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Lymelife filmmaker turns pain into art

Actor, writer, producer, editor and composer Steven Martini's latest film is Lymelife. As one reviewer wrote, "Lymelife is a unique take on the dangers of the American Dream."

Steven and his brother Derick learned the craft of filmmaking while making Goat on Fire and Smiling Fish (1999), and wanted to "dig deeper" for their next film. The material they mined for Lymelife is largely autobiographical. Taking place in the late 70s, the story chronicles their childhood in the NE, a first searing adolescent love affair, and the dissolution of their family unit. Scott, 15, begins to see that nothing is quite like he thought it was.

In the story, Scott's girlfriend's father, Charlie, is inflicted with Lyme. In real life, Steven's girlfriend's father had Lyme as well. He watched her family try to deal with illness and found it terrifying. As Steven says, Lyme back then was considered mysterious, even psychosomatic. Sound familiar?

I got a chance to speak with Steven last week. He described the intensity of writing and producing this autobiographical tale. He talks about his creative process and his experience of making the film, and even tells what became of the real life character of Charlie.

Please listen to our conversation by clicking on the Podcast link below.



A ragged-looking deer roams through Charlie Bragg's backyard on densely forested Long Island. Charlie (superbly portrayed by Timothy Hutton) suffers from mysterious symptoms that prevent him from working, and torture him perhaps even as much as knowing his wife is dallying with her machismo boss.

It's the late 70s. Lyme disease is beginning to grab the attention of NE residents. Some of them observed a correlation between a tick-bite and a litany of disturbing symptoms ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to mental derangement. In Charlie's house, prescription bottles crowd the bedside table. He's taking penicillin, but we aren't clear how effective it is on his illness. Sometimes he seems almost normal, stringing up Christmas lights. Sometimes when he's alone, he writhes in pain.

He's not the same man I married, rants his desperate wife. His teenage daughter feels compassion, but she's powerless to help. Her own inner conflicts and the pulls and stabs of young adulthood are more than enough for her to handle. A hint of rot underlies the nice suburban constructs, which are coming to a head most visibly in the character of Charlie.

Some of Charlie's scenes made me shudder. As bad as Lyme disease is, and as frustrating as the controversies around it have become, at least we're not still living in the 1970s, when it was new. Some headway has been achieved since then.

Have you seen the movie? What do you think?

(Members, watch for my upcoming interview with Lymelife producer, writer and director, Steven Martini.)

How to hike & garden: Tick-free

Ticks are incredibly resilient critters. They have lasted for millenia due to their wily survival tactics. We're not required to admire them for this, however, we should be as determined in our efforts to avoid them as they are persistent in going after their goals--namely, a warm meal and a ride.

How do you avoid ticks? In particular, how do you avoid them in tick havens such as the US NE region, and pretty much anywhere that constitutes wilderness (including the parking lot at work, if there are hedges, grasses, trees or bushes nearby).

Are you like me? Since being struck down by Lyme and making the long, slow climb back to health, I've really lost my taste for hiking and gardening, activities that were a constant of my pre-Lyme life. However, I don't want to be afraid of the outdoors, and I know you don't either, especially this time of the year when the air smells like flowers and tulips are blooming in the colors of little girls' Easter dresses.

Taking precautions on a hike can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. You may want to stop short of duct-taping yourself head to toe, as the mother does to her son in the new movie, Lymelife. Wear white or light colors so ticks can be seen easily and eliminated a.s.a.p. Use a strong repellent. Tuck your socks into your pant, and check yourself (and the kids) when you get home.

Gardening, for me, has moved indoors. Growing plants is just too fun to give up altogether. On walks through my neighborhood I admire the results of other people's green thumbs, but here at home I get great satisfaction from growing sprouts. Not only do you get quick results, you can save money on the store-bought varieties, and guarantee freshness. Broccoli and clover are the house favorites.

So here are the main points: Wear white. Tuck your pants into your socks. Perform tick checks thoroughly after you've spent time outdoors. Grow sprouts. Don't be afraid of the big bad tick. Just outsmart it with your own wiles and tactics.

Happy spring!

Review of Lymelife

Lymelife is categorized as a comedy, however, it's the sort of black humor that scorches because it strikes a chord. Charlie (Timothy Hutton) is depressed and on antibiotics for Lyme disease. Here's an excerpt of film reviewer Rob Nelson's critique of the movie, which previewed at the Sundance Film Festival last fall:

The film centers on thin, 15-year-old bully magnet Scott (Rory Culkin), whose older, bulkier brother, Jim (Kieran Culkin), prepares to ship off to military duty, and whose longtime crush, Adrianna (Emma Roberts), reluctantly begins to return his timid gaze.

Adrianna's pill-popping father, Charlie (Timothy Hutton), shoots self-made targets in the woods with a rifle, dressed in suit and tie.

Alec Baldwin plays Mickey, Scott's father, whose underappreciated wife, Brenda (Jill Hennessy), duct-tapes her youngest son from head to toe to protect him from Lyme disease. Periodic cutaways to wandering deer and the real or imagined threat of wood ticks -- not to mention scenes of believably harsh marital bickering -- serve the pic's point that these frightened, emotionally starved people, kids included, are animals at best.

Read the entire review of Lymelife from Variety online.