Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Hayley's Life Lessons: Film Reviews

Welcome, dear folks, to the second installment of my Hayley's Life Lessons series of posts.

Not content with simply preaching the best way of slicing pizza to the world, I now want to teach you to be VERY suspicious of film review quotes.

I think everyone does know to be suspicious of the one word quotes that appear on film posters: "BRILLIANT!" the poster says. And most people do seem to know that this may well actually be taken completely out of context and the actual quote may have been "Brilliant this film is not."

I came across a much more complex (and disturbing) example of this same thing recently. As part of a research project for work, I’ve been looking at some information sources about a particular doctor who operates in the US. His name is Stanislav Burzynski, and he claims to be able to cure cancer with his antineoplaston therapy. I’m  going to attempt not to make any judgements of him or his treatment in this post as its a bit of a complex issue and i can be a real bore on the subject. I just want to share with you this tiny part of the whole affair that i’ve come across.

Supporters of Burzynski point to a film made by Eric Merola  (The Burzynski Movie- Cancer Is a Serious Business) as evidence of the benefits of Burzynski’s  (expensive) treatment, despite a lack of robust, reproducible trial evidence. If you were to go to the website for the film, you would see a range of seemingly impressive reviews from various newspapers or film review websites.

Let’s just pick one of those: The New York Times review seems like a good place to start. According to the website they’ve said:

Wowser: so from this we can see that The New York Times thinks poor, stoical Dr Burzynski is struggling to use his highly effective treatment against the will of the evil FDA and Big Pharma.  Shall we have a little look and see if that is what they’ve actually said? If you want to, you can find the actual review here. I’ll pick out the main bits here:

"Plain, plodding and relentlessly expositive, “Burzynski” tries to wrestle medical clarity from a snarl of science and human suffering. The price paid, however, is a documentary as visually arid as it is topically fertile.

Like a bloodhound following a redolent paper trail, the director (and writer, cinematographer, editor and narrator), Eric Merola, presents Dr. Burzynski as a stoic victim of patent fraud, government harassment and scientific sabotage. No one appears to contest the efficacy of his treatment; the problem, the film suggests, is a pharmaceutical industry with nothing to gain — and much to lose — from the introduction of a highly successful, nontoxic competitor to chemotherapy and radiation."

And so, with a few words taken out the Burzynski website seems to suggest something completely different to what the review is actually saying.  With any other film it would be funny, but the sad fact is that desperate, ill people are turning to this problematic form of evidence to make treatment decisions. 

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