The River

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Book table

At my local Barnes and Noble during lunch the other day I happened upon a table full of books on horse racing. And I discovered that, in addition to acting in the film Seabiscuit, jockey and renaissance man Gary Stevens has written an autobiography, The Perfect Ride. But I didn't see any of my favorites, so I'm listing them here, just in case anyone out there is interested in a good horse racing read.

The Wrong Horse: An Odyssey Through the American Racing Scene and Tip on a Dead Crab, both by William Murray. The former is a personal account of one man's love of horse racing; the latter is a quietly entertaining mystery novel, part of Murray's Shifty Lou Anderson series.

A Breed Apart: The Horses and the Players, by Mike Helm. Another idiosyncratic look at the sport and why some are attracted to it.

Ruffian: Burning from the Start, by Jane Schwartz, is a vivid telling of the story of Ruffian, who is regarded as horse racing's greatest filly.

Also, The Miracle Strip: A Story of Longacres Race Track by Stephen Sadis is an excellent documentary, and a sad story to boot, since it was occasioned by the demise of the Seattle track in 1992 to make way for a Boeing facility.

I found this about the film on the Web:

Unreeling hidden histories

Filmmaker Stephen Sadis takes Whyte's advice literally. Since 1991,
the Bellevue native has been turning local history into documentaries.
The first, which appeared in 1992, was "The Miracle Strip," the story
of Renton's now-gone Longacres racetrack. It was followed by "Real
Baseball: The Everett Giants Story." Then, in 1996, Sadis made "The
Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway." The films have been broadcast both
locally and nationally, and continue to sell well on video.

These days, Sadis' Perpetual Motion Pictures company occupies a
Second Avenue office that resembles a set. The low-lit room exudes a
1930s ambiance, with framed vintage stills in the shadow of Art-Deco
arches. But, says the young exec, his enterprise was started by
accident. "I never thought I was really interested in `history.' Then
I saw Ken Burns' `The Civil War' on TV. I was living in Los Angeles,
working as a cameraman. Ken Burns' style really turned my views around."

At almost the same time, Sadis learned Longacres was doomed. Having
worked there as a teen, he knew and loved the racetrack. "So I came home
just to document it. Of course, I didn't know how to go about it." With
two years to go before the track's demise, Sadis started hunting down
interview subjects: old employees, owners' relatives, even gamblers and
former jockeys. At the same time, he devoured newspaper microfilm. "I
read the local papers from 1906 through the '40s. They gave me mileposts
for that slice of Seattle history."

Sadis' biggest struggle came with visualizing the story. And, in
the end, he broke down and wrote Ken Burns directly. "I asked for a
script of his, and he actually sent one! I'd never seen a documentary
script, so that was great." He then enlisted a writer friend, David
Buerge, and together they gave structure to a wealth of material:
interviews, paraphernalia, old footage, photographs.

Since "The Miracle Strip," Sadis has never looked back. His current
feature is "The Seattle Rainiers," an hourlong documentary on the 1930s
baseball team. Raised to championship stature by Emil Sick, then the
owner of Rainier Brewery, the team had "a huge impact on the city,"
says Sadis.

As with every Perpetual project, research parallels Sadis' fund
raising. Even as he solicits memories, home footage and photos, he
writes grants, courts sponsors and talks to distributors. But
inevitably, his histories are incomplete. "You get some great tales
which never make it into the film, simply because there are no visuals
to support them. Plus there are complex things you can't do justice to,
because that's not the nature of your medium."

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