Bud Greenspan has gotten his hands on some historic footage again.
This time, the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics have fallen into the ever-reverent hands of Greenspan, writer/producer of the "Olympiad" historic vignette series for ABC and of similar up-close-and-personal but long-ago-and-faraway fare for television.
The result is an intriguing bit of hocus-pocus called "Time Capsule: The Los Angeles Games of 1932" (WRC-TV-4, 2:30 p.m. Saturday). Although those starved for the thrill of victory this agonizingly empty autumn should not get their hopes up, 1932 is a breezy 90 minutes of color and black and white.
The docudrama combines the never-used 1932 footage -- about 200,000 scratch-free feet shot for an ill-fated Hollywood project and then forgotten for nearly 50 years -- with 1982 state-of-the-art technology.
It's the 1932 Games as they would be covered by 1982 television, complete with post- and pre-event interviews, slow- and stop-motion replays, superimposed stats and anchor booth manned by broadcasters with greasy hair and heavy Depression-era suits.
Greenspan and his wife/executive producer, Cappi Petrash Greenspan, hired actors to portray 1932 TV reporters and athletes. They've blended the original footage with new footage, in some cases using a remarkable video process called "Ultimatte," to put 1982 people right inside 1932 scenes -- so well that a handful of NBC executives at a recent screening were asked six times to distinguish between actual and acted segments, and six times all guessed wrong, according to Greenspan.
Maybe. About the only one who'll fool you initially is Sarah Geils as Babe Didrikson, interviewed after winning one of the two gold medals she took in 1932 for the javelin throw and the 80-meter hurdles. She is the epitome of the small-town Texas girl whose on-camera reaction to sudden athletic glory is to talk too fast and look down at her feet a lot.
Eventually, however, Geils' studied unstudiedness gets a little tiresome, due to Greenspan's wooden "interview" dialogue ("Yup. I'm a typist. Type 100 words a minute . . . ") And also due to the surprising fact that the real athlete interviews of "1932" are snappy and light. Particularly swimming medalists Clarence (Buster) Crabbe and Eleanor Holm.
"If I had to choose between winning swimming championships and losing my looks because of big muscles, I'd give up trying to win championships," said a smiling Holm, who'd just won the 100-meter backstroke -- and whose talking face appears in a corner of the screen as you see a full screen replay of her feat, just like 1982. "Winning an Olympic gold medal is fun, but the moment I find my winning is making me athletic looking, and making me look like an Amazon, then I'll just quit."
That just might be the high point of the show.
There are also points during "1932" at which you almost forget how strange it is for TV sportcasters to be sitting in front of a Chromakey screen describing the slow motion thereupon of a race run 50 years ago.
The 100-meter dash, in which Michigan's Eddie Tolan and Marquette's Ralph Metcalfe finished in an apparent dead heat, is played and played again, from three different angles. An Olympic Committee "judge" is even interviewed at trackside, thanks to Ultimatte, to explain the decision to call it a tie.
We even get a hint of how Sport has been changed since it married Television. In the 200-meter race, Metcalfe was edged out by Tolan and George Simpson because, as viewers at home can plainly see, his staggered starting block was placed several yards behind where it was supposed to be. After Metcalfe (portrayed by actor Billy Jaye Banner) and reporter Bill Cassidy (Murray Rose) narrate the replay, Cassidy turns to him and says, "Ralph, I don't know what to say. Are you going to ask for a rerun?"
"Can't prove anything," says Metcalfe. "Lots of people saw it and the replay shows it, but the judges say there was nothing wrong."
Too bad for Metcalfe that at the time Howard Cosell was only a gleam in some broadcasting technician's vision of the future.