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Arts & Culture

A Man Named Pearl

Pearl tells us, "There's always gonna be obstacles. The thing is, you don't let those obstacles determine where you go." So Fryar is a man who's chosen his own eccentric path. The tiny rural community of Bishopville, South Carolina, provides the unlikely setting for Pearl Fryar's inspired topiary garden. With no formal training, Fryar picked up plants dumped by the local nursery and just started creating an elaborate garden. He began trimming and sculpting tress and shrubbery that horticulturalists said he couldn't, and the results are often spectacular - some of the abstract shapes looking like they came right off the page of a Dr. Seuss book. Fryar soon won local fame for transforming a field where cows used to graze into a garden to rival almost any in the world. The son of a sharecropper, Fryar didn't let any stereotypes or social expectations keep him from pursuing not just a big dream but a unique one as well.

Scott Galloway and Brent Piersen's documentary takes delight in Fryar's creativity and admires his dedication to his craft. They talk to other admirers as well - from neighbors to museum curators to little kids inspired to try and follow in Fryar's footsteps. Fryar's ability to transform discarded plants and trash into art is amazing. And it serves as encouragement to local kids and to the community as a whole. In fact his garden seems to give the community a sense of pride and identity as it becomes the town's majot tourist attraction.

But as a film, A Man Named Pearl doesn't go much beyond the surface feel-good story. We get a lot of talking head describing how inspiring Fryar is but we don't really get into his craft. There are some lovely shots of Fryar working in his garden in the darkness of night - apparently one of the best times for him to work - that hint at the relationship he has with his plants and garden. But I wanted to see more of his process, more about how he developed his skills, more of him starting on a new tree or shrub and seeing how he tackles the project. Galloway and Piersen take their subject at face value and don't try to find added depths or an innovative way to present their story.


A Man Named Pearl (rated G for all audiences) feels more like a news magazine feature than a feature documentary. But despite some shortcomings, the film captures Fryar's buoyant spirit and natural talent. You don't often see feel good docs, but this is definitely one that will leave you smiling and ready to take on any challenge. In fact there's a tree in my yard that I've been meaning to trim...

Companion viewing: Edward Scissorhands; Fast, Cheap and Out of Control; Junebug