Television doesn't often satisfy one's appetite for discovery, but now and then a "Little Mike" comes along to redeem the medium's honor. Actually, "Little Mike" comes along at 10:30 tonight on Channel 26, and it's a pleasure to encounter both the subject of this video profile and the profile itself. They share some of the same qualities.
Little Mike's full name is Michael Anderson, and in 1981, when this tape was begun, he was 28 years old and 3 1/2 feet tall. Though "not a dwarf, and not a midget," as he points out, that's as tall as he is ever going to get. Anderson was born with a disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, which meant his bones were frail and prone to break, and kept him short.
In "Little Mike" he is followed around his natural habitat (mostly, Denver) by producer-director Norris J. Chumley, who records Anderson's habits and observations and lets him tell his own story in his own words, some of them delicately eloquent, some of them understandably pained.
Anderson rides through town in an ice cream truck singing "I Love to Laugh" from "Mary Poppins," enjoying the attention of children. He trundles down the aisles of a supermarket and is hurt that people "don't even glance my way" when he walks by. He does spirited wheelies for the camera in "the wheelchair I grew up in" and talks about the relatively new experience, only a few years old, of being able to walk, and how this helps him deal with "the architectural barriers that are present in the environment."
"Little Mike" asks us not to pity Anderson nor to humor him, nor to regard him as the kind of tearily inspirational figure that might come prancing out of a TV movie. It only asks us to appreciate him, and he is eminently appreciatable. There is in his glistening eyes a great sense of pleasure at being alive. This is contagious, and Chumley has done nothing to impede it.
A model of simplicity and naturalistic organization, "Little Mike" sustains interest even through Anderson's rambling soliloquies. In family home movies, he is a baby with casts on his tiny legs. Recalling a stint with a commune in South Dakota, Anderson remembers how he became top dog, literally -- treated as a pet by those around him.
While chanting his mantra in the Black Hills, Anderson recalls, "I saw myself shining in the void." His eyes light up again when he talks about working with computers at Martin Marietta Corp., his current employer, and marvels at the thought that "there's an electronic analogy for everything in life."
Anderson appears to have whatever the opposite of an attitude problem is.
Little Mike is a discovery, and Chumley is the video maker who discovered him. "Little Mike" is not a "film," and anyone who calls it that is wrong; it was shot on half-inch home video equipment (Beta variety) over a four-year period and then bumped up to one-inch for editing.
Already shown on the Arts & Entertainment cable network, the 26-minute video profile went on to win first prize in last year's "Visions of U.S." amateur video competition, cosponsored by Sony Corp. and Showtime/The Movie Channel, which offered "Mike" and other winners to its subscribers earlier this year.
From his home in New York, Chumley, 29, said yesterday that all the attention paid to "Little Mike" has been good for his career. He is now a producer at WNET, New York's public TV station, and says, "I very much want to make more pieces." And he very much should. As for Anderson, he sang his original songs, to "great response," Chumley says, at a party in New York Wednesday night, and is up for a role in a feature film.
"Little Mike" celebrates not only Anderson, but all special cases everywhere, and it does it without romanticizing anything out of proportion. As Anderson once saw himself shining in a void, "Little Mike" shines in the void of television tonight.