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Doc Talk: daring to do; searching beneath the sea; battling multiple sclerosis

Ñoño, in "Things We Dare Not Do"POV

Bruno Santamaría’s “Things We Dare Not Do,” on PBS’s “POV,” opens with a scene reminiscent of a film by Buñuel or Fellini. A motorized hang glider buzzes the Mexican coastal village of El Roblito. Santa Claus is piloting the craft and he tosses out bags of treats into the dusty streets and vacant lots below. Delighted kids scramble for them, and as he flies away argue whether it was really Santa Claus — or whether Santa Claus even exists.

If there is a Santa Claus in El Roblito it would be Ñoño. He is a gentle and creative 16-year-old who plays with the kids — some of them his siblings — and organizes them into productions that he choreographs. His shows fit in well with the film’s antic, sometimes surreal images like a herd of horses suddenly galloping into the frame followed by a donkey and a little dog. Some incidents are not so whimsical, though, such as when gunshots disrupt an evening dance and the next morning the kids check out the drying pool of blood where someone was murdered.

Ñoño sometimes slips away at dusk to sit by the shore and gaze at the water and the sunset. On one occasion he puts on makeup and a dress and takes selfies. Apparently he has already let his parents know that he is gay, and they have accepted that. But now he has to tell them that he wants their permission to dress up and identify as a woman. He fears that his mother will worry what will happen to him if people find out.


Near the end of the film he dances alone under a streetlight. Outside the frame children shout “Are you dancing? You’re such a letdown.” Then they call out a homophobic slur.

“Things We Dare Not Do” premieres on PBS’ “POV” Oct. 25 at 10 p.m. It will also be available for streaming until Nov. 25 on pbs.com and the PBS Video App. Go to www.pbs.org/pov/watch/thingswedarenotdo.


From "The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52."Bleecker Street

Cetacean solo

Do you ever feel like you’re on a wavelength that no one else can share? Such is the plight of the subject of Joshua Zeman’s “The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52,” on Hulu. In 1989, in the waning days of the Cold War, the Navy was searching with a top-secret detection system for Soviet submarines and picked up a mysterious signal, a recurring sound at the frequency of 52 Hertz, a little higher than a tuba’s lowest note.

Further research revealed that what they detected was a whale song. Not one by the more melodious cetaceans whose hit 1970 album “Songs of the Humpback Whale” helped start the movement to save the creatures from extinction, but by a finback or a blue whale or maybe a hybrid of the two. An outlier’s song that was never answered. Nor had anyone actually seen the whale, and no other whale had ever responded. He was dubbed “52.”

In 2004 a New York Times article turned 52 into a media sensation, his fate of forever plying the sea off the coast of California while vainly calling out for a mate striking a universal chord. Among those drawn to the tale was Zeman, who put together a Cousteau-like crew on a specially equipped ship to hunt down the whale and make a movie about it.


The result falls somewhere between “Moby-Dick” and an episode of the Discovery Channel series “Mysteries of the Deep” as the expedition chases down leads. Meanwhile we learn a lot about the gruesome history of whaling and the ongoing threats to the species’ survival — shipping routes intersecting migration patterns, the noise pollution that screws up their communications, among other hazards. Beguiling and enlightening, Zeman’s film serves as a reminder that saving the whales is a task far from finished.

Available to stream on Hulu. Go to hulu.tv/3DYhjJ4.

Selma Blair playing with her 10-year-old son, in "Introducing, Selma Blair."discovery+

Attempting to deal with a disease

Selma Blair in Rachel Fleit’s “Introducing, Selma Blair,” on Discovery+, is hilarious.

The actress, who established herself as a comic scene stealer in “Cruel Intentions” (1999) and “Legally Blonde” (2001) and provided gravitas as the depressed, lethal girlfriend in “Hellboy” (2004), opens this movie with a monologue that involves tiny rubber hands, a Norma Desmond turban, and references to Cruella De Vil and Kim Kardashian. It’s as funny as anything on YouTube.

But then she just slows down, like a toy with a fading battery, or HAL 9000 at the end of “2001″ (1968). Her speech grows halting, unintelligible, and subtitles are needed to understand her. “This is what happens that I don’t want people to see,” she says.

But Blair does let people see it happen and has been sharing her struggle with multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with in 2018. By going public she hopes to provide a positive example for other sufferers and also become a positive example for herself.


In the film she learns about a stem-cell replacement treatment that might reboot her immune system, which is attacking and damaging her brain and spinal cord. The treatment also could kill her, and it certainly will be an excruciating, prolonged ordeal, which the film shares in heart-wrenching, intimate detail.

The illness has led Blair to resolve her relationship with her mother, a daunting figure whose approval she could never win. When Blair did her first studio film, “Cruel Intentions,” her mother watched it and could only offer a deprecating comment on a same-sex kissing scene. Blair imitates her mother’s response: “‘Honestly, Selma did you have to give so much tongue.” But her mother is terminally ill, and Blair hopes to reconcile with her. “I love you, Mummy,” she says over the phone, but gets no response. “I totally understand her,” she says,

Her relationship with her 10-year-old son sustains her, even when he plays video games and ignores her jokingly pathetic pleas to offer affection. Her older sister also provides solid, often teary support. And when things get tough Blair falls back on her sardonic sense of humor, as when she notices that her brand-new head massager looks like a dildo, or when she holds one of the tiny rubber hands to her chest and says, “Does this make my boobs look bigger?” Like Val Kilmer in “Val,” she puts all vanity aside and lets the world see the suffering, indomitable person she has become.


“Introducing, Selma Blair” can be streamed on Discovery+ Oct. 21.

Go to www.discovery.com/dnews/introducing-selma-blair-premiere.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.