I have never been a huge fan of fishing or hunting based productions, for that matter, a few years ago I almost stopped watching them all together. Usually it is some cliché bore some redneck raping and exploiting the wildlife which we pursue for what we ‘call’, a sport. To me watching two overweight bums, biding their time watching Jerrry Springer in a kush, fully furnished hunting blind resting over a food plot, or Joe and Tom Nascar fishing the Gulf for Lemonsharks, live-lining with a balloon in 6 feet of water is not what I call a sport. It’s ridiculous and honestly, it is quite disgusting . It is not the killing or the catching, but rather, the way with which it is accomplished. Not only does it create a negative typecast for the outdoorsman, but think to where it leads our youth? Screw video games and movies stripping our children of their innocence, it’s you Jimmy Houston. Where did Fred Bear go, I’m know he’s dead, but really? Where have our romantic, awe inspiring outdoor oriented films and productions gone? Where is the love for the pursuit and the challenge? Where is the love for fishing, not catching? I assure you this DVD will answer these questions and more.
Filmed in the transcendental Florida Keys landscape, we see fishing at its finest, presenting its fundamental and intangible essence. The film is a Keruoac-est angling classic with a beat generation innocence and zeal. I quote author Thomas McGuane, “TARPON is a gem and, frankly, a window on better days. Without a profound respect for tarpon, this celebration of their majestic power and the enchantment of their pursuit, could never have been made. Tarpon fishing was and is a dream, and this may be the only time it’s been captured.” Here, McGuane speaks with candor and poignancy. This DVD is a masterpiece and ultimately serves as a mold, and status quo, for fishing films to come. Originally filmed in 1974, the short film was lost to time; like a forgotten artwork appearing in your grandmother’s attic, and quite literally in this case, it reemerged recently from a barn in Normandy, was remastered and finally put into production by Guy de la Valdéne. Authors Thomas McGuane, Richard Brautigan, and Jim Harrison are featured in the film, along with top guides and conservationists of the area, and with original music for the DVD created by Jimmy Buffet (pre-margaritaville…just pure slide guitar genius).
Thomas McGuane refers to this film being “a window on better times”, and similarly this window applies to the DVD itself. Beautifully produced, incredibly filmed, and composed with an eclectic like-minded group of passionate individuals, it has an inherent sincerity, with an earnest humility and honest nature. The film is simply joyous; an exposition of true candor, and a beautiful thing so rare to see. Not just a fish movie, the creators imbued the film with underlings, if not overtones, emphasizing conservation and ecological perspective. These progressive anglers and lateral thinkers extended a hard-earned, wholesome respect for the animal that is the Tarpon, caring deeply for the protection and extenuation of their ecological health as a species. Ideas which then lay dormant, and far ahead of their time, the cast ominously reveal their sentiments about the probable diminishment of the species through human pressure along with a need for a wholehearted effort in protecting the species and the conservation of aquatic life in general. They make connections and predictions in citing “the same thing in Palm Beach with Snook that used to be up on the flats”, ultimately going far enough to say “(he) thinks (they) are seeing the end of it”, the end of the Tarpon era. They include a ten minute segment highlighting a half-day trip aboard a 1970’s party fishing boat. You watch as thirty some odd vacationers pull everything and anything out of the sea, eventually being heaved onto meat hooks back at the docks for picture time. There is no commentary during this bit, and none is needed. Without being injurious or overzealous, they present a situation for you to view and become opinionated about all on your own. This film might not just be a look on better days, but also on worse; let us be thankful for the leaps and bounds humanity has taken over the past thirty years with regard to conservation.
The film is not only a call to arms for conservation, but in my opinion, is also an angling manifesto. Brautigan refers to the sport as “massively miraculous, a very powerful force, extraordinary; so extraordinary as to create immediate unreality in the process upon contact with the fish.” They all note that “the challenge and fun of that ‘play’ has a great deal to do with the enjoyment of this fishing”, showing their deepest adoration by referring to the fish as “children of Atlantis rising from the sea.” So many of the things I have felt about fishing, yet have never been able to fully express, are substantiated, and decompressed in this film; an austere created and a passion unfolded. Revealing these sentiments, I end with a quote from Jim Harrison on his feelings about fishing, as he magnificently sums up the spirit of this cinema classic: “Who said that we go through life with a diminishing portfolio of enthusiasm?...So you try to seek out in life, moments that give you this immense jolt of electricity. It is a tranquilizer better than any chemical tranquilizer. So you try to have something that gives you this electricity, and freshens up your feeling about being alive.”