By Jim Provenzano
December 18, 2006
It must have been difficult to condense eight days of athletic and cultural glory into a two-hour film, but the Gay Games VII official commemorative DVD, directed by Brenda Schumaker, presents a concise, touching, and uplifting overview of the seventh games.
A 20-minute segment on the four-hour Opening Ceremony provides snippets of nearly all the speeches and performances by an array of talents, including Margaret Cho, Holly Near, Megan Mullally, Erasure’s Andy Bell, and the amazing Anti-Gravity gymnastic/dance group. But the parade of athletes, even in a shortened format, will probably give any participant the biggest thrill.
Compared to previous Gay Games videos – and I’ve seen them all – this is one of the most sports-focused documentations of such an event. The DVD visualizes the diversity of participants from around the world and the ebullient hospitality of the city of Chicago. Unlike 2002’s Sydney Gay Games DVD (a sprawling five hours), the DVD of the 2006 Games is leaner and more to the point – like the event itself.
Many of the Gay Games’ 31 sports get admirable coverage in well-edited segments that show the spirit, enthusiasm, and open affection of the participants. The coverage of Day One’s early morning triathlon captures winners and late stragglers in equally exhausted joy.
Some segments cater to the sexy nature of their respective sports, like the muscled hunks of physique, the fierce water-polo final between West Hollywood and Utah’s QUAC (held in a facility so warm, most of the audience was shirtless), and the bikini-clad beach volleyball jocks (male and female).
Added to these segments are interviews with women and men of all ages and body types, including 88-year-old physique competitor Paul Mart (also a co-founder of the Gay Games), who proves the concept that anyone can compete.
Cultural and special events get screen time as well. Cheerleading, choir concerts, marching band, and color guard represent the rousing aspect of every Gay Games.
Controversies at the Games are handled swiftly, yet provide an appropriate context to the minor conflicts that took place. Christian fundamentalists who protested at the rowing events in suburban Crystal Lake are shown, but interviews with local PFLAG parents and participants illustrate the more supportive environment that pervaded.
When a protester tried to interrupt concert pianist Tatsuya Nagashima’s performance at Millennium Park, his simple reply – an instrumental version of “Jesus Loves Me” – shows how such negative interruptions were quickly dispatched.
Some segments, like the Pink Flamingo aquatic show, could have done with more screen time, but each of the most colorful contingents is given its close-up.
Other sports are given short shrift in montages lasting only a few minutes, including ice hockey, wrestling, sailing, golf, billiards, and darts. With nearly 300 Gay Games records set in swimming, that sport could have done with more time, too.
Like most other Gay Games documentaries, statistics and other overall data are not included, which is disappointing. While several individual medalists are identified when interviewed, even an overall range of the number of medals won in different sports is not provided.
Making up for this weakness in the DVD, a variety of human-interest stories underline one of the Games’ goals – inclusion. There are interviews with deaf athletes – including a female triathlete and a male figure skater – plus openly HIV-positive athletes, including masters diver Scott Smith and physique medalists Steven Perkins and Douglas Bates.
A touching story within the soccer segment covers the difficult journey of The Chosen Few, the only women’s soccer team from South Africa, who were also scholarship recipients. Fellow South African Leigh-Anne Naidoo, a highly ranked volleyball player, worked with the Chicago organization to secure visas for the team, and is featured in a few impassioned moments.
Naidoo is among the notable athletes featured on the DVD, including former NFL player David Kopay (reciting the athletes’ oath), former baseball pro Billy Bean (competing rather well in tennis), and former NFL football player Esera Tuaolo. Not only does Tuaolo sing, but he also plays volleyball (and flag football – but that sport segment focuses on other participants).
Although it’s gratifying to see that some of the informal medal ceremonies are included, the Gay Games VII DVD isn’t always about the victors. One of the wonderful segments in the softball footage showcases the cheerful attitude of a Taiwanese women’s softball team, who, despite losing every game, come across as truly generous winners.
Several Closing Ceremony performers get some great moments, including Betty, the DC Cowboys, and of course, Cyndi Lauper’s sure-to-be-iconic appearance as a rainbow-flag-clad Statue of Liberty singing “True Colors.”
During the closing and sponsor credits, a few songs can be heard in their entirety, such as former Styx band member Chuck Pannozzo’s commissioned anthem “Faces of Victory,” and cute folk/rocker Eric Himan’s “Love Don’t Hide” (both performed at Closing Ceremony). Tuaolo’s spirited a cappella rendition of the Games theme song, “Take the Flame,” remains my favorite.
Bonus features include a segment about Tom Waddell that was shown at the Opening Ceremony, and that has a PSA quality to it. The segment includes a statement about the Games that Waddell wrote in 1982, which was recited by an array of out LGBT athletes from around the world.
Six photo slideshows taken by a crew of more than a dozen great photographers offer some of the best still images from the Games.
For DVD ordering information, visit http://www.gaygameschicago.org.