“Watching films is the way I relax. It’s a highly contemplative activity that takes me to another place and it’s a nice balance to a busy professional life,” Dr Lindy Roberts said.
“In both pain management and anaesthesia you’re dealing with people who are at a vulnerable and stressful point in their lives. The reflective nature of viewing films, particularly film noir, feeds into the complexity of other people’s lives and creates a space that facilitates a depth of compassion and a deeper understanding of clinical interactions.”
The portrayal of medicos in action on the silver screen varies from the sublime to the ridiculous, says Lindy.
“I’m interested in depictions of anaesthesia on film and some of the early ones are ridiculously funny. In Dark Passage, Humphrey Bogart has his entire face remodelled by a deregistered doctor under local anaesthetic in a derelict building. He recuperates in an apartment owned by a sympathetic artist played by Lauren Bacall. It’s masterly!”
“Bacall’s film debut, To Have and Have Not, is set around a love triangle with her character wafting ether towards the ‘other’ woman until she falls unconscious on the floor. It’s unrealistic, but hilarious.”
“Needless to say, this sort of stuff doesn’t spill over into my own practice. I stick to modern principles and guidelines.”
There’s another side of Lindy’s passion for cinema that is distinctly academic with an extensive film collection complemented by an ever-increasing library of reference books.
“I haven’t gone into the old projector stuff so my collection is pretty much all DVDs. I’ve got about 700 and adding to it all the time, but I’d still call it a work-in-progress. ‘Streaming’ isn’t much help because the films I like aren’t available in this format, so a lot of my stuff comes from overseas. And I always keep an eye out for interesting material when I’m travelling.”
“I’ve also got a research library of about 300 film books. I’d describe myself as an ‘enthusiast’ but I have done some short, residential film courses at Cambridge University. One focused on Hollywood and American Foreign Policy and that helps me to understand the socio-political context of the films I’m watching.”
“I tend to watch a film more than once, make notes as I go and annotate the margins of my books in pencil. I’m learning as I go.”
Lindy’s medical practice combined with a deep cultural engagement harks back to her earlier education.
“I studied about half-and-half arts and science courses at school and was very interested in history. There are some strong links with film noir and post-WWII paranoia relating to communism and the possibility of nuclear annihilation.”
“And, of course, it’s not just what’s up on the screen. The political context of ‘blacklisting’ in America during the 1950s had a huge impact on writers, actors and directors. It was a very turbulent period. It’s easy to see a lot of historical parallels in modern America with its current progressive isolation.”
“The vast majority of films I watch have the historical ‘feel’ that comes with black and white. It’s a beautiful aesthetic and many are regarded as masterpieces. Director Martin Scorsese has been instrumental in getting these films back out there in restored format.”
Once is not enough
Lindy has a long list of films that she loves to watch, some of them a lot more than once.
“Classic such as The Third Man, Citizen Kane and all the Bogart films are wonderful. I also like films with strong women because the feminist readings are interesting.”
“One film I really love is Buster Keaton’s The General. It was made in 1925 and the title comes from the name of a train used in the American Civil War. It was a very physical comedy and in those days there were no stunt doubles and pretty crude special effects so it must’ve been highly dangerous.”
“One of Buster’s famous lines to his cameraman was, keep filming until I call ‘cut’ or I die!”
“Another one is the 1945 production Detour, a film noir, low-budget classic. It has all the film noir elements with a dark, hapless leading man who makes terrible choices and ends up with more than a few bodies on his hands.”
Creating a future
Lindy and her partner of 20 years, retired anaesthetist Robert Edeson, have carved out a creative space away from the practice of medicine. The latter’s book, The Weaver Fish was published in 2014 by Fremantle Press. To describe it as ‘brilliantly imaginative’ would be an understatement.
“We’re both quite introspective and interested in slightly academic pursuits. And it would be fair to say that Robert has a very unusual mind. He has another book coming out later this year.”
“There are many people in medicine with lots of different interests and talents. It’s important that we nurture that and find space to pursue creative activities. Most of us invest a lot in our professional identity and, in that decade leading up to retirement, it’s crucial to think about those ‘other’ sides of our personality.”
“My passion for film noir is also a transitional approach to addressing a sense of self beyond my professional role. Almost everyone struggles with it, and I’m planning well ahead!”