Friday, March 7, 2014

Adventures Of Dr. Crackhead: A Major Find

I plopped in the DVD review copy of the new two-hour documentary The Adventures Of Dr. Crackhead simply because I found the title intriguing.
I stayed to watch the entire two-hour production because it is a mesmerizing true life story of a brilliant PhD who admits he sometimes reverts to his former crack addiction.
The premiere is Sunday night at 9 on CBC's Documentary channel.
Most TV documentaries are well balanced on-the-one-hand and then on-the-other-hand accounts that normally run 42 tightly edited minutes --the rest of the hour is for commercials.
Dr. Crackhead is equally dense but it wears its heart on its sleeve --the story is all about Dr. Peter Ferentzy who cooperated fully.
He often holds court with a glittering array of acolytes.
One of them not taken in is cagey film maker Jennifer Di Cresce (The Autism Enigma). Her odyssey of discovery takes us all over the place right back to Peter's troubled adolescence which here comes to life with the requisite home movies.
Peter is even holding court then as part of an immigrant Hungarian family --papa was a very busy restaurateur and mama the waitress and the comfortable life they provided for their two boys had dark under pinnings. For young Peter there was the constant need to get good grades --like his parents he started drinking to hide  anxieties and by 14 was well into the sauce.
Peter is our often good natured guide through the labyrinth of his early life which would finally lead to an addiction problem. Unlike other addicts living on the street his was a privileged world of a graduate student at York University.
I figure Ferentzy cooperated with Di Cresce not only because he craves attention but also because he has a book to sell --Why The 20th Century was Wrong which attacks our conventional theories about how addicts can beat their problems and become sober citizens once again.
At first it seemed to me film maker Di Cresce was somewhat in awe of her subject. She gives him ample space for his erudite rants and shows him wowing crowds in both Toronto and Vancouver.
But gradually the focus shifts to a more skeptical stance. Dr. Peter is on and off his drug problems. He always has an explanation for each lapse. Life with a troubled girl friend Katy seems to exacerbate all his problems.
And as Di Cresce investigates deeper she finds other experts out there who think he is just plain wrong in the way he sees addiction.
Crack addiction lost him his health, he admits at one point. But he still can't stop.
The bits of his lectures we see are fascinating --he's a true spell binder. Yes, he is onto something when talking about the politics of prohibition. In his own family alcohol was the demon yet both parents drank copiously --drugs was outside their world view.
At another point he admits to being a "spoiled rich kid" who became fascinated with the simplistic worlds offered in comic books.
Di Cresce then talks to other addiction specialists advocating complete abstinence. It's clear she's moving away from Dr. Peter's position, particularly when she notices how quickly he can revert to crack if it is available.
What should keep you watching is the often brilliant cinematography of Michael Savoie who stays right in Dr. Peter's face giving us a view of the brilliant talker that is warts and all ( for Rat Pack Productions).
The Adventures Of Dr. Crackhead takes us inside the mind of a brilliant and manipulative guy who is battling addictions, battling life. I was exhausted watching it but recognize here is a true TV event, a must see inner life investigation.
MY RATING: ****.

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