Growing up in South Florida in the 80s, my friends and I had a certain romanticized idea of what Key West should be, one that never quite met reality when we took the trip down US 1 and hit the bridge from Boca Chica. But it did exist at one time, and that Key West is captured perfectly in Tarpon, the fantastic documentary made by UYA Films in 1973.
Filmmaker Christian Odasso and producer Guy de la Valdene made the film to try and capture the vibe of tarpon fly anglers at a time when it was still generally a cult sport. In doing so they accomplished far more than creating fish porn, they encapsulated a cultural slice of Key West in the early 70s.
Tarpon contains a lot of cool stuff, from the sound track featuring old school Jimmy Buffett (before he became a corporation), to the sound bites from Thomas McGuane, Richard Brautigan, and Jim Harrison. It also shows many different parts of Key West life, from local characters and partyers to artists and treasure hunters. A lot of the guys have porn-star mustaches, shark tooth necklaces, and cut-off jeans, and you catch people in the background saying things like “Far out, man,” and “Made in the shade like lemonade.” It also has highlights from a roundtable discussion with tarpon guides and anglers interspersed throughout.
But the film mainly follows Guy de la Valdene on the hunt for tarpon in a platform-less Maverick flats skiff that he often poles from the bow. Much of the tarpon footage is contrasted against a party boat scene where the crew is thumping fish after fish and dumping them in buckets, helping clarify the pursuit of tarpon with a fly rod as something altogether different than just fishing.
The tarpon fishing scenes are awesome, with video as compelling as any of the HD clips found today. When Valdene is fishing with Gil Drake or Paige Brown, the instrumental “Brahma Fear” is turned down and the only sounds come from the skiff moving through the water or from the anglers whispering as they stalk tarpon.
If you’re expecting to see fishing footage of the three literary giants you’ll be disappointed. For the most part you see them partying or lounging around in hammocks. But Jim Harrison (with a Michigan accent) delivers one of the more memorable lines talking about how life produces diminishing enthusiasms, “…so you have to have something that gives you this electricity and freshens up your feeling about being alive.” Good stuff.
To order Tarpon, go to www.thebookmailer.com