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Twisted: A Balloonamentary

WGBH // Unrated // June 3, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted May 30, 2008 | E-mail the Author
"Twisted: A Balloonamentary" has earned a handful of fans in the form of critics who caught it during its festival run. Having missed it then and only catching up with it now on DVD, I'm baffled: what's the fuss? As an entry in the "quirky subculture" niche of documentaries, "Twisted" is too lightweight and ultimately too boring to charm us the way it wants.

The first problem's right there in the subtitle. "Balloonamentary." Rookie filmmakers Sara Taskler and Naomi Greenfield strive for clever, but all they deliver is annoying wordplay.

The opening's even worse. The movie tosses us four - four! - separate introductions to itself, starting with man-on-the-street footage of ordinary folks struggling with making balloon animals; then showcasing a bit of Twist and Shout, an annual ballooning convention; then a two-minute "comedy" piece of animation detailing the history of balloon twisting, narrated with much snark by Jon Stewart; and then, finally (!), we get the actual intro, some text about how "this is a story about people who discover what can happen once they know how to make balloon dogs." (This ties in with a line the movie repeats: "once you can make a balloon dog, you can do anything.") Any one of these scenes would have made a solid opening to the film, but Taskler and Greenfield give us all of them, and the jumble doesn't work.

Five minutes in, we finally get going, as we meet the movie's eight subjects. Among them are several professional balloon twisters, including a couple who met in a balloon class; a black balloonist (a rarity in this predominantly white subculture) who uses his craft to entertain and inspire inner-city children in Atlanta; a few competitive twisters, who craft mammoth balloon sculptures for conventions; and a young woman who used twisting as a means to work her way off of welfare and into med school.

At a tight 79 minutes, there's not much time to delve into these stories, and so the filmmakers just give us the highlights, anecdotal versions of their life stories, just enough to suggest that these people sure must be interesting (which they are) but not enough to really study them they way they deserve. When we meet David Grist, we're informed that he's a legend in the twisting community, but with the movie scrambling to squeeze in eight separate stories, plus footage from the convention, plus interviews with even more twisters, there's not any time left over to show us why he's such an important figure.

When the movie slows down to let the ideas breathe, it works. In one relatively lengthy passage midway through the piece, we get a bit of back-and-forth of footage showcasing Christians using twisting as a preaching method with clips of "adult" twisters who specialize in sexed-up novelties. But just when the movie's set to present a rift in the twisting community, it backs off and turns its attention elsewhere.

There's so much that's appealing about the subjects and their creations (also featured is a giant Trojan Horse and a wearable suit of balloon armor, complete with balloon lance and balloon steed) that to see all of it skimmed over is a major disappointment. Taskler and Greenfield seem convinced that merely showing the quirky subculture for a little while is enough, but it's far from it. And while the filmmakers bring plenty of heart to the material and a sense of whimsy to the editing room, their final result is too unfocused and shallow to twist itself right.


Video & Audio

A low budget production shot on digital video, "Twisted" looks about how you'd expect in this 1.33:1 full frame transfer. There's the occasional bit of combing during quick motion shots and some grain in darker shots, although this may be an issue with the source itself. Colors are crisp and bright, making the most of the sight of all those balloons.

The Dolby stereo soundtrack is a simple affair, with the dialogue (and the obnoxiously ever-present bouncy musical score) coming in cleanly. No subtitles are provided.


Taskler and Greenfield deliver a chatty commentary, with ample discussion on the film's history, their subjects, and their own adventures in twisting.

The filmmakers also appear in a Q&A session (10:22) taped at the movie's premiere during the South by Southwest Film Festival. The topics fill in some gaps left unmentioned during the commentary, and the clips ends with the duo attempting to teach the crowd how to make a balloon dog.

Since such footage isn't ideal to teaching the home viewer such a trick, "How to Make a Balloon Dog" (2:03) offers step-by-step instructions twice, as delivered by various convention visitors. Even then, it goes by a bit too quickly to be of any real use to beginners.

Nine deleted scenes (approx. 18 minutes total) add a couple of bonus storylines (including a family of clowns and a skydiving twister) as well as a pinch of side material for those featured in the film. Best of the bunch: "The Great Wandini" earns some quick laughs with a few cheap jokes.

"The Pitch" (1:07), dated 2003, is rough footage of Greenfield filming a video sales pitch to potential investors.

The film's trailer (2:10) plays up the quirk factor, emphasizing the wacky characters and that horrid musical score.

Finally, the disc also includes a balloon dog screen saver for your computer.

Final Thoughts

"Twisted" has the potential to be a captivating documentary, but its rushed running time and shallow approach to the material keep it from being the success it should be. Fans of similar oddball docs should simply Rent It.
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