'Red, White & Wasted': Film Review

Red, White & Wasted Still 1 - Tribeca Film Festival Publicity- H 2019
Dark Star Pictures
A vivid portrait of a subset of Red State America.
9/11/2020

Andrei Bowden-Schwartz and Sam B. Jones' documentary explores the lives of "mudding" enthusiasts in Central Florida.

"Mud is like a drug to me. Better than doing drugs," affirms Matthew Burns, the central figure in Andrei Bowden-Schwartz and Sam B. Jones' debut feature documentary. If that statement seems puzzling to you, much will be made clear by Red, White & Wasted. Exploring the culture of "mudding" and the lives of the self-described rednecks in central Florida who embrace it with a passion, the film proves a valuable, if sometime difficult to endure, example of cinematic ethnography.

Mudding, for those unaware, is a raucous activity involving driving trucks and jeeps through oceans of mud until the vehicles, and everyone in the vicinity, are thoroughly splattered. The events also usually feature plenty of drinking, drugging, loud music, raucous dancing (often in the form of twerking), lots of exposed skin and general debauchery.

The film revolves around Burns, who lives in Orlando with his two grown daughters (their mother left a long time ago). His nickname is "Video Pat" (why not "Video Matt" is never explained), for his frequent videotaping of the mudding extravaganzas held at a nearby mudhole dubbed "Swamp Ghost." Pat used to sell those videos to make extra money, but after a brush fire causes the closing of the mudhole, he's forced to eke out a meager living by dumpster diving and selling scrap metal. Indeed, the entire mudding culture in the area seems threatened thanks to a boom in land development caused by the area's many theme parks.

The filmmakers alternate between giving the spotlight to Pat as he copes with personal crises including the pregnancy of one daughter and the health and drug issues of the other, and interviewing various young people who proudly embrace their heritage of guns, Confederate flags and excessive partying. (At times, the proceedings feel like a visual representation of Jeff Foxworthy's "You Might be a Redneck" routine.)

This is clearly Trump country, and not just because of the profusion of Trump campaign signs littering the area (the film was shot before the 2016 election). You can practically hear the president's words coming out of their mouths. One young man, after decrying the leaders of several foreign countries, thoughtfully adds, "I like Russia, though. I have a lot of respect for Vladimir Putin."

Racism also constantly rears its ugly head, although the interview subjects are careful about their language. When Burns finds out that the father of his daughter's unborn child is Black, he oh so generously allows, "Hey, he probably thinks and eats just like we do."

The film's ostensible climax involves Pat going on a road trip to attend the Red Neck Yacht Club, a lavishly commercialized incarnation of mudding that makes Burning Man and Mardi Gras seem decorous by comparison. Even Pat seems taken aback by the outrageous goings-on, prompting a mild reappraisal of his priorities in life, such as wanting to help take care of his new grandchild.

The inevitable problem with the documentary, which admirably displays no overt condescension (many viewers will provide enough of their own), is that the proceedings become tedious early on, as there's only so much insight to be gleaned from watching trucks drive around in mud and people generally acting like idiots. Red, White & Wasted serves a valuable function by showcasing a culture and way of life with which many will be unfamiliar, and illustrating the financial hardships with which these folks are struggling. But that doesn't make spending time with them any easier.

Production company: Kidshow
Distributor: Dark Star Pictures
Directors: Andrei Bowden-Schwartz, Sam B. Jones
Producer: Noah Lang
Executive producer: Rod Blackhurst
Editors: Barry Poltermann, Michael T. Vollmann
Composers: Brooke Blair, Will Blair

89 minutes