His study of Julius Orlovsky, a catatonic schizophrenic; Julius's brother, Peter; Allen Ginsberg, the noted, bearded, "beat" poet with whom they live, and other members of their uninhibited circle, has the shockingly revelatory attributes of a close-up view of the real-unreal world of the mentally disturbed.
Screen: 'Me and My Brother' Opens:Film by Robert Frank Is at New Yorker The Real-Unreal World of a Catatonic Seen
By A.H. WEILER
Published: February 3, 1969
THAT man's probing into his own mind is as old, inconclusive and fascinating as history, is illustrated with clinical detail and more than a modicum of artistic freedom in "Me and My Brother," Robert Frank's first feature-length film, which had its American premiere at the New Yorker yesterday.
His study of Julius Orlovsky, a catatonic schizophrenic; Julius's brother, Peter; Allen Ginsberg, the noted, bearded, "beat" poet with whom they live, and other members of their uninhibited circle, has the shockingly revelatory attributes of a close-up view of the real-unreal world of the mentally disturbed. But an excess of imaginative effects, done equally with professionalism and with genuine compassion for his friends, tends to confuse and detract from the photographer-director-writer's dissections of sanity and insanity.
Mr. Frank is a transplanted Swiss whose commercial and documentary still photographs have won him acclaim, as have his short subjects, "Pull My Daisy" and "The Sin of Jesus."
He spent more than two years of intermittent effort on "Me and My Brother," with a good deal of time off to film Conrad Rook's offbeat feature, "Chappaqua." The results, all things considered, are remarkable. Critics at last year's Venice Film Festival hailed the film, but its impact, like its use of both color and black-and-white, is uneven.
A viewer is swept somewhat dazedly into the proceedings by a sexual act between male partners. He is quickly thrust into the strange world of Julius, who both portrays himself and is portrayed in fantasy sequences by an actor, Joseph Chaikin. The silent, withdrawn real Julius does not answer questions put by his brother, by Mr. Ginsberg or by their friends or the psychiatrist. His case history is limned with quick, spasmodic intercuts of reality and unreality, from 1966, with an authentic journey with Ginsberg and Peter and poetry readings in Kansas and in San Francisco, to, presumably, last year.
One wonders, however, about sudden switches to a movie being made about this movie, about psychiatric sessions with an actress, about visits to a dentist, about the psychiatrist's own fantasies, about Julius's disappearances. Are these glimpses into other psyches part of the whole picture? Do they contribute to understanding Julius and Peter, who is occasionally driven to distraction because of his largely silent and seemingly unfeeling brother?
One can appreciate the frustrations arising from Julius's unresponsiveness to constant, patient questioning and also the sad fact that thorazine and electric shock treatment in a hospital have not brought him back to reality. But there is a heartening climactic effect when Julius, asked about the camera, says haltingly, "It's a reflection . . . of the real truth."
"Me and My Brother" may not have precisely the happy ending of, say, "Three Faces of Eve," in which Hollywood and Joanne Woodward delved into an actual case history of split personality. It does have its large share of filmic obfuscation and offbeat characters, but thanks to the dedication of Mr. Frank and his collaborators—Sam Sheppard on the writing and Helen Silverstein, Bob Easton and Lynn Ratener on the editing—"Me and My Brother" takes us on a disturbingly serious but entirely graphic voyage into a still mysterious world.
ME AND MY BROTHER. Written by Robert Frank and Sam Sheppard; directed and photographed by Mr. Frank; produced by Helen Sllverstein and released by New Yorker Films. At the New Yorker Theater, Broadway and 88th Street. Running time: 91 minutes.
Julius Orlovsky . . . . . Julius Orlovsky
Peter Orlovsky . . . . . Peter Orlovsky
Allen Ginsberg . . . . . Allen Ginsberg
Psychiatrist . . . . . John Coe
Social Worker . . . . . Virginia Kiser
Nancy Fish . . . . . Nancy Fish
Actress . . . . . Cynthla McAdams
Cameraman . . . . . Roscoe Lee Browne