Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Loss of Nameless Things

I stumbled on an episode of Independent Lens online that was Bill Rose's documentary The Loss of Nameless Things (it's available in its entirety on hulu).

It's about Oakley Hall III, a visionary playwright and artistic director who founded a theater company in upstate NY in the 70s. They all lived in the woods, did a lot of drugs, and thought creative thoughts. Oakley was the center of the universe. He drove outrageous productions of Streetcar Named Desire and obscure French comedies. His triumph was a production of Frankenstein that was, by all accounts, terrifying. His potential was overwhelming to those who knew him - dizzying.

Then he went drinking one night with a relative stranger who had been hanging around the camp. Only two people know what happened that night, and one can't remember. By his own volition, an accident, or the hand of this stranger, Oakley fell from a bridge.

He survived but was disfigured. And brain injured. He'd become the stitched together Frankenstein's monster he'd used only a few years early to make his mark in the creative community.

In the weeks that follow, Oakley's friends and family struggle to get to know this new person who lives among them - the one who doesn't always recognize people, wanders when unattended, and doesn't make sense when he talks. At the same time, they mourn the creative force that seems to be gone forever.

The filmmaker said he originally set out to delve into the accident itself - who was this stranger, what were the possible scenarios, was there more to the story? But, upon hearing of this transformation of Oakley, the story became about how a creative community responds to one of its own when the lifeforce is muted.

Once you finally get to hear and see Oakley in something other than photographs, it's clear that there is no happy ending to this story, no deus ex machina that tidies everything up in the end. His friends clearly talk about 2 different Oakleys. They love the new one, the kinder, gentler Oakley, but they can't help but miss and wonder about what might have been.

Exactly. That's why brain injury, for lack of a better word, stinks.

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