Florida Film Fest review: MAGICAL UNIVERSE
Unless you’re Michael Moore or Bill Maher, it’s probably not a good idea to insert too much of yourself into your own documentary. In the style of Errol Morris, the award-winning director of such docs as Gates of Heaven and The Thin Blue Line, you’d do better to stay behind the camera and let your subjects speak for themselves. Jeremy Workman has not learned this lesson.
Workman spent a decade chronicling and developing a friendship with Maine artist Al Carbee. He first exposed Carbee’s odd work (consisting mostly of photographs of Barbie dolls and other odd crafts and collages) in the 2002 short film Carbee’s Barbies, which he wrote, directed and edited, as he did Magical Universe, which is making its world premiere at the festival. The short finally brought attention to the painfully reclusive and socially awkward photographer.
“I’m completely in control of Barbie,” Carbee tells Workman. “She’s the perfect model. Barbie never complains.”
Adding to that outlook is Carbee’s honest admission that he’s gotten even odder in recent years. “If you are obsessive about something,” he says, “that increases as you get older.” And for 80-something Carbee, that equals a lot of OCD!
If that’s not a psyche worth delving into with a good doc, I don’t know what is. But, regrettably, for his first solo feature, Workman, though well-intentioned, focuses too much on himself and his friendship with Carbee. He even goes so far as to provide unnecessary personal anecdotes in the form of horribly annoying voice-overs. Workman is simply too tied to his topic, and the result is a tedious and amateurish bungling of a potentially solid story.