Twisted: A Balloonamentary 

I realize that a lot of you most likely glanced at the title of this week’s feature review, scoffed and dismissed it out of hand. “A film about twisting balloons? Give me a break. Even worse, a movie with the insufferably cute coined-word ‘balloonamentary’ in its title? Why should I, a busy participant in today’s now-a-go-go cutting-edge culture, waste my time on something so minor, so downright silly?”

Here’s why: Because Twisted: A Balloonamentary is entertaining and engaging. Yes, it’s a modest little documentary, but there are interesting and unusual aspects to the tiny subculture portrayed here. Oh, and there’s controversy, too. Balloon-twisting controversy. Who would have thought?

Another selling point: Twisted, which opens Friday at Key Cinemas on the Southside, was made by Sara Taksler and Naomi Greenfield. Taksler is a staffer at The Daily Show — she even got her boss Jon Stewart to do narrator duties for a short animated piece within the movie, which gives the documentary a certain hip patina, right?  

Are you still with me? Bueller?

Taksler and Greenfield’s film, which played the Heartland Film Festival, looks into the world of people who twist balloons professionally. Set at Twist and Shout, a balloon twister convention, it profiles eight people and the effect that twisting inflated pieces of latex has had on their lives. Their stories are as varied as the pieces they craft. A lot of the balloon art looks just like you would expect it to look, but some of the creations are amazing: a full-size race car, a Trojan horse, a kimono-clad geisha that is simply beautiful. The balloon art is limited only by the imagination of the twisters, and while some of the folks merely offer elaborate versions of humdrum fare, others show great inspiration and skill.   

About the controversy. Within the ballooning community is a group known as Gospel twisters that use their ability to teach Bible lessons. Other twisters work adult parties, creating “saucy” balloon sculptures of sexually-related stuff, mostly cocks and balls as far as I could see. Judd Apatow movies like Knocked Up, Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall have taught us that penises are almost always good for a laugh, and it appears that it’s true even when the dicks are in balloon form.

The movie spends time with each group and doesn’t offer judgment on either. As should come as no surprise, the Gospel twisters object to the adult twisters. According to a New York Times article, they strongly object to the inclusion of the adult twisters and their creations in this documentary and are boycotting screenings of the film at ballooning conventions.

Me, I was more disturbed by the grotesque vision of a crucified Jesus made of twisted balloons than the images of balloon genitalia.

Regardless, the whole matter only takes up a few minutes of the movie. Most of it is a mix of convention footage and the profiles of the eight ballooners, including an ex-convict who turned his life over and now tries to keep kids from getting into trouble and a woman who left her trailer park home and built a successful career as a balloon twister, paying for braces, a car and college tuition with her craft. Twisted: A Balloonamentary manages to entertain and inform without ever mocking its subjects. I’m glad I saw it.

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Ed Johnson-Ott

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