Big River Crazy

by Handsome Matt

I posted a youtube video about “Big River Man” earlier. I finally watched the movie, and here are my thoughts. In no order and completely random:

There isn’t much that Martin Strel hasn’t done.

He’s insane, and if I hear his crazed Wisconsinite navigator declare him a “superhero” one more time, I’m going to nail him with ten fingers folded into fist shaped kryptonite.

Why is this director afraid of silence or ambient sounds? Everything has to have music played over it. Loses some of the drama and intensity.

The Amazon looks more disgusting than I thought it would be. Not just muddy, but full of trash and waste. Just absolutely disgusting.

Subcutaneous larval infestation. I’m not quite sure what it is exactly, but they tied it in with a shot of Strel hooking jumper cables to his head (while connected to a battery), taping his head up, and pouring lighter fluid on himself.

Now, with Cohesion

“Big River Man” is an interesting documentary. Most interesting, to me at least, is his reason for swimming. Both as a coping mechanism for childhood abuse, but to highlight environmental concerns along major river ways.

The scenes with the most impact were of Strel swimming through piles of litter, man sized or larger, just floating down the river. And the scenes of his swim in the Yellow river, combined with the statements “they cleaned his blood every night” and “[the doctor] would need a microscope to see the parasites in his blood” are stunning. Not in the “wow the Grand Canyon was stunning,” but actually stunned. Into silence.  Or at least they would be, had the director chosen to use a bit of silence in his soundtrack.

As Strel’s mind becomes more and more disconnected with reality the movie begins to fray. As though you’re caught in his insanity. This takes away from the epic nature of the story. A man going up against the most powerful river in the world. And because of that, i think the message Strel was attempting to create was lost. There are no follow up interviews, no late night shows, and only a book and documentary to show it happened.

The Stance

Because of how everything falls apart at the end, his quest, Strel’s quest, to raise awareness of the environment, falls apart. In some way, his silence after swimming the Amazon; highlights the near impossibility of trying to save the environment. It’s as though he has realized all he went through was for naught. No awareness raised, no minds changed, no rain forest saved.

The documentary is a bit of a darling on the film festival circuit, but I don’t know if it has raised much beyond pulses. But Strel as a person, apart from this documentary has done and continues to do so much. That is inspiration worthy of a movie.

Check It Yourself

Big River Man – the official website for the documentary