Doc Talk

Doc Talk: On the field, behind the camera, at the wheel, in the lab

A scene from “The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti”
A scene from “The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti”

Nick Buoniconti, who died July 30, at 78, played seven seasons for the then-Boston Patriots and seven more for the Miami Dolphins. That team won two Super Bowls and went undefeated in 1972, a record yet to be duplicated. In Bentley Weiner’s documentary “The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti” the former middle linebacker tells a story about a fistfight he once had with a fellow player as a Patriot. He stops in the middle of a sentence. “I can’t remember,” he says. “Everything is jumbled for me.”

In 1976 Buoniconti kissed the turf after his final game in the NFL, believing he had escaped serious injury. It would take decades for the extent of the damage inflicted on him to manifest itself. During this time he would reinvent himself as a lawyer, as an agent for athletes such as the baseball players Andre Dawson and Bucky [expletive] Dent, as an executive for US Tobacco Company (he admits that his 1986 appearance on “60 Minutes” denying that smokeless tobacco was carcinogenic was not his best moment), and as a cohost of HBO’s “Inside the NFL.” Not until 2013 did Buoniconti begin showing signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative, incurable form of dementia caused by repeated head trauma, which has afflicted many professional football players.


But the sport Buoniconti loved so much and which had given him so many opportunities began taking its toll even before his struggle with CTE. In 1985 his 19-year-old son, Marc, a linebacker  at the South Carolina military college, The Citadel, was gravely injured during a game.

In the film Buoniconti struggles to recall this memory, not because it is jumbled but because he can never forget it. He describes how when he arrived at the hospital he found Marc on a respirator, paralyzed and near death, and how he took his son’s hand and promised he would do everything he could to help.


It proved to be one of Buoniconti’s most daunting challenges and included establishing the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Though still in a wheelchair, Marc is now president of the Project, which since its foundation has raised half a billion dollars for research into paralysis and has treated thousands of those afflicted.

True to the film’s title, Nick Buoniconti has lived many lives, both triumphant and tragic, and in so doing has touched the lives of countless others.

“The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti” is available on demand at HBO GO.

Looking back at D.A. Pennebaker

In a career spanning six decades, D. A. Pennebaker, who died Aug. 1, at 94, made some of cinema’s most brilliant, incisive, and influential documentaries.

“The War Room” (1993), co-directed by his partner and wife, Chris Hegedus, penetrates the inner circle of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and remains unequaled as the consummate political documentary. The more obscure “Rockaby” (1983), also co-directed with Hegedus, follows the collaboration between Alan Schneider and Billie Whitelaw on a production of Samuel Beckett’s short play of the title. It provides profound insight into the art of directing, acting, and the dark and eloquent vision of the author.

But Pennebaker excelled especially at music documentaries. “Monterey Pop” (1968) rivals the Maysles brothers’ “Gimme Shelter” (1970) as the quintessential portrait of the music, culture, and spirit of the 1960s. When he first was asked to make his masterpiece, “Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back” (1967), about the enigmatic 23-year-old genius’s 1965 tour of England, Pennebaker had never heard of his subject or listened to his music. But neither before nor since has anyone gotten as close to the soul of the future Nobel Prize winner. And in “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”(1973) Pennebaker captures the elusive David Bowie at the concert in which the rock star, who died in 2016 at 69, “killed off” the title guise only to rise again later as yet another persona.


Cinema has lost another giant with the passing of D.A. Pennebaker, who showed us the way he saw the world and in so doing changed the way the world was seen.

Car chase

An instructive complement to Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce’s “Framing John DeLorean” (2019), about another celebrated if less scrupulous automobile designer, Helena Coan’s documentary “Chasing Perfect” offers a close-up look at Frank Stephenson, who in his 33-year career has dreamed up vehicles ranging from the Mini Cooper to the Ferrari F430. In genial but intense interviews Stephenson explains how his ideas are often derived from nature, drawing inspiration from sailfish for the McLaren P1 and from female anatomy for the Mini. Fittingly for a car designer, he is driven — by ambition and obsessive perfectionism, instilled in him by the spartan discipline of a beloved but unsparing father. Pushing 60, he’s slowed down, gotten married, and taken up a new project — applying the physiology of hammerhead sharks to self-flying passenger aircraft, a revolutionary new concept in transportation.


“Chasing Perfect” is available on all major VOD platforms, courtesy of 1091 Media.

Go to radi.al/ChasingPerfect.

Don’t stop thinking about ‘Tomorrow’

Though the documentary style in Laura Nix’s “Inventing Tomorrow” may be conventional, the four projects undertaken by teenage scientists from around the world that she follows are not. They are as finalists in the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) for high school students, and each has tackled a local environmental crisis in hopes of finding a solution that might have worldwide applications. They come from Hawaii, Mexico, India, and Indonesia and they have applied their skills, energy, and idealism to figuring out ways to detoxify soil, air, and water poisoned by greed and indifference. Though the film takes on some of the competitive excitement of similar documentaries, such as “Spellbound” (2002), it also instills confidence in a new generation and hope for a better future in these dark times.

“Inventing Tomorrow” can be seen on www.pbs.org/pov until Aug. 12.

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