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Interview with Mitch McCabe

I wanted to make a film that really provoked thought even if at times it angered the viewer.

HBO

When did you first know you wanted to make this movie?

Mitch McCabe

Well, I've always been a bit obsessed with aging. I've been making personal films for a long time, since I started making documentaries in college. When I was younger, my interest had more to do with the passing of time. But when my dad died when I was twenty-seven, I found myself becoming aware of certain things.

My father was a trauma surgeon before entering the field of plastic surgery, and at the beginning of his career did mostly reconstructive procedures like post-cancer breast reconstruction. At that time there was no Botox or implants or injectables. Plastic surgery wasn't accessible to the middle class. It was much more secretive. It's a very different world now, not just with Botox but with things that fill in wrinkles and plump up your cheeks and lips. So as I entered my early thirties, it was hard to not be aware of this booming industry, and be curious about looking into my father's work.

HBO

Where does the title Youth Knows No Pain come from?

Mitch McCabe

We probably went through a hundred titles! The problem was that this is an idea film, and the search for the fountain of youth is one of the oldest themes. Ultimately, it explores the idea of eternal youth and never wanting to die. Producers, friends, and anyone in the edit room would brainstorm titles, and we would move around words related to the movie like Scrabble. Youth Knows No Pain appeared on the table, and the room went kind of quiet. When you're young you haven't had any life disappointments yet. In many ways, it's almost like you could say people do these things to give themselves the illusion that time hasn't left its mark. The title 'Youth Knows No Pain' started sinking in and finally it stuck-it had truth and poetry to it.

...the search for the fountain of youth is one of the oldest themes. Ultimately, it explores the idea of eternal youth and never wanting to die.

HBO

One of the questions the film asks is: what makes people happy?

Mitch McCabe

One of the doctors in the film sites a study that says it's not money or looks that makes people happy. It's self esteem. And what blocks people from having good self esteem is something about their appearance that gets in the way, whether it's anxiety about hair loss or weight or their nose. And often, if they can do something about it, they feel a lot better.

I know a very normal guy who used to be cover up his nose. For years he didn't like it and finally he went away quietly and got it fixed, and then he didn't cover it up anymore. There are different cases, obviously, and for some it can become an endless pit where no amount of weight loss or surgery will make them feel better. But for many, it gives them what they need to restore their sense of self- esteem.

HBO

What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

Mitch McCabe

To me the stealth message of the film is: wouldn't it be great if we lived in a society where there wasn't ageism, where the sexes were completely equal? But because the world is the way it is and things like weight and ageism do exist, I feel like it's not fair to judge those who have made a decision to fight a really hard fight against those things. I wanted to make a film that really provoked thought even if at times it angered the viewer.

Ironically, I don't like to wear makeup, and I don't care that much about beauty. I think my fascination with youth is more time related.

One of the people I interviewed who didn't make it into the final film said something that really interested me. I asked the question, why do you do Botox? And she said, "Because when I look in the mirror, I just feel like there's more time to get things done." That was very revealing because I did not want this to be a film about women whining or about ageism. I wanted to make it more universal and to kind of turn the subject on its head, which I think I was able to achieve.

Youth Knows No Pain

2009 Documentary Films Series

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