I have been losing my grandmother for a while now. It’s not something you’re really aware of on the day to day but I think back to six months ago, maybe a year and she seems so less present that she was before. She was never much one for leaving the house, all of my twenty three years I don’t think I’ve known her to spend significant time outside it. But now it has enveloped her, she wears it like a cocoon.
I have to keep my phone off at work, so later when I turn it back on I’m greeted by the scared texts asking me where I am. I’ve invariably told her the shifts I’m taking but still. Conversations don’t really resolve anymore, they’re circular things about some distasteful Daily Mail article or her concerns that her DVR ain’t gonna record the latest episode of whatever. She keeps buying us thing we don’t want or need but we can’t say no to her anymore, it’s too hard.
We’ve got my tireless and amazing mother, a few friends who all help out, I do far less than I really should, but nobody really likes talking about mental deterioration with age, even when you’re living in it. Misha Enzovoort (Misha Et cetera) follows the last performances of improvisational jazz pianist Misha Mengelberg as part of his touring group The ICP Orchestra. Director Cherry Duyuns observes how his dementia has affected his ability to play, his constitution which struggles with the rigours of professional touring; then turns the camera focusses on his coworkers and friends, the people who have lived and admired and worked with this man for much of their life.
He lays out the nature of the community they have built around this man, how they refuse to let his illness divorce him from his life or his art. How they stand by him when he ain’t well enough to go up on stage or when his work is suffering. There wouldn’t be an ICP Orchestra without Misha they say, so why cut him out when he still wants to be there. Besides as an improvisationary jazz troupe his condition wouldn’t be the only unexpected thing added into the mix.
We don’t see too much of the younger Misha, his old records haunt the soundtrack and some well chosen archival footage introduces us to the band but the film don’t really concern itself with notoriety or legacy or the rivalries of the old jazzman (aside from one great scene in which his bandmates tease him about curmudgeonliness towards mid-century American artists). We stick to his lived experience over the course of this week, follow him between the venue, the hotel, the cafes and pubs he lounges in with his colleagues throughout the day.
As a society we find it real hard to those with mental illnesses into our lives. It’s understandable because it’s hard. It can be emotional and physical labour that you gotta enact on top of everything else in your life. I’m not sure what we’d be doing if my grandmother didn’t live in the building next to us. She ain’t really mobile no more but refuses to use any sorta mobility aid. She refuses to leave the house in the evening because she’s so neurotic about missing a single episode of Eastenders, even though she don’t particularly like the program.
We gotta do more, as families, as communities, as societies (and yes, I’m definitely talking about this in a political sense) but first we gotta see how this can be achieved. Andy Serkis’ Breathe came out a few weeks ago, talking about the rights of the seriously disabled. What do we get ‘bout this? Still Alice? It a good film but hardly anything you’d call heartwarming.
At the very least Misha Enzovoort is a primer to the life and work of this amazing artist, but on another level it is a guide to all of us. Let it demonstrate how to live more compassionately.
The Bath Film Festival screening was accompanied by a concert by the current ICP Orchestra. Misha Mengelberg died in the March of this year. The film is avilable to buy on their website alongside a live recording of the filmed concert. Their music can be found on Spotify and other streaming services.