Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Two top DVD's on identity: Temple Grandin and Charlie Bartlett

I watched Temple Grandin and Charlie Bartlett on the same night. Both films happened to be about individuals out of step with a culture/society and the obstacles overcome to find the place within it as a person of value.

Charlie Bartlett an ode to Harold and Maude, highlights not just the desperation of teens driven to BE…..something. I used to think that if I was busy enough, if I took enough jobs I would feel worth. Charlie does a variety of things at different schools to become popular, because popular equals happy, right.

He is told, by different adults that ‘popular is not the most important thing about high school’.

“What is?” he asks, knowing as we all do, that those who fit in, somewhere, anywhere, can at least have someone to talk to, to hang out with. The adults give no answers.
In a funny not-parody but actual session, Charlie is prescribed Prozac on the basis that IF he is more focused after he is on it, then he had ADD (This is still used by some doctors as a guide, despite that almost ANYONE will be more focused on Prozac, hence the use by exhausted moms, trying to do home and family, and college students).

Charlie decides to make a new business, where he listens to secrets, woes, or just listens to you, and also, can recommend the drugs to survive (prescribed to him by him rich mother’s shrinks). This works gangbusters because it is an easy, possible solution to making that empty ‘where do I belong’, and ‘why am I seen this way’, and ‘who am I’ feelings go away.

There are consequences and Charlie is told ‘It is not the popularity, it is what you do with it that matters.’

So, is there a way for Charlie to make a difference both for his friends, schoolmates and himself? Not without a few mishaps. The kickin song, Hey Man (now you’re really living), by the Eels, is the theme song of the DVD and back song to this taster. Charlie Bartlettis about $5 used, or $7 new.

I hesitated to watch the film Temple Grandin because I did not want to see exploitation of the ‘token’ autistic, as if this represented the diversity of Autism Spectrum (ASD) and hypersensitivity conditions. If it was going to be bad, I didn’t want to watch it. But I took a chance.
First off, Temple Grandin herself does the audio commentary on the DVD along with the writer (and it is clear that the writer does not ‘get’ Temple at some parts, and they are talking past each other). The actual tips and reality of how she survived, and adapted are in the audio commentary. For example, using reading to help with emotional over-stimulation and being around people is in the commentary along with why she uses medication (for anxiety and panic attacks, which happens to label as an anti-depression pill). She also outlines the things which helped her from various people growing up: having table manners, greeting manners, and other social issues drilled into her. But also what things can’t be changed, like over stimulation, and what can slowly be adapted. Temple Grandin, for example, does not use the ‘squeeze machine’ she invented anymore. It stopped working two years ago and she uses hugs from people instead.

For those who are interested in the details of one way to help in a non-physical (not hitting) way to teach some of these things, and socialization, I recommend Marla’s blog about raising Maize. the blog posts from 2007-2008 are particularly interesting on the day to day aspects of child rearing (as narrated through life experiences, noting what does and doesn't work). This includes from how to deal with the overcoming of emotions in leaving a friends house (or how to NOT have your child locked inside a room refusing to leave), to knowing when over-stimulation is about to occur.

The film on Temple is in HBO lush color and shows how fortunate Temple was in many ways. Her mother, a Harvard grad, simply didn’t take the doctor’s word, she wouldn’t give up. And getting a teacher, her high school science teacher, who understood her, cared and helped guide Temple’s life made a huge difference. His presence, advice and challenges in her boarding school, but also succeeding there and then again at university is due in part to his care and belief in her. To Temple, the obstacles and fears were ‘doors’ that her teacher promised lead to new opportunities and worlds for her, so she needed to go through them. It also outlines much of her love of cows and the designs she made. The trailer can be viewed here. I wanted more details about her in different environments but this movie watch pitched assuming that we might like Temple or want to know about her, but after an hour with her, we wouldn’t want to know more about what she was interested in (I slowed and stopped the film to try and get the titles of her articles, but they are cropped out).

I am not sure assigning a blind student as her roomie was someone in Admin being more kind and understanding than those in Academics, or whether (as I know happens) someone decided to room the ‘two problems’ together. As it happened, a student who saw the world visually and a student who saw the world from audio senses were a great match. In fact, when the new roomie came in, tapped the squeeze machine with her cane and told Temple that the machine didn’t bother her but to NOT MOVE IT, I smiled because that kind of room mate is just who she needed.

The film takes you to what is really the mid to late 80’s (stated in the film as 1981 and early 80’s) where for the first time a person with autism could talk to these parents who were tired of ‘experts’ debating if this or that was the cause, or beneficial. Temple was able to give concrete examples and statements that help, like she said in the commentary, she did poorly at algebra, but if she had skipped to geometry and trig, she would have excelled. She also said she met those who are the opposite, acknowledging the diversity within Autism Spectrum.

So a recommendation for the Temple Grandin DVD for the commentary (about $18 third party). For those within the Autism Spectrum, I think you will enjoy the audio commentary from the DVD, as well as recognizing actions (‘of course she’d respond that way’) from Temple, and the alienation from others. For those who want to know more about the world, and the people who continue to change it, and will, as autistic adults already make a difference in how you live your life, and will more and more as their ways of using information and data are better utilized. Temple does emphasize that learning to write, and write well is a great way to advance, as her jobs came from her articles, NOT from her ‘people’ connections.

I guess my highest recommendation is: I really enjoyed myself during BOTH films.


JaneB said...

Yay for enjoyable films! Always a good thing.

Lene Andersen said...

I've been hesitating to watch Temple Grandin because most such movies are so exploitative, so thanks for the review. I trust your opinion, so will definitely put it on my list.

Linda McClung said...

Thanks for encouraging me to watch Temple Grandin. I thought it was a great movie and really enjoyed discussing it with you during the wee hours this morning.

I didn't get a chance to listen to the whole commentary, but what I did was really interesting.

I, even though raised on a farm, learned some things about cows I didn't know before. And a word of advice to those who want to do what Temple did to see how curious cows are... Temple says don't lie in the corral if there are bulls around - stick with the heifers, cows and steers so you won't get hurt.

I really enjoyed reading your reviews, Beth. You make stories come to life and show people what they are missing and (dare I say it?) inspire them to watch.

tinarussell said...

I’ve read about Temple Grandin’s squeeze machine before. I like it because I have attacks of suddenly needing intimacy, but also because I’m a vorarephile (I’m into fantasies where... people get eaten... and I like to imagine myself as the prey), so the idea of placing yourself in a machine originally designed as part of a slaughterhouse in order to find comfort... Let’s say that jibes with me. ...Seriously.

wendryn said...

I'll add them to my list of movies to watch! I was worried about the Temple Grandin movie, so I appreciate the review. I've read a fair amount of her work and I was worried that it would be a Hollywoodification of her, but this sounds much better than I feared.