Maybe it’s because of my recent experience in filmmaking, but these days, I find different things catch my attention when I watch a movie. So it was with “You Don’t Know Jack,” the HBO film about Jack Kevorkian; I kept noticing the production design. For you civilians, that’s a term of art that describes the general visual look of a film — everything from the costumes to the sets to the way the actors’ hair is styled. Many people have a hand in creating this, but it’s the production designer who oversees it all.
The design of “You Don’t Know Jack” is… I guess you’d say it’s fitting. It’s blue and damp and chilly and depressing, all of which suit a story about a man who helped dozens of people, in debatable degrees of illness or disability, end their lives with a number of contraptions he assembled from spare parts, from his “Mercitron,” which used saline and potassium chloride, to various gas arrangements. No one looks good. Everyone lives in a crummy apartment and drives a beater. The actors who aren’t cadaverous are Michigan-fat, or are buried under heaps of unflattering wardrobe — you can practically see the pills on the cheap acrylic sweaters, and you just know every sleeve has a snotty Kleenex shoved under the cuff. Only the lawyers look good.
Kevorkian gets a 360-degree portrayal from both the script and Al Pacino, who nails the look and manner and muffs the Detroit accent. (No shame, Al — it has confounded many others.) As the story unwound, and Kevorkian and his lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, make fools of the Oakland County prosecutor time after time, the design becomes key, because you see what made Kevorkian so dangerous to the status quo; he had nothing to lose. He didn’t care about anything but his passionately held beliefs and his odd hobbies (his macabre paintings in which he used his own blood as pigment, most notably). Take his medical license away? Lock him up? His lodgings behind bars weren’t much of a step down from his place in Royal Oak, or wherever he was living at the time.
The state finally had to write a law specifically aimed at him, which he defied just like he said he would, before they could finally lock him up for longer than a few days. And he did the time like a pro, I have to say, getting out last year and heading back to another crummy apartment. He’s not assisting suicides anymore, but he’s out and about. One of my Facebook friends spotted him in the Royal Oak library last weekend, got a picture taken with him and posted it. Local celebrity. The prosecutor who forfeited his public-service career — he was turned out of office by an exasperated public tired of financing his Ahab-like pursuit of Dr. K — wound up at the Thomas More Law Center, i.e. Tom Monahan’s Catholic Warriors, who in their high-profile cases aren’t doing much better.
I wasn’t going to post this today; we’ve had so much discussion of death in this space of late, and some of us are having some uncomfortable brushes with it of late ourselves. But as if to mock my recent mention of a tax refund, last night our power went out. When I was checking the breakers, I flipped the main one, and couldn’t flip it back. Neither could Alan. Which means I have to call an electrician this morning and, assuming the worst, pay a huge bill. My laptop battery is down to 6 percent, so I’m hitting Publish and then going offline until I have juice again. Argh.