This weekend, Karl and I went to the Boston Independent Film Festival. Here’s a quick review of the first two movies we saw. More to come!
The first movie we saw was about Wisconson-based obsessive Big Mac eater Don Gorske. It’s a short profile of Gorske, who ate his 20,000th Big Mac this year. He eats nothing for breakfast, nothing for lunch, then stops by McDonalds and picks up between 1 and 4 Big Macs for dinner. Every day. For the past 25 years. The director of this short saw him featured in Super Size Me last year, and she thought he could carry a short film on his own.
Gorske shows us his “McDonalds Museum,” which occupies a spare bedroom and most of the attic in his house. He has Ronald’s clown shoes, Big Mac containers from 1975, and hundreds of photos of himself in front of hundreds of McDonalds restaurants. He has all kinds of awards and newspaper clippings, including a Guinness Book of World Records entry. “Most of the people in this book [Guinness] are obsessive-compulsive,” he says, “so I guess I fit right in.” He says people call him John Lennon, because he has a Wisconsin version of Lennon’s hair and glasses, but he reminded me more of Forrest Gump.
And he reminded me that anyone could get famous by doing something, anything, with obsesive consistency. Etch another vote into the stone for long term projects, no matter how mundane.
From the McDonalds Museum, we go east to Connecticut, to the now-defunct Nut Museum in Old Lyme. Elizabeth Tashjian, now ninety-three, started the museum wheh she was in her fifties, and for thirty-odd years it was the outlet for her art projects. She researched nuts, painted nuts and painted paintings of nuts, wrote songs about nuts, collected nuts, and became an icon for nuts, appearing on many national TV shows and “weird news” briefs through the decades. Tashjian lived with her mother until she died (Tashjian was in her forties), then lived alone and penniless, but quite happy, in her mother’s mansion until recently. She was the sole curator, director, and historian of the Nut Museum, and her self-proclaimed title is Nut Culturist. On a visit to the museum, the camera shows that Tashjian is truly the main event: she’s as much a performance artist as a visual artist. She is very intelligent, charismatic, and entertaining. I was reminded of Little Edie in Grey Gardens. Tashjian is not as messy or flippant as Little Edie, but she radiates the same sort of creativity, and she represents a past generation of New England intellectual wealth that is now nearly extinct.
In 2002, Tashjian was found unconscious by a state social worker. She went into a coma. The state emptied her house and put it on the market (to cover back taxes), and her life’s work was donated to Connecticut College’s art department. To everyone’s surprise, she recovered a month later, and she was devestated by the news. She now lives in a nursing home and has been considered incapable of managing her own affiars. Her house was sold and remodeled, her heirloom nut trees torn down, and her chances of moving back to Old Lyme are all but gone. She has regained hope in her work, however, and she continues to persue her obsession. A retrospective of her work was held last year at Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, CT, and, of course, this docmentary premiered in February. It’s a touching story, well presented. It raises questions about how excentric artists fit, or don’t fit, into rural communities. It shows a sad reality that many older women without any family support face. But it’s also creatively inspiring: to see someone live such a free and rich life with so little, with so much energy. And she came into her prime after 50.