Crooked Beauty is a poetic documentary that chronicles artist-activist Jacks McNamara’s transformative journey from childhood abuse to psych ward inpatient to pioneering mental health advocacy. It is an intimate portrait of their intense personal quest to live with courage and dignity, and a powerful critique of standard psychiatric treatments. Poignant testimonials connect the fissures and fault lines of human nature to the unstable topography and mercurial weather patterns of the San Francisco Bay Area.
And that late afternoon sadness rolls in like the luminous California fog crossing over the hills. And some part of me is convinced that I might never have really felt joy. And yet there’s a mythical quality to the garlic mustard afternoon, the angle of light that fills me with a peculiar heart breaking beauty. And I wonder, as I often do, if things will ever be simple. The train sounds down by the river, the cloud passes over the sun and what could be memories feel like déjà vu. Like they happened underwater, a long time ago.
MUSIC BEGINS (violin)
On screen: “Birds with perfectly symmetrical feathers cannot fly”
Black and white images of tree branches
I don’t see myself as a person who has carried around my madness.
On screen: “Crooked beauty”
Black and white images of buildings, forest, nature, etc.
Saying that it is nothing but a biological brain disorder lets everybody off the hook, you know, and then you don’t have to look at oppression, and you don’t have to look at poverty and injustice, and abuse, and trauma. And makes it this situation where it’s just the individual versus his or her inevitable biological madness.
There’s this fundamental impulse either towards suppressing our traumas by medicating the symptoms of them away, or facing down our traumas quote on quote, by delving straight into the teeth of whatever our childhood beasts are.
I think that a lot of people that get labeled as mentally ill in our society have really broken hearts.
If I was determined to live my life in a city and to work a really intensive steady job in an office I think I would have to take medication to do that. But I don’t think that fact means that I have a disease. I think it means that it would take a pharmaceutical substance to override my instincts, to make me capable of fitting into a system that was not designed for someone with a spirit like mine.
We need to stop saying “you are crazy, stop being crazy”. We need to stop putting all the focus and treatment on how can we make you stop being the person you are. When you open up your radio transmitters and you are taking in all this information about the world, it ain’t all good. When I open up in that way I don’t just see beauty and light, and God, and grass you know I see suffering and bodies rotting in the street, and oppression, and injustice, and a lot of pain and terror and fear also comes in.
Part of where it’s coming from is a real impulse to find language for my inner world. Something about the possibility for wholeness and reality of destruction, and that these coexist at the same time. And this feeling that there is something more transcendent, something that smacks of grace. How can we stop telling you that you are wrong if you experience these things? And how can we instead help you to learn how to handle your sensitivities. That you might make the transition from having these sensitivities overwhelming you to having these sensitivities be giving you information you can use.
“Navigating the Space between Brilliance and Madness”
Director: Ken Paul Rosenthal
Ken Paul Rosenthal is an independent filmmaker, photographer and educator. His films are visually sensual, emotionally intelligent works of art that also function as tools for personal and societal transformation. He is the recipient of a Kodak Cinematography Award, numerous festival awards, and is recognized for his media work in mental health advocacy. He holds an MA in Creative & Interdisciplinary Arts, an MFA in Cinema Production, and has taught film as a means of cultivating personal vision in workshops and universities in North America and abroad.
Ken’s poetic documentary project, Mad Dance: A Mental Health Film Trilogy, re-envisions the way we think, speak and feel about mental distress and wellness in today’s chaotic world. These transformative films offer new maps for navigating madness with insight, healing and hope. To date, these films have collectively won 17 awards, screened at 58 film festivals, and been presented in person at dozens of peer support networks, universities, mental health symposia and community events worldwide. Over 4,000 DVDs have been distributed to date, including 237 academic libraries.