Life is for Living

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On a rainy Sunday when many people might have been tempted to stay inside, the Michigan Theater presented two films about individuals who stretched the boundaries of their experiences.

On September 29, 2013, the Michigan screened the documentaries Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself and GO FAR: The Christopher Rush Story.

The afternoon showing of Plimpton! described the adventures of the famous writer George Plimpton, whose research for his work often included participation in the events that he chronicled.

The evening screening of GO FAR told the courageous story of Christopher Rush, whose muscular dystrophy did not prevent him from getting college degrees and achieving certification as a scuba diver.

These in-depth studies of two remarkable individuals were enhanced by personal appearances by the directors of each film. They introduced the films, fielded questions from the audience, and received warm rounds of appreciative applause.

Luke Poling, who co-directed Plimpton! with Tom Bean, talked about the co-operation they received from the people that they interviewed for the film. “Everybody said, come on over, we’d love to talk about George,” Luke said.

“I was talking with Freddy Plimpton, George’s first wife, and I said, you know how nice it is that all these people are just so willing to do one more favor for their friend, and how nice it is for us, and they just really wanted to help us make a movie about George, a nice favor.

“And she said, no, I think everybody just wanted to bring him back for an hour. And during the interviews, you could tell that. Everybody was laughing and smiling, and reliving every adventure that they had.”

Zack Arnold was presenting GO FAR for the first time to a theater audience. He talked about the ongoing challenges of bringing the movie to the public.

“I would love it if you guys could stay afterwards because I do want to talk about where the film is, how I could still use your help, what my plans are for it, the film, because my plans are big. I’m like Chris, I don’t think little, I think big. He may have been a little guy, but he had big ideas, and I want to make sure that these ideas get to the most people possible.”

Zack later thanked different people who helped him make this film.

“I’m eternally grateful to the Rush family. I invaded their life for the past five and a half years. I have dug through their stuff, I have gone through their basement, I have scanned pictures, I have gone through e-mails, and just totally invaded their privacy, and they have been nothing but gracious, hoping that this was going to be the outcome, and I think they are going to be very pleased that they let me invade their home for the last five years.

“And I’d like to thank a person who is not here tonight, and that’s Christopher, because without him, none of this would be possible, and this is all about him, and all about his story, and what it is that he wanted to do for people. So wherever you are Chris, thank you very much.”

Christopher’s GO FAR inspirational program stands for Goals, Obstacles, Focus, Act, and Review.

The single screenings of the films and guest appearances made the day feel like a miniature version of the Cinetopia International Film Festival, which the Michigan started in 2012.

Seeing the films together was a thought-provoking and emotionally involving experience. Each movie provided added perspective for the other.

The motivations and challenges that were faced by Christopher and George in their strivings were very different. After seeing GO FAR, in which Christopher Rush demonstrated heroic courage in everyday life, it was tempting to look at George Plimpton’s attempts to imitate athletes and others as trivial and self-indulgent.

But their experiences intersected in the world of everyday life where we all exist. From Chris, we can all better appreciate the simple fact of waking up everyday with our health, and we should be thankful for the most basic things in life, like walking and talking.

With George, we know that we don’t have to settle for the routine of everyday life. We can push ourselves to experience things that most people only dream about.

Remembrances

Both events included speakers who had personal experiences with the subjects of the films.

Before GO FAR, Christopher Rush’s father Richard spoke. My own family has been affected by neuromuscular illness, and I know that Christoper Rush’s parents and family are a vitally important part of Chris’s story.

Richard spoke about director Zack Arnold, who attended the University of Michigan with Christopher. “I’m delighted that Zack had such artistry, such gifts, such passion for the legacy that Chris tried to leave behind within GO FAR that we hope that you’ll appreciate this story.”

He added, “The master, the man who put together both the science and the art of this was clearly an extremely good friend of Christopher’s. They both shared a love of film. They met in a film class together…To a great extent, Chris’s passion for film was something that he developed with Zack within his circle of friends and they grew to know each other quite well, worked on several projects together, and he was one of the few people–Zack–who really embraced immediately someone who was in a wheelchair, and so that was new ground for Christopher.”

After the George Plimpton movie, stage comments were made by Bill Dow, a Detroit area writer who helped organize a 40th anniversary gathering of the 1963 Detroit Lions, with whom George Plimpton played. Plimpton later wrote about his experiences with the Lions in the book Paper Lion.

“He was very generous with me,” Bill noted. “That’s the thing that was so great about the experiences every time I had with him. In the course of getting ready for the reunion, he said that he was doing a new edition of Paper Lion. And I said, ‘Jim Bouton, with Ball Four the book, in his updated edition had an afterword with whatever happened to the players. Would you want me to do that for Paper Lion?’ I had the nerve to ask him that. He goes, ‘Be my guest, tell the publisher.’ ”

Later, I thought about how both George Plimpton and Christopher Rush touched the lives of thousands of people, most of whom they never met.

Bill Dow noted that George Plimpton died just a few days after the reunion of the 1963 Detroit Lions in 2003. GO FAR included many tributes to Christopher Rush right after he died in August 2007, just a few weeks before his 31st birthday.

But their lives are preserved forever, thanks to dedicated filmmakers and the willingness of theaters like the Michigan to make their films available to the public.

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Copyright © 2013 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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