Playing By Ear: Julian Schnabel on “Diving Bell”

This week’s On Screen, the BBC World Service’s radio show about cinema, features an interview with Julian Schnabel, director of the film adaptation of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Toward the end of the interview, Schnabel expresses an insight about the “invisibility” of people with disabilities: non-disabled people see the wheelchair, the white cane, or the guide dog and not the person beyond the disability label. Julian Schnabel gets it! Tom Tykwer gets it in the Faubourg Saint-Denis vignette in Paris, je t’aime. After years of cheesy representations in movies, the tide may be turning when directors come to this kind of understanding about the complex humanity, not the cheap symbolism, of disabled people.

I usually hear On Screen at 4:30 a.m. when my clock radio turns on. I should roll over and return to dreaming, which can lead to some pretty surreal content with the BBC in the background. But I wake up for On Screen. I don’t make it to as many movies as I’d like, so listening to this radio show has become a way to stay in the game when casual conversation turns to movies. I converse at comparable breadth and depth about trucks and tractors, Lejaby lingerie and Jimmy Choo shoes. This morning I was gratified when the film talk turned for one moment to the place of disability in culture, which takes it to the realm of passionate conversation for me. Kudos to Antonia Quirke and her producer for keeping Schnabel’s insight in the final cut.

Documentation and on-demand audio of this show will be available on the web for about a week, then it disappears into the BBC archives. Too bad it isn’t permanently accessible. Here’s the blurb:

In this week’s On Screen, Antonia Quirke talks to artist and director Julian Schnabel about his latest award-winning film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Schnabel has been nominated for four Oscars, and he has already won Best Director at Cannes last year, and Golden Globes for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director. The film takes us inside the head of a paralysed man reconstructing the world through his memory. The French actor Mathieu Amalric plays Jean Dominique Bauby, one-time editor of Elle magazine, who suffered a haemorrhage and was stricken for the rest of his short life with the unenviable condition Locked In Syndrome – paralysed everywhere with the exception of one eyelid which he used to blink 200, 000 times to painstakingly dictate his best-selling memoir on which the film is based. Julian Schnabel tells us about the fun and frustrations of making The Diving Bell and The Butterfly.

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