New to Me is a series here at The Nerds Templar where we discuss a film that has been out for a while. It’s most likely available on DVD or streaming services, but it’s our first time seeing it. Hence, it’s “New to Me“!
Review – Dumbstruck
I found the DVD of this documentary, which was actually the project writer/director Mark Goffman did during the writers’ strike, for around $3 at my local Goodwill. At the time I had found it, I had actually just received a DVD copy of TERRY FATOR LIVE IN CONCERT, to review for another site, which is no longer active. I was actually underwhelmed with that so unfortunately as a result of that, I had pushed off watching this documentary, as he is featured in this. Due to unpacking from a recent move, I came across this DVD and decided to throw it in the player. I am wishing I had done that sooner. Sorry folks, this is going to be kind of a long one!
DUMBSTRUCK begins at the Vent Haven Convention in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky which is a yearly convention that is now having its 40th anniversary and had been running for about 32 years at the time this film started being made. They end up following 5, originally 8 (will be discussed more later in the review) ventriloquists, 4 of them they start following at the convention and one who happened to be doing well on America’s Got Talent right at the time they started making this documentary.
The people they follow are:
- Kim – She is a beauty queen who uses her ventriloquism as her talent in beauty contests. She drives around doing mostly performances for children, up to three a day, while dreaming of and trying to work towards getting one of the very coveted spots as a cruise ship entertainer. She also sells dummy accessories at the convention. We keep seeing her mom who, while having a great natural comedic timing, is one of those obnoxious, overbearing mothers that keeps mentioning marriage and having children and about Kim not doing so much with the puppets. Throughout the course of the documentary, we see she has some bad luck/bad timing.
- Dan – A very accomplished ventriloquist who has been working the cruise ship circuit, as well as flying all over the world to do shows and even teach classes in realistic dummy movement. He is also very supportive and encouraging of his fellow ventriloquists and coaches them or gives them words of advice whenever he can. We can see the lifestyle starting to take its toll on him. As the documentary progresses, we see his life start to kind of fall apart.
- Dylan – Small for his age and kind of shy, he desires to be a professional ventriloquist while winning awards at motocross events. The documentary follows him as he hones his act (at one point we see him pan handling) while he tries to nail down gigs. His whole family is very supportive of him. Even his father who obviously doesn’t completely understand Dylan‘s desire to be a ventriloquist, and has some of the most awkward moments when talking to the camera, mostly talks about how small his son is and the first time we see him talk, it is literally a 2 second clip where he admits to being confused as to why his son chose a black dummy.
- Wilma – A 6’5 former security guard, who honed her ability as a ventriloquist after a severe beating on the job that left her with a wired jaw. She now drives around in her “Puppet Mobile” doing shows at nursing homes, community centers and wherever else she can. Her family, besides a nephew who she helped get clean, don’t have anything to do with her because of her puppet obsession. We see her go through some troubles including nearly getting evicted. She then appeals to the ventriloquist community, as they are her only real family.
- Terry Fator – A life-long ventriloquist, who in his early 40’s, finally made a name for himself by winning AMERICA’S GOT TALENT. He is the only one who wasn’t at the Vent Haven convention at the beginning and has actually never been to one, as he has always been on the road working when they happen. We follow him as he sees his dreams become a reality. Due to when we come into his life, we see all the rewards he is reaping, winning America’s Got Talent, followed by his Vegas gig, then getting an exclusive $100 million contract with a Las Vegas hotel. In between he does a bunch of interviews (sometimes with his wife talking too) where he talks about the bad gigs he has had (including one where he performed for one person) and how his father was never accepting or supportive of his ventriloquism.
DUMBSTRUCK follows these 5 through what seems to be about a year, but after hearing the commentary, it sounds like it was a little longer. We see the struggles that come with a desire to do something that is kind of a niche and what each person goes through in order to keep following their dreams. We see them each as they do their shows and live their lives between the shows.
It was really interesting to see the ventriloquism community and how they all kind of worked together. It was also neat how some of the stories of the different people being followed intertwined. Like near the beginning we see Dylan buying an outfit for his puppet Reggie from Kim, Reggie wears this outfit for most of the film. A couple times we see Dan giving Kim advice. When Wilma talks about asking her “real family” for help, a montage of pictures from the convention are shown, and you can see the other people profiled in this documentary in the pictures with her.
The documentary ends with another convention, which I think is supposed to be the year after the first one. Terry Fator actually comes to this one. He checks out the ventriloquist museum and walks around talking to his fellow ventriloquists. The funniest for me is when he is talking to Dan, telling Dan how he has followed his career a long time and saying how they met once after one of Dan’s performances and Dan doesn’t remember him at all. Just before the credits we get little things telling us what the 5 different people are doing now. For some, the wrap-ups just didn’t feel like enough info. In fact, I feel it was sort of an abrupt ending for some of the stories. They spent this time showing us these people and their lives and building things up and I feel like we were left holding the bag a little.
Also, there were 3 other people who were originally going to be followed and some of the footage can be seen in the special features.
- Willie Brown – A Christian ventriloquist from the state of Georgia. He does a strictly clean act, but talks about how in the past he has done blue material. We see him during his daily life, getting bookings, checking his P.O. Box while he talks about the hard part of waiting for the next check or booking. He gets followed to a couple shows, including one at the C-Room Gospel Café in Atlanta, where him and his puppet Woody are featured on a mural on the wall. From what little they show of his actual routines, he is pretty funny. The footage shows right up to when he is talking to his manager and he is talking about maybe doing some blue material again, to get more bookings. Unfortunately the footage ends with them saying a prayer. I really don’t know why he wasn’t shown in the documentary. I wanted to know what he ends up doing! I wish they had done more with this. Hell, Willie Brown is even ON THE COVER of the DVD case! Yet he is a deleted scene. That makes no sense to me.
- Roger & Aileen Carroll– A father/daughter duo who both are ventriloquists and do shows together. From what is shown, they both seem to have a knack for the ventriloquism. The problem is they are soooo bland. They have a little more personality on stage, but as a whole, they are very monotone and kind of boring people. Also they are kind of odd and unfortunately not odd in an entertaining way. I can understand why they didn’t end up in the final documentary.
Overall I greatly enjoyed this documentary. I enjoyed it enough to watch all the special features, including the commentary. It was a fun and entertaining watch. It was very interesting. Maybe even more so to someone like myself, who has always been fascinated with ventriloquism. I only wish we had gotten a little more of a wrap-up in what happened to these people after the documentary. It also would have been nice to have a full routine of each of theirs as a special feature or at least more than just a single joke here or there.
- Additional Scenes and Interviews
-Behind The Puppet w/ Terry Fator
-Roger & Aileeen Carroll
- Commentary with writer/director Mark Goffman, Producer Lindsay Goffman, and Director Of Photography George Reasner
- Mark Goffman – Director
- Elon Musk – Executive Producer
- George Reasner – Cinematographer
- Terry Fator – Subject
RECOMMENDED IF YOU LIKE
- Terry Fator
- Jeff Dunham
- Human Interest Stories