Saturday 14 April 2012

Legend of the Shoe Man (2010)

Director: Joey Skidmore

This is apparently a true story, though you know how that goes in low budget horror movies, especially when they're narrated by people as apparently deliberately over the top as director Joey Skidmore. The Shoe Man is an American eccentric, who lived near the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri and cultivated things like a cup tree and a shoe fence, which are precisely what you think they are except they're really big. One of the characters interviewed explains that there are 1,436 pairs of shoes on the shoe fence and 1,500 missing people in Missouri. I say characters because while many, if not all, of these folks are apparently real, they're as eccentric as the character they talk about in this documentary. Is this supposed to be really true or is it playing on the fact that most viewers would believe anything of folks from the Ozarks? Some of these characters are just too out there to be remotely believable but hey, it's the Ozarks, right? Pull out the banjo, someone!

Certainly Skidmore plays up to our expectations of backwoods hicks, treating us to no end of outré characters. We get a psychic, a musician, a bartender. We get a big bearded guy in a lumberjack shirt who seems to be retarded. We get a store owner with a big white beard and a huge puppet. There's a Waffle House manager with a notable cleavage and a guy with a metal plate in his head who fertilises his watermelon patch with his own excrement. There's John the Angry Plumber and the Rev Monte Python, preaching to us around a fire with snakes wrapped around his wrists. Sheriff Stephen 'Quick Draw' McGraw comes complete with eyepatch. Wolf the Bounty Hunter talks while sharpening his knives. Jim Dandy, lead singer of Black Oak Arkansas, now has truly scary teeth. All these folks tell us ghost stories about the Shoe Man, while we get deliberately overplayed comedic fantasies or reenactments of the stories. 'I'm gonna get me that shoe man,' Wolf keeps saying.

The biggest problem with the film is that it has no clue what it really wants to be and I still haven't worked out what Skidmore aimed at. As a documentary, it pokes so much fun at itself that it's impossible to believe a word, even when we know at least some of these folks are real. Come on, we get Betty Jo and Betty Lou in a haystack together telling us they're cousins, and when they kiss add that they're more like sisters. How serious can we take it? Yet as a comedy, it's inconsistent because it seems to go serious on us when we least expect it. There seems to be real folklore here or least believable folklore and, to be honest, the one springs from the other. As a drama, it sucks, but at least there's a consistency there to cling to. I ended up looking at it as outsider art. I have no idea what to think of it but I can immerse myself in the exhibition of bizarreness that Skidmore collected together to put in front of his camera. On that front it's an experience.

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