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Reviews by Dr. Frank Swietek   

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DUMBSTRUCK 
B 
Producer  Lindsay Goffman 
Director  Mark Goffman 
Writer  Mark Goffman 
Starring Terry Fator  Dan Horn  Wilma Swartz  Dylan Burdette   
       
Studio  Truly Indie 
Review  Pleasant without being terribly revealing, Mark Goffman’s documentary look at five ventriloquists of varying ability and success doesn’t plumb much below the surface of the subject, but remains an interesting curiosity.

Two of the performers the film profiles over a two-year period are professionals who’ve made it, though not without some resultant pain. Terry Fator is an obviously skillful guy with a well-honed act who wins a major prize on TV’s “America’s Got Talent” and then takes Vegas by storm. He’s presented not only as well-adjusted but generous and helpful to other practitioners, though there’s friction with his father, who doesn’t even come to his big performance. Dan Horn’s also making a good living, though his job on cruise ships leads to long absences from his wife that ultimately end in divorce.

By contrast, Kim Yeager is a struggling newcomer trying to get noticed and bag a real job, perhaps on the cruise circuit. We watch her trying to flesh out material for her grande dame puppet while hoping also to marry and have a normal life—something her mother devoutly hopes for. Cincinnati teen Dylan Burdette has been fascinated with puppets for years and tries to secure a position with a local talent company, though he’s by nature a shy kid whose halting public performances with his African-American dummy show that he’s not ready for prime time. And his father struggles to understand his son’s devotion to ventriloquism.

On another level entirely is the fifth subject, Wilma Swartz. She’s a tall, eccentric older woman whose obsession with her puppets, she says, has caused her family to turn against her completely. And at one point her finances are so bad that she’s on the verge of losing her house and must appeal to her fellow ventriloquists to help her with donations.

There’s obviously something more to be said about Wilma, who notes in passing that her children were taken away from her years ago and that when one of them tried to find her, her relatives told him that she was dead. But Goffman doesn’t investigate further. And his approach isn’t much different in the other four cases. He’s primarily interested in celebrating not just these ventriloquists but the camaraderie among them, most enthusiastically expressed in the annual convention they attend and he covers.

One doesn’t necessarily expect a documentary about ventriloquism to be hard-hitting. But the technically homespun “Dumbstruck” winds up seeming superficial. By not following up matters revealed in the ordinary course of discussion, it essentially fails in its duty. At the same time, there’s no doubt that the five subjects Goffman’s selected make a interesting bunch, and that his tribute to their unusual choice of avocation is an engaging one, though it might have been much more. 

 

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