Monday, September 28, 2020

JACKIE CHAN: The Man who brought humour to the marital arts.

Martial arts films had no appeal for me, but stumbling onto a Jackie Chan movie found myself laughing.  A documentary film "Chop Socky:  Cinema Hong Kong" (2003) narrated in part by Jackie  explained a little of the film history with respect to martial arts.  The Beijing Opera had choreography practices including acrobatics,that were passed on to films.  Martial arts became very popular.  Wu xia became a popular form where movements are greatly exaggerated.  Some methods were to film backwards, to use trampolines and wires and to careful camera angles.  The Hong Kong film makers borrowed from the Japanese.  To save time fight sequence filmed once, but with different cameras simultaneously and then edited for optimal effect.

When Bruce Lee died there were a number of potential successors and Jackie thought hard how to differentiate himself.  He realized he was in the entertainment business and one of his unique qualities was a sense of humor and a detailed sense of planning.  His decision opened up the genre to humor and innovation.

Jackie was born in 1954 in Hong Kong.  His family migrated to Canbera, Australia where his parents  worked in the American Embassy, but when Jackie performed poorly in school his father sent him back to Hong Kong where he was enrolled in China Drama School, part of the Peking Opera schools.   He excelled in acrobatics, martial arts and singing.  As a youngster he admired Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.  He performed in a traveling troop and also visited his parents in Australia, but struck for the movie industry in Hong Kong.  He took some minor roles including two in Bruce Lee films.  With the untimely death of Lee,  Jackie was elevated, but he had a different style of fighting and acting.  Hong Kong churned out films quickly to take advantage of interest in martial fighting films.  Filming often included one shot takes that required planning. 

Jackie's big breakthrough came with "Drunken Master" (1978), followed with his first directing job with "The Young Master" (1980).  A few attempts to break into the American market directly faltered.  By this time he had developed perhaps the most exciting martial art sequences in Hong Kong.  Again tackled the American market in with "The Protector" (1985 ) but felt not understood by Americans.  He toughened up his image for "Police Story (1985) that finally hit the mark.

A big American breakthrough was with "Rush Hour" (1998) co-starring Chris Tucker.  Lots of humor.  Two sequels have been produced with rumors there might be another.

Jackie combined with another martial arts hero, Jet Li for "The Forbidden Kingdom", mostly filmed in China, but really was an American teenager fantasy transporting a boy not only across the ocean, but also through time.  Good fun with lots of Jackie's trade mark fighting.

Like many actors who dislike being type cast Jackie reached out for a chance to prove he can act seriously.  "Shinjuku Incident" (2009)  proved to be a much more serious movie (about illegal Chinese immigrants in Japan) and Jackie came through as very competent.   The violence is repulsive in small sections while martial arts is not emphasized.  It was considered too violent for China and the producers decided to abandon Chinese market.  There is a brief sex scene (Jackie has mostly been a chaste kisser at best).  Mandarin  is spoken by a Taiwanese gang that detests the new Cantonese illegal and work with the Japanese Yukza.  Jackie is excellent.  Derek Yee, the director admired by Chan had wanted to offer Jacki serious role taking 10 years to research

"The Karate Kid" (2010) has had several versions.  Jackie may have waited until he was older, but took the opportunity to shift action to China.  One of the few films allowed in the Forbidden City.  The film was sort of a project of Will Smith's family with both parents doing producing and Jaden was the lead character who mentored by Jackie who also helped off reel.

"The Spy Next Door" (2010) was another of many working with young children.

"The Foreigner" (2017) had Jackie as a grieving father seeking revenge.   In this serious film he was believable, but this time innovative martial arts plays a key role.  Filmed in Britain with Pierce Brosnan as the antagonist.  Jackie gets involved with Irish terrorism.

He has been a UNICEF Good Will Ambassador and has campaigned against animal abuse and pollution and assisted with disaster relief efforts with for the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

He does his own dubbing to English and to Mandarin taking it seriously.  He makes it time consuming as he feels it makes a better impression to be as precise as possible.  I have generally favored subtitles over dubbing, partly because it doesn't seem natural, however having heard Jackie's dubbing into English from Chinese it does sound natural especially as his voice is recognizable.  Recently I was lured into a Netflix series, "Borgen" that promised new dubbing and it seems not quite flawless, but more natural.   Possibly since most Danes speak English they used some of the same actors meaning their voices match better and if great care is given the final product is easier to understand.

Surprisingly (to some) is that Jackie sings and has since his youth. Sings in many of his movies and has many albums.  In short Jackie is an entertainer in the truest sense of the word.  Here is an example of singing in a duet

Monday, September 21, 2020


 For many progressive thinkers the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been upsetting.  The dynamics of current politics is confusing.  Those with the power to replace her seem fanatical and oblivious to fairness or rationality.   On the other hand most voters are supportive of delaying an appointment.

The hypocrisy of Republicans is upsetting.  They used their power to ignore the right of a Democratic president to nominate a Supreme Court Judge rationalizing that it was too close to an election and that it was ok to have the court with 8 judges.  Where do you draw the line of what is too close to an election?   11 months or 44 days?  Obviously the decision will affect the election.  Does the elected president have the power to make the decision or at some point should they defer to the voters.  

It is claimed that the Supreme Court will need 9 judges should the anticipated contested election results occur.  And if one side gets to choose the potential tie breaker they get another major advantage.

To all voters there is a lot emotional packaging tied up in this election already.  From the point of view of most voters we are already dealing with a frustrating unfair situation.  The 2016 election ignored the will of the people and automatically used the electoral college to determine the winner.  Of course Trump gratified his base with his first selection and the Democratic opposition co-operated.  

Then Justice Kennedy, the swing judge decided (or was persuaded) to retire.  Along the way it was revealed that his son had loaned Trump money when nobody else would.  The nominee Brett Kavanagh apparently had a history with the swing judge and also had been noted to favor more executive power to the president.  We already had much legal action against Trump, but none of it seemed to stick.  The entire judicial system was being altered to be packed with conservative judges who could be counted on to support the evangelical base and a president who might need some legal support.  The Kavanagh nomination was contested with many Republicans claiming unfairly attacking a conservative.  All the same the Democrats were unable to get all the witnesses and procedures they felt were required.

There is no constitutional barrier to the Republicans getting their way.  A few Republicans are not co-operating.  Perhaps they have some moral convictions and maybe some of them think it may make them look bad.  Possibly the conservatives might be able to get their way before the election which will either be cheered by some voters or upset others.  If there is a lame duck session the defeated Republicans could get their revenge.

Power is easily abused and many of us can find ourselves swept up in the waves.  Progressives like to feel we are the rational ones but are stuck with the fact that emotions will carry the day.  Is it possible that there could be strong enough backlash to overcome evangelical fervor? 

For some the whole point is to make abortions disappear.  Many progressives think that is commendable if somewhat naive.  The Republican's real agenda has always been economic--they want to lower taxes, lower services and deregulate.  To us they seem very self-righteous, but many of them realize their agenda is a losing one.  They have discovered they can leverage social concerns which means take advantage of prejudice and ignorance. 

To return to the most emotional issue, those against abortion need to examine if the law is the best way to attain their goal and are there any consequences.  A lot of abortions can be stopped because accessibility can be very restricted.  The rich always have the option of going outside national boundaries and even the embarrassed self righteous may use foreign options.  There will be either money grubbers or sympathetic people with medical skills willing to defy the law.  Desperate people feeling trapped may attempt home remedies. Without proper medical supervision and facilities it can be predicted mothers will die and others will become infertile.  The founders of Freakonomics did a study of why crime stats were declining and considered a wide range of factors, but one unexpected factor could also be linked.  Crime rates significantly declined about 20 years after the Roe v Wade decision.  The thinking is that unwanted children are handicapped. and raised with a lot of resentment.  It could be because a father is missing or it could be because of poverty.  This should be a society concern that can be dealt with among other things, sexual education, contraceptive access, parental leave, tax incentives.  The real change will only come when people understand the issues better.

Perhaps it will be impossible to make some people even consider other issues, but there are and many have life and death implications.  The Supreme court will be ruling on health care issues and it is entirely possible that tens of millions will lose coverage.  With today's precarious economy everyone is in jeopardy and more importantly the current pandemic illustrates how important community health is to every individual.  As long as one feels secure in their health coverage they may not realize that anyone being sick without support effects everyone.

The Supreme court has many other legal issues that effect everyone.  One very big example is campaign financing.  Americans are increasingly controlled by big money entities that frankly are just trying to squeeze more money out everyone else.  They know what legal support gives them the power and they also have increasing accessibility to big data.  The Supreme Court had ruled that corporations have many of the same rights as citizens. 

Originally the American system was based on a system of checks and balances, but as the president gains more power the checks and balances are in disarray.  The Supreme court has favored presidential executive powers and as an example have been able to protect Trump against having to reveal his taxes. 

For many of us everything revolves around our distaste for Donald Trump himself.  He has lied and deliberately misled even his base.  He has ignored advice from his staff.  The Russian connections are still a mystery, but there is something very troubling.  The main thrust of impeachment efforts was to convict Trump for holding up support for Ukrainians in their efforts to resist Russian aggression.  Republicans dismissed claims, but few who listened to testimonies were reassured.  It is also hard to ignore Russian efforts to get Trump elected.  Although there might be other motives, it does seem that Trump is following Putin preferences by breaking up international co-operation efforts with prime examples of the Iran Nuclear Agreement  and Paris Climate Change Accord.  Check:

A lot of what concerns progressives could have been dealt with by an election victory, but now we are concerned about a Supreme court appointment that could impact for three or four decades and even decide election disputes.  The remedies are controversial.  Adding another 5 new Supreme Court judges could trigger spiral reactions.  Trying to impeach an existing judge could also generate repercussions.

What to do?  The most practical strategy would be to try to persuade a few more Republicans to vote against an appointment and also to support Mark Kelly who can be a Senator as early as November 30th.  Appealing to their conscience will have a very limited effect.  Stirring up their election prospects bearing in mind that most voters are not in favor of an obvious abuse of power.  

I do not think it wise to commit to drastic measures such as packing the future court.  But Republicans need to be aware there will be consequences.  One thought that occurs to me is future legal action against Trump himself.  The danger is from his base who may actually act violently.  Still the evidence against Trump is likely to be overwhelming and may effect some of the base. 

The election itself is turbo changed.  The Supreme Court will definitely spur more of the Trumpian base to not only get out to vote, but also to be obstructive and intimidating.  But it will also stir more stay at home fence sitters to be more active against an obvious abuse of power.  The Court issue has to be expanded beyond abortion (Democrats and independents would also like to alleviate the concern).  In general the voters need to be aware of big issues such as handling the pandemic, climate change and go back to how the Democrat team including Biden turned the economy around.

The election will reveal real options.  The Republicans may feel a Supreme Court appointment is their last chance to effect the Supreme Court and feel it is a duty.  If the election is overwhelming they may realize the people have spoken, but we may have to deal with fanaticism.

A list of candidates from Joe Biden is not a good idea.  Whoever is included would be relentlessly criticized.  It would also hem in his future options.  My favorite candidate would be Barrack Obama, but that would stir up a lot of opposition.

There will be developments every day.  One effort will be to persuade four people that it is in their personal interest as well as the country's to not agree to a nomination.  They have to present the dangers to the public who in turn will help in the persuasion effort.

Who really has the power?  The people?  or the evangelicals? or the Trumpers?

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Parasite breaks an Oscar tradition

The buildup to this movie has been long.  It was predicted months in advance that it would win at least one Oscar.  Anyone who saw it instantly added it to their top prediction.  This despite the fact that a foreign subtitled movie had never won the best picture award. For myself, it took only a few minutes to determine the hype was well deserved including all three Oscars.  

The plot moves pretty steadily at the beginning  and while admiring the cleverness the last moves seem predictable.  But it was only half over.  Before too long twists occur.  You become increasingly conscious of class differences.

The set was designed with the script in mind.  Bong Joon Ho explained he wanted eavesdroppers to be seen and various actors seen in the background going up and down stairs.  The design was an architectual disaster.  He likes long takes with simultaneous action visible, some meant to be distracting. 

The theme is the clash between classes.  We see one family that scrounges to get by.  They were getting paid to fold pizza boxes and were criticized for some sloppy work with a cut in their pay.  Somehow they turned  it around to get full pay plus a conventional job.  They cannot escape their lower class origins with one signifier being smell.  They ponder how to deal with this (a young rich boy noticed the same smell from clothes of their "new" staff.  It turned out the smell came from living in a basement apartment.

Although life seems to be going smooth for both families, circumstances change.  At one point the Park family goes away on a family trip, but it is cut short by the weather.  The Kim family gathers in the house all together and talks about a great deal they are enjoying.  The Park family comes back unexpectedly while the poorer family hides, but overhears what the Park family really thinks of them.   A few developments and the atmosphere turns murky.  

Bong Joon Ho "Once you overcome the one inch barrier of subtitles you will be introduced to so many amazing films."  While in university majoring in sociology he became involved in demonstrations and felt the sting of tear gas.  One way of financing his education was with wedding videos.

Bong Joon Ho
Bong Joon Ho wrote, directed and produced, at first shorts.  An early film, "Memories of Murder" (2003) won many awards including at international film festivals.  "The Host" (2006), a horror film garnered international attention with both awards and box office.  In 2008 he became involved as a writer and director of a Japanese film, "Tokyo!"  "Mother" (2009) was a mystery film winning more international awards.   In 2013, Bong Joon Ho wrote, directed and produced a major English language film "Snowpiercer"  with American stars (Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton) and crew mixed with Korean, American and Czech technicians.  In 2017 he did a joint American-Korean production, "Okja"  His projects are far apart as they require a lot of details.  "Parasite' was released in 2019.  He is among only 9 directors who have won 3 Oscars for the same film--best director, best script and best film.  He is the second Asian director to win an Oscar for best      director after Ang Lee.

Song-Kang Ho plays the lower class father.  Have seen him in a variety of movie roles where he always seems to fit in, but without jarring my sensibilities.  He has been a favorite of Bong Joon Ho and has been in a number of prominent films:  "Memories of Murder" (2003), "The President's Barber" (2004),  "The Host" (2006), "Snowpiercer" (2013), "The Throne" (2015), "The Age of Shadows" (2016).  He had a part as an extra in "The Interview" (2014), the one the North Koreans were upset about.

Woo-sik Choi plays the son Ki Woo who uses an unexpected opportunity to benefit his whole family.     Earlier he appeared in "Okja" and  "Train to Busan" (2016 a well done Zombie movie).  

Lee Jeong-eun plays the lower class mother, Chung Sook.    She has been in "Mother" (2009), "The Attorney" (2013), "The Wailing" (2016), "Okja" (2017), "Parasite" (2019) and "Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021).

Hye-jin Hye played the displaced maid.  She had been in"Crash Landing on You" (2019-20) playing the prospective mother-in-law to the main hero and always was meddling.  

Meyeong-hoon Park played the head of the wealthy Park family.  He also played in "Crash Landing on You" in his next film.   That was one of my favorite tv. mini series--check it out:

All parts fit well together.  The plot is attention getting and before you realize it you are aware of relations between social classes in a way you might not previously thought of.  If this is one of your rare subtitled movies hopefully it will encourage you to explore more as there are many gems worth seeing. 

For more information on Korean films:

As usual the bolded titles are ones I have seen and in most cases are worth the effort to watch.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Book of Negroes

When The Book of Negroes won Canada Reads I was able to buy a copy.  I read it as an entertaining story, but confess much of it was not properly understood.  I was conscious of story that stretched from African kidnappings to American slavery to the War of Independence to Nova Scotia settlement and over to Sierra Leone with some legislative impact in England.

I had met Lawrence Hill at a Human Library event held at the Hamilton Public Library.  He caught me with one of my prejudices; a black subgroup.  He did discuss this mini series which was in progress at the time, but we mostly talked of his personal history and marketing strategies which in part involved book clubs.  He felt a two hour movie would not convey enough.  The mini series was a first as none of his earlier books had generated film interest.  The mini-series seemed the most practical way to convey a complicated book.

Special features of the DVD proved to be a treasure chest.  A female actress commented how she was impressed that the author could get inside female mind.  Lawrence Hill had written a few books previously mostly told from a male perspective.  He explained that he had been surrounded by strong women and he enjoyed listening to them and felt a woman's perspective would be a better way to tell the story.

Visiting his parents Lawrence picked up a book "The Black Loyalists" that had been written by a family friend.   The Book of Negroes was an actual document organized by the British Admiralty to record negroes eligible to move to Nova Scotia.  Lawrence felt Canadians although aware of slavery in the United States were unaware that it also existed in Canada.  The first slaves go back to 1628 in French Canada and did include indigenous people.  Lawrence's father, Daniel Hill, a black man had married a white woman and consequently moved to Canada.  Eventually he became the first director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. 

Part of the movie was shot in Cape Town, South Africa just after Mandela had died.  Giulio Biccari, born in Johannesburg was responsible for the cinematography.  His films include  "Forgiveness" (2004),  "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" (2009) and "Black Butterflies" (2011)" and "The Heineken Kidnapping" (2011).    More on the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency which was set in Botswana:

Many authors find it difficult to deal with criticism and the changes to their original idea.  Lawrence recognized the story had to be cut down and he had been used to criticism from his journalism career  where it was common for editors to twist his written words.  Putting his novel into a mini series meant that the message would reach more people.  The word "negro" is an awkward one that Lawrence does not use much himself, but he wanted it included in the primary title.  A secondary title "Someone Knows my Name" was used in several English speaking countries, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.  It came from something said by one of the slaves who was pleased that someone called him by his proper name.

George Washington was a slave owner and felt strongly that blacks were American property.  Guy Carleton used Book of Negroes to justify what the taking meant.  This scene was cut from the novel, but written in the series script by Lawrence.

Lawrence had written a number of fiction and non fiction books, grabbing national attention by winning the Canada Reads contest with "The Book of Negroes."  After meeting Lawrence I read his memoir, "Black Berry, Sweet Juice" which told of how he felt growing up as a racially mixed child, his education at Laval University in Quebec City and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.  Had done volunteer work in French speaking Africa and done journalism in Toronto and Winnipeg.  A new work of fiction, "The Illegal" combined his interest in running and involvement with diabetes and a concern for migrants.  He became the first author to win a second Canada Reads contest.   Read more about "Black Berry, Sweet Juice'

Clement Virgo was the director, co-writer and producer and thus worked very closely with Lawrence.  Born in Jamaica and educated in Toronto, Clement had a long history with films as a writer, director and producer.  Reflecting a personal interest one of his award winning films was "Poor Man's Game" (2007).  He directed two episodes of "The Wire" (2002). 

Aunjanue Ellis was chosen to play the lead, Aminata Diallo  who played virtually in every scene.  Some of her other films included  "Men of Honor" (2000 with Cuba Gooding Jr.) "The Help" (2011) and           "Designated Survivor" (6 episodes 2018-19).

Lyriq Bent played Chekura Tiano, the lover of Aminata.  They had met while he was assisting slavers marching some captured to a port.  Meeting at several intervals personifying how slave owners kept lovers separate from one another.  Born in Jamaica and educated in Toronto he achieved much of his success on American tv. series.

Ben Chaplin plays Captain John Clarkson, the English naval leader who befriends Aminata and helps her out at several points in the series.  The British born actor made an American breakthrough with "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" (1996).  Another of his films was "London Boulevard" (2010).

Allan Hawco plays Soloman Lindo, a Jewish businessman who plays a critical role in Aminata's (and other family members) movements.  Born and raised in Newfoundland is most famous for "Republic of Doyle" as the lead actor, writer and producer and is set in St. John's where he lives.

Louis Gossett Jr. played Daddy Moses a religious and community leader. for two episodes  He was the first African American to win a Oscar for best supporting actor with "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982).  He also won a Primetime Emmy Award for an appearance in "Roots" (1977).  Played Anwar Sadat in tv mini-series, "Sadat" (1983,   Remember him in one episode with "The Good Fight" (2017).

Cuba Gooding Jr. played a close friend to Aminata in two episodes  He also won an Oscar for best supporting actor with "Jerry McGuire" (1996) as an obnoxious football player.  Another notable movie he appeared in was "Selma" (2013). First drew attention as a break dancer.  

The book and the series are well worth your time.  Books generally give a fuller picture of what the author is trying to convey.  There must have been some interesting negotiations to set up a mini series.  The notion of a two hour film must have been rejected fairly early, but a mini series is a big step.  The advantage of the series is that it is a type of summary of the book and also has the benefit of further thought and collaborative thinking.  Assembling a cast and crew and organizing locations, costumes is a mammoth undertaking.  The message comes through.

Titles that have been bolded are ones that I have seen or read.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

For me this is the year of the Octopus

Of course it really is the year of the Covid-19 pandemic and we all have had life changed forever. and coping has been ongoing.  On a personal level I woke up to the glory of nature.  Earlier (maybe even last year) read that an octopus is a sentient being, meaning not only that they are intelligent, but possess emotions.  Separately I was impressed by a post demonstrating how an octopus could go through complicated barriers.  

 My local library offered a DVD (before the shutdown) and it turned out to be very interesting.  "Octopus:  Making Contact" which originally was on the "Nature" program seen on PBS network.  It swung around a University of Alaska professor, Dr. David Scheel who had decided to build a big fish tank at home to house an octopus.  He pointed out that some people see the octopus as an alien being and we might profit by studying it before we have to deal with actual aliens.  We may have a common ancestor, but it was so far gone that essentially the octopus traveled a different evolutionary path than humans.  We saw demonstrations of color changing and then many signs of unexpected intelligence.  In his time off the professor traveled to different locations I believe one was near Madagascar and another off Australia.  He and his daughter both interacted with the octopus in their home aquarium.

A real mind opener was "My Octopus Teacher" made available by Netflix.  Craig Foster, film maker who was said to be burnt out had retreated to one of his boyhood passions which was underwater exploring.  He lived near a kelp forest off the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Town, South Africa.  To get closer to the marine life he decided to not use a wet suit or tank resulting in limited underwater time.  Eventually he noticed an unusual movement by what turned out to be an octopus.  It took awhile to build up trust, but the octopus accepted Craig  and they had physical contact.  We were shown how easily an octopus can change not only color, but also shape and texture.  Further than that Craig was able to provide examples of real strategic thinking, including one where the octopus used Craig's body to trap a prey.  Over the years Craig had accumulated hours of film.  


At one point he showed some of his film to Pippa Ehrlich, a diving partner.  She had been raised in Johannesburg, became a natural history film maker and an award winning environmental journalist.  She was excited and made efforts to raise money and organize.  They brought in camera people (including herself) to supplement Craig's original film.  She brought in an experienced producer, James Reed to set up the interview with Craig that provides the narrative for the film.  James had won awards for a an underwater film, "Jago:  A Life Underwater."

The cinematography is stunning and includes some very intimate scenes between Craig and the octopus.  Craig had several years of film from the kelp forest which on its own is a very unique environment.  Kevin Smuts, another South African with experience in many documentaries and commercials provided music that supported the many mood changes in the film.

Craig Foster started out thinking he was a visitor, but came to realize we are all part of nature.   A few years ago I discovered calamari tasted better than expected, but after this year I will not be eating any more.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Last Policeman

Ben H. Winters combines mystery with science fiction, an intriguing combination. "The Last Policeman came out in 2012.  Previously I had read 'Underground Airlines"(2016) as I misunderstood and was actually searching for a more promoted book "The Underground Railroad." recommended.  Both books were read, blogged  and surprisingly there was more positive response to my mistake.  Read about Ben H Winter's later book:

 The end of the world is coming and even has a date. How do people react? Some people commit suicide not seeing any point in continuing life. Others drop what they have been doing and start pursuing their bucket list, leaving a lot of abandoned jobs with no replacements.  A third reaction is revealed not too far into the book, but first the title protagonist, the last policeman wonders what keeps him going.  He wants to solve a case that seems pointless to everyone aware of it.  A man was found hung dead at a local McDonald's washroom. he seemed obsessed with the impending doom, no signs of a violent struggle-- a perfect suicide case. Henry Palace investigates the dead man's room and comes across a piece of paper with a name on it. Easy to speculate the start of a suicide note, but Henry decides it might be worth following up.  Most of his efforts confirm a likely suicide.   Eventually he realizes that some people to cope by choosing drugs and in some cases even after having broken the habit.  This is on the way to solving the death, but there are a few twists along the way.

Although various people encountered are asked if they would kill themselves and they all deny.   Some actually enjoy what they are doing.  In the case of Henry he feels a challenge and a purpose.   Keeping busy works for many.  Science Fiction creates situations that propose potential and often current situations.  Ben H. Winters has published 10 books and won numerous awards including an Edgar for this one.

Although I read lots of science fiction up to my 20's, I dropped it until I met Barry Finn.  Read about my conversion:

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Rising Phoenix: The Disabled move forward

Essentially this movie is about the Paralympic Games, but in reality it is about disabled people carving a bigger place in the world.   It is set up to highlight a few athletes from different parts of the world and to include some history of the movement.  Every one has a unique story.  The athletes have "qualified" for the games because of war, accidents, birth or disease.  They have each struggled to deal with their limitations and then to stretch their abilities.  Perhaps their biggest handicap is the perception of others.

The film inspired me to do some research and draw upon my own memories.

The history starts with Dr. Ludwig Guttmann who lived in Germany where as a Jew in the 1930's he was forbidden to work in public hospitals.  He was able to be a neurosurgeon in Breslau and after Kristallnacht there was a rush of patients that he had to answer for the Gestapo the next day.  That was considered a warning.  He escaped, and was able to smuggle a few children whose parents had already been taken away.  In England during World War II he was able to offer his medical services and volunteered to work with  seriously injured soldiers that other avoided as spinal injuries were difficult to deal with.  He was set up at Stoke-Mandeville with a spinal injuries centre.  Dr Guttmann instituted some programs such as turning over patient bodies every two hours to prevent bed sores.  He developed all sorts of physiotherapies and exercises.  He discovered that sports were motivating and advanced from recreational play to competition.

London was the site of the 1948 Olympics, the first after the war.  On the same day Dr. Guttmann Dr. initiated the first Stoke-Mandeville Games which consisted of 16 servicemen and women recovering from injuries competing in archery.  In 1952 some Dutch service members joined in to make it the International Stoke-Mandeville Games.  His daughter who appeared in the film pointed out that Paralympics does not refer to paralyzed athletes, but is meant to denote Parallel  Olympics.

It did not really become officially the Paralympics until the 1960 Rome Olympics.  400 athletes from
23 countries competed and it developed in parallel to the Olympics every 4 years.  In 1976 the Winter Paralympics were held for the first time in Sweden and also continued every four years.

In 1960 the International Sport Organization for the Disabled set up to expand opportunities for other disabled athletes such as visually impaired, amputees, those with cerebral palsy and paraplegics.   They tackled the problems of adapting sports for the disabled and classifying degrees of disabilty to level the competition.  The deaf had already set up their own organization for international sports.

Each year more athletes, more countries and more sports.  More sports means that more disabled people can find something suitable for them.

1976 Olympics were in Montreal, but the  Paralympics were held in Etobicoke which later became part of Toronto.  I was working on a project that involved wheelchair basketball that at the time was dominated by the Israeli team.  They had been through a number of wars and the Israeli government made an effort to rehabilitate the many injured combatants so that no one was left behind.  My press pass enabled me to see many events.  The one that I remember best was the high jump for amputees where Canadian Arnold Boldt was expected to win.  There was a light rain, but nevertheless Arnold set a new world record (I believe he already held the record).  I could not have fathomed how a one legged person could jump over his own height.  This was the first Paralympics to include the blind.  A lot of people came to appreciate that people could always do more.

Russia did not want to admit they had disabled people and would not hold Paralympics.  The Paralympics were picked up in the Netherlands in 1980.   Dr. Guttman had died before the games and was honored.

Since the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and the 1992 Albertville Winer Olympics the Paralympics have been held at the the Olympic venues and have the same facilities.  In 2001 the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee agreed on the practice of "one bid, one city" tying the two events together.

There was a negative comment regarding the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, however research reveals some positive movement.  It was the first time for international corporate sponsorship.  They also promoted cultural achievements by the disabled across disciplines.  For the first time intellectually disabled athletes had medal competitions.  Over 388,000 attended.  There had been a Congress before the game that discussed empowering disabled people around the world.  In the last few decades we can notice that buildings are more wheelchair friendly, but also governments are making a more conscious effort to cater to the needs of disabled people and to protect them against discrimination.

2004 Athens added more sports.  Media coverage for Americans was disappointing in that television camera crews didn't stay, meaning Americans had to wait up to two months for coverage, while other countries received live feeds.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics were hosted in a country with a history of denying disabilities.  But they took the challenge seriously and offered a competitive team, not only for their games, but for future games.  Competitors (and profit motivated media) were pleased with big crowds.  As usual the Chinese benefited from a greater awareness of what the so-called disabled could contribute.

2015 Parapan Am Games to Ontario and were well covered in media.  The famous CN Tower made their popular Edgewalk accessible for wheelchair and had Rick Hansen try it out.  The CN Tower had participated in the Pan American Games and Parapan Am Games.

For 2016 Rio Di Janeiro went through financial difficulties that threatened the Paralympics.  Some thought the Olympic committee must have dipped into funds that had been set aside.  A lot of last minute negotiations saved the games, but initially the athletes performed in front of mostly empty stadiums.  These was very disheartening for the athletes, however the local citizens finally heard about the excitement and began filling the different venues.  One scene from the film illustrates the power of crowds during coverage of bocce.  The athletes are very sensitive and officials were concerned they were bothered by the enthusiasm, but were assured that the athletes were craving the attention.

The Rider, where I used to work has had strong support for the Para-equestrian that became a part of the Paralympics.  We had been told that riding horses helps boost balance and confidence among many disabled people.  Competition gives a focus to some and has made many more aware of an activity that can enhance their lives. 

A number of personal stories made the movie more memorable.

Jean Baptiste Alaize had one leg hacked off with a machete during tribal conflicts in his native Burundi of 1993 when he was only 3 years old.  He witnessed his mother being murdered.  Eventually he was adopted by a French couple.  He chose to be a long jumper.

Ellie Cole from Australia had her leg amputated below the knee at age 3.  She pointed out that in Australia everyone needs to learn to swim and that turned out to be a salvation for her.  She became a Paralympics swim champion.  She learned bullies like to pick on disabled students, but while she was in high school she threw her prosthetic leg at one and that stopped further aggravation.  Not sure, but believe it is her photo on the top poster.

Another Australian Ryley Batt had been born without legs and missing a few fingers.  He was encouraged by his father who had drive motorized vehicles and took him water skiing.  He gravitated to wheelchair rugby which is a very rough sport with athletes frequently knocking each other off their chairs.  Ryley became known as one of the toughest.  His team lost in London, but he lost weight, got more fit and was able to finally beat the Ameriacans in Rio De Janeiro.

Jonny Peacock was a British sprinter who defeated the world famous Oscar Pistorius for the 100 metres title during the 2012? London Paralympics before a packed crowd of 80,000.  Oscar's comments afterwards was that it showed how much the sport had developed.

A runner Ntando Mahlangu from South Africa explained how he felt liberated with a Cheetah blades.  He lived in a rural area which tend to be neglected for the disabled who tend to be hidden away.  Ironically he had a pet cheetah and sometimes trained with it.  Cheettah blades were invented by Van Philips a biomedical engineer who had lost his leg at age 21.  Unlike previous prosthetic legs it generates energy and has become the norm for many disabled athletes. Ntando won a silver medal in the 800 metres run.

Cui Zhe, a young Chinese woman born with disabilities recounted that her parents were poor and needed help to deal with her.  The Beijing Paralympics helped to galvanize more support.  Cui was a medal winner in power lifting.

Bebe Vio had meningitis at an early age and was lucky to survive.  Her parents consented to amputate her arms, thinking it would end the attack on her body, but it didn't.  Bebe took the pressure off her parents and agreed to a leg amputation a bit later that did seem to end the attack.  Her friends gave her the title of "rising phoenix." Bebe loved fencing and she found with the wheelchair version she could recapture much of the joy she had felt.

Tatyana McFadden became a producer for the film and likely one of the inspirational participants.  She was born in Leningrad, Russia,with legs bent behind her and for several years she walked with her arms.  Adopted to the U.S., she was unable to use a wheelchair, but after several surgeries to straighten out her legs she adapted.  She became a wheelchair champion at virtually every distance.  decided wanted to try cross country skiing instead of concentrating on the next Paralympics, but she had a personal motive.  She went back to Russia for winter Paralympics and won in front of her biological mother.  She has been an activist and is at least partially responsible for legislation providing opportunities for disabled athletes to participate in inter scholastic sports. She appeared on the Ellen DeGeneris show.

Prince Harry, identified as the Duke of Sussex made supporting comments throughout the film.  One comment was regarding the ambitions of Dr. Guttmann was that "he wanted to turn those individuals into taxpayers" meaning to become useful citizens.

The opening and closing ceremonies are big shows on their own.  Big time performers sing and dance, but one of the highlights are "disabled" performers that are very entertaining as dancers and singers.  You will also appreciate international good will.  One example pointed out was the Iraqui team near those athletes who were there because of war injuries incurred in Iraq.

Human resources come in many variations.  Until recently the disabled were written off unless they could adapt and had help.  Now they are being given more opportunities to contribute.  The Paralympics have opened society's eyes and we are all benefiting.  Sports lovers will find the alluring attraction of competition and skill.  All of us will feel inspired by athletes who have overcome difficulties most of us have never had to deal wit, not just physical, but perceptions of other people.

I have written many more details about the Paralympics and Parapan Am Games: