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This documentary video follows the making of an opera, based on the illness experiences of four Australians who have been diagnosed and treated for cancer. Their feelings about these experiences are translated into music (with lyrics) as they work closely with music therapist/composer, Emma O'Brien. As the three women and one man tell their stories of physical debility and emotional pain, the music therapist asks them to think in terms of color (they choose purple, black) and tones and rhythms that she plays for them on the piano.
When the narratives and their musical representations have evolved sufficiently, trained singers take on the roles "written" for them by the four former patients; the latter continue to be intimately involved in the opera's production, directed by David Kram. At the end of the project, which is also the conclusion of the film, the opera is performed in front of an audience (with musicians playing instruments, singing, and dramatic enactment) and the four people whose illness experience is performed take their bows together with the singers.
The documentary film opens with the filmmaker, Susan Smiley, in search of her mother, Millie, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and who, once again, has disappeared into the woefully inadequate public health care system of middle America. Through old photographs and home movies, interviews with family members and health care professionals, and voice-over and direct narration by Smiley herself, the film chronicles the descent of a young, beautiful woman in her twenties into severe and chronic mental illness.
When Millie’s marriage to their father fails, Susan and her younger sister, Tina, are essentially abandoned to endure severe physical and emotional abuse by their mother. As the years unfold, Millie eventually loses her home and embarks on a journey of evictions, arrests, hospitalizations, and homelessness. At what seems to be Millie’s lowest point, warehoused in a nursing home where she is angrily refusing to take any medication, her daughters intervene, petition for guardianship, and navigate the system on behalf of their mother.
Summary:The devoted, and antagonistic, bond between a dramatic, charismatic widow (Shirley MacLaine) and her quietly rebellious daughter (Debra Winger) is the focal point of this film's exploration of a range of human relationships and their changes over time and under various pressures, including that of serious illness. The major focus of the last part of the film is the illness and death of the daughter from cancer and its impact on her mother, her husband and children, and their immediate circle of friends and lovers.
Thirty-one-year-old waitress and aspiring (but inexperienced) boxer Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) tries to get aging trainer-coach Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) to take her on, but where Maggie is unstoppably optimistic, Frankie is worn out, even burned out, and he repeatedly refuses. The two are brought together by Frankie's assistant, ex-fighter Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris (Morgan Freeman). Freeman, whom the other characters call Scrap, narrates the film.
Maggie and Frankie have their ups and down, but Maggie rapidly becomes a formidable boxer, a great favorite with fans. Eventually she finds herself in the ring as challenger for the world welterweight title. The unscrupulous defender delivers an illegal punch to Maggie, resulting in a fall that leaves her paralyzed below the neck.
At this point the story turns from boxing to Maggie's injury, which is incurable and worsening because she is bedridden. After Maggie loses a leg to bed sores, she tells Frankie that she doesn't want to go on, and she asks him to put her out of her misery. Short as her career has been, she has known success and happiness beyond the dreams of her dirt-poor upbringing, and she wants to leave life while she can still remember those good things.
Frankie, a serious Catholic, has religious qualms. His priest tells him not to get involved. From his own point of view, Frankie has come to feel attached to Maggie, and at first he steadfastly refuses Maggie's request. Maggie, unable to act in any other way, bites her tongue violently in an attempt to bleed herself to death. After witnessing her agony, Frankie tells the priest that keeping Maggie close to him--in other words, not killing her--has come to feel like a sin. He then acts to rid himself of that sin. He covertly removes her air supply and then injects her with adrenalin. Frankie does not return to his gym, vanishing without a word.
Noah Praetorius (Cary Grant) is a physician who cares for patients as human beings and not just bodies. His unorthodox methods are being challenged by Dr. Elwell (Hume Cronyn), who wishes to discredit Praetorius by exposing the secrets of his past. While Elwell investigates, Praetorius cares for a pregnant, unwed student (Jeanne Crain), who on learning of her condition, tries to commit suicide.
In order to give her hope, Praetorius tells the student that he was mistaken about her pregnancy and eventually marries her. In the conclusion, Praetorius reveals to a committee his secret life, which includes the historical questionable necessity of procuring his own cadaver for anatomy study, and wins the day.
In 1950 London, lower middle-class (but upper middle- aged) Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) devotes herself to family and "helping" others. With empathic cheeriness, she visits shut-ins, provides tea for the bedridden, feeds lonely men, and "brings on their bleeding" for girls in trouble. She also tends her cantankerous, ailing mother, who has never revealed the identity of Vera’s father.
The men in Vera’s life are bruised and confused by end of the war. Exuding affection, she cooks, irons, sews, and listens to their litanies of loss and derring-do. Her son, Sid, is an extroverted clothing salesman and her dowdy daughter, Ethel (Alex Kelly), is a pathologically shy factory-worker; neither seems adequate for the task of living alone. But Vera and her husband, Stan (Phil Davis), are happy in each other, their offspring, and their modest existence.
Only the friend, Nellie, knows of the help for young girls. She extracts a secret two-guinea fee for advising the girl, but Vera receives not a penny. Over the years, the two women have solved problems for mothers with too many children, mothers with no man, and mothers who were raped. They also safely abort insouciant party girls who are blas?about men, sex, and consequences.
But a young girl falls seriously ill following an abortion and is sent to hospital. Under pressure from police, the girl’s mother divulges Vera’s name. The police barge in to arrest her just as the Drake family celebrates Ethel’s engagement to one of the lonely men, Reg (Eddie Marsan).
The criminal charges come as a complete surprise to the family. Sid seethes with anger and disbelief, but Stan’s implicit faith in his wife brings him and the others to support her through the long trial. The judge hands her a stiff thirty-month sentence intended "as a deterrent." But in prison, Vera meets two other abortionists who tell her that she is lucky: both are serving much longer, second sentences, because their "girls" had died.
Film clips of Cary Grant as the consummate anatomy professor in 0100 (see this database) are interspersed with comments from contemporary gross anatomy students, two medical school faculty intimately connected with dissection and the body donation tradition, and a live body donor. In what ways "yes" and "no" could both be proper responses to the statement, "A cadaver in the classroom is not a dead human being" is the key premise, beautifully presented in the cut-aways, organization, and editing of this piece.
The structure of the film is an as-if dialogue between young dissectors and soon-to-be cadaver (the body donor). Interviews heighten and explore the relationship between the living and the dead--and not just medical students and body donors. The medical students do not speak directly with the future donor, though we see him shaking hands with them, visiting (and speculating on) the spot where his remains will eventually be deposited. The video concludes with a moving annual ritual, the disposition of body donors' cremated remains at sea.
This film by Danish filmmakers focuses on two Scots, Wilbur (Jamie Sives) and his older, considerate brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins), who own a family buy-and-sell bookshop, North Books, in Glasgow. The opening movie credits intersperse with Wilbur's suicide attempt by pills and gassing himself. Wilbur's attempt is thwarted first by the fact that he has to put more coins into the apartment gas meter, and then by his brother, whom Wilbur had telephoned just before losing consciousness. Wilbur continues suicide attempts throughout much of the movie, with methods that range from the absurd to the disturbingly tragic.
The brothers' father had recently died and several scenes occur at a hillside cemetery. Surrounded by imposing stone monuments, the brothers' parents are buried without markers, but with a view, if you cock your head and imagine, of the bookshop. The tragedy of the mother's death when Wilbur was only 5 years old, is invoked to explain much of Wilbur's disturbance.
Early in the movie, Alice (Shirley Henderson), a waif-like single mother who cleans the operating and trauma theatres and sells books she finds at the hospital to the bookshop, is introduced, along with her soon to be 9 year old daughter, Mary (Lisa McKinlay). Alice and Harbour wed, and Mary presciently plunks a penguin eraser she has just received atop the wedding cake next to the bride and groom: "That's Wilbur," she says.
Two hospital workers feature prominently in the film. Horst (Mads Mikkelsen) is a Danish ex-pat physician and "senior psychologist." He chain smokes, distances himself from the group therapy he supposedly supervises, and yet deftly discusses bad news with Harbour in several scenes. The psychiatric nurse, Moira (Julia Davis), however, who, with ever-changing hairstyles and inappropriate nurse-patient interactions, acts primarily as comic relief, delivers the same bad news with unthinking, devastating directness.
In his mid-twenties and having been estranged from his family since his mid-teens, Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) returns home to New Jersey for a few days to attend his mother's funeral. The world he meets there (in "The Garden State," ironically) is persistently unnatural and weird. His old school friends are leading grotesque and diminished lives, and Andrew dislikes and dreads his father, a psychiatrist played by Ian Holm, because of the prehistory we discover in mid-film. (Andrew's mother had suffered with depression, and young Andrew hated her for it. One day, aged 9, he gave her a shove, and freak circumstances led to a hard fall and her becoming paraplegic. Fifteen years later she has died in her bathtub, perhaps a suicide--although that isn't mentioned in the film.)
Andrew keeps his psychic distance from all this, with one fortunate exception: By chance he meets Samantha or "Sam" (Natalie Portman), a sweet loopy girl his age who lives in a child-like room in her mother's house and has a tendency to lie a lot and then confess. She and Andrew take a liking to each other, and a relationship develops that eventually helps Andrew come to terms with his mother's death, with his role in the tragic prehistory, and, thus, with his father and his own life, now able to begin, finally, as a young adult.
A stern, old doctor (Victor Sjostrom) is preparing to travel by car to Lund to receive an honorary degree. He has a disquieting dream in which he perceives his own death as the frightening, lonely end to a hollow existence. In the morning, his gruff demeanor is considerably altered by the intimations of mortality. His daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin), who has inexplicably been visiting, decides to accompany him to Lund. En route they encounter a trio of mirthful teenagers, a bickering married couple, and grateful patients. They also visit the doctor's mother.
The dream and the journey unleash a recurring flood of memories of youthful summers at the family home among the wild strawberries and of his unrequited love for a beautiful cousin. He learns that his daughter-in-law is pregnant, but his only son is about to repeat his mistakes by rejecting an emotional bond with his wife and his future child in the empty pursuit of professional achievement. The pregnancy is the reason she left her husband to visit his father. At the end, the doctor establishes a small but real rapport with his son and achieves a degree of understanding about his own life.