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Florida Film Fest review: MAGICAL UNIVERSE

April 5, 2013



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.


  • Ken O’m

    I’m a little confused by this review. My wife and I saw this film last night. It was not what I expected at all. We found it fascinating. She cried. I teared up a bit towards the end. The movie is about the film director’s friendship with the artist over 15 years, so it seems odd that the reviewer would cite that as an issue.

    Also the reviewer is incorret. the artist never said that line about your obsessiveness increases as you get older. It was an elderly lady at the museum.

    Anyways, we spoke to the director after. Told him how much we loved it.

  • kluttershy

    Actually, I thought Michael Moore inserted too much of himself and his hometown into Fahrenheit 911. Regardless, consider the subject matter here. Don’t you feel it is kind of important for Workman to explain how he developed a relationship with this reclusive individual? After watching the movie, I remember very brief moments of personal background information for the setting and it seemed important. This eccentric artist became a part of Workman’s life and I think he is trying to get across how he handled this bizarre friendship without running away from it (as many would have).

    And yes, what Ken said. The elderly lady at the museum pointed out the connection between obsessions and aging… I thought it was actually a very important part of the documentary. The lady seemed to understand Carbee more than he understood himself.

    Furthermore, I think the isolated quote about being in control of Barbie skews the whole point of the documentary as well as the tapestry of a complex individual. Perhaps you should watch it again.