Sunday, November 15, 2009

Amelia Flies Again

My wife and I went to see Amelia the other night, the feature film introducing big screen audiences to the Amelia Earhart story, starring Hillary Swank and Richard Gere. For modern audiences who do are not familiar with her life, it is a great introduction and will undoubtedly encourage young women to keep pushing the boundaries of whatever region their souls wish to fly.

The film does an admirable job of showing how Earhart became a media darling, not only performing amazing feats but also writing about it as well. She became interested in flying through an airshow which she saw while young, and her first transatlantic flight put her in the spotlight, even though she was not piloting the plane that first time. Eventually, she proved her mettle and made the solo transatlantic trip which sealed her place in history.

Casting Swank as Earhart was no doubt in large part due to her looks. That is, her features make her a passably accurate representation of the pioneer pilot. Due to her celebrity there are plenty of photos of the real Ms. Earhart to be found. Richard Gere as GP (George P. Putnam) was probably O.K., though I felt there were a few too many closeup shots early in the film with that winsome Gere “look” that seems his signature… the characteristic smooth, charming smile.

As a celebrity Earhart did what many celebs succumb to, making product endorsements as a means to obtaining cash to do what they really want to do. Hence she promoted Beech-Nut Gum, Crayola crayons and other such things. She also gained an entrance to high society through her achievements.

The story is told in a flashback style as we see the scenes of her life -- romances, adventures, awards -- being recalled while she pursues her ultimate dream of flying solo around the world. To accomplish this ultimate achievement required a very risky re-fueling on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The film does an admirable job of re-creating the kind of tension everyone involved must have felt when she failed to find the island and contact was lost forever.

Is this really how the story ended?
In point of fact, there were a number of conspiracy theory ideas spawned by Amelia Earhart's disappearance. Because of the ambiguity over the details of her disappearance (they never found the wreckage) the door was left ajar for people to suspect that the official story was not the end of the story. As recent as 2007 The Wall Street Journal reported that as many as "thirty different theories" have tried to explain what really happened to Amelia Earhart when she disappeared.

A year ago I interviewed a man who believes that this version of the story is a myth and wrote about it in a blog entry titled Did She Really Disappear? Tod Swindell claims that Amelia, possibly wearied of celebritydom and her own lack of a private life, chose to regain control of her future by arranging her disappearance and taking on a new identity. Indeed, the event ultimately succeeded in removing her from the public eye.

The website,, offers its own surprising answer to this mystery. Over the past several years Swindell has been attempting to produce a documentary on the discoveries. The project, Beyond 37, has assembled an impressive amount of forensic evidence to support the notion being proposed... that Amelia lived out her days under an assumed identity, after carefully orchestrating her departure from the life she once lived.

To be honest, it's difficult for me to imagine that a disappearing act of this magnitude could be successfully executed. Not only did Amelia disappear, but also the plane and her navigator Fred Noonan. To pull off a stunt like this would require secrecy on a grand scale, a conspiracy that stretches credibility. Nevertheless, you will undoubtedly find Swindell's arguments compelling and a worthwhile read. And, who knows, there may still be a "rest of the story."

What do you think?


M Denise C said...

I saw the movie, too, and enjoyed it very much. Like most mysteries, I don't think we will ever know what happened . . .

I didn't know anything about the Gore Vidal connection before and found that really interesting.

ENNYMAN said...

It was a very good introduction to a famous person who everyone knows but no one really knew. She actually had three books published in addition to her other accomplishments.

In a couple scenes Hillary Swank's voice sounded a bit like Cate Blanchett as Kathryn Hepburn in The Aviator. Both women flew, it seems....

Thanks for the note and visit.

Christella said...

I've always been fascinated with Amelia Earhart because I thought she was so courageous. I guess I believe more along the line that they crashed

ENNYMAN said...

It is probable they crashed, but Tod Swindell makes a compelling case and it makes an interesting story... It's sort of like the JFK shooting for me in that I believe Oswald was a lone gunman, but the conspiracy theories can be pretty compelling. Glad I am not on a jury that has to decide once and for all.