Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guy de la Valdene's "Tarpon," aka The Greatest Movie In The World

Director Guy de la Valdene’s “Tarpon” is by far the best movie ever made about saltwater fly fishing. It was shot in Key West in 1973 and perfectly captures the town and the fishing as it was back then.

“Tarpon” follows a handful of guides and anglers, including the well known author Tom McGuane, as they chase these giant fish on the fly off Key West well before the rest of the world discovered the sport. It’s fascinating to see how much things have evolved since those days of thick fiberglass rods and flats boats with wood trim and without poling platforms.  The sheer numbers of tarpon that these guys had all to themselves is jaw-dropping and the slow-motion footage in this movie has never been topped.

While the fishing scenes are stunning, my favorite thing about the movie is how it serves as a time capsule for a Key West that sadly no longer exists. The island was my home for over a decade but I arrived too late to see it like this. Duval Street of the early 70’s was different planet from the cruise ship infested trinket zone that it was rapidly devolving into while I lived there. The Key West captured in this movie has been extinct for so long that it almost depresses me to see it captured here in its natural state.

The real payoff when you watch “Tarpon” for the first time is its perfect portrayal of fly fishing as a sport that seriously respects the fish. In one single scene it drives that fact home far better than anything that’s ever been filmed before or since. I won’t give it away, but when that scene comes, without any dialog or narration, you’ll be stunned at the subtle brilliance of it. It is the movie's entire focus delivered in one quick jump of scenery.

Shortly after it was filmed, “Tarpon” slipped into limbo. It was shown once or twice on TV and then went back into Valdene’s vault. Somehow, a primitive video tape was made and started getting passed around by a few anglers down in the Keys. Over the last three decades it gained a cult following and we used to play a grainy, pirated copy all day long at the Saltwater Angler fly shop in Key West. We were really sad the day the shop's VCR finally ate our worn out tape. It was our only copy.  I was thrilled when I heard from one of the folks involved with the '73 filming that a remastered version would be out on DVD. Seeing it for the first time in its original state makes Guy’s achievement even more brilliant than I ever realized.

If you’re a tarpon fisherman, or are serious about any kind of fly fishing, owning this movie is a must. It is the “Citizen Kane” of fishing documentaries. If you’re a Buffett fan then you’ll also need a copy. Jimmy’s instrumental soundtrack covers the entire movie with a perfect atmosphere of the Key West that he knew in the 70‘s. Even if you don't fly fish but just appreciate great filmmaking, then pick up a copy, too. Unfortunately, it's not available on Netflix so you'll have to buy one.  Click here and do that immediately so you'll have it in time for Christmas.

For those of you who live on Pine Island or Matlacha and have visited Key West recently, do yourselves a favor and watch this movie. You'll feel incredibly fortunate for what we have right here and will want to hang on to it now more than ever.  We're closer the Key West of this movie than anywhere else in the world.