"They're gonna take me in there and kill me," sobs a man awaiting electroshock therapy. "I want to be normal," declares a middle-aged homesexual. "I'm not crazy, I'm just depressed," insists a young woman in yellow.
And a girl named Vickie announces. Sometimes, I'm not Vickie."
Vickie's privacy and the troubled lives of other mental patients were mavaded last October by a crew from KQED in San Francisco so they could film "Inside the Cuckoo's Nest," a 90-minute documentary airing tonight on most PBS stations. Channel 26 will show it at 9 p.m.
It's certainly a disturbing program, but maybe not in the way its producers intended. Their ideas was to contrast scenes from the 1975 Hollywood movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" with real-life views inside the Oregon State Hospital, where much of the film was shot.
The premise is automatically suspect. "Cuckoo's Nest" was not purporting to expose conditions at mental hospitals; it was based on Ken Kesey's allegorical novel about the human condition and set by the film makers in 1963, not the present. Anyone who mistook it for reality had a myopia problem.
Opening segments of the documentary, in which the Holloywood actors talk about their roles and the patients say things like, "Here's these movie stars and all I am is just a little patient," look like a veritable plug for the film. In fact, Martin Fink, coproducer of the documentary, was also associate producer of the movie.
Later, we see patients live the trauma and depression of their daily lives. At medication time they line up for drugs with names that are soothing in themselves: Lithium, Melaril, Elavil. "One pill - is that all?" asks a young man after he gets his medication.
The patients talk about their most personal problems, sometimes before passive hospital committees and sometimes with therapists who ask seemingly leading and insensitive questions like "Are you near tears?"
A 10-minute sequence follows a frightened man from the chill of the waiting room into another chamber where he is given electroshock therapy. This treatment isn't the way it was depicted in the film, we are reminded with a film clip; no hysterical wailing and pain - just a pitiful tremble followed by a catatonic trance.
If the documentary's point is that we still don't know much about treating illness of the mind, it is made, but the contrasts with "Cuckoo's Nest" add nothing to it. They seem sensatioinalist gimmicks to keep an audience hooked and even entertained - like in commercial TV.
Nor is the point made with such force or artiulness that it really justifies invading the privacy of the patients. They, their families or doctors gave written permission for them to be filmed the producers say, and the patients could have had any footage they objected to removed from the finished program. But were they really capable of making such decisions, and do they really know what would be in their own best interests?
If they did, they wouldn't be at Oregon State in te first palce.
One can't help feelong that the patients have been exploited more in the name of show business than the interests of journalism and that "Inside Cuckoo's Nest" is as cruel a program as it is unusual.