20 Dec A long year
I wrote this post last year but never made it live. Re-reading it now, almost a year later, not much has changed except now it’s been kind of a long 2 years. I’ve spent the last few days working on a post about how in our modern culture, systems have a tendency to create the kind of Balkanization that makes communication difficult. It’s not just medical systems, but academic and media systems as well. Those who challenge the systems they are a part of get pushed out of those systems. In other words systems have conscious and less conscious rules, and these rules are enforced in the same way that all social rules are- some with direct punishment and others through a kind of carrot and stick approach. Those who agree with and support the ideas of the system get rewarded and those who don’t are held back by it. So people who want to affect change from within do so in the most gentle manner.
Dr Sarno talks about resistance to his work. from rumur on Vimeo.
While trying to make the film Dr Sarno repeatedly chided me for my optimism. He had found that none of his colleagues wanted to hear anything about what he was doing, and he had resolved himself to move forward on his own. The above clip which I just was found was the final shot of the film for some time. It didn’t make it in. Here he talks about seeing Old Man River on Broadway. as he states “Old man river just keeps rolling along…… I’m Old man river”. I try to keep that in my head and just keep rolling along. In this piece there is a powerful review from one viewer, and those keep rolling in. So while we have had trouble getting the kind of traction for the film in terms of media or institutions, word of mouth keeps it rolling along.
It was a fairly warm November night in 2016 when we premiered “All The Rage” at the IFC center in NYC. The screening was a bit oversold and surprisingly, after having worked on the movie for a dozen years, I didn’t feel frantic. The film focuses on the the work of Dr John Sarno, who was 93 years old at the time of the event, and not in the best of health. He and his family had only seen bits and pieces of the film, and what they had seen did not exactly make them pleased, so there was some concern about their response. They arrived just before the film and we helped them to their seats in the back row. My partners and I were stuck in the middle of the next row over, which foiled my periodic desire to bolt from the theater. When it was over there was a a profound standing ovation for Dr Sarno, so my fear that they might dislike the film dissipated. One of the first questions was really a comment that took me a little bit by surprise, “I want to commend you for your bravery for putting yourself in the film in such a personal way. That must have been very difficult.”
It wasn’t exactly a total surprise because the film had become more personal through repeated rough-cut screenings. While I wasn’t entirely comfortable about making myself a character in the film in the first place I imagine that I had been lulled into thinking it was not that big of a deal after having viewed it all so many times. Then, when the reviews hit, I began to understand what people had been talking about. Not only did most of the main stream reviewers shame me for being the in the film, they also dismissed Dr. Sarno, and the film, for not being “scientific” enough.
While we probably shouldn’t have been surprised about resistance to the film given that Dr Sarno faced profound resistance to his simple supposition that the mind and the body are interconnected, the level of dismissal and rejection has been somewhat shocking. As with most of our films, when we get it in front of an audience the response it profound. However, the process of reaching an audience involves getting a film past a phalanx of gatekeepers; festival programmers, critics, distributors, theater bookers, and general entertainment noise. Programmers at the bigger festivals passed on it, and critics …. we’ll get to the critical response in a moment.
While I am a character in the film, the main thread of “All The Rage” tells the story of Dr. John Sarno and his work dealing largely with back pain. After years of treating patients at NYU medical center’s Rusk institute he came to the understanding that the vast majority of the pain syndromes he was dealing with had their genesis in the repression of emotions. He postulated that the physical pain was a manifestation of unprocessed feelings or emotions; that the unconscious mind activated the pains in order to distract the conscious brain from thoughts that were too painful to feel. While his ideas were mostly ignored or rejected by his peers he had incredible success treating patients and his books sold millions of copies throughout the world and over the past several years the power of the mind body connection has become increasingly accepted. In fact, we felt that for once we were going to be releasing a film that wasn’t ahead of the zeitgeist. We were wrong, but not entirely. The main resistance we have faced has come from the afore mentioned writers and film bookers. While this has made it more difficult to get it to audiences, the response is often transformative when we can. Every week we hear stories about how the film has changed people’s lives. Here’s a recent review that was posted to IMDb.
“Thank you for making this movie.
I met Michael Galinsky at the Portland screening, at the same time I was going through a horrible amount of pain in my hip and leg… I heard about Sarno’s books years ago when I had another less horrible bout with back pain. And after reading “Healing Back Pain” at Howard Stern’s recommendation, in about 2 days my pain was gone. Pain medication hadn’t helped, physical therapy hadn’t helped, steroid shots hadn’t helped… My pain was literally gone after reading his book.
When this new pain started this summer, I read the books feverishly as it worked in the past. No change. Got steroid shots, no change. Read other people’s books on pain. No change. Acupuncture, no change. Meditation, no change. Everywhere I went (when I got up the courage to move), people looked at me like they couldn’t help me. The look in their eyes was heartbreaking. No one knew what would help me. I limped and ached everywhere I went and the thing I wished for most was that people couldn’t “see” that I was in pain. Their looks were the worst part about it. They could feel my pain, and I didn’t like seeing people in pain everywhere I went.
But I knew it would go away. I knew it. I just had to be patient and listen to my mind and body. It took longer this time, and didn’t just “go away” like it had before.
When I met Michael at the screening, I told him what was happening with me, (he could see my limping) he looked me straight in the eyes and told me it WILL get better. And something in my mind must have clicked, I literally felt those words. Because not long after that, I remembered a woman I met years ago that is a therapeutic massage therapist, specializing in osteopathic therapies. I saw her a few times, and when things weren’t coming along, she suggested I see her teacher for some more experienced help. He barely touched me, but I got off his table and I could walk straight. And within 2 days, zero pain.
It may seem like a miracle, but my mind and body told me what I needed because I finally listened and put the connections together about where to go for help.
The point Dr Sarno makes, I believe, is to not listen to what “others” tell you to do to fix your problem. Only your mind and your body know what you need. Everyone else is just selling you something. Literally, everyone else. Doctors are salespeople too. Everyone is selling their services, and everyone thinks they have the answer. Only you do. But our minds don’t want to wait for the answer. We just want to go to whoever is closest or is covered by our insurance and fix it, like when we call a plumber to fix a leak. If only our bodies were built that way… But they aren’t, we have minds and spirits too. And they all communicate without our even realizing. And we can tap into what they share if we slow down and listen.
That’s what I hear when I hear Dr Sarno’s words. I think it must be a little different to everyone. It seems like he speaks in whatever language each of us can hear him in.
Like I’ve said before, I think he should be sainted. To me, he is equal to those biblical healers, even Jesus himself, and we lived in the same lifetime as he did. How lucky are we?!”
When we set out to make a film about Dr. Sarno nearly 15 years ago, we knew that we would face some resistance to his ideas. In fact, after a couple of years of working on it we pretty much gave up because we couldn’t find any funding- and we couldn’t figure out how to tell the story. We applied for a dozen grants and pitched the idea to TV networks but there wasn’t any interest. In addition, while Dr. Sarno was interested in having people know about his ideas, he was a lot less interested in being a “character” in a film.
We initially began the film after I ended up in his office when my back and leg started to fail me while working on another film. To make a long story short, my father had been saved from years of neck pain when he was introduced to Dr Sarno’s work in the early 80’s. As a psychologist, Dr. Sarno’s work made perfect sense to him and he had a somewhat miraculous recovery. A decade later when my brother almost dropped out of graduate school after a two-year battle with hand pain my father insisted he see Dr. Sarno in NY. Three weeks later he was better. I read through his book at that point, and the idea that the repressing one’s emotions could cause one to have pain as a distraction from those “unthinkable” thoughts made sense to me. At the time my back would go out for a day or two a couple of times a year and after reading the book I was able to stave these episodes off for a year.
However, a decade later in 2004, when I had a wife, a kid, a house (all of the things that David Byrne sings about in “Once in a Lifetime”), and was struggling to maintain an insanely unstable “career” as a filmmaker, the pain started to creep up on me. I was working way too hard on a couple of films and – bam- my back seized up so badly I couldn’t breathe or even move. It was terror inducing. I was fixing up a house with a friend when it happened. While I lay immobilized in vivid technicolor terror my friend had to go find a half dozen painkillers so that I could be put in a car and driven home. After two weeks in bed I finally was able to move enough to get an MRI, which in itself was torture because I couldn’t lay flat as needed so it took forever. When it showed a herniated disc I was even more terrified that I would never get better. That’s when my brother offered to pay for me to go see Dr. Sarno.
When the pain had first started months earlier, I read Dr. Sarno’s book again, and I spent time journaling, and thinking about the pressures that I was under, as well as the feelings I was repressing. It had worked in the past, but at this time in my life the pressures were much more complex and overwhelming. In retrospect it is clear that I wasn’t even scratching the surface of understanding what was going on emotionally. When my wife basically carried me into his office he didn’t give me any revelatory information about myself, or my problems. However, his powerful conviction that there was nothing physically wrong with me sparked a shift in my relationship to the pain. My fear subsided, and I was able to start getting better. Within a month I was fully mobile, but looking back I realize I still wasn’t yet ready to do the real “back breaking” work of looking deeply into my own feelings that I probably needed to do. While I improved enough to function it took me many years before I was almost back to “normal”.
In 2011 we finished a film called “Battle for Brooklyn” that we had worked on for nearly a decade (the one I had just started when my back failed me so miserably). As with “All The Rage” we had a lot of trouble getting it into the major film festivals. We were eventually able to launch it at a major documentary festival in Canada where the response was tremendous. Then no one else would show it. We decided to open it ourselves in NY. I worked 20 hours a day for weeks and my hip started to sieze up. Once again, yes again, I knew what was going on theoretically, but put aside my emotions and focused on the task at hand. On opening night, my daughter had a saxophone performance. I dashed out after it was over to get a ride to the screening with our publicist. My hip hurt so badly I almost could not get in her car and each step took my breath away. Even with this pain I made it to every single screening that weekend to do Q and A because I knew that I had to exhort the audience to get others out. If we did well opening weekend then surely others would book the film.
We did incredibly well at the box office that opening weekend and ran for 3 weeks. Thankfully, we also got very strong reviews. Then no other theater would show the film and I found it almost impossible to believe. By that point I could barely stand. A few days later when I found myself screaming in pain on my office floor I also screamed for my wife and partner to “grab the fucking camera”. I knew at that moment that we had to make the Dr Sarno film, and that I would have to be a character in that film. Over the next three weeks I filmed myself daily as I tried to make sense of my situation. Even as I filmed I knew that I didn’t want to be the main focus of the film, but that the film needed someone to illustrate what the pain looked like.
Over the next couple of years of filming, my physical and mental health improved at a slow and steady rate. We filmed with Dr. Sarno a good deal and also went to visit other doctors. Eventually “Battle for Brooklyn, that film that had sent me crashing to the floor, was short-listed for the Oscar and it started to get shown more. We used our travels with “Battle” to shoot more on our Dr Sarno film and we slowly started to build scenes for the film. In late 2012 Dr Sarno retired. While this gave us something of an ending for our film we still had a lot of editing to do. In 2013 we moved out of Brooklyn and into my childhood home in North Carolina. We did this partly to create the space to finish the film and partly to give our children a calmer environment to grow up in. The energy of Brooklyn had become anxiety producing for our older daughter.
When we got there we first had to finish another film, “Who Took Johnny”. As with our previous film we got incredible audience response to the film but still had trouble getting reviews or interest. I spent my first year trying in North Carolina working to get it seen while my partner started to make sense of our materials for “All The Rage”. Thankfully, all that I had learned about dealing with the frustrations of our work made it much easier for me to handle the difficulty of getting “Who Took Johnny” out. By the time that process was winding down Suki had assembled a lot of what was to become “All The Rage”.
Now we’ve been pushing it into the world for almost 2 full years. I spend a good chunk of every day trying to move it forward. While the film hasn’t found the foothold that we had hoped, the ideas certainly are. There’s more awareness of the mind body connection all the time, and eventually the paradigm will shift.