[Marxism] People Say I'm Crazy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 5 12:57:51 MDT 2004

"People Say I'm Crazy" is a spare but effective documentary about what 
it means to be a schizophrenic. Dispensing with the kind of melodrama 
(and dubious medical science) at work in the far more ambitious "A 
Beautiful Mind", it retains the same kind of inspirational value as it 
tells the story of John Cadigan, a young artist.

Like so many others, Madigan experienced his first psychotic break while 
in college. As an art major at Carnegie-Mellon, he found himself 
cowering in his room just like John Nash at Princeton. As was the case 
with Nash, recovery was as much the result of support from friends and 
family as it was with medication. As it turned out, his sister Katie was 
a film-maker and she began documenting his struggles at the outset. The 
film was co-directed by her and John Cadigan and produced by Ira Wohl, 
who is best-known for the documentary "Best Boy", which details the 
story of his older retarded brother's attempt to adjust to a new group 
home after the death of his parents. Both films are imbued with a 
humanitarian spirit that serves to make the most marginal figures in our 
society less so.

With the aid of medication, Cadigan has achieved a certain modicum of 
self-sufficiency in Berkeley, California where his time is divided 
between making woodcuts, working in a food pantry for the needy and 
hanging out with friends who are also afflicted with mental illness. 
Although it is not well understood by the general population, 
schizophrenia is not manifested just by psychotic breaks. Even when the 
sufferer is in a "normal" state, everyday is an ordeal as black 
depression and fear threaten to submerge him or her into complete 
inactivity. For example, when Cadigan is not given a nametag like other 
volunteers at the food pantry, he immediately begins to think that this 
is a sign that people hate him.

His greatest outlet is his work, which is outstanding by any criterion. 
(It may be viewed at the film's website at: 
http://www.peoplesayimcrazy.com.) A few years ago an art show made up of 
work by people with mental illness was assembled in Washington, DC and 
Cadigan's work was included. He was also interviewed on NPR's "The 
Morning Edition". This was in a small way the counterpart to John Nash 
winning the Nobel Prize. Another victory for Cadigan was being accepted 
into a building designed for people with disabilities in Berkeley, for 
which, like all such facilities, the demand far exceeds the supply.

I was reminded of this in my own building, which is going through a 
"nimby" (not in my backyard) outbreak right now. When it was announced 
that the 3 bedroom apartment down the hall from me was being rented to 5 
mentally retarded men with Cerebral Palsy and their two male attendants, 
a group of tenants began circulating petitions filled with hysterical 
formulations about the "fear factor" attached to living in such close 
quarters to this threat. Eventually I will give the organizers a good 
piece of my mind.

The stigma attached to mental illnesses and retardation is deeply rooted 
in bourgeois society. It is to the great credit of film-makers like Ira 
Wohl and Katie Catigan that they attack these prejudices at their heart 
and make our less fortunate brothers, sisters and neighbors more 
recognizable. What you will discover in "People Say I'm Crazy" is a 
story about the struggle to live a decent life--something we can all 
identify with.

The film is now showing at Cinema Village in NYC. Highly recommended.


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