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TV REVIEW : 'Father's Daze': A Work of Stylish Honesty

July 09, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER

There are other ways for TV to explore disease, beyond the purely journalistic or sentimental, and a work such as Mark Pellington's "Father's Daze" on PBS' "Alive TV" series (at 10:30 tonight, KCET-TV Channel 28) sets out the path for alternatives.

In other words, it's that rarity in any corner of the expanding TV galaxy--a work of art.

It nominally falls into the currently hot category in video art, the personal diary film. But just as Pellington blasts away the cobwebs hanging onto TV stories about the tragically incurable, he also creates a portrait of his father and family that surpasses most independent video in a remarkable blending of heightened emotions and visual inventiveness.

As his family tries to deal day by day with the crippling Alzheimer's disease suffered by his father, Bill, a former stellar linebacker for the Baltimore Colts during the golden Johnny Unitas era, Pellington's camera strives to show the strange attraction-repulsion dynamic that rules loved ones coping with Alzheimer's. Just as his mother, Micki, despairs that Bill is "physically there, but not there . . . not dead, but he's not alive," so Pellington constantly switches between observing Bill as a specimen and his great, big lovable dad who used to romp with him on the beach.

It's this tension, expressed in a deliberately scattered fashion, that makes "Father's Daze" a work of stylish honesty. A fast-motion sequence, for instance, showing Bill sitting and slumped over in a chair, alone for hours, is never quite funny in the way fast-motion can be, but a starkly clinical glimpse of the loneliness of Alzheimer's.

Bill's former athletic glory, of course, makes his physical and mental collapse all the more tragic; but Pellington handles it unsentimentally as an act of cruel nature, and as a fan suddenly wondering whatever happened to that favorite player of his. The father's daze is compounded by the son's daze, puzzled about why things went so terribly wrong.

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