Salute is no medal-worthy effort
Just in time for the summer Olympics comes documentarian Matt Norman’s feature-length début Salute, which focuses on his uncle, Peter Norman’s, role in the controversial medal podium protests by US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 summer games in Mexico City. More a tribute than a balanced, in-depth look at the event and its fallout, Salute does manage to capture the significance of the event whilst highlighting the era’s tensions. Unfortunately, Salute, in many ways, is not quite ready for the big screen, delivering unsatisfying results that fail to do the subject matter justice.
While providing brief narratives on the impoverished backgrounds of Smith and Carlos, as would be expected of this Australian feature produced by his family, it is Norman who takes centre-stage. The runner, himself, contributes his point of view in a variety of sit-down interviews filmed before his death in 2006. Salute presents a brief sketch of racial tensions in the US at the time and juxtaposes it with the racism in Australia towards the aboriginals. It also briefly mentions the student protests in Mexico as the games were about to begin, where police shot dead thousands of protesters. These complex matters are only touched upon, with very little depth or insight provided beyond the athletes opinions and awareness of them. With so much time spent in building up the circumstances around the ’68 Games, there is little room for the actual fallout. The impact on all three runners’ lives is briefly touched upon, but again, the presentation is too shallow to engage to audience.
Originally released in Australia four years ago, in coordination with the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Salute appears badly dated due to heavy reliance on stock footage and too many interviews that appear to have been filmed using VHS technology. Despite raising $2 million Australian dollars for the production, Salute looks and sounds remarkably low-rent. Wherever that money went, it isn’t evident from the actual film. Audio from speeches and interviews is too often garbled and the overall resolution of the film is poor. Salute tells an interesting story in a fairly bland manner and is simply not suited for large screens. It’s also difficult to take it seriously as anything more than a memorial film for Peter Norman, as his family’s portrayal of the somewhat controversial figure in Australian atheltics is nothing less than saintly. There are never any outside opinions offered. That one of Australia’s greatest Olympians was not even invited to the Sydney Games is intriguing, but the reasons behind the fact are never explored. This is but one example, of what seems to be a multitude of missed opportunities to dig even just a little bit deeper by Matt Norman, leaving Salute feeling more like historical fluff than anything else.
It is unlikely that Salute would have ever seen a release in the UK, were it not for the London Games and the film is reason enough why. Short on substance, Salute is a lovely portrait of Peter Norman by his family, but by only scratching the surface of the stories around two black-gloved raised fists, it makes for sub-par cinema. In the end, it feels little more than an Olympic cash-in, which serves to undermine the importance of the events Salute depicts. 5/10