Friday, August 31, 2018

Three Identical Strangers, a film by Tim Wardle

The documentary Three Identical Strangers chronicles the surprise meeting at age nineteen of identical triplets separated at birth. All were adopted, and none knew they had brothers until their own eyes insisted it was true. They became a sensation in 1980, appearing on talk shows and written about in newspapers - a novelty. And if that’s all you knew about them, you would have a warm feeling that they had found each other, and that their reunion was a psychic homecoming.

But that’s just the opener. Questions are raised: why were none of their parents told that their baby son was a triplet? The adoption agency clearly knew, and kept it secret. And as more secrets unfold, the young men’s story takes on a darker tone. While the film certainly considers the nature vs nurture debate - which wields greater influence over developing children - it also delves into ethical issues far more important.

What follows may be more than you want to know, before you see this movie.

And on a note that reverberates through our modern society, it challenges us to look at what we do to each other in the name of pursuit of knowledge. Whether we’re talking about the Tuskegee study in which poor black convicts were deliberately infected with syphilis then observed (but not treated), or the psychology experiments at Harvard in the 60s in which Ted Kaczynski (later known as the Unabomber) was a subject/victim, surely it’s time to be asking some hard questions about ethics, and whether the harm done to these guinea pigs is mere collateral damage in the discovery of great truths, or if that harm says more about the researchers, and taints their findings with the heartlessness or even sadism of their methods.

I’m inclined to the latter conclusion. The Hippocratic Oath states, “First, do no harm.” Once we lose sight of that, we abandon our humanity. Subatomic physics tells us that we cannot observe even particles without altering their behavior - how much greater the interference then, when those under observation are sentient beings? What did the researchers learn, versus the extent to which their experiment damaged the lives of their subjects? And since the study has never been released, there’s no understanding or discovery to balance against the harm done by isolating babies from their siblings, with whom they shared a womb and a few scant months before being separated.

This film’s not just entertainment - go see it and consider the questions it raises.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie

If you hung out in Boulder, Colorado, between 1970 and 1976, you had opportunities to enjoy Magic Music. They played on the CU campus on Friday afternoons, they played around the area, at one point they opened for The Youngbloods, and they were on Cat Stevens' tour for a single performance, when, thrilled by the audience's standing ovation, they played three encores and were promptly fired.

They lived in schoolbuses in Eldorado Canyon a few miles south of Boulder, and later in the nearby mountain town of Allenspark in a rustic art gallery lent them by an acquaintance. They were hippies, and their music showcased acoustic excellence, gentle lyrics, and rhapsodic harmonies. They could have been big, but they never broke through. This movie, made by Lee Aronsohn, a fan from those 70s performances who wondered what ever happened to them, is not just a history and an homage, it is also an act of healing.

During their brushes with potential success, their differing visions created acrimony strong enough to drive them apart for decades. But when Aronsohn, wanting to reunite the band, contacted Chris Daniels, the most successful musician post-Magic Music, he was able to connect with the members one at a time, including their third manager.

The filmmaker's goal is to recreate an iconic photo of the best-known iteration of the group, so he must persist in his efforts to track down not just most, but all of the musicians represented there. And in the course of locating and communicating with them, and putting them in touch with each other, he achieves something remarkable - 40 years on, the negativity of their squabbles shrinks against the memory of the music they made together. As men in their 60s, they realize that life is too short for grudges, and when they take the stage once more, the moment is richer than mere performance.

Even if you weren't around in the 70s and don't care about hippies, you could take instruction from the ways this group of musicians thwarted opportunity, maintaining a level of integrity that turned out to be incompatible with stardom. And it might prompt you to reconnect with those you cut out of your life.