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The Disability Movie Marathon

by Nicola Dormer

7th December 2008

With the long, wintry days of the Christmas holidays just round the corner, Ouch! felt it was the perfect time to set witty disabled blogger Nicola Dormer a challenge. Could she watch ten hit disability-themed movies on DVD, one after the other, without feeling any ill effects from the parade of Hollywood stars doing their best impersonation of a disabled person? And would she ever want to see another film again after the whole experience?
With a pile of DVDs by her side, Nicola looks pensive as she begins the Disability Movie Marathon
Daniel Day-Lewis is moving a record player needle with his foot. His left foot. This impresses me.

It is a drizzly Sunday morning, and I have just started Ouch's Disability Movie Marathon. My hopes are mixed. I am not a film buff - of the ten films dispatched to me, I have seen only two before – so how is someone who can barely focus on an episode of EastEnders going to make it through ten feature-length films back to back? With caffeine, that's how. Lots and lots of caffeine. I have also amassed a selection of crisps and chocolate in honour of the occasion.

DVDs and junk food - people do this all the time on bleak winter days. I suspect, however, that they watch a smaller number of DVDs, like four or three and a half, and achieve a gradual guilt-free loss of interest. But with so many fat-based snacks at my side, there is no reason why I can’t enjoy myself today ... is there?

As I mentioned, I start with My Left Foot, the biopic of Irish author Christy Brown. Christy’s dad exhibits the usual rollercoaster of emotions we expect from fathering a disabled child. We know this because he orders two drinks and headbutts a guy. When the young Christy takes the chalk between his toes and scrawls M-O-T-H-E-R on the kitchen floor, I sense that this is my cue to be moved. I am not.
Nicola leans forward to concentrate hard on a movie - possibly a complicated plot-twist
Forrest Gump’s mum, meanwhile, assures him that he is "no different from anyone else". Now many of us are told this in childhood, only to spend the rest of our lives testing the theory as we fall down stairs, get stranded on trains and spoken to like invertebrates. The 'no different' mantra is absent from My Left Foot, though: for a start, it’s very much harder to justify when the person in question can’t stand up and writes with their toes.

In the 1989 comedy See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are pretending their 'difference' doesn’t even exist. In an early scene, Pryor’s blind character Wally is sitting on a subway train reading the newspaper upside down.

The rest has something to do with Wally and a deaf guy called Dave escaping from the police for a murder they didn’t commit. Cue endless variations on 'look at the amusing potential of this scenario' and some fairly well observed comments on lip-reading. Not a fan.

At this point in the marathon viewing session my attention is waning and my teeth ache from chewing toffee. Other members of the household look longingly at the television, which by now has been clogged with DVDs for much of the daylight hours. Well, they will just have to wait. At this rate, they will have to wait for about a fortnight.
Nicola laughs at one of the movies - let's hope it's because of a joke, rather than some bad acting
So I move on to Al Pacino’s Oscar opportunity - I mean, Scent of A Woman. I am immediately dismayed to see yet another screen legend feigning blindness by staring wistfully into the foreground.

Colonel Frank Slade was blinded "juggling grenades while drunk". I like the murky back story and character flaws here; it makes a change from all the geniuses and lovable Gumps. Damn those geniuses.

Oh, look, the sky has grown dark ... and I am running out of Diet Coke. I need it to stay awake. How on earth will I access Diet Coke when it’s dark and possibly below freezing outside? As an empowered disabled person, I get my mum to go and buy some.

Onwards and upwards, and I’m now plodding on to Rain Man. I have never seen this film, but Tom Cruise has sunglasses and that late ‘80s look with his shirt tucked into high-waisted jeans. I assume that he’s the non-autistic, idiot brother. Raymond Babbitt, played by Dustin Hoffman, lives in an institution; one that serves pizza, so it must be the good kind. There’s less reliance on phonebook memorisation than I had expected, which is nice.
Nicola looking very thoughtful, chewing on her pen as she continues the Disability Movie Marathon
I’ve reached the half way point; there’s nothing like a day full of institutions, suicidal ambitions and dead Irish novelists to make a person feel melancholy. There are five films left to go, and if I’m going to make it I need happiness, I need joy. I get Million Dollar Baby.

I’m eating toffee now, waiting an hour and a half for a woman’s neck to snap. I might have dozed off around the twenty-five minute mark. Anyone accusing the film’s director, Clint Eastwood, of rushing through this 'mercy killing' business can just stop right there. He left at least half an hour to ponder it, and included lots of shots of nasty looking bedsores and eye-flickering. So there.

Sugar and caffeine is a potent mix. My hands are shaking a bit. I don’t care, but I do swap my toffee for something called tabbouleh with feta cheese. I am sophisticated like that.

Rejuvenated, I am optimistic about As Good As It Gets. Jack Nicholson stars as Melvin Udell; he’s offensive, inflexible, has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and I love him. Finally, the mood has lifted.

In A Beautiful Mind, mathematician John Nash gets his schizophrenia diagnosis after spending forty-five minutes being chased round by an imaginary FBI agent. This is a decent film, nice leaves, plus I had luxury crisps to eat. I just wish I wasn’t so sick of jolting anti-socials with Oscar statues lit up in their eyes.
Nicola falls asleep, having watched ten disability-themed movies in a row. It's been a long day ...
The Miracle Worker: I have already decided I hate this film. While Mr Brown responded to his son Christy’s disability with drunken violence, Helen Keller’s mum opts for a bloodcurdling scream. Pity was hot in the 19th century, and Annie Sullivan is repeatedly told to "give up and pity" Helen.

I can’t pity her though, because I am too busy pitying myself. I appear to be stuck. Any joint pain I experience now can be blamed entirely on trying to lie in a 'sleeping position' on a two seater sofa. Really, truly, I don’t think it is unreasonable to crave sleep at this point.

So, lastly, it’s time for Inside I’m Dancing. The first thing to say is that there is no excuse for the state of James McAvoy’s hair. At the time, the reviewers frothing with joy over fake wheelchair users getting drunk made me angry. Right now, this film just makes me want my own flat.

As the credits roll on the tenth and final DVD, my Disability Movie Marathon comes to an end. What have I learned? Well, for one thing, I realise the importance of changing seating position every hour or so. Secondly, I can’t help but think that, by finally watching these ‘classics’, I have achieved some sort of cripple rite of passage. I probably haven’t, but at least I now know who the hell Christy Brown is.

I would recommend these films to anyone with a good attention span and a high cheese threshold. The days are colder, the nights are darker, and if for some reason you wish to pass the time by watching the history of disability in film, I can recommend it with a reasonable amount of sincerity. Just make sure that you’ve got chocolate.


    • 1. At 2:55pm on 08 Dec 2008, wheelalong wrote:

      What? No Coming Home! Jon Voight & Jane Fonda showing crips have sex - or do you have be as old as me to remember it? The also heroic machinations of Oliver Stone (again with Tom Cruise - but still...) & the out-pouring of the inward grief America went through after the Vietnam fiasco - in Born on the Fourth of July, resonances there perhaps for our soldiers in current war zones - wheelchairs both - for the hat-trick, a young Marlon Brando in 'The Men'. All influential in their time.

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    • 2. At 8:13pm on 08 Dec 2008, Chris_Page wrote:

      Why would Ouch put poor Nic through such an ordeal - and what self-respecting Crip would enter a competition to WIN these risible wastes of celluloid (apart from As Good As it Gets, which I do like)?

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    • 3. At 8:02pm on 10 Dec 2008, tangentgirl wrote:

      Ugh. As Good As It Gets becomes less fun when your mother watches it to learn about your condition and decides that if you just cheered up a bit there'd be no need for any of this psychaitry faffing.

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    • 4. At 1:26pm on 11 Dec 2008, crustycrip wrote:

      Hi Nic,

      Some good films there. A film that I found really brilliant, was the Lost Weekend by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland about an alchoholic: here's a link to imdb:

      Has Ouch got any budget left after paying you to do this?


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    • 5. At 3:32pm on 05 Jan 2009, pnestar wrote:

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    • 6. At 3:32pm on 05 Jan 2009, pnestar wrote:

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    • 7. At 3:32pm on 05 Jan 2009, pnestar wrote:

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    • 9. At 3:32pm on 05 Jan 2009, pnestar wrote:


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