Saturday, January 23, 2010

Strangeness on the screen: movies or documentaries about people in my referenced list of famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition (such as Asperger syndrome) or subject of published speculation about whether they are/were on the autistic spectrum

Amadeus (1984) recommended
Director - Milos Forman (won an Academy Award for this movie)
A very entertaining movie about the life of Mozart, who was played by Tom Hulce

An Angel at My Table (1990)
Director – Jane Campion (won a number of awards for this movie)
Based on the autobiographies by Janet Frame, Kerry Fox played Frame as an adult

A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Director – Ron Howard (won an Academy Award for this movie)
About the life of mathematician John Nash, played by Russell Crowe

Born Free (1966)
Director – James Hill
Joy Adamson and her game warden husband raise a lioness cub and re-introduce it to life in the wild, Joy Adamson was played by Virginia KcKenna

The Boy with the Incredible Brain (2005) recommended
This is an episode in the Extraordinary People documentary series. I believe this is the same as or similar to the 60 minute 2005 documentary that was screened on TV under the title Brainman. Martin Weitz is credited as the director of Brainman and he is also credited as the producer of this documentary, which was apparently directed by Steve Gooder. This is a 47 minute documentary about Daniel Tammet, who displays his incredible calculating and language abilities, describes his synaesthesia, and travels to the United States to meet another famous autistic savant, Kim Peek. This documentary can be viewed through Google Videos or YouTube.

Creation (2009)
Director – Jon Amiel
Biographical feature movie about the life of Charles Darwin, who is played by Paul Bettany.

Gaudi’s Barcelona (2003) recommended
Distributor in Australia - Marcom Projects
An interesting documentary DVD showing stunning buildings, interiors, fittings and furnishings that were designed by “eccentric genius” architect Antoni Gaudi, and it also gives biographical information about Gaudi and the historical context in which he lived.

Genius Within: the Inner Life of Glenn Gould (2009)
Director – Michele Holzer and Peter Raymont
A documentary about the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. Reportedly includes interviews with the married woman who had a five-year live-in affair with Gould, and her son and daughter.

HG Wells: War with the World (2006)
Director – James Kent
Biographical movie about H. G. Wells, who is played by Michael Sheen.

In the Realms of the Unreal (2004) recommended
Director – Jessica Yu
Documentary about the reclusive outsider artist and author Henry Darger.

Jinnah (1998)
Director – Jamil Dehlavi
About the life of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan. A young Jinnah played by Richard Lintern, an adult Jinnah played by Christopher Lee.

Khartoum (1966)
Director - Basil Dearden
About Major-General Charles Gordon’s defence of the city of Khartoum during the Battle of Khartoum. Gordon was played by Charlton Heston.

Kinsey (2004)
Director – Bill Condon
About the life of Alfred Kinsey, American sex researcher, played by Liam Neeson.

Man on the Moon (1999) recommended
Director – Milos Forman
An entertaining movie about the life of Andy Kaufman who is played by Jim Carrey (who won a Golden Globe Award for this performance in 2000)
Other actors - Danny De Vito, Courtney Love

Pirates of Silicon Valley
(1999) recommended
Director – Martyn Burke
Made for TV semi-humorous documentary-drama about the men who created Microsoft and Apple corporations. Bill Gates is played by Anthony Michael Hall.

RKO 281 (1999)
Director – Benjamin Ross
About the “battle over Citizen Kane” between Orson Welles and William Randolph Hearst, Welles played by Liev Schreiber, made for TV.

Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes (2008) recommended
Director – Jon Ronson
A fascinating documentary about the 1000 odd boxes of memorabilia in Stanley Kubrick’s estate, and what their contents, and the boxes themselves, reveal about the legendary movie director.

Temple Grandin (2010) upcoming
Director – Mick Jackson
Made for TV biographical movie about Temple Grandin, who is played by Claire Danes.

Wittgenstein (1993)
Director – Derek Jarman
About the life of genius homosexual philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, played by Clancy Chassay

Link to my referenced list of famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are/were on the autistic spectrum

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bye bye baroness!

I've got to say that I'm glad that Baroness Susan Greenfield has been given the boot from her job as director of the Royal Institution. That stuff that she has been preaching all around the world (including much coverage on Australia's national broadcaster) about computer use supposedly destroying children's brains and impairing people's social skills has been rightly criticised by people such as myself and Dr Ben Goldacre. Where's the evidence to support such claims? Nowhere, apparently. But the thing that really bothered me about the baroness's claims was the apparent lack of respect for geek culture. This woman really does seem to have strong prejudices against the world of computer technology and computer-based communication and recreation, and the types of people who utilize, enjoy and master these worlds. And who are these people? I'd guess that males and autists are very much over-represented in these computerized cultures. So does the baroness suffer from autiphobia and misandry? I'm sure she does. Autiphobia and misandry are so very fashionable these days amongst British intellectuals and the privileged classes all around the world, and the baroness is obviously a fashion-conscious lady.

"Susan Greenfield sacking: Now the Royal Institution can focus on science."
Martin Robbins
Science Blog

"Top scientist Susan Greenfield told to quit her job – and her flat"
Robin McKie and Sajeev Syal
The Observer

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I've just added some more names and references to my list of famous synaesthetes or possible synesthetes, bringing the total up to a nice even 50 famous names. Don't overlook it's potential utility as a collection of bibliographies/reading lists about individual famous people, if you are doing some type of research or school project or are simply curious. See it here:
Autism/AS on the radio tomorrow

Tomorrow on the ABC Radio National show Life Matters there is going to be a special show on autism and Asperger syndrome. It is broadcast at 9.00am and you can also listen to it thru the internet. On the promo this morning the host Richard Aedy referred to autism and AS as "conditions" rather than using offensive medicalized language such as "disorders", and he also pronounced the name "Asperger" correctly. Thank you, Mr Aedy! I hope this means things are changing for the better with the way that the ABC and the Australian mass media reports on the autistic spectrum. We'll find out tomorrow.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A quote or two from Reg Mombassa

"... I'm sort of anxious about the world. I'm more frightened about humans than anything else, I think. They're the most dangerous, and violent, and irrational creatures on the planet, I think."

A quote from Reg Mombassa (real name Chris O'Doherty) taken from the ABCTV show Talking Heads.

Reg Mombassa is a co-founder of the popular 1980s Australian rock band Mental as Anything, also a painter, musician, designer of stunningly crude T-shirt art (within the long and proud tradition of amusing and confronting Australian vuglarity), and a person who apparently "came up fairly high" on some questionnaire about Asperger syndrome (according to page 395 of the recent book about his life and art).

Here's a later quote from a newspaper article about Mombassa:

"To some extent, I am hiding from people, I'm afraid of people. I always have been. I'm not really a people person. I'm happy to be in a room by myself with a pencil drawing."

Waldren, Murray (2009) The mind and times of Reg Mombassa. Harper Collins, 2009. 
[A detailed and personal biographical and art book including history of the band Mental as Anything, featuring a lot of eye-catching art and photographs.]

Thompson, Peter (2007) Reg Mombassa. Talking Heads. ABC TV. first screened 23rd July 2007. 
[transcript of this interview available]

Thompson, Peter (2007) Reg Mombassa. Talking Heads. ABC TV. first screened 23rd July 2007. 
[transcript of this interview available]

West, Andrew (2010) Mental in a good way. Sydney Morning Herald. January 12th 2010. 
[transcript of this interview available] 

Mombassa/O'Doherty is just one of the many fascinating people in this list: 

Referenced list of 175 famous people diagnosed as autistic or subject of published speculation about autism/Asperger syndrome (AS) 

Did you know that Sting is a synesthete? Another name to add to my list of famous synaesthetes

I was watching a documentary on SBS recently (yes, I do love to watch documentaries, and I have little time for watching drama, as per the autistic stereotype) and it was all about the human brain and the way it responds to music, with neuroscientists and brain scans, as you'd expect. As I've got a keen interest in synaesthesia, I thought I'd take a look at this Canadian doco that was made in 2009, assuming that they'd have to say a thing or two about synesthesia. Well, it appears that the documentary makers ignored the subject, which I found amazing. I couldn't find any mention of synesthesia in it. But that's not to say that there wasn't anything in this documentary about synaesthesia - there was, it's just that the boffin with the doctorate apparently didn't realise that his famous subject of study had just described to him his synaesthesia experiences, and that the brain scan of the famous musician's brain in action had also shown evidence highly suggestive of some type of visual synesthesia triggered by the experience of music. I tell you what, as a weirdly-wired Australian housewife with dish-pan hands, I seem to be better at spotting synaesthesia when I see it than many scientists working in prestigious positions in American universities. How strange!

Don't just take my word for it - see the evidence yourself. The documentary can be viewed at the link below, temporarily I believe. Note the conversation between Sting and the neuroscientist at around 46 minutes into the show. I'ts a description of a kind of visual-spatial synaesthesia triggered by the sound of music by Bach, a type of synaesthesia that I'm sure has been described many times before in the literature on synaesthesia, and in anecdotes from synaesthetes. I've had similar experiences myself.

The Musical Brain at SBS Documentary

My list of famous synaesthetes that now needs to be updated.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Wired and Offit being sued over autism/vaccination story?

I've noticed that some blogs are reporting that Wired magazine, respected journalist Amy Wallace and Dr Paul Offit are being sued by some crowd who call themselves the National Vaccine Information Center for libel over the highly regarded article published in the November 2009 edition of Wired that examined the anti-vaccination crowd of cranks and quacks who think jabs cause autism. It sounds to me like lawyers versus journos, or would it be better characterized as loons and celebs versus science? This matter is being compared with the appalling libel suit brought against journalist Simon Singh by the chiropracquacks. This is why people hate lawyers.

Link to

Wired magazine November 2009 issue

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Was Sir Isaac Newton autistic?

Apparently today is Newton's birthday, according to Google. I had always thought he was born on Christmas Day, but I do know that odd things were being done to the calendar around the time of his birth.

Was Sir Isaac Newton autistic? A lot of people have written about this question, even some authors of kids' books. And of course the Freud brigade have wasted many reams of paper with their psychoanalytic speculations about Newton during the last century. In my opinion, one of the best indicators that a dead famous person was autistic is the presence of a body of literature written from a Freudian or Jungian point of view alleging that the famous person was "neurotic" or "psychotic" or "schiziod". That's what they used to call us. I'm sure those waste-of-space analysts used to made a fortune out of foisting their attentions onto autistic kids and autistic adults, all to no good effect.

Here's a reading list about Newton's relationship with the autistic spectrum, if you are interested.

Was Sir Isaac Newton autistic?

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2003) The essential difference. Penguin Books.
[some discussion of Newton in this book about Asperger syndrome]

Elder, Jennifer and Thomas, Marc (Illustrator) (2005) Different like me: my book of autism heroes. Jessica Kingsley, 2005.
[Many famous people mentioned including Newton. Please note - this book is classified as a work of fiction, and it is obviously aimed at a junior readership]

Fitzgerald, Michael (2006) Autism, Asperger’s syndrome and creativity. Autism2006: AWARES Conference Centre. October 4th 2006.

[many famous people discussed including Newton]

Fitzgerald, Michael and James, Ioan (2007) The mind of the mathematician. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.
[many famous people discussed including Newton]

Fitzgerald, Michael, and O’Brien, Brendan (2007) Genius genes: how Asperger talents changed the world. Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2007.
[many famous people discussed including Newton, parts of this book available to read free through Google Book Search]

James, Ioan (2005) Asperger syndrome and high achievement: some very remarkable people. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005.
[many famous people discussed including Newton]

James, Ioan (2004) Remarkable physicists: from Galileo to Yukawa. Cambridge University Press.
[Newton, Cavendish, Einstein and Dirac identified as autistic]

James, Ioan (2003) Singular scientists. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. January 2003. Vol. 96, number 1, p. 36-39.

[Irene Joliot-Curie, J. M. W. Turner, Paul Dirac, Bela Bartok, Wittgenstein, Cavendish, Newton, Einstein]

Keynes, Milo (2008) Balancing Newton's mind: his singular behaviour and his madness of 1692–93. Notes & Records of the Royal Society. 20th September 2008 vol. 62 no. 3 p.289-300.

[The author argues that Newton's suspicious personality was caused by separation from his mother in early childhood and was not caused by AS, full text of paper available free online]

Krull, Kathleen (2006) Isaac Newton. (illustrated by Boris Kulikov), Viking, 2006.
[junior biography in the Giants of Science series, Asperger syndrome discussed]

Royal College of Psychiatrists (2006) Royal College of Psychiatrists Annual Meeting 2006 Glasgow: Thatcherism founder had Asperger's Syndrome. (press release) The Royal College of Psychiatrists. 11th July 2006.

[Sir Keith Joseph, Enoch Powell, Eamon de Valera, W. B. Yeats, Sir Isaac Newton]

Sacks, Oliver (2004) Autistic geniuses?: we’re too ready to pathologize (letter). Nature. May 20th 2004, Vol. 429, p. 241.
[a letter in which Sacks states that he does not believe that Wittgenstein, Einstein nor Newton “were significantly autistic”]

Sacks, Oliver (2002) Uncle Tungsten: memories of a chemical boyhood. Picador, 2002.
[in the notes from page 119-121 Sacks discusses Henry Cavendish, describing him as an “autistic genius” while diagnosing Newton with “neurosis” rather than autism]

Copyright Lili Marlene 2010.