A Man Among Giants

An attention seeker’s last hurrah

From left: Filmmaker Rod Webber and the subject of his film, Doug “Tiny the Terrible’’ Tunstall. From left: Filmmaker Rod Webber and the subject of his film, Doug “Tiny the Terrible’’ Tunstall.
By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / July 9, 2009
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You think South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is a politician with problems?

Doug “Tiny the Terrible’’ Tunstall is 4 feet 7 inches tall and living on a fixed income that he estimates at $10,000 a year. He’s had run-ins with the law, and the highlights of his resume include pro wrestling, multiple appearances on “The Jerry Springer Show,’’ and a stint as a toy store elf. He’s also that rarity, a poor, black Republican.

For some reason - and that reason is one of the questions to ask about this entertaining documentary - Tunstall decided in 2006 that he was the perfect candidate to unseat longtime Pawtucket Mayor James Doyle, a Democrat.

Trailed by filmmaker Rod Webber and abetted - again, for reasons that are unclear - by businessman Dave Lewis, Tunstall sets about a campaign that founders on a daily basis like the Titanic. Yeah, he shakes some hands and greets a few voters. But he also invites Webber in to watch his homemade sex tapes, takes a pint of tequila to the park at night to get the homeless-drunk vote, and gets so smashed himself that at one point he seems about to vomit on Webber. He uses the “N’’ word, espouses conspiracy theories, and is accused of calling in a bomb threat to a morning-zoo radio show that he feels mistreated him.

And yet, and yet.

With his indomitable forward motion, there is something bizarrely endearing about Tunstall. He is afraid of no one and, in more lucid moments, he advocates for America’s have-nots in the heartfelt words of a guy who knows whereof he speaks. “I know what it’s like to have my electricity off, . . . what it’s like to go to a soup kitchen,’’ he says.

But the origins of his campaign are not very clear, and you have to wonder how much the presence of Webber and his camera contributed to its momentum. There’s also something queasy-making about the arrival on the scene of Lewis, a businessman who is always trying to get Tunstall to focus and tuck in his shirt. Although Tunstall has spent his adult life seeking attention, it is bestowed upon him here in ways that seem more sideshow than journalism.

Tunstall is a raw character, a troubled unit. It’s not quite clear what Webber and Lewis are.

A MAN AMONG GIANTS Directed by Rod Webber

Narration written by: Webber

At: the Somerville Theatre, opens today

Running time: 94 minutes

Unrated (loads of profanity and sexual innuendo)

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