Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Rugby Players Eat Their Dead

Articles about the famous book and movie "Alive!"

Book Review: Alive!

by Wes Clark

Alive, by Piers Paul Reid; J.B. Lippincott, 1974, 352 p.

Did you ever see the "Rugby Players Eat Their Dead" bumper sticker? This is where it comes from.

As many of you know, it's the story of how members of the Old Christians Rugby Club (a part of the Stella Maris Catholic college in Montevideo, Uruguay) and others survived for ten weeks from October to December 1972 on a particularly desolate part of the Andes mountain range. Traveling from Uruguay to Chile for a rugby match, their plane went down killing the crew and stranding the passengers. 45 passengers start the trip, 16 survive. Alive is one of the most riveting books I have ever read; it's also one of the most ghastly. My good wife, a woman of gentle sensibilities, refuses to read it - not only that, she refuses to discuss it with me or to even proofread this review! (Needless to say, she refused to watch the movie on videotape.)

Put yourself in their place: bitter, winter cold, snow and blizzards, no place to sleep except a crowded broken up airplane fuselage and no proper clothes. The white airplane is practically invisible to overhead searchers. Badly injured people all over the place, and the high altitude and thin air make major physical efforts exhausting. What next? They find out by a transistor radio that the authorities have given up searching - and then a sudden avalanche kills off many of the remaining, both injured and whole. (About the only "good" thing that can be said about this last tragedy is that it provided more meat and fewer diners.)

And, inevitably, the cannibalism. Talk about your extreme circumstances, these people find themselves having to dine on one another. (In the process finding unique food storage uses for rugby socks while on expeditions.) Muscle, fat, internal organs, brains, rancid flesh, testicles - you name it, all are consumed for survival, and are described in the book along with some descriptions of taste. It simply boggles the mind. Can you imagine the same thing happening to your club? Flanker flambe? Winger au vin? Scrum-half a la mode, or Heaven help us, Prop au jus? Geez.

Roger Ebert, reviewing the Disney (Touchstone) movie derived from this book, wrote "There are some stories you simply can't tell." Another reviewer wrote, "To some, cannibalism among the likes of Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano and other poster boys may be a feast to savor. Would those people please never make themselves known to me?" Yet another wrote: "Let's face it, Alive is one big, bad idea... it's not easy holding down your Goobers." Ebert's comment also applies to reviewing the book; if you're interested you're just going to have to read this one and, like me, be thankful for your modern home amenities, air conditioned car, options and full tummy.

The movie: I thought the hardest thing to watch in the film was the airplane crash-landing sequence, which seems very realistic. (It will certainly stay with me whenever I board a plane...) The meat-eating parts of the film are generally handled tastefully - no pun intended. And the actors didn't look very poster-boyish to me. The cinematography was excellent - those shots of the mountains make the ten day hike across them seem superhuman.


A real, live "Alive" survivor relates his Andes ordeal

By Buzz McClain

"If we had been soccer players, we would have died."

It's probably the most popular rugby movie ever. Too bad everyone thinks it's about cannibalism.
The movie is "Alive," the dramatic tale of a school alumni team from Uruguay on its way to a match in Chile in 1972 when the plane crashed in the Andes. The film, which reaches video stores Sept. 1 along with a companion documentary, depicts the hardships the survivors encountered during their 72 days in brutal conditions.

Among other things, they consumed the frozen flesh of the victims. In reality, the film might never have been made if not for the popular bumper sticker: "Rugby Player Eat Their Dead," which was inspired by the Uruguay episode.

"My wife and I were in Carlsbad visiting my brother," says Frank Marshall, who directed the film; his wife is film producer Kathleen Kennedy. "Carlsbad is about 100 miles south of Los Angeles and it was a weekend when I had to decide which project I was going to make for (the Disney studios).

"I was considering 'Swing Kids' or 'Alive.' I was attracted to 'Swing Kids' because I was fond of the music, my dad was a jazz musician, but 'Alive' had this extraordinary, compelling story about survival. I couldn't do both and I had to give them my decision by Monday."

The weekend passed without a conclusive decision. Then it happened.

"We were coming back home when this little red truck pulled out in front of us, almost on purpose," Marshall says with a laugh. "And it had that bumper sticker about rugby players eating their dead. I said to my wife, 'Hey, there's the sign we need!'"

He called the studio from his car phone "and told them we were doing 'Alive.'"

Marshall says he hasn't seen the bumper sticker since.

Since then the film has made some $36 million in theaters around the world. Marshall was a soccer player at UCLA, "and I never got into rugby although I was aware of it. I probably would have liked it." He took a crash course, so to speak, with the members of the downed team who consulted on the film. "It's a fascinating sport, so pure, it just goes on and on with no substitutions. I think it's great."

The actors in the movie were non-rugby players who also learned for the filming. "We shot part of the film in Vancouver - there's quite a bit of rugby in Canada - and we found a high school that had a team and we went and watched a match. I had the actors on the field practicing - of course they all wanted to throw it like a football."

Did Marshall join the fun? "Oh, yeah," he laughs. "I got out there."

Marshall even encouraged the actors to scrimmage. "I wanted them to play because I really wanted these actors to be like a team," he says.

The team spirit is what kept the real-life 16 survivors alive, says Nando Parrado, 43, who was a second row and No. 8 for the Old Christians Club, the team that was on its way to play the Old Boys in Chile.

"It's a game that's misunderstood by people who don't play rugby," Parrado said in a phone call from his home in Montevideo, Uruguay. "They don't understand the team spirit, the sacrifice you make of yourself for another player so he can score. We survived from that spirit.

"If we had been soccer players, we would have died.

"Everybody thinks eating human flesh is the most gruesome and terrible thing you can do, but - and Frank got this very, very well in the movie - it was only one more thing that we did for us to get out. We had to."

Parrado, who is played in the movie by Ethan Hawke, says eating the flesh did not mean they would survive - "There were others who ate the flesh and died anyway, from the avalanche and the cold" - but it did inspire them all the more to escape certain death on the mountaintop.

In the documentary, "Alive: 20 Years Later," which has far more rugby in it than "Alive," Parrado also cites the idea of his grieving father as the motivating factor for his 10 day trek over the Andes to find help.

Parrado says he and the other surviving rugby players have nothing but praise for Marshall's movie: "He went to the mountain with us, he lived with us, and he treated the story very, very accurately. We wouldn't change a thing."

Parrado played for 11 years in his country's first division and still suits up "two or three times a year for reunion matches. I wish I could still play all the time," he says.

Of the 16 survivors, "15 are married and have families and are businessmen who are doing well," says Marshall. For example, Roberto Conesa, a medical student at the time of the crash, is now a renowned pediatric heart surgeon who may run for the presidency of Uruguay.

Parrado is a TV producer who owns a cable TV station, a racquet sports club and a bolt and nut factory.

"Alive: 20 Years Later" is a 51 minute film, narrated by Martin Sheen, that does more than show the standard "making of" footage; the documentary catches up with the survivors and goes into depth in ways a move script cannot about what happened during the trial in the Andes.

It's a remarkable film about a remarkable event.

BEST LINE: By the way, and I'm sure rugby players will agree, the best line in "Alive" is near the beginning, as the players are cutting up on the plane taking them to Chile. One seated player turns to another and asks, "Which do you like better, sex or rugby?"

After giving it some thought the player responds, "Sex. (Pause) Except when I'm playing rugby."

[The line in the videotape I saw is "Which do you like better, girls or rugby?" - Wes]


Telling it like it's bean

From the cuisine section (!) of Maclean's, 5/4/92

It was all there -- the fat, the blood, the muscle. But what appeared to be part of a human leg was really 15 lb. of tofu. Vancouver chef Sam Okamoto, 44, developed the simulation for "Alive," a movie based on the true story of Uruguayan rugby players who survived for 69 days before rescue from a 1972 plane crash in the Andes by eating the flesh of their dead teammates.

At the shoot on Panorama Ridge in the Rockies, about 80 km north of Cranbrook, B.C., synthetic substitutes had proved toxic, butcher's meat turned bad -- and, anyway, some of the actors are vegetarians. The film-makers asked Okamoto to devise his tofu facsimile, and he spent more than 40 hours processing and coloring the soybean curd. He boasts that the results are economical, convincing -- and edible. ``The special-effects people thought it really was meat,'' he says.

The only potential problem: snacking on the prop between takes.

(Get it? "Snacking on the prop?" Prop forward, that is - hoo ha haaa - Wes)


Food for Thought

from Successful Meetings, January 2001


Who's earning his bread as a speaker lately? Nando Parrado, survivor of the 1972 Andes plane crash that inspired the book and movie Alive, who stirs audiences as he relates how he and 15 others, all Uruguayan rugby team members, endured 72 days without food or warm clothes in 30-below temperatures. But what comes out of Parrado's mouth can't top what went into it--to avoid starving, he and his teammates were forced to resort to cannibalism. Though he's hardly a household name, Parrado charges thirty thou for his presentations, plus two round-trip, first-class plane tickets from Uruguay. Think it's too pricey? Eat your heart out.


Still Alive!

As told to Ron Arias, People, 5/15/2006

More than 30 years after a plane crash left him and his rugby team stranded in the Andes, Nando Parrado recalls their 72-day ordeal-and how far they went to survive

A little past 8 a.m. on Oct. 12, 1972, my team, the Old Christians Rugby Club of Uruguay, took off from Montevideo to play a match in Santiago, Chile. There were 45 people aboard the twin-engine F-227, most of them friends and family-like my mother, Eugenia, and 19-year-old sister, Susy. It was supposed to be a 3 1/2-hour flight, but bad weather forced us to layover in the Argentine city of Mendoza. We took off again the next day, and through the fog I could see the snow-capped Andes rising as high as 22,000 feet. Everyone seemed in a lively mood. Somebody threw me a rugby ball-I passed it forward. Some people played cards with the plane's steward-until he shouted, "Please take your seats!"

I felt four sharp bumps. Across the aisle my mother and sister looked worried-they were holding hands. As the engines screamed and the plane shook violently, our eyes met. Then I heard the wrenching sound of tearing metal. The last thing I remember was the roof opening like a sardine can; an icy wind lashed my face and tore my seat from the floor. The fuselage broke apart, spilling people into the air, then came down, tobogganing until it smashed against piled snow and ice. Amid the screams, tangled bodies, seats and luggage, I was unconscious (with four skull fractures). They thought I was a goner and laid me in the snow with the dead.

I lay three days at the crash site then woke up-very slowly. I asked, "Where's my mother? Where's Susy?" There was no room for niceties. Another survivor said, "Your mother is dead and your sister is near death. She's lying at the front of the fuselage." Despite my grief, a voice in my head said not to cry because I'd lose salt and water.

In conditions like that, you're transformed, like an animal in the wild. I crawled over to Susy. I didn't even know if she was aware of me. I rubbed her frozen feet, put snow to her lips. For two days I held her; then her breathing stopped. She was still. I cried her name, gave her mouth-to-mouth. It was too late. I held her all night, then buried her next to my mother in the snow. I have never felt so alone.

Now the main thing was to survive that sub-zero hell. We huddled inside the fuselage, going outside only in the few hours when sunshine warmed the metal of the aircraft-which we used to melt snow for water. We tried to keep our spirits up by telling stories. But in the days after the crash, it was obvious we would starve. There was no life on the glacier. No birds, grass, nothing. We'd eaten all the snacks and candy in the wreckage. I remember my last bit of food, a chocolate peanut. I sucked on it for hours. We even tried eating strips of leather from the luggage. Then my mind crossed the line. Staring at a boy's leg wound I felt my appetite growing-I could taste the crust of dried blood at the edges. I'd actually looked at human flesh as food. I whispered to my friend Carlitos Paez, "Our friends don't need their bodies anymore." "God help us," Carlitos said, "I've been thinking the same thing."

So had some of the others. For an afternoon, we debated. Roberto Canessa, a medical student, said we'd die without protein. With broken glass, several of us sliced strips of frozen flesh off the bodies. The rest of us didn't know whom we ate, though out of kindness, no one touched my mother or sister. When I ate my first piece, it had no taste. I forced myself to swallow-without guilt. I was eating to live.

Eleven days after the crash, through the static of a battered transistor, a voice declared that authorities had canceled the search for us. We were stunned; some of us wept or screamed. Then a few days later, on the night of Oct. 29-disaster: An avalanche thundered down on the fuselage. Of 29 people inside, 27 of us were trapped, buried so deeply we were suffocating. Furiously, the guys who could move worked to uncover the guys next to them. I was the last one. I couldn't breathe. I knew I'd be dead in seconds, but felt oddly calm. I didn't see tunnels of light, no angels. Then I felt a hand scratch my face. "Nando! It's me!"

Eight men had died. Their flesh sustained us for eight weeks, but I knew we were doomed. I looked west and knew our only hope was to climb down into Chile for help. I asked Roberto to come with me. He was one of the strongest of us. "All right," he said, "we've done so much together-let's die together."

We left Dec. 12 and started to climb slowly toward the west, carrying strips of flesh to eat. At the summit, I expected to see the green valleys of Chile below; all I saw were snow-covered peaks in every direction. We were dead. But Roberto said, "Yes, but let's die going west." For days we inched up rock faces, sometimes stumbling down, hip-deep in snow. We found shelter on mountain ledges. It was excruciating; temperatures were easily 30 below. Eventually, we got low enough to see trees. We came to a narrow river, saw the rusty lid of a can, then piles of cow dung. Signs of life! When we camped our spirits were high. On the morning of Dec. 21, we saw three men across the river, sitting by a fire. I screamed to them; one man threw over a paper and pencil, tied to a rock. I wrote, saying who we were, and threw it back. Later that day a shepherd appeared on a mule. He gave us bread and cheese, brought us to his shack, fed us stew and laughed as we kept refilling our plates. We fell onto cots and slept.

The next day the alpine rescuers arrived. They couldn't believe we had crossed the Andes over 60 or 70 miles of the most extreme terrain in the world. Within hours I guided the first of two helicopters to the crash site where my 14 joyous friends were saved. At the hospital in Santiago I embraced my father and sister Graciela, all of us in tears. When I told them about Mother and Susy, I felt my father's shoulders sag. He asked how we survived, what did we eat, and I told him the truth. He said, "You did what you had to do."

I spent months at loose ends, clubbing, dating. I was recognized everywhere, and attracted beautiful women I couldn't have before. An auto racing fanatic, I enrolled at England's top driving school and became a professional, but stopped when I married my wife, Veronique, a TV anchor, in 1979. We have two grown daughters.

Today we produce and host five TV shows-on travel, car racing, current events and nature. I have a mission. I know death. I saw it in the mountains. My duty now is to urge people to live every moment. Don't waste a breath.

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