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July 28, 2005

Murderball 1

Going to watch Murderball? It opens in lots of theaters around the country tomorrow, and even more Aug. 8.

I saw the film back in the spring and liked it a lot, which sort of surprised me: I've always had sort of a bias against crip jock stuff. There! I admit it. But back in February Ed Hooper convinced me it was a really good film -- OK, he said it was the best film on disability ever made. I trust Ed, but "the best film"? C'mon! On the other hand, there are not all that many good disability films, as far as I am concerned. But Ed Hooper has been with The Rag since -- oh, the Eighties -- and I've come to respect his opinion. So we published his review of it way early on to drum up interest, if we could.

When I saw it in the spring, in DC at the NSCIA Summit, I was suprised at my feelings. I thought it WAS a really good piece of film work (which is unfortunately all too often not the case with films about crip subjects). Ed was right. And I thought the directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro had really "gotten it" -- they'd gotten into the rhythms and understanding of life on wheels, even filming it from chair height. That last is so important.

Which makes me want to digress to tell you about British photographer and cinematographer David Hevey's book The Creatures Time Forgot. That IS the best thing ever written on photography and disability, or, more generally, on portraying disabled subjects visually without becoming paternalistic. Well, that's a very weak explanation of what Hevey's book is about. I wanted to give you a link to buy the 1992 book, but I think it may no longer be in print. You should Google it to find out more about it. But I digress.

So Ed Hooper said the film was wonderful. But then again he coaches the Sarasota quad rugby team, so we know he's a bit biased. But he makes really good points in his review, which is here.

Then I found myself wondering, while I watched it, how it would go over with nondisabled moviegoing audiences.

We're now finding out. The reviews are almost unanimously glowing. Yeah, there are ALWAYS the ones that have to throw in the gratuitious "suffered" and "courageous" and "overcoming" stuff. It's like they can't not do that. One of the best examples of this "don't know how to talk about disability" stuff came earlier this month, in the July 10 New York Times Magazine, which devoted its very arch photo spread feature to the head jocks in the film.

The photos are marvelous. If you have a good enough internet connection and are registered with the New York Times online (it's free). you can view them here. But the photos are marvelous, I rather think, because these guys are marvelous -- truly and without question disability cool in motion.

Perhaps the Magazine's photo staff did learn something, after all, from Harriet McBryde Johnson when they were dispatched to Charleston, SC a couple of years ago for a photo shoot of Johnson to acquire photos to accompany her cover story,"Unspeakable Conversations," about her debate with Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer, who, she wrote, "thinks it would have been better, all things considered, to have given my parents the option of killing the baby I once was, and to let other parents kill similar babies as they come along, and thereby avoid the suffering that comes with lives like mine."

Johnson was far from the meek photo subject the high-toned New York City photographers likely expected. She tells the story of that encounter in her book, Too Late To Die Young, which we reviewed a few months ago. Describing that chapter, we wrote that it was a "test of wills between a New York artist used to seducing her subjects into pliability before the camera and the immovable object that is the attorney Johnson at her finest." Maybe they learned that a wheelchair is an extension of the person.

But what they learned didn't extend to Lynn Hirschberg, who's identified elsewhere as an "editor at large" for the Magazine. Hirshberg wrote the brief paragraphs that introduce the photo spread.

Hirschberg's intro starts like this:

Forget the wheelchairs. They're necessary, of course, but they project an image of vulnerability, and that image just doesn't fit with these guys. Scott Hogsett, Andy Cohn and Mark Zupan have all suffered severe spinal-cord injuries and their movement is permanently limited, but they should not be defined by their impairments.


No; don't forget the wheelchairs, I want to scream at Hirschberg. "They project an image of vulnerability"?? Lynn, look at the photos. Do those guys look "vulnerable"?

There's something that the concept of disability seems to do to people at The New York Times -- it seems to turn their reasoning off, sort of, as though it's hardwired to some sort of a switch in their brains. We get "suffered" and "permanently limited" and "defined by their impairments" -- all in the same paragraphs, fergawdssake. Oh, excuse me: Hirschberg is saying that they "should NOT be defined by their impairments." Makes no difference: the language is still there, doing its damage.

In its first week in limited release -- it opened in just a handful of cities on July 8, including New York -- "the heavily hyped 'Murderball' did an encouraging (but hardly exceptional) $61,200 in only 8 locations," says MTV, who's also put its energy behind the film.

Time's running out for this blog entry. Gotta go feed the cats. I want to say more about Murderball and its reviewers, and some other movie-type stuff, though.

Maybe tomorrow. Or not. I'm just figuring out this blogging business.
COMMENT-BODY:I'm just figuring out this blogging business.

But you're a natural. I'm so happy you started this!

Posted by mjohnson at July 28, 2005 10:17 AM