As an audiovisual medium rooted in processes of synchronization, film has sometimes been metaphorized as ventriloquism. At the levels of film genre and form, documentary cinema in particular has also been called ventriloquial, owing to its frequent emphasis on giving voice to voiceless—or underrepresented—persons or things. This article contends that the material practice of ventriloquism has more to offer to documentary cinema than a convenient (and typically negative) metaphor for the deceptive synchrony of sound and image or the embattled relation between subject and object. Through a close examination of contemporary British ventriloquist Nina Conti's 2012 documentary film, Nina Conti: Her Master's Voice and the Legacy of Six Bereaved Puppets, the article argues that the ventriloquial technique of bifurcation—in which a ventriloquist's lips appear to move out of sync with the sound of her voice—gives us a unique model for rethinking the pairings of film sound and image and documentary subject and object not as irrevocably divided but as operating alongside one another, albeit in an uneven and instable manner. Taking inspiration from feminist and queer theories of relationality such as Trinh T. Minh-ha's concept of “speaking nearby” and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's notion of “besideness,” this article additionally suggests that Conti's ventriloquial documentary opens us to the possibility of a puppet love distinct from heteronormative constructs.

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