The South Carolina topiary artist Pearl Fryar is an interesting guy and a great challenge for a filmmaker. How do you capture his exuberance without smothering it? In "A Man Named Pearl" Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson make the brilliant decision to complement it. Everything about their profile is as exuberant as its subject.
We meet Fryar's reverend, his Bishopville, S.C., neighbors, and the South Carolina state museum curator who became his best friend after she commissioned his work for a show. Then there's the art itself. Fryar specializes in giant botanical abstractions. They line the medians along Main Street. They guard the local Waffle House. They live in the lawns and gardens of his friends.
Plant people marvel at Fryar's gift for turning dying or unhappy plants into art. Fryar, for his part, is appealing - optimistic, charismatic, energetic. At 66, he still mounts ladders and wields his chainsaw. He swats away the inevitable Edward Scissorhands comparisons. Fryar isn't just playing around. There's a painstaking math to his sculptures.
Galloway and Pierson smartly pull back a bit to give a sense of Bishopville, a still-segregated town. Fryar seems all the more remarkable for not allowing racism to prohibit his success.
He appears to be known and beloved by everybody, both for his personality and for making Bishopville into a tourist attraction. In the process, Fryar has become something of a sex symbol. On walking tours of his work, women stop to ogle his physique.
Elements of the Errol Morris documentaries "Vernon, Florida" and "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control" come to mind, but "A Man Called Pearl" has its own personality. Like Morris, the directors care about shot-making and imagery. This is moviemaking that honors the craftsmanship of its subject.