Forty odd years ago the drug Thalidomide, an anti anxiety medication often prescribed to pregnant women to help with their morning sickness, caused significant birth defects, with babies often being born with short arms or legs, if they had limbs at all, and many dying due to deformity.
Niko von Glasow was one of these babies, born in Germany, one of the last countries to ban the distribution of the drug. At the beginning of the documentary, Niko’s son asks him why his father won’t go swimming at the beach with him. Niko cannot really answer this question, as, in many ways, he is unable to truly examine his disability. He comments that, like those born without disability, he is only allowed to take a furtive glance at his short arms, embarrassment at staring and being stared at blocking any exploration of his self image. So, confronting this concept head on, von Glasow seeks out eleven other ‘Thalidomides’ to pose in a nude calendar.
The people Niko then goes on to meet are a diverse cross section of the generation of children, now middle aged, who were victim to Thalidomide’s effects. Despite this, the disability that draws them together more often than not takes a backseat in their day to day lives. In some ways the entrance of von Glasow, himself disabled and therefore able to ask frank and uncushioned questions that others cannot, is what forces the other models to think hard about their disabilities, and what part it plays in their lives. Some, such as Belfast councillor Kim Morton are nonplussed about Niko’s deep thought and conflicted views on the subject of himself – her short arms and legs have never stopped her from achieving her goals, and she would not have her life any other way. Conversely, and late on in the film the shy and unconvinced Doris emerges, a friend of Theo, the reserved gardener. The meeting of other Thalidomides to her is a revelation, having hidden herself away for so many years, as her parents hid her before that. Then again there’s British actor Mat Fraser, who hears the words ‘Nude Calendar’ and comes running, making sure first that the money made off it is not going to go to a charity, questioning why events like this need to automatically ‘turn into a big orgy of compassion’.
The real interest in the piece is the frankness of the subjects. Niko jokes with the others with a complete lack of political correctness, just as he is equally open with the hard questions. It is this openness that feeds the project: he tells the public to look at these nude figures, to stare and scrutinise in a way that is not normally allowed by social conventions. After that, von Glasow decides, the audience may be able to move past the disability and see the person behind it. The more important movement, however, is in Niko himself, who is able to realise and come to terms with how he feels about his disability, rather than not feeling anything at all.
NoBody’s Perfect plays at Cinema Nova, Sunday, May 02, 2010 at 9:00 PM
NoBody’s Perfect official website