Cornelius McCarthy in 1936
Published: 26 July, 2012
by JOHN O'COURTNEY O'CONNOR
“I could have been a contender,” said Terry Malloy, the ex-prize fighter in the classic film On the Waterfront.
That is exactly what black US runner Jesse Owens wanted to be.
“Contending” is the driving issue in Tom McNab’s piece: Should athletes compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics?
In director Jenny Lee’s neo-Brechtian production, we have a raincoated narrator, a character based on US journalist William Shirer (nicely played by Ryan McClusky), whose Berlin Diaries was a first-hand account of pre-war Nazi Germany.
Shirer tries to dissuade runner Jesse Owens (Cornelius McCarthy) from participating.
Unlike his white counterparts, Owens has no athletic scholarship but he sees the Games as a way of personal advancement. Comparisons may be made between Nazi Germany in the 1930s, with its anti-Jewish laws, and segregation in the US.
A slow-motion technique is used for Owens’ running, and lighting changes for German high-jumper Gretal Bergmann’s jumping, which are very effective.
Back-wall projection is used for historical data and excerpts from contemporary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary, Olympia.
All the characters and events in McNab’s project were real. Many had their own agenda for participation in the 1936 Games, and not all defending the amateur ethic, “The Brotherhood of Man.”
In the year of the London Olympics, this production highlights the contradictions of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games: should the liberal democracies have participated or abstained as they did in the Civil War in “Communist Spain” – a curtain raiser for the Second World War?
Until August 5
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