A Man Named Pearl
Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema.
Review by: Larry Thomas
The first shot of the film is of a tall, imposing black man astride the top two steps of an equally tall, imposing ladder brandishing a gas powered hedge trimmer that’s only one generation smaller than a chainsaw. Is this a new horror film?
Hardly. It’s A Man Named Pearl. Pearl is the guy with the hedge trimmer, and is the sort of person who can prove to be inspirational to anyone, anywhere.
Pearl Fryar, now 66 years old, is a former factory worker in Bishopville, South Carolina, a small town in the smallest…and poorest…county in that state. When he moved to Bishopville some years ago, he was unwelcome in a particular neighborhood because “those people never take care of their yards.” Undaunted, as is his way in life, Pearl bought a house in a neighborhood where he and his family were welcome, and decided to make an example of his yard. He had no formal training in gardening or horticulture. He scoured the piles of discarded plants behind a local nursery to find items, which he felt had potential. And in doing so, he managed to earn the local garden club’s “yard of the month” award.
Pleased by his accomplishment, but unable to rest on his laurels, as is his way in life, Pearl Fryar turned his three acre yard into an amazing wonderland of topiary sculpture. He didn’t just grow plants. He created some stunning works of art on a grand scale that some people still can’t believe exist. This self-taught, and some say, divinely inspired, combination green-thumb and sculptor, has single-handedly brought tourism to a town that was on its last legs, following loss of industrial jobs and the mechanization of farming. Universities, branches of governments, and art museums, have honored Fryar for his accomplishments. He has been commissioned by both the town of Bishopville, a state art museum, and the local Waffle House to sculpt plants for them. You may have seen something about Pearl Fryar in the New York Times or on the CBS news magazine Sunday Morning. But you really won’t get to know this intriguing gentleman until you see the documentary A Man Named Pearl.
Not only is he an acclaimed topiary sculptor, he creates his own brand of “junk art,” using things thrown out by others. He is also wise and thoughtful, and has the kind of personality and demeanor that endears him to friends and strangers, young and old alike.
Once you experience A Man Named Pearl, you may even want to go drive through Bishopville, and stop to see his garden. And, of course, he would be glad to have you stop, and go out of his way to make you feel welcome. That’s just the way he is.
The film itself is a love letter to this extraordinary human. It’s a straightforward look at him and his surroundings with no cinematic tricks or editorializing. The sparse, but excellent, original jazz score is by pianist Fred Story, who performs the music with a terrific combo.
If we had more Pearl Fryer’s in this world, perhaps people would be more optimistic about the fate of humanity in general.
The G-rated A Man Named Pearl is a presentation of Cincinnati World Cinema at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and shows at 2 pm on Sunday and 7 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday.