I watched the most remarkable documentary last night, Derby (1971), about the roller derby and Mike Snell's desire to skate in it. Snell is a 23 year-old man who looks like a working class James Dean, always wearing dark glasses. He's a husband with two kids who makes ends meet by working at Dayton Tire and Rubber in Ohio - it appears he makes his living manufacturing tires or retreaded tires. In the course of his applying for a $300 loan for a motorcycle you learn that he makes about $7,000 a year - this is described by all his friends to whom he reveals his roller derby plans as being a "good job."
In a conversation with his slack-jawed, gun-toting friend it is revealed that he is not at all faithful to his wife. I have never seen such an unlikable individual as Snell in a documentary. (Well, okay, I did in a documentary I once saw about neo-Nazis...)
In 1972 Ebert gave this film four stars!
What is extraordinary about it is the thoroughly working class nature of the protagonists; there was frequent dialogue that you just couldn't script. For instance, there's one remarkable scene with Mrs. Snell and her friend; they are dressed alike in polyester uniforms, perhaps from some coffee shop (this isn't explained, and it adds to the surreal nature of the scene). They accost a slatternly young woman whom they accuse of having affairs with their husbands, which was probably the case. The woman's appearance just screams trailer park. Needless to say she smokes - everyone smokes in this - and her eyes are thickly described in eyeliner. As my mother-in-law used to say, "Black as the hole of Calcutta!" She looks and sounds like a nasty piece of work; the kind of waitress you'd find in the Waffle House from Hell.
It reminded me of a scene from one of the documentaries about the White family of Boone County, West Virginia. (With the Whites, however, a gunfire fatality would be an outcome of the scene.)
The film ends on an inconclusive note - you never find out if Snell realizes his dream of skating in a roller derby league. Internet research confirms that he did, but not for long. No surprise there. And he and his wife got divorced shortly after the film was released - no surprise there, either.
I also finished watching the Terry Jones' Medieval Lives series... what fun! I learned a few interesting things:
1.) Jones briefly mentions a story about the "wise men" of Gotham, in village in Nottinghamshire that became proverbial for being where fools and madmen lived. (A Mother Goose rhyme refers to this: "Three wise men of Gotham went to sea in a bowl/And if the bowl had been stronger my story would be longer.") A good web site for this is here; read the tale of the "Feigned Madness." I knew that Gothamites were considered foolish, but I didn't know why. Now I know.
2.) The Medieval Church did NOT insist that the earth was flat. In fact, medieval man knew that it was round, and frequently portrayed in art Christ holding in his hand an orb which represented the world. The story of the flat earth-insisting church authorities got around via Washington Irving's 1828 account of the voyages of Christopher Columbus, in a scene where he debates with churchmen about falling off the edge of the world. In fact, the medieval church had no problem with science until the time of Galileo, when it became considerably more dogmatic.
3.) There is a famous painting of Richard III in the royal collection at Windsor Castle; I show it above. In it, Richard is portrayed with one shoulder somewhat higher than the other, in accordance with the Shakespeare play where he is a deformed hunchback (unsupported, by the way, in contemporary written accounts). Problem is, however, an x-ray examination of the painting reveals that the shoulder was heightened later on - it was not originally painted that way. Awesome... I didn't know this...
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