Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chris, Martina, Terry - And Jordan

Jeff Taylor has been creating video around here since the earliest days of Princeton Athletics' involvement in the medium, which means about three years.

TigerBlog can tell when a video is Taylor's, since it reeks of his signature style: the low-to-high angle shot, with a focus on the feet. It's a technique that never fails, especially when the feet belong to a swimmer or water polo player.

Taylor has outgrown Princeton, and he's embarking on a career as an actual filmmaker, specializing in documentaries. He's working with a company called Lonelyleap Film, and they have some interesting projects brewing.

TB told Taylor that he thinks that a great documentary would be one that focuses on an obscure college football player (say, an offensive lineman or someone like that) who figures to be a first-round draft choice in the next NFL draft. The filmmaker could follow him around for the year before the draft, when he's about to have the dream payday but hasn't yet.

A riveting documentary is more about the story than the film itself. The best ones seem to be the ones that take a story that is vaguely familiar and explore it in depths that the viewer never considered.

The "30 For 30" series that continues to play on ESPN follows that basic gameplan, and it does so to near perfection. Some of the documentaries that TB has seen are jaw-dropping, and even the subjects that don't quite appeal to TB as much are still tremendous.

This past weekend, TB saw two that he hadn't seen before, the one with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and the one where Terry Fox attempts to run across Canada after having his leg amputated due to cancer.

Like every other American boy, TigerBlog rooted hard for Chris Evert and against Martina, who described it this way: "Nobody ever rooted for me. You were the All-American girl next door, and I was a lesbian from Czechoslovakia."

Years later, when TB was new to the newspaper business, he covered the 1985 U.S. Open, where Hana Mandlikova defeated Evert in the semifinals and then Navratilova in the final. TB has been around a ton of big-time athletes and coaches in his career, and he has seen very, very few who were nicer people than Martina Navratilova.

The documentary was basically just a camera that followed them around for a weekend while they kicked around old times. Evert came across as very funny, while Navratilova came across the same way she impressed TB all those years ago - as a nice, friendly person. It's clear that their bond is a strong one, even though they were intense rivals for much of their careers.

As for Fox, TB sort of remembered his story from when it happened, as Fox tried to cross Canada to raise money for cancer research. He also remembered that Fox passed away shortly afterwards.

By the end of the one-hour piece, TB was getting a tad misty-eyed.

Fox began his run by dipping his leg in the Atlantic Ocean on April 12, 1980, in Newfoundland. He ran 3,339 miles in the next 143 days, reaching Thunder Bay, Ontario, before having to stop when the cancer returned and spread to his lungs.

That's more than 23 miles per day for 143 days, or essentially running a marathon a day - on one leg.

Fox began his run with no fanfare and ended it as arguably Canada's greatest hero of all-time. He died on June 28, 1981, and his run and legacy have helped generate more than $500 million in donations to cancer research.

The range of emotions of the run, the people whom Fox knew and how they were affected by him and the way one unknown person who was, for lack of a better word, pissed about how much more could be done to attack the disease could capture an entire country's attention came out dramatically in the documentary.

Earlier this spring, Andrew Pearson, who has worked with Taylor here at Princeton, released his documentary about Jordan Culbreath entitled "Running Through."

The official website of the documentary asks the question "what would you do if your world changed overnight" and includes the trailer for the movie.

The movie debuted here on campus, and TB couldn't make it to the showing that night. Since then, he's looked for other places to see it, and to date he's been unsuccessful. He's been asked a bunch of times by others when it's going to shown again, and the answer is "TB doesn't know."

TB saw Culbreath a bunch of times around graduation, with the PVC banquet and Reunions and all.

He's someone who's clearly humble about what he's been through, and in many ways, he has some Terry Fox in him.

They were both athletic young men in their early 20s who went from being seemingly indestructible physically to having to fight every day for their very survival. And both attacked it as strongly as they could.

TB wouldn't pretend to know exactly what went through each of their minds as they put all of their energies into getting better and being able to return to their sports, but TB's hunch is that it was basically something along the lines of "what do people expect us to do, give up?"

Maybe that's why TB always figured Culbreath was wondering what all the fuss was about when he returned to the football field, and it's likely that Fox felt the same way.

Unfortunately, Fox's determination alone wasn't enough to win his fight. He passed away having lived 22 years and 11 months.

Culbreath has already lived longer than Fox did, as he turned 23 a few months ago.

Between the two of them, that's a lot of inspiration in a short time.

It's why their lives have made such great documentary subjects.

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