At the beginning of Eric Merola’s Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering, a 1970s news reporter says, “Dr. Robert Good, president of the Sloan Kettering Institute, one of the world’s biggest and richest cancer research centers, said Laetrile does not prevent cancer, nor cure cancer, nor stop cancer from spreading.” For the next seventy-five minutes, Ralph W. Moss, PhD, the public affairs science writer for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center from 1974 to 1977, talks about what lay behind that statement and the furor that followed. He tells the captivating story of what went on behind the scenes as Laetrile, a form of amygdalin used in tumor treatment, was coveted by cancer patients but demonized by the medical establishment. The controversy over the drug, which was eventually banned in America, forced patients to go to Mexico in search of the palliative care medicine while the FDA, the National Cancer Institute, and several high-profile MSK doctors considered it to be quackery. MSK’s own top researcher, Dr. Kanematsu Sugiura, had exciting success treating mice with the drug, hopeful that the positive effects would be proven in humans as well. But when Dr. Good, MSK vice presidents Dr. Lloyd J. Old and Dr. Chester Stock, and MSKCC president Dr. Lewis Thomas decided that Laetrile was not the future of cancer treatment, despite what some of them had previously stated in public, Moss was confused and distressed. Others were as well; the documentary reveals that the political dimension of the debate eventually brought even the ultra-right-wing John Birch Society into the fray. Moss eventually became a whistleblower, writing numerous books on the subject, including The Cancer Industry, Cancer Therapy: The Independent Consumer’s Guide to Non-Toxic Treatment & Prevention, and the brand-new Doctored Results: The Suppression of Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, which spurred the documentary.
Writer, director, producer, and coeditor Merola (Burzynski) lets Moss share his tale while sitting in a chair in the middle of a room at the Aldrich House in Providence, an odd if somewhat comforting choice, supplemented by archival footage and brief comments from Moss’s wife, Martha, son, Ben, and daughter, Melissa, in addition to Dr. Alex Pruchnicki, the only medical professional to come out in support of Moss without being anonymous. Merola also often cuts between two cameras, one a disorienting shot that shows the subject from the side, as if he had to try something different since the film is mostly talking heads. It’s quite an amazing story, and one that continues today, as labs around the world test and question the effectiveness of Laetrile. But watching Second Opinion, it’s hard not to wonder just what might have happened had MSKCC allowed Dr. Sugiura’s research to go on and the government given the drug more of a chance. The film is playing at Cinema Village, with Merola and Dr. Moss participating in Q&As following several screenings over the weekend, concluding with the 3:10 showing on August 31.
NEW YORK COMIC CON / NEW YORK SUPER WEEK
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
655 West 34th St. (11th Ave. between 34th & 39th Sts.)
Thursday, October 9, $35, 12 noon - 7:00
Con continues through October 12; New York Super Week runs October 3-12
New York Comic Con continues to get more and more popular every year, with bigger and bigger guests and longer and longer lines. Tickets for the ninth annual event, running October 9-12 at the Javits Center, are already sold out for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and the organizers haven’t even announced the full slate of activities for any of the days. So your only chance for getting in will be to go on Thursday, when there will be appearances by such spotlight guests as Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad, Hollows series author Kim Harrison, and Kristian Nairn (Hodor) and Natalia Tena (Osha) of Game of Thrones and such featured guests as Jason David Frank of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Ben Templesmith, Bob McLeod, Dustin Nguyen, Jimmy Palmiotti, Peter David, Stuart Moore, and Terry Moore, and dozens of special guests as well. In conjunction with NYCC, New York Super Week runs October 3-12 at various locations throughout the city, consisting of related events, including a thirtieth anniversary screening of The Karate Kid at the 92nd St. Y with Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, and Martin Kove; metal monsters X Japan at Madison Square Garden; Neil Gaiman as the subject of host Ophira Eisenberg’s “Ask Me Another” live show at the Y; “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Sing-Along and Whedonverse Party” at Union Hall; “The First (and Probably Last) Annual New York Feline Film & Video Festival for Humans” at Galapagos Art Space; a “Dr. Who Trivia and Costume Contest” at the Way Station; “Cure You or Kill You: 19th Century Medical Science and Quackery” at the Museum of Morbid Anatomy; and “Rave of Thrones,” a DJ set by Nairn with special guests Zedd Stark and Trance Rayder at B. B. King’s.
In 1909, Prince Luigi Amedeo, the Duke of the Abruzzi, sought to climb to the summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world after Everest, bringing with him writer Filippo de Filippi and photographer Vittorio Sella to document their journey. To celebrate the centennial of that seminal event, alpinist and mountain guide Fabrizio Zangrilli gathered a team of climbers to attempt to reach the top of K2 in 2009, bringing along first-time director Dave Ohlson to capture their daring adventure. Situated in the Karakoram mountain range along the Pakistan-China border, K2 — one of the fourteen legendary “eight-thousanders” (mountains of more than eight thousand meters) — stands 8,611 meters tall, challenging climbers with a death rate much higher than that of Everest. “The will to just try something big, something dangerous, something extraordinary — it’s part of who we are,” says one member of the team, which includes Zangrilli, Canadian mountain guide Chris Szymiec, Austrian alpinist Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, British mountaineer Jake Meyer, and German cameraman David Göttler. As they make their way across the treacherous Karakoram Highway and through Skardu, the Baltoro Glacier, and Concordia, Ohlson cuts between thrilling still photos and film footage from the 1909 trip and the 2009 attempt, delving into the history of the spectacularly beautiful area and emphasizing how difficult it is to reach K2’s summit. “Everest and K2 aren’t even the same sport,” Szymiec says. Joined by a group of porters, they find obstacles every step of the way — and it gets even more threatening the closer they get. The film reveals the depth of the human spirit and the fierce power of nature, especially when the team has to stop when a friend dies while skiing down the mountain. Watching the seventy-five-minute documentary, you just might consider taking on K2 yourself someday — and then you’ll quickly change your mind and settle back comfortably into your chair. K2: Siren of the Himalayas opens August 22 at the Quad, with Ohlson and Jason Reid, one of the producers and editors, participating in Q&As following the 4:30 and 8:05 shows on Friday and Saturday.
Approaching fifty, Steven E. Bram was looking for something different in his life. A maker of sports documentaries, a New York Jets fan, and a Dead Head, Bram realizes, “I’m hungry for a deeper kind of spirituality,” as he says in his new film, Kabbalah Me. “The challenge is where to find it.” Bram thinks he may have found it when he is led into the world of Kabbalah, the mysterious and mystical side of Judaism. The married father of two heads off in search of faith and wisdom in the film, which he made with music video director Judah Lazarus, journeying from Crown Heights to Jerusalem as he attempts to fill this major void in his life by investigating the myriad mysteries of Kabbalah. The pilgrimage leads him to relatives he’s never met before and charismatic rabbis, every one of whom has a unique interpretation of not only what Kabbalah is but when someone should enter its realm; one rabbi considers it dessert after the big meal of traditional Judaism, but others believe it’s open to anyone at any time. Meanwhile, Bram’s wife, Miriam, and his business partner, Bob Potter, are confused about his search; his spouse, in particular, is concerned about whether her husband is going to become a different person from the man she married — and, as the film shows, these are certainly legitimate fears. “I guess I have to take it one step at a time,” she says. “I mean, I prefer he not be too extreme because that would be in conflict with what I want.” But the seemingly kindhearted Bram continues his quest for fulfillment in what can certainly be considered selfish ways, and that can be a bit off-putting to viewers who don’t know him. His friends in the film may give him the benefit of the doubt, but to strangers he can come off as more than a bit overly self-involved. In addition, viewers looking to learn a lot about Kabbalah from the film will be disappointed, as it only breaches the surface with multiple explanations, resulting in more questions than answers. But Bram still manages to be an engaging character, and it’s easy to follow his exploration while wondering if there’s anything missing in your own life. Kabbalah Me opens August 22 at the Quad, with several weekend screenings followed by a Q&A with Bram.
Skylight One Hanson, Fort Greene
Saturday, September 27, $55-$85, 2:00 - 6:00
Tickets are on sale for the Village Voice’s fourth annual Brooklyn Pour Craft Beer Festival, in which more than 1,500 suds lovers will get to drown themselves in more than one hundred specialty brews mostly from the tristate area. The four-hour party, held in the glorious Skylight One Hanson space in the old Williamsburg Savings Bank, will feature drink from such breweries as Alphabet City, Asahi, Braven, Captain Lawrence, Dogfish Head, Keegan, Radeberger, Radiant Pig, Shipyard, Schmaltz, Shiner, Singha, Singlecut, Sly Fox, Steadfast, Two Roads, Victory, and many more to be announced. Food trucks will be on hand to supply a solid base, and there will be live entertainment, demonstrations, meet-and-greets, and talks as well. The event runs from 2:00 to 6:00; the $85 VIP ticket gets you in at 2:00 and provides access to the private VIP lounge, free snacks, and a gift bag, while the $65 Early Entry ticket lets you enter at 2:30 and the $55 General Admission ticket allows you in at 3:00. For the event, the Village Voice is partnering with Lifebeat, Music Fights HIV/AIDS, a “nonprofit dedicated to educating America’s youth (13-29) about HIV/AIDS prevention.”