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This is probably the second most difficult comment I have written on
anything at the IMDb, but I saw this yesterday and, if I didn't comment on
this, I likely would regret not doing so, so here goes:
Mark O'Brien was born roughly ten years before I was and contracted polio at age six, in 1955. Thus he was in an iron lung before I was even born. I have Cerebral Palsy, but even in that, I am comparatively fortunate. Mr. O'Brien struggled just to stay alive, to draw breath. Placed in context to that, my difficulties are a minor inconvenience. But, be that as it may, the reason that this struck me so profoundly is that, despite the major differences in our particular circumstances, at times in this documentary, his remarks were all too familiar to me. The disabled are viewed quite differently by a large segment of the "presently able-bodied" (that's as logical and meaningful a label as "differently abled", a phrase that is such a null that I hardly know where to begin in discussing it, so I won't) and most disabled individuals put up with things on a daily basis that would send the average person to the top of a building with a rifle and a scope inside of a week. On bad days, I think most people would probably breathe a sigh of relief if we, reminders of humanity's fragility, would just vanish. O'Brien not only thought that, he said and wrote it out loud.
One segment, toward the end, made me start crying, it hit so close to home. I won't discuss it here, but O'Brien talked about something in front of a camera that I doubt I could have even tap danced around. To anyone who has seen this, what O'Brien talked about here, it's not just an isolated instance, not just one voice in the wilderness. I'd wager that there are a lot of people out and about who'd say the same if pressed.
Disabled people are just that-PEOPLE who happen to be disabled. Treat us as such-people, more or less like you, just a bit different.
This should be in print and available. Well worth tracking down. Most highly recommended.
This is an absolute exceptional film taking you into the mind, life,
struggle, joy, depression, love, and eventual (beyond the film) death of a
completely developed person but physically fully incapacitated.
Think of where most of us may find ourselves in the coming 30 to 50 years and you may see yourself in Brian's place though he was strickened so much earlier in life.
Thank Jessica for doing a superb performance in documenting this person's life. Will never forget her remarks at the Academy Awards where she so humbly remarked (and I paraphrase) that it was indeed a gala where the dress you were wearing to it cost more than what it cost to make the film.
And thank you Brian!
I can't express how phenomenal a film this is. Partly it is Jessica Yu's superb, understated direction. But a large part is Mark O'Brien himself, whose abiding intelligence and evocative poetry are electrifyingly cinematic, despite his being confined to an iron lung. I saw this film almost a year before it won the Oscar, and I have rarely been as happy as I was then. When I heard he died several years later, I was genuinely saddened. I watched it again today, when it was announced that Christopher Reeve had died. It reminds you how truly special some people are -- sometimes not because of what they do, but simply who they are. Which, when you think about it, may be the same thing. Don't miss it.
I can't agree more with the comments made by an earlier viewer of this film. Mark O'Brien's life was lived to the fullest with more courage, guts and compassion than many of us "able bodied" persons. His witty observations serve in their own way as a trenchant critique of a society obsessed with physical beauty and athletic prowess. This is a man whose sexuality, dreams and demons forged a unique and unforgettable life. I came away from the film both humbled by my own pretensions yet exalted by Mark's refusal to give up. (He was an unbending opponent of assisted suicide.) Look for it at your public library. I challenge you to watch this film and not come away a changed person.
I just saw this incredible film by Jessica Yu and just have to say something about it. Actually, it's not really an achievement in filmmaking, the images and words used here really tell all there is to it. I simply can't describe it, you have to see it for yourself (if you're interested in life). Words just ... aren't enough to say what kind of man Mark O'Brien was. No, even that isn't saying enough. I just want to praise his parents for their incredible loving, his friends for respecting him as a human being and, of course Mark O'Brien himself, for, well, just being who he was. I really learned from these 35 minutes, more than from most people I have met and from most films I've seen, books I've read,... This man's thoughts about God, life, his poetry,... I reckon many people won't expect that from a man who can't live outside his machine, who actually hasn't got a body, at least not like most others. But his thoughts and courage reach far beyond those of most people who have the ability to move and do things Mark O'Brien can't. Or "couldn't", because he passed away after the making of this film. So this is for you Mark, and for all the others who have the courage to make life worth living for all of us, and who teach us things that matter. And thanks to Jessica and all who worked on this, for telling this story. Here's to all of you!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unlike the 2012's feature film 'The Sessions"; which portrayed, poet and journalist, Mark O'Brien in a more simple fictional fashion. 1996's short documentary, 'Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien', shows a more complex and realistic side to the crippled polio victim. We really get to witness more about Mark O'Brien's life here, than the reenactments, we got from actors, portraying his sex-life in the 1980s in the movie, the Sessions. It's here that we get to see, his back-story, more. I always found that, to be one the key information, that's a bit lacking in 2012's 'The Sessions'. We never got to know, how he came to be, there. It's so nice to find out, here, what his childhood was like. I also love, hearing stories about his depressing time at the Fairmont Hospital; his joy and outlook during his time attending UC Berkley for schooling, and most of all, the aftermath of all the writing works, he has done, over the years. It incorporates more informative, about the man in 30 minutes, than the 2 hours, director Ben Lewin was trying to do in 'the Sessions'. I like the fact that 'Breathing Lessons', allows more insight on the personality of Mark O'Brien, than Ben Lewin's film. It's one of the best things, about this film. Seeing O'Brien's profound views and reflections on his struggles with living with the illness, and even his idea of death was very informative. It gives us, a more rounded, view on who this poet was. Not only that, but this film directed by Jessica Yu also showcase more of O'Brien's poetry and journalism skills than any of the other films about him. It shows more of his candid & dry wry style, with scenes of him, reciting poems from his several volumes of books. It's nice to hear that he didn't just write one poem, but a whole book call 'Breathing'. I also love the fact that he writes articles on the disables. Hearing him, talk about the right for patients to commit Euthanasia is both haunting and inspiring. It's also nice to hear that he's willing to bring light into the struggles of disable people; like securing equal opportunities and equal rights. For the most part, it nearly showcase everything about him. However, the movie does fail to mention, a few key things about him. The movie doesn't really explore, much about his faith. For a man, that was a strong Roman Catholic, he barely talk about his religious side in this. You would think, the movie would show that, since, by this point, he's really ill. Another topic that wasn't explain, very well, is his sex life. The movie barely mention any detail about his article "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate". You would think, the sex surrogate that help change his life, for the better, would get more screen time, than a small mention. Another problem with the film is how it mention a lot of people's names, but we never really get to see, who they were. Names like Laura, Cheryl, and others are told, but not shown. We have, no idea, who these people are. Even key people that was in his life, at the time, like his future girlfriend, Susan Fernbach wasn't discussed here. Anyways, that wasn't the only flaw, in this film. I hate the fact that the movie suffers from audio-problems. Sometimes, it's really hard to hear, what he's trying to say, between his soft voice, and the loud sounds of the background, like him, breathing through the Iron Lung machine. So, in many parts of this film, the audio isn't always clear. It was so bad, that subtitles were added in, just to make sense of the film. Sometimes, the subtitles were no help. The fact that the subtitles text are mostly in white, really made them, hard to read when they were along with black and white footage. Another problem with the film is how ugly looking, the color imageries are. For a film filmed in 1996, it's seem like it was made in early 1980s, because how badly desaturated the colors were. Despite all the flaws, I have point out, here, the movie was still good enough to win an Oscar at the 69th Academy Awards in 1997 for Documentary Short Subject, because how well-made, it was. Overall: I have to say, this film not only is enlightening and open portrayal of a man who overcame catastrophic hardships, but it gives us, hope and beauty to us all, still struggling from disabilities. It's a good companion piece. Worth watching after seeing 2012's The Sessions, for sure.
I had never heard of Mark O'Brien when Jessica Yu's "Breathing Lessons:
The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien" won Best Documentary Short Subject
at the Academy Awards. But the documentary shows not only what O'Brien
went through, but how he wanted to be known to the world. Basically, he
wanted to be known not as a cripple, but as a human. Despite spending
most of his life in an iron lung, the polio-afflicted O'Brien managed
to be a journalist and poet until his death in 1999.
Progress with polio has gotten made since the documentary's release. In 2014, only Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan saw cases of the disease, and in 2015 Nigeria had stopped the spread. It sounds like a terrible disease. In the end, Mark O'Brien deserves a lot of credit for what he accomplished, and Jessica Yu deserves credit for bringing his story to the world. I understand that her most recent movie was about water crises.
I recommend the documentary.
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