Twisted: A BalloonamentaryReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/30/07 13:58:54
SCREENED AT THE 2007 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: Making a balloon dog is pretty easy - it took about a minute for a whole theater full of us to learn how after watching "Twisted". Sure, it will take me some practice to learn how to do it well or quickly enough to amuse my niece at her birthday party, but there's just a few basic maneuvers to master. That's part of what the film's tag of "once you can make a balloon dog, you can do anything" means, although it's obviously meant to imply much more.That tagline looks corny on the poster and threatens to be even more so when it shows up in the movie, but it's delivered by Vera Stalker, who can get away with it because she's not trying to be inspirational. The directors mentioned in the Q&A that she wasn't even going to be in the movie except for their cameraman having a crush on her - then they (and we) learned about the neighbor in the trailer park who loaned her sixty dollars to take a class, the pitching her services to family restaurants from the age of sixteen, the success there that has put her through college and will hopefully do the same for medical school. What's particularly endearing is that Vera acts like this is nothing particularly special - it's something anyone can learn to do, and after that it's just a matter of doing it.
Twister David Grist is similarly low-key about how he started out and achieved success, although almost everyone interviewed holds him in something just short of awe - the jovial, roly-poly Englishman is one of the acknowledged masters of the art, with many twisters introduced as his students. John, a born-again Christian "gospel twister" and James, an African-American clown from Atlanta, are more cognizant of their good fortune, and much of their efforts go toward trying to uplift the people around them.
Then there's Michelle Rothstein and Sharee Brown-Rosner, who are consummate professionals. Michelle has grown her business to include managing over twenty twisters in the Las Vegas area, while Sharee is one of the most competitive when it comes to the contests at the conventions (the largest of which is Twist & Shout). Even though there are competitions to build the biggest and most elaborate balloon sculpture, Don Caldwell and Laura Dakin are probably more representative of the hobby's spirit - they met at Twist & Shout a couple years earlier and have been dating long distance since.
That's part of what makes Twisted such a fun watch and makes the hobby look so appealing: Unlike several of the other niche-hobby docs of recent years, there's a real camaraderie between nearly all the participants, with the competitive aspects being almost an afterthought. There's a lot of talk about how much of the fun at one of the twisters' conventions is in the "jam room", as everybody gets together in the same room to work on their craft and learn from each other. How many other businesses, several people point out, are so open about training potential competition?
Indeed, the only thing close to real conflict is when the movie wryly points out that panels on gospel and adult twisting are scheduled at the same time as each other as they're likely to attract mutually exclusive audiences. The two groups seem more than a bit mystified by each other, and while it doesn't quite reach the smack-talking level, the juxtapositions are pretty funny. It's worth noting that there were quite a few kids at this screening, and I imagine that there were also quite a few parents covering eyes during this segment - though whether the images of balloon men who are naked and well-endowed or nailed to crosses (and bleeding) is more off-putting is a decision for each individual parent to make.
This is directors Naomi Greenfield's and Sara Taksler's first feature, but they put in a very assured effort. That gospel/adult balloon sequence, for instance, doesn't make either group look foolish beyond whatever biases the audience comes in with, which would have been an easy and distracting trap to fall into. They've got a strong rapport with virtually their entire cast, and manage to take the subject seriously without ever losing sight of the whimsy that forms a big part of its appeal. They do bookend each profilee in a pretty straightforward manner, but they handle the space between very well.The inclusion of the adult and religious bits is really all that keeps this from getting a "fun for the whole family" recommendation, but they're too good to cut out. Still, I think any kids who go to see this will be more interested in making their own balloon animals anyway, while the grown-ups will appreciate it in its entirety.
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