Friday, August 19, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #50 Spellbound

Number 50 on Current TV's "50 Documentaries to See Before You Die" is the story of the 1999 National Spelling Bee, "Spellbound".

Spellbound is a sweet, intriguing movie that answers the age-old question, "How the hell did those kids get there?" Following the paths of 8 kids from different parts of the country, only one child had the crazy kind of parents you'd assume to be behind this kind of insanity. Neil's parents drill him in 7,000 words per day, hire foreign language tutors just to work on spelling, and his grandfather hired 1,000 people to chant for Neil around the clock. I want this kid to lose. I want him to lose so badly.

But for the others... the ones who just always liked big words... each one seems so, er, normal? Don't get me wrong, they are smart. Brilliant. They sing, they ride horses, they play violin, and they do them all well enough that you feel like it's not for the camera (unlike Neil's basketball playing), and spelling words is just something that they happen to do well. Sure, Angela has flashcards, and Nupur really studies hard, but besides quizzing the kids, the parents are proud and supportive. Ted's parents even say they'll knock him down a peg if he gets a big head about that Spelling thing.

They are like your neighbor's kids. Except Harry. Who I want to punch in the face.

I remember misspelling "balsam" in front of my entire school in 4th grade after winning my classroom competition. My mom even showed up to watch. She tried to console me with her failed attempt at spelling a word in a spelling bee when she was my age. I probably would have gotten over it - but in 5th grade, I was camping in a cabin named after a tree where the placard read "Balsom Cabin". BASTARDS! 20 years later, and I'm still angry at that campground.

I'd love to see a follow up on these kids. I see one had a teenage pregnancy, and one may have died in 2007, but for a weekend, you see the hope they have, the excitement at their own potential, and the pride of their parents. Except Neil's.

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