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Film review: "Nuts"


In Milford, Kansas, in 1918, Dr. John R. Brinkley came up with the novel (insane) idea that he might be able to cure impotence by transplanting goat testicles into the bodies of humans. Shockingly, Brinkley's experimental surgery actually caught on, earning him widespread admiration and the approval of luminaries such as Buster Keaton, William Jennings Bryan, and Rudolph Valentino, even as his practices turned him into the arch-nemesis of the American Medical Association.

With Brinkley as its irresistibly entertaining subject, the inventive and utterly fascinating documentary, "Nuts!," from director Penny Lane ("Our Nixon"), uses animation, archival footage, as well as interviews with contemporary historians, authors, and experts to tell the story of one of the most bizarre and peculiar lives of the 20th century.

Leveraging his notoriety to his advantage, Brinkley built a media empire, eventually running for governor and becoming an early radio pioneer -- building what would eventually grow into world's most powerful broadcasting station. Over the airwaves, the doctor dispensed marital advice (one interviewee calls him "the Dr. Ruth of the 1920's"), answered medical questions, and naturally took the opportunity to recommended viewers to try his own miracle cures, tonics, and home remedies. Brinkley was nothing is not as expert at self-mythologizing, and Lane's documentary makes a solid case for the man as a shining tribute to both the power and the perversion of the American dream.

Tuesday's screening of "Nuts!" will be followed by a Skype Q&A with director Penny Lane.