Twisted: A Balloonamentary
Documentary, 79 min
Directed by Naomi Greenfield and Sara Taksler
How much does the best-paid poet in the world make? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot less than one woman in Twisted: A Balloonamentary, who declares that she took in $1.5 million last year for twisting balloons into recognizable shapes. The “godfather of balloon art,” also a millionaire, says that anyone really serious about balloons should be able to pull down at least six figures.
Twisted, which is set to run at the Bijou, is a story about what can happen to people who have gone beyond the balloon dog. After the great Christopher Guest mockumentaries, like This Is Spinal Tap and Best in Show, we’ve been inundated by real documentaries that seem like satires by Guest and crew. Last year, for instance, I saw one at the Bijou about the international air guitar championship, which featured air-guitarists talking about their art with the severity of Heifetz. Going into Twisted, I assumed it was going to be another such real-life mockumentary. Even though it inter-cuts scenes of a man who twists balloons for Christ with a woman who twists “adult” balloons, I’m embarrassed to say I longed for more poking fun at all these people who effuse about how balloons have saved their lives. What emerges is a loving meditation on the nature of art in a democracy. In saying that, I feel like one of the balloon-twisters in the movie: “If someone told me I was going to be doing this, I’d have said they’re crazy.”
One feature of art in a democracy is that it tends toward the ephemeral: comics on newsprint, the improvisations of jazz, and our flickering movies on their fading celluloid. Shakespeare speaks of “our bubble reputation.” We could speak of “our bubble art,” a fitting symbol of which is the shriveled, pale-colored remnants of what once was a giant octopus made entirely of balloons. Two twisters in the movie fall in love and get married: she dons a wedding gown made of white balloons; he carries a big safety pin.
Another thing about art in the American democracy is that it fluctuates uneasily between serving God and serving the Dollar. John “The Balloon Man” Holmes, an ex-felon, found God via balloons and now proclaims himself a “gospel balloon minister.” Without a trace of irony, he compares his art to the divine creativity—-and with perhaps more reason than Blake or Shelley. It begins with blowing the breath of life, involves the potter’s shaping of material, and is crowned by the naming of the creation. He weeps as he twists balloons into the crucifixion. Others are all smiles if their art serves Mammon: most touchingly, Vera “The Balloon Lady” Stalker, a girl in a trailer park who has used her twisting skills to pay her way through college. But they all seem to have the universal love for their craft and the delight it can bring to kids at birthday parties and guests at Hugh Heffner’s mansion.
At 79 minutes, Twisted is still a little too long; the footage isn’t what it could be; and the subject is silly. But it is airy and delightful as the crazy creations it serves. Moreover, it is made with love; and love, as the poet says, is what will survive of us.