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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll and Hollywood

Yesterday when I finished writing my post about Hollywood prejudice against actors with a disability I came across news that a new film about Ian Dury is being released in January 2010. Titled Sex, Drugs & Rock & Roll, the film chronicles Dury's life and rise to stardom. Dury was a key figure in Punk Rock, lead singer of the Blockheads and an influential song writer. Avid readers of this blog will recall I wrote about Punk Rock last June and the impact it had on me when I was first disabled. By far the punk song I liked the most aside from the Sex Pistols God Save the Queen was Spasticus Autisticus. The refrain in Spasticus Auticus empowered me to change--to become assertive in a way I was not sure was possible. Now many years later I am hopeful the film will delve into this important song written for the International Year of the Disabled circa 1981 and Dury's experience with polio as a seven year old boy. Dury wore a heavy leg brace (a caliper as the British call it) and used a walking stick. Dury also went to a "special school", Challey School for Crippled Children. How he emerged from his experience with polio and a segregated school system in Britain amazes me. I am amazed not because he adapted to polio but rather overcome what must have been overwhelming social bias and stigma.

I eagerly await the release of the film and look forward to how the filmmakers deal with the impact polio had on Dury physically and socially. I am particularly hopeful because the film about Dury is not being produced by an American Hollywood producer or studio. Another major variable is that the young Dury will be portrayed by Wesley Nelson, a 13 year old actor who has cerebral palsy. Imagine that--a young actor with extensive experience on television playing a character with a disability. Based in Cardiff, Nelson has stated he will draw on his own experience with disability to understand a man he never met and will portray. Nelson noted that "I read a lot about Challey, but a certain degree has to come from you and your emotion. You have to understand his surroundings which and I drew on my experience with cerebral palsy and partly used that to understand him, which you could say was handy". Handy indeed! Here is an actor with a disability getting a chance to break into films and perceives his experience with a disability as a positive. If a 13 year actor can grasp this why can't movie producers get it? Well it appears as if the producer of the film, Damian Jones, drew on the expertise at 104 Films, a production company with an international reputation in the field of disability cinema and strong connections to the UK Film Council. Not content with just an actor with a disability, during production the filmmakers also operated a disability training program also connected to 104 Film. Surely a more nuanced understanding of disability as portrayed in the film and among the production company are a likely result.

When I read about Sex & Drugs & Rick & Roll I thought about how the acclaimed American television show Glee missed a golden opportunity to portray disability in a complex way. Instead, Glee claimed no qualified actor in America could be found to play the part. The result was a poor at best episode that relied on well-worn ideas and featured a bad scene of people dancing that used wheelchairs. Perhaps the result would have been the same if an actor with a disability was hired--we are talking about American television afterall. But somehow I doubt the episode would have been quite as bad as it was. There is something to be said for having direct experience with disability. And the fact is there are times when having a disability is an advantage. Few if any people without a disability realize this. And I am certain no producer in Hollywood thinks this way. Perhaps if we had more groups like 104 Film more actors with disabilities would be hired. I guess I am still dreaming and hopeful a world where I am considered equal will exist.

12 comments:

Matthew Smith said...

Hi there,

I read some things about Chailey Heritage, as it's called, and it horrified me. A lot of Thalidomide victims were "educated" there and among the things I heard was that kids were called by numbers, not names. The place is still open, but looks after very severely mentally disabled children now, rather than those with only physical disabilities.

As for Ian Dury, the movement he belonged to was New Wave rather than punk. His musical career began in the early 1970s with a band called Kilburn and the High Roads; punk arrived on the scene in the mid to late 1970s. He was signed to Stiff Records, among whose signings was also Elvis Costello. He was ten years or more older than the major players in punk.

william Peace said...

Mathew, Chailey Heritage is the current name I think and the institution has gone under a number of different name variations. Dury had no fond memories of the place--the conditions and hopelessness inspired him to get out. I too heard kids were called by number not name and the reasons for this are debated. You are correct Dury was older than many in punk and that his career started earlier. In the States he is remember for punk rather than New Wave though as one with out a detailed knowledge of Rock history this is a semantic matter. Thanks for your input as always.

editor said...

THIS IS A SILENT FILM FROM 1916 ABOUT COCAINE IT'S ALSO A COMEDY IF YOU CAN BELIEVE IT WE DARE YOU TO CHECK IT OUT

Coke Enneday: The Mystery of the Leaping Fish 1916



The Mystery of the Leaping Fish is a 1916 short film starring Douglas Fairbanks and Bessie Love. In this unusually broad comedy for Fairbanks, the acrobatic leading man plays "Coke Enneday," a cocaine-shooting detective parody of Sherlock Holmes given to injecting himself with cocaine from a bandolier of syringes worn across his chest and liberally helping himself to the contents of a hatbox-sized round container of white powder labeled "COCAINE" on his desk. The movie, written by D.W. Griffith, Tod Browning, and Anita Loos, displays a surreally lighthearted attitude toward cocaine and opium. Fairbanks otherwise lampoons Sherlock Holmes with checkered detective hat, coat, and even car, along with the aforementioned propensity for injecting cocaine whenever he feels momentarily down, then laughing with delight. In addition to observing visitors at his door on what appears to be a closed-circuit television referred to in the title cards as his "scientific periscope," a clocklike sign on the wall reminds him to choose between EATS, DRINKS, SLEEPS, and DOPE.

http://www.2010homelesschampions.ca/video/leapingfish.html

emma said...

Thanks for the info, I may not have heard about this movie other wise. I'm old enough to remember watching Ian Dury on Top of the Pops, and although I knew he had a disability, I never thought much of it at the time - I knew nothing about the school he went to.

The school sounds appalling, and if I think about it, the schools I went to in the UK 70's and 80's, the only "integration" they had was at the time called the "remedial reading" class, housed in a container unit (I think thats what they are called). The main school building itself was largely 1970's construction, with steps and staircases everywhere - definitely no access.

I guess this is part of the reason why people like myself grew up believing disability is a rare thing that happens to "somebody else" - and now I have a son with a disability, it's something which I now notice here in Greece (oh the irony).

Which is all the more reason for more actors with disabilities to be in TV and on film......

william Peace said...

Emma, Keep in mind we are less than 100 years removed from ugly law that prohibited people with a disability from being seen in public. We are less than 40 years removed from mass institutionalization in notorious places like Willowbrook. And the ADA is not even twenty years old. When depressed about the social situation and economic plight of people with a disability I tell myself civil rights are not recognized overnight. What we desperately need is visibility in all aspects of society but most of all in film and television. These mediums influence the vast majority of people. I am glad my post was helpful. I look forward to the film too.

awesomenorms said...

Hello, I am new here and I guess after reading some of your posts, I'll be an avid reader :) Anyway, will surely be watching out for the movie. Thanks for the info.

william Peace said...

Awesomenorms, Welcome to my blog and the world of blogging in general. There is vibrant community of bloggers with disabilities and some of what you will read is truly outstanding. It is on way we with a disability can communicate and foster social change.

kim said...

i went to chailey heritage school in the 1960's and still find it difficult to talk about the place.
My time there was not at all happy! I will go and see the film and am interested to see how the film will portray the school.

william Peace said...

Kim, I sure hope you will check back here and let me know what you thought of the film. I would like to know how historically correct the film will be.

Andres said...

rock and roll is the best genre there is, his best seasons were the 70s, 80s and 90s. Thank God for rock and roll yeahhh!

Andres said...

rock and roll is the best genre there is, his best seasons were the 70s, 80s and 90s. Thank God for rock and roll yeahhh!

Graham spaz said...

My name is Graham, I was @ Chailey from Jan 1969-June 1981.
Not the happiest days of my life but i must say the portrayal of how bad it was is very wrong. Many people I both know and admire have made great lives for themselves having done the Chailey experience and a large part of their success and my own is in part thanx to the help we were lucky enough to receive from some truly wonderful staff members there. Chailey was not all bad.