‘Her Master’s Voice’: A Film Review

- October 4, 2012

"The film was produced in part by Christopher Guest, and many in the audience will be pleasantly reminded of his cycle of mockumentary films"

This blog is written on behalf of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival and will serve as an honest, unbiased review of a few films that will be screening this year. Hopefully, these reviews will inspire conversation and discussion amongst other viewers and encourage the over all appreciation and dissection of this art we call film.

"Her Master’s Voice" is more than just a movie about ventriloquism, and I am sure I’m not the only one who will thank the filmmaker, Nina Conti, for making it so. As someone who isn’t very familiar with that talent, I admit that I usually start searching for the exit when someone begins a ventriloquist bit. However, in the case of this work, it’s not your typical puppet-telling-jokes routine.

The plot of the movie concerns the filmmaker coming to terms with the death of her long time instructor. She plans to accomplish this by taking a road trip with several of his dummies to a well-known museum in Kentucky (the filmmaker is from England). The journey is made all the more interesting by the presence of the different puppet “characters,” whose personalities grow and change in fascinating ways throughout the story. Without them, the story would certainly lose some of the warmth and quirk that sets it apart. 

At the ventriloquist convention in Kentucky, the filmmaker interviews others in her craft, and we start to see shared characteristics among the participants. It is almost a society unto itself, and Conti explores the struggles, neuroses and achievements of her colleagues perceptively with great sensitivity. Again, numerous puppets of different shapes and sizes appear with their “masters,” and we see more and more examples of the techniques that give these acts their magic.

She has an eye for humor, which is used to great effect throughout the movie. Beyond that, though, what stays with the viewer are the more serious moments. Here is where we learn why many people turned to ventriloquism in the first place, and how they use it as an outlet for their emotions and a way to understand who they are as individuals. Essentially, "Her Master’s Voice" introduces audiences to the psychology of ventriloquism, destroying many of the stereotypes associated with it while simultaneously celebrating others.

The pace is brisk, and the only criticism I can give (if it can be called a criticism) is that it leaves you wanting more. The film was produced in part by Christopher Guest, and many in the audience will be pleasantly reminded of his cycle of mockumentary films that came out not too long ago. "Her Master’s Voice" has the same slice-of-life quality, picking up threads here and there to weave together a much larger story. The tools of cinema haven’t been better employed to give life and emotion to puppets than they are here, with the possible exception being The Muppets. I encourage you to take the time and join Conti in her journey to Vent Haven. You won’t regret it.

Baxter Smith is a sophomore at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, studying film. His interests therein include: writing, directing, and film restoration, as well as music (both of the soundtrack and popular variety).