SALT LAKE CITY -- When you spend your entire career making films about the Olympics, I guess it's understandable if you develop an Olympic-like ego, which would at least explain Bud Greenspan's opinion of his place in history.
"When my wife was alive, many times we would say to each other, 'We have no children, what will we leave behind?' She would say the films will be our children. They will be very good films, and they will be very good children," Greenspan said. "They won't talk back, and if they are very good, they will live long after we are gone. Maybe 100 years from now, people will look back and say thank you for leaving us this flower of your youth. That, to me, means, immortality.
"I will have done something for generations not even born yet. That is what drives me. If there is a Beethoven and a Rembrandt, why can't there be a Greenspan? I mean it."
There is no denying that when it comes to chronicling the Olympics on film, Bud Greenspan has been a one-man band. He has been making sports films since 1952, and is in the process of putting together his seventh official Olympic film here in Salt Lake City. He is very good at what he does, having won seven Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, a Director's Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the 17th American to receive the Olympic order by the International Olympic Committee for his contribution to furthering the Olympic movement.
Beethoven never won any of those things, did he? Neither did Shakespeare, for that matter.
"A good human story is a good human story," Greenspan said. "Shakespeare proved that. I looked at a picture I made 50 years ago, the strongest man in the world, a black weightlifter from Brooklyn named John Davis who was America's greatest weightlifter, with a beautiful singing voice. Even though it is primitive Greenspan, all of the elements of good music, good script, good narrator, and stories with a beginning, middle and end were there. They were not as good as I think they are today, but you could see it was a Greenspan."
There were several other films made that had the Greenspan touch to them that could forever tarnish the legacy of the filmmaker. Greenspan made the promotional film that helped Beijing land the 2008 Summer Olympics. Not only that, in 1993 - four years after the Tiananmen Square assault by the Chinese government on pro-democracy demonstrators - Greenspan also made the promotional video for the same crew that lost to Sydney in the bid for the 2000 Summer Games.
Greenspan doesn't apologize for taking money for what essentially were propaganda films to sell a very controversial Olympic bid that many people around the world - the European Union and a host of human rights groups too long to list here - thought never should have been awarded.
After all, Greenspan is not just the Beethoven of the Olympics. He's the Gandhi of the Games as well. Listen to this defense of his work for Beijing:
"Beijing came to us," Greenspan said. "Maybe it is an ego trip, but if I can help them get the Games, and by 2008 they have opened that country to the world and have become a leading, important member of our society, and if little Bud Greenspan had something to do with it, it would be a disservice to the world if I didn't do it."
This philosophy worked wonders with Nazi Germany in the 1936 Summer Olympics, didn't it?
"We didn't have any interference by people in Beijing, and they became our best friends," he said. "I believe the 2008 games will be the best ever, because they have the best of hotels, the best transportation system, and the most gracious people. If I can have a little part of bringing the world to Beijing, I would like that on my tombstone."
I doubt that someday Bud Greenspan would want anything to do with his work for the Beijing Olympic Committee on his tombstone, although maybe he should. It was a sellout that he should pay for as part of his claim of immortality.
Greenspan likes to boast of how his films capture humanity, and how they don't always just cover the winners. "I don't think in terms other than humanity," he said. "We're storytellers, and sometimes our best stories are the people who come in last."
Here's some stories of humanity that Greenspan failed to capture in his sales pitch for Beijing - the persecution, torture and death of thousands of people in China. Amnesty International reported that China executed nearly 1,800 people in the three months leading up to the IOC awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing last year. And Sherry Zhang of the Falun Dafa Information Center - a group connected to Falun Gong practitioners - said the persecution in China actually increased after Beijing was awarded the Games.
As Greenspan was holding court with reporters in the Olympic media center Saturday to pitch his latest project - selecting the 10 greatest Olympians of all time, in a deal with General Motors - the Falun Dafa Information Center held a news conference across the street in a hotel to announce they had served the mayor of Beijing with a human rights abuse lawsuit in U.S. District Court when the mayor came through San Francisco on his way to Salt Lake City. "The Olympics embraces the ideals of peace and humanity," Zhang said. "It is ironic that the mayor is being sued for crimes against humanity and he is leading the delegation for the Olympics."
He is leading a successful delegation for the Olympics, thanks in part to the efforts of Bud Greenspan, whose Olympic symphony drowned out the cries of pain from Beijing.