Crutch


Art knows no disability.

(2020) Documentary (Discovery Plus) Bill Shannon, Cornelius Henke III, Randy Shannon, Bill Clark, Earl Cole, Ben Shannon, Bethany Jones, Gavin Evans, Jeff Chavez, David Foster, Emmanuel Vega, Jackson Clark, Frosty Freeze, Rennie Harris, Richie Tempo, Claire Cunningham, Leah Lazarondo, Roseanne Garland-Thompson, Susan Cummings. Directed by Sachi Cunningham and Chandler Evans

Bill Shannon may not necessarily be a household name, unless your household is into breakdancing and performance art. He was born wth a condition that led to bone necrosis (the loss of blood flow leading to the death of the actual bone cells) in his hip, leading to chronic pain and an inability to walk without aid.

Before his diagnosis he loved skateboarding, trampolining, running…the things kids love to do, he was just always in motion. It was a devastating blow to discover that his motion would be limited. Hip replacement surgery was offered as an alternative, but he turned it down; the issue was that he would spend a lifetime enduring a succession of follow-up surgeries when his replacements wore out and eventually, the hip replacements would no longer be effective. He chose to learn to endure the pain.

One thing that helped was the use of rocker crutches. Rather than coming to points, they have rounded “rocking chair” type bottoms that allow greater mobility. They didn’t just allow him to move; they allowed him to dance.

Being a hip-hop fan from an early age, he found that he could really bust some moves with his crutches. At first, his ambition out-stripped his ability and he endured a lot of falls, but Shannon was never afraid of falling. He would just get up and try the move again, over and over again, until he got it right. Soon, he was winning breakdancing competitions in his native Pittsburgh, and then in Chicago.

He also began to see himself differently, not just as someone overcoming a disability, but as an artist and an innovator. He helped popularize breakdancing to the point where it was given shows in legitimate theaters, and incorporated them into performance art pieces. He gt a call from Cirque du Soleil to choreograph a routine for some of their performers to use crutches as he did. This led to an epiphany; was he being given credit for being an artist, or was there an asterisk implied: artist with disability. He had always been bothered by people staring at him on the streets, and really hated feeling pity from the able-bodied, especially in light of him being more dexterous and graceful than most people who don’t have crutches.

He began to experiment, watching how people reacted to him. He would fall on purpose and see how people responded. He took to filming encounters with hidden cameras and showing the results at some of his shows; he built an entire show around it, putting the audience on a bus and staging the Borat-like sequence for their entertainment, I guess you’d say.

In some ways, this last section lies at the heart of Crutch. This isn’t just a feel-good documentary about a man overcoming obstacles to be successful in a way nobody ever had been before, given his circumstances. There is a saying that art knows no disability, which is a fancy way of saying that genius is genius, regardless of who is blessed by it and in that respect, Shannon is a hands-down genius as both choreographer and performer. Hands down, no asterisk.

But I have to admit that I was a bit uncomfortable with the staged “weight of empathy” sequences. Full disclosure; I’m also disabled and get around with the use of a cane. Due to a neurological disorder, I’m prone to falling and from time to time have taken spills in public. When good Samaritans try to help me to my feet (I’m a big fella and it’s not an easy task), I am grateful. If people stare at me, I really don’t notice. It wouldn’t bother me if they did, but apparently it bothers Shannon. I guess I can see his point; the staring is a way of objectifying; ask a pretty woman if she enjoys being stared at sometime and see what answer you get.

He sees empathy and the instinct to render aid as a form of being patronizing, and at times seems to ridicule the gesture. Now, I’m willing to admit that my discomfort with the sequence may be me reacting to the concept that I might be patronizing in those instincts, but I think there’s also a good chance that Shannon just has a chip on his shoulder, one that has enabled him to accomplish what he has. Most good artists have an edge to them, after all.

It is a good thing when a film forces us to examine ourselves and our own attitudes. We can’t learn and grow if our preconceptions aren’t challenged once in a while, so kudos to Cunningham, Evans and Shannon for doing just that. And while it seems that Shannon doesn’t necessarily want to be praised for turning a disability into something different, his disability is nevertheless a part of him, like it or not, and the fact that he has accomplished so much with so much adversity in his way is to be commended and admired. His art speaks for itself, as art does.

REASONS TO SEE: You can’t help but admire a man who lives life on his own terms.
REASONS TO AVOID: The third act may be unpleasant for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shannon was diagnosed at a young age with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, a lack of blood flow to the head of the femur which causes the bone tissue to die. It affects about one in 1,200 children.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Discovery Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/2/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shameless: The Art of Disability
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
13 Minutes

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D


Now there's an umbrella that would be useful in a flood.

Now there’s an umbrella that would be useful in a flood.

(2012) Adventure (Paramount) Erica Linz, Igor Zaripov, Lutz Halibhubner, John Clarke, Benedikt Negro, Dallas Barnett, Matt Gillanders, Tanya Drewery, Sarah Houbolt, Ascia Maybury, Damien Gordon, Zach Brickland, Iren Goed, Jason Berrent, Jeana Blackman. Directed by Andrew Adamson

In the past couple of decades the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil has elevated the traditional circus into something more graceful, more elegant and somewhat surreal. There is a definite European vibe to the Cirque with a bit of a Canadian twist – no animal acts, no sideshows, just graceful and athletic humans performing acts of physical contortion, aerial grace and demanding athleticism while wearing surreal costumes and make-up. Rather than a random collection of acts, each Cirque show has a theme and sometimes even a story that unifies all the acts and makes it an interesting whole.

Over the years the Cirque has spread to Las Vegas with as many as seven different shows playing at various casinos on the Strip. All of the shows were created by the Cirque in theaters largely designed by the Cirque in order to present breathtaking new feats of athleticism. Snippets from all seven shows are presented here, although none from any of the other permanent or touring Cirque shows, including La Nouba at Downtown Disney in Orlando which incidentally I haven’t seen – it’s kind of funny that things you’re willing to do as a tourist you won’t find the time or money for as a resident.

The story line is simple; Mia (Linz), a young waif, goes to a traditional circus where she catches the eye of an Aerialist (Zaripov). When the Aerialist falls from the trapeze during the show, the earth literally swallows him up. When Mia jumps from her seat to go aid the apple of her eye, she is also swallowed up and finds herself in this amazing, surreal universe. She is looking for her aerialist but nobody’s seen him. She passes from tent to tent, each containing an act or two from a different Cirque show. Eventually, she finds him and the two do a kind of aerial balletic courtship.

And that’s an hour and a half of your time, folks, all presented in eye-popping 3D courtesy of producer James Cameron who reportedly was testing some new systems for his upcoming Avatar sequels. For the record, you do get a much closer view of the Cirque performers doing their thing than the audience does. That’s not always a good thing – the costumes and make-up look a lot different from a distance than they do close-up.

Still, while the thematic elements that are part of what make the Cirque shows so compelling are kind of violated by this greatest hits compilation (as it were), it is the Cirque acts themselves that make the show worth seeing. Even close up with their harnesses and wires clearly in view, it doesn’t make what the performers do any less spectacular. Those who haven’t seen a Cirque show will be awed and have their breath taken away and admittedly a movie ticket, even with the 3D upcharge, is much less expensive than purchasing even the cheapest of Cirque tickets.

So as an introduction to the Vegas Cirque shows this gives you a fine overview (although the Elvis Presley themed “Viva Elvis” show at the Aria has since concluded it’s run) although with the caveat that it doesn’t compare to seeing these shows live, even with the advanced 3D. For those who have seen at least one of the Cirque shows this is going to come off like a 90 minute ad and that might not necessarily be what you’re looking for. I would have wished for a more compelling linking sequence and perhaps more elements that were not related to the Vegas shows. Perhaps someday the Cirque will see fit to create a movie that stands on its own with stunts and acts created specifically for the movie. Now that would definitely be worth seeing.

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful music, some occasionally breathtaking acrobatics and a few imaginative sets.

REASONS TO STAY: Pretty much a 90 minute ad for the Vegas Cirque shows.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a little sensuality – nothing overt, as well as a few images that might the very young might find scary.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Each of the acts from the Vegas shows were filmed on the stages where they are performed.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100. The reviews are about as mixed as you can get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Where the Wild Things Are

CIRCUS LOVERS: The early scenes take place in a traditional big top tent and midway of a circus, although in keeping with Cirque du Soleil tradition no animal acts are shown.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Gravedancers

New Releases for the Week of December 21, 2012


This Is 40

THIS IS 40

(Universal) Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow. Directed by Judd Apatow

In a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow revisits the lives of big sister Debbie and her husband Pete as Debbie gets set to hit the big four-oh. They realize that they are in danger of letting life pass them by and try to figure out the important things before they are too old to appreciate them.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material)

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D

(Paramount) Erica Linz, Dallas Barnett, Lutz Halbhubner, John Clarke. A young woman finds that a strange and exciting circus is actually a portal to amazing worlds. Featuring the acrobats of various Cirque du Soleil shows from across the country, the film was directed by Andrew Adamson of the Narnia series and produced by James Cameron, who is testing out new 3D technology for his upcoming Avatar sequels.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for dramatic images and some sensuality)

Dabangg 2

(Arbaaz Khan) Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Malaika Arora. A police officer battles a corrupt politician while attempting to romance his wife, shore up his ties with his brother and father who are still mourning the murder of his mother in the first film and occasionally break into song without warning.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The Guilt Trip

(Paramount) Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Kathy Najimy, Adam Scott. An inventor, about to embark on a road trip to sell the most important product of his life, becomes concerned with his mom’s chronic loneliness and impulsively invites her along. A road trip with Mom…what could go wrong?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some risque material)

Hyde Park on Hudson

(Focus) Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Eleanor Bron. In 1939 the King and Queen of England became the first reigning monarchs of that country to visit the United States. Their mission was to plead for American assistance in the coming war, a war that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t eager to join. Visiting at Roosevelt’s upstate New York retreat Hyde Park, the fate of the world hung in the balance and the whole thing was witnessed by Roosevelt’s cousin Daisy.

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for brief sexuality)

Jack Reacher

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall. A former military cop now wandering the country without possessions or roots, content to explore with complete freedom. He will have to put his skills of his former profession back to work when a former Army sniper is accused of a heinous crime that Reacher doesn’t think he committed, plunging him into a maelstrom of secrets that men would kill to keep that way. From the bestselling book series by Lee Child.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, language and some drug material)

Monsters, Inc. 3D

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn. The mouse mavens pull out yet another Pixar classic to be dusted off and given the 3D conversion treatment. Very nice. Unnecessary.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G