First Cousin Once Removed suggests contexts, slips in stories, and frames performances -- by Edwin and those who remember him -- and so, beautifully complicates and extends its project.
“I know there’s a past and I know that I lived in it and that I gave it up, to live only in the present.” As American poet and scholar Edwin Honig describes his loss of memory, his slipping into the state called Alzheimer’s disease, you watch a bridge collapsing into water. The footage is archival and black and white, a memory of another time, abstracted into a context for which it could never have been intended. The image of the bridge collapsing, in slow motion, reverberates, a brief indication of what it might feel like to break off from the past. Just so, the process of memory loss becomes incredibly, poignantly visible repeatedly in Alan Berliner’s documentary, First Cousin Once Removed, premieres on HBO 23 September. It’s as profound and personal a film as you might imagine. That it achieves such effects even as it is, at the same time, a movie that invites you to come “inside someplace where the unspeakable, the unseeable, the unsayable can be seen,” as one interviewee puts it. “And there’s a sense in which people both want to see it and don’t want to see it.”