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Issue 13,  July 13, 2009     —      Wider Screenings, A Self-Healing World

In this issue:   FEATURE: Gay Hendricks, How the Upper Limit Problem Works   Guy Finley, Liberating Lessons in a Tale of Two Selves   E-Myth, 5 Skills Essential for Success   Caroline Sutherland, Stomach Problems   Sharon Elaine, Affirmations for Entrepreneurs   Benjamin Fry, Relationships   Ton Pascal, Dream Your Life Positively   Wider Screenings, A Self-Healing World   Events   Reviews   Earlier issues   Submit Article

                                                        with Robert Cettl

A Self-Healing World
Health, Faith, Heartiness and World Cinema  

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There is a saying: “at least you have your health”.  Behind this is the belief that fitness is paramount.  In accordance with this sentiment, the medical profession is culturally elevated to something approaching omniscience.  The status of a beneficent medical professional, however, carries with it complex ambiguities and absurdities in those feature films that have dealt with such as a whole and the type of people who seek to practice it rather than merely receive the benefits of its wisdom and technology. 

The unquestioned nobility of the medical establishment, and the figure of the surgeon, was invoked in the Douglas Sirk melodrama, Magnificent Obsession.  Here, an arrogant man (Rock Hudson) is responsible for an accident in which a woman (Jane Wyman) is blinded.  Feeling responsible, he falls in love with her and goes to medical school in the hope that one day he can operate on his love and cure her.  The film being a “weepie” of the kind so popular in the 1950s, he manages to do just that – the surgeon here becomes a romantic hero.  Although that sense of passionate conviction was appealing to audiences and made the film a smash hit of the day, even if the critics felt it a trivial so-called “women’s picture”, subsequent films have been infected by an almost viral cynicism regarding this selfless benevolence.

This is evident in two films directed by former doctors turned filmmakers.  First, there is Australia’s George (Mad Max) Miller, who used his Hollywood connections to set up Lorenzo’s Oil.  This film, based on a true story, concerned a couple (Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon) whose very young son is infected by an incurable disease.  The medical establishment is powerless to help the boy and urges his parents to accept the inevitably short and limited life the doctors consider is the boy’s lot.  The parents reject this hopeless medical “realism” and do their own research, soon uncovering a breakthrough which results in a treatment for their son’s condition.  Second, is best-selling author Michael (Jurassic Park) Crichton, who used his science-fiction thriller Coma to turn against his own profession and depict a callous world of high-powered surgeons who deliberately make patients comatose in order to harvest their organs for high-paying buyers: the medical profession was controlled by market forces.

Market forces indeed exert tremendous pressure on the medical establishment.  In addition to truly questionable ethics is the simple business of running a hospital.  Satirist Lindsay Anderson tackled this in the biting Britannia Hospital, in which a British hospital is beset by union strikes amongst its kitchen staff during a planned Royal visit, much to the annoyance of the hospital’s private patients; even though the Frankenstein-like chief surgeon is pre-occupied with his own experiments to create life.  In contrast to the power-obsessed doctor above, the everyday operations of a hospital was the domain of doctor George C. Scott in The Hospital, so besotted by the blunders of the hospital over which he presides (including the surgeons under him operating on the wrong patients due to stuff-ups at the processing level) that he is now impotent, not helped by the male menopause which propels his sense of inadequacy nor by the young woman (Diana Rigg) advocating he take LSD (then a popular drug in the early 1970s and immortalized by The Beatles in the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds).

A characterization thus emerging was that of the doctor as victim or monster, the latter segueing into horror movies about killer doctors (such as Dr. Giggles), whilst in the case of the former, the allegorical overtones remained highly suited to a variety of dramatic and comedic interpretations.  One of the most harrowing was that in Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris, a success of the renaissance in Australian film in the 1970s.  In this black comedy, a small town purposely causes traffic accidents and plunders the booty resulting from such.  The inevitable human casualties are taken in by the local doctor, who experiments on them, effectively creating an entire underclass (whom the locals call “veggies”) of diseased and disabled people who depend on his benevolence in order to live what is left of their lives.  On a more solemn level, the real political power of the medical establishment to keep patients dependent in order to validate their funded existence was explored in another Aussie drama, Annie’s Coming Out – about the institutionalization of people with cerebral palsy.

Yet not all doctors were monsters and a number of films explored the realistic issues affecting hospital staff.  Hence William Hurt in The Doctor becomes more empathetic towards patients when he faces a throat cancer scare, and medical student Mathew Modine in Gross Anatomy realizes that no matter how good he may be, it is natural human empathy alone that will transform him into a truly good doctor rather than his impersonal, proficient training.  Thus, although the public hold generally to a view of the importance of the medical profession, films have been both supportive and sceptical about the ways in which our society elevates such to paramount importance and in the process almost deifies it.    ###

Playing the Opposite Gender
(an extract from Robert Cettl’s book Film Tales: Movie Trivia in the Age of DVD)

Academy Award winning actor Dustin Hoffman once wondered aloud what it would be like to play a woman.  A writer friend who heard the comment subsequently developed a script about mistaken gender identity which fell into the hands of comedy writer Larry Gelbart (best known for his stint on TV’s MASH) who combined it with Hoffman’s interest in doing something about the rigours of the acting profession to create the script for Tootsie.  As the film would require Hoffman to spend much time in drag, the actor felt he could only do the part if he could really pass as a woman.  Thus, to prove the point, he dressed as a woman and went into the world outside, effectively fooling teachers and staff at his children’s school and, most brazenly, even indecently propositioning acclaimed actor Jose Ferrer in an elevator, apparently offering to fellate him.  Ferrer was distraught as he left the elevator, wondering to his friends who that “scumbag woman” was.  Even with Hoffman attached, the project passed through numerous would-be directors and was about to be shelved when Sydney Pollack came in and got along well enough with Hoffman to make the film despite Pollack insisting on creative control.  The film proved a huge hit and one of the most all-time beloved comedies.

Wider Screenings
columnist Robert Cettl has a B.A (Hons) in Film Study from the Flinders University of South Australia, which included an international scholarship to the University of Southern Illinois in the USA.  He has post-graduate qualifications in Librarianship and Information Management from UniSA.  In addition to popular DVD reviewing, his writing for McFarland (one of the leading American publishers of film non-fiction) has been collected by such as Yale University Library and the British Film Institute.  His forthcoming work for this market (for release in 2010) is Terrorism in American Cinema: a comprehensive analysis of terrorism as a genre from fears of PLO inspired homeland attacks in Black Sunday to the outright denouncement of the Bush War on Terror in W.  His previous work includes the above extracted Film Tales, now on sale and coming soon as an ebook through Inkstone Digital and Amazon Kindle in association with No Limits.  For analysis and commentary on individual films mentioned in this column (and hundreds of others) and for updates on the latest Hollywood hits and choicest DVD releases, Wider Screenings is now on Twitter.  Any @ reply will be duly answered – there are no automated DMs or tweets.  If tweeting, please mention film title in tweet: requests for films/DVDs to be reviewed are welcomed and given priority.  Free print copies of Film Tales can be won in the tweet ‘n win Film Buff Quiz.  First tweet request being incorporated into Wider Screenings is a retrospective of actor Warren Oates beginning with the film Cockfighter, a seldom seen look at cockfighting in the Southern States and a film still banned in England.

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