Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jim McKay, 1921-2008

The death has been announced of longtime sportscaster Jim McKay. McKay served for decades as the host of ABC's Wide World of Sports, but might be best known for being on the air at the 1972 Munich Olympics on the fateful day when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped, and ultimately killed, eleven members of the Israeli delegation. One of the best documentaries looking at those events is One Day in September. It won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature of 1999 (interestingly beating out Buena Vista Social Club).

The story being well-known, it's more important to look at the presentation and the background. The standard of interviews and archive footage shows up, including an interview with one of the surviving members of the terrorist group, Black September. Perhaps just as interesting is the juxtaposition of the terrorist atrocities with the joyous celebration of friendly competition that the Olympics were supposed to be (the IOC, in an act of unbelievable callousness, wanted the athletic events to go on while the hostage drama was still unfolding). Pop music of the period is effectively used to show the various emotions, most notably that of Apollo 100's Joy, based on Johann Sebastian Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.

Some of the background to the events of September, 1972, may not be as remembered today, such as the fact that most law enforcement authorities simply weren't prepared for such a terrorist situation back in 1972. (The Israelis were among the few who were, and offered help to the West Germans, who stunningly refused.) There hadn't been very many such situations yet outside of Israel, with the possible exception of the FLQ kidnapping in Canada two years earlier. Also glossed over today is the craven response by the West German government of effectively giving into the terrorists, by having a nearly empty airliner "hijacked", with the ransom being the release of those Black September members who had survived the events in Munich. One Day in September effectively tells the whole story -- or at least about as much as can be humanly gleaned -- and is worthy of being seen by anybody interested in the events of that fatal day. It is available on DVD, but being a documentary, is more expensive since the lower interest in documentaries doesn't fit in with volume discounts.

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