Thursday, March 5, 2009

Movie Review: Must Read After My Death

I recently saw the documentary film, Must Reader After My Death. The film consists of audiotapes and home movie footage made by the Dews family in the 1960s. Director (and grandson of the Allis and Charley, the film's protagonists) Morgan Dews has stitched together a too-intimate look at the dissolution of a family—akin to the 1973 PBS series An American Family, but in less screen time.

Here's the story behind the film: The Dews family began dictating "letters" between the father (Charley) and the rest of the family (mother Allis and their four children: Anne, Chuck, Bruce, and Doug) when Charley moved to Australia for 4 months on business. They continued the audio letters and diaries upon his return home. It is these diaries and letters that tell the tale of the Dews family's escalating struggles (with no other narration): Parents with each other, children with their father, parents' anguish about their children. These tapes were then stored away and discovered by director Morgan Dews upon his grandmother Allis's death. Here's a trailer for the film.

Watching the film, I was struck by several elements:
  1. When someone in a family is an alcoholic, it extracts a terrible cost from ALL members of the family. Although most people know this intellectually (and some know this first-hand), the role that alcohol plays in this family's problems is heart-wrenching to see.
  2. How generally unproductive it is when people yell at each other. When families or couple come for psychotherapy, usually part of what a therapist will try to do is help members speak (and listen) to each other in more adaptive, constructive ways, so that they can understand each other's positions and find common goals, positions of compromise, and paths to resolution. Yelling and frequently interrupting each other makes it almost impossible to move a chronic problem toward a solution. (Granted, yelling can signal to the other person that you have strong feelings about something, but the content of what is yelled—rather than stated—often gets tuned out or responded to in anger.)
  3. The havoc that unrecognized psychological disorders and problems can wreak. (That's not to say that once they're recognized all is well; at least, though, when a problem is named and identified, it's easier to take steps to remediate it or manage it.) For instance, the oldest son, Chuck, struggled academically for many years, much to the consternation for his parents and himself. It turns out that he had an undiagnosed learning disorder. 
  4. How frustrating and demoralizing under-employment can be (as was certainly true of Allis and many women of that era). Underemployment refers to someone holding a job that is below the person's training or ability; underemployment may become even more common in the current economic climate, as folks who are laid off take jobs that are below the level of their previous job, because they need the work. Research indicates that being underchallenged at work brings its own stresses.

Although the film provided a lot of food for thought, I was frustrated by the combination of the lack of narration and the elliptical nature of some of the audio entries—family secrets alluded to but not made clear, problems mentioned but not explained.

If you're interested in watching the documentary online, the distributor has offered a complimentary pass to the first ten people who send me an I'll forward your email addresses to the online distributor who will provide the pass to you.

1 comment:

  1. Somehow, with the economy in such a dilemma and it's concommitant stresses, I don't think I want to see any more family pain. I'm expecting to see the future big-box office movies to be comedies, much as happened during the 1930s. Bring on the laughs!