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'Alive Inside' and 'Code Black' are documentaries with the same flaw

Two new documentaries —"Alive Inside" and "Code Black" —portray different issues but suffer from the same problem.

Music helps open up people suffering from trauma in "Alive Inside." Credit: Projector Media Music helps open up people suffering from trauma in "Alive Inside."
Credit: Projector Media

'Alive Inside'
Director: Michael Rossato-Bennett
2 (out of 5) Globes

'Code Black'
Director: Ryan McGarry
2 (out of 5) Globes

Both “Alive Inside” and “Code Black” are noble documentaries about two separate, timely medical issues. “Alive Inside” concerns the idea of using music therapy for those with extreme memory loss. “Code Black,” meanwhile, hangs out in an emergency room that’s always prohibitively full, in part due to poor health care.

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The upside: These films are not only in the right; they are often very moving. “Alive Inside” sits with patients — from the elderly to those who’ve experienced trauma — who’ve been trapped inside themselves as they listen to songs they haven’t heard in ages. Once they have The Beach Boys or Stevie Wonder piping into their ears, they instantly spring to life and can suddenly communicate with doctors.

Arash Kohanteb, M.D. is one of the frenzied doctors in "Code Black." Credit: Long Shot Factory Arash Kohanteb, M.D. is one of the frenzied doctors in "Code Black."
Credit: Long Shot Factory

Likewise, “Code Black” considers the health care issue from the doctors’ point-of-view. In fact, it’s so deep in there, its director, Ryan McGarry, actually worked in the location (namely Los Angeles County General). The exhausted professionals rattle off an untold number of problems, from understaffing to overpacked waiting rooms. (It’s said there are at least 1,000 people at a time.) What’s worse, many of them suffer from ailments that could be remedied by affordable health care, and then ratchet up huge bills taxpayers pay for anyway.

The downside: There’s an inherent conceptual flaw in the activist film genre: By simply trying to sell an idea, they can come off like infomercials. The better ones focus on a larger story while making their points, or even charm their way out. (That’s what Al Gore, of all people, did with “An Inconvenient Truth.”) Both “Alive Inside” and “Code Black” feature plenty of patients and stories, but none that carry us through the narrative. As a result they become quickly repetitive, even though each only has less than 80 minutes to fill. With better structure they’d have more than good intentions

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
 
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