Of the issues raised by the documentary “Farewell to Hollywood: The Life and Death of Reggie Nicholson” — including terminal illness in youth, and medical independence — the one that stirs up the most queasiness is the relationship between filmmaker(s) and subject(s).
Director Henry Corra met feisty 17-year-old Long Beach movie buff and cancer sufferer Regina Nicholson at a film festival, and the pair made a pact to turn her limited time on Earth into a movie. (Nicholson, credited as co-director, died at 19 in 2012.)
As Nicholson valiantly deals with her condition, and, tragically, with her emotionally unstable, mightily religious parents, who eventually believe the pair are having an affair and threaten to cut off her medical insurance, Corra is there with the camera and soft-spoken words of encouragement.
When Nicholson moves to South Pasadena as a final act of rebellion, with Corra taking over her medical decisions, it doesn’t take long for the movie, often willed into the poetic with consciously arty shots and sequences, to become an unsettling record of strange intimacy and authorial power. Corra even records himself driving around in the rain at one point, bemoaning his hampered access.
The freckly, funny Nicholson may be a vibrant, courageous personality considering her situation, but there’s only so much questionable morality you can take in this self-chronicling concept before you just want to look away. Are we witnessing a life celebrated? Or intrusiveness tolerated and the end of life fetishized?
“Farewell to Hollywood: The Life and Death of Reggie Nicholson.”
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.
Playing at Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.