Jim Schembri, Reviewer – The Age Newspaper, July 17, 2008
It’s a film worthy not only of our praise, but of our thanks.
- * * * * * 4 1/2
- Rarely has the ability of a documentary to utterly transform one’s appreciation of a historical event been so superbly harnessed as in Matt Norman’s extraordinary film about the “black power” salute given at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City – and about the remarkable Australian scrupulously sidelined by his own country’s history.On the winners’ dais after the men’s 200-metre final, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos defied protocol by raising their fists to signal to the world the racial tension ripping through the heart of the US. The image became an iconic gesture of defiance and pride.
The third man on the podium was silver medallist Peter Norman, the director’s uncle. Though he did not feel it was his right to salute, Norman was deeply involved in what occurred. He, too, was troubled by race relations back home. He had become friends with his competitors and wore a badge in support of their cause.
For that, Norman would be punished for the rest of his life. Australian officials diligently set about ensuring that he be blackballed from anything that brought him recognition, whatever the cost to the country. Despite representing a strong chance to take out his event at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Norman was denied a spot.
The campaign against him even carried through to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, to which he received no invitation from the Australian organisers. Given the racial motive behind the salute, this alarming fact adds a distinctly bitter twist to the story, with the film’s archival images of Catherine Freeman proudly holding aloft the Olympic torch now laced with irony.
From the outset, Matt Norman’s aim is clear. He wisely presumes nothing on behalf of the audience and so methodically builds from scratch the interweaving strands of the entire story – from the event itself, to the socio-political context, to the racial conflicts in the US and Australia, and the protracted aftermath.
It’s here the film’s emotional power increases. The director clearly wants to enrage us, and by that measure Salute is an unqualified success. In detailing the campaign against Peter Norman, the film serves up a sound backhander to the Australian character by exposing the ugly flipside to our beloved “fair go” image.
Chief among the film’s implicit themes is that the larrikin image so popular in Aussie folklore is something of a fraud. Rather, the film seems to declare that such behaviour will exact a huge price as it runs counter to our actual instinct, which is to conform.
Moving, funny, frustrating and ultimately uplifting, Salute not only restores Peter Norman’s place in our history, it gives him back to us. It’s a film worthy not only of our praise, but of our thanks.
It’s a film worthy not only of our praise, but of our thanks!,