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The Independent Culture
Elder Mitchell got so nervous that he failed to turn up for the end-of-film party. This was understandable really, though on the face of it Jon Ronson isn't much of a threat - a lost-looking type with a halting manner and a nervous habit of running his hand through a flop of curly hair. Sixth-form Electronics Club, you'd say if you passed him in the street, and one of the quieter members at that. But then maybe Elder Mitchell, one of the Mormons Ronson met in his East Anglian remake of On the Road, had a word of warning from the Angel Moroni, because he was right to be on his guard. In Travels with My Camera (C4) Ronson was heading from New York, Lincolnshire to California, Norfolk and he was in the mood for quiet devilry.

This was notionally an existential journey, a search for the inner self along B-roads lined with rape and barley, a conceit which set you up for some dry comedy about an unusually timid seeker after truth. At one point Ronson nervously sipped on Syrup of Poppies, an East-Anglian recipe commended to him by a native American folklorist. "I did experience something of a hue at about eleven," he reported tentatively, "but I put that down to nerves." Advised to stand in the middle of a field in order to clear his mind he ventured into the rape with the high-kneed gait of someone who knows there are rattlesnakes about - the experiment in mental detachment very nearly worked, he said, "but then a bee landed on my shoulder and I began to think very, very specifically about that".

In fact, the film turned out to be about something else as well - the peculiar sadness of British Americophilia, a damp, mildewed longing for a better way of life and a national equivalent of Ronson's diminished variation on Jack Kerouac. Driving an Austin Metropolitan, a doomed British attempt to penetrate the American car market, Ronson travelled a via dolorosa of cod-American motels and puddle-filled theme parks - a landscape longing to go West.

In some cases the promised land has a specifically religious dimension, as in the case of the Mormons. Ronson went camping in the woods with a group of believers preparing for Armageddon by sharpening up their tent- pitching skills. He isn't one of nature's outdoorsmen, arriving unsupplied with sleeping-bag or even a jumper, and clearly shocked by his belated recollection that Mormons don't allow smoking and don't drink coffee. "Don't you have decaffeinated," he asked plaintively, emerging from a grim night on a slowly deflating air-bed.

He kept going back to the Mormons - initially, you suspected, because he couldn't find anything more interesting down the road, but later because they actually turned out to be more interesting than they'd first appeared. Visited at home, one of the recent converts was discovered listening to belligerent songs about lynching burglars ("What this country needs is a few more rednecks"). He stroked his Colt 45 fondly and recommended that John visit Marshal Pete, the fastest draw in East Anglia. Ronson turned up just in time to catch Pete changing out of his cowboy gear into the costume of a Norse god, in order to entertain a noisy party from the local Round Table. Perhaps the funniest scene of all was when Ronson attempted to interview Woody Bear, a mute theme-park mascot, about his attitudes to Mr Blobby, a new arrival at the park. Was there any rivalry, asked Ronson. "Blobby's his friend," cut in a nervous manager, in a minatory tone clearly aimed at the invisible employee inside the fun-fur. The film ended with the worst party in the world - a back-room buffet get-together for all those we'd encountered on the journey. "Had some more Mormons turned up perhaps we could have got an atmosphere going," said Ronson wistfully, but Elder Mitchell knew better.

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