You either understand The HD Effect or you will. You sit there, smug and cautious, knowing that your old TV is perfectly fine, and then something happens. It breaks, something. And you go to high definition. And you spend a weekend watching The Rodent Network, because rodents are interesting when they’re all nice and sharply defined.
This explains why I’ve been renting a lot of Blu-Rays lately. It also explains why I watched two popcorn movies over the weekend. Sometimes I forget the plot for the pixels. I assume I’ll get over this.
But I didn’t think I’d actually watch The Blind Side, even though it’s been sitting here on my desk for days. I knew what it was. I have respect for Michael Lewis, who wrote the book, and I like Sandra Bullock as much as everyone else does. But I know sports movies, know that they’re diagrammed on white boards with emotional graph lines, and know how they end. There are plenty of admirable true stories around sports, filled with courage and redemption and tragedy and triumph. And they’re all very cinematic. The problem is they’ve been filmed already and it was called “Hoosiers.” Game over.
I watched it, though, sucked in by bright and shiny technology and Sandra, and at least for the first hour I enjoyed it. Whatever.
There’s another story, though, that I’m reminded of today. Sort of peripherally about sports, but definitely about courage and redemption and tragedy and triumph.
It was 15 years ago today, May 27, 1995, that the accident happened, still for unclear reasons; a spooked horse, a tangled bridle, a quirk of mass and gravity. And nine years later it ended, the story, and I woke up one October morning, a column already written, and read the news. This is not a period in my writing career that I like to revisit (for many reasons), and this one makes me cringe a little, but I still wanted to repost it, just to remember. Lots of stories out there. Some of them true. Some worth remembering.
The Man of Steel
I love movie trailers. Creating them is an art form, a specialized skill that can make money for a poor film and enhance a superior one. I rarely get out to the movies these days, but when I do I get there early. Sometimes Coming Attractions are the best part.
I can still remember previews from years ago. The one for “Jaws II,” for example, I remember as being striking, considering (in retrospect) what a lousy movie that was. The one for “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” gave me chills. “Jurassic Park” made me wonder if that was something I really wanted to see (I did).
The film trailer I remember the most, though, was in 1978. The film I came to see is lost in my memory now, but the music started, there was a frenzy of quick cuts, a flash of red and blue, and then the narration, simple, direct, and perfect:
“You will believe a man can fly.”
There were echoes of childhood for me. I was a huge Superman fan, waiting every afternoon for the old 1950s television show to come on (“Look! Up in the sky!”). It’s now family lore for us, how I wandered around wearing a pair of my mother’s old glasses just so I could whip them off at the appropriate moment, bouncing around the house with a red towel around my neck, bunched up under my shirt. What I would have given for a phone booth in the backyard.
It was a good effort, that first “Superman” film in 1978, although it looks a little cheesy now. Still, it had Gene Hackman as Lex Luther, some nice (for the time) effects, and it was carried by a simple casting decision that made the difference. They found the perfect Man of Steel.
Christopher Reeve was a serious student of acting, going to Cornell and then spending some time at Julliard, where he became friends with another student, a sort of crazy, energetic guy by the name of Robin Williams, a friendship that endured. It was Williams who came through in the dark days after Reeve’s 1995 accident, providing moral and financial support.
Reeve was 25 when he was cast as Superman, 6’4 and handsome but a little on the skinny side. They played around with prosthetic muscles but he hated that, so he got a trainer and bulked up. Hard work, apparently, was not a challenge.
There would be other challenges, of course.
He spent a fair amount of time trying to “ditch the cape,” as he put it. He was an actor first and foremost, and probably had no desire to leave a legacy of blue tights and a big “S” on his chest. And, as it turned out, he wouldn’t.
If there is a more ironic true story that Christopher Reeve in recent years, I don’t know it. The man who became famous playing an invulnerable super hero suffered the cruelest blow to an active lifestyle, a devastating spinal cord injury that left him motionless and dependent on others for his very breath. An accident, a tumble from a horse that could have resulted in only bruised skin and ego, could have, cost him his freedom.
And allowed him to ditch the cape, finally, and show us that heroes come in the off-screen variety, too.
It’s enough just to manage, we think, it’s brave just to keep on living in the face of an injury like this, but Christopher Reeve didn’t want to just keep on living. He wanted to walk, and he wanted others to.
Yes, he had resources. He had money and fame. He was in a better position than most. But he never gave up, never lost the hope, and if he did he told us about that, too, and then moved on.
Spinal cord injury sufferers owe him a huge debt, for he forced the issue, changed the paradigm, re-wrote the rules. It’s not a stretch for me to believe that one day many people will walk once again solely because Christopher Reeve couldn’t, and refused to accept that.
I wrote another column this week, a dumb thing, trying to lighten things up in a nasty political season, and then I logged on and saw the news, and I remembered sitting in a dark theater and believing, at least for a couple of hours, that a man could fly. And I remembered the other story, the man in the wheelchair and on the respirator, the humor he displayed, the courage, the determination. He believed he would walk again one day, and if ultimately his body failed him, his spirit never did.
His screen legacy is brief, with a few bright moments and one iconic role, but there’s more to a life than pretend. More to his life.
Goodbye, Mr. Reeve. Thanks for your activism, for your courage and your commitment. Thanks for making a difference, for opening our eyes, for enlightening us, and for reminding us that even broken bodies have souls, and some special ones just soar.