Sunday, December 12, 2010

In Search of Memory (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
In Search of Memory

"In Search of Memory" is the documentary portrait of Nobel prize winning scientist Eric Kandel. Kandel is known for his work in neuroscience, blending the biology of the brain with psychoanalysis.~"Memory," says Kandel, "is everything. It is the glue that holds us together.Without it we are nothing."

Kandel believes that memory is encoded, stored in the hippocampus and can actually change the anatomy of the brain and make new connections. Kandel was born on 1929 in Vienna and he had the fortune to escape the Nazis in 1939. When the camera opens on him we see a dandy old man with slightly disheveled hair and an animated glee. Kandel is a kind of opposite to comedian Larry David. As he laughs at the struggle of escaping from Nazi Germany, he is irrepressible. Like  the biology of memory itself, one gets the feeling that Kandel is unstoppable. And he retains no bitterness towards the people of Vienna. The sound of a waltz always lifts him.
The sequences move naturally with ease, gracefully filmed with rich and heartfelt dramatic recreations of Kandel's childhood. As the black jackets of the Gestapo take him from his home, young Kandel can almost be seen as the Indiana Jones of neuroscience. But instead of the arc there remains the hippocampus and the elusive cargo of memory. As he travels across the globe from Brooklyn to Vienna to re-affirm his childhood and his memory, Kandel is cheerfully persistent and fearless. Inside a tunnel where he hid as a child, he cracks jokes. More than a few times, in Brooklyn, he comes up empty. No one recalls his father. Kandel studies every object in a room with his lively eyes. He is taking note of the people he meets, even the dead ends to find out how memory behaves in the human organism and how it adapts and changes under the stimuli of surprise.

Kandel is also an avid collector of German Expressionism. The deep grooved black lines in the artwork collection, like the synaptic contacts that he catalogues, have formed their  own unique pathways in Kandel's brain.

Directed by Petra Seeger "In Search of Memory" creates a provocative portrait of a man who sees the human science of memory as a living template more exotic that any group of Nazca lines that call to any divinity, yet unknown.

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