In the tiny, rural burg of Bishopville, South Carolina, Pearl Fryar has constructed a topiary garden to rival any in the world. Without formal education or training, Fryar fashions fanciful creations concocted in the unfiltered recesses of his imagination, and as evidenced by A Man Named Pearl, his amazing achievement has not gone unnoticed. A local celebrity who’s attracted national media attention, Fryar is the definition of a self-made man, the son of a sharecropper who began to transform his yard from a cow-populated dirt patch into a flora wonderland that would make Alice gasp during his 30-year stint toiling away at a bottling plant.
Scott Galloway and Brent Piersen’s documentary details the bountiful creativeness of Fryar’s work as well as his dedication to his craft, which is espoused by local teachers, politicians, students and neighbors who find themselves drawn to reshaping their bushes and trees in an effort to keep up with Fryar’s property. His use of discarded plants and garbage to craft his gorgeous sculptures is related to both his attempts to inspire disadvantaged kids to reach for their dreams and to rejuvenate the rundown community, which in 2005 instigated a “Streetscape” beautification plan that includes featuring Fryar’s topiaries on Main Street.
In an area still struggling with racial and economic tensions, the status of the man’s work as a town’s defining feature (not only does it line the primary thoroughfare, but it draws most of the area’s tourism) is a rousing achievement, and speaks to art’s power to bring people together. A Man Named Pearl, however, is a decidedly limited, functional aesthetic affair, meaning that Fryar’s superlative-inducing garden’s magnificence is only partly conveyed, and the intrinsic, physical relationship shared between Fryar and his designs is a topic often vocalized but, with the exception of a solitary slow-motion close-up, rarely visualized. Moreover, given that it sums up most of what it has to say during its first half hour, the film too frequently comes off as a TV-ish human-interest story distended to feature length.