Frederick Matthias Alexander, His Life, His Legacy
Originator of The Alexander Technique
First published: 12 August 2015
Publisher's description
'FM Alexander's work is one of the true epics of medical research and practice'.
Nikolaas Tinbergen, Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine 1974

This DVD tells the story of the Australian actor and voice teacher Frederick Matthias (FM) Alexander's life and work, including:

- his convict origins and formative years in Tasmania
- his acting career in Melbourne, with animation showing why he developed voice problems and how he solved them.
- his dual career as an actor and voice teacher in Australasia, and
- his life in England (1904- 1955), details of the first teacher training course in 1931.

Rare archival footage of a Live interview with Alexander's pupil Erika Whittaker, talking about her memories of Alexander and the first teacher training course.

Other features include present-day interviews with:

James Galway, King's College Choir choristers, Professor Paul Little, University of Southampton UK, Professor Lucy Brown, Albert Einstein Medical Centre, New York, and Professor Galen Cranz, University of California, Berkeley.

An Alexander Technique lesson with Diana Devitt-Dawson and one of her pupils. Featuring magnificent scenic shots and rare archival footage, this 70 minute DVD will be of interest to those familiar with FM Alexander's work and those who would like to know about the life and legacy of this remarkable Australian.

Review by Brooke Lieb.

As the DVD jacket says, this video is geared towards 'those familiar with F.M. Alexander's work and those who would like to know more about the life and legacy of this remarkable Australian.' It fully succeeds in this objective, and a receptive audience will likely find it mostly interesting and familiar.

Kudos for Rosslyn McLeod for the production of this 70-minute film, the most ambitious project to date on F.M. Alexander. She shared with me by e-mail that

Whilst in Melbourne (1986 to 1996) and searching for material re: FM, I had the idea of a documentary film; in 1992 I filmed interviews with flautist James Galway (he was visiting Australia for a concert tour) and on the same day a wonderful interview with Erika Whittaker. At the time she was living in Melbourne, and it was a privilege to often visit her and listen to her words of wisdom. For the filming, the film man said I should hire the best quality film and tape - I did for a cost of $2,000 (AUD); I realized filming would be an expensive business! However it was worth it as it would be many years before I could get the film made and thankfully the Galway/Whittaker interviews are of good quality still.

The film begins with an overview of F.M. Alexander's early life, prior to the onset of his vocal problems. This section includes the history of his family's convict origins and Alexander's childhood, work life, and his decision to pursue acting. It is told through a combination of narration over still images, illustrations, and film clips as well as interviews that include historical background provided by Dr. Ian McFarland, a historian at the University of Tasmania.

Next, Alexander's discovery and development of the Technique is told through a combination of 3D animation of the head/neck/back and more still photos and interviews. In this section, Erika Whittaker, first-generation teacher, shares her memories of the start of Alexander's first teacher training course. Additional clips from her interview are interspersed throughout the DVD.

Similarly, footage of Australian teacher Diana Devitt-Dawson teaching a first lesson is used throughout the film, providing introductory explanations of Alexander's principles and his unique approach to teaching improved use. These clips also show specific examples of hands-on and verbal instruction during basic chair work and application to activities (her young student plays guitar) so viewers have a sense of how learning happens and how alignment and use can improve with lessons.

The next section covers developments in the profession and the growing recognition for the Alexander Technique in the years since Alexander's death in 1955. The filmmakers include professionally produced segments made by others: the segment reporting on the 2008 United Kingdom back pain study published in the British Medical Journal; a film about the Alexander Technique in education; and clips of neuroscientist Lucy Brown, Alexander Technique teacher and professor of architecture Galen Cranz, and flautist James Galway. A film clip of F.M. Alexander teaching, narrated by Walter Carrington, is also included, as are many still photographs of Alexander.

The segment with Lucy Brown is particularly engaging, accessible, and interesting as she shares her enthusiasm and delight in her personal experience of lessons and her ideas about what happens in our nervous system during lessons.

The testimonials from James Galway, Galen Cranz, Lucy Brown, Alexander Technique and Art of Swimming teacher Steven Shaw, and others lend credibility to the Alexander work and engage the audience.

This is an ambitious film, and I appreciate Rosslyn McLeod's passion for her subject. Some of the film clips from the '90s are of poorer quality than the rest of the DVD. At the time those clips were filmed, I can only imagine that production costs to create better quality would have been prohibitive compared to cost-effective, high-quality video one can produce with current technology. The unevenness in the overall quality undermines the potential positive impact this piece can have.

With another round of editing to upgrade production values and focus more directly on the Technique and its proven benefits and with less footage devoted to the historical background of Alexander's early life, this DVD has the potential to appeal to a wider audience and in that way could serve as an effective promotional tool for the general public, raising awareness of the Alexander Technique as a resource for people in a wide array of disciplines and activities who are looking for improvement. It is full of interesting historical background, enlightening details about Alexander's first training course, and consolidates many of the best-produced videos currently available to promote the work. In its current form, it is still a worthwhile piece for teachers and devotees of the Alexander Technique.

Copyright © 2018 Brooke Lieb.

Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2018. All rights reserved.