Monday, March 12, 2007

Carla and Cecil Go To the Cinema

Rock 'n roll ventriloquist, Carla Rhodes, and her partner-in-crime, Cecil, reviewed the new movie "Dead Silence," in yesterday's New York Post.

I met Carla in London in 2001. She was an undergrad at Middle Tennessee State University doing a tour of London comedy clubs with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. I was hooked from the very start. Cecil is the latest addition to her act, which also includes David Bowie.

A highlight in my Carla fandom was a broadcast of the Today Show at Rockefeller Plaza. David Bowie was performing, and Carla was in the audience with Bowie's doppelganger. As the band finished a song, and the show was cutting to a commercial, Bowie turned to the audience, pointed and yelled: "Hey! I know that puppet!"

Carla has performed in Europe and the United States, has appeared in documentaries about ventriloquism and the Rolling Stones, has performed for Bowie and Keith Richards, and has spent time rubbing shoulders with Mick Jagger and other entertainment hoi-poloi.



March 11, 2007 -- A ventriloquist’s dummy is pretty creepy - from a lifeless little wooden person suddenly emerges a squeaky voice, blinking buggy eyes, a swiveling head on square shoulders and worst of all, that freaky square jaw moving up and down.

Know what’s even creepier? The lifeless wooden doll sans the ventriloquist.

That was writer-director James Wan’s idea in choosing a demented dummy named Billy as the star of his new scream-fest “Dead Silence,” opening Friday. The horror flick is about a string of grisly murders in a small town that locals say is the work of a murdered ventriloquist whose ghost has come back to gain revenge - through her puppets.

“What makes dummies so creepy,” says Wan, “is that as soon as the ventriloquist leaves the room, the dummy is left sitting there in a chair - and you’re waiting for it to move. It’s that perception, that anticipation of the slightest movement that creeps you out.”

The same suspense, of course, is integral to all horror movies. That’s why puppets are perfect. They mess with the audience by not doing anything at all.

“That’s the hook in this film,” says Wan. “What if I’m alone in a room with this dummy, and suddenly its eyes shift to look at me?”

Wan’s 2004 horror hit “Saw” was really one big, totally twisted smoke-and-mirror trick. That wasn’t a coincidence for a guy who grew up wanting to be a magician. “Movies are deception, too, making you suspend disbelief,” says the 29-year-old Australian director. “It’s no different than magic, or ventriloquism. It’s all sleight of hand.”

“It’s not a killer-doll movie,” says the filmmaker who auditioned a dozen dummies before finding just the right Billy. “It’s not ‘Chucky.’ We wanted a dummy that looked normal to begin with. And if you stare at it long enough, you begin to see a malevolent quality underneath.”

The Post caught a sneak peak of “Dead Silence” with New York City ventriloquist Carla Rhodes and her curmudgeonly sidekick Cecil Sinclaire. We wanted to hear their opinions on why movies like “Magic,” “Chucky” and now “Dead Silence” always make dolls, puppets and dummies look like bloodlusting freaks.

Carla: I found “Dead Silence” to be a spooky old ghost story. Being a ventriloquist, I dug this movie. I thought it was scary. Especially the lead dummy, Billy. He freaked me out.

Cecil: Personally, I found his performance wooden. This movie should’ve been called “Dummies for Dummies.”

Carla: Oh, come on, Cecil. Don’t be such a grouch. I know you were frightened. You kept closing your eyes at all the scary parts.

Cecil: You made me do it!

Carla: Are you just jealous that Billy is now the hot dummy in Hollywood?

Cecil: Me, jealous? There you go putting words in my mouth again. Who was the biggest star on B.F. Keith’s vaudeville circuit in the 1890s? Me. I’m the guy whose little footprints should be on Hollywood Boulevard.

Carla: Cecil, does it bother you that dummies in movies are always stereotyped as creepy and evil?

Cecil: It’s not that they make us look like evil killers. It’s that we always get caught in the act. Back when I was doing vaudeville, you should have seen my act. I was killing night after night. And that’s not just a figure of speech. They can’t prove anything - no fingerprints.

Carla: I think you’re pulling my leg, Cecil.

Cecil: I think you’re pulling my strings.

Carla: Getting back to the movie, I found Donnie Wahlberg entertaining as a tough-guy detective on the case.

Cecil: Donnie who?

Carla: Donnie Wahlberg. He was in New Kids on The Block, back in the ’90s.

Cecil: Never heard of ‘em. I spend most of my time in a steamer trunk.

Carla: Well, to wrap up, I found this movie to be scary and fun. There were lots of unexpected twists. I’m giving “Dead Silence” a big thumbs-up. What about you, Cecil?

Cecil: Ha, ha. Very funny. I don’t even have thumbs.

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Carla's act, especially her routine with the Keith Richards puppet, is hysterical. I have not yet had the privilege of seeing Cecil, but I hear he is very controversial.

I recommend you find one of her shows and take in a performance. I am never disappointed.

Find her performance schedule at

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