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Archive for Saturday, February 15, 2014

Column: Movie, hate-bill timing divine

February 15, 2014

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I wholeheartedly disagree with atheists. There simply must be a God.

What else but divine intervention could explain the accidental, pluperfect timing of the release of “Jayhawkers,” Kevin Willmott’s film centered on the racial climate in Lawrence when Wilt Chamberlain came to town?

In the most powerful scenes in the black-and-white film, Wilt is refused service at a diner and told he had to sit in the balcony at a movie theater.

The film premiered Friday night in the Lied Center, one day after the House branch of the Kansas Legislature approved bill 2453, which enables citing religious beliefs to deny goods and services to same-sex couples.

The House passed the hate bill two days before Valentine’s Day, a holiday manufactured to celebrate love.

I watched a screening of the film, which airs today at Lied Center at 11 a.m., 7 and 9 p.m. and Sunday (1, 4, 7 p.m.). If you’re the type who likes to nitpick historical inaccuracies, have at it, but you’ll miss the point. The point is that KU Chancellor Franklin Murphy was the right person to occupy a chair of influence when such a popular black figure came to town. Murphy used Wilt’s presence to speed up integration in Lawrence.

Kansas reserve center Justin Wesley does an admirable job of portraying Wilt. I feared that being new to the art, he might over-act. Not so. I also feared there would be an attempt to recreate games, as too often is the case in Hollywood. Instead, Willmott borrowed the “Raging Bull” technique of tight shots and liberal use of slow-motion. Nice touch. All the while, the music of Nathan Davis, Wilt’s college buddy, played, jazzing up the movie. Really nice touch.

I was delighted to meet the real Davis, not the actor who portrayed him, Thursday night at 715, where I dined with my Valentine. Wilt used to play the bongo drums with Davis.

“He wasn’t a pro, but he was good,” said Davis, retired from 43 years as director of music at University of Pittsburgh. “He had good rhythm. He could play with you and not mess you up.”

Davis also said, “We didn’t call him Wilt the Stilt. We called him String Bean because he was so skinny. And he wasn’t 7-feet yet. He was probably about 6-9, 6-91⁄2. He grew when he was here.”

In many ways, Lawrence has grown. Being part of the state of Kansas at a time when some politicians outside of Douglas County seem to have lost their minds and hearts, Lawrence is in danger of shrinking, lest the state Senate kill the hate bill, as it appears now that it will.

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