Saturday, August 30, 2014

Eric Merola is back with another must-see doc SECOND OPINION: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering


Eric Merola -- the filmmaker who gave us the stunning, shocking and anger-provoking documentary, BURZYNSKI (from 2010), and its follow-up doc in 2013 -- is back this week with a new film, SECOND OPINION: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering, which is every bit as surprising and anger-producing as his first couple of movies. Viewers of Burzynski will recall that New York City's (in)famous Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center appeared prominently and anything-but-decently in that film. Now it is popping up again, front and center, in Merola's new one (the filmmaker is shown below), and the behavior of the cancer center's upper echelon is once again utterly disgusting. Granted, this behavior took place back in the 1970s, when the war on cancer was coming to full-bloom.

The Burzynski contretemps took place much more recently. If we had a government at all concerned with medical malpractice (this can take many forms, dear reader) rather than constantly kowtowing to corporations, Big Pharma and the medical establishment, who knows what greater strides cancer research and treatment might now have taken?

SECOND OPINION: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering deals with events that took place in the 1970s involving a then-young science writer named Ralph W. Moss (shown below in his older incarnation), who was at the time married with two young children, and who goes to work in the public relations department of the famous cancer center and soon finds himself interviewing and then befriending and writing about the center's leading research scientist, Dr. Kanematsu Sugiura (shown above).

The good doctor had been studying the effects on mice of something called Laetrile, a supposed "quack" cancer cure. Dr. Sugiura's research, however, indicated that Laetrile was anything but "quack." While it seemed not to cure cancer, it could slow its growth and deliver other positives, too. And while, the heads of Sloan Kettering were all for the disclosure of this -- suddenly, after a closed meeting with government officials and perhaps others, they were all against it, and went on record with lies -- yes, they lied -- about Laetrile's ineffectiveness.

What happens next -- and next and next -- makes up the meat of the movie, and will pretty much blow your brain. It will bring to mind the cigarette industry, among other lying corporations, and it will also offer up a wonderful example of the "common man" who finds himself in an intolerable situation when he must betray the public trust to keep his job.

All this happened prior to any laws and help for whistleblowers (not that they are all that effective, even today), and so Mr. Moss, along with his wife and son (both of whom we hear from) must find a way around this bad situation. What happens is both alarming and very funny (or would be if it didn't hold up such a mirror to our rotten health care providers).

Like his other two documentaries, this one is made up mainly of talking heads, some archival footage, and the kind of written evidence (records, research notes and papers) that back up quite well Merola's and Moss' viewpoints.

The plentiful ironies here are often astounding and finally funny/disgusting, as the Sloan Kettering of today tries to "honor" the Mr. Moss of yesteryear. Hypocrisy, it seems, knows no bounds. Someday, I suspect, a documentary will be made about the rush of the medical establishment toward curing the nation's "high cholesterol" via expensive statin drugs. Maybe Mr. Merola is already working on this one. I hope so.

Meanwhile, don't miss his current film, and watch his earlier ones, too, while you're at it. Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering, running 75 minutes, opened yesterday in New York City at the Cinema Village, and will hit the Los Angeles area next Friday, September 5 at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. To see all currently scheduled playdates, click here and then scroll down. If you're not near any of the cities for a theat-rical screening, never fear. Click here to purchase the"extras"-filled DVD.

Note: Director Merola and his subject Ralph W. Moss 
will be appearing in person at many of the theatrical venues. 
Click here and scroll down to see at which and when.


Anthony Liversidge said...

Another review which proves your intelligence is far above the norm!:-) The reputation of Laetrile has been so successfully smeared by the American Cancer Society in the service of big Pharma that this film will shock everyone, I believe, and your review and its enthusiasm is fully justified by the parade of evidence in the film which makes everything so clear and irrefutable. It is a sad thing that to get funding for your huge institution full of dedicated scientists who can save many lives if they are allowed to pursue science without politics, you have to defer to the scoundrels making billions out of cancer drugs which work only by being highly toxic and ruining your health in their own way. I wonder whether the top men at Sloan Kettering was disgusted with themselves by going along with ignorance to preserve their funding or whether they internally denied it. This film makes you wonder. Are they really that bad that they will sacrifice lives for funding? Seems so.
Anthony Liversidge (a review there too)

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for commenting, Anthony. And I'm very glad you appreciated this film as much as I did. It is indeed shocking what has gone on at this particular hospital. As to whether or not the men in charge at the time were disgusted with themselves because of their actions, we'll never know. They're all dead now. (They should have died much earlier, however, along with the creeps at the drug companies.) And as to sacrificing lives for funding: lives have always been sacrificed at the altar of money. It's the American (read Capitalistic) way!

Anthony Liversidge said...

Final blame is actually with the American Cancer SOciety for strong arming them into reversing their positive findings at Sloan-Kettering, James, them and the drug companies which motivate them.

So you dont think this movie which nails the sorry facts to the church door will have influence, and that Sloan-Kettering will issue a groveling apology for badmouthing their own early start in recognizing the potential of natural remedies? Alas it seems that you have been around the court of power and influence too long James. An informed cynicism has replaced your youthful idealism. Let's see if Wikipedia at least can adjust its facts. What's that you say? Unlikely? The pharma boys will edit it out again?
The film is worth a careful analaysis of its possible impact. There is much to say. But meanwhile, glad you rated it a good documentary. Will say as much on

James van Maanen said...

Well, Anthony -- regarding your questions of whether or not I think that Sloan-Kettering will issue a groveling apology and my growing more cynical: Alas, "no" to the first and "yes" to the second. But why not. I'm afraid history is on my side here.

If our government won't even go after the clear-and-present-danger of the Wall Street crowd, but instead simply keeps allowing them to pay a fine instead of doing time, what hope have we for cracking down on Big Pharma and corporations?

As for Wikipedia, it caves to pressure, just as do so many of us. Let us know when you have updated your Science Guardian pages to reflect more about Second Opinion.