Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Two flawed but interesting, alternative-medicine docs: Nick Polizzi's THE SACRED SCIENCE and Bobby Sheehan's DOCTORED

As a long-time believer in chiropractors -- and one who has sometimes lain down on their table in severe lower-back pain and risen up again, post-cracking, around 90% better -- TrustMovies jumped at the opportunity to see a new documentary about just this profession. DOCTORED, a bite-off-more-than-you-can-chew film directed by Bobby Sheehan (shown below) and produced by Jeff Hays, gives us some fascinating history of the chiropractic profession, along with that of the far too powerful American Medical Association (AMA).

If the film had simply concentrated entirely on chiropractics (and the supposed objections to this), it might have been even better. As it is, the documentary is rarely less than interesting and often quite bracing, as it goes after the AMA and the parade of medical "professionals" all too willing to insist that chiropractors are quacks. But then it gets into other areas in which, so far as I have known, chiropractic medicine has not been found to be so useful: autism (and the whole vaccination controversy), cancer and the like. And the evidence presented here is all anecdotal, some of it used previously in an even better documentary about alternative medicine that may not really be that alternative at all: Burzynski.

It is possible that the filmmakers do not even mean to actively link chiropractics to the cure of these other ailments, but rather to simply stress how important alternative medicine can be. Yet the connection is there, and it's odd and confusing. On the other hand, it is fascinating to see and learn how these people (one of whom is shown above, another below) with real and major health problems respond to their new treatment.

Sheenhan's film begins with the viewing of an old David Susskind TV program from March, 1982, in which the medical profession seems lined up against one chiropractor. From there, we learn how the AMA pursued and pretty effectively campaigned to have the profession viewed as quackery, fraud, and as something of a cult. (As the film makes clear, cults back then were thought to be on a level with Charlie Manson and Jim Jones.) Five years after this Susskind show had aired, the AMA was found guilty of "conspir-ing to contain and eliminate the chiropractic profession." This is something I did not know, nor I imagine do many other Americans.

The movie is roundly -- and I believe, appropriately -- anti-AMA and Big Pharma. As you watch the goings-on here, you might find yourself realizing how like the cigarette companies are our current drug companies in the way they target the most susceptible audiences -- kids and TV viewers. One young women, a former rep for a drug manufacturer, explains to us how these reps bribe the doctors they visit, and how, in the final analysis, just like the pimps they are, "They have no respect for their (doctor) whores -- no matter how much they pay them."

Likewise, no matter how you currently might feel about alternative medicine, the words of one of the people we meet here should resound: "You try a chiropractor first, medicine second, and surgery third. Always try the least invasive method first!"  Well, at least for some problems. And I wish the movie had better examined, and with a more critical mind, which were which. Doctored (nice title, that -- which both camps could easily accuse the other of doing), with a 100-minute running time, opens this Friday in New York City at the Village East Cinema, and then in the Los Angeles area on September 26 and 27, and the 29 and 30 at Laemmle's Monica 4 in Santa Monica (Has Laemmle dropped this theater? Why is it so difficult to link to this theater's web site?), and from September 28 through October 4 at the Los Feliz 3.


At the beginning of THE SACRED SCIENCE, another journey into alternative medicine, we are told that in the Amazon Rain Forest, there exist some 44,000 species of plants, but that only 1 percent of these have been studied by scientists for their medicinal value. Well, get to it, scientists! Then, from ethno-botanist Mark Plotkin: "If we look at this rain forest as an encyclopedia of medicinal plants, then its indigenous medicine men are certainly its index and table of contents." So there. But, then, who might be  its introduction and appendices?

I don't mean to be blithe here, but before you can say, "Yes, but...", the filmmaker Nick Polizzi (shown at right) has whisked us away on a trip to the Amazon Rain Forest along with eight -- count 'em -- very ill men and women of various ages who appear to have given up on conventional medicine (one of them apparently hasn't even tried it, and for breast cancer yet!) and instead have journeyed to the Amazon in hopes that the medicine men found there can cure them. Their ailments include the aforementioned Breast Cancer, Parskinson's Disease, Cancerous tumors, Type II Diabetes, Prostate Cancer, Irritable Bowl Syndrome, Crohn's Disease, Alcoholism and Depression (the same young man is afflicted with these last two, and if they seem less life-threatening than some of the others, well, they're still no picnic in the park.).

We don't really find out much about any of our group, except for the diseases they carry and why they are here (last resort, etc.). One older fellow from Australia (above) does have some anger management problems that make themselves known early on; consequently his journey seems one of the more interesting. Another guy (the one with those tumors) seems awfully gung-ho, constantly ready to embrace nature in all its wonder and wisdom. When the group is told to be quiet during one particular episode (below, I believe), he just can't shut up.

The women, for the most part, seem sad, sick and lonely, and being in the middle of the jungle with no connection to civilization does not seem to help them. Toward the beginning, we are told outright that five our of group experienced help, two did not, and one did not even return from the trip. Armed with this particular knowledge, we tend to see the movie as a kind of low-end, Irwin Allen type of Poseidon Adventure/Towering Inferno, complete with its own Who Will Survive? suspense. And we immediately begin to try to figure things out. ("It'll be he who doesn't make it!"  "Nope: it'll be her!")

We also get to meet the shaman/healers and their families, and these folk prove rather good company, too -- better, really that of our poor patients, whom we see eating and particularly drinking some pretty wild concoctions, and then the shamans' laying on of those hands (above). It all begins to look like a combination of healing plants, psychology and "spirituality" -- the last of which I am not particularly keen on, but I do have enough sense to say, "Well, any port in a storm, kiddos." And to wish these people well.

Finally, all this does seem to have helped some of our folk; others, not so much. But exactly how it helped and why is rather up for grabs. We're given information about each patient's return to civilization and what his/her doctor had to say about the results. (The film is dedicated, I believe, to the one patient who didn't make it back.) Some of the photography is lovely (see above), other sections are pretty so-so. Whether The Sacred Science will entice other last-resort folk to make a trip to the Amazon, I am not so sure. In any case, the film makes its DVD debut today, September 18. (In addition to the 77-minute movie, there are three Extras sections on the disc tat feature added information and characters and run approximately 10 more minutes). The documentary also makes its digital debut today via iTunes.

No comments: