Wednesday, March 30, 2011

WRETCHES & JABBERERS, Gerardine Wurzburg's film on autism, opens in NYC

The second film on autism to appear this week alone -- TrustMovies covered Loving Lampposts just this past Sunday -- WRETCHES & JABBERERS, the new documentary from Gerardine Wurzburg, appears with the help of the partnership of the Autism Society for its theatrical release April 1: the day that begins National Autism Awareness month. Ms Wurzberg (pictured below), as well as her subjects, deserve thanks and praise for putting the autism-affected at the center of this sometimes difficult film because watching these people in action is not an easy nor a particularly pleasant task. Yet it has its rewards.

The task at hand is finally a salutary one, for it brings us up-close and personal, in a way we seldom see, with the disconnect between how the autistic feel and think, and how unable they often are to communicate these feelings and thoughts. In Lovings Lampposts, filmmaker Todd Drezner does this, as well, but he gives us only short snaps, as he moves from character to character. We understand what is going on, and the difficulties the autistic have in communicating, but not in the same way we do in Wretches & Jabberers -- which spends much more of its time watching its two main autistic characters and a few subsidiary ones, constantly trying and trying and trying to communicate. They achieve some real success, it must be said, but at a price. The movie pays a price for this, as well.

It's a double-edged sword, this concentration on character that the documentary provides. We see and hear (more often read via the computer screens that Ms Wurzburg photographs) what Larry Bissonnette (above, right) and Tracy Thresher (above, left), are thinking and feeling. But this results in an awful lot of time spent on the effort, with less on the result, and this also makes for a certain amount of repetition in the film. Thanks to various breakthroughs in the understanding of what the autistic actually experience, we now know that they are often more initially reachable via visuals than by the sounds of words. Consequently, the more vocally challenged among them input and output using their computer screens more than their mouths.

Showing everything in this manner also helps drag the movie down, depending on the viewer's ability to proces all this communication via reading and/or hearing. Sometimes, particularly when we're dealing with characters in Japan (below) or Finland (above), the verbiage is sometimes translated into spoken English so that we can skip the reading process.

During the course of the film, we travel around the world with Tracy and Larry -- to Dubai, Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland -- before coming back to Vermont (where Tracy lives and works: he's a spokesperson/agitator for the rights of the autistic). Larry, we learn, is an artist who exhibits and sells his work -- shown below in the penultimate photo -- locally, nationally and internationally.

We visit tem-ples in Sri Lanka, attend autism con-ferences in Tokyo and Finland, and meet others who are autistic in both coun-tries and elsewhere. The most moving moment comes as the Japanese mother of an autistic son bids the Americans good-bye; you want to hold her close and assure her things will get better.

Despite the repetitions, musical selections that comment unneces-sarily on what we're already seeing, and the difficulty you may find in watching Larry, Tracy and their new friends for any length of time, pay close attention to the verbal and written information you see. There are gems buried here: "We are the perfect example of intelligence working itself out in a much different way."

Wretches & Jabberers will open Friday, April 1, in New York at the AMC Empire 25 for a week's run.  You can access all the past and upcoming playdates here.

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