Fin­ders Keep­ers

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - — Jen­nifer Levin

FIN­DERS KEEP­ERS, doc­u­men­tary, rated R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts,

3.5 chiles

The premise of Fin­ders Keep­ers sounds tai­lor-made for re­al­ity tele­vi­sion. In 2007, Shan­non Whis­nant bought the con­tents of a stor­age unit in North Carolina. In­side a smoker grill he found a hu­man leg that he sub­se­quently de­cided peo­ple would pay money to see, like a mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion. Some years prior to find­ing the leg, Whis­nant had ap­peared on The Jerry

Springer Show, where he got into de rigueur shout­ing matches with au­di­ence mem­bers. Years later, rid­ing the fame that came with be­ing the guy who found the leg, he par­tic­i­pated in a re­al­ity show about stor­age-unit auc­tions. Like all great celebri­ties of the re­al­ity TV genre, he’s a train­wreck, huff­ing and puff­ing his way though end­less cig­a­rettes and telling the cam­era how smart he is even as he con­sis­tently says “per­spire” when he means “tran­spire.” So it would have been easy to spin this story as the hi­lar­i­ous shenani­gans of so-called white trash, but in­stead di­rec­tors Bryan Car­berry and J. Clay Tweel ex­plore the com­plex psy­chol­ogy of the leg’s owner, John Wood, and his fam­ily, as well as Whis­nant’s quest to be a house­hold name.

Whis­nant grew up poor, beaten by his fa­ther, and lis­ten­ing to com­edy records for com­pan­ion­ship, while Wood was wealthy and be­rated by his own fa­ther, pushed to be a dare­devil. Wood lost his leg in 2005 when the plane he was co-pi­lot­ing crashed. His fa­ther, the pi­lot, died. Wood, al­ready an al­co­holic and crack ad­dict, re­ceived a pre­scrip­tion for the painkiller OxyCon­tin, which he took while drink­ing and blam­ing him­self for the crash. He de­cided to pre­serve his leg as a me­mo­rial to his fa­ther, but things didn’t work out the way he planned, and even­tu­ally the con­tents of the stor­age unit con­tain­ing his leg went to auc­tion. Though Whis­nant ini­tially called po­lice to come col­lect the body part, he soon de­cided it was his prop­erty as well as his ticket to fame and for­tune.

In the doc­u­men­tary, Whis­nant drags Wood through morn­ing news shows and a trip to a re­al­ity court tele­vi­sion show. Wood’s rel­a­tives watch him give in­ter­views while he’s coked to the gills, and the fam­ily are forced to re­live the trauma of the plane crash over and over again. Wood’s and Whis­nant’s fam­i­lies re­veal them­selves as in­sight­ful, car­ing peo­ple who just wish the leg drama would end. Wood’s mother, sis­ter, and niece, who each have a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship with Wood, are es­pe­cially com­pelling and ul­ti­mately the most heart-break­ing peo­ple on­screen. Some may find Wood’s even­tual re­demp­tion to be the kind of schmaltz typ­i­cally found on shows like In­ter­ven­tion, but the film­mak­ers seem acutely aware of im­i­tat­ing the dra­matic arc of such a show, just as they want to make you aware that Wood is a real per­son — not a re­al­ity show in­ven­tion — who re­ally lost his leg, twice, and lived to tell the tale.

A leg up: Shan­non Whis­nant

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