Showing 61 - 70 of 260 Performing Arts annotations

Titicut Follies

Wiseman, Frederick

Last Updated: Nov-12-2009
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

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.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: TV Program

Summary:

This three-part BBC television miniseries centers on the large weekend reunion of a prosperous Anglo-Jewish family at a luxurious West End hotel.  Various family members discover one another and uncover family stories and secrets that reorient them in their lives.  Writer-Director Stephen Poliakoff does not adhere to a conventional story structure, and this wandering tale is full of unexpected and rewarding narrative dips and turns.
 
Two family clusters are followed most closely in the story, although we are given glimpses, through flashback, of other compelling characters’ intricate wartime histories.   One branch of the family is made up of Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) and his parents, Raymond and Esther Symon (Michael Gambon and Jill Baker) who have grown distant from the larger family circle following a well-intentioned but failed business venture that cost Raymond his share of the family wealth.  Daniel, intrigued by his glamorous relatives, is drawn more and more deeply into a relationship with his seductive and mysterious cousin Rebecca (Claire Skinner) and her dashing brother Charles (Toby Stephens).  In the course of the weekend, crusty but endearing Raymond suffers a minor stroke, and we learn of the recent death of Rebecca and Charles’ eldest brother following his descent into mental illness.

The most meaningful connections, however, belong to the past, and are brought to light in stages, effectively engaging our curiosity.  The stories behind two captivating photographs, one of Raymond’s father dancing fancifully and uncharacteristically on a lawn, and one of Daniel at age three, unaccountably dressed as an Italian Prince, are eventually uncovered to reveal a secret history that holds quite different meanings for Daniel and his father. 
 

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) is an unsuccessful writer, receiving only a slew of rejections with every new novel he sends out.  He teaches poetry to a small class of uninspired students (who try to use song lyrics they think he won't recognise in place of their own homework), and the principal is threatening to end the class.  In addition, he is in a relationship with the art teacher (Alexie Gilmore) who has also caught the eye of a charismatic young writer and fellow teacher (Henry Simmons) who just published his first story in the New Yorker.  Most disconcerting of all, his son (Daryl Sabara) is an unpopular, crude, lascivious teenager who seems to take little pleasure in being rude and mean to other people, but less pleasure in anything else.  Except, perhaps, masturbation and auto-erotic asphyxiation.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Not quite the familiar home-for-the-holidays genre of a dysfunctional family, this one has a twist.   April is a late-teen "problem" daughter who has run away to New York City where she lives with her boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke).  April, played by a grungy, pigtailed, and probably tattooed Katie Holmes, has invited her parents, siblings, and grandmother to Thanksgiving dinner.  This reunion, we gather, is the first since April left home.  The family is coming to her lower East Side tenement, a situation that bristles with possibilities.  

Moving back and forth from April's low rent apartment to tension in the crowded car as it moves from a scenic suburb to cityscape, viewers are able to watch both April's unskilled efforts as she struggles with the slippery turkey, a can of cranberry sauce, crepe paper decorations, a broken oven, etc. and an inexplicable drama slowly unfolding in the crowded car.  In spite of crisis situations in both settings, the separate family members do get together for a dinner that neither could have planned. 

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Mr. Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), a Tokyo City Hall bureaucrat near retirement, discovers he is dying of stomach cancer. Reflecting on his life, he finds that it has been empty, that he has not really lived. He devotes the time he has left to modestly exploring the possibilities of living. In a final effort to give his life meaning, he forces a reluctant bureaucracy to turn a badly drained neighborhood area into a park for children.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

Filmed at Shands (teaching) Hospital in Florida, this documentary validates the importance of the arts and expressive therapies in all aspects of health care, including medical education. Pediatric oncologist John Graham-Pole and poetry therapist John Fox -often as a team- work with patients of all ages in groups and at the bedside.   Other physicians including a neuroscientist provide rational explanations of the release of endorphins and brain changes resulting from creative activities.  Though the healing process initiated by the reflective act of writing poetry is ostensibly the focus of the film, the documentary is permeated with the transforming effects of dance and art therapies in their ability to lessen physical and emotional pain; the importance of healing environments, not just paintings in lobbies, but in patient created ceiling tiles and wall installations; and especially the warmth, intimacy and humanity generated by exemplary physician communication skills.

View full annotation

Mind Talk: The Brain's New Story

Drake, Bob

Last Updated: Mar-10-2009
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This documentary film explores the interdisciplinary quest to understand the mind--its relationship to the brain, to the soul, to consciousness and sentience, and to the societal implications of free will. The film begins with the crisscrossing flow of people in a train station and an overvoice expressing the existential questions of "who are we?" and, ultimately, "who am I?"

This compelling image, filmed in black and white, serves as a representation of people as humanity and as individuals, as well as a metaphor for flow, such as of time or of impulses along a neural network. Hence, already in the introduction, the viewer is aware that this film will address some of the deep philosophical questions of all time complemented by visual imagery which enhances and enlarges on the dialogue.

The film is then divided into twelve sections: The Soul, The Body, Mental Disorder, Mind to Molecule, Bit to Brain, Consciousness, Free Will, Citizenship, The Moral Brain, The Brain on Trial, The Medical Mind, and Who Am I? Experts from multiple fields such as theology, neuroscience, psychiatry, law and justice, philosophy, sociology, history of medicine, physics, computer science, and filmmaking offer insights and questions either directly to the camera, or as voice-over for other imagery.

For example, to name just a few of the numerous eminent persons in the film, there are statements by mathematical physicist Roger Penrose (Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, and The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics), philosopher Daniel Dennett (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, and Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds), philosopher John R. Searle (Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World) and neurologist Antonio Damasio (Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain). The multiple experts all address the basic question posed by the film: "What will a science of the brain add to the human story?" but the approaches to the question, and what aspects of the question are most important, vary considerably in this far ranging journey through religion, history, ethics, medicine and science.

A few of the many interesting segments of the film include sections on cognitive neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher who studies specialization by parts of the brain, such as a face-recognition center; developmental neuroanatomist Miguel Marin-Padilla, who has studied the motor cortex for over 25 years, which he demonstrates by dissection to be smaller than the tip of his finger; and Dennett’s one-armed robot, Cog, which is "learning" in developmental stages as an infant would. Eloquent commentary is also provided by computer scientist Jaron Lanier, sociologist Howard Kaye, psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, and filmmaker Ken Burns, among others.

Much of the film deals with psychopathology and implications for morality, behavior, and responsibility for behavior (free will and crime). Segments include an interview with a patient with manic-depressive disorder, a historical note on Phineas Gage (whose dramatic wound of his frontal lobe so altered his behavior), and a lawyer, psychiatrist and judge discussing free will, diminished capacity, and the legal system.

The film concludes with some concerns about reductionism to the biologic model of the mind, the growing haziness of borders between human and artificial intelligence, and the role of psychoactive medications. Although full mapping of the brain may not lead to complete understanding of the mind, still, the film concludes, the quest is fun.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Paul Ehrlich (Edward G. Robinson) works as a hospital dermatologist, but his two passions are his family and his independent research into dyes and stains. When he abandons his call-duty to attend a lecture by Robert Koch, hospital officials have all they need to dismiss the annoying Jew. Koch, however, engages him to develop dyes to enhance the visibility of the newly discovered tubercle bacillus.

Ehrlich's health is broken by the research, but one success leads to another. With Emil von Behring (Otto Kruger), he works on a serum to save children with diphtheria. Moved by the anxiety of the mothers, he refuses to maintain untreated controls. His superiors are furious, but the state is grateful and he is awarded his own institute.

Ehrlich turns his attention to finding a "magic bullet" to treat syphilis, but his relationship with von Behring founders. Arsenic derivatives are endlessly modified until success is reached in 1910 with agent 606. A few deaths in treated subjects prompt Ehrlich's enemies to arrange a formal inquiry, but he is completely exonerated and reconciled with von Behring.

View full annotation

Indestructible

Byer, Ben

Last Updated: Feb-14-2009
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

When diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at age 36, filmmaker Ben Byer began recording a video diary.  Episodes from his diary create the engaging, coherent narrative of "Indestructible," a documentary that intimately, but unsentimentally invites viewers to witness Byer's and his family's responses to his diagnosis.  Their first impulse is to search for a cure for this degenerative disease, "the grim reaper of neurological diseases," a physician tells him.  They also find themselves seeking ways to understand living with loss, most centrally losing the illusion of control over their lives. 

Over the course of three years Byer and family travel to six countries, including Greece, China, Tibet, and Israel.  During his journey, Byer, an irrepressible extrovert, also seeks the companionship and insights of other ALS patients and families, wishing to create a world-wide bond among people who struggle daily.   A montage of clips from family videos prefaces the film, revealing Byer in the decades before his diagnosis.  The images show a luminous child, who grows into a playful, photogenically handsome teen ager and young man, husband, father, son, and brother.  His exceptional force of personality, incandescent smile, and spontaneous sense of humor fill the screen.  These robust images contrast touchingly with the thinner, clumsier Byer who later struggles to remove a t-shirt.  But they also reveal continuities between Byer's capacity to enjoy his life during seemingly carefree days and his strength of spirit as he becomes increasingly more disabled, disappointed, and introspective.  Although even such strength can't alter his condition, it nonetheless sees him through to the next day and fresh adventure.

The family in the montage and the film emerge as Byer's source of support as well as conflict.  One of the most devastating conflicts arises from his father Steve's restless determination to find treatments to reverse or retard ALS.  After searching the Internet for remedies, Steve turns his garage into an ad hoc distribution center for an herbal concoction he encourages his son to drink.  To advance his son's place on the waiting list of a Chinese neurosurgeon who performs olfactory cell transplantation, he recruits other ALS patients for the procedure.  The results are dubious, in some cases perhaps fatal.  After these strategies fail to reverse Byer's physical decline, and place others at risk, the camera rolls during a family showdown that exposes their fears and desperation as it acknowledges their love.  This memorable scene does so in a way that's consistent with the rest of the film: by letting the camera show, not tell. 

Even the many moments when Byer's family help him with daily activities and his most reflective moments at the end of his film resist sentimentality and easy didacticism.  Byer's equally irrepressible young son John raises a fork wound thick with pasta to his father's mouth and loops his belt through his pants, setting off giggles all around.  The ordinariness and extraordinariness of these acts, the learning of selflessness, the uneasy acceptance of dependency, the inevitability of loss are told through such images or captured in fragments lifted from daily conversations.  Bathing Byer, his brother Josh matter-of-factly says, "You don't have all the time in the world":  a searing acknowledgment of Byer's decline that reminds us of all human fragility.  The closing scenes of the film unobtrusively place Byer's solitary experience in the long history of the search for meaning in human struggle.  They record his wobbly, yet victorious ascent of Masada, supported by Josh, right after we hear a rabbi recount Camus's version of the myth of Sisyphus. 

 

View full annotation

In My Language

Baggs, Amanda

Last Updated: Jan-30-2009
Annotated by:
Garden, Rebecca

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Web Video

Summary:

This eight-and-a-half-minute video begins with a woman rocking in front of a window and waving her hands. We hear a woman’s voice singing the sound of “e,” almost without melody. The first half of the video follows this woman’s activities: a shot of her hand rhythmically scraping a looped wire against the surface of a door, repetitively stroking a keyboard, batting at the pull chain for window blinds, and bouncing an orange plastic slinky. The woman rubs her face against the pages of an open book and rocks and listens to the sound of the book’s pages as she flips through them.

Halfway through this short video, text appears: “A Translation.” What follows—in the form of a voiceover and subtitle text—is more than a translation of the autistic woman’s actions just observed. It is a manifesto revealing and protesting the assumptions often made about people with autism and how those assumptions have led to institutionalization and the exclusion of people with autism from the category of persons.

View full annotation