"The following story is . . . true." The introductory narration of Muleskinner Blues dangles on a pause, its tone elusive. Documentaries taking up subjects whose quality of living, education, and/or cultural capital is intended to appear substandard often make a point of remaining detached--even clinical. Initially, this "truth" can be taken in the same spirit, as defensive insistence that what follows is an unmolested window into specimen(s) who are weird/ scandalous/pitiable enough without filmic manipulation. When said specimens are alcoholic, trailer-park wannabes outside Jacksonville, Florida, ethics and art can get squirrelly.

Indeed, Blues opens with portraits of characters capable of eliciting guilty snickers and condescending sympathy. Beanie Andrew is a busted ex-shrimper, haunted by alcoholism. He fantasizes about emerging from the swamp behind a junkyard as a gorilla, avenging a severed arm. (Don't ask.) Larry Parrot is obsessed with cheesy horror flicks, and does janitorial work alongside a wife he selected out of a catalogue.

There are drunken rockers, Steve Walker and Ricky Lix. Steve is an emotionally warbled veteran of the Vietnam War and five marriages. Ricky is earnest in his unlikely quest for stardom. Elderly Jeanie's singer/songwriter talents are hard to laugh at, unlike her claim of being allergic to fresh air. Annabelle keeps the corpse of her dog in a freezer.

After introducing its characters, Blues strays from convention by dissolving the barriers between the directors, audience, and scrutinized "other." It documents a collaborative effort to produce the no-budge movie that facilitates Beanie's bizarre dream. Simultaneously, the subjects' role in Blues is frequently manifested in performance and creative partnership. The "horror film," Turnabout Is Fair Play, is childishly bad and utterly nonsensical. Yet the need for and realization of artistic endeavor is a process that eventually reveals itself as the ultimate subject of the film.

While entertainment is frequently driven by greed and over-ambition rather than steady pursuit of honest (if strange, unrewarded, backwards, pathetic. . .) vision, the group's ventures seem almost sacred, and--I'm gonna have to say it--true.