MEMOIRS OF MY NERVOUS ILLNESSNR
Memoirs of My Nervous Illness refers to the special case of Daniel Paul Schreber, who chronicled his own insanity in tortured texts which influenced no less than Freud, Jung and Lacan. Written in 1903, they outline his schizophrenia, homosexuality and transvestitism, as he marries a most unfortunate woman (Lara Milian), is appointed a judge, and eventually winds up in an asylum. Writer-director Julian P. Hobbs interweaves Schreber's hallucinations with actual life events such as his wife's multiple failed pregnancies and his own troubled relationship with his father (Joe Coleman), a martinet bent on ridding his son of any impurities. His combative treatment by both parent and the questionable Dr. Emil Flechsig (Bob Cucuzza), who is determined to eradicate any deviation from "normal" behavior and impulses, seem to Schreber to parallel the dire Nazi-bound course Germany itself is headed toward.
Hobbs uses a battery of expressionistic effects, including shooting the film in both color and sepia, which, while often impressive, sometimes distract more than they inform. Under the welter of all this heavy aestheticism, some of the performers are somewhat stymied, but thankfully not Mays. He gave a near-legendary performance on Broadway in another Teutonic transvestite role, playing Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in I Am My Own Wife, with demonic intensity, and, if anything, takes it even further with his no-holds-barred interpretation of Schreber. As Schreber's utterly bereft wife lies weeping in bed beside him, he writhes in fantasized feminine orgasm and later decides that he has been chosen by God to birth a new race of mankind. In the asylum, he fashions a gown from his straitjacket and sheets that transform him into as unforgettable a film fashion icon as Dietrich in her feathers, or Audrey Hepburn in her Tiffany's Givenchy. Unlike, say, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dragging it up in Some Like It Hot or Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, Mays allows no humorous, commenting distance between himself and his character's obsession. However deluded Schreber may be, a ferocious self-possession burns in his eyes, making him a cinema protagonist difficult to shake off.