Sunday, November 22, 2009

Five hundred people filled the auditorium at College of Marin to see the documentary about Carla, "Leave Them Laughing." Five hundred people were on their feet for a standing ovation. How much love can five hundred people generate? A lot. It was overwhelming.

I saw a rougher rough cut of the documentary in carla's apartment a month or so ago. The rough cut Friday night felt much more coherent and smooth. I don't know what the director did exactly to make the flow better, but whatever it was, worked. Actually, I think I do know; the addition of subtitles stating things like "Six months after diagnosis," or "a year before diagnosis" served to clarify the chronolgy and added the extra layer of information that we viewers needed. Now we didn't have to waste any time figuring out when such-and-such a scene happened in relation to other scenes, and we could just sit back and drink in the scathing humor, the beauty, the love, and the poignancy.

After the film, Carla wheeled out onto the stage, joined by Maclen, and John Zaritsky the director and Montana Berg the producer, and the place erupted. Mac was a real revelation. I remember him as a semi-inarticulate thirteen year-old, a typical male adolescent answering dumb adult questions in monosyllables ("how's school?") and ducking out of social situations. Where did this tall, handsome, self-possessed, hyper-articulate young man come from? He could be running for Senate right now, if only he were old enough to vote or drink. As it is, I'm seeing First Jewish President in gold letters under his name.

He served as Carla's extra voice, articulating things she wanted to say but didn't have breath for, thanking people when to do so would have made her cry (and then choke,) adjusting her mic, and in general being the smoothest, most helpful, grounded, confident teenager I have ever seen, bar none.

I loved it when Carla announced shyly, "Soooo....I've joined a gang. We usually sit in the back, because, well, we're a gang. you may have heard of us. We're the Crips."

There was such an incredibly diverse crowd there, from people in the ALS and disability communities to students and former students of College of Marin, to the Driving Miss Craisy cohort, to family, friends and Muselings. In some ways it was like a giant wedding, with guests asking each other, "So how do you know Carla?"

Carla looked beautiful, dressed in a short skirt and gold top, with a big smile. I worried that the event would wear her out, but she seemed to be gaining energy from all the energy that surrounded her and patiently answered audience member's questions. Whe one woman asked how she was managing to surrender her independence gracefully, she answered honestly, "I'm not. I hate losing my independence. Some days I am really cranky about it."

When someone else asked her who or what was her inspiration, (maybe they were expecting her to say Buddha or Jesus or Ghandi,) she cited Mac and then said "My girlfriends. They raised me. They taught me how to be a woman, how to be a mother. And they teach me about love every single day."

I brought Marci with me as my date, and afterward I was trying to thank her for coming with me and she kept stopping me to thank me for having brought her. The movie, and then seeing Carla speak, blew her away. Me too. I needed her help just to find the freeway entrance to get home afterward, and lucky for me the car drove itself, because I sure as hell wasn't capable of much navigation.


Anonymous said...

is this documentary for sale? if so, how does one go about getting it. please advise. i would love to see it. thanks.

Alison said...

I don't believe the film is available for sale yet--they are still raising money to make this rough cut into a final cut. In the meantime, if you go to you can learn more about the making of the film, how to support it, and how to request a viewing in your area.

Carla has also produced an amazing calendar called Always Looking Sexy featuring cheesecake and beefcake pictures of models who have ALS, dressed as their favorite movie sex fantasies, and with their wheelchairs, respirators, and other medical equipment plainly in view. The calendar is designed to eliminate stigma and raise funds for ALS research and treatment. The really good part about that is a cure seems imminent--maybe within five years. To order calendars for your holiday gift shopping, go to Carla's blog at and follow the links on her page. (I would put a link on my own page, but my computer won't let me do it for some weird reason. More computer-savvy heads than mine have tried and failed to fix this problem.)


Anonymous said...

thank you for these links!
all best.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alison,

Thanks for that wonderful write up about Friday night's screening. I was one of the co-coordinators.

I've clicked on your blog every so often from Carla's page over the last two years. It's strange to know so much about you, but not know you! I wondered if you were in the audience and I'm glad you were.

I was so wrapped up in everything I had forgotten those wonderful lines of Carla's. Thanks for reminding me. I had briefly thought about videotaping the Q&A, but I didn't pursue it. Now I wish I had! Just to capture that incredible rapport and energy exchange between Carla and Mac would have been wonderful, let alone all the funny, insightful and heartfelt things they said! I mean Mac's description of why a Cannadian couldn't have invented the condom was priceless and that's just one example of something I'd like to re-live.

I also read the post about your play. Sounds interesting. I'm a military Mom. Nothing I ever dreamed I would be, but life has a funny way of leading you down unexpected paths. In fact, my son was supposed to be at the screening Friday night, but his leave got messed up and he ended up flying up from San Diego during it rather than Thursday night. It was my only disappointment.

One of the things I've come to realize and re-frame in my mind is that I wouldn't have the lifestyle I have if not for those (mostly) young people who put their asses on the line for us -- whether I ask for it or not. Being a Viet Nam era protester and all that represents, it's been quite a journey to come to terms with, but I've learned to separate the troops from the policies and it seems a lot of people have which I'm thankful for.

I've definitely been conflicted about it -- I call it my two worlds -- my spiritual practice and beliefs and also being part of a military family-- yet for him it's been a really good thing -- long story there, but in a way it saved him. I can tell you I've gotten some really amazing reactions from people when I tell them he's a Marine. I always hold my breath before I say it wondering what the reaction will be.

Have you ever heard of the Blue Star Moms? It's a national organization of mother's who have children in the active military that started in WWII. It's a support group both for each other and for the troops. We do collections and send care packages to the troops, volunteer at the VA hospital and more. A chapter just started in Marin last spring which in itself is kind of amazing. It's a god send to me for the support it offers. Well, I could go on and on, but I'm thinking maybe you might want to connect about some of these things? You can also google Blue Star Moms of Marin. -KK

You can reach me at if you want, but please don't publish my email on your blog. In fact, this seems more like an email to you than a comment -- especially the military part. I guess it's partly because I feel like I already know you and I thought you'd be interested in another perspective and the Blue Star Mom's in particular. But,of course, you don't know me at all. Strange. Feel free to cut the military part -- At least cut this last paragraph so I don't sound like a nut case :-)! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Whoa! I guess that didn't work. I assumed comments had to be approved like Carla's blog. I'm kind of a newbie to the blog world. Oh well. It's all out there now. KK