Her Master's Voice

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Documentaries these days always seem to have to feature someone going on a ‘personal journey’ … and Nina Conti’s award-winning film is no exception.

Her Master’s Voice follows her to a ventriloquists’ convention and museum in Kentucky. But there is a twist: she’s accompanied by the dummies that once belonged to her mentor, alternative theatre legend Ken Campbell – including a bulldog, an arch horror-film villain, and a puppet version of himself.

On one level, then, this is a affectionate homage to the rather strange characters who have chosen to dedicate their life to an unfashionable form of entertainment; a career that involves separating their character into separate personalities, which may not be entirely healthy for the mind.

Because of that, the talking heads sections are reminiscent of Christopher Guest’s quirkily witty ensemble comedies such as Best In Show, with eccentricities revealed in the briefest of soundbites… and even he must agree, as the acclaimed filmmaker put his name to the film as executive producer.

But in every other respect Her Master’s Voice – which won the the audience award at the SXSW festival in Texas earlier this year – is unmistakably Conti’s work. She produced, directed and funded the entire venture – which although demanding, allowed her to make the film she wanted.

For this is also an exploration her own relationship with both Campbell and the alter-egos she distils into the foam-and-fur props like the acerbic Monkey or wise Scottish Gran. All of them are voices in her head, and she tries to engage with them to determine what they all mean, and why she can only confront certain issues via these alternate personalities.

So she muses on the nature of self – her talent meaning she can uniquely provide the voiceover narrative in real time, commenting on herself mulling over events as she lies in bed.

She’s not afraid to touch on some personal topics with this, even if her trip, or film, doesn’t quite seem to resolve them. There’s not such a clean beginning, middle and end to this film – or indeed this life – that perhaps she was hoping for.

It’s part of the sometimes disorientatingly offbeat attitude of Conti’s film debut, which swings from the melancholic to the dryly humorous in less time it takes to say ‘gottle of gear’.

  • Nina Conti: Her Master's Voice gets is UK premiere on BBC Four tonight (Sunday June 10) at 9pm.

Review date: 10 Jun 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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