Inspiration: Okie Noodling

I was thinking of going to the movies last night, but despite all the Oscar buzz didnt find anything Id want to spend money on, so instead I watched the latest Netflix arrival Okie Noodling, a 2001 one hour documentary about barehanded catfish grabbling in the murky waters of Oklahoma.

The film director, Oklahoman, Flaming Lips video sidekick genius Bradley Beesley, did a noodling trick himself, pulling out from near obscurity an extreme activity which had had 15 minutes of fame through school custodian Jerry "Catfish" Rider who had appeared on the David Letterman show in the late 1980s and even toured India, finding other bare handers, and creating for the sake of the movie, an Okie Noodling tournament, which continues to this day.

Since then, Beesley has also gone back out in the water to shoot much more noodling, including this underwater catch in HD video.

In the movie, I found especially poignant Rider's story. Unlike many of the other noodlers, who often go out with family and extended family, he is a solitary figure. When noodling time comes, he says he turns into an animal, although one who goes in the water with his jeans and sneakers. On the day of the tournament, he adds duct tape around his hand which had just been bitten the previous day by a copper snake. The high water conditions aren't right it seems for his kind of spots, so he apparently returns home empty handed, resigned to the reality that even though he may have been a media legend for a while, with heroic imagery of him Jesus like, wading out of the water, with catfish swinging on strings on his back, there are other noodlers out there even better than him.

The movie shows how women shy away from the practice, preferring to watch for danger from their speedboat, but in years since a "Girls Gone Grabblin" DVD series has also started.

The original Okie Noodling movie reminded me of the 1997 classic Hands on a Hard Body documentary about a sleep deprivation tournament to get a pickup truck or some early Errol Morris work on strange inhabitants of the swamplands of Vernon, Florida, but I find Beesley's work is more even handed about the characters he portrays, without any hint of condescension, perhaps because, as the final scene attests, he is one of the noodlers himself.

Popular Posts