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Docurama presents
My Flesh and Blood (2003)

"These kids were mine, with all their troubles, all their foibles, whatever. These kids were mine."
- Susan Tom

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: November 28, 2004

Stars: Susan Tom
Other Stars: Margaret Tom, Xenia Tom, Susie Tom, Emily Tom, Faith Tom, Cloe Tom, Libby Tom, Hannah Tom, Anthony Tom, Joe Tom, Katy Tom
Director: Jonathan Karsh

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:24m:10s
Release Date: November 30, 2004
UPC: 767685961537
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+B+B A-

DVD Review

"Children are a gift." -Susan Tom

Susan Tom of Fairfield, California is a single mother who has 13 kids—in her words "two homegrown and 11 adopted"—though My Flesh and Blood is not simply the story of a crowded house full of children and the accompanying chaos.

What makes the story of Susan Tom so utterly amazing is that the children she has willingly taken into her life have all manner of disabilities (physical, emotional, mental) ranging from missing limbs, spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, and epidermolysis bullosa. To call this a challenge would be a colossal understatement, and under the direction of filmmaker Jonathan Karsh the saga that unfolds in this documentary is one that is so brutally moving and surprising that it is a tough thing to even begin to comprehend.

The monumental undertaking of caring for these special need children is extremely fascinating and heartbreaking, from the $600-a-week trips to the grocery store to the medical requirements to the mountains of daily laundry, but My Flesh and Blood is much more than just a day-in-the-life. Karsh immersed himself into the lives of Susan Tom and her family for a year, and his cameras capture it all, and the narrative that eventually takes shape is wholly unexpected. There is 15-year-old Joe, cursed not only with cystic fibrosis, but A.D.D., diabetes and hyperactivity, and over the course of My Flesh and Blood reveals a level of unpredictable aggression that threatens the safety of the entire family dynamic.

It is the resiliency and interdependence of all the Tom children—like the perky, hopeful demeanor of 8-year-old burn victim Faith and the eternally bubbly, athletic person of legless 7th grader Xenia—are truly dazzling and uplifting things to behold. Take in the day-to-day endurance of wheelchair-bound 19-year-old Anthony, suffering from the advanced stages of the genetic skin disease epidermolysis bullosa (in which the skin is exceptionally fragile and breaks down and blisters easily), which leave him in such a delicate physical state that it makes bathing a painful experience, and how he is able to temporarily rise above his disability by taking part in high school drama class.

My Flesh and Blood is an incredibly powerful and unforgettable film, and unless you are absolutely heartless this will make you weep like a baby. It is difficult to fully realize the levels of love, compassion, anger, and frustration that exist under the roof of the Tom house, and in the accompanying commentary Jonathan Karsh mentions how Susan Tom wanted to make sure he wasn't making a "sappy film, because that's not what our family is all about."

The end product is not sappy by any means, and at times it is frightening, but it is also an emotionally charged documentary that shows in no uncertain terms what a little love, hope, and family can do.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Docurama has issued My Flesh and Blood in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is clean, sporting pleasant and bright colors throughout, something many documentaries fail to reproduce. There is a mix of home movie footage and newer material shot by Karsh, and there are the expected differences in quality. A few transitional sequences, especially just before the closing credits, are more stylized, and reveal deep, vivid colors.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 2.0 stereo, and the quality is acceptable for a documentary, especially considering the varied conditions under which it was shot. Dialogue is clear and discernible at all times, which is really all one can expect.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, Go Tigers!, Keep The River On Your Right, The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha, The Smashing Machine, Sound and Fury, The Weather Underground
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jonathan Karsh
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Docurama has stacked My Flesh and Blood with a strong set of extras that compliments the feature, beginning with an excellent commentary from director Jonathan Karsh. Speaking in a very gentle voice, Karsh describes the shooting process, and expresses mild amazement at how unnoticed the whole filming process was in the lives of the Toms. Much of the content is of a personal nature, centered on reactions to events in the documentary, even admitting to stepping in to stop a fight between Joe and Xenia. Though he does provide some additional information on a few of the children, one such point concerns how Susan Tom had to take burn victim Faith out of school because of classmate teasing, something that Karsh tried to unsuccessfully capture, but which he chalks up to the other students being on their best behavior because of the camera.

Follow-up Interviews (23m:34s) feature Karsh and Susan Tom (together and apart) speaking about the project overall, and Interview with Susan's Eldest Sons (06m:47s) allows her two grown children, Ben and Jeremy, to justifiably tip their hat to their amazing mother. Behind the Scenes (02m:05s) is footage shot during the initial meeting of Karsh and the Tom's as part of a family road trip, and it's a shame there are only two minutes of it here because it is very cute stuff. A pair of Deleted Scenes (12m:40s) are also included, featuring the kids at trapeze class, as well as some additional footage of the aforementioned road trip.

There's bio info on Karsh, as well as a batch of Docurama trailers. The disc is cut into 12 chapters.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

This is easily one of the most compelling and inspiring documentaries in recent memory, a heartwrenching blend of tragedy and love all held together by one remarkable woman.

One of the year's best documentary releases, and as such it comes highly recommended.


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