Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Documentary Review: My Name Was Bette: The Life And Death Of An Alcoholic

Available For Streaming On
Amazon Prime As Of 8/6/14 
My Name Was Bette: The Life And Death Of An Alcoholic is a film that showed up on Amazon Prime last week. I had never heard of it before and decided to give it a shot. It turns out that it is a great documentary. It's sad. Tragic even.

The story is about Bette VandenAkker, who was a beautiful woman who had a hard lot in life. This is not about some hobo who was drinking to get high. This is a woman who was trying to raise kids on her own in a time when that was an absolute taboo. Combine that with a really tough and broken childhood, a demanding job, and DNA that started her off with alcoholism already in her genetic makeup, and you have a recipe for the use of hard alcohol to numb the senses and hide from the hardships of life.

The film is not perfect. A lot of it is meant to be less story centered, and veers off into education about the disease of alcoholism itself. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but occasionally it will lose focus for a few minutes.

The director of the film is Bette's daughter who does a wonderful job with the interviews and the story and narration of her mother's decline. I think the educational parts of the film are important and needed to help those that may be struggling with this disease. So I can't fault her for adding those in at different portions of the movie. Alcoholism is a slow deliberate killer that ruins more than just the life of the drinker, but those around the victim are also affected in sometimes horrible ways.

Obviously, the film ends talking about the death of Bette VandenAkker and it is quite emotional. But that is the mark of good documentary making. And if this is Sherri VandenAkker's first attempt at filmmaking then she is to be commended for doing a great job of sharing her mom's tragic story with us in an insightful and entertaining way. It's just an hour long, and well worth the watch.

I give this documentary... 3 stars.


Anonymous said...

I watched this last night. Having had a father who struggled with alcohol (he eventually quit drinking on his own) and having gone through periods of alcohol abuse myself, my heart went out to Bette's daughters and her friends; the grief they feel, and the resolution they seek through making this film, are obviously heartfelt and understandable.

And, for a nonprofessional filmmaker, Bette's daughter does a very nice job.

However, it was not proven that alcoholism was in Bette's DNA, or even that the circumstances of her childhood - grim as they sometimes were - necessarily dictated her fate.

The truth is - and the film makes this point - that nobody knows exactly what triggers destructive alcoholism in people. Bette was an extreme case, in the end living in isolation and abject squalor. I don't know that we'll ever understand all of the recesses of the human psyche.

I do not think this film broke any new ground. In fact, since Bette and all of the people connected with her are complete strangers to me, it seems her story is very much like a million other stories out there - characterized by a unique confluence of people and circumstances, to be sure, but, while every story of unchecked alcoholism is tragic in its own way, I've seen stories very much like this many, many times before. I walked away depressed but not enlightened.

I support Sherri Vandenakker for making this film. It may go some way toward providing a degree of closure for her and her family and the friends that Bette's alcoholism touched.

But, ultimately, I found it a sadly familiar tale with a sadly familiar ending that, ultimately, was just another grain of sand on what is far too vast a beach.

Unknown said...

I watched this documentary a few months ago and it has been an eye opener to me that I continue to share with others. I do not believe that it is common knowledge the destruction that alcohol has on the human body and its many systems. I wish that the film was in DVD form so that I could purchase it and show it to my patients . I work with addicts and alcoholics and I would love to show them this film. It is perfect group material.

Unknown said...

OMG I found the DVD, and bought it today!