Paul Broks is a prominent British neuropsychologist who is featured in the documentary film, Martino Unstrung, where he conducts a real-life study of guitarist Pat Martino's famed memory loss and recovery.
Broks conceived the movie with director Ian Knox, and they completed the film with the help of a grant from the Wellcome Trust. In the film, Broks uses psychological testing, an updated MRI scan of Martino's brain, and other data, to arrive at tentative conclusions about the guitarist's well-known medical condition and his miraculous comeback as a jazz musician, spanning from the late 1970s into the 1980s. This is the most in-depth study of Martino's memory disorder and its implications yet to be done. In the process, Broks conducted himself with a rare combination of scientific objectivity and human compassion. Here are Broks' reflections soon after the filming was completed.
- Background and Filming
- Getting to Know Martino
- Martino's Memory Loss
- Broks on Broks
Background and Filming
All About Jazz: What is the history of your friendship and association with film director Ian Knox?
Paul Broks: Ian wrote me a letter sometime in 2004. He set out Pat's story, which I didn't know, and invited me to join him on the project. I didn't take much persuading. We became friends along the way. I admire Ian's vision and energy. He can do things I can't and I think it's good to recognize that in an artistic collaboration.
AAJ: How did you and Knox first get the idea for Martino Unstrung?
PB: It was Ian's idea. We talked first about developing a fictional treatment, but it was the availability of funding that tipped us toward documentary. It was my idea to approach the Wellcome Trust for funding. It seemed to me the Pat Martino story was perfect material for their Sciart programwhich encourages collaborations between artists and biomedical scientists. So we applied to Wellcome and here we are. They've been hugely supportive.
AAJ: When and under what circumstances did you first meet Martino?
PB: I first met Pat when he played at the Pizza Express jazz club in London in January 2006. Ian and I got together with Pat for a post-show beer and then we all met for lunch in Soho the following day.
AAJ: The film is done compassionately, yet it is almost brutally honest in some ways, for example with an MRI-scan of Pat's brain made explicitly for the film. What led to such frankness, as opposed to what could have been an idealized or softened portrait of Pat?
align=center> Paul Broks with Martino's surgeon, Dr. Fred Simeone
PB: Pat was courageous in allowing us to make the film the way we did. We were clear right from the start that we saw the project as a three-way collaboration. Four-way for the times that the brilliant cinematographer Nyika Jansco was working with us. But it required a degree of trust on Pat's part that neither Ian nor I had to invest. We were not interested in doing a hagiographywhich would have been an artistic disservice to Pat - nor was there any temptation to sensationalize. Pat's story is sensational enough. He knew the kind of film we wanted to make and if at any stage he'd said he wasn't happy with the way things were going, we would have listened and taken stock. But the question never came up. Pat's approach to the film, I think, was somewhat like his approach to his music. Integrity is the word.
AAJ: What about the MRI?
PB: I saw the MRI scan as part of the continuing story. We really didn't know the extent of the surgery that Pat underwent. The original surgical records and CT brain images no longer exist and, in any case, brain imaging has moved on enormously since 1980. It seemed importantdare I say historically importantto establish definitively the condition of Pat's brain. What exactly was it that he'd recovered from?
This was, in fact, the first MRI scan that Pat had ever had and we ran a state-of-the-art volumetric procedure, measuring brain structure to a high resolution. Pat had undergone a CT (CAT scan) before his surgery, although not to my knowledge post-surgery. CT yields much less detailed images.
AAJ: What can you say in retrospect about Pat's aneurysm?
PB: In Pat's case, aneurysm is not quite the correct terminology, although it's often been referred to as such. An aneurysm is a balloon-like swelling in the wall of an artery. An arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is what Pat had, is a tumorous (space-occupying) malformation of veins and arteries. Both are congenital (present from birth) and both are liable to hemorrhage, which indeed eventually happened in Pat's case. The neuropsychological significance in Pat's case is that his AVM was large and so quite likely led to some reorganization of brain function from an early age, perhaps with the right hemisphere taking charge of some functions that would ordinarily be controlled by the left. I speculate on this toward the end of the film. An aneurysm, being less bulky, would be less likely to result in reorganization of brain function.