Wretches & Jabberers

January 01, 1970



Both film and soundtrack demands an uncommon level of
attention throughout its viewing and listening. Documentary by director
Gerardine Wurzburg; soundtrack produced and co-written by J. Ralph.


 The isolation of autism –
that there is little intelligence or artistic drive amongst the stricken, that
they can not live outside their head and disability – is exploded by Larry
Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher in road trip documentary Wretches & Jabberers.


Listen to the artistic voice
and not the autistic voice
becomes the
mantra as the pair travels the world of universities, conferences and private
homes with their aides Pascal Cheng and Harvey F. Lavoy to find like-minded
lost soul and advocate for greater understand of the autistic as well as for
the autistic to better use the world of technology that opened up life for
Thresher, 42, and Bissonnette, 52.


Computers become their means of
greater communication and the joy given to them courtesy their accomplishments
is palpable and visible. “Autism is not abnormality of the brain as much as
abnormality of experience,” says Bissonnette. Though the two show off
proudly their abilities to express their social, political and poetic needs and
wants, Wurzburg never shirks from the truth – that it is “killingly hard, a
rough road to hoe for the autistic to be considered, in their words, “more like


Their words, like the one in
aforementioned quotes, become the basis through which Ralph pens lyrics for nearly
two dozen vocalists to sing. To a score of folksy ambient tunes, Ralph provokes
genuine energy and innovation. Watching the film as the autistic duo stroll the
streets of Sri Lanka and
hearing Antony’s
warble through the tenderly operatic melody of “Killingly Hard” is a joy to
hear, particularly after you’ve viewed a previous scene that explains its
title. A smoky “One Whole Hour” (sung duskily by Scarlett Johansson) a prickly “Low
Barefoot Tolerance” (thanks Stephen Stills) and dramatic turns by Carly Simon
and Bob Weir make this soundtrack a better place to live than most soundtracks
are at present.


No one phoned in a performance,
found a left-over song, or dabbled in dull remxes. The artists here certainly
saw the film and felt moved by Ralph’s words and melodies. In particular
Devendra Banhart, Vashti Bunyan, and Vincent Gallo – now-folk’s gentle oddities
– along with Ben Harper execute the film’s finest, rawest musical moments.
“I can’t speak but I need you to listen,” sings Harper on “More Like You.”  Wretches
& Jabberers
demands that level of attention throughout its viewing and

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