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Film review: The strange world of ventriloquists and their puppets

Her Master's Voice
A film by Nina Conti
In cinemas February 6, 2014

A film about ventriloquists and their puppets would normally rank a long way down on my list of films to see but Her Master's Voice, which tells a tale about the world of the ventriloquist, is engaging and inspiring.

The film focuses on Nina Conti, the daughter of actor Tom Conti, and her decision to make a film about puppets as homage to her mentor, Ken Campbell, as well as  a record of her attending a ventriloquist’s convention in Kentucky.

Wwe enter the rather strange world of ventriloquists and their relationship with their puppets. Conti appears to have an intimate relationship with her main puppet, Monkey, whom she chats to throughout the movie.

For many of ventriloquists, their puppets are a form of alter ego; a mouthpiece to articulate aspects of themselves and to make comments about people and events that they could not do in real life.

For Nina, it provides a way of having conversations about serious matters, dealing with her own thoughts, aspirations and plans.

Monkey is able to give voice to the artist’s fears and apprehensions and observations as well as providing put-downs and wry comments. It is as though the artist’s stream of consciousness is voiced through the monkey, continually surprising herself.

She has bunch of puppets that are used in various ways – a bulldog, a bird, an owl, an elderly lady and one based on her mentor, Ken.

She uses the film and her journey to Kentucky, where she leaves one of the puppets at the Venthaven puppet museum, to interview other ventriloquists and their puppets to discover their techniques, skills and personal histories.

The puppets are accorded a seriousness and dignity in conversations, even when it is just banter. When Nina packs the puppets to travel to the US from  the UK she packs them tenderly as though they were living entities.

There are some engaging moments with an emotional richness such as when Nina takes the little old lady puppet for a swim in the hotel swimming pool.

Nina and the puppet talk as though this was the old lady’s first time in a pool, embarrassed at having to undress, scared as the water seeps into her body and terrified when she nearly drowns. It is a scene filled with humour as well as pathos.

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