DIGGING 'FARMER JOHN': FRIEND'S FILM FOLLOWS JOURNEY FROM HIPPIE TO ORGANIC GROWER.
"The Real Dirt on Farmer John" doesn't dish on the vendor behind Dodger Dogs, but an actual soil-tiller who wears feather boas and ballroom gowns while driving his tractor and sometimes dresses up as a bumblebee to dance with his girlfriend out in the fields.
He also likes to eat his own dirt.
Yes, John Peterson is a flake, but he's a likable oddball, a rebel you can get behind, something his longtime filmmaking friend, Taggart Siegel, must know better than anyone. Siegel's "Real Dirt" follows Peterson through 25 years of friendship, charting Peterson's love for his land and his agonizing struggle to hold onto it.
Peterson, 57, wrote the movie and provides the homespun narration, giving the movie a personal intimacy, but not at the expense of broader farming issues. And personality quirks aside, Peterson cares deeply about small farms and managed to weather the farming crisis of the 1980s and turn the family business into a thriving, community-supported seller of organic produce.
No one is more amazed than Peterson, who didn't figure himself as a farmer in his younger days. His journey to self-discovery and days of dirt tasting gives "Farmer John" a hook that will interest anyone curious about the human condition. Peterson's 83-year-old mother, Anna, is also an inspiration, a Doors-loving octogenarian who backs and believes in her son when logic would seem to dictate another course of action.
Peterson's success still probably eats at a few of his Illinois neighbors who, over the years, have accused him of hosting sex orgies, dealing drugs and worshipping the devil. Funny then, that Peterson emerges here as something of a 21st-century prophet, part of a movement to reconnect us with our food, its source and the people who put their sweat into making it taste so good.
Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672
THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN - Three stars
>Not rated: brief nudity.
>Starring: John Peterson.
>Director: Taggart Siegel.
>Running time: 1 hr. 22 min.
>Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall in Beverly Hills.
>In a nutshell: Oddball farmer's personal journey from hippie to boa-wearing, dirt-eating organic superstar.