Film Review: Salute

When Gold Is Not Enough

Surely everyone has seen the iconic photo of two black men (American’s Tommie Smith, John Carlos) standing on a podium, heads bowed, both with a single raised fist, each fist covered in a black leather glove, defying prejudices, defying death threats, aptly representing Black Power. It’s a stunning image in it’s own right, place it in the context of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, and it’s historical resonance really hits home.

Such is the effect of the image, that you could be forgiven for not having noticed another (white) man (Australian, Peter Norman) standing side by side, wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in support of the issues being justly raised in front of the entire world. It made complete sense in Peter’s mind to stand with his fellow athletes, and such shared inherent integrity lead to him experience the very same prejudice the men standing beside him, knew since birth.

The timing of the UK release of ‘Salute’ is near perfection. It documents record breaking runner Peter Norman’s involvement in the Black Power salute during the ‘68 Olympics. With the UK days away from the London 2012 Olympics, itself fraught with problems, millions spent in waves of corporate propaganda and potentially the most commercial take over of any Olympics ever staged. Added into that mix is former England football team captain John Terry’s current trail for allegations of racist behaviour during a sporting event. Considering all this, there is very little evidence to support anything has changed since ‘68. Maybe there’s just more money spent on distracting us from the issues.

‘Salute’ is directed by Matt Norman, himself the nephew of Peter who is the main focus of the movie. Because of this emotional relationship to the subject matter, there is a real purity, respect, focus, research (fantastic footage) and phenomenal access to Norman, Smith and Carlos. Tragically Norman died in 2006, but he would be very proud of what Matt has produced, and in continuing his legacy. But the story these men have to tell will never be forgotten, nor should it.

There are countless times while watching the film, that you can’t believe what you are seeing and hearing. Such is the impact of the information that is being presented. With waves of protesting sweeping across the World in 1968 against self serving governments (the same as 2012), poverty, riots, huge amounts of civilian deaths at the hands of Police/Military, legalised racism (in the USA and Australia), Vietnam, and even having a renowned racist, Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee at the time. Avery is known to have helped Hitler win the 1936 Olympic bid (in return Hitler awarded Avery’s construction company a lucrative contract), and he also owned a Country Club in Santa Barbara which had in it’s charter that no Negroes or Jews could be members. It was unsettling times to say the least.

This is the backdrop to the world the athletes found themselves in, as warped as it sounds, this was their normality. But they knew it was wrong, just as the wrong as the purposely built giant billboards blocking out any visitors views of the severe poverty surrounding the Olympic Village in Mexico City.

Despite all these overwhelming situations, there is great levity. Norman clearly is a wonderful man full of great humour and humility. The scene where he recounts a race against Carlos, calling over to him in the final metres of the race “You have this one, I’ll have the next.” much to the annoyance of John. His really outstanding accomplishments in a sport dominated by men with physiques almost opposite to his (he was relatively short), and making records that lasted for decades later are a joy to behold.

Seeing the rapport Norman, Carlos and Smith clearly have for each other, also enables us to get through the incessant terrible treatment these men experienced as a result of standing up for basic human equality. An equality a lot of powerful and very ignorant people adamantly didn’t want to happen. These sportsmen genuinely believed they would be shot while standing on the podium, as threats had been made against them. These men went there to run, to win, but ended up achieving much much more.

Having seen this movie a couple of months ago, I have never mentioned a movie as much to friends as this one. It would be an injustice to try to select moments from it to write here, there are just too many. It is the sort of film that should be part of every school curriculum, and it should be broadcast on national TV stations across the world. Although sport is the backbone to the story, it’s not actually the story. So being a sports fan isn’t a necessity, as there is more humanity (and inhumanity) in it that pretty most features knocking around today.

In a time where entertainment is swamped with fictitious super-hero movies, it’s films like ‘Salute’ that show you what it takes to be a real hero, to truly change lives for the better, to expose yourself completely, irrespective of the consequences to one’s self.

Salute is released in UK cinemas on July 13th, and on DVD 30th July by Arrow Films.
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Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.