Friday, August 31, 2012

for the love of dolly

girl got herself out of a tight place
last week we watched tai uhlman's documentary for the love of dolly. this slight but intriguing documentary features footage five dolly super-fans doing their quirky, sad, over-the-top fan stuff, like creating porcelain dolly dolls, getting plastic surgery to look more like dolly, and planning elaborate costumes for the annual opening parade at dollywood.  one of the fans is a developmentally disabled man whose dolly obsession is his portal to the larger world. two troubled young women structure their lives around pilgrimages to dollywood and recreating dolly's "tennessee mountain home" in their back yard, and a gay couple builds a life around creating and collecting dolly memorabilia and singing along with their favorite dolly song hello god.

by virtue of it's subject, the documentary keeps your attention, but you feel a bit voyeuristic, and wonder if this was a little bit of an easy target, somewhat akin to criticisms leveled at waiting for guffman, you hope that you're laughing with, not at, the subjects of the film.

the filmmaking is somewhat artless, especially compared to the other documentary we saw last week, ai wei wei: never sorry.  but there are interesting moments when the footage delves into the fans' backstories, and the reasons for their obsessions begin to emerge:  one young woman has suffered abuse at the hands of her family, and talks about the prayer she would offer every night even as a pre-schooler:  that dolly would be her mother and sing her a lullaby every night.  the man who makes the porcelain dollys discusses the guilt he felt when his wife died in a car accident even as he was in the process of leaving her for his current partner.

as one who verges on dolly superfandom, i wish we would have gotten a little more of a sense of the things that make dolly so compelling, such a rich personality and talent.  a singer who can make you sob even while singing most inane lyrics in the world, lyrics like:

Hello God, are you out there?
Can you hear us, are you listenin' any more?
Hello God, if we're still on speakin' terms
Can you help us like before?

i enjoyed this film well enough, but didn't think it really did dolly or it's fascinating subjects full justice.  what causes a person to want to negate her own life in the worship of another, and why is the worship directed at dolly?  i wished for a fuller exploration of these questions.


  1. I went to Dollyworld in 2004 and it was closed (sadly). Felt a little bit like "Family Vacation." Anyway, I have never done a Dolly impersonation, but I think that many are drawn to her strong "I'm gonna do this in spite of your doubt and to spite 'the man' who says this ain't my place." This is a woman who carved out her own space in a VERY male industry. She is one tough broad. A friend of mine who grew up in Pigeon Forge (her town) said that Dolly has donated tens of thousands of dollars to schools, libraries, and other needy causes.

    I can see why those who feel disempowered would look to her.

    1. yes--totally. you're so right. exactly why she's one of my sheroes--an awesome voice of the everywoman. i forgot to mention one of my favorite lines from the film, when a fan says, "Whatever problem you're facing in life, Dolly has a song for it."

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!