Film review: “Detroit” (2017)

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This new film by the director of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker is generating a bit of buzz, including some from me. Katherine Bigelow is a world-class director and rave reviews and Oscars have greeted her previous films. This film requires a little more perspective. No spoilers here. Look up the story line on “rotten tomatoes.com” or IMDB.

The film brutally depicts some events embedded in a 1967 race-related riot in the city of Detroit. The use of a historical backdrop as a base for drama involving named individuals for whom a story is told as technically a “docu-drama”. Facts and factoids are depicted according to the recollections of some individuals involved that are still alive, which is a dangerous thing.

People involved in any “real-life” drama remember things differently depending on their perspectives and biases. The film is unclear which of these players are spinning the story line and where the biases lay. The “real” facts according to some completely objective observer are largely unknown but the aftermath was clear.

Also unclear how the story might be biased according to Katherine Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, both of whom are white and Bigelow known for biasing toward the utility of torturing to obtain information (in Zero Dark Thirty). Finally, unclear also as to what the necessity was for a whole lot of seemingly endless gratuitous brutality. A story that could equally be told with more subtlety.

As I have mentioned before, there’s a whole lot of difference between a documentary (read- Ken Burns) and a docu-drama that can and frequently does take a “creative” liberties to tell a story sellable to the ticking purchasing audience. Did Bigelow and Boal specifically intend to over-emphasize graphic, gratuitous violence to wag their fingers at society because these things happen or to be historically accurate? If so, how that that improve the aura of the film? Very unclear to me and I’m quite suspicious of it.

Failing all the above, the actors are outstanding, the camera work is riveting and the story line is interesting to say the least. I think it merits a very hesitant and skeptical recommendation. It’s too long and the brutality becomes overwrought quickly. We’ll never know the stark reality what happened that day, but we’ll see one viewpoint of it, and that should be kept in mind.

The actors, writer and director on Charlie Rose Friday night:

https://charlierose.com/videos/30851

With some hesitation, I give it four of five baby-faced cops. See with realistic expectations if you have an interest.

 

 

 

Film Review: “Dunkirk” (2017)

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We live in an increasingly, for want of a more descriptive term, “technological” society that can be effortlessly depicted in soulless, technological terms. Witness the rise of “superhero” films with computer generated special effects (CGI- Computer Generated Interface) to make the impossible (even the ridiculous) amenable to the visual imagination. Comic books for the new Millennium.

One would think that the history of film has come to a real bifurcation. One road, reality in the personal experiences of real people on real film (Manchester by the Sea- 2016) and the other computer creations saving the world from other computer creations (The Avengers- 2012). The “artistic” value of one road seemingly balanced by the pyrotechnic value of the other. However, those roads are melding somewhat as filmmakers learn to judiciously use computer graphics to make very artistic films.

In “War for Planet of the Apes” (2017), one might consider the incredible facial ape morphing to human qualities, including a wide range of emotion, fear, anger and frustration. Combined with a fairly rational plot line and stunning cinematography, the Apes film is really very interesting and worth a look for this masterful use of CGI to mimic an alternate quasi-human reality.

 

 

“Dunkirk”- (2017) is one such film that couldn’t have been made without computer graphics, but it doesn’t let that fact interfere with the incredible visual and emotional effect of the film, given stellar ratings by virtually all the critics this week.

The film depicts a campaign that began in late May 1940 in the French port city of Dunkirk, where nearly 400,000 Allied soldiers were trapped on a vast beach by the Germans, whose aircraft picked at them like fish in a barrel. The British faced the capture or possible annihilation of their troops. Rescue seemed impossible as German artillery and torpedoes vanquished any approaching ship.

338,226 men escaped aboard 861 privately owned small vessels, of which 243 were sunk during the operation. British Fighter Command lost 106 aircraft dogfighting over Dunkirk, and the Luftwaffe lost about 135. It was a truly awesome feat.

Directed by Chris Nolan (The Dark Knight- 2008). A world-class cast including Sir Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and especially Tom Hardy whose entire character as a Spitfire pilot is emoted from his eyes and gestures. One of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen, worth the price of admission just for Tom Hardy’s incredible performance in which he had only ten lines.

“Dunkirk” is one of the most finely textured and nuanced films of this decade. It’s a film where the cinematography tells the story, allowing the audience to understand the goings on with minimal spoken dialogue. It falls into place because the images tell the tale. Yes, there is CGI in place mainly to show the vastness of the scenes that could not have been depicted any other way. But the CGI does not interfere with the artistry which is world-class masterful.

This is the most visually stunning film this year, as good as it gets. I enthusiastically give it five of five burning Spitfires. Absolutely a must see.

“The Mummy (2017): Anatomy of a truly bad movie.

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Opened with scathing reviews (“Deserves a quick burial”) and a whopping 18% on the Tomatometer, maybe a new low. So I had to see it. Now that it’s mercifully over, I’m sitting back reflecting on the nature of bad movies.

Good movies are easy to dissect. Cinematography, directing, performances, plot all come together as in “Manchester by the Sea” (2016) and “The Revenant” (2016). Bad film is a little more difficult to understand the nuts and bolts, although in the immortal words of SCOTUS Justice Potter Stephens’ comment “I know it when I see it”.

There are really two different kinds of bad films. Bad production and bad writing.

“Cleopatra” (1963) wasn’t bad, just expensive.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra_(1963_film)

The gold standard of bad production is “”Plan 9 from outer space” by Edward D. Wood in 1959.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_9_from_Outer_Space

Bella Lugosi died halfway through the film and was replaced by Edward’s chiropractor in a hood and cape. The production was insanely amateurish using common household items as props.

But much can be forgiven in 1959 low budget productions. The new millennium produced bad writing and very bad screenplays, the gold standard of which is “Stayin’ Alive” (1977), said by critics to be a vision of the end of film as an art form. “Showgirls” (1995), feminine beauty molded into bad taste. “Patch Adams” (1998), did for doctors what Theodoric of York did for the Renaissance. “What Dreams May Come” (1998), a film so profoundly depressing half the patrons went straight home to stick their heads into an oven.

Then came the unchecked hubris of directors/actors. “Battlefield Earth” (2000), the most universally shellacked movie maybe of all time. “Heaven’s Gate” (1980), an incredibly bad film that failed on every possible level, brought down the studio that produced it and destroyed the director’s career. Books have been written about it.

The list goes on and on.

‘The Mummy” with an otherwise stellar cast of Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and Courtney B. Vance (Law & Order back in the 90s) is in a class by itself.

 

 

Bad plot, bad script, bad screenplay, bad acting and gratuitous CGI special effects. A vacuous Full Monte. Possibly the most inane and absurd interpretation of plot particulars by experienced actors I’ve seen in many years.

(Warning: gentle spoiler ahead). Tom Cruise and his pal, “real” soldiers in Iraq said to be out on a “Long Range Patrol”, (presumably for information gathering) but actually sifting through ruins looking to grab artifacts for the black market? In civilian clothes? Then conferring with a colonel right off a helicopter who seems to know them and what they’re up to? An LRRP? A Field Grade officer that even knows what any low grade enlisted guy look like? Think it couldn’t get sillier? Oh, but it does, and never lets up.

One might think that the director is intentionally trying to make a campy film but I don’t think so. Tom Cruise acts like this is a “real” production. Russell Crowe can barely keep a straight face during his antics. I think this was meant to be a serious “horror thriller” film and it definitely succeeds but for all the wrong reasons.

The Mummy is truly a bad film on every level, a frenzied quest for the summit of Mount Bad. A plot so silly it defies rational explanation. Overwrought actors trying to look dignified in simply ridiculous plot lines. What criteria did experienced actors use to choose this script? It’s worse than “Springtime for Hitler” (“The Producers”, 1968). Career enders for all involved?

Probably not. Tom Cruise is a good actor and will go on to make better films. Unsure about Russell Crowe. Critic Glenn Kenny made an excellent point writing for Roger Ebert.com: “As Richard Harris and Richard Burton found out many years before Crowe came along, there comes a time in the career of every loose-cannon macho actor where the any-port-in-a-financial-year-storm approach to career management is all for the best”.

This is a truly terrible experience. Everyone connected with this film should be embarrassed and ashamed of this production, especially outstanding actor Russell Crowe whose contemptibly stupid performance should earn him every Razzie in the book.

I give it ZERO stars out of five creepy CGI manipulations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film review: “Jackie” (2016)

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02-jackie-portman-w529-h529“Jackie” (2016), interestingly not yet released in wide distribution is playing at the Manor in Shadyside, one of my favorite theaters. The Manor gets everything first.

Unclear what the incentive is to re-explore this history, arguably the worst saga that the emerging modern United States ever endured. Some things should maybe be relegated to dry history books rather than Natalie Portman’s wrenching performance of a woman in the public eye’s unimaginable shock and grief. Maybe not many of you in this group were there on November 22, 1963. Like Zelig, I was and I remember the fine details to this day. The news break-in from a soap opera:

Followed by a profound shock that covered the country like a big wet blanket. Everything, EVERYTHING stopped dead in its tracks. No one went to work, businesses closed, no traffic. Every American that had one was glued to (then) ancient black & White televisions or radios. Schools closed. Crowds gathered to storefront picture windows to watch. There was an eerie silence everywhere. The radio stations played funeral dirge music continuously. Children were terrified as were their parents. No one really knew what was possible next.

Natalie Portman is an excellent, multi-decorated actress and she poured herself into the persona of a woman in the public eye who very intimately experienced the destruction of her life and the life of her country in a virtual heartbeat. Losing a husband on the world’s largest stage. In all seriousness, I can’t think of another contemporary actress that could have brought this to a screen. Her physical similarity to Jackie is striking as is her voice and manner.

But there was a lot more to this woman than her ability to stand and persist following this unqualified disaster. Jackie knew two things intuitively. That the American public, millions of them, were watching her during this aftermath and counting on her to show strength and resilience. No one in post-modern America had ever experienced anything like this and they clearly needed pillars of strength to point toward a better future. Mrs. Dead president was clearly that person.

Jackie also knew that the remembrance of history is the written word, written after facts, suggesting the initial scenes where a world-class writer is engaged to write the intimate history of the aftermath insuring her husband’s rightful place as Jackie saw it, not as a politician might. (That actor, Billy Crudup is based on presidential biographer Theodore H. White, who wrote “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue,” a Life Magazine article that ran one week after Kennedy’s assassination).

This Is the Real <i>Jackie</i> Interview With LIFE Magazine

Toward both of those ends, Jackie demanded a spectacle for the funeral and burial of JFK, and she very nearly didn’t get it, as there were concerns that there may be more shooters out there. In the end, the entire pageant played out to her specifications. Mother and children front & center at the Rotunda, followed by all marching to St. Mathews, a distance of 8 city blocks behind a rider-less horse with boots reversed in stirrups. Watched by millions along the route and on television. It was a spectacle no one believed could have ever happened.

Parenthetically, following the assassination of Jack Kennedy’s brother Bobby, a train carrying the body to it’s final resting place was met by literally standing room only people along the route for it’s entire length. I think would have been a radically different world had Robert F. Kennedy lived.

This is a “historical figure contemplates self” film that relies completely on Natalie Portman’s ability to morph into her subject. She becomes Jackie Kennedy is a very real and convincing way, warts and all.

Interestingly, watch for something I noticed. During the film, the director portrays some of Jackie’s 1962 tour of the White House, using ancient 16 mm cameras and film digitally doctored to appear as early ‘60s black & white viewing screens. These scenes are scattered throughout the film. Keep your eye out for one of these scenes near the end of the film. You’ll notice that in this one clip, the audio of Jackie (Natalie) speaking for the camera doesn’t match. Look closely at the woman in this clip. I’m VERY convinced they slipped a clip of the real Jackie in there and most of the audience didn’t notice. The resemblance is nearly perfect except the real Jackie as a bit larger mouth. The director, Pablo Larraín, later hinted that they played around a bit with some of these clips. Jackie had to stand for herself as an ordinary woman but also for Jackie the historical figure, the myth, especially for the myth of Camelot she embraced and promoted.

Predating the Kennedy assassination by three years, the “real” Camelot on Broadway starring Richard Burton and Julie Andrews played for 873 performances in 1960 and earned four Tony’s. It got mixed reviews at the time but spawned an eponymous movie in 1967 (Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave). The sound track album topped the charts for 60 weeks. The plot of Camelot involved a mythical kingdom of equal peers that functioned to political and social perfection, much like Sangri la. Then, inevitably, jealously, greed, covetousness and dishonor color the perfection, bringing it to ground, never to resurrect. Richard Burton’s speech reminding Arthur of the idealism and hope that he had as a young king haunts to this day. “For one brief shining moment…….there was Camelot”.

Jackie knew that the three years of her husband’s presidency resembled the myth of Camelot in many respects and she nurtured that image which persists to this day.

This is a very, very intense film interpreted to perfection by Natalie Porter and director Pablo Larraín, who gives her free reign. There are some issues. The extreme close ups become a bit irritating after a while. Jackie ignores or dismisses some of the more controversial facets of the Camelot myth, infidelity and having to fix disasters of his own making.

If you’re up for some serious melodrama, I recommend it. I give it 4 of 5 gloomy flag draped caskets.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

Film Review: “Passengers” (2016)

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neg9fdpg9qkckg_2_bA very interesting film. You’re a 30 year old guy, one of 5000 suspended animation passengers on a star ship bound for a new world; a 120 year trip. You are accidentally roused from your sleep only 30 years out (with 90 to go) due to a technical malfunction and you are the only animated person on the ship. There’s no way to re-hibernate. You will live and die on that ship before it reaches its destination. Solitary confinement even with the run of the ship’s resources.

How long would it be before you figured out you could defeat the hibernation on another passenger to keep you company on the duration of the lonely flight? A beautiful young female passenger, of course. But of course, she would die with you. How long would you last marooned alone before you’d commit what amounts to first-degree murder to get some company?

Such is the ethical quandary of Chris Pratt. He lasts a couple of years, and nearing insanity and suicide, he finally resolves to pull the trigger, awakening Jennifer Lawrence, who of course, eventually figures out her release from hibernation isn’t an accident.

The quandary and it’s progression is very imaginative in the first half of the film, following which it deteriorates a bit into melodrama that’s pretty far fetched. We’re asked to believe that something this huge (references to The Titanic) had no potential to fix a monumental technological problem that should have been anticipated. The couple’s ability to actually “Fix” the issue is even more far fetched.

However, one has to make allowances for dramatic intent. Even with its inadequacies, the story line is imaginative, the special effects are good (especially the zero-gravity swimming pool scene) and the actors do a good job, especially Jennifer Lawrence. It’s an interesting story and some convincing suspense at the end. I thought it was entertaining and interesting. Definitely worth a watch in 3-D.

I give it three and a half massive water balls (containing a human goldfish).

But wait, good stuff potentially coming.

Probably this summer, the “update” of “Blade Runner” (1982) is coming with some heavyweights involved. Directed by Denis Villeneuve who did “Sicario” (2015), and “Arrival” (2016). It will be called “Blade Runner 2049” and will star Ryan Gosling and, of course, Harrison Ford, the Original “Deckard” in 1982. Arguments still abound as to whether Deckard was a replicant. Perhaps we’ll find out.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856101/

 

 

 

Film review: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

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maxresdefaultManchester by the Sea (2016)

As I mentioned before, if you see a film go by that has 97% on the <rottentomato.com> “Tomatometer” and all the principals show up at Charley Rose’s oak table, you can pretty much bet it’s worth a look. Accordingly, “Manchester by the sea” is definitely worth a look, but with a bit of a caveat.

“Manchester…” is another film where the director simply sets the stage and lets the principal actor loose to show what he has without much if any restriction. Similar recent films are Robert Duvall in “Tender Mercies” (1983) and “Get Low” (2009), and Michael Keaton in “Birdman” (2015).   All the other cast members point toward the leading actor doing his tour de force.

Similarly, Casey Affleck really does do a magnificent job in a very textured, restrained performance as a man who has suffered an unspeakably terrible event in his past and doesn’t really want to continue living, much less be responsible for a precocious adolescent. You can literally watch his gears work it out as best he can and it’s a pretty tough mechanism.

And thereby goes the caveat. It’s a very slow and ponderous process that loses touch with the audience’s span of attention in parts. The film is too long and doesn’t really explore the plot in a consistent, steadfast manner. It plods and even the outstanding portrayal by Casey Affleck, not previously known as a heavyweight, can save it in places. That said, watch for a brief two-minute blast from Michelle Williams about having lunch. She blows the film away.

Like the guy on “What’s my car worth” who sadly reports that he must give the car a “3” (of 6) for “condition” because there are a few scratches, bumps and worn spots, but the car is still pretty collectable, I must give “Manchester” 3 (of 5) gloomy expressions because it’s just too interminably somber but it’s still pretty collectable.

 

Film review: “Loving” (2016)

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If you want to see evidence of a good film, look for two things

* Over 90% on rottentomatoes.com

* The Director and a quorum of the actors showing at the oak table on Charlie Rose

mildred_jeter_and_richard_loving-xlarge_transahd6x3lw3lgv45ug3tlonfkd4w7tvk-zqpixarbayny“Loving” sports both, so you always know it’s worth a look.

In the 50s, there really was a law in the South prohibiting interracial marriage and it was enforced. The issue was that the politics of the day frowned on creating interracial children. This very loving couple were caught up in this and their true story has been chronicled elsewhere. The film centers on the emotions of the time, not so much the politics and does so very successfully.

Despite convincing Southern accents, neither principal actor hails from the South, or even the USA. One is Australian and the other is Irish. Both do incredible jobs of creating the persona of real Southerners. Richard Loving is a classic Southern working guy, a man of simple pleasures and few words. Mildred Loving is perpetually afraid and for very good reason. The sheriff ( Paul Csokas -born and raised in New Zealand) is totally chilling and will raise your hackles.

Of course you know what I notice.  Everything and I mean EVERYTHING in this film is totally period perfect, and this is the mark of a master director. The actors do their job and he does his.  The massive collection of 1950s cars.  All the dwellings in the rural South. The clothing. Richard Loving’s 1956 Ford Victoria V-8 hardtop with an aftermarket tachometer screwed to the top of the dash. You can’t afford that car today.

This is a deeply emotional film that takes its time in the progression of events, the actors given free reign by the director and it works exceptionally well. In the end, the SCOTUS ruled that who we love is no one’s business. A landmark civil rights decision.

I give it a solid four and a half patches of condensation on the inside of the lawyer’s watch crystal (look for that).  I do believe that both these actors will be in the hunt for an Oscar this Spring. I think must-see.

 

Film Review: “Arrival” (2016)

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maxresdefaultA VERY intricate and interesting film that is commensurately difficult to understand. I brooded through the film and I “thought” I figured out what happened but my wife vehemently disagreed. So I tracked down and read the original short story the film by Ted Chiang and now I “think” I understand it and my wife (the mistress of non-verbal thought process) was mostly right. It was not an easy interpretation.

I cannot dissect any of the plot for you as to do so would necessarily expose spoilers. You must broaden your concept of time. You’ll have to sort it out for yourselves and, trust me; it will be a labor of alternative reasoning.

A minimalist abstract: 12 seeming spaceships drop into the globe in random locations for reasons unknown. Linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is promptly pressed into service as an interplanetary translator, teamed with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Together, these two venture into the void of one “pod”, attempting to converse with creatures seen through a clear barrier and who communicate via inky circles.

The film lightly explores the nature of language, including such complex concepts as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a theory that language defines cognition. Through Louise’s linguistic looking glass, the world looks different. Louise finds her world reordered by alien semantics in a linguistic Stargate and at this point I cannot reveal any more. You have to be very observant and remember seemingly insignificant occurrences. If you can’t figure it out, post me off line and I’ll divulge.

Masterfully directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve (Sicario). Outstanding acting roles and cinematography. It’s an alien landing film for those that hate alien landing films. BTW, director Denis Villeneuve is soon to present the sequel to 1982’s “Blade Runner”, titled “Blade Runner 2049”. Eagerly awaited.

I give it 4 of 5 blurry heptopods.

 

 

“Eight Days a Week” (2016 directed by Ron Howard)

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unknown“Eight Days a Week” (2016 directed by Ron Howard)

This film is simply one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen on a screen. I have no earthly idea why it isn’t in wide release. Rolling Stone gives it out-of-the-ballpark reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 95%. It’s only playing in one very small, one-screen neighborhood theater in Pittsburgh and I have to brave 45 minutes of traffic and road construction to get there. It was only on four nights out of the last seven.

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/25/ron-howards-eight-days-a-week-chronicles-the-beatles-amazing-ride-as-a-touring-band/

It’s the masterful, visual chronicle of the Beatles growth from about 1962 through their last public performance on a roof in London in 1969. There are clips and films of them that I’m certain few if anyone in the general public has ever seen, masterfully edited and created by Ron Howard. It’s absolutely one of the very best films I have ever seen. Someday perhaps it will be released in wide distribution and if so, it’s a must-see.

The Beatles changed the entire landscape of music and popular culture, propelling them toward their fate at literally the speed of sound. They fulfilled a lot of what Americans were looking for post-Camelot collapse. Something harder edged, innovative but in-touch. Beatles were “cute”, had different hair, different attitude and they might be just a little dangerous but within limits. They played their own instruments with a defined danceable beat, wrote their own songs the lyrics of which American youth could identify with and looked cool in their mop tops, matching outfits and Cuban heel boots.

American kids latched onto the Beatles phenomenon like pit bulls on a poodle. A new life-style emerged around them in the summer of 1964 fueled by a need for a new order in musical expression. Other groups evolving vertically from the stage that fostered the Beatles quickly followed to as the “British Invasion”.

At the end of this film, the editors and various technicians have isolated a 30 minute series of clips from the Beatles performance in 1965 at Shea Stadium in New York City in front of 55,000 screaming fans, mostly girls. In the real world, the sound system was woefully inadequate, 100-watt Vox amps that might have been OK for a big dance hall. No one could really hear them and they couldn’t hear each other. The police worked full time catching breakthroughs and tossing them back into the fray. It was as Paul McCartney said later, “a circus” and contributed to their mutual decision later to stop touring.

For this 30-minute clip, engineers reconstituted and refurbished the video, colorized it, infiltrated the correct audio and generated the whole thing in 4K high-resolution film. It’s simply amazing. They look as if they’re playing this afternoon. They are fresh and young again 50 years later. It’s positively amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.

 

 

If you can find it on a big screen, “Eight Days a Week” is absolutely mandatory. It is history brought to you as today. 70 year old men playing life in their 20s in 4K high resolution. If there’s ever such a thing as immortality, this is pretty close. It has to be seen to be believed.

Five of Five mop-tops with a bullet. Must-see

A TV version of “The Exorcist” with historical baggage (2016)

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hqdefault“The Exorcist” (Fox 9 pm  Fridays)

A plain-vanilla re-make of the original but it brings back psychic phenomena for many who were around for the original.

It’s been Forty-three years now since the release of William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” in film version directed by William Friedkin. I wonder haw many of you saw it in December of 1973.

I was a second year medical student at Georgia. I sat absolutely terrified down to my toenails. It was simply the most frightening spectacle I ever witnessed. It made “Jaws” look like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. I slept fitfully with the lights on for two weeks. I have never watched it since.

The book was inspired by the 1949 exorcism of a 12-year-old boy in the Washington, DC area. By history, there were a number of people that witnessed this alleged demonic possession and there were a number of opinions about it ranging from the real thing to fabrication. There is no way to fact check any of it. To psychiatrists, the boy suffered from mental illness. To some priests, this was a case of demonic possession.

But whatever happened, Blatty imagined it in truly demonic detail, his book landing on the New York Times bestseller list. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards but was pretty much passed over, only winning two minor ones. Martin Scorsese places The Exorcist on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.

Zelig that I am, turns out I had a thought-provoking connection to exorcism. When the lights went out in New York City on July 13, 1977, I was a second year surgical resident at NYU. I happened to be rotating at Midtown Hospital, up around 50th street and 2nd ave. I think (no longer there today). It all happened in the blink of an eye. A very, very strange vision- the entire of New York City suddenly pitch dark. Then the screams and confusion.

Standing on the roof of the facility, I was confused too. Since Midtown was a small “community” level hospital with no emergency department, I figured I would not be of much value to anyone there as most of the injuries would be transported to Bellevue, or (then) University Hospital down on 34th or 27th streets. So I found a flashlight and set out for Bellevue, something like 15 blocks or so on First Ave. I knew that’s where the action would be, and I was right.

crippen-nyuIt was a zoo. All the generators had instantly failed and everything was done by flashlights and candles. Volunteers were turning cranks for ventilators in the ICU. Everyone was doing what he or she could for the steady stream of injuries into the ED. My friend and same year resident Greg Spiegel got written up in the Post (see article). So I set to work doing what I could with sticks and bones.

One of my patients was a Jesuit priest from somewhere nearby who injured himself falling down darkened stairs trying to get out of a building. I was sewing up his scalp by candlelight and we got into a conversation about life in general when I brought up the subject of exorcism and what did he think of it as a sort of insider. What followed was a very scary conversation as he opened up to me about things he didn’t regularly talk about.

Turns out he had some experience in exorcism, a subject not advertised by the Church. He said he thought it did happen but was very rare and always with a “mental health” portal of entry (to malevolent spirits). “Normal” people are never possessed. He’d personally seen “possessed” people, frequently kids, do truly supernatural things not possible based on insanity or fabrication, including true levitation, superhuman strength and speaking in very well constructed “tongues”.

Also ruthless one-on-one communication with the exorcizing priest of a truly bizarre nature was the benchmark, VERY much like Blatty’s book. He had read that volume and was quite surprised at how much of the nuts and bolts Blatty knew. This guy had a PhD in something related to psychology in addition to his Jesuit education. He looked me in the eye and told me he BELIEVED that this sort of thing happened when there was a portal of entry and several other criteria were met. The few priests that actually do these things never speak of it and can be summoned for long distances if the call from another priest comes and it seems legitimate. The progress of an exorcism is never revealed nor is the outcome.

Well, trust me, this guy put the fear of God, Jesus and all the Disciples in me and I quickly lost all interest in the subject. I’m not a Catholic nor am I a terribly religious person but I found this guy just a little too knowledgeable and convincing on his discussion. If such things do occur, I want to be as far away as possible from them.

As far as the original film in 1973 goes, it inspired rank terror in filmgoers. Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) steps out of a cab and stands in front of the child’s residence, silhouetted in a misty streetlamp’s glow and staring up at a beam of light from a bedroom window above is one of the most famous scenes in film. I was mortified, unable to watch and unable not to watch the two priests slowly climbing the stairs to what awaited them.

People were carried out of theaters. Some theaters provided “Exorcist barf bags”. It’s said that the Academy Awards snubbed it because they were afraid of it. There was a huge controversy about allowing previously sweet and gentle Linda Blair play Regan. She has said since that it screwed up her life and she was rarely heard from again.

So if you choose to watch the watered down Fox TV version on Friday nights, remember that there’s a lot of history behind it. Maybe you won’t be so interested.

Excellent TV coming soon to a cable box near you:

“The Fall,” Oct. 29, Netflix

“The Affair,” Nov. 20, Showtime

“Homeland,” Jan. 17, Showtime