Vol. 2, Issue #14 August 3rd - August 16th, 2007

DVD Review: Okie Noodling
By: Wilhelm Murg

Bradley Beesley’s 2001 PBS documentary “Okie Noodling” has become something of a cult classic here in Oklahoma. It’s one of those films where devotees can act out whole scenes and quote the movie verbatim. Echo Bridge has just released this new version with commentary, outtakes, and three Flaming Lips songs isolated as audio tracks on the DVD.

For those not in the know, noodling (a.k.a. cat fisting, graveling, dogging, grabbling, hogging, tickling, stumping) is the redneck sport of catching large (30-60 pound) flathead catfish barehanded. The trick is to find the catfish’s nests in the under brush in lakes, where the noodler can stick his hand in and have the fish bite him. He then grabs the gill from the inside and pulls the fish out of the water. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Some have died from getting their arm stuck in a hole and drowning, and some holes have been taken over by deadly water moccasins. Others have lost fingers due to snapping turtles and beavers taking over abandoned holes. Even in the best of circumstances, you’re still fighting a huge fish on his own turf.

It’s hard to tell whether Beesley (best known for directing the Flaming Lips documentary “Fearless Freaks,”) came to praise noodling, or to bury it, which is part of the beauty of the documentary. While the film is straightforward and respectful, a part of it still feels like Beesley gave the drunk a microphone, which is not necessarily a metaphor in this case. The noodlers are pretty much what you expect, salt of the earth country folks, the children of “American Gothic” who fail to see the irony or madness in any of it. Most of them look to it as a sport that brings the whole family together...that is if your family likes spending long hours swimming in hot, muddy creeks while battling fish, beavers, snakes and turtles.

The major figures in the film are “Red” Baggett, a garbage man for the city of Lawton who has noodled his whole life, and Jerry “Catfish” Rider, who works as school janitor in Tacumseh. Rider has appeared on David Letterman and is something of an ambassador of the sport.

The film works like a white trash version of “Jackass,” and it’s just as compelling; there is nothing like the sight of a grown man rising out of still waters with a 50-pound catfish biting his hand. In stupidity highlights, Rider plays with a snake and allows it to bite him, the next day he’s noodling with duct tape wrapped around his hand to keep the water out of the doctor’s dressing. The film ends with the first noodling festival, put together by the producers of the film.

This is one of the best films about man vs. nature I’ve seen since “Grizzly Man,” however here in Oklahoma; man wins. “Okie Noodling” is a slice of Americana that will leave your jaw unhinged.

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©2007 NONCO Media, L.L.C.