Muddy Buddies

Doc takes deep dive into Deep South subculture

Red, White and Wasted
Documentary
Directed by Andrei Bowden-Schwartz and Sam B. Jones
Unrated

This is a really dirty movie.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking. So, get your mind out of the gutter—and prepare to get muddy.

This documentary about “mudders,” enthusiasts of off-road events featuring trucks, cars and “extreme mud” mayhem, centers on a small group in central Florida. When their last mudhole in Orlando is closed down, it causes a near-existential crisis to the mud-man known as “Video Pat,” who has spent most of his life attending mud events and chronicling them on his videocams.

Pat—whose real name is Matthew Burns—has raised his two teenage daughters to love the mud as well.  

“Mud is like a drug to me,” he says.

So that’s what the documentary is “about.” But what’s it’s really about is a sobering, sloppy, gloppy plunge into a muddy pocket of deep-South redneck subculture that most Americans will never see, a place in the swampy shadows of Disney’s gleaming fantasy-land tourism mecca where the stars and bars of the Confederate battle flag still fly and the politics are far, far-right and deep, deep red.

It’s a place where mudders wear cut-out masks of Trump and Melania and T-shirts with the slogan “Isis Lives Splatter,” and sport tattoos of Smith and Wesson 9mm pistols and the 2nd Amendment. One young man talks about how he’s moved out of the city to get away from all the “liberals and pansies” and how he worries about what will happen to his gun rights if “the liberals get their way.”

“I like Russia,” says the boyfriend of Pat’s youngest daughter, Jessie, showing off bumper stickers on his pickup. “I have a lot of respect for Vladimir Putin.” He has stickers that say Nuke ‘Em All and Yankee Go Home.

“I’m not fully racist,” says daughter Krista. “I have some Black friends on Facebook.”

Mud events are good-ol’-boy bacchanalias of beer, boobs and bawdy behavior, punctuated by the constant roar of trucks making as much mess and muck as possible.

Pat pulls out an old VHS tape of an event from several years ago, one where things got particularly rowdy and out-of-hand. “This one here,” he says, “I think it caused some of my divorce.”

These mudders are, for the most part, small-timers. Pat looks at awe at the bigger, “professional” mud events, like ones staged by the Redneck Yacht Club, with gigantic, customized, decorated monster trucks and thousands of attendees. The Orlando mudders are more localized—and radicalized. Their MO is to slip deep onto private property, typically trespassing, until someone—or something—makes them leave.

Pat and his buddies remember mud parties closed down by massive fires, where a mother and her child died of carbon monoxide poisoning, and another when a motorcyclist “decapitated himself.” All those mud holes are gone, closed down, or taken over for construction projects. “Power and money,” Pat says, gesturing at a “No Trespassing” sign blocking the entrance to a once-favorite mud hole, the site of many memories soon to become a hotel, condo, business park or yet another tourist attraction. For the mudders, Orlando’s march of commercialization and progress is a march in the wrong direction; Disney and other developers are the big, bad wolves who have gobbled up all the places in the wild where they once roamed free.

A friend of Pat’s notes wistfully, “My grandson will never experience that part of the woods.”

The “red” in the title is for the political color, as well as for “redneck,” which so many of the mudders use as a badge of honor. And you’ll get eye strain looking for any skin colors other than white at most mudding events. (For punctuation, the movie throws in a guy hollering, “White lives matter!”) As for “wasted,” well, that’s a reference to all the beer and the bongs at mudding events as well as Pat’s own house, which his daughters keep blanketed in a haze of pot smoke. But it could also be a bit of a judgement call on people so obsessed with anything—like mudding—that they neglect other, well, more basic needs.

Daughter Krista

Early in the film, we see Pat, Jessie and Krista dumpster-diving, and Pat later tells us that his oldest daughter never made it past middle school; but he proudly notes that she’s “good [at] being on the phone.” Pat scrapes by on reselling junk and scrap metal. Jessie skips the medicine that controls her epileptic seizures and ends up in the hospital. Krista gets pregnant and has a baby; Pat kicks her out of the house.

It’s depressing and distressing and downright pitiful in a social-services kind of way, but it’s also grotesquely fascinating, like one of those cable-TV shows—Hoarders, or Addiction—about people whose train-wreck lives are so messy and messed up, you’re just thankful you’re watching from a safe, sanitary distance. For most viewers, this may be the only way to ever experience this particular slice of deep-red, pro-gun, casually racist, proudly anti-progressive America—a kind of drive-through movie safari to a place you’d never actually dream of going otherwise.

When Pat becomes a grandpa to Krista’s new baby son, Matthew, he reveals a sentimental, almost poignant side. He takes the toddler to his first mudding event, gently dipping his tiny feet in the gooey black muck just churned by a monster truck—a new generation baptized not in the blood, but in the mud, symbolically bestowing him an indominable yahoo survivalist streak, a fierce, don’t-tread-on-me independence, a disregard for anything that might be considered “political correctness,” and a rebellious spirit that knows no limits.

“The South’s been rebelling since the Civil War,” says Jessie’s boyfriend. “And we ain’t never stopped.”

If the Red, White and Wasted revolution ever comes, people, get ready—it’s gonna be a messy, muddy one.

On Demand Sept. 22, 2020

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