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Playing myself in a radio play of Awakenings


My satisfaction at the Awakenings film
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I've never felt too involved in films, plays, operas, or ballets based on my work, and all of them have existed. I'm now glad that the movie of Awakenings was made. There's a lot of very good, solid stuff in it and... and the sort of Hollywood kitsch I... I don't mind too much. I was very sensitive about it at first. Although... in a way I'm half sorry that I put off Peter Weir, I wonder what he would have done. I'm also sorry... I'm losing a name, the German director.

[Q] Werner Herzog.

During the actual filming of Awakenings I got a letter from Werner Herzog saying that he had been deeply moved by Awakenings and would I consider a film version with him? I wrote back to him saying that I had admired his dark imagination – I used that phrase – his dark imagination for many years, but that I had been too diffident to write to him and now it was too late because it was already being done. But he did in fact come to New York while the movie was being made, and he was amused and outraged at seeing 200 people being involved, and he said at that, he said, 'When I make a film,' he said, 'there's really just me and the cameraman and the actor, or sometimes he is the cameraman and the actor and the director', you know, there are three people and not 300 when he makes a film. And I also wonder what a film of Werner Herzog would have been like, and I've continued to see him over the years.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Awakenings, Peter Weir, Werner Herzog

Duration: 2 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012