Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor
About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



Filmmaker Ric Burns explores life of neurologist/writer Oliver Sacks
by Matt Simonette

This article shared 640 times since Tue Oct 6, 2020
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

For documentarian Ric Burns, whose work includes New York: A Documentary Film, American Ballet Theatre and VA: The Human Cost of War ( and who co-produced and co-wrote The Civil War ), the tumultuous life of gay neurologist and author Oliver Sacks was prime material for a film profile.

Sacks' gift, Burns said, was giving his patients and subjects ( who often included himself ) "a sense of their own narratives," transforming clinical case histories into rich exercises in storytelling aimed at giving both practitioner and patient insights into the patient's complexities . At one point, the New York Times called him "the Poet Laureate of contemporary medicine."

Examining Sacks' complexities was among the goals of Burns' new film Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, which began streaming Sept. 25. The documentary intercuts between two narratives, Sacks' life and his final six months. Burns began work on the film in 2015, when he was asked to film Sacks as he battled what would prove to be a terminal illness.

"I knew Oliver through his work," Burns recalled. "I admired it enormously. I hadn't been thinking about a film about Oliver, but with that shock out of the blue—a bolt out of the blue—we immediately went in. We didn't raise money. We went, 'You know what? Oliver is one of the personalities of the century. His work has impacted so many people. We felt duty-bound."

Burns shot 90 hours of footage with Sacks over the course of his last months, at one point doing 12-hour interviews for five days in a row. "We got thrown into the 'deep-end of Oliver Sacks' in quite a remarkable way," the filmmaker said.

Many viewers might know of Sacks primarily as the basis for Malcom Sayer, Robin Williams' character in Penny Marshall's 1990 film of Sacks' book Awakenings. That film overlooked a key aspect of Sacks' persona that Burns and the neurologist addressed head-on in their conversations: Sacks' homosexuality.

"Oliver had just published a remarkably candid memoir called On the Move, in which he discussed, as an 81-year-old man, his sexuality, which he'd never discussed outside a very small circle of people," Burns said.

Sacks had what Burns called both a "tormented and wonderful" childhood in his native Great Britain. His parents were both physicians, and he was doted upon by his mother especially. But when, at age 18, he told her that he was gay, she told her son that he had become "an abomination" in her eyes, an episode that left Sacks emotionally scarred. The film also addresses his eventual move to America and the addiction issues he contended with, even as his writings began to take hold with readers, scientists and practitioners.

With the film, Burns explained, "We wanted to give an account that was just as candid as Oliver was now willing to be—about his sexuality, his drug use and his extraordinary conflicts with people in positions of authority. He was fired from every official job he's ever had."

Burns found Sacks to be a compelling subject in part because he mobilized his strengths and passions to "invent" his own job: "He was a scientist, artist, storyteller, doctor. He firmly believed that those things were not only compatible, they were inevitable."

Once Sacks passed away, Burns interviewed numerous other subjects to flesh out the scientist's memories, among them Sacks' partner Billy Hayes, with whom Sacks started a relationship after decades of celibacy. Burns admitted to being almost "embarrassed" by beginning to raise funds for the film mid-production, since he began filming so hastily thanks to Sacks' declining health. Some production expenses had to be put on Burns' credit card.

But the finished product in the end did the same thing that Sacks did in his case histories, Burns said. It captured Sacks' inner life.

"When he was face-to-face with people, it was very difficult for him to both be there and not be there, which a writer can often can do—be present and absent at the same time," Burns explained. "You could feel that wariness in him. But at the same time there was this childlike desire to connect. There was some voice you could almost hear saying, 'Don't say that, Oliver,' and he would say, 'I have to say it.' … You realize that the camera is seeing what can't be seen."

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life can be streamed at .

This article shared 640 times since Tue Oct 6, 2020
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

Blumhouse's Diverse Box of Halloween Horrors
Over the past several years, Blumhouse Productions has been the force behind a number of horror films with a sense of diversity rolling down the backbone of their creation. In 2017, openly gay-writer director Christopher Landon ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Viola Davis, Tyler Posey, Elton John, Tegan and Sara
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom will premiere on Netflix on Dec. 18, a press release noted. The movie—based on the August Wilson play—will star Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman and Colman Domingo. In the film and ...

Gay News

BOOKS Former Warner Brothers head Alan Shayne reflects on a pivotal summer
Many things happened in 1941—Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Wonder Woman comic began publication and Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in for his third term as U.S. president. It was also a pivotal year for Alan ...

Gay News

Chicago Filmmakers to participate in Masterwork: Industry Conversations series
--From a press release - (Chicago, IL) Chicago Filmmakers is pleased to announce two new editions of Masterwork: Industry Conversations, a series of virtual interviews with long established and award-winning filmmakers followed by a Q&A ...

Gay News

'V for Vendetta' at Music Box Oct. 30. includes talk with Wachowski
The 15th-anniversary theatrical re-release of V for Vendetta, which now includes bonus content—a 13-minute, pre-recorded conversation with director James McTeigue and writer/producer Lana Wachowski—will run at the Music Box Theatre ...

Gay News

Trans films at Chicago International Film Festival
The 56th Chicago International Film Festival illuminates varying gender norms—in childhood, adolescence and old age—now through Sunday, Oct. 25 as part of the Festival's "Out-Look" LGBTQ+ programming. Three feature films ...

Gay News

Billy Masters
"I think it's important to find a way, all of us, to move on and fly away from this subject onto something else."—Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris responding to Rachel Maddow asking if she saw the ...

Gay News

MOVIES Ruby Rose talks new film 'The Doorman,' LGBTQ actors
In the new movie The Doorman, out actress Ruby Rose (TV's Orange Is the New Black and Batwoman; movies such as John Wick: Chapter 2 and Pitch Perfect 3) stars as the titular character in an ...

Gay News

Alliance of Illinois Judges hosting 'Coming Out Stories'
In celebration of National Coming Out Day (which took place Oct. 11), the Alliance of Illinois Judges (AIJ) unveiled the short film Coming Out Stories. Coming Out Stories features members of the judiciary sharing coming out ...

Gay News

Matthew-Lee Erlbach talks Be An #ArtsHero, career, other endeavors
Writer, actor and filmmaker Matthew-Lee Erlbach is on a mission to get financial relief to the many arts workers and institutions impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Erlbach is calling on U.S. senators to sponsor the DAWN ...

Gay News

Director's cut of 'But I'm a Cheerleader' will be out Dec. 8
People can celebrate the 20th anniversary of a classic lesbian film when But I'm a Cheerleader: Director's Cut arrives on Digital 4K Ultra HD on Dec. 8, from Lionsgate. From Primetime Emmy-nominated director Jamie Babbit ...

Gay News

Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival names winners
--From a press release - (Chicago, IL) Reeling is pleased to announce the winners of the 38th annual Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival. The festival was held virtually this year from September 24 to October 7. The event included ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Diversity report, Zachary Quinto, 'Schitt's Creek,' Mariah Carey
In a new report from the UCLA-based Center for Scholars and Storytellers titled "Beyond Checking A Box: A Lack of Authentically Inclusive Representation Has Costs at the Box Office," researchers found that bringing authentic diversity to ...

Gay News

Pride Fall Film Festival Oct. 12
Eight short films, including work by new directors, some using new technology (iPhone 11, Filmic Pro), in explore sexual orientation and gender identity across cultures and among male and female-identifying ...

Gay News

Billy Masters
"It's terrifying. It's scary. We have to get out and vote."—Lil Nas X's response to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Michael Bloomberg has found a way to help Joe Biden get more votes in Florida: ...


Copyright © 2020 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs     
Privacy Policy      Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.