Awakenings (1990)

PG-13 | 121 mins | Drama | 20 December 1990

Director:

Penny Marshall

Writer:

Steven Zaillian

Cinematographer:

Miroslav Ondricek

Production Designer:

Anton Furst

Production Company:

Columbia Pictures
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HISTORY

Opening credits include scenes set in the 1920s Bronx, New York, when young “Leonard Lowe” falls ill from encephalitis. Opening credits conclude with the following title cards: “Based on a True Story,” and “The Bronx, 1969.” A written epilogue appears at the end of the film, superimposed over a scene showing “Dr. Malcolm Sayer” guiding Leonard Lowe’s hands over a Ouija board pointer, which reads: “Dr. Sayer and his staff kept working with the post-encephalitic patients, trying new drug treatments as they became available. Leonard and many of the patients experienced brief periods of awakening, but never as dramatically as they did in the summer of 1969. Dr. Sayer continues to work at a chronic hospital in the Bronx.”
       End credits include “Special Thanks” to: Pat Birch; Kate Edgar; Yasha Shlansky; Ed Weinberger; Jack Winter; Lillian Tighe; Carrie Fisher; Michael Lieber; Tracy Reiner; the staff & patients of Kingsboro Psychiatric Center; the staff & patients of Beth Abraham Hospital; the staff & patients of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, Richmond Hill, O.P.D.; P.F. Vintage Clothing, Costume Shop, Inc.; New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting, Jayne Keyes; New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development, Pepper O’Brien; and, National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped.
       On 11 Apr 1983, Publishers Weekly announced that producers Walter F. Parkes and Lawrence Lasker optioned Dr. Oliver Sacks’s 1973 book, Awakenings, after “protracted negotiations.”
       The budget was cited as $29 million in a 16 Dec 1990 LAT article, which noted that director Penny Marshall first read the script after receiving it from her agents at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Marshall brought the ... More Less

Opening credits include scenes set in the 1920s Bronx, New York, when young “Leonard Lowe” falls ill from encephalitis. Opening credits conclude with the following title cards: “Based on a True Story,” and “The Bronx, 1969.” A written epilogue appears at the end of the film, superimposed over a scene showing “Dr. Malcolm Sayer” guiding Leonard Lowe’s hands over a Ouija board pointer, which reads: “Dr. Sayer and his staff kept working with the post-encephalitic patients, trying new drug treatments as they became available. Leonard and many of the patients experienced brief periods of awakening, but never as dramatically as they did in the summer of 1969. Dr. Sayer continues to work at a chronic hospital in the Bronx.”
       End credits include “Special Thanks” to: Pat Birch; Kate Edgar; Yasha Shlansky; Ed Weinberger; Jack Winter; Lillian Tighe; Carrie Fisher; Michael Lieber; Tracy Reiner; the staff & patients of Kingsboro Psychiatric Center; the staff & patients of Beth Abraham Hospital; the staff & patients of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, Richmond Hill, O.P.D.; P.F. Vintage Clothing, Costume Shop, Inc.; New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting, Jayne Keyes; New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development, Pepper O’Brien; and, National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped.
       On 11 Apr 1983, Publishers Weekly announced that producers Walter F. Parkes and Lawrence Lasker optioned Dr. Oliver Sacks’s 1973 book, Awakenings, after “protracted negotiations.”
       The budget was cited as $29 million in a 16 Dec 1990 LAT article, which noted that director Penny Marshall first read the script after receiving it from her agents at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Marshall brought the project to Dawn Steel at Columbia Pictures, and recruited friend Robert De Niro to star as Leonard Lowe. Although Steel greenlit the film, she left Columbia by the time production began.
       An 18 Jul 1989 HR “Rambling Reporter” column listed an expected start date of 9 Sep 1989 and incorrectly described the premise as “a man, suffering from sleeping sickness since the 1960s, awakens in the 1980s,” while the actual film depicts characters who contracted encephalitis in the 1920s and “awakened” in 1969.
       According to a 25 Sep 1989 LAHExam brief, veteran actresses Kaye Ballard, Shelley Winters, and Anne Jackson were considered for the role of Leonard’s mother, “Mrs. Lowe,” but Ruth Nelson was eventually cast.
       In a 23 Dec 1990 LAT interview, Oliver Sacks stated that Robert De Niro meticulously prepared for his role by studying footage of real-life patient “awakenings.” Robin Williams, who was cast as the fictional version of Sacks, “Dr. Malcolm Sayer,” spent time with Sacks and observed him with patients, as noted in the Jan 1991 issue of Vogue, which also stated that an early draft of the script included a scene in which De Niro’s character makes a “final excursion to the outside world,” recalling the 1968 film Charly (see entry). Marshall reportedly fought to leave the scene out.
       Principal photography began 16 Oct 1989, according to a 3 Oct 1989 HR production chart. Production notes in AMPAS library files confirmed the start date, and noted that New York City locations included the Kingsboro Psychiatric Center in Brooklyn, which stood in for “Bainbridge Hospital.” Although Kingsboro was a working hospital, filmmakers were allowed the use of two floors, where production offices, makeup and dressing rooms, and the art department were set up. Location filming took place throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, at the New York Botanical Gardens; Julia Richman High School; Casa Galicia, which stood in for a dance hall; and a brownstone in Park Slope, which doubled as the Lowe residence. Malcolm Sayer’s residence was filmed in City Island, “steps away” from Oliver Sacks’s real-life home. A 23 Aug 1989 NYT article stated that the Tribeca Film Center, De Niro’s film production complex set to launch in Sep 1989, would rent space and equipment to the production. Principal photography ended 16 Feb 1990, according to production notes.
       During filming, an 8 Dec 1989 HR “Rambling Reporter” column announced that De Niro was due back to set that day, after Robin Williams accidentally broke his nose while filming a scene four days earlier.
       A 30 Dec 1990 LAT brief stated that “Lillian T.,” the only survivor of Sacks’s post-encephalitic patients who awakened in 1969, appeared in an early, five-hour cut of the film, in a sequence showing a hospital library built by Sayer’s patients. The library subplot was removed, however, and Lillian does not appear in the final version of the film, although she is credited in “Special Thanks” as “Lillian Tighe.”
       The world premiere took place 12 Dec 1990 in Los Angeles, CA, as stated in a 23 Oct 1990 DV brief. Over $500,000 was raised for the premiere’s host, the Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
       A 22 Mar 1991 Screen International article stated that neither Williams nor De Niro were available for international publicity tours. Thus, Columbia relied on Marshall and Sacks for overseas promotions. Picador, the paperback publisher of Sacks’s book, helped promote the film with bookshop displays including the movie poster.
       An advertisement in the 17 Apr 1991 DV announced the film’s box-office grosses had reached $50,014,197 as of 15 Apr 1991.
       Reviews were mixed, although Williams and De Niro received consistent praise for their performances. Awakenings was named one of the top ten films of the year by the National Board of Review (NBR), and Williams and De Niro tied for NBR’s Best Actor Award. Academy Award nominations included Actor in a Leading Role (De Niro), Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), and Best Picture. Williams received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama. As stated in a 2 Jan 1991 LAT item, Steven Zaillian and Oliver Sacks received the third-annual Scriptor Award from the Friends of the USC (University of Southern California) Libraries.
       Roughly one month after the film’s release, the 28 Jan 1991 LAT reported that Oliver Sacks would be laid off from the Bronx Psychiatric Center in Feb 1991 due to budget cuts affecting New York state mental hospitals. Sacks had worked at the center, which was depicted in the film as “Bainbridge Hospital,” since 1966. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
23 Oct 1990.
---
Daily Variety
12 Dec 1990
p. 2, 17.
Daily Variety
17 Apr 1991.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jul 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Oct 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Nov 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1989
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 1990
p. 9, 18.
LAHExam
7 Jul 1989.
---
LAHExam
25 Sep 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Dec 1990
Section E, p. 5.
Los Angeles Times
16 Dec 1990
Calendar, p. 5, 106-108.
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1990
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
23 Dec 1990
Section N, p. 38.
Los Angeles Times
30 Dec 1990
Section H, p. 30.
Los Angeles Times
2 Jan 1991.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Jan 1991
Calendar, p. 2.
New York Times
23 Aug 1989
Section C, p. 13.
New York Times
20 Dec 1990
p. 11.
Publishers Weekly
11 Apr 1983.
---
Screen International
22 Mar 1991.
---
Theatre Crafts
Apr 1990.
---
Variety
13 Sep 1989.
---
Variety
11 Oct 1989.
---
Variety
17 Dec 1990
p. 42.
Vogue
Jan 1991
p. 98.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Columbia Pictures Presents
A Lasker/Parkes Production
A Penny Marshall Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d cam op
2d cam 1st asst
2d cam 2d asst
Chief lighting tech
Best boy elec
Rigging gaffer
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Still photog
Video playback
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Art dept asst
Art dept asst
FILM EDITORS
Addl film ed
1st asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Apprentice film ed
Apprentice film ed
Apprentice film ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Leadman
Leadman
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Chargeman scenic artist
Master scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic artist
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Men's ward
Women's ward
MUSIC
Mus ed
Mus ed
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Prod mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Boom op
Cableman
Supv ADR ed
ADR ed
Foley ed
Foley ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Process projection eff
Titles & opticals by
MAKEUP
Hair stylist
Hair stylist
Make-up & hair for Mr. De Niro
PRODUCTION MISC
Addl casting
Addl casting
Addl casting
Scr supv
Prod office coord
Office prod asst
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Asst to Ms. Marshall
Asst to Ms. Marshall
Asst to Messrs. Parkes & Lasker
Asst to Messrs. Parkes & Lasker
Asst to Mr. De Niro
Loc mgr
Loc asst
Loc asst
Loc asst
Loc asst
Transportation capt
Transportation coord
Tech consultant
Unit pub
Key set P.A.
Set P.A.
Set P.A.
Asst to Ms. Flynt
Craft service
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (London, 1973).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," written by Harry Carroll & Joseph McCarthy
"O Soave Fanciulla," from Puccini's 'La Bohème,' performed by Mirella Freni & Nicolai Gedda, Orchestra of the Opera House, Rome, conducted by Thomas Schippers, courtesy of Angel/EMI, a division of Capitol Records, Inc., by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets
"Purple Haze," written & performed by Jimi Hendrix, courtesy of Elber B.V.
+
SONGS
"I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," written by Harry Carroll & Joseph McCarthy
"O Soave Fanciulla," from Puccini's 'La Bohème,' performed by Mirella Freni & Nicolai Gedda, Orchestra of the Opera House, Rome, conducted by Thomas Schippers, courtesy of Angel/EMI, a division of Capitol Records, Inc., by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets
"Purple Haze," written & performed by Jimi Hendrix, courtesy of Elber B.V.
"Shanghai Shuffle," written by G. Rodemich & L. Conley, performed by Fletcher Henderson, courtesy of MCA Records
"Sing, Sing, Sing," written by Louis Prima
"Time Of The Season," written by Rod Argent, performed by The Zombies, courtesy of Marquis Enterprises Ltd., by arrangement with Celebrity Licensing Inc.
"You Made Me Love You," written by Joseph McCarthy & James V. Monaco.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
20 December 1990
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles world premiere: 12 December 1990
Los Angeles and New York openings: 20 December 1990
Production Date:
16 October 1989--16 February 1990
Copyright Claimant:
Nova Film Partners
Copyright Date:
31 January 1991
Copyright Number:
PA507765
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
121
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30341
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1969 New York City, Dr. Malcolm Sayer arrives at Bainbridge Hospital in the Bronx. Although he has come to apply for a research position, Dr. Sayer is informed by Dr. Kaufman that Bainbridge is a chronic care hospital with no research department. Despite his lack of clinical experience, Sayer is hired to treat patients. Overwhelmed by the chaotic atmosphere at the facility, which is populated by patients with conditions such as Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia, Sayer takes refuge in his office. Nurse Eleanor Costello takes notice and promises Sayer it will become easier. She invites him out for coffee, but he declines. One day, Sayer admits Lucy Fishman, a new patient who does not speak, move, or respond to stimuli until he drops a pair of glasses and her hand reaches out to catch them. Sayer tests the phenomenon by throwing a ball at her, and her hand moves to catch it. He shares his discovery with Dr. Kaufman, who recognizes Lucy’s ability to catch as a simple reflex. Sayer disagrees, stating that Lucy is “borrowing the will of the ball.” With the help of Nurse Costello, Sayer continues to study Lucy and similar patients, all of whom have been diagnosed with various “atypical” conditions. Sayer reads the patients’ files and finds that they all survived an encephalitis epidemic in the 1920s. Sayer visits Dr. Peter Ingham, who treated encephalitic patients, most of whom died during the acute stage of the disease. He says the survivors showed signs of severe brain damage within five to fifteen years of recovery. Although Ingham believes Sayer’s patients have lost their “higher faculties” and are unaware of their ... +


In 1969 New York City, Dr. Malcolm Sayer arrives at Bainbridge Hospital in the Bronx. Although he has come to apply for a research position, Dr. Sayer is informed by Dr. Kaufman that Bainbridge is a chronic care hospital with no research department. Despite his lack of clinical experience, Sayer is hired to treat patients. Overwhelmed by the chaotic atmosphere at the facility, which is populated by patients with conditions such as Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia, Sayer takes refuge in his office. Nurse Eleanor Costello takes notice and promises Sayer it will become easier. She invites him out for coffee, but he declines. One day, Sayer admits Lucy Fishman, a new patient who does not speak, move, or respond to stimuli until he drops a pair of glasses and her hand reaches out to catch them. Sayer tests the phenomenon by throwing a ball at her, and her hand moves to catch it. He shares his discovery with Dr. Kaufman, who recognizes Lucy’s ability to catch as a simple reflex. Sayer disagrees, stating that Lucy is “borrowing the will of the ball.” With the help of Nurse Costello, Sayer continues to study Lucy and similar patients, all of whom have been diagnosed with various “atypical” conditions. Sayer reads the patients’ files and finds that they all survived an encephalitis epidemic in the 1920s. Sayer visits Dr. Peter Ingham, who treated encephalitic patients, most of whom died during the acute stage of the disease. He says the survivors showed signs of severe brain damage within five to fifteen years of recovery. Although Ingham believes Sayer’s patients have lost their “higher faculties” and are unaware of their surroundings, Sayer sets out to disprove him. He interviews Mrs. Lowe, the mother of a post-encephalitic patient named Leonard Lowe. She recalls when eleven-year-old Leonard first became ill and lost the use of his hands. As he got worse, the boy fell into trances. For the nine years before he was permanently hospitalized, he read books in bed. Sayer records Leonard’s brain waves and notices an increase in activity when he calls Leonard’s name. Nurses and orderlies aid in Sayer’s research by playing music for the post-encephalitic patients, and using physical prompts to help them move on their own. Sayer uses a Ouija board to communicate with Leonard, who moves a pointer to different letters which spell out, “Rilkes panther.” Sayer recognizes the reference to Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “The Panther,” describing a frustrated panther confined to a cage at the zoo. Sayer researches the drug “L-Dopa,” used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease. He asks Dr. Kaufman for permission to test the drug on his post-encephalitic patients, but Kaufman allows him to treat only one. With Mrs. Lowe’s written consent, Sayer administers increasing doses of L-Dopa to Leonard until, one night, he wakes up and gets out of bed on his own. Sayer finds him in a common room, writing his name. The next day, when Mrs. Lowe comes to visit, Leonard embraces her and calls her “Ma.” Hospital employees are stunned by Leonard’s transformation. Seeing a recent photograph of himself, Leonard seeks out a mirror and stares at his reflection, shocked to discover he is now a grown man. Sayer takes Leonard for a ride, and the patient hears rock n’ roll and sees hippies for the first time. At the ocean, Leonard wades into the water and begs Sayer to join him, but the doctor refuses, pleading with Leonard to come back to shore. They share a cup of tea at Sayer’s house, and Leonard asks the doctor why he is not married. Sayer claims he is not very good with people, but Leonard hints that Eleanor, the nurse, disagrees. Based on Leonard’s dramatic improvement, Sayer gives a presentation to the hospital’s patrons, who help fund the expansion of his drug trial to all post-encephalitic patients at the hospital. The others respond positively to L-Dopa, “awakening” from their unresponsive states. Sayer arranges for a field trip to the New York Botanical Gardens, but Leonard skips it when he sees Paula, a beautiful woman visiting her father at the hospital. At the botanical gardens, the newly awakened patients are bored. An orderly named Anthony convinces Sayer to take them to a dance hall instead. Meanwhile, Leonard follows Paula to the cafeteria and has lunch with her. He admits he is a patient, but she says he does not look like one. She talks about her father, who is unresponsive after suffering a stroke. Although she reads to him from the sports section of the newspaper, she is not sure he is aware of her presence. Leonard says that without his medication, he is like her father. Before she leaves, he promises that her father knows she visits. Although most of the group respond joyfully to their awakening, a patient named Bert complains that his parents have died, his wife has been institutionalized, and his son has disappeared, leaving him feeling cheated. One night, Leonard calls Sayer in a panic, and the doctor rushes over. Unable to sleep, Leonard points to negative stories in the newspaper and insists that people need to be reminded how good life is. Over time, Leonard continues to lose sleep and develops facial tics. Although his erratic behavior and tics intensify, he requests the freedom to leave the hospital on his own. When he is denied, he tries to escape. Leonard is moved to another floor at the hospital, where he encourages fellow patients to join him in a hunger strike. Sayer visits, but Leonard pushes him to the ground, shattering the doctor’s glasses. The next day, Sayer finds him in a heap on the floor, asking for help. Leonard re-joins the other post-encephalitic patients, who fear the same fate will befall them. One day, Leonard has a seizure and instructs Sayer to film him for his study. Sayer complies as Leonard pleads, “Learn from me.” Sayer tinkers with Leonard’s L-Dopa dosage, but nothing seems to work. Paula visits Leonard for lunch. He is ashamed by his physical state and tells her he can no longer see her. Before they part ways, she places his hand on her waist and dances with him. The motion calms Leonard, and Paula is moved to tears. Soon, Leonard returns to a vegetative state. Eleanor finds Sayer viewing film of Leonard in better times. He wonders aloud if it was unkind to give life only to take it away again, and Eleanor comforts him. Sometime later, Sayer gives a presentation on the short-lived but miraculous recovery of the fifteen patients he treated with L-Dopa. He says the patients taught him a lesson about the human spirit, and reminded him to appreciate the simplest things in life. After saying goodbye to Eleanor one night, Sayer notices a photograph of Leonard. He rushes to the window and calls Eleanor’s name. She waits as he runs downstairs and asks her to go for coffee. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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