September 25, 2020  (Web Review)

The Blech Effect

Ground Control Pictures, 87 mins., VOD.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

During the 1980s, David Blech was known as the “King of Biotech,” a financial pioneer in a rapidly evolving industry that took on major illnesses and health conditions such as AIDS, cancer, infertility, and sexually-transmitted diseases through state-of-the-art microbiology and pharmaceuticals. He created, and in some cases co-created with his brother and father, almost a dozen companies that together are worth $144 billion today. At one point, Blech was worth $300 million in personal wealth. Yet when we meet him in this sad documentary, he’s got a few hundred dollars in the bank, and is behind on rent for the modest New York City apartment he shares with his wife and special-needs teenage son. He’s also in debt to the tune of millions and is due in court to be sentenced for a white collar crime that might land him in prison. So what happened? This intimate portrait of a family in crisis finds a somber, depressed Blech explaining that his bipolar personality made it difficult to do the smart thing and protect his wealth over the years. Instead, he kept leveraging what he had as well as borrowed capital to risk everything on the next venture, the next Big Thing in defeating diseases. When failures occurred, Blech was not only massively in debt, he was charged with securities fraud in 1994, receiving a five-year probation. The Blech Effect was shot in and around 2013, after Blech has been found guilty of market manipulation and while he is struggling to sell his last asset: about $100 million he has tied up in a company he founded to mitigate Alzheimer’s-inducing plaque in human brains. As he waits for the results of clinical trials, Blech carries on with daily life, helping his son with the latter’s regular tasks, strategizing with his wife about how to pay the bills, attending meetings of Gamblers Anonymous, and trying to shake himself out of low spirits and mounting anxiety. Whatever Blech might have done that could put him behind bars, you can’t help but feel sympathy for the deep irony of his situation: any moment now, he could be worth nine figures again, or he could keep on scraping by. Filmmaker David Greenwald, a veteran editor making his debut feature documentary, has such extraordinary personal access to the Blech household while bad news mounts and mounts that it is sometimes painful to be in private moments with them. Greenwald never seems to be chasing after developments but rather anticipating them, being there, for example, when a phone call comes in that will make Blech cover his face with his hands. This is a tale of a man plummeting from the highest of heights after doing so much to improve the health of millions. At one point he says his is a cautionary story—one of almost Biblical proportions. Strongly recommended. (T. Keogh)