Chapter 7 in Fútbol y cine works through a long menu of movies about World Cups. The photo shows Colm Meaney in The Van (1996), an adaptation of the Roddy Doyle novel. (Page image copyright © 2006 Ocho y medio)
As the World Cup finals trundle on, we begin a limited series of posts on films, books, Web logs, advertisements, photography and other football-related cultural expressions that deserve to advance to the knockout stages alongside Ecuador.
We begin with an award for the best book, published in this World Cup year, with cover featuring Marilyn Monroe and Hapoel Tel Aviv footballers. To be straightforward, however, Fútbol y cine: El balompié en la gran pantalla (Football and film: The soccer ball on the big screen) represents the most striking book on football—on any subject—to come across our desk in some time. Which speaks volumes, because the text by Navarre native Carlos Marañón is in Spanish—traditional for books published in Spain—and his coveted spot for top football film goes to Victory (1981), the John Huston–directed star vehicle in which goalkeeper Sylvester Stallone has to be told where to stand on corner kicks.
“It’s not a great movie, technically speaking,” writes Marañón, in an interview via e-mail, “and it’s one of [Huston's] worst films.” Yet he adds, “It’s the most legendary film about football ever made,” suggesting that he evaluates films less as a critic than as a lover of the game. Marañón, 32, is the son of Rafael Marañón, the all-time leading scorer for Primera Liga side Espanyol and plays himself for a small Navarre-based amateur team, Erri-Berri de Olite (see interview in Diario de Navarra).
For the last several years Marañón has worked as an editor at Cinemanía, a Madrid film magazine. In this position he has been able to compile the close to 500 references to football-related movies that fill Fútbol y cine, but also by drawing on films “I have seen all my life.” The book contains a chapter on Victory and also chapters that arrange films by those concerned with the ball, with women players, with war and football, with national teams, with referees and managers and World Cups.
Marañón credits animation, video games and advertising with changing directors’ ideas of how to render football on the screen. “Football’s image has become much more modern,” he writes. “[It is] not only a sport for poor people or the working class,” but a game with which the affluent also identify. (Photo copyright © 2006 Modem Press, via Diario de Navarra)
Starting with the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, we have the forgettable Game of Their Lives, another American squib (see 29 Jan 05). Fortunately, though, for subsequent Cups the entries become more inspired, including the 2003 German production Das Wunder von Bern, concerning West Germany’s pivotal victory over Hungary in 1954; Garrincha, alegria do povo (Garrincha, hero of the jungle), a 1962 documentary covering the 1958 and 1962 tournaments as well as the upbringing and dribbling skills of the bandy-legged Brazilian genius; La meglio gioventù (The best of youth), a major 2003 release from Italy that documents, from one family’s perspective, significant occurrences over 40 years of Italian history, with an early segment mentioning North Korea’s shock defeat of the Italians at England ’66; Andrea Varzini‘s Italia-Germania 4-3, replaying, with a time-travel element, the famous match from 1970.
The 1982 World Cup in Spain features briefly in the 1997 Historias de fútbol (Football stories), a Chilean movie directed by Andrés Wood. The last segment in the three-story structure includes a first-round match between Chile and West Germany, which islanders on the remote Chiloé pick up, with static-filled intervals, on a battery-powered black-and-white television. In Marañón’s compilation, his command of the material expresses itself in allusions to films only casually about the world game. For the 1990 World Cup, for example, he describes Zendegi va digar hich (Life, and nothing more), an Abbas Kiarostami film from 1991 in which victims of an earthquake plan to see the tournament despite the devastation. Good-Bye, Lenin! similarly mentions the 1990 tournament as part of protagonists’ plans to sell satellite TV in post-unification East Berlin. The 1994 World Cup appears briefly in Die Hard: With a Vengeance. More meaningfully, a 1994 Dutch documentary, Solo, de wet van de favela (Solo, the law of the favela), chronicles young Brazilians’ dreams of playing for the Seleção.
Marañón even points us to films with the 2002 finals in Korea and Japan as a theme. Oldboy, a piece of film noir from South Korea, includes a character’s vision of the inspiring Korean performance, and Goal Club, a Thai movie from 2001, depicts boys who fantasize about playing in the 2002 competition but become tangled in illegal match-rigging instead.
While Marañón acknowledges the wealth of world cinema to which Spanish audiences are exposed—in contrast to the United States, where Hollywood films snuff out the small and independent features, as well as those from abroad—he writes that football remains an unpopular topic for filmmakers. Part of the problem is technical, given the challenges of creating credible live-action sequences. Another barrier in Europe is that intellectuals regard cinema as the territory of elite criticism. Hence, football films must contend with this possible bias.
Marañón includes a chapter on women and women’s football partly as a result of having seen depictions from the United States. “[W]e always see girls playing in the grounds in the American films we see here in Spain,” he writes. (Page image copyright © 2006 Ocho y medio)
These views, however, are changing. “[N]ow you can say that you like football if you’re an artist or a writer or a scientist,” says Marañón. “In Spain, that was not possible 20 years ago. [But] there’s a long way to improve. Of course, football movies change at the same time as football and society do. The multicultural and social view of Bend It Like Beckham was only a dream 20 years ago.”
The new breed of football filmmaker as well as critics must be wary, however, of claiming a new approach. Suggestions that the recent Cannes debut of Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle (see Apr 27), the production of which required 17 cameras trained on the Real Madrid midfielder during a 2005 match against Villareal, shows football in a new light can be quickly refuted. Marañón alludes to the 1971 German documentary Fußball wie noch nie (Football as never before): “Eight 16mm cameras were used to shoot the movements of George Best in a 2–0 league match between Manchester United and Coventry City in Old Trafford. More than 90 minutes of images of the football star. Nothing more. And nothing less.”
Ernst Bouwes of ESPNsoccernet.com evaluates Fußball wie noch nie and its avant-garde director, Hellmuth Costard (“Capturing the Best,” 21 Sept 06). At one interval, a Bob Dylan song rages over the soundtrack noise from the Old Trafford crowd: an homage to D. A. Pennebaker‘s Don’t Look Back? Fellow ESPN columnist Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger recalls a public film-festival conversation with Costard in Munich in 1998:
This man was pure avant garde and did not know anything about football. His choice for George Best was made mostly for his looks rather than his qualities as a player. Costard did not have any views on football and did not remember much about the making of the movie. That was an awkward interview in public, I can tell you.