Movie Review: Cracker Crazy: Invisible Histories of the Sunshine State
A few weeks ago I reviewed a snappy little low-budget thriller by director Georg Koszulinski called Silent Voyeur that I praised in part because of its smart and clever writing and Georg’s ability to get a lot out of working with obviously very little. Cracker Crazy, the film Georg made after Silent Voyeur, is a completely different kind of film, but one that I was very impressed with for that exact same reason.
Cracker Crazy is a purely historical documentary on the odder parts of Florida’s history that takes a very different approach than other docs usually take with similar material. The visuals are about 99% found footage — there’s only a couple modern landscape images created by Georg. However, Georg wisely mixes up the way the information is conveyed in order to keep things moving at a snappy pace so that it never feels as if the film is getting bogged down with too much information. One trick he utilizes is having different narrators present different sections of the film; including himself, plus Lee Tiger, a Miccosuki Native American, and Silent Voyeur star Shamrock McShane; so you never get bored by one person’s delivery.
While I didn’t time things out, it feels as though the majority of the film focuses on the plight of the native Floridians as they were repeatedly conquered and wiped out by invaders. Not being a history buff myself, I don’t really know how “invisible” the stories Georg presents are. But I don’t think he’s aiming the film to hardcore histories, so the material here comes off being very fresh. I mean the basic high school history is that the Spanish settled Florida first before selling it to the U.S. and it’s really no secret that Native Americans were treated horribly. What we get here is just how shockingly horrible it all was. However, I don’t think Georg’s point here is to unduly castigate the “white man,” but it’s better to know the facts than live in fantasyland that it wasn’t so bad back then.
The film goes on about how Ponce de Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth was probably bullshit and he just arrived in Florida for Spanish conquest. There’s also a bit about the brutality of Hernando de Soto, but the real shock comes with Andrew Jackson’s forays into Florida territory where he went to find escaped slaves who were co-existing with the Seminole Indians. (I also learned how the term “Seminole” isn’t a Native American name, but one made up by Europeans to describe the natives as “wild men.”) After attacking an ex-slave fort and massacring the majority of those living there, Jackson cooked up a story with president James Monroe that the massacre was a retaliation for an unprovoked attack by the Seminoles. Yep, shades of the Gulf of Tonkin “attack.”
Once the Native Floridians were out of the way and Spain sold the territory, U.S. settlers came in to tame the wild land. These were the first “crackers,” and I was a little disappointed not learn the origin of that term. But I was surprised it was such an old one. So, moving into modern times the film explores issues of worker abuse by the United States Sugar Corporation, the travails of WWI veterans hired by FDR to build bridges to Key West during hurricane season (shockingly, a survivor is interviewed to give a first-hand account) and the adventures of the KKK in the state following the success of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.
If it sounds like I’m giving away most of the film here, far from it. This thing is packed to the gills with interesting facts, but never dull. Georg and his researchers did a really great job digging up a ton of great footage, from goofy outdated tourism videos to really outdated and goofy educational films, plus lots of great historical pictures of the cracker settlement era as well as drawings and paintings to illustrate the early clashes with Native Floridians. Really fascinating stuff.
More on this film: Filmmaker Site
Watch the Cracker Crazy movie trailer: