Nina Conti Finds Love in the Silence of a "Voice" Review

Nina Conti: Her Master’s Voice could have been one of the creepier documentaries ever made if placed in lesser hands than Nina Conti herself. It chronicles the deeply personal journey of Conti, a British ventriloquist, to an annual ventriloquism convention in Kentucky. Here she plans on laying to rest one of the six puppets she recently inherited from her deceased ex-lover, British theater impresario and puppet enthusiast Ken Campbell. Vent Haven is a museum in Kentucky designed for such a purpose; here, people can come and view the puppets whose masters are deceased, puppets who no longer have human voices given to them and instead sit in silence.

Everything about this concept sounds eerie and rather morbid. However, the film is instead an hour-long tribute to life, love, and art, as the audience is gently guided by Conti into the strange world of ventriloquism. Conti gives a voice to various other artists in the field, who all seem to cite ventriloquism as a means of ridding themselves of shyness by speaking and performing through their puppets. Their thoughtful and inspirational statements on the freedom that ventriloquism has given them in their lives rids the art of the stigma of creepiness it carries for many. Conti herself is charming, funny and incredibly personal, and never more so than when she is onstage performing with her beloved monkey puppet.

Campbell encouraged Conti to take up the art when she was a young actress being mentored by him, but she has been wondering as of late whether it is really what she wants to devote her entire life to. Her journey to Kentucky is not just to bring peace to Campbell’s puppets, but to bring peace to herself. She talks about her complicated relationship with Campbell with refreshing honesty as well as regret. Recordings of conversations between herself and Campbell are interspersed throughout the film, giving a voice to the man himself beyond death--a form of ventriloquism in itself.

Conti brings her money and all six of Campbell’s puppets along for her journey, to Kentucky interacting with them as they are all real people and talking to (and as) each of them in turn. The puppets are just as lifelike of characters as Conti herself, and each of them has their own opinions on whether or not Conti should continue practicing ventriloquism. Conti’s interactions with the puppet designed to look exactly like Campbell himself are particularly charged with emotion and confusion, as Conti uses the puppet as a stand-in for the man in conversations designed to give their relationship closure. The mixed human-and-puppet ensemble of Her Master’s Voice elicits more of the audience’s care and interest than many all-human groups of characters. By the time Conti reaches her final destination of Vent Haven, you will be fully invested in her, her puppets, and her decision whether or not to continue in her chosen art form--a form which is given far more depth by Her Master’s Voice than one could have ever thought possible.

The bonus features include additional footage of Conti’s act (segments of which are seen in the film itself), as well as a surreal interview of her conducted by her monkey puppet.

"Nina Conti: Her Master's Voice" is on sale October 16, 2012 and is not rated. Documentary. Written and directed by Nina Conti. Starring Nina Conti.

Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 


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