses animated reenactments, interviews with historians and clips from Depression-era America to document the doctor’s rise from poverty to fame. Brinkley’s fradulent empire grew when he utilized radio; he owned and operated two of the largest radio towers in North America. As a result, this transformed both the advertising and radio industries at the time. Despite taking place decades ago, the story is also a reflection of who we are as a society even today. “I think the film reveals we have not gotten any less gullible in the past hundred years,” Lane said.

Brice agreed with Lane’s assessment of the gullible nature of humans.

“We are susceptible … to the seductions  of the story,” Brice said. “We want to believe the con man who says, ‘Here, drink this potion or have this operation, and all of your problems will be solved.’ We want to believe the filmmaker who seems – at least at first – to serve us up the familiar American

rags-to-riches trope.”

Many audiences might feel slightly perturbed at the prospect of such a story because of its eccentric, ridiculous nature. However, Brice argues that it holds great value, simultaneously educating and entertaining us.

“The best works of art nearly always do what Penny Lane does in this film,” Brice said. “They unsettle us. The film pulls the rug out from under us in such an entertaining way that we actually end up liking the feeling of not knowing what happened to the floor beneath our feet.”

Her statement could not be more true – art is not supposed to be perfect and sugar-coated; it is supposed to make us look at things differently, including ourselves. “NUTS!” reveals that independent film can be one of the rawest, richest art forms out there, and we can learn relevant lessons from stories of the past.