Richard Butchins’ touching documentary about the life and career of British puppeteer Frank Mumford, An Attic Full of Puppets, is now available to watch online.
Frank was something of a “lost legend” of British puppetry. Although he only stopped performing about a decade ago, the heyday of his career was post-World War II when he “played to the crowned heads of Europe” with his wife Maisie in nightclubs across Europe (Frank and Maisie were also among the very first British puppeteers to work in television). Frank wasn’t terribly well known – even among many puppeteers – when Ricard first met him at a party several years ago and learned about his treasure trove of old films and puppets.
An Attic Full of Puppets takes full advantage of access to Frank’s personal archive, switching back and forth between highlights from his career and his life in the present day. The effect is a bit uneven at first. Frank suffered from severe hearing loss late in life and Richard and his filmmaking team sometimes appear in the film struggling to make themselves heard, which makes some of the contemporary scenes a bit awkward to watch. It’s an interesting editorial decision to include them in the film and although I found them a bit jarring at first, they give the film a very honest, observational quality that helps you get to know and better appreciate Frank.
The real magic begins halfway through the film when Frank’s puppets start to come down from the attic. Old film clips begin unspooling at a furious pace and before you know it you’re whisked back to Paris in the `50s. By the time Frank steps off a train in modern day Paris so he can stand on with his beloved puppet Zizi on the stage of the Moulin Rogue one last time, you realize you’re witnessing a remarkable moment in the life of a true showman.
There are sadly fewer and fewer skilled marionette artists like Frank Mumford with each passing year. I’m so glad that An Attic Full of Puppets has helped preserve and promote his legacy as an entertainer. Frank sadly passed away earlier this year at the age of 95, but thanks to Richard and everyone who helped make this film possible we have a wonderful record of his life and career.
A very big thank you to Darryl, who has been keeping me updated on this film since its inception several years ago. It was well worth the wait!