The Story of Seabiscuit was released in 1949, only two years after the great racehorse died. It is the story of his life – sort of. His son Sea Sovereign portrays him. Shirley Temple co-stars. The former child star was a young woman by then, and The Story of Seabiscuit was the second to last movie she ever made.
The real Seabiscuit is also in the movie. It includes archival footage of two of his races. The Santa Anita Handicap of 1938, a photo finish that Seabiscuit lost to Stagehand. Also the famous 1938 match race that he won against that year’s Triple Crown winner War Admiral. The race footage is the very best reason to watch the movie. Well, aside from also seeing his son Sea Sovereign, it’s the only reason.
Fiddling with the real story of Seabiscuit
While the movie portrays Seabiscuit’s career fairly accurately, it takes a lot of licence with the people around him. Owner Charles Howard and jockey George Woolf are portrayed in the movie. But fictional characters take the place of his trainer, Tom Smith, and regular jockey, Red Pollard.
His trainer in the movie, the man who recognizes his potential, is Shawn O’Hara, played by Barry Fitzgerald. O’Hara arrives in the United States from Ireland accompanied by his niece Margaret, played by Shirley Temple. Seabiscuit’s jockey is called Ted Knowles, played by Lon McCallister. He falls in love with Margaret but there is conflict. It’s quite painful to watch.
Very painful to watch is derogatory stereotyping of African-American and Chinese characters – indeed Irish too. It starts very early in the movie and can put you right off watching any more. Also hard to watch is a discussion between nurse Margaret and jockey Ted about jobs for men and women. So be warned: pretty much every insulting portrayal of anyone is in here.
But the race footage! When the picture goes from Technicolor to black and white, you’re about to see the real races. Then you see the real tracks with the real horses and the actual crowds. Interwoven with the historical footage are shots of the actors to move the story along. Still, it’s spine-tingling to see the real horses in action. And, of course, to watch Sea Sovereign up close throughout the movie.
This movie makes you ask yourself questions about the nature of storytelling. Why was Seabiscuit’s well-known and real-life rags to riches story fictionalized in some ways and not others? Did some of the real people refuse to allow the movie to use their names? What did movie viewers think of this bastardization of a story many of them knew? It had all happened only a decade earlier.
Seeing that a Coronation Street adult colouring book will soon be released made me think about how big the Coronation Street library is. Reams of paper about the fictional town of Weatherfield and its residents. Histories of the show, fictional backstories of the Street, socio-cultural analysis, and more.
It is not just paper. There is merch galore. Documentaries about the show and spin-off movies. Collectibles, from t-shirts to Lilliput house miniatures. Games and quiz books. Everything you could want to back up your fandom is available.
The old Granada Studios had a Coronation Street gift shop. Arrayed in front of you was everything Corrie. Books and cards. Tea towels featuring Ena Sharples. Hilda Ogden’s plaster ducks. Rovers Return teapots. Dinnerware sets with a small Rovers Return on the rims. It was heaven.
Now almost everything can be found online. I could not find the dinner sets, though, despite searching high and low. Here’s some of what is available. My list is not exhaustive: over 60 years has produced a huge Coronation Street library. To see everything Corrie on Amazon.ca, click Coronation Street Merch or use my links below for specific items. I will also add items as I find them. All links are to Amazon Canada unless otherwise noted.
Teaching TV Soaps - Louise Alexander and Alison Cousens, 2008 British Film Institute. "Combining challenging theory with accessible and practical teaching ideas."
Coronation Street: The complete saga
- Katherine Hardy, 2004 Granada Media. The epic novel of over 40 years of life on the Street. (She has written other tv novelizations and also writes as Catrin Collier.)
Keith Duffy Life-Size Cutout - Celebrity Cutouts
What more could a Ciaran or Boyzone fan want? If you don't have the space or $75 for a full-size Keith, he is also available in miniature - 2 ft. high for $26.99 Cdn.
Libel - by William Roache, Mambi Games Ltd, Boardgame. "The game of Libel was devised by William Roache after he sued the SUN newspaper for printing a defamatory article about his portrayal of Ken Barlow" (gameboardgeek.com). Sounds like fun!
(from 2011*) In the past week, I’ve been sent two Facebook requests to boycott the film Water for Elephants. ADI (Animal Defenders International) says that Have Trunk Will Travel, trainers of the elephants in the film, use abusive methods. This contradicts the trainers’ statement that they only use positive reinforcement.
I watched the 2005 video ADI provided, and I think I don’t know enough about elephants to know. I went to Sara Gruen’s website. She wrote the novel on which the movie is based. She is a supporter of animal welfare and several specific animal sanctuaries. While the author of the original material may not have much say over the movie production, having read her other novels, I couldn’t imagine Ms. Gruen not caring about the animal stars of a work in which she’s got a vested interest. But I still don’t know.
I don’t think the trainers did themselves a favour by saying they only use reward-based training methods. No way electric prods look like positive reinforcement. But used in conjunction with reward? Necessary for effectiveness and safety? I don’t know. I do know that they and bull hooks do not look nice. But the appearance of something shouldn’t be the sole criterion for judging it. Lots of things don’t look nice, but there may be valid reasons for their use. Also, anything can be an instrument of cruelty if used incorrectly or to deliberately inflict pain. A dog’s leash, a horse’s reins.
Two things this controversy made me think about:
1. Shock collars. Many trainers condemn their use, saying they’re just a lazy way to train a dog. Other trainers sell them to people (I got a salespitch on their virtues when talking to a trainer about my dog’s poop-eating habit.) I know a barky dog who can live happily in an apartment building because she wears an electrified “bark collar” when left alone. Without it, I don’t know what would happen. But the bottom line is, those collars administer shocks of varying intensity to dogs. And electric shock is not only used for retraining bad behaviour. “Invisible fencing” relies on a shock if the dog gets too close to the boundary. It’s selling like hotcakes.
2. When learning to ride, my teacher told me “kick him” when my horse would not move forward with just verbal clucks. I kicked a bit. “Harder” she yelled, “kick him like you mean it.” I couldn’t. I felt I was betraying our friendship by kicking him. She told me to watch the horses in the field and see what they do to each other. I did, and sure enough, I watched ‘my’ horse give his best friend a big old kick when he got too near the hay. There is no way I could ever kick as hard as he did.
When I learned to kick, he looked back at me like “ok, you’re learning horse language now!” I learned to use spurs, a riding crop and a longe whip. I try to keep my hands steady. Reins jerking ‘giddyup’ style does cause a horse pain. With me knowing proper use of equipment, we began riding as a team.
All methods of control and training can be abused and therefore cruel. All, aside from sheer brutality, can also be used correctly. Until I try handling an elephant, I won’t opine on how to do it.
*First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog May 12/11. Since then, I’ve read Water for Elephants and it is absolutely wonderful.
Dog on Itis the first in a mystery series by Spencer Quinn, aka Peter Abrahams. The protagonists are Chet (dog) and Bernie (human). Set in the US Southwest, the story is told by Chet. He is a K-9 police school flunk-out and Bernie barely scrapes by as a private detective. They work as an investigation team, but neither of them has a superior or supernatural method of communication with the other.
Chet understands human language, verbal and body, better than Bernie realizes. But Chet can’t always convey what he knows to him. Unlike Randolph, say, in the Bull Moose Dog Run series, he can’t read and doesn’t know how to use human language to communicate. He does dog type communication – barking, wagging tail, bristling neck hair, growling. Bernie can misinterpret these signals as Chet wanting a toy or Chet just barking for no good reason. And Chet sometimes misses the significance of something in the human realm so doesn’t indicate its importance to Bernie. I found myself thinking, “come on Chet, that’s important – bark! Tell Bernie!” And Chet would just think, “hmm, that kinda reminds me of something” and go back to licking himself.
The plot centres on a missing girl, so there are not a lot of doggy elements in the story itself. You meet a neighbour dog and his situation makes you think. And there’s a trip to an animal pound – also a lot to think about.
The jacket blurb says you don’t have to be a dog lover to enjoy the story. Being a dog lover, I really liked the insights into dog behaviour from a dog point of view. You get to know the people and dogs through Chet’s eyes. If you aren’t interested in dogs, I don’t know what it would be like reading a story from a dog’s perspective.
Chet and Bernie both can figure things out and are clever, but not overly so. I don’t know what goes through a dog’s mind, but Chet’s thoughts seem pretty believable. He comes across as a regular smart and galumphing type dog. So does Bernie. The book is a good who-dun-it, aside from the pleasure of reading something from a likeable dog’s point of view.
The Newfoundland Museum, when still on Duckworth Street, had a small collection of films to screen for visitors. The first one I ever showed was The Viking. I had never heard of the film or the story behind it. After I got the reel running, I stood in the doorway to make sure it was working okay. And I began watching. Finally I pulled a chair over so I could watch the movie more comfortably while also keeping an eye on the lobby. It was spellbinding – the 1930 seal hunt with ice and cold and deprivation, and a romance and survival story.
Later I learned that the sealing ship, SS Viking, had exploded during the filming and 27 men had died. One of them was the film’s producer Varick Frissell, along with his dog Cabot. The real life story was as filled with ice and cold and deprivation as the fictional one, and it had a much worse ending.
I read Earl B. Pilgrim’s book The Day of Varick Frissell. It is wonderful. Pilgrim tells how Frissell came to Newfoundland and how he came up with the idea for a movie he called White Thunder and got practical and financial backing for it. The Viking sailed to the sealing grounds with a film crew aboard. She had two captains for that 1930 voyage: Captain Sid Jones commanded her and real-life captain and explorer Bob Bartlett portrayed her captain in the movie.
Frissell didn’t get the dramatic shots of the huge ice fields, the “white thunder,” that he wanted. The following year, in March of 1931, the film crew sailed with the Viking again with Captain Abram Kean Jr. in command. The objective was less to seal and more to film, and dynamite, the northerly ice fields. The journey soon became disastrous, due to human error as much as nature.
Loss of the SS Viking
Pilgrim includes a full list of all aboard the Viking on her final voyage and of the men who lost their lives on her. Despite the loss of the ship and men and presumably the footage shot on that second journey, the film was released in 1931 as The Viking.
It is a tribute to the men who sailed on the Viking and other sealing vessels. It is also a tribute to Varick Frissell who saw the beauty in the sea-ice and the men who battled it every spring. He also believed it was important to share that dangerous beauty with a world that enjoyed seal fur without thinking of the rigour of its production. Pilgrim’s book pays further tribute by giving us a glimpse of the real and tragic events, through reconstruction of known facts and surmise of what may have happened. He tells also of romance in Frissell’s life, with a Grenfell Mission nurse named Sarah who came from north of St. Anthony. If her existence is fact, I wonder who she was.
The Day of Varick Frissel is available on Amazon. If you are connected to the Northern Peninsula Kean family of ship captains, you’ll be especially interested in this story. If you would like to see the movie, you no longer have to wait for a museum attendant to show it. You can buy it here on Amazon. Brooklyn newspaper accounts are here.
Well-written and well-researched historical fiction gives the reader a two-fer: a good story and a history lesson that you may have slept through during school.
Recently, I’ve been living in the Tudor and Plantagenet eras courtesy of Philippa Gregory. I started with the Boleyn sisters books, made into movies that I haven’t seen but I hope do justice to the books and their subjects. I don’t know how it would be possible to make a bad movie out of the historical material itself and the treatment given the characters by Ms. Gregory.
Next I read the novels about the other characters in the Henry VIII saga: The Constant Princess tells of his
first wife, Katherine of Aragon. The Queen’s Fool tells of his childrens’ reigns, Edward, then Mary and ending with the ascension of Elizabeth. The Other Queen is about Mary Queen of Scots in the later years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. It is the only one that I kind of wanted to end. I knew what happened to her: she ended up “with ‘er ‘ead tucked underneath her arm” and, with the interminable plotting and moving about the countryside, I found myself thinking “please somebody, chop her head off and be done with it.”
Then I moved to The White Queen and The Red Queen, books about the predecessors of the Tudors, the Plantagenets and the War of the Roses. There are two more books in this series, telling the stories of the mother of Edward IV’s Queen Elizabeth (The Lady of the Rivers) and the daughters of the Earl of Warwick (The Kingmaker’s Daughter).
You’ll notice a similarity in topic here – these are stories told from the woman’s point of view. Even if you were the most dedicated history student, you may well have not been taught much about the queen consorts or dowager queens of England. Ms. Gregory will fill in those gaps for you as well as bringing to life the monarchs they married or mothered.
A bibliography is always appended to Ms Gregory’s books. I read it thoroughly and make a list of the books I want to find. She also writes a note explaining what is historical fact and what is speculation or fiction. After finishing one of her novels, I always spend an evening googling the people and the era. She makes me want to know more about them and what I find matches pretty well with what I’ve read in her books.
A while ago, I listened to a CBC radio interview with a writer about his novel set in the American West (sorry, can’t find the details online). He said he doesn’t worry about historical accuracy because readers want a good story, not to learn about an era so he just creates his own world. I guess that applies for some readers but not me. If I’m going to invest my time reading an era-specific book, I want it to accurately tell me about that era and I want to know where
it deviates from history. Philippa Gregory does that, as does Michael Jecks in his medieval England mysteries. I would think that if you are going to research and travel in order to get the flavour of a historical era and the people living in it, as the writer I heard interviewed said he does, you might as well present your fictional story in a historically accurate setting. As my father always said, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
The dresses, that’s the Oscars for me. The beautiful gowns and the ones that make you wonder ‘what possessed her?’ So anything that provides both oohs and aahs of admiration and WTFs of astonishment is worth watching.
But there’s a whole show wrapped around the dresses. This year’s show was one of the most disjointed that I’ve ever seen. The hosts – why? Anne Hathaway I expect to see accepting an award or sitting in the audience. And James Franco – I hang my head in shame (as a long-time but former GH watcher) but I’ve never heard of him. And he was nominated in Best Actor category. I thought “aren’t there enough people in Hollywood that they don’t have to double up?”
Listening to CBC Radio’s Q this morning, the panelists on the Oscars gave shape to my rather confused impressions of the show. Actors, one said, should not host. If they’re at a career high, they’re likely to do it no good by hosting (James Franco being the case in point). And if they’re not, they’re not going to help their career. In that panelist’s opinion, stand-up comedians and talk-show hosts know how to do it. They know timing and know how to ad lib. And they are not being viewed, and therefore judged, as ‘Actors’. They are of the industry, but apart from it. Please God, there must be some young comedians or hosts able to do the job if the Academy wants youth for the sake of drawing the ‘prime’ demographic.
Another point made was that the most articulate and interesting acceptance speeches came from writers, not actors. You would think, the point was, that actors would know enough to write out their lines and memorize them. But no, flailing around and saying nothing at great length – that’s what we got.
The big moment was Melissa Leo’s “f” word. I’d thought she’d seemed kind of insincere at her shock at herself. I thought maybe she was just covering, the way you do when you say something stupid then try to pretend you meant to say it. The Q panel thought she had meant to say it, and described her “shock” as the worst piece of acting ever seen. I don’t know if her wrestling Kirk Douglas for his cane as they walked off stage was planned or not – it was pretty funny. So was Christian Bale seemingly forgetting his wife’s name in his thank-yous.
The Best Song candidates seemed mashed up together without much fanfare. The historical flashbacks to previous Oscar winners were confusing to me. The school choir at the end – why? Nice for them, certainly, but this is the sort of thing you shouldn’t have to watch until you’re living in the old folk’s home.
I wish Best Picture could have gone to both The King’s Speech and The Social Network. But, given that it can’t, I’m glad The King’s Speech won. Maybe the reign of King George VI is long past, but speech impediments aren’t. It’s a story about a real issue, and a real history that is worth knowing. It’s impossible to deny the reality and influence of the story of Facebook too. Especially when, as was happening in my household, one person was carrying on a dialogue about the Oscars on Facebook during the commercials. I was surprised that no one from The King’s Speech or The Social Network thanked the people who lived the stories on which these movies were based. Christian Bale did that for The Fighter.
And my favourite dress? The woman from ABC. Stunning, and I couldn’t find a picture of it.
Wallis Simpson makes me think that there may well be a God, and that He is on “our” side. I cannot imagine what the world would look like had Edward VIII remained on the throne. And it’s thanks to Wallis Simpson that he didn’t.
He came to the throne in 1936 when the build up to WWII was already taking place. Hitler had firm control of Germany and was looking to expand that control further in Europe. Neville Chamberlain, British PM at the time, believed the best way to handle Hitler’s Germany was through “appeasement” – let him have what he wants and he’ll leave us alone. Edward VIII, it seems, went even further than appeasement. He and Wallis were pretty close to Nazi-sympathizers. They enjoyed socializing with high-ranking Nazi officials.
Now, maybe that was Wallis’ choice more than his. It seems that she did the thinking in that family. But I believe that if it hadn’t been her, it would have been someone else leading him around by the nose. The one thing that seems very clear from reading history from that time is that Edward was a fun-loving man who really didn’t want to be bothered with heavy matters of state. So he may have fallen in love with another woman who was marriage material, but based on assessments of his personality she probably wouldn’t have been any more competent as a war-time Queen than he would be a war-time King.
As unsuitable as Edward was to inherit his father’s crown, so too seemed Albert, his younger brother the Duke of York. As second in line, he’d never really had to worry about wearing the crown. An introspective man, he wanted to pursue his own interests. As Duke of York, that was just fine. He married a strong woman, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. She, a perfect home-grown match for a royal marriage, had been long courted by him and had refused his proposals. She didn’t want a life anywhere in the Royal Family. At that time, life as the central Royal didn’t seem a likelihood!
Edward VIII to Duke of Windsor
Poor Bertie stuttered badly, but it didn’t really matter – he wasn’t going to be in a position where public speaking was a major part of the job. Then the unthinkable happened. After George V’s death, David became Edward VIII and he refused to give up the American twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. Parliament refused to waive the rules about divorced persons joining the Royal Family and there was the abdication crisis. That was a crisis for the country. Succession to the Throne had to be a familial crisis for Bertie and Elizabeth and the two Princesses. “We Four”, as the Duke of York called his family, had a good and comfortable life mapped out near the limelight and with benefits, but not in the limelight.
But step up he did, and became George VI. Elizabeth became a stalwart Queen consort. Britain, still under Chamberlain as PM, engaged in war with Germany and won. George VI truly lived up to the oath that England’s monarchs take in that being King probably cost him his life. His daughter Elizabeth has gone on to be one of the two longest-reigning British monarchs ever. And she has seen the Royal Family through some spectacularly rocky times during those decades. She’s done it with grace and wisdom, just like her father and mother.
I haven’t yet seen the movie The King’s Speech, but I hope Colin Firth wins the Oscar for Best Actor – for his sake and Queen Elizabeth’s.
The thing that annoyed me most about the movie Secretariat was that the horses playing him were not in the credits. In particular, the one who played him in close-ups was superb – playing to the camera, acting the ham. Just like the real Big Red, so those who knew him say. I hope I will learn his and the others’ names and more about them on the dvd.
Ok, that’s my criticism. Other than that, I loved the movie. It’s the story of Secretariat’s fabulous 1973 Triple Crown win, and the story of his owner Penny Chenery Tweedy. Now, I’m a Man o’ War girl when it comes to that important question – who was the greatest racehorse of the 20th century? It’s not a decision based on any real knowledge of thoroughbred racing, just that he was the first racehorse I knew anything about. I had a put-together model kit of him when I was a kid, and it caused me to find a book about him in the library. And, even if you’re in the Secretariat “greatest horse” camp, you can’t deny the magnificence of Man o’ War, the original “Big Red”. His stride, as marked out at the Kentucky Horse Park, is still the longest of any known horse, including Secretariat.
The 1973 Belmont
But that win by 31 lengths! Nothing has ever been seen like that. I didn’t see the actual race. I was living outside North America and didn’t have a tv set. I’ve watched replays since but, thrilling as even that is, I cannot imagine what it felt like to actually see the race not knowing what the outcome would be. By 1978, after Seattle Slew and Affirmed won back-to-back Triple Crowns, I felt that having a Triple Crown was pretty exciting but not particularly unusual. I never imagined that it would not be done again for so many years. No horse, before or since, has won even one of the individual races that make up the Triple Crown in such a spectacular fashion. Especially the Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the three. Watching him is like watching a horse fly. It’s magic and majesty and pure joy.
The sheer magnificence of Secretariat is why I didn’t find jarring the overvoice of a passage from the Book of Job at the movie’s beginning and end. Such beauty and strength as a horse possesses calls up reverential words and imagery. The solemnity and beauty of the words fit the magnificence of the animal, one of the most beautiful in creation.
After seeing the movie, I checked online reviews. My interpretation of the use of the Book of Job is at variance with most of those I read. Quite a big deal was made of the fact that director Randall Wallace is an outspoken Christian. I did not know that going in so it didn’t influence my viewing of the movie.
Oh Happy Day
Two other scenes of the movie are focused upon as evidence of the Christian message of the director and/or Disney Studio. The choice of Oh Happy Day, as music coming from the stable radio, and as the horses are coming down the final stretch in the Belmont. The first time, when it’s coming from the stable radio, I just heard it as a popular song by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, and fitting when everybody in the scene was happy and feeling good about Secretariat and his prospects. The second use of it, in the ultimate race, I found distracting just because it was loud and I’d have rather just heard the hooves pounding on the track. Music accompanying that beautiful sound is gilding the lily. Not necessary, not an improvement.
Two reviews stood out for me. One is by Steve Haskin in Bloodhorse Magazine. This is a fair and insightful review both about the movie and the story of Secretariat and his connections. He points out a number of inaccuracies and glossovers of actual fact. One he doesn’t mention is that the coin toss which decided Secretariat’s ownership was actually more complicated and dramatic. To save movie time, I suppose, it was abbreviated. Still tense with drama, but if you want to read the real story, look for The Secretariat Factor by Tom Kiernan (Doubleday 1979). That’s where I read it, but I’m sure it’s also told in other books.
The second review is by Andrew O’Hehir in Salon. He says that he wanted his review to be provocative and well, yes, it is. His reading of Secretariat is as “Tea Party-flavored” propaganda for a mythical American past when all was well. For this, he holds the director and Disney responsible for perpetuating the myths of nostalgia and inaccurate simplification. That, I believe, is hardly news. O’Hehir for sure has read Critical Theory and wanted to be sure that we all knew he had. The argument is along the lines that popular culture is a particularly effective way to create political or ideological propaganda because the consumers are entertained primarily and therefore unaware that they are being fed propaganda. Ok.
Can you, as does O’Hehir, read Secretariat as Christian right wing propaganda? Of course. Just as you can read iconoclast comic Dennis Leary’s tv drama Rescue Me as anti-Muslim propaganda. Everyone in North America developed a heightened pride in and respect for police officers and firefighters after 9/11. Leary became a well-known advocate for firefighters in thanks to them for their efforts after that tragedy. The tragedy was caused by anti-American extremists – Muslim extremists. So do the math the same way, and you can consider Rescue Me propaganda just as easily as you can consider Secretariat right-wing Christian propaganda.
The movie Secretariat and real-life
O’Hehir argues that the movie’s negligible mention of the social and political upheaval in early 70s America is evidence of its propaganda/mythologizing of the past. Maybe it is. Maybe, too, those events didn’t directly affect the lives of the people whose story this is except through the schoolgirl political activism that is shown. Like O’Hehir, I lived through that time period, but my conclusions on the inclusion of sociopolitical context differ from his. I don’t think you need to cram in historical context just because it exists. Not if it doesn’t fit with your characters’ story.
As a teenager at that time, I was aware of what was happening in the US. I was active about it at about the same level of political acuity as Mrs. Tweedy’s daughter. My social concern got about the same kind of attention from my parents as did hers. It wasn’t that my family was living in a rarefied zone of privilege and wealth.Nor were they unaware of political and social events. It was that they had their hands full just getting on with their own lives without worrying about other people and cerebral political notions.
I think perhaps the same thing would have been true for the Tweedy-Chenery family. It may not be any more complicated than that. Mrs. Tweedy was a housewife with four kids and ailing parents. She had enough on her plate. If I asked my mother, I think I’d get the same answer.
A story of horses
Anyway, I loved the movie Secretariat. Steve Haskin said that the actor horses didn’t “capture the majesty and physical presence” of Secretariat but that there “isn’t a horse alive who could’ve done justice to him”. Secretariat is a feel-good story with a happy ending (except, of course, for Secretariat’s main competitor, the magnificent Sham, who made him run the race he did). And Secretariat’s story is not told in its totality in the movie. How could it be? What is told, however, is worth watching – and cheering and crying.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.