American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Alive Inside," directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, is a passionate documentary with a lot of valuable information to impart, and a laudable humanist agenda to push. Unfortunately, it’s also not a particularly good movie. In fact, at certain points it can be an actively annoying one.
The subject is how music can awaken the minds of people suffering from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease (the movie also chronicles, briefly, the music therapy undergone by an MS sufferer). It shows patients reacting to exposure to what had been their favorite music in a different time in their lives, and this footage, although it arguably infantilizes the individuals depicted, also depicts impressive results. The movie goes on to indict the American healthcare system/industry, which, apparently, is more interested in pushing costly pharmaceutical treatments than any kind of therapeutic model. As a result, souls, hearts, and lives are receding when maybe they don’t have to be.
Pertinent well-known experts make their views known. Neurologist Oliver Sacks, the author of a book on the effects of music on the brain, offers solid science; musician Bobby McFerrin is an articulate proponent of those qualities of music that can’t be scientifically quantified. They’re illuminating.
Mr. Rossato-Bennett, alas, is less engaging, and he’s the most insistent voice in the film. Crafting the movie as a work of activism, he’s pretty much the anti-Nicolas-Philibert, whose films such as "In The Land Of The Deaf" immersed viewers in a different state of being. He frames the experience of the patients through his own lens explicitly from the very start, stating in his narration of working with physician and music therapy pioneer Dan Cohen, “What unfolded that first day moved me so much…” that he had to etcetera, etcetera. The narration (“We went looking for answers”) and off-screen questions (“You like the music you’re hearing? Tell me about the music”) are insistently pushy and intrusive throughout—and the visual approach is a greeting-card one, at best.
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