Sunday, 23 June 2013

ME, THE BEES AND CANCER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - a creepy Cronenberg mockumentary? It could be!!!

Me, The Bees and Cancer (2013) ***1/2
Dir. John Board, Hector Centeno, Jim Donovan
Starring: John Board, David Cronenberg

Review By Greg Klymkiw

John Board has a gourd-sized tumour. Every second day, 30 agitated buzzing bees are individually pressed, with their ass-end stingers facing the humungous pustule-like excrescence sprouting from the man's armpit. And puh-leeze, lezz' not fo'gits dat we bin' introduced to this character, a fit, spry septuagenarian as he belts out a rap number whilst adorned in clothes that look more at home on a gangsta' in some club in the 'hood rather than the tree-lined, semi-tony urban enclave he prances through.

Here he be - let's photoshop this grey-haired sucker with his cool, devil-may-care tresses and baggy pants into the controversial Toronto Mayor Rob Ford crack-house photo - holding a jar of dried homeopathic roots and herbs instead of a crack bowl.

And Jesus Christ, we wince! Not a male in the audience WON'T feel his testicles sucking up into some innermost cavity as each self-administered bee sting forces Gangsta' Johnny to release a gasp of pain, followed by a strange exhalation of relief. If you close your eyes, it sounds like he's having multiple orgasms. Some might call it La petite mort, but for this MAN, it's life, baby, sweet life.

John Board, you see, has been diagnosed with Stage 1 Hodgkins lymphoma.

He's one strong, kick-ass mo-fo!


The man rejects surgery and radiation therapy in favour of repeated painful injections of venom from 30 furry mini-Mugwump-ian hive employees every second day!

Is this, perchance, some perverse new David Cronenberg film - a slow, creepy-crawly mockumentary or found-footage picture from Canada's Master of Audacity? It could be, but it sure-as-shit ain't. Nope, it's a personal documentary by Cronenberg's longtime assistant director John Board (The Fly, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Videodrome, etc.).

Board is legendary.

He's a 79-year-old veteran of Canada's film industry and has worked from its inception in English Canada, all the way through to where it is now. He's worked on the best Canadian films with some of the country's very best filmmakers. It's practically a hit list of the country's celluloid history.

Then he got cancer. Not, as they say, a good deal - but men like Gangsta' Johnny know how to look a raw deal square in the eye and fuck with it with all their might!

If you know anything at all about what it takes to be a first assistant director (drive, people skills, acute administrative skills, leadership, etc.) then you know, with one glance, why his credit list is so stellar and why he, by extension must be well beyond stellar. With all that force of character and acumen, you know damn well that a man of action like Board isn't going to take ANY shit lightly - especially not life and death; HIS life, HIS death. He's going to rage until the dying of the light, but his rage isn't destructive - it's proactive and in the case of fighting cancer, extremely positive.

Board, of course, is also world famous in the film industry as the creator of The Hollywood Survival Kit: a veritable cornucopia of homeopathic remedies for a variety of ailments that stars and crew members the world over swear by. Learning that bees carry potential healing qualities, he embarked upon his own program of wellness to fight the cancer - the controversial "bee sting therapy".

All of this coincided with the 1KWAVE fund initiated and administered by maverick independent producer Ingrid Veninger and equally maverick programmer/distributor Stacey Donen wherein a handful of filmmaking teams were awarded financial, moral, marketing and mentorship support to make feature films for one thousand smackeroos. Board proposed and was subsequently approved to make his film.

And make it he did. He leads us through his own objections to a medical Status Quo which, places far too much emphasis on outmoded approaches that do little more than put money in the pockets of pharmaceutical companies and reject all research into healthier and more cost effective homeopathic remedies.

This is pretty harrowing stuff. We see bee sting therapy on Board and numerous others and believe me, it's not a pretty site. Board even gets Cronenberg to join him in an onscreen chat about obsession - an especially worthy line of discourse given Board's own path to getting better care - care that HE controls.

Though his film cost a mere 1K, this doesn't mean we get a glorified home movie, but instead, a penetrating documentary portrait of a man truly obsessed. It's fascinating stuff and must-see viewing for all documentary fans. The film has aspects where, in retrospect, I'd definitely have preferred a wider penetration into examining the conflict between traditional medicine and practitioners of homeopathic cures. Why not train the cameras as vigourously upon oncologists, general practitioners, pharmaceutical company reps, etc., with the same detail he lavishes upon himself and his own plight/fight. I'd also have liked to see more direct questioning on this topic levelled at biologists, zoologists and other traditional researchers and scientists. This might have yielded a bit more balance, but also would have delivered more genuine conflict. Hell, in some cases, it might have even yielded some surprises - for both the audience AND Board.

Given the film and the direction it takes, a part of me thinks a sequel might be in the works. There's still more to learn about this whole issue and Board's ongoing struggle. For now, though, sit back and prepare yourself for one of the strangest, creepiest documentaries you'll have seen in quite some time - and, for that matter, an illuminating work that will generate more questions and discussion.

THAT, my homies, is ALWAYS a good thing.

"Me, The Bees and Cancer" is in theatrical release via College Street Pictures and can currently be seen at The Royal Cinema in Toronto."