Saturday, 12:30 p.m. - Wow. I just came out of the world premiere screening of “Life. Support. Music.” It’s the remarkable story of Jason Crigler, a young guitarist and father-to-be who suffered a brain hemorrhage while on stage in New York City. It appeared at first that he likely would not recover and that, if he did, he would be in a vegetative state. Yet his family—most prominently his wife, sister, and divorced parents—driven by their courage, their love for him, and signs that the person they knew as Jason was still inside his broken body, refused to give up. With doctors telling them he wasn’t there, they persisted, devoting themselves to spending time with him round the clock, sending him what his sister terms “smoke signals,” drawing him out, stimulating the parts of his body and brain that lay dormant. The film carefully chronicles their and his agonizing progress to a miraculous recovery.
I could not be more impressed with director Eric Daniel Metzgar’s telling of the story. It helps that there is such a wonderful story to tell—the family’s love and heroism, their humble gratitude for the good medical care Jason received and the miracle in which they all participated, and their ability to be present in all aspects of the retelling are awe-inspiring--and one could not wish for a happier ending. But Metzgar does not rest on that. There is an ineffable exploration going in his retelling—captured in pictures of Jason in childhood and in his young adulthood and then in the moments when he appears to be most lost--floating around a question: what was the family responding to, what signs of Jason did they see even when the doctors saw no sign of him? The question persists as Jason now indicates that he has no memory of the first year-and-a-half after his hemorrhage in August 2004. With no agenda in mind, I asked the question afterwards, and Jason’s sister and father commented on the various signs they saw, particularly in Jason’s very particular humor, which emerged so persistently and at moments when they least expected it. Then Metzgar suggested what I’d been sensing: that what the family saw and responded to, because they knew Jason so intimately, was his soul. Doctors don’t treat that, he said simply. They treat the body; they look for signs of life in the body. The family saw his soul.
It’s too early to tell what kind of distribution this film may attract; Metzgar hopes for a television audience. I’ll keep a look out for it.
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. – My second movie of the day was “Beautiful Son,” in which Don and Julianne King, the parents of Beau, document their journey into the world of autism. They, like many other parents, report that Beau “descended” into autism at age 3 after seeming perfectly normal in his early years. They look everywhere for answers, and find a growing number of other American families facing similar struggles, many of whom have concluded that the problem for their children can be traced to mercury in American vaccines. (Mercury was removed from vaccines in Europe more than a decade ago.) One of the producers answered questions after the film and reported that the film will air on local public television stations but did not succeed in obtaining a national air date because the film was too controversial; the filmmakers refused, for example, to remove references to reports from some families that alternative therapies which remove mercury from the child’s system have led to recovery. For being such a personal film, I thought it retained a remarkably balanced tone on a topic for which about the clearest conclusion possible seems to be that political and economic interests are prolonging the confusion. You can watch for air dates and find other info on the film at www.beautifulson.com.
Sunday, 12:45 a.m. – “Man On Wire” tells the astounding story of Phillippe Petit’s walk (his dance, really) across a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. I knew a bit about this incident and thought it would be interesting to learn more about it, but was completely unprepared for how profoundly it would affect me. It turns out that Petit originally wanted to make a film about the feat way back while it was happening, so a lot of footage exists from that time period of his extensive preparations back in France and in New York City, as well as footage of his earlier feats scaling Notre Dame and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The older footage, which captures the youthful exuberance of Petit and his friends as they experiment and argue about with how to execute “le coup,” as they termed it, contrasts poignantly with the footage of them 30 years later remembering the experience in joyous and occasional reverent detail.
The cast of characters is fascinating. Petit, especially, is an extraordinarily complex person—all exuberance and guts, delighting in the prospect of doing something illegal and impossible. He dreamed of walking between the towers while they were still being built and, through the force of his charisma and narcissism, compelled strangers and friends to go to great personal risk and effort to assist him. His achievement is a gift of pure joy and beauty, astounding to behold. And the event profoundly affected those who assisted him, particularly his girlfriend and a childhood friend who are quite compelling characters in their own right. The impact of their success on all of them and on their relationships is unexpectedly profound. The film, which will be released by Magnolia Pictures, is funny and absorbing, and also inexpressibly moving.
You don’t need to watch for the last two films I saw today. “City of Cranes” is a mildly interesting short meditation on cranes and the people who operate them. I saw it with an Iranian film, “Tehran Has No More Pomegranates!,” which left me literally nauseous with all its noise and jumpy camera work. It was clearly meant to be a colorful and humorous trip through Iran’s cultural history (which interests me quite a bit, actually) but I couldn’t find a foothold. I doubt most people will get the chance.