The Court Jester

Danny Kaye plays a mild-mannered medieval jester Hawkins in The Court Jester, caught up in palace intrigues when he poses as one of many body doubles for forest outlaw The Black Fox. His former troupe of traveling entertainers–all little people–also volunteers to aid the rebellion, but are turned away by the real Black Fox, who thinks they’re too short to make a meaningful contribution to the cause. Unfortunately, Hawkins does not vouch for the capabilities of his friends, but instead bids them farewell.

Hawkins heads for the palace with Captain Jean, he disguised as a hard-of-hearing emphysematous old wine merchant, and she as his deaf and speech-impaired granddaughter. Their feigned disabilities annoy and frustrate the king’s guard into letting them access the palace without proper screening.

Hijinks ensue, and reinforcements must be called in. But the only way to access the palace is a secret entrance large enough only for a small woman or child; the Black Fox must eat some crow and call up the little people (described as “an army of midgets”.

The real story of the “army of midgets” is worthy of a Hollywood movie in itself. Credited only as “Hermine’s Midgets” in the film, the group was essentially collected by a Czech woman named Hermine and trained by her stepson in the circus arts. The small group left Austria in 1938, shortly before bad things began happening to little and disabled people there. Two Jewish little people were discovered in Budapest and added to their troupe before the impending Nazi invasion. The group was displayed at the New York World’s Fair, going on to tour the USA and perform in U.S.O. shows and war bond drives during World War II.

Even Dwarfs Started Small (Auch Zwerge Haben Klein Angefangen)

Supposedly Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small is an allegory on the problematic nature of fully liberating the human spirit, but we at Disability Movies think that might too sophisticated an interpretation for a film that should have been titled “Dwarfs Gone Wild”. It’s 96 minutes of vignettes of the worst stereotypes of little people behaving badly at an isolated mental asylum, strung together with little semblance of a plot. They cackle maniacally for no apparent reason, break dishes and ruin perfectly good food, look at naked average-height women in an art book yet can’t figure out how to have sex themselves (what?), torment blind dwarves, make a car drive around in circles, set houseplants afire, and, at the crux, crucify a monkey. Sure, you could read all that as a commentary on the wastefulness and depravity of modern society, but why would you need little people for that?

Margaret Pellegrini, One of the Last ‘Wizard of Oz’ Munchkins, Dies at 89

From MovieTalk on Yahoo Movies:
Margaret Pellegrini, One of the Last ‘Wizard of Oz’ Munchkins, Dies at 89
By Matt McDaniel | Movie Talk – Wed, Aug 7, 2013 5:54 PM EDT
Margaret Pellegrini, who staked a claim in cinematic history when she was just 16 years old as one of the residents of Munchkinland in “The Wizard of Oz,” died Wednesday at the age of 89 in Arizona. According to a spokesperson for the few surviving actors who appeared in the 1939 classic, Pellegrini was best known as one of the “Flower Pot” Munchkins who greet Dorothy (Judy Garland) when her house lands in Oz.
Pellegrini told CBS5 in Phoenix earlier this year that she was spotted by a talent scout at a state fair when she was only 13, and a few years later she was invited to take a train to Hollywood to appear in the movie. She actually shows up in the Munchkinland sequence twice, once with a hat shaped like a flower pot and later as one of the “Sleepyheads.”
Pelligrini continued to take part in “Oz” related events throughout her life. She was present in 2007 when the remaining Munchkins were given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She was also named the Grand Marshall of this year’s annual “Oz-Stravaganza” parade in Chittenango, NY, but health issues prevented her from attending. Pelligrini was a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

Of the 124 actors who appeared as Munchkin’s in the original production, there are now only two known survivors 95-year-old Ruth Duccini (who played a villager) and 93-year-old Jerry Maren (who was the green-clad middle member of the Lollipop Guild).

Robin Williams, Mila Kunis and Peter Dinklage to Star in THE ANGRIEST MAN IN BROOKLYN


Robin Williams, Mila Kunis and Peter Dinklage to Star in THE ANGRIEST MAN IN BROOKLYN
by Dave Trumbore Posted:May 18th, 2012 at 5:31 pm

You have 90 minutes left to live, what do you do? That’s the premise of The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, a new screenplay from Daniel Tapitz (Red Dog) to be directed by Phil Alden Robinson (The Sum of All Fears). The picture centers on the fallout after a stand-in doctor mistakenly tells an obnoxious patient that he has an hour-and-a-half left to live. While the patient goes on a tirade in New York City, attempting to right all the wrongs in his life, the doctor tries in vain to track him down. The high concept comedy stars Robin Williams, Mila Kunis and Peter Dinklage, and has also snared Melissa Leo and James Earl Jones. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is set to start filming this September in Brooklyn. Hit the jump for more.

ScreenDaily reports that Williams, Kunis and Dinklage are all attached to star in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, a picture that Mark Lindsay of Cargo Entertainment is currently shopping to Cannes buyers. Though no specific roles have yet to be assigned, I’m going to go ahead and peg Kunis as the stand-in doctor and Williams as the title role, which I think suits him best. Bob Cooper of production company, Landscape Entertainment, had this to say:

“This comedy has a unique big idea, it is universal [and] the talent of Robin, Mila, Peter, Melissa, James Earl and Phil Alden directing is a great recipe for a very special film.”

The director also chimed in, saying:

“When I read Dan Taplitz’s amazing screenplay I laughed and cried until I realized that I wanted so much to see this film that I was actually eager to spend a few years of my life getting it made.”

Finally, a comment from the frenetic Mr. Williams himself:

“I read the script and said, ‘wow!’ I love the fact that it’s so fun and honest. The idea of being that nasty and funny is a gift.”

Frustrating Times for Dwarf Actors

from The Guardian (UK):
Mark Povinelli: Mirror Mirror reflects frustrating times for dwarf actors

He may be the star of the new Snow White adaptation, but Povinelli’s dwarfism means he’s fighting for varied roles
Stephen Kelly, Friday 6 April 2012 11.06 EDT
In his hotel room in New Orleans, Mark Povinelli is reflecting upon the sort of scripts he receives. “They’re usually obnoxious. I flick through to what page I’m going to be on and … ‘Oh look! Biting someone on the ankle! Or punching someone in the balls!’ … The trick is to be one step ahead of them. You can’t just say, ‘I don’t like this’, you have to come up with an idea that is better. And that’s the real challenge – an extra added task that a lot of average actors don’t have to deal with. Not only do you have to be a good performer, but you have to come up with better material than you’re given a lot of times, to allow yourself to sleep at night.”

Povinelli has appeared in a string of TV shows and films, with his latest project being a main role in Snow White film adaptation, Mirror Mirror. He also happens to have dwarfism, a condition that means he stands 3ft 9in tall. It makes him a member of a specialist industry that is currently in a state of flux. While recognition for it increases, so do threats. It’s a livelihood which, in terms of screen work, is sporadic at best, and not always appealing.

The roles open to dwarf actors are, historically, of limited scope. Character-led parts have always been thin on the ground; what opportunities there are, tend largely to be confined to the fantastical — The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

There are exceptions, of course: Michael Dunn was Oscar-nominated as best supporting actor for the 1965 romance Ship of Fools, David Rappaport became a credible star on the back of Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits in 1981 (“not even for a lot of money would I be a puppet or a robot,” he once said) and, more recently, Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for his portrayal of Tyrion in HBO’s Game of Thrones – a role soaked with humanity and depth. Even so, a limited range of roles is a frustration for any actor who wants to be taken seriously.

Yet dwarf actors also face a fight for their traditional roles on the most apt of battlefields: Snow White. Two separate adaptations are released this year: one of them (Mirror Mirror, in which Povinelli plays a character called Half Pint) uses a full cast of dwarf actors; while the other, Snow White and the Huntsman, replaces them with well-known names such as Ian McShane and Nick Frost shrunk using CGI.

Such a practice is hardly new, of course: Lord of the Rings famously used camera angles to resize its actors, as will dwarf-heavy prequel, The Hobbit, released later this year. Just as dwarf actors’ work is being threatened in pantomimes by child actors, such FX trickery is eradicating roles traditionally held by dwarves. It’s a novelty that isn’t going down well.

“What it ultimately comes down to is that this is a business,” Povinelli says. “And the driving force for making the [Snow White and the Huntsman] decision was to get names that would hopefully sell the film. I don’t agree with it, of course.”

“I mean, I’ve got no problem with Ian McShane playing a dwarf, if I’m allowed to play a lawyer or a doctor or all of the things we seem to be denied so often. I don’t want the market on the fantastical characters – that doesn’t interest me. I want the whole range. I don’t begrudge McShane taking on that role but the coin should be flipped as well and we should be allowed to play actual humans. Because … you know, it’s pretty obvious but that’s what we are. I’m not a leprechaun. I’m not an elf. I don’t live in a forest. I’m a dad, I’m a husband, I’m a sports fan, I’m a theatregoer … I’m everything everyone else is. And those are the things you want to portray.”

Danny Woodburn, an established TV and film actor best known for his roles in Seinfeld and Watchmen, also plays one of the seven dwarves in Mirror Mirror. He agrees with Povinelli. “To me, that’s still telling of the nonacceptance of dwarfism … You would never see this with any other minority — it isn’t acceptable. In today’s industry, you would never see someone seriously playing an African American who wasn’t an African American. Yet it is acceptable in the realm of actors portraying people with dwarfism, or disabilities in general.”

Woodburn is a member of the Screen Actors Guild for Performers with Disabilities Committee, and is outspoken when it comes to dwarfism issues – especially the sneery sense of schadenfreude and dehumanisation that they’re occasionally subjected to. “I have put it in my contract before that no one will pick me up in a scene, and I will not be required to bite anybody” he says. “Do you not see how humiliating it is to liken me to some kind of animal?”

It’s for this reason that Woodburn is surprised by the fuss surrounding Warwick Davis’s Life’s Too Short – the TV show that has triggered much debate about dwarf actors. “It’s amazing that people are so shocked and in uproar about this, when I’ve seen the exact same sort of treatment in a realistic way. No one goes crazy about that.”

The reactions to Life’s Too Short just go to show the variety of opinions on how dwarves should be seen on screen. Yet between the protection of traditional roles and the hunger for meatier ones, the consensus seems to be that what the dwarf acting industry needs is the chance for louder voices – something that was basically nonexistent in the days where Kenny Baker walked into the role of R2-D2.

Willow Management, a dwarf acting agency based in the UK, looks after almost 250 clients across the world. Their role, according to Peter Burroughs, who runs the agency with Warwick Davis, is to look after the interests of dwarf actors, put them forward for auditions and to “step in if our clients feel like they’re being exploited”.

Despite a relatively large number of actors on their books (although minuscule in the context of the acting industry as a whole), Burroughs says very few actually approach it as a serious, full-time career. He thinks it might be an issue of confidence, but is certain that’s changing.

“We put them forward for auditions and try to help them out so they’ll pass them,” he says. “We do acting lessons to give them confidence, and to be able to assert themselves as actors. We also try to make the industry aware that these people are capable of doing a good acting job. After all: as long as there’s good actors, the industry will survive.”

But what needs to change so that dwarf actors have the chance to showcase their talent? Woodburn singles out one of the biggest problems: a lack of understanding from writers. “A path writers go down is the pathos of smallness, where the person with dwarfism is pathetic because of their size … A writer will say, ‘Oh, you’re a sad little man’; but the reality is, ‘No, I’m not a sad little man, I’m just kinda pissed off because society won’t accept me as a man.’ If I’m going to be seen as a dwarf, then I want to be seen as the dwarf I know I am – not the one the writer has made up in their mind having no experience of people with dwarfism.”

Povinelli agrees; he is also optimistic for a future that is led by actors such as Dinklage. “The opportunity still needs to meet the talent level, but the glass ceiling is starting to shatter.”

“Hopefully we’re evolving as a society so that we’re coming to the realisation that people with a difference can actually offer something with a unique perspective rather than being something of wonder or something to be laughed at. And I think that’s coinciding with the fact that there’s a real pool of super-talented actors who are finally getting a chance to show what they can do – to finally be seen as actors first, and dwarves second.”

Mirror Mirror is out now. Snow White and the Huntsman is released 1 June.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Peter Dinklage should win an Emmy

From People:

"Game of Thrones"' Peter Dinklage has earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series.

While HBO’s epic fantasy series “Game of Thrones” has stirred much debate over its nudity and violence, Peter Dinklage’s scene-stealing turn as Tyrion Lannister has been almost universally praised, even scoring the American actor an Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series.

His recognition should come as no surprise to fans of the show and author George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, on which “Thrones” is based, but for newbies looking to understand Dinklage’s appeal, here’s a few reasons why we think the actor, 42, deserves Emmy gold for bringing Tyrion to life:


He’s no pushover

With his older sister Cersei ruling over Westeros as Queen and her twin brother Jaime serving in the King’s Guard, Tyrion is often overlooked and considered an embarrassment to the Lannister family, having been born a dwarf and incapable of serving as a solider.

But despite the lack of respect he receives from his tyrant father Tywin, Tyrion never ceases to impress, and often outsmart, his rivals. Dinklage plays the character as a confident and competent voice of reason with whom the audience can identify, in addition to being the only person in the Lannister family willing to stand up to Cersei’s insufferable son, Prince Joffrey.

He’s sympathetic

Despite his status as a Lannister, the richest house in Westeros, Tyrion treats even those considered beneath him with the same respect he does his equals, in particular, the bastard Jon Snow.

Being the illegitimate son of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell affords Snow little privilege, and Tyrion is quick to counsel the boy on how to deal with life as an outsider during their journey to Castle Black, home of the Night’s Watch.

Likewise, he finds empathy for the fate of Stark’s young son Bran, who is paralyzed in an accidental fall that, unbeknownst to Tyrion, was orchestrated by his siblings. On his return journey home, he stops at Winterfell and provides the Stark family with saddle instructions that will allow the boy to ride again.

He’s hilarious

Dinklage’s true talents as an actor are no more on display than in bringing moments of comedic relief to an otherwise dark and bloody series. When imprisoned at the Eyrie, the home of Lady Cateyln Stark’s sister Lysa, Tyrion barters his freedom by agreeing to confess his crimes, and goes on to mockingly atone for stealing a servant girl’s robes and leaving her naked, filling his uncle’s boots with goat excrement, and masturbating into his sister’s dinner.

The scene also unites Tyrion with mercenary Bronn, played by Jerome Flynn, who becomes Dinklage’s comedic counterpart as the series progresses.

Time Bandits

Though the small actors have the largest roles in Time Bandits, it’s the average height actors who got top billing. Viewing the trailer, you’d be forgiven for thinking the ragged band of little people comprised only a small (sorry) segment of the story, but these are not ordinary little people. No, they are the Time Bandits, servants of the Supreme Being who have stolen the map of the holes in the universe, and are using every skill at their disposal to acquire gold and other riches. (Dwarfs in search of gems and minerals seems to be a common trope from literature, perhaps due to their facility as miners in getting through small passageways.)

The Time Bandits noisily burst into the room of a young boy named Kevin one night, and end up carrying him off on their adventure. In the course of their travels through history, the bandits explain that the Supreme Being created “all the big stuff” in the universe, but it was their job to create small bushes and trees. Later they were demoted to the job of repairing the holes in the fabric of spacetime, but stole the map of the holes out of spite.

Kevin and the bandits visit Napoleon, and ingratiate themselves with him by putting on a little song and dance number.

The Time Bandits on stage

The Time Bandits on stage, performing "Me and my Shadow" for Napoleon

Napoleon befriends them, explaining to his generals that he prefers small things. (It is important to note that Napoleon himself was neither a little person himself nor particularly small; he just surrounded himself with unusually tall guards.) The bandits betray him after a good dinner, carrying off his gold into the next available rip in spacetime. They land in medieval England, and all the valuables are stolen by a foppish Robin Hood.

They make a hasty retreat to avoid being beaten, and Kevin gets separated from the main group. Lost in ancient Greece, he inadvertently helps Agamemnon kill a “minotaur”, and is adopted by him and treated with love and attention. Kevin would be happy to stay with his new father, but the Time Bandits unexpectedly show up with a better song and dance number to pull him away.

The Time Bandits in ancient Greece.

The Time Bandits put on another show, for Agamemnon in Mycenaean Greece.

They next land on the Titanic. You’d think several-thousand-year-old servants-of-a-supreme-being would know about the fate of the Titanic, but it catches them by surprise.

The villain of the story, appropriately named Evil, makes himself known to the group by manipulating them when they travel to the Time of Legends. Captured in Evil’s evil lair, Kevin stays behind while the others go for help, bringing back warriors from different time periods and miniature weapons. Evil is defeated when the Supreme Being shows up to turn him into a block of cinders. The bandits humble themselves before the Supreme Being and apologize for stealing the map; he replies that it was all part of his plan. (One takes the opportunity to ask why there is pain and suffering in the world, and God replies “I think it has something to do with free will.”)

Time Bandits has, unfortunately, earned a place in the Disability Movie Hall of Shame, both for portraying little people as silly, greedy creatures, and for providing neither captions nor subtitles.


It’s not uncommon for little people to play elves in Christmas movies, but Elf bucks tradition a bit by casting people of average stature as the elves (through the cinematic technique of forced perspective), and a single little person (Peter Dinklage) as a highly paid children’s book author with an attitude.

Disability themes are hinted at; throughout the movie, especially during the beginning scenes at the North Pole, Buddy the Elf notices he’s different from the other elves. He can’t make toys as fast as they can, and though his elf supervisor tries to cheer him up by pointing out all the things Buddy excels at–like changing the lightbulbs every six months–behind his back they gripe that he’s slowing them down. Buddy overhears one such conversation, and is sent to the equivalent of a sheltered workshop for “special elves” (here the word “special” is used as a pejorative) where he performs repetitive busywork. A maniacal Jack-in-the-Box terrifies Buddy, and Santa must intervene.

Santa tells Buddy that he’s really been human all along, and must go to New York in search of his biological father. Buddy catches the next ice floe out of there, but after a socially awkward reunion with Walter Hobbs, his reluctant father believes Buddy is mentally ill.

Buddy persists in trying to form a relationship with his father, and (after an unusually quick paternity test) Walter is convinced of his duty to Buddy. He takes him home to a very understanding wife and son for nurturing, but after realizing he cannot leave Buddy alone in an unfamiliar world, takes him to work in the hopes he’ll sit quietly in the corner.

Buddy barges in on a meeting with the aforementioned children’s book author Miles Finch and mistakes him for one of his elf compatriots. Miles takes offense, lists his accomplishments (houses in various cities, plasma TVs, more “action” than Buddy’s ever seen), and challenges Buddy to “Call me elf, one more time!” Unaware of the human world’s sad history of labelling assertive disabled people as “angry”, Buddy whispers that he must be an “angry elf”.

Miles charges down the length of the conference table and opens up a travel-size can of whoopass. Someone’s been taking his adaptive martial arts lessons. Watch the full “Angry Elf” scene (unfortunately not embeddable). The scene is played for laughs, but such a beatdown is quite possible; little people do have normal or almost normal strength in their arms and legs. Combined with a low center of gravity, judo training, and the element of surprise, and it’s small wonder that Miles prevails.

Interestingly, the Elf Original Motion Picture Score lists the incidental music track for that scene as “Attack of the Little People”. The words “dwarf” and “midget”, currently considered pejorative, aren’t uttered in Elf. The producers show a sensitivity to disability issues, and even wring some humor out of them.

The Last Rites of Ransom Pride

The Last Rites Of Ransom Pride purports to be a Western, but looks more like an MTV music video starring Walker Texas Ranger. In it, a tough woman with the improbable name of Julliette Flowers lies, cheats, and kills in order to bring the body of her outlaw lover (with the even more improbable name of Ransom Pride) home to be buried next to his mother. In order to do this, she must exchange one life for another; namely, that of Ransom’s brother Champ. The blood-price is sought by one Bruja, a vicious Mexican voodoo priestess whose (Catholic?) priest brother was killed by Ransom some time before. And if you couldn’t tell Bruja was the villain from the decomposing headdresses she wears, she also has burn scars artfully disfiguring her face and eye.

Juliette Flowers and Champ Pride (am I the only one reminded of Hiro Protagonist?) embark on an almost hallucinogenic journey to retrieve Ransom’s body and gun down anyone in their way, encountering mythical creatures such as a dwarf and a pair of dying conjoined twins. The unnamed Dwarf and the token alcoholic black man get into a game of one-upmanship over who has the better life, but fortunately both are killed before the tales get really tall. The enigmatic twins seem to do nothing but lament their impending double demise.

Oh, and there’s a gratuitous deaf girl with crutch-using father who seems to serve no purpose other than to indicate how bad the bad guys are for abusing her.

Blurred and color-shifted imagery, millisecond flashbacks, and jarring camera work all contribute to the feeling that these disability tropes are, to paraphrase the conjoined twins, “performed for illiterate imbeciles and pathetic whores and they mock us”. We cannot allow this precious time we have to be stained with ridicule, indeed.