Not long after Sophie was born, I wrote a piece for Phoenix New Times (you can read it here: http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2004-11-25/news/up-the-down-staircase/) in which I mentioned that I am the kind of person who put a button on her bulletin board at work that says, “If at first you don’t succeed, you’ll be a loser and a burden on society forever.”
The button’s still there; I never took it down. But I like to think that Sophie (and Annabelle — motherhood in general, really) has tempered me in that regard.
I reconsidered that as I watched the credits roll after “Shorty,” a film released in 2004. A couple days ago I dug around in the Down syndrome box and came up with the choice of a documentary about a man with DS who loves porn and wrestling or a documentary about a man with DS who loves football. I chose the latter. (Hey, where’s the documentary about the woman with DS who loves Diet Coke, “Project Runway,” oilcloth and vintage beads? This is unfair!)
It wasn’t without its redeeming qualities — hard and heavy-hearted as I am, I can’t deny that — but I wasn’t a big fan of “Shorty” the documentary. Shorty the man, a 55 year old guy named Walter Simms, now that’s a different story. He seems like a perfectly delightful person.
But being perfectly delightful doesn’t qualify one to be the subject of an 86-minute documentary, in my book, even if the guy is developmentally disabled and even if the big football game of the year happened to fall one year on his birthday.
Remember the kid from that Today show segment we debated about a few weeks ago, the one who got to play for a few minutes in a high school basketball game, after — what was it, nine years of being the water boy? In some ways, that kid got a better deal than Shorty.
Maybe. To be fair, there’s no discussion about whether Shorty ever actually did want to play football. In all, Shorty appears to have a pretty terrific life, particularly for someone his age. Back in that day, parents didn’t necessarily keep their kids who had DS (hello, Arthur Miller — nice. You know about that, right? Here: http://www.vanityfair.com/fame/features/2007/09/miller200709.)
So the Simms family gets points, particularly since they founded a facility designed to keep Shorty and his peers nicely occupied. When Shorty’s dad had the opportunity to take a job at his alma mater, Hampden-Sydney, he and his wife (now, sadly, both dead) debated whether Shorty would have a good life there.
He does. No doubt about it, as revealed again and again and again in, frankly, repetitive and borderline (though they really never do cross the line, I think the repetition is what got me) condescending interviews with coaches, players, family members and Shorty himself.
This film would have been much better at 30 minutes — though I admit my lack of interest in football should be taken into account.
Here’s my problem, football aside: We’re supposed to celebrate a community that’s nice to this very nice guy with DS, that lets him paint doors and walls that don’t really need to be painted and go along to football games and cheer the kids on. I couldn’t tell whether there’s an overtly religious deal with this college, or if the folks there just like to pray a lot, but clearly they feel they’re doing the Lord’s work. That’s fine. I”ll assume they’d be nice to Shorty even without the threat of eternal damnation. Overall, it just didn’t seem to be much of a reason to make a film.
Or maybe it is. And that terrifies me. In some ways, I hope that when Sophie is 55, people are so nice to her and in return she’s so delightful that someone wants to make a documentary about it. Maybe by then it won’t be such a big deal. Somehow I doubt that.
My favorite part of the film was the music, particularly the theme song, a nice instrumental by a group called The Beatsmiths. Then I saw the song’s title during the credits: “Sweet Illusion.”
For sure, I’d be a much happier person if I could simply watch a movie and celebrate one man’s life, simple or not — mascot or not. Right now, at least, I’m too busy trying to look behind every potential illusion for the truth.
Is the truth ever a lot simpler than I make it? Who knows. Up next: wrestling, porn, and Down syndrome.