Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vintage Trailer of the Week 14

Probably my two favourite Paul Newman films are "Hombre" and "Cool Hand Luke", but there are no embeddable trailers for either on Youtube. I always preferred him as a Movie Star, at ease with himself, effortlessly cool and beautiful, than as an Actor, trying too hard to be James Dean or Marlon Brando. He was a Great Movie Star, so commanding, magnetic and charismatic, and he appeared to relax and improve with age. I have a real soft spot for the genre films he made in the 60s and 70s - "The Mackintosh Man", "The Life & times of Judge Roy Bean", "Torn Curtain" etc. And perhaps most especially the two "Harper" movies, adaptations of Ross MacDonald's superb Lew Archer books, the first a glossy L.A. Noir of the type riffed on by "The Big Lebowski", the second ("The Drowning Pool" (1975)) set in a sultry, vivid Deep South. Newman seems to be having a fine time in both, taking none of it seriously, allowing his innate likeableness to shine through:


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Twelve

So I've seen this Meme on a number of film-centric blogs over the past few weeks. I think it may have originated here, and the idea is that its passed on by participants, like some sort of virus, but lets face it, nobody is ever going to pass it on to me. So what I'm doing is infecting myself, jamming a great syringe full of infection right into my thigh so that I can play. Because I like the idea.

Which is, basically:

Come up with a list of 12 movies you have not seen. Films you most ardently wish to see. "Holy Grail" films, if you like. Films which have eluded you for whatever reason over the years. Its better if they're unavailable in the UK on dvd (wanting to see "Stepbrothers" but having missed it in cinemas will not suffice) but not essential, so if its some Chabrol film thats available in a boxset then thats cool with me. If you can't come up with 12, then do 5 or 10 or whatever. A number with a good cosmic feel. If you want to do records or games or comics or whatever instead, I guess thats cool too. But movies is better.

Here is an edited list of the original rules. Edited by me, because since I haven't been officially tagged I figure I can do what I like:

1. You must not have seen any of the films on your list, either in theatres or on video.

2. The films on your list should not be available on Lovefilm (this will be the criteria for "availability" since it's too hard to track down what's available where, to who, etc.)

3. You can organize the list however you want, in themed couplets like Piper's original list, or just as twelve semi-random films.

4. Tag five people to keep the meme going.

So, I'm tagging the few people who read this blog with blogs themselves who I've actually met in the real world:Monsterwork, Beezer, Ross, Davey and JamesinSeoul. Get thinking, dawgs. I'll give you a week or two to comply.

Anyway, my list:

1. Cocksucker Blues (Robert Frank)

Legendary doesn't begin to describe it. Frank's, erm, frank tour documentary follows the Rolling Stones on a famously debauched American tour in 1972 in support of "Exile on Main Street". It was their first US tour since Altamont, and the aura of barely contained evil and chaos they carried with them had not dissipated. Frank shot the film verite-style, distributing cameras throughout the band's massive travelling entourage so that there are scenes never captured before or since: Keith Richards shooting up, groupies acting as one would expect, parties, boredom...the band, understandably, were shocked by their portrayal and the film was slapped with a court order which means that, to this day, it can only be screened in the presence of the director. Hence its "holy grail" status. Bootlegs exist. They turn up on eBay, overpriced and of varying quality. I saw one in a record shop in Paris years ago, but didn't realise how rare such sightings would be. There are usually a couple of scenes on Youtube. It was shown at the Tate last year, with Frank in attendance, but tickets were £25. I've read Robert Greenfield's brilliant insider account of that tour; "A Journey through America with the Rolling Stones", which hints at the epic scale of, well, everything about the enterprise. The Stones were the biggest band on earth at the time, with their own fascinating mythology, and the book captures it well. Apparently the film is even better. The title comes from Mick Jagger's proposed kiss-off single submitted to Decca (who buried it) in the late 60s, the chorus of which goes "Where can I get my cock sucked/ Where I get my ass fucked/ I may not be good-looking/ But I know where to put it, everytime." Could have been the greatest Number 1 single of all time...

2. Let It Be (Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970)

In the context of this list, this is something of a companion piece to Number 1. Its the film on this list I really can't believe I haven't seen. The Beatles, making their final album, falling apart, bitching at one another, Yoko and Linda in the shadows, beards all over the place, a handful of classic tunes, all of it captured by an unblinkered camera in the corner...I'm pre-sold. I will love it. But its devilishly difficult to get hold of. Bootlegs, yes, they're all over eBay. VHS copies used to be a staple of second-hand record shops. But its official DVD release, mooted every year for much of the last half-decade, has never come about. Maybe because Paul McCartney and Yoko (and even Ringo Starr) are ambivalent at best about the film. But its an important document, dammit. Some day it will come out. Then I will see it. Someday.

3. Lanton Mills (Terrence Malick, 1969)

Malick is probably my favourite living filmmaker, by which I mean that he is the one whose work I anticipate most fervently. I think he's a genius, and each of his four films seems a masterpiece to me, which is an unparalleled strike rate among the Directors I most admire. "Lanton Mills" is a seventeen-minute comedy he made as a student, starring Harry Dean Stanton and Warren Oates, among others. Malick himself is one of the others. Reportedly a messy comedy-Western following two cowboys on their way to rob a bank, it was photographed by Caleb Deschanel with a score by Malick. It never received an "official" release, playing only through College Film Societies in the US. Malick subsequently donated a copy to his alma mater, the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. You can go there and watch it in the library on VHS. It cannot be borrowed or copied. It will most likely never be released on dvd. Malick's reputation as cinema's Salinger is sealed. What is most intriguing is the thought that its a comedy. A Malick comedy!

4. HHH (Olivier Assayas, 1997)

One of my favourite directors makes a documentary about another one of my favourite directors. It seems too beautiful to be true. Assayas was a Cahiers du Cinema critic before he started writing and directing, and he was the guiding force behind the Special issue focusing on New Asian Cinema back before it all became voguish. He had a particular interest in Hong Kong cinema (he would eventually cast Maggie Cheung in "Irma Vep", then marry her) and the New Taiwanese movement, of which Hou Hsiao-hsien was perhaps the most talented director. Assayas is a gifted director in his own right, and his interviews are always fascinating as much for his asides about contemporary film culture as for his reflections on his own work, so I would love to see what he makes of Hou's career and the Taiwanese industry as a whole. He vividly conjured up the sweaty bustle of the urban Orient in "Boarding Gate" and his last film, "Summer Hours", was virtually a tribute to Hou, suggesting this documentary may be something of a atmospheric hagiography. Anything like Chris Marker's essay on Kurosawa would be fine with me...

5. La Luna (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1979)

In 1970, Bertolucci made "Il Conformista", to my mind one of the greatest films ever made. Since then, his career has been an uneven series of missteps and wild leaps, from the occasionally sublime ("Last Tango In Paris", "1900", "The Last Emperor") to the particularly ridiculous ( "Little Buddha", "1900", "Stealing Beauty"). But each of his films contains great, marvelous moments of beauty and ambition. Often followed by a stilted, awful scene which seems directed by somebody else entirely. I haven't seen two of his post 1970 films, 1981's "Tragedia di un uomo ridiculo" and "La Luna", the story of an Opera singer whose battle to reclaim her son from a heroin addiction leads to a flirtation with incest. My interest in it was stimulated by a glowing review in an old 1970s Special issue of Movieline magazine, and my subsequent appreciation of Bertolucci's work has only heightened that interest. The suggestion that it recalls the more overwrought later passages of "Last Tango" only make it sound all the more fascinating. It stars the wonderful Jill Clayburgh, too. It doesn't seem to exist anywhere on dvd. Except in Germany. Believe me, I'm thinking about it.

6. Mickey One (Arthur Penn, 1965)

A reportedly Kafka-esque conspiracy comedy man-on-the-run thriller about a comic fleeing the Mob, starring Warren Beatty, directed by Arthur Penn (a couple of years before their triumph on "Bonnie & Clyde") and with a Jazz score by Stan Getz and photography by Nouvelle Vague cinematographer of choice, Ghislain Cloquet? I'm there. Release it on dvd, I'll buy it sight unseen. No? Beatty was in the zone for much of the late 60s until well into the 1970s (arguably into the 80s and "Ishtar") and Penn was a unique talent who has a formidable back catalogue full of eclectic quality. I just know that even if its terrible, it'll be terrible in an interesting way. The first 10 minutes are on YouTube. I can't bear it. Thats no way to watch a movie.

7. Elephant (Alan Clarke, 1989)

Clarke's TV film depicts a series of assassinations in Northern Ireland. Without a plot or characters. The camera picks out men walking, in streets, parks, corridors. They are shot - brutally, with the disturbing flatness and banality of real violence - and the camera leaves with the assassin. Its mainly a series of intense, lengthy steadicam shots, broken by sudden cutaways to pistols firing and corpses bleeding. I have seen only clips on a documentary, but they were stunning. Gus Van Sant was inspired for his own "Elephant" and so stole both the title and the steadicam.

8. Virus (Kinji Fukasaku, 1980)

This one sounds sort of bad, in a way. Its a big Japanese production (it was the most expensive Japanese film ever at the time) with an International cast of seen-better-days faded stars like Robert Vaughn, Chuck Connors and Glen Ford joining the likes of Sonny Chiba. Its 155 minutes long. It concerns an apocalyptic super-virus that kills 99.9999% of Earth's population. I had no interest in it until a year or so ago, when I read Junot Diaz's fantastic debut novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao". That book chronicles the life of a geek - a comic-obsessed, Lord of the Rings quoting geek. But its narrator is a slightly cooler geek and he works in multiple geek references - to Galactus, to Sauron, etc - wittily and lightly. One of the protagonists geek touchstones is "Virus", which he watches obsessively. Which makes him weep. There is no better cheerleader for art than other art, so obviously, I instantly had to see it. Plus its directed by Fukasaku, a talented journeyman on the right project. And - Sonny Chiba!
There is a version available in the UK, but its the butchered, under 2 hour cut. Which will never do.

9. Lola (Jacques Demy, 1959)

I'm a big fan of Demy's beautiful "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964) and "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" (1967), wherein he reinvented the Musical in visually sensational fashion. The fact that he did this without fudging the darkness of his sensibility - the edge of quiet, everyday tragedy - makes him a marvel. "Lola" was his first film, and he reportedly emerged fully-formed, his style already confident and established. Its inspired by Max Ophuls' "Lola Montes" and tells the story of Aimee's cabaret dancer and her various romantic entanglements in Nantes, Demy's hometown. Songs by Michel Legrand. Based on stills, shining black and white photography by Raoul Coutard. And give me Anouk Aimee over Brigitte Bardot or Jeanne Moreau or even Catherine Denueve anyday.

10. The War Lord (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1965)

Charlton Heston! Shouting! Every! Word!
Schaffner directed a couple of classics - "Patton", "The Best Man", "Papillon" and "Planet of the Apes" - and all of those suggest he possessed a steady hand with spectacle but also a good sense of character drama. "The War Lord" follows Heston's 11th Century Norman Knight, who is charged with defending a village on the French coast from Viking Raiders. The trailer on YouTube, apart from featuring a hilariously pompous blurb from Heston himself, makes it look like a schizophrenic blend of hack and slash battle epic and syrupy romance. But Heston with a sword is a good thing (see "El Cid" for proof). And Schaffner, at that time, was gearing up for his golden period. The supporting cast - Guy Stockwell, Richard Boone - can't hurt, either. I've wanted to see it since I read about it at about 13, and I saw it on dvd in Spain a few years ago. And passed. Why, I don't quite recall right now...

11. The Quince Tree Sun (Victor Erice, 1992)

Erice works rarely, and of his work, I've only seen "The Spirit of the Beehive". But that is a poetic and profound masterpiece, and I would watch anything else he was involved with. Especially this semi-documentary, a reportedly meticulous study of painter Antonio Lopez Garcia and his struggle to perfectly capture a true moment of fleeting, natural beauty in his work. It was on an Artificial Eye video years ago, but theres no sign of a DVD...

12. Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969)

I saw "State of Siege", Gavras' 1973 take on Uruguay's Tupamaros urban guerillas when I was in College, and its immediacy and frightening realism blew me away. Ever since then I've wanted to see "Z", the tale of a judge investigating a political assassination in a Greece under a Military Dictatorship. It may be the most canonical film on this list, having won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1970 (it was also nominated for Best Picture) and maintaining a strong critical reputation to this day. Modern conspiracy thrillers are routinely compared to it. It also stars a couple of greats in Yves Montand and Jean Louis Trintignant. All the more puzzling, then, that its so difficult to track down. Copies of the Region 1 dvd are on amazon for £50, suggesting its been deleted. "State of Siege" is similarly elusive. But if you want one of Gavras' so-so American studio pictures from the 1980s, no problem...

An alternative 12 : "Play Dirty" (Andre DeToth, 1969), "Centre Stage" (Stanley Kwan, 1992), "Ghosts...of the Civil Dead" (John Hillcoat, 1969), "The Killing Box" (George Hickenlooper, 1993), "Goldstein" (Philip Kaufman, 1965), "The Red Tent" (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1969), "Lightning Over Water" (Nicholas Ray, 1980), "Serenade" (Anthony Mann, 1956), "Two Weeks In Another Town" (Vincente Minnelli, 1962), "Utu" (Geoff Murphy, 1983), "Pocket Money" (Stuart Rosenberg, 1972), "The Green Room" (Francois Truffaut, 1978)

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Golgolgolgolgolgolgolgolgolgol: 7

Andreas D'alessandro performs the most sublime, perfectly executed nutmeg. Then follows it with a crappy cross. Oh well:

The best player on earth right about now:

Zidane, in a gymnasium with some French guys. It gets really good about 2 minutes in when he starts to take the piss a little bit:

Robert Prosinecki, for, yes, it really is, Portsmouth. He beats the same guy 5 times, makes him fall over, then gives the ball away cheaply:

Van der Vaart & van Persie exchange backheels:

Paolo Futre, the greatest Portugeuse player post-Eusebio, pre-Figo:


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Vintage Trailer(s) of the Week


My Dad is a bit of an Elvis obsessive. He's got all those massive box sets with demo versions of obscure late 60s album tracks and live versions where Elvis corpses and changes the lyrics to amuse himself. When I was a kid, before cds existed, a fair portion of his massive record collection was made up of Elvis LPs. I grew up listening to Elvis. Its only later in life that you realise that not everyone of your generation has seen more or less every single movie Elvis ever made, and that having done so is not necessarily an advantage.

I loved Elvis movies when I was a kid. The formula was great - put Elvis in a semi-exotic location (Hawaii, Germany, Las Vegas), have him surrounded by bikini-clad girls, and be specifically torn between a few of them, sing a few songs ("Top Secret!" parodies those scenes just perfectly) and have at least one fist-fight. Give it a happy ending (another song) and shoot it all in glorious technicolour. It means that many of the movies are interchangeable, but that you always know what to expect. I loved what to expect as a kid.

But some of his movies are different. The early ones, when he still took movies seriously, show that he could have been a talented actor. He was incredibly charismatic and good-looking, and while most of his later stuff merely demands that he be relaxed and charming, in a handful of early films he was stretched. "King Creole" (1958) is my favourite of his films, a dark, savage crime melodrama, directed by Michael Curtiz and featuring a terrific Walter Matthau as the bad guy. Its also got an ace soundtrack:

He made a couple of tough, relatively gritty Westerns early on, too, but after his stint in the army, he just pumped out movies, one or two a year, their mediocre soundtracks sufficing as his record releases, his star dimming slightly. By the late 60s, when he was rejuvenated by the Comeback Special on TV, he obviously wanted to change the way movie audiences saw him, leading to "Charro!", a bizarre spaghetti Western in 1969, featuring Elvis with Eastwood stubble and quiet truculence:

The hilariously awful "Kissin Cousins" is more representative of his work from the early 60s:

In 1979 John Carpenter made a tv movie biopic, called "Elvis" starring Kurt Russell (who had co-starred with Presley as a child in "It Happened at the Worlds Fair" (1963)) in the title role. It may well be Russell's best ever performance, and is a great Elvis impression which goes beyond the usual "Thankyouverymuch" cliches and suggests a real pain and hollowness at the characters heart. Carpenter is obviously a big Elvis fan, but his movie is scrupulously balanced:

However, its not as funny as Jack White doing karate from "Walk Hard: (2007):

And, if you've made it this far, a reminder that as a rock Star, the man was fantastic; just listen to that voice and witness the style with which that black leather is worn:

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Reader Becomes God

"Fiction's about what it is to be a human being."

- David Foster Wallace

I've had "Infinite Jest" for about 5 or 6 years and I still haven't gotten around to reading it. Its intimidating, though, in its massive heft, its famous density, and in that surplus of footnotes. In my defence, there are literally a couple of hundred books on our shelves I haven't gotten around to reading. But I will eventually, just like I will get to "Infinite Jest". David Foster Wallace just killed himself, and so, with depressing predictability, that novel has just jumped a few dozen other books and is nearer the top of my mental In Tray. I'll read it soon.

What I have read is much of Wallace's shorter fiction and his journalism. I had heard of him before I first encountered his work. That initial experience of him was very positive -a surgical strike on "Terminator 2" from a Waterstones magazine in the late 1990s. It is always a pleasure to encounter nicely written film criticism by a novelist who actually knows what he is talking about. Wallace was no dilettante. Instead, he always communicated the voracity of his mind, his interest in every single facet of the world around him. I read his journalism wherever I encountered it, and he was capable of illuminating and enriching one's own thoughts on any subject, from professional tennis to lobsters to cruise liners. It all feels like a single great, long work in progress - Wallace wrestling with the modern world, with irony and how it has affected what it means to be human, with his place in that world as a writer. Anybody reading this should go out and buy his two non-fiction collections; "A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” and “Consider the Lobster”. You will feel awe at the man's intelligence and wit, and also the beauty and power of his prose.

The last thing I read by him absolutely blew me away. Writing well about sport is difficult. It is a cliche-strewn field, and it often feels as if everything has been said. But in his appreciation of the genius of Roger Federer a few years ago in the New York Times, Wallace makes that seem like an apologia for laziness, for unoriginal thinking. Wallace himself was a regionally ranked junior tennis player, and his love and understanding of the game are evident throughout his piece. But he also muses on the strangeness of Wimbledon and of the beauty of sports and athleticism itself. All of it beautifully written, sensuous, funny, rapturous at times. His piece made me want to watch Tennis, which takes a certain kind of genius.



Saturday, September 06, 2008

They call him King...

I don't play many games these days. FIFA and the occasional First Person Shooter. The latest Call of Duty was the last one. I don't have the patience for campaigns or story modes. I don't have the time, really. I tried GTA4 and was bored quickly. I wanted instantly to be performing rooftop sniper hits, not going on bowling dates with cardboard cutout girls and working my way up through this silly criminal underworld filled with broad humour and crappy dialogue. FIFA never disappoints in this manner, because its a football simulation and I love football, and I turn it on and within 30 seconds I'm Boca Juniors playing Juventus and all is right with the world.

But I do still have a stack of some of my old games. I revisit one just occasionally. Halo or Rocky, say. Recently I've been playing Red Dead Revolver again. its not the greatest game ever, but its an entertaining Spaghetti Western pastiche, and in terms of atmosphere and detail, its fantastic. Some scenes feel just like they've wandered out of a bad Italo-western and the actors replaced with some dodgily-rendered computer generated figures. The landscapes and architecture are all spot on, the farmhouse and mining towns and abandoned forts.

But whats most perfect and what I've found most rewarding this time is the Soundtrack. RockStar pay a lot of attention to the soundtracks on their games, and that in turn pays dividends. The GTA series makes inspired use of pop music - particularly Vice City - resulting in healthy cd sales when they release the official compilations. For Red Dead Revolver, somebody at RockStar - a chap called Patrick Whitaker, to be precise - has trawled the Spaghetti Western genre and selected a fistful of amazing themes and cues by the likes of Francesco De Masi, Stelvio Cipriani, Bruno Nicolai, Piero Piccioni, Daniele Patucchi and Gianni Ferrio. Theres also, strangely, some of Nino Rota's music from Fellini's "Casanova" and, not so strangely, a couple of pieces by Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov.

I know and love the work of both these gentlemen, but the Bacalov theme most prominently used in Red Dead Revolver was unknown to me before I encountered it here. And its great, easily the equal of his work in "A Bullet for the General" and even "Django". Bacalov is an Argentinean composer, possibly best known today for winning an Oscar for his score for "Il Postino" or for the couple of his tracks selected by Quentin Tarantino for the "Kill Bill" soundtracks despite the fact that he has scored well over a hundred features stretching back to 1960. His Spaghetti scores are all awesome - the creativity of the work already done in that genre by other hands seemingly brought out the best in Bacalov. Anyway, the theme used as the Main Title theme in Red Dead Revolver is from an obscure Klaus Kinski Spaghetti from 1971, "Lo Chiamavano King" directed by one Giancarlo Romitelli. A theme of such cool and beauty deserves better than to languish in semi-obscurity, so RockStar should be thanked for rehabilitating it, together with its amazing bassline and that great guitar burn at the very end:

Red Dead Revolver Theme (Lo Chiamavano King) - Luis Bacalov

The version used over the credits in the movie itself has a female vocal - I don't know the singer though - over the top, telling us just how bad a bad-ass this King chap actually is. Its pretty good too:

The only downside to all this is the fact that there never was a Red Dead Revolver Soundtrack cd, and a lot of Spaghetti Western stuff is devilishly hard to track down. Thank God for the internet.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

On Football - No. 16 : FIFA's Film Factory

A Sunday Afternoon, sometime in the mid 1980s. There was never much on tv on Sundays. Old films. Westerns, English dramas from the 40s and 50s. The steady march towards Bullseye and Songs of Praise.

One Sunday, I come across some football on tv. It is unmistakably Brazil. Those yellow shirts, the blue shorts, lean shaggy haired players. But it looks different. The camera is at ground level, roaming around, tracking players as they move across the pitch in tight close-up. The ball is rarely if ever in shot. Instead we can identify where it is by following the eyes of the players, so tightly are the cameras focused upon them. And the commentator. It sounds like - can't be - it sounds like Sean Connery. I am spellbound.

That film was "G'Ole!", the Official FIFA film for the 1982 World Cup. FIFA continue to make an Official film for each World Cup, but the form peaked in the 1980s, with "G'Ole!" and its 1986 follow-up, "Hero". Until very recently I hadn't seen "G'Ole!" in full since that initial viewing on a sunday in the 80s, when I must have been 10 or 11. Its became more and more difficult to get hold of. Unavailable on DVD, videotapes change hands for ridiculous amounts on eBay. It seems odd that FIFA continue to make these films but show no regard for the archive they possess. Clips from these films show up in various other Football documentaries - the brilliant 2006 BBC series "World Cup Stories" (oddly, also unavailable on DVD) was built around various sequences - and they always stand out due to the quality of the footage. There is only one clip from "G'Ole!" on YouTube, but it does manage to convey in 4 minutes or so the exact tone and feel of these films - the amazing, intimate footage, the distracting, often awful music, the epic tone the games are embued with. And of course, Sean Connery saying "Barshalona":

The strangest fact of these films is that they are so vulnerably at the mercy of their director. FIFA might have commissioned a piece which made great use of the exclusive footage they could provide, but it seems doubtful they were quite prepared for how idiosyncratic the results might be. Directors have agendas, stories they are determined to tell, images they wish to include, themes they need to address. FIFA just wanted goals compilations, you feel.

"G'Ole!" was directed by Tom Clegg, best known at that time for "McVicar" (1980), and since then something of a jobbing television director. Clegg, with the aid of writer Stan Hey, seems set upon painting a lyrical portrait of Spain as a beachside utopia, its people uncorrupted by the modern world, living in their beautiful small towns beneath the fiercely blue Iberian skies. There is one montage midway through the film which is filled with shots of old people sitting chatting in town squares, sophisticates at outdoor cafes, children playing and crowds at the beach. The football almost takes a back seat, as Clegg indulges his interest in the World Cup as carnival. There is perhaps slightly too much footage of fans dancing and chanting and drinking, alongside one too many trips to the stadium on the team coach, and the film loses focus towards its climax. Its also bizarrely lecherous - topless sunbathers in the Mediterranean draw a lot of the camera's attention, as so bikinis glimpsed on dancing girls in the Brazilian crowd. Clegg dips in and out of the tournament, allowing us to briefly visit with various sides. So we start off with Maradona and Argentina, then move on to Brazil, France, Spain, Italy and England. Other teams appear in games, as if from nowhere. Poland suddenly materialize in the semi-final, despite not having featured at any point in the hour before. But Clegg is plainly fascinated by minnows. He spends extended passages locked with the Kiwi and Cameroonian teams, watching them at their hotel bases, following them to the stadium and observing their team talks, their running onto the pitch, their valiant failures. The players are generally denied personality - we hear their names, but their roles are quickly sketched stock ones. Platini is skillful, Robson bright and aggressive, Maradona fouled, Rossi redeemed. Nationalities are defined by cliches, too - the relaxed Brazilians, engaged always in Samba, the resilient, methodical Germans. We are expected, it seems, to already know who these players and teams are and what they mean.

But despite its many quirks,"G'Ole!" is still a fantastic piece of work. Mainly because it features so much incredible footage. The 1982 World Cup was a vintage competition, containing perhaps the greatest game in the competition's history - Brazil vs Italy. Spain, at that time still something of a post-Franco backwater, has always been a beautiful, cinematic location, and Clegg and his team shoot and edit the whole thing so that it is all atmospheric and visually arresting. Connery is incomparable and Rick Wakeman's score is not the abomination that his work on the next FIFA film would be. But its the raw material that makes it all work, and in the 1980s there were a handful of giants in International football who these films focus on - Maradona, Platini, Zico, Ruminegge. To see any of them on a pitch, shot so intimately, so cinematically, is thrilling for a nostalgic football fan.

"Hero" is just as strange and fascinating an experience. Written and directed by Tony Maylam, otherwise best known for either his stiff adaptation of "The Riddle of the Sands" (1979) or his cult horror "The Burning" (1981), it tells the story of a tournament in a determinedly poetic and personal way. At the same time, it is hilariously bombastic and epic in its treatment of a ball game, creating an odd but effective dynamic. Maylam focuses on a series of individuals - each of whom could be the "Hero" of the title - and his cameras follow them in flashes through a game, creating a mini-narrative within the wider story of the World Cup itself. What makes "Hero" so sublime is the choice of players - some of the finest in the world at that time; including Michael Laudrup, Enzo Francescoli, Hugo Sanchez, the aforementioned Platini and Zico, and Emilio Butragueno.

But football is a game primarily concerned with the creation, identification and use of space on the pitch. Accurate passing and individual technique - dribbling ability, the skill to beat a man - come to the fore. As such, television cameras are ideally located to capture the most vital action on the pitch. From their position above and to the side, tv cameras can show us the wider picture - tactical configurations, movement off the ball, the spaces opening and closing all around - while also showcasing the vignettes of skill from individuals involved in the play. Both "G'Ole" and "Hero" virtually ignore the former aspect of the game in their zeal to glorify the latter. The films are both shot by cameras at ground level on the side of the pitch, so that we see the action as the players do. The field becomes a three dimensional system of moving lines, ripples of motion, the ball crossing and creating these lines, the players dancers and warriors, clashing, slipping past one another with feints, bursts of speed, rapid passes. "G'Ole!" contains more passages viewed from the traditional angle, but "Hero" embraces its predecessor's innovations wholeheartedly, and long sequences are seen from pitch level. Occasionally Maylam will cut away to show us the actual tv coverage of a goal or a vital moment. So we witness Maradona's extraordinary second goal against England with commentary by the BBC's man : "And that is why Maradona is the greatest player in the World!" But for the most part the voice we hear is that of Michael Caine, his narration slightly removed, affectless, even ironic.

Of course the real "Hero" of the film is Maradona himself, and the last half hour effectively follows his progress through the latter stages of the tournament. He had a big role in "G'Ole", too, with an extended segment showing his brutal treatment first by the Italian, then the Brazilian team, climaxing in his sending off for retaliation. An early scene in "Hero" shows him being kicked and hacked to the ground time and again versus South Korea, but his first goal seems to liberate him - as the film itself acknowledges - and from then on the camera is more interested in his brilliance in manipulating the ball. Francescoli instead is shown being stymied by rough treatment, battered as he is by the Danes in a 6-1 defeat for Uruguay. Its an odd, elliptical approach to a portrayal of a tournament, leaving out so many goals, players and incidents, and yet it works. It self-consciously casts these matches as epic narratives, with heroes and heroic acts, high stakes and gripping climaxes. Maradona alone seems to have read the script, and he provides the film with everything it needs to succeed. The last 20 minutes of the film follow his Argentina through the final against West Germany, and it is loaded with importance, it feels thrillingly epic. Rick Wakeman's score almost spoils it, but what could possibly spoil Maradona's effortless first-time pass for the winning goal or his surging run past four Germans?

What makes these films feel significant is that they feel like the birthplace of modern football coverage. In the 1980s, there were not multiple camera angles of each and every moment available to television viewers, there weren't steadicam operators running along the touchline, automated cameras located above the pitch on wires, cameras behind the goals, cameras in the tunnel. There was one camera. There was no footage of the beautiful girls in the crowd, the crazily face-painted foreign fans playing drums and dancing. There was one camera. It followed the ball around the pitch. Slow motion replays showed the same shot - from that single camera - again and again, just more slowly.
Whereas nowadays modern football coverage looks like "G'Ole!" and "Hero" did. Classily shot and edited, with every single conceivable angle covered by one camera or other. The crowd cut to throughout, the benches watched. Sky had a digital option a few seasons ago where the camera followed a single player throughout a game, if the viewer wished. These films have been surpassed by tv.

Which is the major problem faced by the contemporary FIFA films. The only subsequent one I've seen the entirety of is "The Grand Finale", the film of the 2006 Finals, directed by Michael Apted and narrated by Pierce Brosnan. You might imagine that in this age of YouTube and Goals compilation dvds FIFA would crave a more personal, even slightly pretentious treatment of a tournament, but no - "The Grand Finale" is a goal compilation film with padding, in essence. It focuses on seemingly random games without much context as to what is occurring throughout the rest of the competition, so we see Spain tonk Ukraine 4-0 and are told they were eliminated in their first knockout game. Argentina are introduced with an onscreen count of the number of passes in the lead up to their amazing goal against Serbia, the only action shown from that game. We briefly glimpse Brazil beat Ghana 3-0 in the first knockout round and Brosnan tells us that France subsequently knocked them out. The Epic sense of the earlier films is entirely absent, the sense of continuity and coherent narrative close behind. What we get is mainly the same shots I saw on tv as I wactched these games with a few nice passages thrown in. There is no obtrusive soundtrack (instead we hear the crowd noises, its sighs and roars, loud over the top) , no lyricism, no attempted poetry. It all feels hard, slick, empty, depressingly modern. As does the football played. Watching it soon after viewing "Hero" and "G'Ole!", the pace of the games is shocking. In the 80s, teams played football almost languidly - Brazil stroked it fondly to one another, players trotting about the pitch with their socks rolled down to reveal shinguard-less legs. Now the ball pings about, everybody sprints, tackles erupt in seconds. Even Argentina, guided by Riquelme's slow-slow-slower-quick-quick-slow style knock the ball around at amazing speed. Maybe the cooler climate (Germany, compared wit Spain and Mexico) is responsible. But I think the game has changed in this regard. Perhaps that is why "The Grand Finale" is so lacking in stars comparable to the giants of those films of the 80s. Artistry is more difficult at 1000 miles an hour. For Film directors too, apparently.

For anybody interested, I've collected all of my previous football posts together at another blog, here. Any future football-related stuff will be on both blogs...

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