It is only because I was rereading Jerome Charyn’s El Bronx that I started seeing how perfect Big River Man would have been as one of his bizarre narratives.
At the age of 53, Slovenian distance swimmer Martin Streil swam the entire length of the Amazon (5268 kilometres). He had already swum the length of the Danube, Mississippi and Yangste rivers. The last was so polluted that for the last part he needed to have his blood washed every night.
Big River Man documents his swim of the Amazon, an adventure both of endurance and of sanity. Its also a paeon to the river itself. But what amazes me about this is that while I was aware of idiotic ephemera like Lindsay Lohan entering rehab or minor sports events I don’t remember seeing any news coverage of what has to be one of the most remarkable feats in history (as someone in the film says “he’s the last superhero”). He may well qualify as the toughest man on the face of the earth (swimming endlessly as his body deteriorates but never wavering from drinking his two bottles of wine a day).
What brought the Charyn to bear is that Charyn’s Marilyn the Wild series which can be described as noir fantasies but which does little justice to them, are populated by characters who behave like gods. Within the narrative of crime and politics in the Bronx, his characters veer from pure sociopathy to mauldin generosity. Everyone is larger than life and entirely free of any social restraints.
In a world where so many are celebrated for so little, where body mass seems to stand in for being tough, this middle aged overweight Slovenian puts them all to shame. As you watch the film, he becomes more and more a force rather than a man, and fittingly, he goes temporarily mad.
This last is just a personal plug for an ECM artist I recently discovered.