Friday, August 12, 2011

All Four One: "41" (2007)

Christian de Rezendes and Christian O'Neill deliver a wrenching documentary about a young man whose life was cut short, but who may still be around to let his loved ones know that he is okay.

Nick O'Neill was the 18 year old lead singer of a local Rhode Island band named Shryne. The band opened for Great White at the Station Nightclub in Rhode Island but on February 20, 2003, pyrotechnics set the building on fire, killing one hundred people. Nick was the youngest victim, the concert was open to ages 18 and up.

It turns out that Nick's older brother Christian ran a video camera constantly as his sibling was growing up. Nick was outgoing and photogenic, getting parts in local children's theater productions. As a teen, he got a guitar and started writing songs while dealing with some very sad events- one of which was the death of his mother's former husband (he was born in 1941) from cancer when Nick was 15.

The number "41" always seemed to be a constant in Nick's life. The film makers find ample footage and photos of the number on things like addresses, important dates, and even telephone poles, making one believe that it couldn't be a coincidence. The number was Nick's lucky number (especially if found with his N.O. initials), and his family believes Nick communicates with them now using the number- except for Nick's older brother, who has a point that if you obsess about looking for that specific number, you'll probably find it (like that Jim Carrey flick from a couple of years back).

Nick seemed to be going places. His band was having local success, and the teenager even penned a provocative play about religious intolerance that was rediscovered after his death. The pain of Nick's death still weighs on the family when this was shot in 2006, with many subjects breaking down on camera. Watching the footage of Nick, I was struck by how normal he seemed. He went to church, had a cute girlfriend, did lousy in school and eventually dropped out, but kept up a prolific pace with his song writing, filling many notebooks.

De Rezendes follows Nick's brief life, as well as the aftermath of the fire, and the various memorials and a staging and then the filming of his only original dramatic work. In order to cope, Nick's mother and stepfather frequent mediums (something I don't think I could do) for communication with Nick, and some of their information is uncannily correct.

The most chilling footage is the now famous video of the fire starting just as Great White was taking the small stage. Through slow motion, we can see Nick in his final few minutes of life. I know tragedy and loss occur everyday, but the film's focus on this one victim had me overwhelmed with emotion. I'm sure any documentary that focused on any of the other victims would be equally emotional, and I hope this film encourages others to deal with their loss instead of keeping the anger and grief bottled up inside.

I haven't been this touched by a documentary since "Dear Zachary." "41" made me mourn a guy I never met, and mourn the words and work we never will get from him. The tone, editing, music, and direction are perfect. This film simply must find a larger audience, Christian de Rezendes can be proud of this film, and Christian O'Neill can be proud of Nick.

I debated whether I should write the following because it supports both the idea of 41 being a coincidence in our lives, but perhaps something more... I screened this film on my sometimes fussy DVD player, which will freeze an image if so much as a speck of dust is on the disc. I'm hoping this wasn't a conceit on the part of the film makers, but the disc froze at the running time of 1:41:00. I took the disc out, wiped it with a dry cloth, and replayed it from 1:40:00. Again, it froze at 1:41:00, when de Rezendes is talking about seeking the number 41, then the picture skipped ahead ten seconds to a scene from the end of Nick's play. Am I being punked? The deleted scenes run almost an hour, but nothing happened while I watched them. I have tried to get past that 1:41:00 spot half a dozen times now, and the same thing keeps happening. I have been reassured that this was not intentional on anyone's part.

After the film, I opened up the only other mail I received besides the disc that day- a statement for a personal loan I have. I noticed the "plus four" four digit zip code for my apartment building ends in 41. The suite number of the lender on the return address also ends in 41. If you add up the numbers of my street address, you get 14- 41 reversed. You be the judge.

One thing I can control is my enthusiasm for this film, and my condolences to Nick's friends and family. Because of this film, I feel like I got to know Nick O'Neill a little bit, and I hope his friends and family continue to celebrate the time they had with him. "41" is something to experience. (* * * * *) out of five stars.