PUPPET (David Soll). 74 minutes. Opens Friday (February 17). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
If you've been itching for a good warts-and-all theatre documentary, check out David Soll's Puppet. Yes, the star is a tiny little creature made of chicken wire and papier-mâché, but it still counts.
Puppet follows the development of Dan Hurlin's stage show based on the life of Mike Disfarmer, a Depression-era loner with a curious backstory who worked as a photographer in a tiny Arkansas town.
Determined to tell Disfarmer's story through elaborate Bunraku-inspired puppetry, Hurlin settles into a rehearsal space in upstate New York with his puppeteers to work out a story. Over two years, a script takes shape - sort of.
Soll is a savvy enough filmmaker to let us understand that the project isn't nearly as complex as the charismatic Hurlin believes. The more we see of it, the more we understand that the company is so fixated upon making their character act out simple tasks like writing a letter or drinking a beer that they've forgotten that these tasks should mean something within the story.
Puppet doesn't mock its subjects for their passion or set them up to fail; I'm sure Soll was hoping Hurlin would pull something magnificent out of his whirlwind of ideas. What happens instead is just as compelling.