By Orla Smith.
Documentarian CJ Wallis’ Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much is a short, sharp, and focused examination of one man: ‘The Price is Right’ super-fan Ted Slauson.
To no purpose other than personal fulfilment, he dedicated his life to memorising the show’s prices until he could ace each question, often guessing exactly to the penny. He has attended live shows for decades, participating once, and later helping another contestant pull off a perfect bid.
Listening to Slauson speak about his experiences, observing his expressions, and picking up on his speech patterns offers enough potential for psychological analysis to sustain 70 minutes. In the interview that frames the entire documentary, Slauson explains, “it’s fun to watch people win!”. There isn’t a hint of irony in his voice, or in his unwavering gaze — as with everything he says. The documentary allows him to speak for himself, narrating his own story without interruption.
Wallis’ unquestioning approach has its limitations, though. You may watch the film and wonder what toll it must take on someone’s life, to be so fully invested in something so finite. There’s a moment of subdued silence when Slauson talks us through the time he was finally picked as a contestant on the show; he recounts realising, after having won his prize, that you’re not allowed to be a contestant twice — this thing he had worked towards for most of his life is now finished. What to do now?
Wallis, however, is determined to finish the film on a cleanly optimistic note.
Perhaps this is because he is hewing so close to Slauson’s version of events, using Slauson’s interview as the film’s only narration. When people tell their own stories, they are always inclined to look on the bright side in attempt to convince others, and themselves, that they’re OK. Wallis indulges this impulse of Slauson’s, and seems too happy to believe Slauson’s final assurance that his all-consuming obsession with ‘The Price is Right’ has brought nothing but positivity to his life. In reality, there’s a grey area there that Wallis neglects to explore
Perfect Bid is, however, a compelling and addictive watch. The film launches into its opening narration without giving its audience even a second’s breathing room; we are placed into Slauson’s unusual headspace from the get go. Then comes bright, animated opening credits, and music that matches those colours in energy. The film zips by — a testament to Wallis’ slick craft and knack for pacing. He doesn’t break much from conventional documentary form, but he works slickly within that form, taking a story that could easily be summed up briefly on a Wikipedia page, and making it worth 70 minutes of on screen investment.
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