By Phil Hall | July 18, 2008

Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson’s documentary focuses on Pearl Fryar, a self-taught topiary sculptor from rural Bishopville, South Carolina. The son of sharecroppers and a long-time factory worker, Fryar tapped into an inner artistic source to create elaborate works of arboreal imagination. His resulting work, carved with chainsaws and clippers, has brought him recognition – and it helped his cash-starved community tap into a lucrative little tourism industry based around Fryar’s creations.

While Fryar is a charming man and his work clearly deserves recognition, “A Man Called Pearl” is an obvious case of building a three-story house on a one-story foundation. Really, can you make a feature-length film about a man who carves unique shapes out of trees, shrubs and bushes? It doesn’t seem that way, as the film pads its running length by interviewing almost everyone in Bishopville who had some sort of contact with Fryar (including a surprisingly flippant director of the local Chamber of Commerce, who responds to the interview with his feet up on his desk). At several points in the film, Fryar gets sidelined while the filmmakers go off on unrelated tangents involving Bishopville’s history and current problems.

This is a shame, since this could have been a wonderful short documentary. Instead, its cumbersome 77-minute running time dooms it to a sense of staleness.

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