Thursday, May 28, 2020

Olympedia Enables Encyclopedism of Olympism

An array of surprises, some welcome, others not so much, continue their blitz across 2020.

On the latter front as related to the wide world of sports, the pandemic-inspired postponement of Tokyo 2020 was a tough pill to swallow.

On the former, brighter side, May 27 marked the arrival of an exceedingly thorough online tool certain to assist with countless Olympic research projects, sports journalist citations and fan searches for their favorite athletes or Olympiads.

Now available online, feast your eyes on www.Olympedia.org, a new directory of Games statistics compiled by 21 Olympism-inspired encyclopedists.


This may not be the first comprehensive assemblage of such Olympic detail (see blue and green book images sprinkled into this post), but it very well be the biggest and most accessible in digital format.

Bonus: Olympedia is free!

The group's ringleader, past International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH) President Bill Mallon, described their efforts in a blog post announcing Olympedia's ready-for-prime-time debut, as well as their team name.

"The Olympedia research site contains the profiles and results of all Olympic athletes and informative descriptions about the Games, events, venues, and much more," stated Mallon. "It is the most comprehensive database about the Olympic Games and is the result of many years of work by a list of Olympic historians and statisticians called the OlyMADmen."

I wrote to Dr. Mallon with three questions inspired by his post:
  • For how many years was the OlyMADmen process underway?
  • How many combined man hours went into the project (an Olympian feat of research)?
  • At what stage did the Olympedia team receive a blessing of IOC approval, and how much time from approval to this week's launch?
Mallon quickly responded stating his own Olympic research journey started at a library in Teaneck, N.J., while on a summer holiday with family during the summer of 1964.

Things started getting serious with the arrival of personal computers (1980s) and during the latter 1990s as he and others forged collaborations with fellow historians both stateside and abroad.

As for the team's combined time investment, "We actually estimated the amount of work in terms of man-years … because it's so hard to estimate," stated Mallon. "We came up with a number: 180."

Mallon added the OlyMADmen began a more formal collaboration with the IOC in early 2016, with permission only recently granted to open Olympedia online for anyone to use, describing the nonprofit's team members as "responsive and good to work with."

So, how may site visitors extract data or Games results they seek from Olympedia?

From the home page, it's easy to select searches by athlete, result or sports discipline and Olympiad. Simply type in a name or other query and press "GO."

Across the header of the home page, Olympedia also offers easy clicks by nation, as well as pulldown menus for IOC-centric data or statistics with subcategories such as medal counts, numerous records or athlete bio data.

Say you want to know how many athletes competed while pregnant. Olympedia not only lists them, but also shares whether the athlete knew of their pregnancy while competing.

Which athletes -- like the one who put Sean Connery out of commission for several days -- appeared in feature films?

Answer: weightlifting silver medalist Harold "Oddjob" Sakata, who is Olympedia athlete No. 57017, just 10 digits away from "Goldfinger" 007.

While on a Hollywood kick, if one wants to know the flagbearers at an Opening Ceremony -- like, say, Stephen Spielberg, Donald Sutherland or Susan Sarandon -- use the Games pulldown menu.

There are also sections for Olympic bid city votes, recipients of the Olympic Order, dozens of types of Olympian lists, torchbearers, medal counts -- many rabbit holes for exploration. I know of at least one ISOH member who will be looking for athletes or teams and team members who achieved a three-peat, four-peat or more-peat on Olympic soil.

Each search result yields not only the information one seeks but also a five-ringed fun fact under the banner "Did You Know?" which appears at the base of the screen. My favorite so far regarded six Dutch archers whose name appeared in Paris 1900 newspaper coverage as competitors in an "unknown" event.

Consider me thoroughly impressed and pleased by the news of Olympedia, the best Games-related surprise of the last three months.

Images via DepositPhotos, Illustration Source, Ottawa Citizen, UltimateActionMovies.com

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Atlanta Hosts 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials 2/29

Several dozen American women and men will spend Leap Day 2020 running for the Games, with three competitors earning their tickets to Tokyo as Atlanta hosts the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for marathon.

The Feb. 29 event starts and ends midday around Centennial Olympic Park, with mile markers for the 26.2-mile course set along Peachtree Street from Forsyth Street in downtown to Peachtree Circle near the north end of Midtown.

The route also heads through the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood along Highland Ave. to southbound Jackson Street before turning west onto the Old Fourth Ward's Edgewood Ave.

The journey nears its end when runners, who've completed three loops on the aforementioned course, will bank south from Edgewood onto Piedmont Ave., heading south past the Gold Dome and the Siah Armajani-designed Olympic Bridge and Cauldron (erroneously referred to as the "Olympic Rings and Torch" in event press materials) with a U-turn on Capitol Ave. near Georgia State Stadium.

The final two miles cross west along Mitchell Street, with viaduct views of State Farm Arena's iconic "ATLANTA" grand entrance and Megatron's Butthole, er, Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the thinning pack runs the final stretch back toward Centennial Olympic Park.

Runner's World magazine and event host Atlanta Track Club produced a high-quality and informative video of the route available here:


 

To showcase Atlanta's Olympic spirit on NBC's live national broadcast, fans are encouraged to #showyourgold on race day, with several places to watch designated on the event's official website.

In Midtown, for instance, Hudson Grille, Publik Ale House and City Tap House (each along Peachtree Street) will offer $2.62 beer, tacos or other marathon-inspired specials. With numerous road closures, MARTA is recommended.

Though I cheered runners at Peachtree Road Races many times since 1996, this will be my first Olympic marathon experience and the city's second, which I missed thanks to work shifts at the Atlanta Olympic Village.

Female runners to watch for include two-time Olympic marathoner Desiree Linden, who did not finish in London 2012 but placed seventh at Rio 2016. According to the event site, her all-time fastest marathon (2:22:38) and Trials qualifying time at the 2019 New York City Marathon (2:26:46) put her a few minutes from the top Trials qualifier Jordan Hasay, who set her personal best time at the recent Chicago Marathon (2:20:57).

A hometown runner on which to keep an eye is Georgia native Bridget Lyons Belyeu, who trains on the Silver Comet Trail and near her south Atlanta residence in Newnan, Ga., according to a recent profile in Atlanta Magazine.

In the men's competition, three-time Olympian and Rio 2016 marathon bronze medalist Galen Rupp is the leading 2020 Trials qualifier (with 2:06:07; he is also a three-time Olympic competitor in the 10,000m, earning silver in London 2012). Atlanta marks his fourth Olympic marathon trials, which he won on the Road to Rio.

The entrant with the second-fastest qualifying time (2:07:56) is Leonard Korir, who "ran the fastest-ever marathon debut by an American" in the 2019 Amsterdam Marathon, where he did not have an elite bib but placed 11th. He was a Rio 2016 Olympian and considers Rupp one of his heroes, according to his Team USA bio.

Portland resident Patrick Reaves returns to his hometown Atlanta to compete in his first Olympic trials with a qualifying time of 2:17:45.

As reported in Sports Illustrated on Feb. 13 and in this Yahoo! article on Valentine's Day, the Atlanta event also includes first openly transgender athlete competing in an Olympic marathon trials. Though Megan Youngren's bio is not yet posted on the event website, her qualifying time of 2:43:52 puts her further back in the rankings.

The S.I. article explains how the International Olympic Committee would handle her qualification in Tokyo should Youngren earn a Games berth in Atlanta.

The three top female and male finishers will compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games on Aug. 8 and Aug. 9, respectively. The 2020 Olympic marathon course is in Sapporo, Japan, host city of the 1972 Winter Olympic Games and some of the Olympic football competitions this summer.

Marathon site at Sapporo Odori Park
For those heading to Japan, it appears the start and finish in Sapporo Odori Park is just a few blocks from the city's main rail station. Check out the course map below and at this link for more details.

Check out more of the competitor roster on the event website -- with the marathon route along Peachtree Street just a few blocks west of my Midtown residence, I may set up a viewing spot at The Vortex Bar & Grill between Seventh Street and Eighth. They serve some delicious sake!

Images via Team USA, Atlanta2020Trials.com, Atlanta Track Club, MyBestRuns.com and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic website.





Sunday, December 15, 2019

Spoilers Galore: Fact versus Fiction Spanning Director Clint Eastwood's "Richard Jewell"

At the world premiere of "Richard Jewell" held Nov. 20 at AFI Fest, audiences finally experienced the dramatic screenplay penned by Billy Ray.

As the credits rolled, director Clint Eastwood's work aptly earned a 30-second ovation.

In the month since, more than 700 readers clicked on the first review published by an Atlanta-based outlet (this site).

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) was the only other Georgia outlet with writers on the scene in Hollywood, and their review appeared a few days later, no doubt enjoying thousands more clicks.

Regardless, a scoop is a scoop, yes?

A cavalcade of critical and fan reviews -- generally skewing positive -- followed since, and many folks professional or otherwise are writing and discussing what Eastwood and Ray got right or wrong in "Richard Jewell." As noted in my review, one factor that makes a film great is its ability to inspire conversation -- this release definitely does just that.

What follows is a working list of "Fact versus Fiction Spanning Clint Eastwood's 'Richard Jewell'" compiled from attending the film twice, once in LA, again opening day (Dec. 13) in Atlanta.

The below list also relies on numerous third-party sources including several interviews, public events, and thorough examination of the film's two main sources. I'm saving my conversations with Mr. Eastwood and the film's star, Paul Walter Hauser, for another post.

Ray's source material included a 22-page Vanity Fair article written by Marie Brenner, who embedded with Jewell's legal team for several weeks in 1997. On Dec. 10, Simon & Schuster re-released "A Private War" -- a collection of Brenner's essays -- under the updated title "Richard Jewell and Other Tales of Heroes, Scoundrels, and Renegades" ($17).

Ray also relied upon a new book optioned for the film, "The Suspect" by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen (Abrams Books, $28), an excellent narrative nonfiction work reviewed here. The authors took inspiration from other well-written nonfiction works including "Devil In The White City" and "The Boys In The Boat," the latter a Games-centric book.

Fan-designed lapel pin
In broad strokes, much of the "Richard Jewell" screenplay plays true to real-life challenges faced by Jewell (Hauser), his mother Bobi (Kathy Bates), and his legal team.

The production achieved great authenticity by filming at actual locations of 1996 events, notably Centennial Olympic Park, which set designers researched at the Atlanta History Center, later decking out the park with excellent attention to detail.

On the other end of the spectrum, Ray was most loose with his characterization and the on screen actions of reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde). Ray defended his work to a reporter at Deadline.com on the eve of the film's wide release.

More detailed facts and fictions, or liberties taken, including several spoilers for both the film and the book "The Suspect," are presented here as a working list generally in order from the start to finish of the 129 minute film. As this is a working list compiled and posted Dec. 15, 2019, I will offset additions or edits with the date of an addition or strikethroughs for corrections:
  • Jewell did work at the U.S. Small Business Administration in downtown Atlanta. It is not clear to me if 75 Spring Street, the address cited in the film (Richard B. Russell Federal Building) was the SBA address in 1986. SBA is now at Peachtree Center.
  • Jewell earned the nickname "Radar" after a "M*A*S*H" character thanks to his reputation for anticipating the needs of coworkers, including real-life SBA lawyer G. Watson Bryant.
  • The character Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) is a mashup of several Jewell legal team members; in the words of one film consultant, "No one wanted to watch a movie with a bunch of lawyers."
  • CNN Center, which is not far from the Russell Building, did have an arcade frequented by Jewell and Bryant. But according to "The Suspect" their games of choice were Galaxian and Xevious rather than Turkey Shoot as seen in the film.
  • Snickers candy bars were a favorite of Jewell, according to "The Suspect."
  • Jewell exited SBA due to government cutbacks, but he quickly found work as a retail security guard, an early step in his progression toward law enforcement career goals.
  • Jewell did eventually work at Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga. Busting students for drinking on campus, and stopping drivers off-campus, did lead to his invitation to resign or be fired. In real life, according to "The Suspect," he opted to resign at the behest of his campus police boss, not the university president. This was Jewell's second "forced resignation" in North Georgia.
  • Jewell's real-life friend Dave Dutchess (Niko Nicotera), who first appears in the shooting range scene and returns late in the film, met Jewell during his SBA days. The real Dutchess is 10 years Jewell's senior ("The Suspect").
  • Kathy Scruggs was the lead AJC police beat reporter. Her Games-time assignment was sharing the Olympic security beat with colleague Ron Martz,
    Actual AJC badge of '96
    and the overall AJC Olympic reporting team worked in a special non-sports coverage group for Security, Neighborhoods and Olympic Transportation, a.k.a. "SNOTpod" ("The Suspect").
  • The AJC's office at the time was 72 Marietta Street, around the corner from the park. Footage of the building's exterior and signage, later in the film, is likely from 1996.
  • Scruggs was known in the newsroom for salty language and provocative attire, which one former AJC colleague described to me with the pejorative nickname "K-mart Scruggs"
  • Scruggs and Martz (David Shae) did not bump into each other and compare notes near the park on or around either concert as shown in the film. It's also unlikely Scruggs connected with one of her sources during "Macarena" line dancing. Martz's sarcastic "scoop" about a cop's relation to an Olympian is also likely fiction.
  • The FBI agent portrayed by Jon Hamm has a fictional name. Another mashup character, he is closest to resembling the actual agent named Don Johnson, according to "The Suspect."
  • The opening ceremony footage is real and was provided by the Clinton Presidential Library and/or International Olympic Committee, according to the film's credits.
  • AT&T was the sponsor of the main concert stage at Centennial Olympic Park. It was branded "Global Olympic Village" which caused some confusion in early reports of the bombing (some reporters stated the athletes' Olympic Village at nearby Georgia Tech was the attack site).
  • The footage of children playing in the Olympic rings fountain is real but filmed years after 1996 as the skyscraper section of the Omni Hotel at CNN Center, which appears in the background, opened in 2003.
  • Kenny Rogers did perform at the park, and his show took place earlier in the week, according to "The Suspect." The Rogers impersonator on screen is Ronnie Allen, according to the film credits and IMBD. Jewell's mother, Bobi, did attend the concert.
  • It is possible the end-of-concert fireworks and skyline footage is from 1996, but more likely filmed in summer 2019.
  • At least one of the Olympic pins briefly spotted in the park sequence resembles a design for the 1996 Olympin collectors club member badge. Other pins seen later in Jewell's scrapbook are mostly generic USA patriotic designs, or what appears to be a fictional mascot pin (not close to the actual '96 mascot Izzy).
  • All of the Centennial Olympic logos, from street banners to posters (at on screen restaurants
    Movie set street banner
    and the AJC newsroom), to would-be athlete uniforms donned by a group thanking Jewell, are fictional prop pieces. More notes on this appear in this summer post.
  • Jewell kept a cooler of cold water and Cokes for fellow guards and bystanders ("The Suspect").
  • The portrayal of the beer-drinking teens, as well as the dialogue Jewell and police shared once the bomb backpack was spotted, is nearly verbatim from the prologue to "The Suspect" though names of officers and bystanders are changed or omitted.
  • One of the teenagers did tip the Alice pack onto its back, which made the blast propel nails skyward rather than into the crowd. Pieces were found as far away as the eighth-level rooftop of the neighboring INFORUM building, one of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) office locations. In present day, the building is branded for tenant American Cancer Society.
  • NationsBank Plaza, now named Bank of America Plaza, one of the city's tallest buildings, appears in the background. During summer 1996, its neighboring skyscraper BellSouth Tower (now AT&T) was decked out with pink and yellow neon, strobe lights and laser flashers not portrayed in the film.
  • Once a bomb tech peered into the backpack planted by Eric Rudolph, law enforcement and Jewell did start clearing the area, and Jewell ran through the sound an light tower pulling out staff. He was in a "safe zone" guarded from the blast, which knocked him off his feet.
  • The film gets the numbers right in terms of injuries and victims
  • In the IMDB cast list the lone victim of the blast is named "woman in park" seen taking photos
    View from INFORUM rooftop 7/27/96
    with "girl in park." The real-life person was Alice Hawthorne, who died as a result of her injuries. This AJC interview by Shelia Poole sheds light on what happened to her surviving daughters and other family members.
  • Another casualty of the event, a camera operator from Turkey who had a heart attack, is not portrayed on screen.
  • The fan-shaped sculpture, installed at the park for the '96 Games, was damaged by the hail of nails. At least one hot nail seared into the copper surface of the artwork is still visible in 2019.
  • In real life, Scruggs was nowhere near the park when the bomb exploded. She was asleep in north Atlanta and did not hear/check her beeper until the following morning. Mortified, she raced downtown to start research on the attack, according to "The Suspect."
  • As the actual Scruggs was asleep, the scene of Scruggs (Wilde) and Martz praying for a great scoop obviously never happened.
  • Jewell did have a team of publicists from AT&T and their PR agency, Cohn & Wolfe, helping to book interviews for the hero. This team appears as one mashup character named Tim Barker (Billy Slaughter).
  • The Katie Couric "TODAY" interview is an abbreviated version of the actual interview with Jewell. But this interview took place not on the morning after the bombing; rather, the following Tuesday (hours before Jewell's FBI interview). Not portrayed in the film: A series of CNN studio appearances and phone interviews with USA Today and an AJC intern ("The Suspect").
  • A book deal offer did inspire Jewell to track down his lawyer friend Watson.
  • The FBI did respond to tips provided by Piedmont College and other former employers who expressed concerns about Jewell's overzealous, attention-seeking behavior (Brenner and "The Suspect").
  • As portrayed on screen, in 1996 a Centennial Park acquaintance (a Georgia Bureau of Investigation officer) was recruited by the FBI to wear a wire and quiz Jewell over a lasagna dinner prepared by Richard in the apartment he shared with Bobi ("The Suspect").
  • There was an FBI Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) document that quickly took shape as the bombing investigation rolled through its first 72 hours. Though the film is slightly off in its timeline and players who shared this report, the film is accurate in that it eventually outlined a Jewell-specific profile ("The Suspect").
  • According to numerous AJC columns and reports quoting the current AJC editor, conversations
    with former editors and colleagues, and facts presented in "The Suspect" and Brenner's piece, it is highly unlikely if not entirely false that Scruggs offered or traded sex for the source confirming her scoop about Jewell. Screenwriter Ray took the greatest liberties with this portrayal in the script. Bert Roughton, now retired from the AJC, explained his version of the timeline in "The Suspect" and at an Atlanta History Center book launch event held Nov. 12 reported here. These details presented in the book also negate the on-screen scenes of Wilde, as Scruggs, whispering her scoop to Martz.
  • Scruggs never hid in the back seat of the lawyers' cars (fictional for dramatic effect).
  • According to former AJC "PeachBuzz" reporter Richard Eldredge, who posted a film review on his site EldredgeATL.com, there was no "Scruggs celebration" of the scoop in the newsroom. Newsroom applause instead remained in reserve for days when the newspaper and its reporters won Pulitzer Prizes, according to AJC '96 features editor-turned-freelance film critic Wendell Brock's review published the day of the film's release.
  • The FBI did entice Jewell to be interviewed under the "training video" ruse, and it worked until FBI Director Louis Freeh called from Washington, D.C., demanding agents to read Miranda Rights. This scenario was condensed by screenwriter Ray for dramatic effect ("The Suspect").
  • The AJC afternoon edition breaking the news about Jewell did not run until after the AJC editors held the story for more than 24 hours and they read the story to the FBI communications director, who verified its accuracy and that publishing the news would not hinder the investigation. This is according to "The Suspect" and comments made by Roughton at book events or by phone/email with me since his summer column published in the AJC.
  • CNN ran a live segment and read/held up the AJC headline on live TV as portrayed. This happened during Jewell's FBI interview and was the prompt for Freeh, watching live in Washington, to call the Atlanta bureau in regards to Miranda Rights ("The Suspect").
  • Unlike his on-screen portrayal, Jewell did sign a document regarding his Miranda Rights while awaiting a callback from his attorney. A copy of the document appears on the back endpapers of "The Suspect."
  • Jewell did call Bryant's office from the FBI bureau. Watson did not return the call from the
    office; rather, he called from his SUV after his assistant, Nadya (Nina Arianda), and he read the AJC during an afternoon as Olympic spectators. Bryant did curse out the FBI. ("The Suspect")
  • The Motorola-designed gray plastic cell phones used as props for Wilde and others were more accurate than the early 2000s flip phone prop held by Hauser in multiple scenes of Jewell placing calls.
  • The scene of Bobi and Richard watching Tom Brokaw (actual NBC footage in film) is mostly accurate though was as upsetting for Richard as his mother (Brenner)
  • The attorney's live TV interview with MSNBC's Bryant Gumbel (Garon Grigsby) is abbreviated but draws inspiration from the actual interview.
  • The film portrays Bryant and Nadya walking the phone booth to park route, and later Scruggs doing this as well, to determine Jewell could not have placed the 9-1-1 call. But it reality it was an AJC reporter, Bill Rankin, who did this research, according to this report by AJC columnist Bill Torpy. Independent of the AJC research, CNN also had a reporter conduct this research, according to comments made by former CNN executive Tom Johnson during a Dec. 9 book event hosted by the Atlanta Press Club. The AJC and CNN timelines of their parallel efforts will appear on a separate post.
  • Jewell did offer "take the carpet" when the FBI extracted evidence from his residence.
  • Bobi Jewell did get upset the FBI confiscated her prized Tupperware collection they later ruined with Sharpie ink (Brenner).
  • The scene during which the FBI dupes Jewell into recording Rudolph's 9-1-1 call script never happened. Jewell's legal team prevented this voice sample from ever taking place (Brenner).
  • Dutchess was questioned by the FBI, but not in Georgia (instead, West Virginia).
  • The scene of Bryant and Jewell confronting Scruggs in the AJC newsroom is completely
    fiction. Jewell was not face to face with Scruggs until years later in lawsuit-related deposition. The AJC's downtown office was secure, not configured to allow access for visitors to "barge in" and confront reporters.
  • The reel of President Clinton on newsroom TV (behind Rockwell and Hauser) is actual footage from hours following the bombing.
  • Jewell did take a polygraph and pass with the highest rating for "no deception" detected (Brenner)
  • Jewell and his legal team did visit the FBI office in October 1996, and Jewell explained his comments predicting Atlanta's messy traffic, as shown on screen (Brenner). This meeting involved a different cast of individuals than portrayed on screen, but Jewell did explain his upset stomach before the bombing, and his admiration for his assigned guard spot as "a sweet site" to admire women (Brenner).
  • Jewell did speak of his innocence at the FBI meeting, but Ray embellished the content of Jewell's response to create his "speech" to agents (Brenner).
  • The contents of the Jewell apartment took hours to collect but only five minutes to return ("The Suspect").
  • Jewell did receive a letter from the FBI declaring he was no longer a suspect. As shown in the film, the letter was signed by Kent Alexander, then U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, now co-author of "The Suspect" The letter was not delivered by an agent nor at a
    diner, as portrayed with Hamm. Alexander handed the letter to a Jewell attorney not portrayed on screen. 
  • There was a heavily attended press conference hosted by Jewell's legal team, with Bobi Jewell speaking -- inspiration for Kathy Bates' script during this emotional scene of the film. Screenwriter Ray lifted direct quotes from Bobi's remarks, but shortened them and changed the order. Verbatim quotes, as noted in "The Suspect" include:
"The media has portrayed my son as the person who committed this crime. They have taken all privacy from us, they have taken all peace. I do not think any of you can begin to imagine what our lives are like. My son is innocent. Mr. President, please clear my son's name."
  • Jewell did move on from the 1996-1997 events to become a police officer in North Georgia. The film did not mention several colorful and touching moments of his latter years, including meeting his wife, and saving another life, as noted in "The Suspect."
  • "The Suspect" also secured THE SCOOP on Scruggs' informant; you'll have to read the book to learn who it was, as the AJC never revealed her source.
Image of "Fact versus Fiction" from this site. Stills from "Richard Jewell" via Warner Bros. Park site from INFORUM vantage via Getty. Park banner and Scruggs I.D. photos by Nicholas Wolaver. Ali and Evans image via Janet Evans' Twitter account and Today.com (likely a wire service or IOC photo).

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Forgoing Myths of Earlier Films, Clint Eastwood Directs [Mostly] True Story of ’96 Olympic Hero

When the film “Richard Jewell” opens at theatres next month, audiences may enter the experience informed by the Warner Bros. tag line: The World Will Know His Name And The Truth.

When moviegoers exit the two-hour-nine-minute drama—stylishly directed by Clint Eastwood—ticket holders will be mulling over a mostly factual version of the Centennial Olympic Park security guard’s life before, during and after the ’96 Games of Atlanta. 

Jewell gets a fair treatment in this portrayal sure to aptly tilt the narrative to the ‘hero’ end of the opinion spectrum. He saved countless lives July 27, 1996, and deserves this history-correcting dramatization for a humble Georgia do-gooder whom heroically "done good."

“Richard Jewell” is a great film, built upon a solid foundation of heavily researched source material and adorned with many merits. 

Its solid cast and acting, strong writing, impactful scenes with attention to detail (though not always historically accurate), and a soothing albeit minimalist soundtrack combine for an entertaining photoplay sure to get folks talking.

Screenwriter Billy Ray relied heavily on Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair 1997 article on Jewell, which will soon be reappear in a Simon & Schuster-published collection of the reporter's works timed for release with the film. 

Ray also pulled countless details from the new Abrams Press book “The Suspect” by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen (reviewed here).


With these and other factually rich and thoroughly vetted sources in Ray’s reach, it is curious, but not entirely surprising, the screenwriter embellished some facts and rearranged the timeline “for dramatic effect” in his creative process. More about that later in this review, and in this “Richard Jewell: Fact vs. Fiction” summary (beware of spoilers in both posts).

Accuracy debates aside, is “Richard Jewell” destined for awards nominations? Absolutely.

Will it win a bevy of these honors? Maybe.

Leonardo DiCaprio, an executive producer on “Richard Jewell” originally envisioned for the attorney role later filled by Sam Rockwell, may prove a topsy-turvy awards rival via “One Upon A Time … In Hollywood.” 

I cannot help but think 2019 blockbusters “Us” or “The Joker” and “Ad Astra” would sideline this five-ringed film in several categories, but Eastwood could be a home run candidate for “Best Director.” With that stated, even the film "Booksmart" (directed by Olivia Wilde, a star in "Richard Jewell") may outsmart Eastwood as the awards season unfolds. 

When compared with Clint’s other directorial works, “Richard Jewell” deserves placement in the top ten, maybe even the top five, but not as the crown of his long list of his many achievements. 

“Richard Jewell” does mark a return to Eastwood greatness not seen since “Million Dollar Baby” and “Mystic River,” but still plays loose with facts (as mentioned above), including some Olympic details, as in his more recent “American Sniper.”

Regardless of its rank in the Eastwood cannon, I enjoyed “Richard Jewell” and found it a powerful film, providing a thick and flavorful steak for audiences to dissect and savor. The film proves informative for all ticket holders, whether they were part of the Atlanta Games or learning about the park-related events for the first time.

On some fronts, “Richard Jewell” is a thriller, but like other Eastwood-directed films, inclusive of slow burns punctuated by occasional moments of intensity, which I think will resonate with a wide audience.

In the title role, Paul Walter Hauser vividly and effectively portrays the anti-machismo of Jewell, whose idiosyncrasies may one day resonate like the title character of “The Outlaw Josey Wales" or any one of the Western’s quirkier roles. It is fun to see Hauser in the lead on the heels of his cameo in “BlacKkKlansman.”

Perhaps prophetically for Hauser, a Jay Leno one-liner about the real guard-turned-suspect proved predictive about the actor. In 1996, the comedian joked that Jewell resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s fumbling attacker, a role Hauser brought to life as Shawn Eckhardt in “I, TONYA.” “What is it about the Olympic Games that brings out big, fat, stupid guys?” quipped Leno. 

Hauser plays it big and smart. 

Another key “Richard Jewell” strength is the film’s very authentic recreation of Centennial Olympic Park as it appeared during Games time. Little touches, like kids playing in the Olympic Rings fountain and huddled around a bag of lapel pins for trading, made me smile.

On a more somber note, the countdown to the explosion is one of the best scenes in any Clint Eastwood film, or any recent action film period. The arresting detonation feels real and the Dolby surround-sound and visuals left my heart pounding while my breath involuntarily joined the audible gasp filling the packed theatre. The blast had a way of making the audience jump as they did when Anne Archer uncapped a boiling pot of water in “Fatal Attraction.”

I liked that in lieu of gore, Eastwood and editors showed the injured bombing victims, and emergency workers tending to them, in a tasteful and artistic manner. There’s a personal moment with the mortally wounded Alice Hawthorne, the bomb’s lone fatality, but no mention of a Turkish camera operator who died of a heart attack on the scene.

Pooling blood, oozed into engraved names on Olympic park bricks, leaves no doubt how much worse the attack could have been if not for Jewell and other guards’ brave and swift response.  

Moments earlier, audiences are introduced to an FBI agent (Jon Hamm), as well as the tough-as-nails chain-smoking crime reporter for the hometown Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Kathy Scruggs (Wilde), who has all the moxie of Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane with blond hair, a taste for bourbon and a head-turning frankness that rubbed many the wrong way.

Sidebar: In “The Suspect,” colleagues and family share a more balanced view of Scruggs, taken at times to a crass extreme on screen, perhaps the Achilles’ heel of this otherwise great film.

From the morning after the explosion, the film quickly unleashes the fury of the FBI and media attention that overtook the Jewell household—Richard lived with his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates)—after Scruggs got the Olympic-sized scoop from a source naming Richard the prime suspect.

Controversial and heavy-handed maneuvers by federal investigators, and the world’s media, foreshadow the worst versions of social media hurricanes to which the world’s grown accustomed.  

On the lighter side, the film also offers many subtle and surprise laughs, and the portrayal of Nadya (Nina Arianda), the Russian-born assistant to one of Jewell's attorneys, and their flirtatious banter got the loudest chuckles (unexpected fun, yes / неожиданное веселье, да). 

Some may wonder whether Mars, Inc., payed for product placement of Snickers candy bars, which often provided comic relief that satisfies. Perhaps the best line arrives as a reference to, or later resolution of, the film's own version of a quid pro quo.

There are tender moments of Jewell the individual and of Jewell with his mother, or his attorney (Sam Rockwell, performing a mash up of multiple real-life attorneys blended by Ray). I don’t think these are Oscar-level performance for Bates or Rockwell, but both play it strong, lending depth to what Eastwood described as “the perfect cast” during his remarks before the lights dimmed at the world premiere (more about the scene at AFI Fest in this post).

This is not the first Eastwood film in which the screenwriter took liberties with facts, inserting some five-ringed fiction during the creative writing process. For "American Sniper" there was no 'Olympic shooter from Syria' (a fact verified in writing, debunking Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall, creating the most popular topic in 10 years of writing this blog).

“Richard Jewell” plays it loose with its timeline, but mostly about Scruggs. For instance, according to scenes in "The Suspect" Jewell and his lawyers only met the reporter in years-later legal proceedings, never through impromptu visits to the newsroom, obviously added for dramatic embellishment.

The film is loosest when portraying tactics Scruggs used for reporting and getting 'the scoop' involving Jewell. Did she trade sex for the source of a suspect in real life? Probably not. 

Regardless, a steamy bar scene for Wilde and Hamm likely (and unfairly) will lead many to that conclusion.

I am eager to screen “Richard Jewell” again soon (for this critic, an eagerness to quickly repeat a screening is the fifth tenet of a great film after acting, writing, impact and soundtrack) to see if the world premiere version included the complete score composed by Arturo Sandoval, who previously collaborated with Eastwood for "The Mule."

Unlike other music-rich Eastwood releases, the Nov. 20 version of “Richard Jewell,” which may have been only hours old from a near final edit, had such a sparse soundtrack, I cannot help but wonder if more score will be added before the Dec. 13 worldwide release.

With all due respect to Kenny Rogers and Los del Río, whose respective hits “The Gambler” and “Macarena” appear in early Centennial Olympic Park scenes, the soundtrack is otherwise so minimalist the Sandoval music seemed barely there until the final credits.

Some lucky Atlantans will get an advance peek at "Richard Jewell" when its local premiere takes place Dec. 10. 

For everyone else looking for a great film, mark calendars for Dec. 13, when the world will at last enjoy a (re-)introduction to an unsung Olympic hero. 

First image via Avcesar.com from their trailer screen grab via Warner Bros. All other images from various websites which enjoyed access I don't have to the media log-in pages of Warner Bros. (in spite of multiple requests via their press office pages). 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Upended Lives at Olympics Provide Drama and Richard Jewell Revelations in "The Suspect"

In the next few weeks, Atlantans and media will be buzzing about the new nonfiction book "The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, The FBI, The Media, And Richard Jewell, The Man Caught In The Middle" by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen.

This page-turning volume, a triumphant feat of journalism, research and writing 23 years in the making, encapsulates thorough, at times revealing, details about Jewell, the hero security guard who moved hundreds of concertgoers out of harm's way before a hidden bomb he found detonated at the Atlanta Olympic Games. If contributors from Jewell's inner circle achieve their goal, folks everywhere will at last proclaim the praises of Atlanta's least celebrated hero.

The book also puts a magnifying glass on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting team, notably Kathy Scruggs, as well as a specific FBI agent, Don Johnson and his colleagues, whose work in their respective fields forever impacted Jewell's and his mother Bobi's lives.

Monday afternoon a review copy finally landed on my Midtown front porch, and I delighted in devouring its 368 pages that are equal parts crime drama and unflinching critique of Federal investigations and investigative journalism.

An enclosed press release affirmed my hunch the book was optioned by Warner Bros. for the upcoming Clint Eastwood film "Richard Jewell" set for a world premiere at AFI Fest in Los Angeles on Nov. 20 (with Dec. 13 as the national release day).

One "reveal" of Alexander and Salwen's work is that the film's screenplay, at least in the movie trailer, is close to verbatim from their research of the FBI's interrogation of Jewell.

Juxtaposed with this fact, the book also reveals that Eastwood's screenwriter Billy Ray took at least one major liberty in the script: Jewell's attorneys aptly never allowed the hero guard to record the bomber's 9-1-1 call script, "There's a bomb in Centennial Park ... you have thirty minutes!" (I've previously taken Eastwood and his screenwriter for "American Sniper" to task for playing fast an loose with Olympic facts, the all-time most-read posts of this website).

"The Suspect" is a great read with relevance for anyone passionate about or in law enforcement, news media, Olympic organization, historians (of Atlanta, the USA, true crime or the Games) and the millions of people who experienced or have interest in the Centennial Olympics of 1996.

Make that a must read.

All of the one-time Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) staff and volunteers will appreciate and remember scores of long-forgotten Games-time intricacies.

Between the book's end pages -- noticeably featuring a hand-drawn bomb site map by Jewell and a Miranda rights form he reluctantly signed during his sideways interrogation (cue the "Richard Jewell" film trailer with John Hamm's stern voiceover) -- readers may be mesmerized about "The Suspect" by the numbers.

Following their 1996 roles that introduced them to their subjects, Alexander and Salwen spent more than five recent years pouring over "tens of thousands" of legal documents, 170,000 ACOG archive pages and reports, thousands of photos, dozens of cases of personal effects, 1,200+ news articles and hundreds of video clips.

They also conducted "187 original-source interviews" and read dozens of books or other materials, initially logging 2,139 footnote entries later converted to narrative source notes on their ABRAMS Books editor's suggestion. The years-long FBI investigation of Jewell and other dead-end leads exponentially adds to the mind-bending facets of the research.

The book project unfolded at a venue the authors dubbed "the cottage," which I envision resembled a "war room" like those seen on any crime drama investigation.

Notable details uncovered and documented include:
  • How Jewell's parents named him after auto racing legend Richard Petty, while nicknames the FBI adopted for too-blurry images of the actual bomber included "Blob Man" and "Goatee Man" (only one of them proved to be the man, Eric Rudolph). Beer-chugging witnesses earned the sobriquet "Speedo Boys"
  • Richard Jewell's secret lasagna recipe he cooked and served to a law enforcement peer from Centennial Olympic Park, only to later learn his invited dinner guest was wearing a wire for federal investigators
  • Which national TV reporters initially proclaimed Jewell a hero then later apologized in months-later follow-up interviews intended to rightfully exonerate him in the public eye (I had no idea Jay Leno apologized after his initial monologue quips comparing the guard to Nancy Kerrigan's attacker)
  • The Atlanta Magazine reporter who agreed to a date with Richard, only to later embarrass a crestfallen Jewell with an unflattering cover story
  • Which local radio station paid a $50,000 settlement after using Jewell's likeness in an unsanctioned outdoor billboard campaign around the song "Freebird"
  • Summaries of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Games-time "Peach Buzz" columns including the time Donald Trump lost his wallet at The Cheesecake Factory in Buckhead, and AJC non-Olympic reporters including Scruggs, who proudly reported on "distinctively non-sports coverage areas of Security, Neighborhoods and Olympic Transportation" in their "SNOT Pod" newsroom space
  • The downward spiral Scruggs endured years after her Games reporting, including shocking outdoor incidents involving a taxi she commandeered in the buff. 
Several Olympians provided interviews for the authors, including Michael Johnson, who recalled a hospital visit to injured bomb survivors before competing in second gold medal sprint.

Gold medalist Janet Evans, who witnessed the bomb explosion during an in-park TV interview, also garnered frequent mentions in the text (though it is not clear yet that she was interviewed for this book).

Personal revelations for this reader included notes on how Jewell attended the same Olympic baseball game (Cuba vs. Nicaragua) for which I held a ticket and cheered with friends. A day later, some of the federal agents of "The Suspect" watched over the India vs. Pakistan Olympic field hockey game at which I helped Pakistan fans hold aloft a giant green and white flag (my Minnesota State University-Mankato junior-year roommate spotted me on TV while watching at home with his family ... in Lahore).

I learned the most from the chapters about Rudolph -- his capture, prosecution and revelations about his post-Games movements were not on my radar in the early 2000s, though Rudolph's two other despicable attacks in Atlanta were. The book brought to mind vivid memories from news coverage of both events. The bomb he detonated in Birmingham was not "new" to me, but the authors' framing of the scene inspired chills.

Much of the Jewell narrative (until the final chapters) felt more like a fleshed-out version of previously seen reports, like a Titanic-sized version of Marie Brenner's extensive Vanity Fair article after she shadowed Jewell's legal team for months.

But I appreciated the details that at once revealed Jewell's relatable, jovial, every man nature while cracking me up, like this description from page one:
Hopping off the [MARTA] train, Jewell descended International Boulevard, the lime-green lanyard that held his credential swinging across his ample belly.
Been there, done that!

A much bigger revelation: the AJC assigned interns to interview Jewell or help report updates from his residence after Scruggs and colleagues broke their scoop under the screaming headline "FBI suspects 'hero' guard may have planted bomb."

I can't imagine receiving a federal subpoena to testify about either of my internships.

Readers also learn the less-reported aspects of the guard's later-career heroics, including touching stories of a CPR rescue and how he reflected on each anniversary of the night that changed his life. The love of his life provided some of the best heartfelt details, underscoring her own (and other Jewell inner circle members') "... hope that one day Richard Jewell would be remembered by all as a hero."

Writing of the book's biggest revelation -- which took my breath away -- would be an unforgivable spoiler (though I predict other book reviewers will not hold back).

It's fun to learn new vocabulary while reading, and the words bonhomie, putative, and lithe joined my lexicon thanks to Alexander and Salwen. And I was surprised that a book touted as a "gripping story of ... the advent of the 24/7 news cycle" did not include more mid-'90s context from the trials and tribulations of Tonya Harding and O.J. Simpson (especially the former's five-ringed connections).

Meanwhile, I found just two glaring errors and one minor one in "The Suspect."

First, the authors referred to the "seven-building Olympic Village complex" President Bill Clinton and the First Family visited. Come again?

In the "Blue Zone" of Georgia Tech's west campus -- where I was an ACOG-employed Village housing manager adjacent to the Olympic Aquatic Center -- we had more than 20 buildings including the dorms built to eventually house Team USA and delegations from Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Germany, the U.K. and dozens of other national Olympic Committees including the heavily-fortified Israeli team quarters.

My sister worked in the distant "Red Zone" north of 10th Street, which had several buildings visited by Spain's Royal Family. And over in the "Green Zone" was my Games-time housing in a frat house (one of about 20 used by NOCs).

I don't recall what the brand new towers along the Downtown Connector were named ("Blue Zone?") but it was fun attending the opening press conference with ACOG in spring 1996.

Maybe the authors only considered the "International Zone" around Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts to be the "Village complex" they described. As Hillary Clinton has proven many times, forgiveness is key, and perhaps it takes a village to get these Georgia Tech and former Georgia State University towers counted. I forgave the miscount.

An even less intrusive-to-my-eyes flub was the writers' mention of a James Brown concert at a bar named "Tabernacle."

No doubt, they meant the festive church-turned-concert hall that's still rockin' and rollin' next to the Atlanta Ferris wheel installed years later.

I'm less forgiving and not forgetting the page on which the authors recounted memories of the host committee's COO, who famously slept in his office at The INFORUM, the ACOG headquarters building which overlooks Centennial Olympic Park, some nights of the Games.

According to Alexander's and Salwen's interviews, when the bomb exploded just after the A.D. Frazier conked out in his office,
He leapt from bed ... [and] ran to his balcony barefoot and stared at the chaos and emergency lights below. Bodies were strewn across the bricks of the park. His mind flashed to the movie Saving Private Ryan, with its vivid, brutal scenes of battle. Rattled, Frazier spun and hurried back inside his darkened office, switched on the desk lamp and dialed Payne. 'Billy, we've got a problem.
I know Frazier to be wicked smart, but not clairvoyant nor one who could predict future film scripts -- the problem with this recollection, as documented in "The Suspect," is that Steven Spielberg's epic war picture did not debut until 1998.

Sidebar: I also know A.D. did not sleep on the couch by his office 24 hours after the bomb, because I tearfully fell asleep on that sofa during my own visit to overlook the park in the early hours of July 28, 1996. The sodas in his mini-fridge provided comfort as well.

Atlantans have the opportunity to meet "The Suspect" authors at the Atlanta History Center on Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

They'll be joined on stage by former AJC Senior Managing Editor Bert Roughton, a book source who wrote this Sunday AJC opinion piece about his colleague Scruggs, as well as event moderator John Pruitt, formerly of WSB-TV. Tickets are $5 for members and $10 for non-members. For more information visit this link.

On the invitation of the ABRAMS Books publicist, I delivered questions tailored for each author and will follow-up this post with their Q&A responses. What questions do you have for this remarkable writing duo? Please post them in comments and I will try to ask at the AHC event.

Book and author images via ABRAMS. Book cover photo via Bobi Jewell with jacket design by Devin Grosz. Author photo by Allison Shirreffs. Other photos via Associated Press, DP/AFP/Getty, ESPN and GeorgiaEncyclopedia.org. 

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