Anna Fitch

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The Genius of Marian

Fitch, Anna; White, Banker

Last Updated: Sep-16-2019
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


Pamela Steele White was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of sixty-one. A year later, in 2009, as her disease progression was evident, her son Banker, a documentary filmmaker, turned his camera on, and he kept it on until the autumn of 2012. His mother lived another four years.  

The film begins showing the cruelest of ironies at work. Pam looks up at the camera, introduces herself, and says she’s working on a project she calls, “The Genius of Marian.” Marian is her late mother, who was an accomplished painter. She had Alzheimer’s disease before she died in 2001. Pam’s purpose with her project was to keep her mother alive “by at least not forgetting who she was.” Alas, she confesses she hadn’t been working on the project because she had forgot about it until just recently. 

The film covers Pam’s plight over the next three years in various settings that show her mental and physical capabilities at the time. She answers questions family members and her doctor pose; we see her on family outings, and at moments when she’s captured alone lost in her thoughts, and lost in her house. We mostly see her struggle with memories and words, and with physical coordination (e.g., putting on a jacket). Some conversations reveal that Pam exhibited aggression and agitation, but we never see any of these episodes, only some nonviolent defiance on occasion. 

Family members are also a focus, mostly in the form of interviews. Pam’s husband of 40 years, Ed, is interviewed several times throughout the span of the film. As we see Pam’s capabilities diminish, we see Ed’s burden compound and his responses gather pathos. Pam’s only daughter and her younger son are interviewed and shown with their mother to a lesser degree. Some friends of many years are interviewed once or twice to round out the perspectives on Pam’s course over the time of the filming. 

The film is augmented with family movies capturing scenes of Pam and her brother with their parents, of Pam and Ed with their children, and of Pam and Ed with their children's children. These scenes are often spliced into the documentary footage to show similar outings at similar locations across the three generations.

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