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STUDIO Virgil Films and Entertainment
RUNNING TIME 61 minutes
– Directors Commentary
– Monkey Interviews Nina
– Nina On Stage
Finally, a documentary that makes Jeff Dunham seem obsolete.
Nina Conti, Ken Campbell
Nina Conti is a world renowned ventriloquist. When her mentor, Ken Campbell, passes away, she is left with many of his most prized puppets. Conti decides to take these puppets, as well as her own creation Monk, on a journey to Venthaven, the place where puppets are laid to rest.
I’m not a huge fan of ventriloquism. It’s always seemed tacky to me; an easy way for a performer to get on stage and hide themselves behind a shtick. Sure, there are some true talents out there, but most come across as though they were taught at the Jeff Dunham school of performance. I’m always welcome to being proven wrong, and Nina Conti has done just that with her docu-mockumentary, Her Masters Voice.
Nina Conti is a world famous ventriloquist, performing alongside her creation Monk all across the country. I must admit to never having heard of her before watching this disc, but she’s immediately charming and real in a way that most ventriloquists can only dream of. We begin the film as Conti learns that her mentor, Ken Campbell, has passed on. Campbell was a huge name in the comedy world, as is obvious by the likes of Jim Broadbent and Bob Hoskins speaking for him at his funeral. Conti discovers that Campbell has left her all of his puppets and books based on ventriloquism. Feeling as though she owes something to her mentor, she embarks on a journey with these puppets to leave one at the Vent Haven museum. Along the way, Conti attends the Vent Haven ConVENTion, a place for puppeteers to meet and perform for one another.
If all of this sounds incredibly strange, thats because it is. Conti spends almost the entire time conversing with Monk and various other puppets rather than any human beings. The strangest thing about all of this is that I never thought twice about the fact that she was controlling these characters. It’s hard to tell whether any of this was scripted or if Conti really believes these dolls have minds of their own. All of the conversations feel natural, and even delve into some pretty tough subjects regarding Nina’s past and whether or not she wants to continue on with ventriloquism. One scene in particular where Nina has a conversation with herself regarding how strange it is that she could provide a voice over for her own film is both funny and moving, and provides great insight into the mind of a person who spends all day talking to no one.
The film doesn’t spend the entire running time devoted to Conti, however, as there are scenes at the ConVENTion that focus on other comedians and their puppets. These are also quite funny, and you get the feeling that this profession is a much bigger deal to some people than big name acts would have you believe. These puppets aren’t a way for these folks to make money, they’re friends who go on stage and perform together. The relationships some of these people have with their dolls would come across as creepy if they weren’t filmed properly, and luckily Conti manages to inject the whole thing with just the right amount of heart.
I feel weird typing this, but special mention must be made of Conti’s partner in crime, Monk. A very basic Monkey puppet, Monk is the driving force behind this documentary, providing laughs throughout but also giving Conti things to consider as she debates between leaving the profession behind and continuing on in her mentors footsteps. I don’t want to give anything away, but towards the end of the film there is a tragic occurrence regarding Monk that almost had me in tears. Yes, a puppet almost made me cry.
If you have anything against ventriloquism, you owe to it to yourself to watch this flick. Comedians like Dunham have used the profession to make loads of money without ever seeming like they’re doing it for the right reasons. Every person interviewed in this film, especially Conti herself, loves what they do and wouldn’t trade it for the world. This is a superbly made documentary, and should be required viewing for fans of stand-up and good cinema alike.
Most of the extra’s on the disc are extensions of scenes from the film, but that doesn’t stop them from being entertaining. Watching Nina perform a seance in her hotel room is something that must be seen to be believed, and her full interview with Monk is a great look into why Nina does what she does. Also, the commentary track is well worth a listen if you want to know how the documentary was made.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars