A short, sharp profile of a man at once fascinating and vaguely troubled, “Johnny Berlin” is a nearly-an-hour well spent with middle-aged raconteur Johnny Hyrns, nicknamed for the refurbished luxury train he works as a porter on that runs from Seattle to Los Angeles. Docu’s unusually short length is both a blessing and a curse, with fest, tube and possible ancillary business more likely than theatrical play.
“I’m married to the ball and train,” he says, but there’s more to Johnny’s story. A charming, compulsive talker who quotes rock ‘n’ roll lyrics, he’s a detail-oriented bundle of energy who likes strawberry milk, came “this close” to selling a kidney and part of his liver, and dreams of going to Phnom Penh –or maybe New Zealand — to write a novel. “I’m semi-happy,” he says at one point, though there’s a sadness to his manic restlessness. Music vid vet Dominic J. DeJoseph, whose work includes R.E.M. clips and a making-of docu on Wim Wenders’ “The Million Dollar Hotel,” has a clear affinity for the outsider lifestyle and thus refuses to judge his beguilingly motor-mouthed subject. Tech credits are simple and lean.