Penny Lane (Our Nixon) talked to us about the importance of pacing in her creative nonfiction exploration of pseudoscience, why they used animated re-enactments, and how to think about documentary film.
Penny Lane’s marvelous documentary NUTS! just picked up the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing with her co-writer Thom Stylinski. The film chronicles the life and work of Dr. John Brinkley, who made his name by transplanting goat testicles into infertile men, making liberal use of animated re-enactments. During the festival, Penny Lane talked to us about the importance of pacing in the film, why they used animated re-enactments, and how to think about documentary film.
Seventh Row (7R): How did you think about how to address science versus pseudoscience?
Penny Lane (PL): I did think about having more context around those questions. For the movie to work, it had to be seductive, colourful, charming, fast, and it had to keep you entertained so you didn’t have time to engage your critical capacities. The pacing actually slows down in the second act. As the claims he’s making are getting more ridiculous, you also get a minute of home movies, some time to think for the first time.
It takes about forty minutes before I give you ten seconds to think about what I’m saying. I steal that from conspiracy theory filmmakers. They’re like [makes a revving fast sound]. And you’re like, “My mind is being blown!” As soon as you hit pause, to go the bathroom, you’re like, “Wait a minute!” Because you don’t have time to stop and consider the claims being made. That’s very intentional.
Whenever I imagined, let’s stop and give some historical context or let’s stop and explain the definition of pseudoscience, it took you out of the magic. That’s exactly what Brinkley would not want. He would never do that: stop entertaining you and give you some important information. He’d be like, “I’ve got to keep going, keep you under my spell.”