No matter where you live, chances are you’ve crossed paths with the local eccentric—that person who’s dropped out of society, for whatever reason, and lives outside of the normal confines of civilization.
Filmmakers Stephanie Silber and Victor Zimet chronicle such an individual in their fascinating documentary, “Random Lunacy: Videos From the Road Less Traveled.” But much like their subject of choice, this award-winning, non-CGI induced, content-based film appears to show an abundance of factual details, yet doesn’t entirely tell everything.
“Random Lunacy” documents the life and times of Poppa Neutrino, a persona invented by one William David Pearlman of Fresno, CA, when he turned 50. Poppa Neutrino passed away on January 23, 2011, at the age of 77. The recorded cause of death: Congestive Heart Failure.
So who was Poppa Neutrino?
Everyone and no one, so it seems… And much like the name Neutrino implies (neutrally-charged, subatomic, atmospheric particles—or basically, floating-junk), Poppa seemed happy to live just that way.
Comprised of a series of lively, in-the-moment interviews with Poppa’s family, friends, acquaintances, his renowned biographer, Alec Wilkinson (The New Yorker) and Poppa himself, Silber and Zimet piece together the indigent Mr. Neutrino’s quixotic escapades across the lands and waterways of the world.
But how is it possible that a man without means or money could travel anywhere—let alone across the world?
Ahhh… That’s the great mystery behind the toothless but charismatic Poppa, who not only forged his own way, but took four wives (not all at the same time, of course), children, grandchildren and friends, along with him.
Furthermore, aside from inventing things (like a very advanced 37’ Trimaran/Raft which included, among other things, a very substantial houseboat capable of carrying a small crew and their animals across the seas), Poppa had a gift for inventing and re-inventing himself. A Renaissance man in every sense of the word, the Hemingwayesque Poppa was not only a true adventurer, but also a football coach, the touring bandleader of “The Flying Neutrinos,” a performance artist and preacher. Aside from these, Poppa was a great teacher—almost a modern-day Socrates—who transformed the lives of others in magnanimous ways. Poppa said his greatest achievement was what he did for a physically and psychologically damaged young girl from an abusive home. Poppa and his wife raised this child to become a happy, healthy, educated and self-reliant adult. And that’s no small accomplishment— for anybody.
So how could such a resourceful and intelligent gentleman allow himself to become homeless, and how is it that others not only accepted Poppa’s idiosyncrasies, but followed him disciple-fashion?
For the answer to these and other provocative questions, it’s probably best to see “Random Lunacy” for yourselves. What I can tell you, however, is whether or not Poppa’s circumstances came about by forces beyond his control—he surely lived a life that most of us can only imagine.
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