It’s something that if you see all ten Best Picture nominees, that means you would have seen 65 of the 125 Oscar nominations! Possibly more than most Academy members!
A single blog having all the Best Picture nominees reviewed would be too exhausting to the eyes. Makes sense to split the ten Best Picture nominees over two blogs. You read the first. Here is the second review of this year’s Best Picture nominees:
The Fabelmans – “Movies are dreams that you never forget.”
After I saw this film, I’ve been telling people this is a reminder that for every big-name director, there was a child with a dream. We’ve seen films before of children being enchanted by film. This is Spielberg’s chance to tell his own story. Essentially that story of Sammy Fabelman is the story of ‘Stevie Spielberg!’ It all started when Sammy’s parents Mitzi and Saul took him to see The Greatest Show On Earth and they told them of the magic of movies: from both the scientific and artistic side. Sammy tries to remake the train crash scene with his toy train set and film it with an 8mm camera… and that was the making! One thing I have to say is that what’s missing in the theatres nowadays are films that make people want to chase their dream. I don’t know about you but if I saw this film as a child, it would make me want to be a film maker. Even adults who grew up with Steven Spielberg movies and have been blown away by them would want to see the story of how it all started.
There are many scenes where one can see that this is how it all started for Spielberg. The scene with Sam biking will remind many of E.T. The scene where he does his war films will remind many of Saving Private Ryan and other war-themed films he’s done. The scenes where he experiences anti-Semitism will tell people of what inspired Schindler’s List. Speaking of which, it’s not to say the dream doesn’t have its rocky moments. We are reminded of times when the dream faced some bumpy paths. There was how his filming exposed Mitzi’s concealed love for Bennie and would lead to the friction in her marriage to Burt. There’s the anti-Semitism Sammy went through being the only Jew in his Northern California town. There’s that time Sam did not want to shoot a movie for years because it would mean using the camera Bennie gave him. It’s funny how when he was young, he insisted to his father “It’s not a hobby,” and as a teen Sam wanted nothing to do with it. I guess the message the film tries to give the audience is that if the skill is in you, the dream can’t die no matter how hard you try to end it.
Top admiration to go to Steven Spielberg. It’s not easy to do a semi-autobiographic story of the director without it getting egotistical. Instead of something egotistical, we get an inspiring story. On top of it, this isn’t any director we’re talking about. We’re talking Spielberg. His films have thrilled us since the late-70’s to now. The film showed he was the type who went that extra mile in adding affects to his films even when he was young. Sometimes I think this film is Spielberg’s gift to us.
Young actor Gabriel Labelle was great in his performance of Sam Fabelman. It was not an easy task playing a boy with film dreams but going through the frustrations of teenagerhood. He did an impressive job. Michelle Williams was also excellent in playing the troubled mother. It was not easy playing the mother that supports her son’s dream but going through a troubling marriage. Also great was Paul Dano in playing the father caught in the middle. Judd Hirsch was also great in the brief scene he played the eccentric uncle. In addition, John Williams gives a great score to go with the film.
Tár – This is a story that we often see of a toxic personality falling from the top of their game. If there’s one thing we all learn as we get older, it’s that if we want to excel and be among the top, we need to have some amount of arrogance and some amount of ruthlessness to get there. Lydia Tár is exactly that case. Yes, she’s condescending to those that think differently. Yes, she does get this feeling that she owns the show when she really doesn’t. And yes, her controlling personality does not leave her when she’s with the women she loves. One thing we often forget is that Lydia Tár’s toxic control-freak persona is something very common in show business. We see it time and time again. Most commonly from the men in show business. This film shows it’s even possible for a woman to be this controlling and manipulative. It’s very easy to try and go from the top of your game and then face the comeuppance of a downfall as your actions catch up to you. That’s the story of Lydia Tár. It got to the point everyone had to turn on her. The suicide of Krista Taylor was the beginning of the end.
The film is a straightforward story of a conductor on top of her game who faces a downfall and then finds new life in the aftermath. Despite that, it still has to capture the essence of the conductor and their music. Despite Lydia Tár being a control freak of a person, like most people at the top in arts and entertainment are, it also has to capture Lydia’s passion for music. The film itself has not forgotten about Lydia’s passion for music as it shows itself throughout the film. Music is a common theme throughout the film and it captures the essence excellently.
The brains behind this piece is Todd Field. Todd has had other films that looked like potential Best Picture nominees like 2002’s Far From Heaven and 2015’s Carol (which Blanchett also plays lead) that have “missed by that much.” This time, he finally gets it! While the two aforementioned films are timepieces, this takes place in modern times. It’s an excellent work about a toxic musician facing their comeuppance in modern times. Also making the film soar is Cate Blanchett. Her performance as a prima donna conductor owns the film from start to finish. She keeps her character interesting and helps the audiences into sharing her passions. Although Blanchett practically owns the film, supporting performances from Nina Hoss as her wife and Noemie Merlant as her angry assistant also add to the film.
Top Gun: Maverick – I’m sure the idea of a sequel to the original Top Gun had been an idea ever since the film became a hit. It was possible one could be out two or three years after the first. Most sequels are out in that time, and it’s mostly duds in such cases. A sequel thirty-six years after its original release seems like quite the gamble. Sure, there has been a lot of this retro-80’s stuff coming back and yes, there has been a lot of rebooting and remaking, but a sequel? Can a Top Gun sequel work with a sixtysomething Tom Cruise?
Peter Craig and Justin Marks were able to write a story to serve as the catharsis for the Top Gun sequel. The story ended up being a believable story of Maverick who’s on the verge of moving from pilot to teacher, but was born to fly. In the meantime, he has to teach a new generation which includes the son of Bradshaw. It’s a story that makes sense to have. In addition, it’s a story that gives the effects of flying a fighter jet. Most of us will never fly in one. The first Top Gun film was a hit because it gave the thrill of flying a fighter jet. This film continues to give us that feel without making us forget the physical toll flying such a jet can take on the passenger.
Top marks go to director Joseph Kosinsky. It was no easy task to direct this sequel; a sequel to a film that came out when he was 12. A director with proven work in science fiction was needed for a film like this an Kosinsky was the right one. He delivers a sequel that has a sensible story and keeps the action active and dazzling. The dream team of scriptwriters also did a very good job in delivering a story that’s believable and a story that isn’t too similar to the original film, like most film sequels are.
Tom Cruise returns to give his best acting in many years. Maverick was the role that made him a superstar in 1986. To play Maverick 36 years later was no easy task. It was not easy playing a man who has aged over time, but still had that young love for flying big. Tom did it very well. Jennifer Connelly was also good as Penny, but her role was not as developed. The set of young actors to play the new recruits were also very good. Miles Teller was not only good as Rooster, but he was able to steal the show from Maverick many times. Glen Powell was easily dislikeable as Hangman, Nevertheless the main attraction to a film like this is the effects. Again, this film delivers in its effect to give the audient the feel of what it’s like behind a fighter jet at supersonic speed. It’s what makes a movie like this!
Triangle Of Sadness – This is a rare case of a comedy with a message to deliver. There are a lot of themes in this film to take note of. One is social status. The story goes from the young model/influencer couple who debate about paying for a date to the various business people and socialites. They flaunt their riches, they enjoy their time without a care in the world, they all have their dinners of choice. The workers on the ship are just there to do their job. All that changes after the heavy rocking of the ship and its shooting down. The scene of the ship rocking is especially key as we see the Russian oligarch not only share control of the ship with the American captain, but also them shouting both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist sayings on the intercom.
In the aftermath, the eight surviving passengers are on an island with nothing. There’s also the theme of power. On the ship, the rich had it all while the workers did what they wer told and has basic living conditions. After the sinking the Filipino woman who was a cleaner on the ship is now the leader because of her survival skills. Power going from the bottom to the top. It also shows how even she can use her power to get what she wants and how power can even be an addiction for her.
The film doesn’t just deliver a message about classism and superficiality. It does so in a unique fashion. First it starts with a male model who makes less than his influencer girlfriend. Then it’s an argument at a restaurant which then leads them to this cruise with the mega wealthy. The cruise introduces us to them and their mindsets. Then the ship rocks furiously with everyone getting sick on board. Then the ship is torpedoed which leads to the eight survivors on what appears to be a deserted island. The time on the island gives a new structure with the former cleaning lady leading and the other survivors co-existing. It’s a clever arrangement of a story mixed with the bizarre and the disgusting to go along with it. Nevertheless the message doesn’t get lost. Nor does the story of the model/influencer couple lose its status as the prime story.
Top accolades to go to director/writer Ruben Ostlund. This is a unique tragicomedy that lampoons the rich but also reminds us how addictive power can be for even the smallest of the small. It has a lot of bizarre humor and even treads on the disgusting, but it all works when you look back on it. It’s actually a smart edgy comedy. Harris Dickinson and the late Charlbi Dean were also very good playing the couple. Their roles weren’t too deep, but they did well in playing the young and superficial pair. There were scene-stealers in this film. The most notable being Dolly de Leon as the cleaner-turned-leader. She was excellent in going from just a cleaning lady to becoming the leader with all the unfairness that comes with it! Also a scene stealer is Zlatko Buric as the Russian oligarch who helps endanger the ship with the captain.
Women Talking – If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 2022, it’s about how religion is often used to control women. That is one world issue felt big in 2022 with the loss of Roe v. Wade and also with the Women’s Revolution in Iran. Here we’re presented a story of a community whose religious beliefs create a community separate from the rest of secular society. It’s a community with strict values unchanged for centuries. This strictness causes a problem as there’s a rapist in the community threatening the women. The men have not made any effort to protect the women from this madman so they have to organize things themselves. It’s in this conversation that they have to decide, to stay and fight or to leave all at once before the men return? Even though leaving seems like the best choice, how will they do it? How will the children be raised properly? Will the boys be raised to treat women with respect? There is a lot to think about in this film. August, the university-educated token male in the discussion, serves as the image of hope for the women. He’s the one man in the community they can trust to raise the boys right.
The film is done very smartly. It presents the issue and the vote which leads to the discussion. It’s fair to say 85-90% of the film involves the women meeting in the hall for the discussion. That’s possibly the most critical part of it. While the men who dominate the community are away, the women finally get their moment to discuss things and make the choice to do something of their own choosing. When you hear them talk, it’s not simple common blabbing. These are the women speaking their fears, their anger, the hurts they’s endured, their passions and their families who mean so much to them. The discussions get very heated with all that’s happen, but they all have a bond that’s like a sisterhood that they show near the end. Even though it is primarily about the women, it’s also about August as he is their sense of hope to make the community better. He does it at the sacrifice of having to lose the woman he loves. It hurts him, but he knows it’s worth it.
The biggest praise of this film should go to writer/director Sarah Polley. Those of us living in Canada have seen Sarah develop over the years first when she was a child actor in the Road To Avonlea TV series, then seen as the next “it girl” in films like The Sweet Hereafter, Go and Existenz, only to drop acting and move in the field of writing and directing. She has come of age greatly over the years and one could call this film her crowning achievement so far. She does an excellent adaptation of the novel into a film that will get one intrigued of what will happen, what will be decided upon. I’ve often felt since the story is mostly in the same room, it can be adapted into a stage play. We’ll see. As for the acting, it’s hard to pick a standout. All the women here did an excellent almost-unselfish job of portraying their characters well. If I could pick the standouts, they would have to be Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara and Claire Foy. A tough call. Ben Whitshaw also did an excellent job as playing the man watching, observing, and providing both wisdom and hope.
And there you go. There’s my second blog of my review of the Best Picture nominees. My predictions for the Oscar wins I anticipate to have by Saturday.
This Sunday marks the Canadian tradition of the Grey Cup taking place. This will mark the 104th time the Cup has been contested. Once again, it’s the best of the east versus the best of the west. Lots of excitement and lots to anticipate for the big game.
A New Host Site On Familiar Ground
This will mark the first time the Grey Cup will be contested in the new BMO Field Stadium. However it will be the thirteenth time in which the Cup will be contested on the grounds as it was Exhibition Stadium the previous twelve times before the SkyDome replaced Exhibition Stadium as Toronto’s host venue. Now the Exhibition Stadium field takes it back! This will also be the first Grey Cup since 2002 that will be contested on grass turf.
Just like the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup will have its parties. There will be no shortage here. Leading up to the Cup there will be fan activities, alumni luncheons and autograph sessions. There will also be two new events added to this year: the Empowering Women and Community Through Sport Summit and the first Grey Cup party in support of an LGBT community hosted by Strikers Sports Bar and You Can Play.
Sirius XM will be hosting the Grey Cup concert series with acts like the New Pornographers, Tokyo Police Club, The Sheepdogs and The Lowest Of The Low slated to perform. Alessia Cara will highlight the SiriusXM kickoff show, The Tenors will sing the national anthem and OneRepublic will perform during the Freedom Mobile Halftime Show.
Sure, it’s a given that the ticket prices increase with every Grey Cup but there is a risk of it going overboard. The ticket prices originally ranged from $169 to $899 before taxes. However the prices resulted in a smaller-than-anticipated total of tickets sold by mid-October. This led to organizers to reduce the prices of the tickets. Those who already purchased tickets were offered either a compensation or an upgrade after the price decrease. With less than a week before the Cup, sales of tickets increased dramatically and a sell-out of 35,000 is anticipated for tomorrow.
AND NOW THE GAME:
The game will feature the best of the West, Calgary Stampeders, squaring off against the best of the East, Ottawa RedBlacks. It’s easy to predict the winner but there can be surprises. So here’s how I narrow it down:
This is the team of the CFL this year winning fifteen of their eighteen regular season games. Their two losses came at the hands of the BC Lions and the Montreal Allouettes and their draw came via the RedBlacks. The Stampeders are the best CFL team this year but they’re not invincible. It could be possible they could give it away at the Grey Cup.
The Stampeders don’t simply want to win for themselves but they also want to win in memory of their young teammate Mylan Hicks. Before Hicks played for the Stampeders, he played Michigan State in college and was signed onto the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 but was released before the season started. Two months ago, the 23 year-old Hicks was shot to death at a Calgary night club. The team will be wearing black 31 pins in honor of Hicks on Sunday night.
Ottawa RedBlacks make it two straight Grey Cups in their three seasons of existence. They are the best of the East this CFL season but that’s not really saying much this year. Ottawa topped the CFL’s East rankings with 8 wins, 9 losses and a draw. The West had all but one of their five teams amass ten wins during regular season play. Obvious signs this was a weak year for the East. It could have been an all-West Grey Cup this year but the RedBlacks won their semifinal against Edmonton on Sunday with a score of 35-23. Actually Edmonton was the one team the RedBlacks beat in both their regular season games. Lucky guys.
The RedBlacks are not too weak to win against the Stampeders. They may have lost to the Stamps 48-23 back in September but they drew 26-26 after two overtimes back in July. Coach Rick Campbell has worked hard to prepare the men and their defense has been getting stronger and more solid as of late. It’s very possible the RedBlacks can upset the highly-touted Stamps over in Toronto.
Yes, I will eventually have to make my prediction. I will have to go with the majority and predict the Stampeders to win. As for the score, I’m guessing 35-20. This should make for an exciting game as Ottawa will put in a good fight.
And there you go. My preview and prediction for tomorrow’s Grey Cup game. Will this Grey Cup be the RedBlacks’ first ever (Ottawa’s tenth) or the Stampeders’ eighth? Kick Off is 6pm EST.
This Sunday will feature the 103rd Grey Cup. The best of the CFL have been narrowed down to two teams and it will all take place in Winnipeg’s Investor’s Group Field. Lots of excitement is planning to happen. As well as a tight showdown expected.
This will be the fourth time ever the city of Winnipeg has hosted the Grey Cup. In each of the three previous times, it was held in Winnipeg Stadium later to be renamed CanadInns Stadium. This marks the first Grey Cup contested in Winnipeg that will be held in the Investors Group field. Just two and a half years since it hosted its first event, the Field is now hosting its first-ever Grey Cup. This would be a far trek for most Grey Cup fans who used to have an easier time traveling to Winnipeg Stadium as it was located close to the city centre. Investor’s Group Field is located inside the University of Manitoba lands in the south of the city. Quite a longer distance for those staying in downtown hotels or even at hotels close to the airport.
The national anthem is to be sung by 26 year-old Quebec singer Bobby Bazini and halftime-show will feature another non-Canadian act this year: Chicago band Fall Out Boy. The game itself will pit the East team of the Ottawa RedBlacks versus the West team of the Edmonton Eskimos. One won their last Grey Cup ten years ago, one will hope to win their city’s first Grey Cup in almost forty years. How do they fare?
Ottawa has been one city that has struggled to keep a team as part of the CFL. The Ottawa RoughRiders were formed in 1876, were part of the founding of the CFL back in 1958 until their demise in 1996. They won eight Grey Cup: five since the founding of the CFL. Their last Grey Cup appearance was back in 1981. Ottawa attempted a return to the CFL in 2002 with the Renegades but they only lasted four seasons. That was mostly because of the shotty conditions of the Frank Clair Stadium that was showing its age. A major reconstruction that started in 2008 would pave the way for Ottawa to have a better stadium and a return to the CFL.
Last year Ottawa returned back to the CFL with their new team the RedBlacks. As what should be expected, they came in last. This year marked a major turn around as they came in the top of the East Division winning 14 of their 20 games. Interestingly enough, it was coached by Rick Campbell, the same coach that coached them during their debut season last year. Their success is not only due to better coaching from Campbell but also due to a trade of one player and the acquisition of four new players through free agency. Back at this year’s CFL draft in May, they were also able to make six selections from the seven-round draft.
Their season actually started off slow as they lost four of their first ten games. their second ten games resulted in only two losses. The only three teams they lost to this year were Edmonton, Toronto and Calgary. By being first in the East, they just had to play the divisional semifinal against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to qualify for the Cup. The RedBlacks’ last two games of the regular season were against the Ti_cats and they won both 12-6 and 44-28 respectively. In the division final, they repeated their dominance over the Ti-Cats by winning 35-28.
Their improvement in a single year has definitely been the talk of the CFL. Even if they don’t win the Cup, their qualification alone is already considered a victory. However of course the RedBlacks will want to win. This is a big question mark because the RedBlacks lost to the Eskimos in both of their regular season games. However both games were held in July and the RedBlacks have changed a lot over the period of four months. Sure, there’s the talk of the Eskimos’ defense but Ottawa’s Henry Burris/Jason Maas offense is what gave Ottawa their success this year. We’llsee if Ottawa can pull the biggest upset of the CFL in a long time.
This is Edmonton’s first time in the Grey Cup final since they won back in 2005. They have a total of 13 Grey Cup wins and 11 losses. Many are predicting this to be Grey Cup #14 for them and with good reason. The Eskimos were the top team of the CFL winning sixteen of their twenty games. Their losses came to Toronto, BC, Hamilton and Calgary but none of their losses happened in Commonwealth Stadium this year. The Eskimos have been lucky to win against all eight of the other teams this year in at least one occasion. Qualifying for the Cup was relatively simple as they just had to win the Division Final to qualify. Their rival were the defending Cup champions the Calgary Stampeders whom the Eskimos lost to on one occasion in regular season but won the second occasion. In the final held in Commonwealth Stadium, it was Edmonton’s for the taking with an early big lead which Calgary couldn’t recover from. The final score: Edmonton 45 – Calgary 31.
This year’s team of the Eskimos acquired five players in the CFL Draft, traded one before the CFL season began and traded four more during the season’s play. The talk of Edmonton is their defense, the best in the CFL with Chris Jones leading the pack. Even though Ottawa has a better offense, Mike Reilly is capable of pulling off a top offense. However we shouldn’t simply dismiss the Grey Cup as Edmonton’s to take. Sure, the Eskimos beat the RedBlacks in both of their regular season meetings, that was four months ago and the RedBlacks have improved big-time. Even Ottawa dominating possession could be a big boost to their offense and deliver an upset to Edmonton. Not even the best team is unbeatable. It could be possible Ottawa can deliver a surprise.
THE BIG GAME AND MY PREDICTION
Thinking about it, I will have to predict the Edmonton Eskimos will win 28-18. Sure, Ottawa’s boost from last to Grey Cup finalist may be the talk of the CFL but I think their Cinderella Story will end here. Edmonton is that stronger of a team and they have some of the best performers of the CFL this year to deliver the win.
And there you go. That’s my Grey Cup prediction. Maybe relying on sabermetrics is a good thing. Kickoff is 5pm Winnipeg time Sunday. Stay toond!
A Field In England is intended to be a historical drama/dark comedy. This makes for a unique and daring combination but does it work?
The story is set in the British Civil war of the 1600’s. Whitehead, an alchemist’s assistant, flees from his strict commander and meets a deserter from his own side and two other deserters from “the enemy’s” side. They all try to leave the war behind in search of an alehouse. Meanwhile they have a stew made with the mushrooms they found along the ground. Along the way they meet with an Irishman whom Whitehead had been sent to hunt down for stealing his master’s documents.
The Irishman however tries to get control over the group by letting them know of a treasure in the ground underneath. Whitehead is able to locate the area while the other three are digging or supervising. The exhaustion if digging takes its toll on the two diggers as they get into a fight and one is shot by the one supervising. After all the others run off, the one who did the supervising must now do the digging himself where he learns there’s nothing more than a skull. The Irishman then shoots him and then goes after Whitehead and the one surviving deserter. The two manage to escape and head back to the camp. However one of the deserters originally thought to be dead returns only to get embroiled in a shooting with the Irishman. After an ensuing shootout between the others, Whitehead is the one left standing and he buries the four. After burial, he returns to the hedgerow he originally deserted and finds the three soldiers still standing.
The thing about this movie is that it often appears clueless. All too often I’m sitting there in the theatre wondering what the point of the movie is or what the point of certain scenes were. Was his point about the British Civil War? Was his point about the warring factions: the Royalists and the Roundheads? Was it about the attitude the deserters shared? Was it to be experimental as noted by the many bizarre images? Was it another case of Ben Wheatley getting into his violence obsession? I was left very confused. The violence and even the alleged sodomy part really had me questioning. Even the special visual effects like the exploding sun and the strobe images had me wondering if Wheatley was trying to be experimental in his work.
I will admit that this is just my judgment from watching as I am unfamiliar with Ben Wheatley’s work. He has established a reputation in England with seven years of film making and video making under his belt. He is also primed and ready for the mainstream as he has already been slated to make an American-made film Freakshift and a sci-fi series for HBO in the future. Nevertheless I’ve been left assuming that A Field In England, which is directed by Wheatley and written by his wife Amy Jump, is an experimental picture for Wheatley. I saw nothing in the storyline involving any facts or factoids about the British Civil War and more of a focus on torture, violence and hallucinations. Even the language used in there didn’t sound like talk that would be used from the 17th Century but contemporary times.
The film has already received some acclaim. It has already won a Special Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and was a Crystal Globe nominee at that festival. It has also made its round of film festivals and has already been released on DVD.
A Field In England appears to be more of a trip of psychedelia and violence than historical documentation or historical fiction. The best I myself can classify this film is an experimental work.
“Sooner or later your ability to succeed on natural talent runs out when you run against a chemical barrier. The question became do you take drugs to try to win or do you content yourself with losing forever by staying away from them?”
– Charlie Francis
“I think about it for about three weeks before I say yes. Why should I train hard doing it clean and then these other guys are not clean? Face fear…I was young, in the business and (Jamie Astaphan) was a doctor and he said ‘If you don’t take it, you won’t make it.'”
– Ben Johnson
Back on Tuesday, I posted my memories and thoughts of the big run, the events leading up to it and the aftermath. It made sense since it was the 25th anniversary of that controversial run. Today is another 25th anniversary: the anniversary of the bad news hitting the fan. Here I will reflect on what I’ve learned from watching 9.79* and all that I’ve noticed in doping in the years since.
I know I talked a lot about the ESPN 30 For 30 Film 9.79* in my last article. For those who haven’t seen it, 9.79* is a very informative documentary about the Ben Johnson scandal that not only tells about the process of how Ben got into taking steroids but also about the changing world of track and field at the time as well as the widespread doping amongst those in the track world at the time too. It not only interviews Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis but all eight runners that participated in what’s commonly called ‘the dirtiest race in Olympic history:’
Lane 1: Robson da Silva – Brazil
Lane 2: Raymond Stewart – Jamaica
Lane 3: Carl Lewis – USA
Lane 4: Linford Christie – Great Britain
Lane 5: Calvin Smith – USA
Lane 6: Ben Johnson – Canada
Lane 7: Desai Williams – Canada
Lane 8: Dennis Mitchell – USA
It also interviews the coaches of Carl Lewis, Calvin Smith and even the coach of the US Olympic track team of 1988. Calvin Smith is of special focus too as he was the 100m dash World Record holder until Ben broke it at the 1987 Worlds. It also interviews two of Ben’s former teammates from the Scarborough Optimist Track Club: Angella Issajenko and Desai Williams who had stories of their own of what they saw around them and what they themselves did. It also interviews those associated with the USOC Doping programs like Dr. Robert Voy and Dr. Don Catlin from the UCLA lab during the 1984 Summer Olympics. Members of Canada’s Olympic Committee, Robert Armstrong from the Dubin Inquiry and a doping historian are also interviewed as well as Mary Ormsby: a Toronto Star journalist. Mary’s analysis of Ben Johnson and those associated with him as well as Canadian attitudes and even celebrations of Ben during those times really summed it up well and really struck me.
There are many key people who were not present in the film like Ben’s mother, Dr. Jamie Astaphan, human growth hormone Dr. Robert Kerr, Charles Dubin, Alexandre De Merode and Charlie Francis because they’re all now deceased. There is however one film footage of interview of Charlie from 2000. Also Andre Jackson, whose significance I will talk about later, is not interviewed either.
BEFORE IT ALL STARTED
Long before the whole Ben Johnson scandal, I knew about doping in sports. I first took an interest in the Olympic Games back in 1984 in the months leading up to the Los Angeles Olympics. I was a kid back then and with each preview show and each book I read, my curiosity grew and grew and I continued to learn more about the Games. Even seeing shows about Olympians past like The Olympiad widened my knowledge and excitement. However there was one Olympic preview show that focused on the subject of doping and anabolic steroids. They even made mention of athletes from the Pan American Games the year before that tested positive including two Canadian weightlifters.
Later on I’d learn just slightly more about doping. Actually I learned about an Olympic fatality from 1960. It was Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen in the team road race. Two other members of the Danish team also dropped out of the race. The coach later admitted to giving his riders Roniacol. Amphetamines were also found in his autopsy. That would lead to the start of doping tests in 1968. The first athlete stripped of a gold medal for a doping violation was American swimmer Rick de Mont for using an asthma medication. Even though the substance is no longer on the banned list, the IOC won’t give back his gold medal. Steroid use was known in the 70’s and it was actually 1976 that the Olympic Games started testing for them. There were steroid positives in Montreal. Moscow in 1980 had no positive tests but some medalists including two track and field gold medalists had been banned for a positive steroid test in the past.
WHAT LED TO IT ALL
Back to the subject of Ben Johnson, I made mention of how Ben Johnson burst onto the international scene by winning bronze in the 100m dash at the 1984 Olympics. That was a great improvement from the World Championships a year before where we only got as far as the semifinals. His two bronze was rather quiet news for Canada’s athletes as they had their best Olympics ever with 44 medals. Ten of them gold. Our ten golds during those Games were not only a delight but a relief since our last Summer Olympics gold medal came back in 1968. Between that time we had to deal with the embarrassment in Montreal in 1976 of becoming the first and so far only host nation of a Summer Olympics to fail to win gold. We also had to deal with the heartache of our 1980 Summer Olympics team not even making it to Moscow as Canada joined the U.S. in boycotting those Olympics.
What was going on is that the sports world knew what was going on in terms of doping back during the 70’s and 80’s. Just like Calvin Smith said:”(Track athletes) know more than the public ever will.” I guess you can say that about every sport. Charlie Francis, Ben Johnson’s coach, would compete for Canada in the 100m dash at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He would hear rumors of how 80% of the field were on steroids. The crunch of sport being full of people on performance enhancing drugs would get heavier after the 1976 Olympics and the successes of athletes like the East German swimmers and weightlifters from various countries who many knew were doped but they won and passed the drug tests. When Charlie himself took to coaching, he was determined to make champions out of his athletes. However he had to deal with the challenge of an unlevel playing field and felt the only way to win was to encourage his own athletes to use steroids. That attitude: “If you don’t take it, you won’t make it.” He would give them drugs he knew the East Germans were taking at mass level. He even hired Dr. Jamie Astaphan after the 1984 Olympics to increase sophistication in his steroid program.
As for why Ben and his teammates agreed to take steroids, it was more than just about the desire to win. It also wasn’t until I saw the film that his athletes considered him not just a coach but a friend. Ben Johnson, Desai Williams and Angela Issajenko looked up to him very highly. They were Canadian immigrants from the Caribbean who felt like misfits and they took aback to Charlie how he made them feel like they belonged and how he helped them to succeed as athletes. In fact Francis helped coach all three of them to the 1984 Olympic Games where they all came home with Olympic medals. In addition to Ben’s two bronzes, Desai was part of Canada’s bronze medal-winning relay team and Angella was part of Canada’s silver medal-winning women’s 4*100m relay team. It’s that coach-athlete relationship thing that could have a lot to do with why they agreed to take the steroids at his encouragement. They looked up to him that much. Coach-athlete relationships are also of focus in 9.79* as it shows the relationships between Carl Lewis and Tom Tellez and Joe Douglas as well as Calvin Smith and his coach Wayne Williams. One thing the film showed me is that for all the show-off and braggart I always saw Carl Lewis to be, I admire him for the huge respect he had for his coaches and still has. Like he sang in his flop song: “You can’t win on your own.”
I’ll admit I knew a lot about doping even before the 1984 Summer Olympics. I’ll admit, as evident in my article from Tuesday, that I learned a lot of what was going on in the Scarborough Optimists Track Club and other athletic sources around that time. In watching the film 9.79*, the things that stuck most with me were the things I don’t remember or didn’t know about. The mention of the USOC and the drug testing programs back in 1983 were a surprise to me. Even as well the number of noticeable tampered or ‘chemically masked’ samples they attained and how none of the athletes were punished but warned instead. I’ll admit I didn’t pay much attention to the BALCO scandal that came to light in 2003. I knew only partial details and mention of Carl Lewis testing positive for a banned stimulant but I didn’t know all the facts. Also I didn’t know about the missing positive results from the last days of the 1984 Olympics. Nor did I know about Human Growth Hormone being untestable at the time. I’ve always known it to be testable but I forgot there was a time when it wasn’t.
This film gave more information about the doping programs created and the lightweight actions carried out. One of the things I was not surprised about was when Dr. Don Catlin talked about him asking the athletes why they were taking drugs. The answer was obvious: they want to win. Even as track and field was being professionalized, it became obvious that success was winning medals. In fact I remember the USOC conducted a survey in 1988 where they asked athletes who trained at the US Olympic Centre in Colorado Springs the survey question: “If you were given a pill that was guaranteed to make you Olympic champion but would kill you within five years, would you take it?” The result: 52% said “Yes.”
THERE’S MORE TO IT THAN DOPING
The film doesn’t just simply show you thoughts and opinions of those surrounding the event, and especially the subject of doping in track and field. The film also focuses on the sport of sprinting. It shows a lot of the training whether it be old videotapes of Ben’s workouts or even Dennis Mitchell coaching his young athletes. Ben will remind you in his conversations as demonstrated by Dennis Mitchell in his coaching that track athletes push their bodies beyond the human limits to be the best. Desai Williams summed it up well in his own words: “You work every single day, five or six days a week. You’re going to beat yourself into the ground. It’s tough: the sacrifice that every track person makes with no guarantee. None.”
The film also shows the times in which this was all happening too. The film also reminds us that this was happening at a huge turning point in track and field. Until 1980, professionals were not allowed to compete at the Olympics. If you wanted Olympic gold, you couldn’t make a single penny off your sport. Any money you made had to be a well-kept-secret. In fact track and field had separate amateur and professional leagues. Once professional athletes were given the green-light to compete in the Olympics in the early 80’s, things changed. Athletes who dreamed of Olympic gold didn’t have to accept under-the-table money anymore. Meets run by the IAAF could pay the athletes. Athletes in Olympic sports who had high profiles could hire agents. However professionalizing track and field it didn’t come without its growing pains. Meets hopping on the professional bandwagon had to market themselves. Hence Zurich’s Weltklasse being passed off as ‘The Olympics In One Night.’ Only athletes with big star status like Carl Lewis or Daley Thompson could command big appearance fees. The Carl Lewis/Ben Johnson rivalry was a great boost to the professionalizing of the sport and created a rivalry that drew crowds. Prize money per athlete varied anywhere from big money for the top finishers to chicken feed for the also-rans. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the prize money thing could cause problems in terms of doping.
That was quite an era for track. I don’t think there has been an athlete since Carl Lewis that could be that big of a draw, although I see a rival in Usain Bolt currently. There also hasn’t been a rivalry as exciting as the Carl Lewis/Ben Johnson rivalry. Not even the Carl Lewis/Mike Powell rivalry in the long jump that happened years later was as exciting, nor the rivalry of Carl Lewis vs. age during the mid-90’s. There isn’t a rivalry nowadays, not even Usain Bolt vs. Yohan Blake, that has the same excitement.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE
Also remember how I talked about the East Germans and that being Angella Issajenko’s drive to hop on Charlie’s doping bandwagon? Well shortly after Germany reunified in 1990, just a year after the Dubin Inquiry concluded, the confessions were out that East Germany had a program of systematically administering steroid to their athletes headed by the Stasi, East Germany’s equal to the KGB. They knew which drugs to give which athletes, when to break them off to avoid detection, how often doses were needed to reach top performance and which drugs were undetectable at the time. After the confessions, many former East German Olympic champions have admitted to being part of the program. Some have asked their records be stripped and some are willing to give their medals back. One thing is many are reluctant to give their medals back, giving a common claim: “Yes, I was on steroids but I had the talent to win.” The thing is all of the records held by East Germans, even the world records, still stand and none of the medals have been demanded back by the IOC. That especially bites as a Canadian knowing that in three women’s swimming events in 1976, the fastest non-East German was a Canadian. It’s a shame. Three gold medals from Montreal that could’ve been and should be.
The thing was the intention of the Dubin Inquiry was not just to get to the bottom of Ben Johnson’s positive from Seoul. It was also to expose truths about doping in the sports world and hope to clean up sport not only in Canada but around the world too. If it did, it was quite minimal. You know how there are a lot of things that would eventually defeat their purpose over time like called ID and warning stickers on records? The Dubin Inquiry also defeated its purpose in a lot of aspects. This was the only time in history athletes confessed their doping use under oath. The subsequent punishments to the athletes who confessed caused many athletes to be a lot more protective of their innocence even after they test positive. Some would maintain their innocence to the point of taking their doping situation to court. They know that meets outside of the World Championships and the Olympic Games have doping labs that don’t have the same top-notch consistency and errors in procedures can result. They can use that to overturn their positive. There are even countries that know of positives in their own country but hide it around Olympic time so that the athlete can compete and win. A country like Canada can’t afford to do something like that, not after the embarrassment of Ben Johnson’s positive.
The 1996 Atlanta Games would present a new doping situation. There were many cases where athletes with positives outside of steroids would give explanations of taking medicine given by their team doctor. They’d be exonerated and they’d get their medals back. However it was made obvious at Sydney in 2000 that this kind of forgiveness was over when Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan tested positive for a stimulant provided to her by the team doctor. Instead of exoneration, the stripping of her all-around gold medal stood and the doctor was suspended for two Olympic cycles. That was it. No more exonerations over a team doctor’s bad medicine. Enough was enough.
Doping still continues to be an issue in sport. New drug discoveries, new incentives or new needs to revamp the testing, new ways of dealing with doping, and even new commissions like WADA: the World Anti-Doping Agency, which was started in 1998 after officials believed the IOC lacked consistency in cracking down on dopers. WADA is headquartered in Montreal and headed by Canada’s Dick Pound who used to be the Vice-President of the IOC. In the 2000’s it was the Americans that were most under fire for doping in sport. If there were cover-ups during the 80’s, the cover-ups weren’t happening anymore as many sprinters were faced with positive drug tests. Marion Jones was the most famous as she would take years to confess her own steroid abuse since 2000. Even while two ex-husbands of hers had already tested positive during the times of her marriages, it still took her until 2007 to confess it all.
There are always new drugs. There are always new ways to try and get them and try to stay ahead of the tests. One thing is that there are some advancements. Out-of-competition testing has increased with surprise tests and even programs sponsored by the USOC where top runners volunteer to have themselves tested. One of which is sprinting star Allyson Felix. In addition, each Olympics takes doping tests to unprecedented levels than from before. Beijing 2008 introduced a new procedure where all tests would include samples frozen for four years and retested to crack down on athletes who thought they could be ‘ahead of the game.’ London 2012 had it so that every athlete in every sport that finished in the Top 5 in each event was tested. Also I don’t think we’ll ever see an equal to the sophistication of the East German doping program. That has to be the most successful systematic doping program of all time. China tried to copy that program in the 90’s but it wouldn’t work as positives resulted.
Steroid use isn’t just limited to sport. It’s also subject to professional wrestlers too and it was made a big issue in the wake of the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit and his family. Many believe ‘Roid Rage to be the cause. Steroid use is even rampant simply with men who go to the gym to work out. Ask anyone that works at a gym. There are even teenage boys and some as young as 11 going to guidance counselors and asking for steroids simply to look bigger. Even after they hear of the consequences, they still want it because they only care about their looks. I know there’s a lot of attention made to young girls and anorexia. I believe there should also be the same attention to young boys and steroids.
Interesting to note is that Track And Field is not the Olympic sport with the biggest doping problems. Weightlifting is. In fact just days before Ben Johnson would make the biggest doping news out of Seoul, two Bulgarian weightlifters who had won gold medals tested positive for diuretics, a drug possibly intended to be a masking agent. Funny how it could mask the steroids but failed to mask itself and caused the lifters to give back their gold medals, both receive the same sports ban as a steroid positive and cause the whole Bulgarian weightlifting team to return home prematurely and in embarrassment. Weightlifting has gotten tougher on doping. They have since changed the weights of weight classes and erased past records to start on a clean slate. They now give lifetime bans on the first steroid positive. They also place bans on nations who have multiple lifters that test positive consistently. One nation currently on that banned list is Bulgaria.
Funny thing is that the sprints are not the events in Track And Field with the biggest doping problem. It’s the throwing events. You’d be surprised how many Olympic medals have been given back in those events. The shot putters however have received the most doping positives and most returned medals. 9.79* presents the doping problem of the 1980’s and portrays it as the heyday of doping in sprints, or as Calvin Smith put it: “a time of big time drugs.” It doesn’t seem as rampant at first but 2013 shed light that it’s still a problem, if not at the same length as back in the 80’s. This year there were three doping positives from sprinters that made news which included former World Record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica and former World Champion Tyson Gay of the US. In fact Powell tested positive for the same stimulant his Jamaican teammate Sherone Simpson tested positive for. This could cause suspicion over the Jamaican track program which has been so dominant in sprinting and hurdling over the past seven years.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ABOUT THE FINAL
Interesting thing about that final is that all of the runners in that final would have won Olympic medals in their careers. In fact you’ll see in 9.79* footage of the victory ceremony of the 1984 Men’s 4*100m relay: the US won gold with Jamaica silver and Canada bronze. There in that footage you’ll see five of the eight finalists: Lewis, Smith, Stewart, Johnson and Williams. As for the other three finalists:
Linford Christie who finished third would get his bronze upgraded to silver in the aftermath and would be Olympic 100m champion in 1992.
Robson da Silva won bronze in the 200m four days later.
Dennis Mitchell would have to wait until 1992 to win Olympic medals where he won bronze in the individual 100m and gold in the 4*100 relay which Carl Lewis anchored to a new world record.
Also interesting to note is the drug issues the other athletes faced after the 1988 Olympics:
Raymond Stewart: His doping issues came as a coach after he retired from running. It was made evident he was giving performance enhancing drugs to his athletes. The USADA banned him from coaching for life in 2010.
Carl Lewis: so far that banned stimulant was the only known violation he did. Had proper doping procedures been carried out, he would have been banned for three months including the 1988 Olympics. However the USOC exonerated Lewis when he showed an official the supplements he was taking and classified it as an ‘inadvertent positive.’
Linford Christie: he actually tested positive for a banned stimulant after the 100m dash final but was exonerated by the IOC’s disciplinary committee vote of 11 to 10 to keep him from sanctions. He wasn’t so lucky in 1999. An indoor meet in Germany tested him positive for Nandrolone and he was slapped with a two-year ban.
Dennis Mitchell: he was banned for two years in 1998 for showing high levels of testosterone.
You yourself would be interested seeing the reactions of them when they’re confronted by Gordon in 9.79* of their own doping issues. Raymond insists that what he was giving to athletes were Vitamin B12 and insists he’s innocent. Carl Lewis provided me with one of my favorite moments while watching 9.79* When confronted about his positive for the banned stimulant, he gets all defensive and even insists on the fact that the stimulant is no longer on the banned list. Looks like Carl isn’t completely the Mr. Clean he packages himself to be. Linford isn’t questioned about the stimulant from 1988 but he is about the nandrolone from 1999. He tries to make like he’s ‘Mr. Clean’ and denies his 1999 positive even though he never did anything to legally overturn the result. Dennis Mitchell appears to be the only one of the others with a positive test willing to confess his wrongdoings. He admits to making a bad coaching decision and bad choices along the way.
It looks as though the only athletes never to have any doping issues in their careers was Calvin Smith and Robson da Silva, just two. If I had my way, I’d give the gold to Smith, silver to da Silva, get all the semifinalists who failed to qualify together for a run-off and give the bronze to the winner. That should fix everything. That’s another thing about the film is that it shows Calvin to be the one that should’ve been Olympic champion and even the sprinting great that could’ve been. Makes you wonder what would’ve happened had the field been level. Also sad to see that he may have received the bronze medal after Johnson’s disqualification but there wasn’t a second medal ceremony. Reminds you that even after justice was done, that’s the one thing missing.
The crazy thing about the whole doping thing is that the most honest former athletes in 9.79* were the Canadians. Of course, the Dubin Inquiry exposed it all. Ben, Desai and Angella were all punished. The Canadian ones lost the most and they have nothing left to hide and no one left to hide it from. Ben however acts like he still feels he deserves respect for what he did. Almost like he feels that since the field was unlevel and he was just the one that didn’t get away, he should receive some sort of vindication. Even his mention of Andre Jackson and the sabotage he claims–he claims Andre slipped pills in his beers and training water and even admitted it to him years later–makes me question his character. I felt like saying to Ben: “Just admit the truth.” Besides the Dubin Inquiry exposed the facts that Astaphan injected Ben with stanazolol that was called Winstrol before the competition. I want to think that it was the injections from Astaphan that caused the positive in Seoul. For those that didn’t see the film, Jackson responded to Ben’s allegations with an uninterviewed answer: “Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. What was carried out in 1998 cannot and will not be invalidated.” Nevertheless it does make me wonder how an athlete from the Santa Monica Track Club who never qualified for the Olympics was able to get Olympic credentials to be with the finalists and even be with Ben in the doping room. That claim from Douglas that he was there to see if Johnson was taking a masking agent to cover up steroids in his system even got me thinking.
Desai and Angella however made class acts of themselves in the film by being honest and setting the record straight about themselves, their own doping and about what it’s like to be an elite athlete. I don’t condone sports doping of any kind but can understand the pressure to win these athletes feel. However I now have more respect for Angella and Desai as they have appeared to get wiser over time.
Of the non-Canadians, the most honest Americans were the doping officials Voy and Catlin. Now that the BALCO scandal exposed the cover-up facts starting in 2003, they can tell the whole story. Funny how Carl and his coaches deny everything. Carl’s lifetime coach Tom Tellez insists: “As a coach I wouldn’t want to (encourage steroid use.)You’re not a coach anymore!” Yes, there’s no evidence to suggest Carl used steroids–even coach Douglas’ statement about Carl’s eyes suggest Carl’s innocence–but seeing how defensive Carl gets when the positive at the 1988 Olympic trials is brought up suggests Carl may have something to hide.
Calvin Smith however was a class act as he was able to tell it how he saw it. Robson was another class act too. I like how he made mention of the potential money he lost in that race and mentions: “…but I sleep very nice every night.” You probably can’t say that about those that doped, even those that passed every doping test in their career.
There are a lot of interesting notes about what has happened since that race. 9.79 is no longer the world’s fastest time. It would be 11 years until a runner was able to touch 9.79 and pass the drug tests. It was American Maurice Greene at the 1999 World Championships. For the record, Greene never tested positive in any of his drug tests. 9.79 his either been touched or surpassed by seven sprinters since. In fact 9.79 was only good enough for a bronze in the London Olympic final. The world record is now 9.58 set by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in 2009. Bolt also holds the Olympic record with the 9.63 he ran in London last year. The Canadian Record is 9.84 and is owned by Donovan Bailey for his gold medal run in 1996 and Bruny Surin for his second-place finish at the 1999 Worlds.
There’s no record whether the Scarborough Optimists club still exists. It wouldn’t surprise me if it folded in the midst of the scandal. Charlie Francis returned to coaching after the Dubin inquiry but was later banned for life when he made it clear he would return to giving his athletes steroids. He would later become a respected personal trainer and in 2003 would secretly train American sprinters Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones who would later face heat for their own doping issues. Francis died in 2010 at the age of 61. Ben Johnson was a pallbearer at his funeral. Dr. Astaphan would continue to face doping and drug trafficking issues for years after the scandal. After a release from a US prison in 1996, he would return to St. Kitts where he practiced medicine until his death in 2006.
Angella Issajenko released a tell-all just two years after Johnson’s disqualification telling her story of how she got into sports and doping. She would later become a teaching assistant and a track coach. Desai Williams now works as a speed coach for the Toronto Argonauts football team and currently trains Olympic track athletes as well. Mark McKoy, who was not interviewed for 9.79*, would later move to Austria in the wake of his steroid admission and subsequent two year ban. He would continue to represent Canada until 1994 and would win gold in the 110m hurdles at the 1992 Olympics. He has since returned to Toronto where he now works as a personal athletics trainer and therapist.
Ben Johnson comes across in the film as a lonely person looking for vindication. Actually he’s not that lonely as he is both a father and a grandfather. Johnson may have tested positive three times as a runner in his career but he has found success on his own as a soccer trainer. He’s trained Diego Maradona and Muammar Gadhafi’s son. He also released an autobiography of his own in 2010: Seoul To Soul.
Many Canadians had felt that this moment made Canada look like a country that dopes to win. I myself didn’t really lose faith in my country’s athletes. In fact I was at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona where Canada won eighteen medals, seven of them gold. I will admit that the Ben Johnson incident did make me suspicious when I saw the men’s 400m hurdles and a new World record set by the US’s Kevin Young. I was also in Vancouver cheering on our winter athletes too. Many want to look at the Olympic athletes as noble people who compete for the honor of their country and that Ben Johnson’s positive scarred their dignity forever. We should also remember they face pressures we ourselves will never face like the pressure to win for their country or for prize money and even face a tainted playing field. Also they face the pressure of people saying they let us down if they don’t win gold. We the fans are guilty of that too. As for Olympians, I know for a fact that there was cheating in the ancient Olympics too. In fact cheaters during the ancient Olympics would have their names engraved on a stone wall to be disgraced for eternity.
Not all was lost since that infamous moment. The Canadian Olympic Team would eventually leave Seoul with ten medals. Three of them gold. Yeah, that’s one thing I didn’t like about the film. It made Canada look like a gold medal-starved country when in fact Montreal in 1976 would eventually become the last Summer Olympics where Canada failed to win a gold medal. Canada has left every Summer Olympics since with anywhere from the one gold won in London 2012 to ten golds won in Los Angeles in 1984. Canada would begin a strong anti-doping campaign of its own. One of the athletes within the infamous Scarborough Optimist ring, hurdler Mark McCoy would win gold in the 110m hurdles in 1992. The biggest treat came the following Olympics in Atlanta where Canada could again claim the World’s Fastest Man. This time it was Donovan Bailey. Like Ben Johnson, a Jamaican Émigré. Unlike Ben Johnson, he had a natural sprinter’s build. Combine that with excellent coaching and he won the 100m dash gold in a World Record time in 9.84. It only took two Olympics for a Canadian sprinter to redeem Canada’s reputation in the eyes of the sports world. Bailey then teamed up with three other Canadian teammates for the 4*100m relay and helped to win another gold. This was a remarkable feat as this Canadian team was the first 4*100 relay team to officially defeat the American team of the gold medal. Officially meaning cause the Americans to cross the finish line after the gold medal champions. Until then, the American team lost the gold only upon disqualifications and the 1980 boycott.
9.79* is one of those documentaries I watch over and over again. I know this blog looks like a mix of a 30 For 30 Film review with talk about doping but the film did remind me about the problem of doping in sport and even make me question a lot of the runners that didn’t test positive that race and still try to pass themselves off as clean even though there’s a lot of evidence suggesting otherwise. It also makes you question the braces on Carl Lewis from 1987 to 1988. Was he on Human Growth Hormone at the time? 9.79*not only gives us answers but it still leaves us with a lot of questions.
Hard to believe that it was 25 years ago the world was in shock. Canada was especially shocked. I too was shocked in disbelief even as I was watching the news that day. We would all receive more shocking news over the years about Ben Johnson, those associated with him and even his rivals at the time. You think that people would learn from this. They may have but probably not much. I remember going on Twitter to an account about sports quotes and one uncredited quote was: “It’s better to lose on principles than to win on lies.” Sadly most young athletes don’t feel that way.
I’m sure almost all of us are familiar with Abraham Lincoln. Even if you don’t live in the United States, you must have learned about him and his presidency somehow. Steven Spielberg has directed the epic biographic movie of Lincoln. Will it show the Lincoln we know or the Lincoln we don’t know?
It’s January 1865. Lincoln has been re-elected President back in November. However the Civil War is entering its fifth year. It has been the most brutal war on American soil in terms of destruction and fatalities. The Emancipation Proclamation, the law completely abolishing slavery, is being debated in the US House of Representatives. Politicians from both the American states and the Confederate states debate it. Both sided stand firm in their beliefs. Meanwhile Abraham Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens–a strongly anti-slavery Republican who demanded total war on the Confederate States– are waiting and debating as the Proclamation is nearing its vote into law as the Thirteenth Amendment. However the Republicans want the vote delayed because they fear the outcome and want the War to end. Lincoln doesn’t want to wait. He wants slavery over before the Confederate States can be reintegrated.
This takes an impact on how people view Lincoln. Lincoln is one president who’s willing to meet with Civil war soldiers on the ‘Yankee’ side and hear the stories they have to tell. Many politicians view him as a wise communicator who always has an interesting tale of past history that will make one think about the present. However Lincoln loses some appeal as he’s unable to convince Republican Party founder Francis Blair in his method of dealing with the Confederates instead of peace negotiations. He even senses possible political tension in Stevens desire for racial equality included with ending slavery, fearing the Thirteenth Amendment won’t pass. He a meets up with Secretary of State William Seward with a plan to convince the Democrats to support the amendment with offers of federal jobs.
His family life is also impacted by this all too. Lincoln is adored by his youngest son Tad. His wife Mary is known for her outlandish mouth and is frequently involved with spats with Abraham and even breaks down whenever their late son Willie comes up in conversation, especially since it’s possible their oldest son Robert might have to fight. Meanwhile Robert returns home from his law studies as he had just been named Union Captain to General Ulysses Grant. He’s studying to be a lawyer like his father but is willing to fight in the war if he has to. That leaves Abraham very uncomfortable and even coming to some confrontations with Robert.
Then the day comes for the Emancipation proclamation to be voted upon. Lincoln has gone far to get this voted upon fast to the point of even instructing Confederate envoys to be kept out of Washington. This was a moment of focus for all the nation. In the end, the Emancipation proclamation was voted into law by a margin of just two votes and the abolition of slavery was sealed as the Thirteenth Amendment of the American Constitution. People outside the White House, both black and white, celebrated. Lincoln finally meets with the Confederate envoys after the vote but they were willing to rejoin the Union if they could prevent the amendment from becoming law. Lincoln sent the message: “Slavery’s done.”
It would take time for the Civil War to end: April of 1865 to be exact. Then on April 14, 1865 Lincoln is in a meeting discussing measures to give suffrage to blacks when he is reminded Mary is waiting for him at Ford’s Theatre. That night…the rest is infamy. Nevertheless we’re reminded of the man who is an integral part of history with a flashback to his Second Inaugural Address.
The best thing about the film is that it does not just focus on Lincoln the maverick politician but Abraham Lincoln the person. He was a friendly talker and did his best to be a good father and a loyal husband but he was also stern in what he believed. It was not perfect because he wanted the Emancipation Proclamation to pass but knew that mention of equality for blacks would deter many Representatives from giving it a ‘Yay’ vote. He was as much a strategist as he was an idealist. He knew any chances of equality would be a step-by-step procedure and emancipation was the first step. He knew of the bloody war happening and of the Confederate’s rebellion but he knew it had to be done.
Another excellent quality of this film is that it shows the political climate of the time. We should remember that the United States of America wasn’t even a century old at the time and slavery had existed in the South long before the United States of America was formed. There were many laws and disputes debating free states and slave states over the years to the point that slavery was going to reach its end but the South refused it to the point they would form their own nation: The Confederate States of America. The North, the United States, wanted to see slavery end throughout the whole United States and were even willing to have this war to make it happen even in the South. The South, the Confederates, knew that they would lose but they valued slavery to the point that they were willing to fight for it in such a brutal war. Even though they knew they were losing, they were willing to fight for it over these four long years and despite the huge losses they suffered.
The debates in the House Of Representative from the various states’ Representatives showcased the ideologies both the United States and the Confederate States felt. Nowadays we all can’t imagine slavery from happening but back then the South valued slavery to the point they would try to start their own independent nation and fight a long bloody war to keep it alive. And even the politicians in the American offices upheld their convictions in debates. The film also reminds us that the Emancipation Proclamation may have been written by Thaddeus Stevens and introduced to the House Of Representatives by Lincoln but it required the House to vote it into law. It almost didn’t happened and if it didn’t, Lincoln may have gone down in history as one of the lesser Presidents of the United States. We’re reminded in the film what kind of gamble Lincoln was making.
Another thing to notice in the film is Spielberg’s infatuation with war. We have seen it before with World War II with Saving Private Ryan and Empire Of The Sun, World War I with War Horse and we see now see Spielberg’s depiction of the Civil War and it has a lot of details. It details the artillery that was used at the time. It details the gruesome destruction and bloodshed that occurred. It even depicted the communication between officers and of relaying news to soldiers via Morse Code. Spielberg does it again.
Spielberg gives another directing effort under his belt. Already we know Spielberg to master sci-fi thrillers, sci-fi family adventures, and war dramas. Now he creates an ideological drama that focuses less on the war and more on the focus of the historic individual and the times he was facing. The film did an excellent job in focusing on the political climate of the times as much as the main politicians involved. The film however couldn’t have been done without the excellent acting. Daniel Day-Lewis gave an excellent performance as Abraham. The may have focused mostly on a single month of Lincoln’s presidency but his performance spoke volumes of the President we thought we knew. The movie however was stolen frequently by Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. Tommy Lee did a great job in showing Stevens in his mannerisms, beliefs and how fierce of a man of conviction he was. Sally Field was also excellent as the troubled Mary Lincoln. History has documented her as a woman with mental illness. Field’s performances showcase her outlandish personality but also shows her as a woman both troubled by her losses and fearing for her future. Joseph Gordon Levitt was not so good at undoing his body and talking from modern mannerisms but he was better at conveying Robert the person in his ambitions and fears.
The screenplay by Tony Kushner is an excellent adaptation which is able to make that one month in 1865 to be the defining month in the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. It was as much focused on political details as it was on the people involved. John Williams delivers another fitting score to his list of movie scores. Janusz Kaminski gave good cinematography but there were many times I felt the use of zoom-ups were excessive. The depictions of war in the movie were mostly graphic only at the very beginning but were very well-detailed in not just the battles taking place on screen.
Lincoln is a surprising outlook on a president we’ve all come to know and celebrate but didn’t completely know. It’s also an excellent presentation of the political climate of the times. This reminds us of his celebrated greatness and how much of a gamble he made not just with his life but his political status to achieve it. Definitely worth seeing.