Showing 1 - 10 of 25 annotations contributed by Jones, Therese
Summary:The 2005 documentary film, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, tells the story of Daniel Johnston, a mentally ill artist whose drawings have been exhibited and sold worldwide; whose music has been recorded by Beck, Wilco, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Pearl Jam; and whose fans include the actor, Johnny Depp and Simpsons creator, Matt Groening. Diagnosed with manic depression complicated by delusions of grandeur, Daniel has spent the last three decades of his life in and out of mental hospitals. His wild fluctuations, downward spirals, and periodic respites are chronicled in the film through compelling interviews, home movies, recorded tapes, and performance footage. The title is an allusion to Johnston's intense Christian beliefs and his spiritual war with Satan.
Titicut Follies is the first major, full-length documentary by Frederick Wiseman, generally considered to be the most successful independent filmmaker in the United States. Titicut Follies (the title of the film is taken from an annual talent show produced by inmates and staff) was filmed at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, a sprawling facility of four divisions with four distinct populations. Of the two thousand men warehoused there in the 1960s, only fifteen percent had ever been convicted of a crime, yet the institution was administered by the Department of Corrections rather than the Department of Mental Health--units representing very different and contradictory goals. At the time of the filming, there were only two psychiatrists and one trainee caring for the six hundred men in the hospital section.
Wiseman believed that public awareness of the terrible conditions at Bridgewater would create a demand for reform and improvement, and he gained unlimited access to the facility by representing the project to administration and staff as educational. The result is a bitterly critical, shockingly brutal documentary account of the prison hospital, and despite giving Wiseman permission to make the film, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts quickly moved to ban its release. In September 1967, just days before it was scheduled to be screened at the New York Film Festival, the attorney general filed an injunction that would permanently forbid Wiseman from showing the documentary to any audience. In 1969, the Massachusetts Supreme Court permitted limited use for doctors, lawyers, health-care professionals, social workers and students, and in 1991, the courts finally allowed its release to the general public. Titicut Follies is the only American film whose use has had court-imposed restrictions for reasons other than obscenity or national security.
Screenwriter and director Ryan Fleck expanded his award-winning short film--Gowanus, Brooklyn-- into the 2007 feature-length drama, Half-Nelson. The central character of the film is Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) an eighth-grade history teacher struggling to make the subject relevant to his students at a troubled school in the heart of poverty-stricken, crime-ridden Brooklyn. His creativity in the classroom and his commitment to the students, predominately African-American and Latino teens, is real, without pretense or condescension. Rather than relying on canned curricula and traditional methodologies such as recounting battles and memorizing dates, he tries to inspire his students with the ideology of Karl Marx, the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the film footage of Mario Savio, student leader of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.
However, Dan's idealism and energy begin to wane, and he easily justifies anesthetizing himself in order to escape his growing recognition that he will likely make little or no difference in the world. As his drug use intensifies, Dan's connections with friends, family, colleagues, and eventually, students completely unravel. But his downward spiral into addiction is intertwined with and counterpointed by a complex and subtle relationship that develops between him and thirteen-year old, Drey (Shareeka Epps) when she discovers her teacher, Mr. Dunne, slumped nearly unconscious in the bathroom stall of the school gym, a crack pipe still in his hand.
After reading Tad Friend's article, "Jumpers: The Fatal Grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge" in an October 2003 issue of The New Yorker, filmmaker Eric Steel became so fascinated by the mystery of the final, dark moments of a human being who makes the long journey across the bridge to his or her death that he finagled $100,000 worth of equipment and moved from New York to San Francisco. At 5:00 AM on a rainy New Year's Day in 2004, Steel and his ragtag crew set up their cameras, beginning a strange year-long vigil. Training telephoto lenses on the mid-span of the bridge, they peered intently from dawn to dusk, watching for "suspicious behavior" or a "sense of despair" among the crowds passing back and forth. During that year of filming, twenty-two people ended their lives, some caught on tape and some not; however, six attempts were thwarted by the film crew who became quite adept at indentifying potential victims and alerting the Bridge Patrol.
Photographed from multiple perspectives, at all times of day, and in all kinds of weather, the Golden Gate Bridge is the main character of this documentary film. It is formidable; it is magnificent; it is ominous; it is alluring. According to the film: "More people have chosen to end their lives [here] than anywhere else in the world." The sublime images not only capture the many facets and features of the structure, but they also illustrate the emotions and represent the psychology of the other narratives intertwined in the film: the stories of seven individuals who jumped from the bridge during the course of that year.
There is thirty-four year-old Gene, a haunting figure dressed all in black whose story begins and ends the documentary. Like the film crew, we watch him prowl the bridge day after day, his long dark hair whipping in the wind until he makes that final leap, a dramatic backward dive. There is forty-four year-old Lisa, who has suffered throughout her adult life with schizophrenia and who disappears off the bridge on Easter Sunday afternoon. And there is twenty-two year-old Philip whose parents relate the history of their son's struggle with mental illness.
In addition to using footage of the bridge being obscured by fog as an evocative image of the progressive suffocation of self, the filmmaker employs long shots of the island of Alcatraz to symbolize the prison of mental illness. Indeed, Philip's father describes his son's leap from the bridge as a release, "the only way he could get free."
Summary:"Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople. Another two or three dozen I take to the crematory to be burned.... I sell caskets, burial vaults, and urns for the ashes.... I am the only undertaker in this town." The speaker is Thomas Lynch, a poet, writer and funeral director in Milford, a small town in central Michigan, where he and his family have cared for the dead and the living for three generations. The words are the introduction to a documentary film which was written, produced and directed by Miri Navansky and Karen O'Connor for PBS Frontline and which is a visual, aural and dramatic companion to Lynch's award-winning collection of essays, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (see this database).
Summary:The tag line for the documentary short film, Mother Superior, is: "This is your mom. This is your mom on drugs." Methamphetamine addiction has slowly and silently encroached into American suburbia, becoming the drug of choice for women who are struggling to balance the demands of family and career and to meet the expectations of a culture that prizes upbeat, thin, and sexy soccer moms. When the two filmmakers, Alex Mack and Diana Montero, learned that the tidy neighborhoods and wholesome lifestyles of their own hometown, Salt Lake City, ranks third in the United States for meth use among women and that thirty-seven percent of individuals in drug treatment programs are mothers addicted to meth, they set out to make an educational documentary. The twenty-two minute film combines animation, dramatization, information from public health officials and health care professionals, and personal testimony from women in recovery.
Thin, a documentary film produced, aired and distributed by HBO, is the centerpiece of a multi-faceted project that explores the complex issues of body images and eating disorders in young women. Photographer and journalist Lauren Greenfield began documenting eating disorders in 1997, eventually publishing an article for Time Magazine and a book entitled Girl Culture, as well as producing a traveling photographic exhibit. Returning to one of the facilities featured in the exhibit, Greenfield took up residence at the Renfrew Center, an in-patient facility for eating disorders in Florida, to film the day-to-day suffering of four young women struggling with anorexia over the course of six months.
The youngest is Brittany, a sad and troubled fifteen-year old, whose bulimia and anorexia began when she was only eight (her weight bounced from 185 to 95 pounds in one year) and whose mother has her own very unhealthy relationship to food. Brittany is eventually returned to her weight-obsessed mother because of the loss of insurance. Shelly, a twenty-five year-old, psychiatric nurse, has been anorexic for six years and enters Renfrew at 84 pounds with a surgically-implanted feeding tube. Her identical twin visits to plead with Shelly to refrain from slowly killing herself and ultimately destroying their family. Polly is a twenty-nine year old, charming troublemaker whose health is returning but whose defiance of rules eventually gets her kicked out of the facility. The oldest patient is Alisa, a thirty-year old, divorced mother of two whose eating disorder ostensibly developed at age seven when a pediatrician persuaded her mother to put her plump daughter on a severe diet. Alisa's graphic account of a single day of binging and purging is shocking, and her forced release from Renfrew because of problems with health insurance precipitates a return to this pattern after she tucks her children into bed.
In the fall of 1979, Keith Burton, a free-lance journalist, saw the videotape 0105 in a bioethics seminar at Southern Methodist University (see annotation in this database). The structural centerpiece of this 1974 documentary is the interview of a burn patient, Donald "Dax" Cowart, by psychiatrist Dr. Robert B. White at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Dr. White had been called in to determine the patient’s competency because of his persistent requests to end the painful treatments, to go home, and to die.
Similar to most viewers of Please Let Me Die, Burton was intrigued by the unanswered questions and the uncertain outcome of the case and ultimately contacted Dax Cowart and his mother, Ada Cowart. Burton invited their collaboration on a follow-up videotape to Please Let Me Die, with the intention of providing "a living record of this man’s struggle for release from pain and despair." [see Keith Burton, "A Chronicle: Dax’s Case As It Happened." In Dax’s Case: Essays In Medical Ethics And Human Meaning, ed. Lonnie D. Kliever. (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press) 1989: 1].
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly thirty-one percent of the American public is obese; obesity accounts for 300,000 deaths a year, making it the second-most common preventable cause of death after cigarette smoking; individuals who are obese have a fifty to one-hundred percent increased risk of premature death from all causes. On the opposite end of the scale, so to speak, is anorexia, which, as one of the deadliest of psychiatric diseases, claims up to fifteen percent of its sufferers who either die of suicide or complications related to starvation; about one-third spend their lives dominated by their obsession with food, and almost half never marry.
How can we ever understand the psychological, physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual complexity of eating disorders, whether they result in morbid obesity or in a starving body digesting itself? Ann Pai's memoir opens a window to reveal the inner world of a food obsession, her own, and holds up a mirror to reflect the outer experience of a dying, five hundred fifty pound woman, her sister.
The narrative weaves together three strands: the sweet but unsentimental history of two sisters growing up in the midwest--Joyce, the elder of the two, and Ann, younger by almost five years; the detailed and horrific account of Joyce's sudden hospitalization on September 11, 2001, and her inexorable decline through multiple, undiagnosable and fatal illnesses as the result of her obesity; and the stream-of-conscious and raw monologue of Ann's own struggle to manage a compulsive eating disorder.
Ten months after being burned over 68% of his body, Dax Cowart was interviewed on videotape at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston by Dr. Robert B. White. Blind, disfigured and helpless, Dax had consistently asserted his right to refuse medical treatment, including further corrective surgery on his hands (useless, unsightly stumps) as well as the daily, excruciatingly painful baths in the Hubbard tank.
At the time of his admission to UTMB, he had become adamant that he be allowed to leave the hospital and return home to die--a certain outcome since only daily tankings would prevent overwhelming infection. Dr. White had been called in as a psychiatric consultant, and much of the twenty-nine minute documentary is a conversation between patient and psychiatrist.
Calm and coherent, Dax states his wishes clearly and presents his case compellingly. He does not "want to go through the pain"; he does not "want to go on as a blind and a crippled person"; and he does not understand or accept any physician’s "right to keep alive a patient who wants to die."