The Hospital

By Cory Haggart

Mailed on June 14, 2012

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Dear Howard Gottfried

Dear Howard,

You, sir, must be a fighter. To make a movie this challenging must have demanded repeated boxing and wrestling matches. Perhaps not even just verbal ones. Writer Paddy Chaefsky and actor George C. Scott are at the height of their powers here, and it couldn't have been easy to contain them. Any production as large as a movie requires compromises, but when it comes to the script and performances in The Hospital, I can detect none.

The result is that even now, 40 years later, this movie kicks the crap out of me and anything that I dared to hold sacred but unexamined. Through Scott's character, Dr. Herbert Bock, and his unnamed hospital, it throws punches at everything in the proverbial room - gender relations, race movements, pacifists, America, optimism, pessimism, striving, and even the idea of just giving up.

In one of my favourite scenes, a drunken Bock essentially picks up the entire edifice of modern medicine by the balls and bellows into its face:

We can practically clone people like carrots, and half the kids in this ghetto haven't even been inoculated for polio. We have established the most enormous medical entity ever conceived, and people are sicker than ever. We cure nothing! We heal nothing! The whole goddamned wretched world, strangulating in front of our eyes.

The critique is powerful, accurate, and like _Network, _sadly contemporary. In fact, the issues that inspired Chaefsky are even more true now, if you look at the corruption of the both healthcare industry and the larger political sphere by powerful and cynical moneyed interests. The villains in this old 70s movie are our villains today. Even if the message's delivery seems at times a little overwrought, it's because the subject demands such treatment.

Maybe it wasn't that hard of a fight; a story like this might have just sold itself. The story itself is nicely contained. It follows Dr. Herbert Bock through two days of his life. He is brilliant, and angry. There is a murder mystery. There are politics. There is a fiery romance. But with Chaefsky writing the actual words that the characters deliver, _The Hospital _is elevated to a compelling polemic that you don't want to end.

I don't know who would risk making a movie like this today. It must have cost you a lot personally, and you must have had more than one second thought. I've read that when Chayefsky was later diagnosed with cancer, he refused surgery, claiming that he "feared retribution by the doctors" for his portrayal of Bock in the film. He died just a year later at the age of 58. That may be the price of fighting the good fight, and fighting it well.

Punchdrunkenly yours,


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