Jimmy Carter is the first American president I heard of. So you could imagine a documentary like Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President would naturally catch my attention.
The opening image of the documentary starts in the empty Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. That’s where Jimmy experienced most of his knowledge and influence in his life. It was the church where he was taught his values. It was in a multi-racial town like Plains where he was taught to see African Americans as equals instead of below whites like him. It was his father and how he helped with management of the family peanut business that he learned of hard work and integrity.
One unknown thing about Carter is it was music he connected to most. Carter collected records from a wide variety of musical genres from blues to country to gospel to even rock ‘n roll, which was something presidents before him didn’t want to connect with at all. His first connection started with folk. He took an interest in the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan, especially the song Maggie’s Farm.
His first touch with Rock ‘n Roll came in 1971 as he was campaigning for the Governor of Georgia and stopped by the Macon office of Capricorn Records. There he experienced the music of the Allmans, the Charlie Daniels Band, and Marshall Tucker. Carter struck up a friendship with Capricorn Records founder Phil Walden and the two formed a campaign strategy. During the time, Carter was listening in to recording sessions and developing friendships with the musicians.
When Carter was elected governor of Georgia in 1971, he did a lot to improve the reputation of the state of Georgia as well as the south. The south could be seen as a place where progress was being made instead of clinging onto its racist past. The big surprise was in 1974 when Bob Dylan was invited to see Cater. Jimmy’s song Chip was a big fan of his music. Jimmy complimented Bob on his music and Bob was shocked to how a leader of government, a member of the establishment, quoted his songs back and showed a liking to them.
That same year, Carter announced his intention to run for President. His campaign started with him $300,000 but he knew how to have musicians connect with voters. His biggest help came from the Allman Brothers Band as they helped to raise funds for him. Carter wasn’t simply using them. He was friends with the Allmans. Then in 1976, Carter held a Florida benefit concert with the Allmans, Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker and The Outlaws. However it’s not to say Jimmy didn’t have rivals. Edmund G. Brown, who was also running for the Democratic candidacy, also held a benefit concert with many acts including his girlfriend Linda Ronstadt.
In the end, Carter won the 1976 Democratic ticket. During his acceptance speech, he quoted a line from a Bob Dylan song of “a generation busy being born, not busy dying.” When Carter was elected president, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin sang at his inaugural balls. During his presidency, rock stars visited the White House. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young stopped by in 1977. That same year, Willie Nelson smoked a joint on top of the White House with son Chip. In 1978, Carter had a pig-roast dinner with the Atlanta Rhythm Section.
The documentary then focuses less on his association with rock musicians and more on how he served as president. His presidency was one of many great international feats. His goal was to bring back accountability and integrity to politics that appeared lost after the resignation of Nixon. His biggest achievements were in international relations. He wanted to improve the reputation of the US in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. His biggest achievement was the Camp David Summit in 1979 where he was able to strike a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
However things turned on him in 1980. The Islamic Revolution in Iran that started in 1979 had many American held hostage and they still weren’t free. The boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow failed to put pressure on the Soviet government to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Back home in the US, there were economic problems. The KKK were even starting anti-Carter rallies. By the time the next election came, Ronald Reagan won. Despite losing, Carter made last-ditch efforts to free the hostages in Tehran. They were finally freed January 20, 1981: the day he left office.
The film continues into his charity and mission work he has done since leaving office. His work has been both national and international. His most famous effort is the Habitat For Humanity housing projects he helped build for low-income families. Even at the age of 96 (which he turned on October 1st), Carter is still at it. Some say his biggest moments came after his presidency.
In retrospect, I think the title is misleading. Yes, Carter liked rock ‘n roll. Yes, Carter had many a rock ‘n roll act as a supporter for his presidency. Yes, the documentary does point it out. However rock ‘n roll wasn’t the biggest thing of his presidency. It does make for something interesting how he had a love for music and how he had many musicians as friends. Nevertheless I found it a bit inconsistent with how the documentary focused on it during the first half but appears to have forgotten about it during the second half.
I was very surprised to see a CNN documentary as part of the VIFF roster. Usually I’d expect to see documentaries that are more creative or more experimental. Not that I’m complaining. I will admit this is the least original or least stylish documentary that I saw at the VIFF. Despite it, I found it very informative and very intriguing to watch about a president I continue to admire to this day. The documentary left me convinced that Carter is way more Christian than Donald Trump ever was. Carter lived out his beliefs.
I give credit to director Mary Wharton and writer Bill Flanagan for creating the documentary. Even though it appears boring in terms of documentary style, it was not short in terms of giving the information. The film did a good job in presenting a president who was a man of dignity and kept his work. Our modern world make it look like being a person of dignity look like a weakness because of how cutthroat the real world is, especially in politics. The film does show how tough it was for someone like Jimmy Carter to be President. Some of today’s politicians would label Carter a ‘marshmallow’ by today’s standards. Nevertheless, it also shows Carter as the President the USA needed in the eyes of the World. He was there to redefine the American South and he was there to redefine the USA after Vietnam and Watergate.
Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President may be one of the least creative documentaries at the VIFF this year. Nevertheless it does make for a good biographical documentary for a president who appears underappreciated during his time.
I’m sure when most of you learned of Little Women about to be released, I bet most of you thought ‘not another Little Women adaptation.’ I admit I had those feelings at the start. However I was surprised to see how well it turned out.
In 1868, Jo March is a teacher in New York City. She has writing ambitions and takes her writing frequently to Mr. Dashwood who will publish her writing… under considerable editing. Her younger sister Amy is in Paris under the guidance of her elder Aunt March who never married and despises the idea of marriage. She meets her love from back home, Laurie and invites her to a party, in which he gets drunk to her dismay. Jo’s writing ambitions are kept alive by a professor named Friedrich Bhaer who supports her work but is constructive but blunt in his critiquing of her works. However Jo has to put everything on hold when she receives a letter that her younger sister Beth is sick. She has to return back home.
The film flashes back to the winter of 1861 in Massachusetts, just after the March’s father goes off to the Civil War, and the March sisters all dress up and prepare for a party where Jo meets Laurie, the grandson of their neighbor Mr. Laurence, for the first time. Just before Christmas dinner, the mother Marmee encourages the girls to give their food to their Mrs. Hummer and her group of hungry children. The girls return with a plentiful Christmas dinner thanks to Mr. Laurence and a letter from their father who just started fighting. During the trip, Jo is invited by her single elder Aunt March to come to Paris with her. Also during that winter, Amy is strapped by a teacher for her drawing in class and Laurie takes her in to his Latin lesson before her family arrives.
It’s obvious as Amy has artistic ambitions and Jo has writing ambitions, their ambitions clash, often violently. One night as Jo is out with the family for an occasion, Amy burns the notes to her novel. Jo discovers upon returning, and a violent fight ensued. However all animosity ends when on an occasion while skating, the ice breaks under Amy and is in danger of drowning. Jo saves her. Also during that winter, Mr. Laurence invites Beth to play on his piano as she reminds him of his late daughter.
Returning to 1868, Laurie apologizes to Amy for his drunken behavior the night before. He also begs Amy not to marry Fred Vaughn but marry him instead. That only makes Amy unhappy as she feels she’s ‘second to Jo’ at everything, including Laurie. Amy later rejects Fred’s proposal after she learns Laurie returned to London. Returning back to the past, there was a period of time when Marmee left to visit their father who was wounded during the War. During that time, Beth received a gift from Mr. Laurence: his piano! However she becomes ill with scarlet fever. With a weak heart, it means she might die. Her mother rushes home with their father, already recovered. All come home in time for Christmas and Amy is all better. However returning back to 1868, Amy dies shortly after Jo arrives from her train trip.
The film flashes back to the past on the day Meg is about to be married. Jo doesn’t want her to marry, feeling Meg doesn’t want to marry, but Meg reminds her Jo’s ambitions may be different from Meg’s ambitions, but they’re still her ambitions. It’s on the day of the wedding Aunt March announces she will take Amy to Paris instead of Jo. Laurie admits his feelings for Jo after the wedding, but Jo insists she doesn’t have the same feelings.
Returning back to 1868, a devastated Amy returns home with a dying Aunt March. Jo starts to wonder if she has second thoughts of her love to Laurie. She writes a letter confessing her feelings, but she soon learns Amy accepted Laurie’s proposal and rejected Fred Vaughn’s proposal. Jo later agrees with Laurie to just be friends. After she throws her letter of love to Laurie in the river, she’s inspired to write her novel about her and her sisters.
She takes the novel to Mr. Dashwood who dismisses it because he believes a lead protagonist female who marries is what sells novels. Mr. Dashwood is given a change of heart when he learns his own young daughters love the story. However he’s still skeptical and wants Jo to make the lead protagonist marry. Jo is at first against it as it is sacrilegious to her work. However she compromises, but on one condition. She gets a $500 up-front publishing payment and more than the original 5% profits promised. She starts at 10% but compromises at 6.6%. The novel Little Women is set to be published and the school Jo and her sisters wanted to open is opened in what was Aunt March’s house with Bhaer teaching children at the school.
This may be a film adapted from a novel written in 1868, but as one watches, one would be surprised to see its relevance for today. This may be a story set around the time of the US Civil War and in New England, but there are a lot of similarities to the present. One common theme is the competitiveness of sisters. We still have that. Ask any woman who comes from a family with a lot of girls! There’s also the story of women with desires and ambitions. Today’s young women have possibly the biggest ever ambitions for their future. Women may have had it rougher a century and a half ago, but it makes clear the ambitions the women shared, whether it be career ambitions, romance ambitions or artistic ambitions. We should remember from history that women had to work during the war while the men were fighting and that started suffrage groups and the first feminist groups. There’s dealing with dashing but stupid men, as seen in Laurie. There’s support and encouragement from others. There’s also the bond of the family. First of the March girls all live with their mother Marmee as they’re waiting for their father to come home from the war. Even dealing with the heartbreak of a sister that died too soon.
For those that read the novel Little Women, I feel the reason why it became so popular is that women could see mirror images of themselves in the March sisters. They shared similar goals, similar trials, similar ambitions and similar dreams. Here in the film, I felt the characters of the March girls were made to look very relatable to most young females of today.
Now Little Women has already been adapted into a film many times before. In fact this is the seventh film adaptation of the novel if you even include adaptations as far back as the silent era. To make people welcome a film adaptation of this in the present, there would have to be a freshness or a twist that works. Having it a case where Beth is one with no intentions to marry is a risky thing. I feel it did the smart thing by having it a case where Jo is the author of Little Women and trying to market it, and using the money to build the school, is a brave decision. I don’t think it does anything too sacrilegious to the book. In fact the character of Jo is to mirror that of Louisa. What the film does is actually give two alternatives of Jo: the Jo that’s common in the novel and the Jo who’s more of a reflection of Louisa’s own life and strong will when she deals with Mr. Dashwood. It’s a unique twist for Greta to make it happen. Plus instead of it defying the story, it actually adds a unique twist to it that works.
Top accolades of the film should go to director Greta Gerwig. This could have been another rehash of a commonly-adapted novel. Instead Greta adapts the story to make it very relatable to young women in today’s world and even adding a twist to the story without ruining the dignity of the original story. Gerwig bends instead of breaks. Even the constant flashes between the past and present work well. The best acting comes from Saoirse Ronan. Again she does an excellent acting performance that adds dimension and charm and speaks to the audience. Florence Pugh is also great as Amy: Jo’s most rivalrous sister and very good at stealing the show from Jo at times. Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen are also very good as sisters Meg and Beth. Laura Dern is also good as Marmee, but her role is limited in dimension. Meryl Streep is also given a brief role as Miss March, but she delivers a character that commands your attention each time. Timothee Chalamet was good as the idiotic Laurie, but I feel he didn’t act 1860’s-ish enough.
The film also has a lot of great standout technical efforts too. There’s the costuming of Jacqueline Durran, there’s the score composition from Alexandre Desplat, the set design from Jess Gonchor and Claire Kaufman and there’s the cinematography of Yorick Le Saux.
The most recent adaptation of Little Women does the book justice, but it adds a twist at the end. I’m sure even the biggest fans of the novel will be happy how the film turns out.
When you think of the Grateful Dead, who’s the first person that comes to mind? Jerry Garcia, right? Even though Jerry is the most famous member, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir is also a key part of the band. The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a documentary focusing on Weir both as a member of the Grateful Dead and his own personal life.
Bobby weir was born in San Francisco in 1947 and was adopted by a well-to-do family. He had an adopted brother and a sister born to his adoptive parents. However Booby grew up a very restless boy. He was expelled from schools within a matter of months. However he developed a passion for the guitar at a young age. There’s even mention of how excited he was when he got a guitar for Christmas. At a young age, he caught the attention of a band playing in the back alley of a Palo Alto spot. They were the Grateful Dead. They took a liking to Booby and the rest is history.
The funny thing about Bobby is that he was a bit of an oddity with the Dead. The other members of the Dead describe themselves as ‘uglies’ and Booby as a ‘cutie’ and they describe the Grateful Dead in its early days as ‘Bobby and the four uglies.’ It seemed like a good break to be welcomed into a band at such a young age but his parents were firm on his education and reminded the other dead members of that.
Over time the San Francisco music scene of the 60’s would rise and eventually become a permanent fixture on pop culture and even definers of the counterculture of that period. The Grateful Dead themselves would become synonymous with the psychedelia of that time. But even before that happens, the documentary pays attention to the band’s first few years trying to make a name for themselves. It reminds you they had to struggle with small gigs just like many other bands before them. Then they signed onto a big label. Then they went from playing in bars to playing in concert halls. Then came the Deadheads: a group of people that stayed loyal to the band year after year, decade after decade. A loyalty not seen before in rock ‘n roll.
Even despite playing music and hitting the big time, the documentary shows of the friendship Weir had with the band. It was of a family nature to the point that Weir almost ignored his own family. The family relation with the other bands did take challenges of their own. The first sign was in the 1980’s when they made a comeback which included a chart-topping album for the first time with 1987’s ‘In The Dark’ and the single ‘Touch Of Grey.’ There was the focus of Jerry Garcia’s cult-of-personality: something Jerry didn’t really welcome in his life. There were even times Bob took personal vacations. Then there was the time Jerry was going through rehab and Bobby acted as a support for him up until his dying day.
It doesn’t stop there. It also focuses on how Weir decided to finally settle down after decades of womanizing with Natascha Munter. The two wed when he was 52 and they have two daughters. Even then the trip wasn’t over. Weir tried to learn of his birth parents. He learned of his mother after she died that she had gave birth to 12 children. He was able to meet up with his birth father and the two have been close ever since.
This documentary is definitely one for people who like biographies of musicians or biography shows in particular. No question Deadheads young and old will want to see this. In fact I remember seeing a wide range of people in the audience watching this documentary. It’s possible some of the seniors in the audience may have been amongst the first generation of Deadheads. If you only care about musicians and their star power, this is not for you. Also if you’re a Deadhead simply because of Jerry Garcia, this will remind you that you’re not a true Deadhead. It’s not just a biography but gives you a feel of the music Bob helped create and continues to play whenever he performs with surviving members of the Dead. The mix of biography with live performances of his music really adds into the feel of it.
The documentary doesn’t really offer anything original as far as documentary film making goes. What it does is showcase a musician’s life that is a life less ordinary. The stories of how he was adopted and how he got into a lot of trouble as a kid will surely raise eyebrows and even a giggle or two. However seeing how he was able to settle down in his older years and even meet up with his adoptive father in recent years shows this is no ordinary life. The intimacy of the biography doesn’t stop with his personal life. It also shows how Bob treated the other Dead members like family even more than he treated his own. In fact hearing from Jerry’s daughter how Bob was like a brother to Jerry up until his last days shows how much the other members meant to him.
The are some flaws with the documentary. Most noticeably, it focuses almost exclusively on his music with the Grateful Dead and hardly ever focuses on his music with his other bands like Kingfish, RatDog, Booby and the Midnites and Furthur. Also the documentary made him look like he was a swinger all his life before Natascha. There’s no mention of his seven-year relationship with Frankie Hart back in the 70’s.
The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a very good documentary to watch even if you’re not a fan of the Grateful Dead. It was time well spent for me. It reminds you there are a lot of great rock ‘n roll musicians that contributed a lot to the genre but don’t get the star status as many others.
A film like Nebraska isn’t the type of film that would normally draw a huge crowd but those lucky enough to see it will be quite surprised by it.
The movie begins with Woody Grant walking past the city limits of Billings, Montana and being stopped by the police. Why? He’s making his way to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect a $1,000,000 prize he believes he’s won in a sweepstakes. Son David and wife Kate let him know it’s a trick to get him to buy magazines. Woody is not a sharp tool. He easily gets injured and loses simple things like his dentures during walks. In fact David and his brother Ross have talked of putting him in a retirement home. Nevertheless he insists he’s won and he’s determined to collect it. David makes a big decision. He decides to take his father to Lincoln, Nebraska to find out for himself and get it over with. He doesn’t have much to lose. He has a solid job and his girlfriend recently left him because he wouldn’t marry her.
Before hitting Lincoln, Woody’s able to have his father stay at his brother Ray and Aunt Martha’s house in the nearby Nebraska town of Hawthorne for a couple of nights before. David goes for the visit and meets family he hasn’t seen in a long time. His mother joins up and soon the family learns of the people they grew up with and the places they visited. Some information about people coming out of Kate’s lips is too much for David to handle. They even visit the old farmhouse Woody spent his childhood in. It’s also where David learns of Woody’s drinking problem and how it kept him from being a successful farmer over in Hawthorne.
Ross joins up the next day leaving the wife and kids at home. Soon Woody tells everyone–family and friends at the bar– that he’s won a $1,000,000 prize. Everyone believes it and soon he becomes a celebrity even catching the attention of the local newspaper. To add to the problem, David and Kate insists to everyone he won nothing but no one believes them. Making things worse, David hears from family members and the town big man Ed Pegram how they lost money to Woody and they now want it back. David finds it hard to defend his father since the people know more about him, especially Ed as he has a menacing character. June however is able to defend Woody to the family claiming they owe him instead. She even reveals that Ed actually stole a compressor from Woody.
It’s not until an attempted robbery from the two nephews that the truth is revealed to the family and to the townspeople as Ed Pegram reads the letter mockingly to the bar crowd. Even though Woody is humiliated, David gives Ed something he’ll never forget. It’s after that incident David drives Woody to Lincoln to find out the truth. Even though Woody finds out the truth, the movie ends on a positive note and gives one the impression Woody leaves town as a winner as he drives by and his true friends from that town are revealed.
I know that Alexander Payne has done movies where a person’s struggle is depicted alongside the geography or the scenery of where the incident is taking place. This is something else. This is a movie where one gets a feel of the town or even a feel of the protagonist’s past life as the story is taking place. It’s interesting as Woody returns to the town of his upbringing how people make him feel welcome and even consider him a hero after hearing of his ‘prize.’ Also as interesting how these people like past friends and family try to get a piece of the action. They even know of his past to make up things where Woody owes them. You’ll soon learn that maybe Woody isn’t even part of the town or even part of the family. You’d probably understand why Woody moved to Billings. Because the town was too nasty to him. I think that’s why the film was done in black and white, to show the one-sidedness of coming from a small town. Even seeing how Aunt Martha knocks Woody’s past drinking while taking the criminal acts of her sons Cole and Bart with a grain of salt makes you wonder.
This movie is another accomplishment of Alexander Payne. I’ve never once been disappointed by him. This is another good one as it was a nominee for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. I know I talk a lot of Payne’s films being a man’s personal trial in the middle of their geography. Payne does it again but he doesn’t just simply show the geography of a small Nebraska town here. He gives a feel for it. Sometimes he can make one feel like a part of the family or a part of the town in Nebraska. I believe that was the best quality of the movie. Also you could say this film is a bit of a ‘homecoming’ for Payne. About Schmidt was the last movie he did with it set in Nebraska, albeit temporarily in Omaha. He’s gone from the Rocky Mountain valleys in About Schmidt to California’s wine country in Sideways to Hawaii in The Descendants to returning back to Nebraska here. Seems right since he is Omaha-born and raised. Also excellent is the script from South Dakota-born writer Bob Nelson. This is his first script for a feature-length film and he does an excellent job. Being born in South Dakota, I think Nelson intends for Hawthorne, Nebraska to appear like your typical small town.
Sure director Payne and writer Nelson get kudos but the story wouldn’t be without the fine acting performances. Bruce Dern was excellent playing an aging man who’s slow on wits and is easily prey to other people. He succeeds in winning feelings from the audience. It’s no wonder the performance won Best Actor in Cannes. Will Forte was also excellent in playing the son who is both caught in the frustration of the lie everyone including his father believes and starts to wonder if he really knows his father. You can see it in his face as it appears the Hawthorners appear to know more about Woody than David. June Squibb was also great as the mother. Some of you may recognize her as Warren Schmidt’s wife in About Schmidt. Here she was quite the scene stealer as the mother who had quite an outlandish mouth but was also tough as nails with those who tried to bully woody into paying. At first you think Kate’s a bad wife for Woody but then you learn she’s the best woman for him.
Even though Bruce, June and Will were the standout performances of the movie, there were other good performances too. Stacy Keach also delivered a great performance as Ed Pegram, the town’s head honcho. His scene-stealing performance kind of reminds of you of a lot of Texas cowboys that act like big shots. Makes you feel that punch in the face David gave him was well-deserved. Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray were also great as the nephews who’d do anything to get a piece of the action. Actually the film had an excellent ensemble and an excellent set of characters of family and townspeople. It’s a shame they weren’t nominated for the SAG award for Best Movie Ensemble. In addition there was great cinematography from Phedon Papamichael and good music from Mark Orton.
Nebraska is an excellent film for those that want to get off the beaten path. It starts off with a plot that normally would make for a ridiculous movie but gives you an accomplishment in the end.
Okay last week I took you way back to the first time London hosted an Olympic Games back in 1908. The second time London hosted was back in 1948. I don’t know if you have seen film footage of past Olympic Games but I have seen mostly through Bud Greenspan’s The Olympiad series and I have to say the London Games of 1948 were definitely a Games to remember for all the right reasons. It brought athletes from around the world back into an arena, brought athletic achievement back into the spotlight and even gave the world a heroine.
WAR IS OVER
One thing we should remember is that these Olympic Games were the first Olymmpic Games in twelve years and they were staged just three years after World War II ended. When World War I happened, the 1916 Olympics scheduled for Berlin were cancelled. World War II would lead to the cancellations of the Tokyo Games of 1940 and the London Games of 1944. The last Summer Olympics held before these London Games were held back in 1936 in Berlin and they were most memorable for showcasing the Nazi ideology that would eventually lead to the start of World War II. As the London Games were about to begin, most of the world was still trying to recover from the war. These Games were to be dubbed the ‘Austerity Games’ because of such. Europe was especially devastated during wartime and the UK was still giving out food rations at the time. Even though the Olympics were intended to bring together the countries of the world, wounds from World War II were not fully healed. As a result, Germany and Japan were not invited to these Games. The USSR was invited but declined.
As for staging the events, there was no way to afford new facilities. All events were staged in existing venues. The 25 year-old Wembley Stadium hosted the athletics competitions, equestrian events, hockey and football tournaments and the ceremonies. The well-established Henley Regatta hosted the rowing and canoeing events. Empire Pool, originally built for the 1934 Empire Games, hosted the aquatic events and boxing finals. The 11 year-old Empress Hall Earl’s Court hosted gymnastics, weightlifting, wrestling and boxing preliminaries. The track cycling events were held at the Herne Hill Velodrome built in 1891. Basketball was held at the Harringay Arena built in 1936. Sailing events were held in Torquay, a town in Southwest England on the English Channel. As for athlete accommodations, there was no Olympic Village constructed and athletes were housed in existing accommodations instead. Male athletes stayed at RAF camps in nearby cities and female athletes were housed in London college dorms. Athletes were also subject to the food rations. Actually athletes were given increased rations: the same amount as dockers and miners. BBC was to broadcast a total of 60 hours of live broadcast of the Games. Broadcasting rights was a mere £1000.
As for the torch relay, the torch was lit in ancient Greece and was carried through Italy, Switzerland and France before arrived in England at Dover one day before the Opening Ceremonies.
The 1948 Olympic Games opened at 2pm on a sunny Saturday on July 29th. Army bands began the pageantry and the Royal Family arrived at 2:45pm. The parade of nations started around 3pm and lasted 50 minutes with 59 nations parading starting with Greece by tradition, the other nations marching in alphabetical order, and ending by tradition with the host nation Great Britain. Fourteen countries including Jamaica and Korea marched in the opening ceremonies for the first time. Each nation was obliged to bring their own flag to the ceremonies. Lord Burghley, president of the British Olympic Council who headed the organization of these Games, greeted the athletes to “keen but friendly rivalry” and said London represented a “warm flame of hope for a better understanding in the world which has burned so low.” King George VI formally declared the Games open. 2,500 pigeons were released, symbolizing the doves of peace. The Olympic Flag was raised to a 35 ft. flagpole near the end of the stadium. The torch entered the stadium carried by 23 year-old British runner John Mark and was greeted by a 21-gun salute. Mark lit the Flame located inside the Wembley Stadium. The Olympic Oath was taken by 39 year-old hurdler Donald Findlay, a silver-medalist from 1936 who was able to make the British Olympic team that year. Then the athletes proceeded out of the stadium to the two weeks of competition.
The 1948 London Games delivered in terms of competition. 136 events were contested in seventeen sports. The USA–a country that was one of the least effected by World War II– was the top medal winner with 84 medals including 38 golds. Sweden won the second-most with 44 medals including 16 golds. France and Hungary both won ten gold medals each.
The competitions themselves featured a lot of excellent feats from athletes who would be remembered for all time. In athletics, Harrison Dillard was the surprise winner of the men’s 100m dash beating out his favored teammate Barney Ewell. Both would run in the 4*100 relay where the American team was originally disqualified for exchanging the baton outside the exchange zone but a film replay would reinstate their first-place finish. Arthur Wint won Jamaica’s first ever gold medal in the men’s 400m. American Mal Whitfield would win the first of his two consecutive 800m gold medals here. The legendary Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia would begin his legendary Olympic career with a win in the 10000m and a silver in the 5000m. Micheline Ostermeyer of France won the women’s shot put and discus. Sweden dominated the steeplechase and walks. High jumper Alice Coachman would become the first ever African-American woman to win Olympic gold. Bob Mathias won the first of his two consecutive decathlon gold medals here. His win here just a week before his 18th birthday would make him the youngest ever male gold medalist in track and field. However the two biggest moments of the athletics events will be discussed later in this blog.
In swimming all men’s events were won by Americans. Women’s swimming was divided between the Americans, Danes and Dutch. Diving was completely dominated by the Americans with Victoria Draves winning gold in both springboard and platform. The legendary Sammy Lee of the USA would win the first of his platform golds and a bronze in springboard.
Men’s gymnastics was won mostly by Finland. A unique moment occurred when three men–all Finnish–tied for first place in the men’s pommel horse. Thus three gold medals were awarded. There was only one single event for women in gymnastics: a team competition which Czechoslovakia won. The USA won no gold medals in boxing but a Hungarian boxer, Laszlo Papp, would win the first of his three career Olympic golds: the first of only three boxers to do so. Swedish kayaker Gert Frederiksen would win two gold medals here and would go on to an Olympic career of eight total medals, six of them gold. Equestrian events had the strongest showings from the Americans, French and the Mexicans. Hungarian fencer Ilona Elek–a Jewish survivor of World War II thanks to Raoul Wallenberg–became the only gold medalist from 1936 to repeat here in London. Sweden won in soccer. Danish yachtsman Paul Elvstrom won the first of his four consecutive gold medals at Torquay. The Americans and Egyptians were the standouts in weightlifting while the Swedes and the Turks were the top winners in wrestling. And while there’s excitement over double-amputee Oscar Pistorius running in London this year, here at these Games Hungarian shooter Karoly Takacs won a gold medal with his left land after losing his right hand in a grenade blast ten years earlier.
For those of you that took an interest in all the discontinued events from the first London Olympics, the discontinued stuff isn’t as interesting as the ones back in 1908. All the sports contested at the London Games of 1948 are still contested at these London Games. There are some discontinued events. In athletics, the 10km road walk would be replaced by the 20km walk. The Star boat is the only one of the five sailing events from 1948 that’s contested in 2012. In rowing there were pairs and fours both with and without a coxwain while the only rowing event in 2012 with a coxwain is the eights event. Cycling had a tandem event and canoeing had three events over a distance of 10,000 metres.
As for the host country Great Britain, athletes won a total of 23 medals: the sixth-most of all countries at these Games. Their medal haul was their biggest since 1924 and most of their medals came in athletics, rowing, cycling and sailing. Their gold medal total of three was one of the lowest gold medal totals Britain has ever had and lower than the four won at the previous Olympics in Berlin. As for Canada, no Canadian athlete won a gold medal. These would be the second of only five Summer Olympics where Canada didn’t win a gold medal. Canada did win three medals: a bronze won by the women’s 4*100m relay team in athletics and both a silver and a bronze won in canoeing.
SIGNS OF A CHANGED WORLD
Even though these Olympics were meant to ease political barriers, it’s not to say these Games were immune to politics. Countries now governed under Communist regimes would compete in London for the first time and they would give the first signs of the changes of post-World War II politics. Back in February of that year, the Soviet allied ‘Czech coup’ led to Czechoslovakia’s inclusion into the Soviet bloc. Just after Czechoslovakia’s women’s gymnastics team won the gold medal, 57 year-old Marie Provaznikova, the Czechoslovakian president of the International Gymnastics Federation, refused to return home because: “there is no freedom of speech, of the press or of assembly.” Provaznikova made history as the first Olympic participant to defect. Defections during the Olympic Games would later be common over the decades of the Cold War.
MARATHON: THE LAST LAP AGAIN
Remember how back at the London Games of 1908 there was a dramatic last lap of the marathon? Well there would be another dramatic last lap again 40 years later. Two and a half hours after the start, the first runner into the stadium was Etienne Gailly of Belgium. Gailly was never a serious threat for a medal and he was quite inexperienced at running the marathon distance. He went out hard into the race under unusually hot and humid conditions. He held the lead for most of the race and was even first into Wembley Stadium but by the time he entered, he was visibly exhausted and stumbled as he ran. Delfo Cabrera of Argentina, running in his first marathon, entered the stadium second and passed Gailly en route to winning the gold medal. Third into the stadium was Britain’s Tom Richards. Gailly fell and Richards passed him to finish second. Gailly picked himself up again but fell along the homestretch. Gailly had made a promise to himself before the run that when he crosses the finish line, he will have a medal. Time was soon running out as South African Johannes Coleman was fourth into the stadium. Fortunately Gailly mustered enough energy to get up and beat Coleman to the bronze medal by 200 meters. A promise kept.
THE FLYING DUTCHWOMAN
Of all the performances that dazzled, there was one athlete that could truly be called the star of the Games. Back in 1935 a 17 year-old Francina Koen dreamed of competing in the Olympic Games as a swimmer. A swimming coach told her: “We have many great swimmers in Holland but no woman can run like you.” At his advice she chose track and it turned out to be the right decision. She would be coached by Jan Blankers and represented the Netherlands in track and field at the Berlin Games of 1936, finishing 6th in high jump and was part of the Netherlands’ 5th-place 4*100m relay. However the biggest highlight of those games was meeting four-time gold medalist Jesse Owens and getting his autograph. It would remain her most cherished possession.
After the 1936 Berlin Games, Fanny would soon become the top woman in track and field winning meets and setting world record. However World War II would cause the 1940 and 1944 Olympics to be cancelled. During the time in between she married Jan Blankers and would come to be known as Fanny Blankers-Koen. She continued training for the Olympics during the wartime. Even after she gave birth to two children, they would eventually become involved with her training regimen. Her athletic activity would help her and the Blankers family to thrive despite the harsh conditions of World War II. Despite it all, most people looked down upon Fanny for her training for sport instead of being a full-time housewife. We shouldn’t forget that woman athletes didn’t have a favorable impression at the time.
Fanny was one of the 390 female athletes competing in seven sports here in London: less than 10% of the total number of athletes at these Games. Here in London she was to compete in four events. She knew this would be her best chances for Olympic gold in her career as her peak years occurred during the cancelled Games of 1940 and 1944.
Her first event in London was the 100m dash. She easily won her heat and semi-final. She won the final in Olympic record time. Her second event was the 80m hurdles. At the finish of the final, it appeared that Fanny and British runner Maureen Gardner hit the tape together both in Olympic record time. The playing of God Save The King by the band let to further confusion. It was then revealed that Blankers-Koen won by inches and the playing of God Save The King was because King George VI and family entered the stadium. Then came to 200m. She won her heat but homesickness set in before the semifinal and she cried to her husband. Her husband Jan was sympathetic and reminded her if she continues on, she will equal Jesse Owens’ feat of four golds. She continued on and won the 200m with the widest margin in Olympic history. Then came the 4*100m relay to which Fanny was to run the anchor leg for the Netherlands. At the time Fanny took the baton, the Netherlands was in 3rd place but Fanny made up the distance by driving the Dutch team to victory. Like her idol Jesse Owens, Fanny won four gold medals: the first female athlete in Olympic history to do so in a single Games. She would later be dubbed the ‘Flying Housewife’ and ‘Mother Courage’. She still remains one of the best female athletes of all time, ranking her amongst the greats like Babe Didriksen and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. After the London Games, she returned to Amsterdam to a hero’s welcome even bigger than the celebrations at the end of World War II. Her feats were best summed up by one journalist: “Holland has won four gold medals in athletics and Fanny has been a part of them all.”
The 1948 Olympic Games closed in Wembley Stadium on August 14, 1948. 64 years have passed since these London Games but its importance has never withered over time. These Games took place twelve years after the last Olympic Games and a mere three years after World War II had ended. These Olympics showed that even years after such a brutal global war and even while many of the world’s nations–even Great Britain itself– were still trying to recover from the damage, the human spirit can triumph again in sports competition. They also showed that Baron de Coubertin’s dream of the world gathering together once again and competing harmoniously in friendly competition can be revived successfully.
It is because of this that the London Games of 1948 left its biggest legacy that is still admired today. I don’t know of any other Olympic Games that have been able to make such a significant statement. It is because of this that I consider the London Games of 1948 to be the best Summer Olympics ever. Not necessarily for the sake of the sports achievements or the level of competition, but what it meant for the world and for the Olympic movement. To think Lord Burghley declared at the Opening Ceremonies: “A visionary dream has today become a glorious reality. At the end of the worldwide struggle in 1945, many institutions and associations were found to have withered and only the strongest had survived. How, many wondered, had the great Olympic Movement prospered?” These London Games showed the world how.