“I don’t know what I’m lookin’ for!”
Such is the wisdom of Errol Morris’ 1981 documentary. Henry Shipes (above) expounds on the double gobble and the town sheriff, with a complete absence of emotion, points out a bullet hole in his passenger’s seat (“I guess they were trying to scare me, but I don’t scare easily”).
Apparently Morris had originally gone to Vernon to explore its unique reputation as “Nub City.” From Wikipedia:
The town gained infamy in the late 1950s and early 1960s due to the improbably high percentage of residents who put out insurance claims on lost limbs, to the point that many speculated that residents of the town were intentionally dismembering themselves for the insurance money. Vernon, with a population of 500 – 800 resulted in as many as 2/3 of claims nationally. As such, the town gained the nickname “Nub City.”
However, when Morris’ intentions became clear he started to receive death threats and had to reengineer the story to avoid the discussion of self-dismemberment. Fortunately (or incredibly) there was enough sociological material aside from the towns principal infamy to create an unusual and compelling picture of a small southern town whose residents (all of whose limbs are intact in this film) strain credulity in their pure weirdness while simultaneously seeming banal in their picayune ramblings.
So we’re left with what David Ansen called “philosophical slapstick” and the rest is 56 minutes of history.