Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Following up on Eudy Simelane, Global Girl Media, and the subject of rape and homophobia in South Africa

Young women in Soweto produced two video segments about homophobia, rape, and the situation of black lesbians in South Africa. These segments were produced through Global Girl Media, a project which directs young women in producing media about the issues that matter to them most.

Zandile, one of the Global Girl reporters talks about her sister Busi, who was assaulted in one of these homophobic rapes.

Once again, I renew the wish that Eudy Simelane (a former South African national team player murdered in one of these assaults) would be remembered at one of the World Cup matches. (Click here to sign a petition.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More thoughts on more losses (Mexico, England and the unfairness of it all)

It was all too much today - one great goal ignored (Lampard) and one totally, unambiguously offside goal allowed (Tevez). We watched some teams exploit their good fortune, and others collapse in the face of their bad luck.

It's become a World Cup scripted by Emile Zola. I am thinking of his utterly depressing novel L'Assommoir (the word means a dive-bar one goes to only to get hammered). At a key juncture in the story, the lovable drunk Copeau is doing his best to get his life together, but takes a bad fall at work and breaks his leg. His life is a fast downhill slide to abject poverty from there. He just doesn't have the constitution to overcome the kind of bad luck that in fact breaks a lot of people. My students always dig that novel, because this story feels real - the story of bad things happening to decent but very flawed people.
Is it in the service of realism, I wonder, that Sepp Blatter wards off all pressure to use technology to, say, confirm that, indeed, the ball has crossed the goal-line? Is that what he means by human drama - Life is not only unfair, it's a cruel and pointless venture?  

I don't think England had a win in them today - it didn't seem like it. Not when faced with Özil, Klose, and Podolski on the attack.  Germany played brilliantly - and, really, that's why they won.  But, like a character in a Zola novel, England can now stew in its bitterness, feel robbed, and pour more of its energy down the drain in a stream of complaint.

Mexico - oh, my heart.  The first twenty-six minutes of the match today were pure, insane delight. But then the magic fell apart with Tevez's offside goal. Players saw the disaster replayed on the stadium screens (as happened after Lampard's un-goal as well). That could not have helped matters - it was impossible to miss: Tevez was so offside that he must have known it himself.  The hand of God, moving one of his pawns into position. That sort of thing is dispiriting. So a few minutes later we see El Tri give up another goal with a limp pass - the sort of mistake made by someone who feels the decks are so stacked against them that the game isn't worth playing anymore. You feel screwed by the system, so you screw yourself.

Argentina played beautifully, Tevez made sure we knew he was more than a cheat, and fired one of the best shots of the tournament in the 52nd minute. Great teams exploit luck and the other side's error. They are captains of a lucky universe.  The rest of us pretty much just go down with the ship.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Quick note on today's loss & US soccer fans

The hoopla over Wednesday's victory is rapidly fading, as is the wild optimism regarding the "future of American soccer". I don't mind this - all that hype is about as sound as the California real estate market. We belong to a different world, really - one that doesn't need the team to "win it all". We wanted them to play well, to play an honest game.  The USMNT really did that. They got farther than France and Italy, and I think have more French and Italian fans, perhaps, than do either of those two squads.

Meditating on today's loss, Jeff Nunokawa captured what might be most interesting about football culture here in the states:
I like to think that at least a little of the interest exhibited by my fellow Americans in the fortunes of our team at an international contest in a sport where, historically, we have hardly distinguished ourselves against other countries, I like to think that at least a little of that interest exhibited by my fellow Americans has to do with the desire, vivid or obscure, to take our place as a nation among other nations, rather than a nation above them. I hope so. Don't you?      (FB Note 2076, "a general shout of brotherhood and joy")
 I don't hope so, I know so.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Listening to the World Cup: Waka Waka, Zangaléwa and Vuvuzelas

From the first 2010 World Cup broadcasts on ESPN, my fellow tweeters cracked jokes about The Lion King. We imagined Rafiki calling the matches, or James Earl Jones (who provided the voice for Mufasa), and half expected the referees to raise the Jabulani aloft to announce the arrival of the New Ball. Most folks simply observed, "I feel like I am watching The Lion King."

There is a good reason for this. The score used by ESPN to frame its broadcasts was written by Lisle Moore, a Utah composer who had worked with the network in the past. Moore gave us muscular music for a sporting event, upbeat music for a media event organized around putting us all in the mood to buy a shirt, a ball, or a Coke. Layered over the orchestral swells are the oddly familiar sounds of African voices, or, I should say, African-sounding voices.  Africa is scored here as a noble landscape, peopled by a unified chorus, singing together in a harmonic convergence of tribal cultures.

"With the exception of the African choir," reports the Salt Lake Tribune, "all of the music is performed by Utah musicians." ("ESPN Turns to Utah for World Cup Music") That "African choir" lending this score a sense of location is actually made up with members of The Lion King's Broadway cast. The African-sounding choir from New York City was hired to sonically channel an idea of African authenticity keyed to ESPN's American audience. This is of course true of all scores produced by the World Cup broadcasting networks as they reach for music their imagined audience will understand. Without a doubt, we are hearing not African music but (to invoke philosopher Valentin Mudimbe) a musical "Idea of Africa."

In the mix of the music draped over the 2010 World Cup, are more specific strains - signals clearly audible to the listener of African music, the sound of a continent being ripped off. This is nowhere more obvious than "The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM) Song", "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)", sung by Shakira and Freshlyground, a South African Afro-fusion bad.  The global pop hit has a clear relationship to a Cameroonian military song, Zangaléwa, popularized by Golden Sounds in 1986. "Waka Waka" doesn't just borrow from "Zangaléwa" - listen to the two and you see that "Waka Waka" is, very nearly, an illegal cover (the chorus is a direct use of "Zangaléwa").

First, Golden Sounds' 1986 hit:

And Shakira/Freshlyground:

In his article "Undermining African Intellectual and Artistic Rights: Shakira, Zangalewa and the World Cup Anthem," (from which I draw heavily below) Dibussi Tande situates this appropriation within a longer history of intellectual theft - he begins with perhaps the most infamous case of an international pop star absorbing the work of an African musician in Michale Jackson's use of Manu Dibango's hit song "Soul Makossa" in the opening track on Thriller.

Dibango sued Jackson and won - incredibly, given the topic here, Dibango's song was the B-side to Movement Ewondo which the artist composed for the 1972 African Cup of Nations (hosted by Cameroon and won by Congo-Brazzaville). It's a frenetic football score in which strings seems to scurry underneath Dibango's expressive and light-footed sax.

Jackson's appropriation of recognizable lyrics and melodies pale in comparison with what Shakira and Sony music pull off with "Waka Waka". Given their direct use of a song which seems to be known a generation of Cameroonians, it's surprising that they thought they could get away with it. (See WFMU's record of their efforts to figure out the song's genealogy.)

Tande, a digitial activist, points out that the origins of the song were only acknowledged by FIFA, Shakira et al in response to online activism by those who knew the song, and were horrified to see it stolen in this way. He writes:
To Cameroonians and many African, the origins of the song was no mystery as they instantly recognized it as a remix of “Zangalewa”. Thus began a frenzied online campaign to alert the world that this was not a Shakira original but a remix. The task was made all the more easier thanks to videos of the Golden Sounds performing Zangalewa that were available on the web. The campaign picked up steam as the international media began taking an interest in the story. (Tande, "Undermining African Intellectual and Artistic Rights", May 23 on Scribbles from the Den)
The internet sped up a process which normally takes years to resolve - clearly, obviously "Waka Waka" is a version of "Zangaléwa." Under pressure from the Cameroonian musicians and their advocates, FIFA gingerly inserted a statement of "Waka Waka"'s relationship to the Golden Sounds hit.  FIFA/Shakira/Sony attempt to control the spin here by calling "Waka Waka" a remix, but that's just not true - unless "remix" is now a codeword for "plagiarism" - as none of the original material for the World Cup song acknowledge the existence of "Zangaléwa". (See also Guanabee's April 10 article "Shakira's World Cup Song 'Saminamina' Rips From the 1980s African Hit 'Zangaléwa'.")

The definitive riffs, melodies and lyrics of "The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM) Song" belong not to FIFA at all, but to the makers and listeners of Cameroonian music.

Tande connects this story to Puma's use of a photograph of Ngado Pickett, a celebrated Cameroonian fan in an Paris-based advertising campaign. Puma never asked Pickett for the use of his image to endorse its product. Tande brings it all back around to the starting point for this post: The Lion King. Responding to those who tell Pickett and the artists behind "Zangaléwa" that they should be happy for the exposure, Tande argues:
For decades, African artists have had their works plagiarized by the West with little or no compensation or acknowledgement. The most memorable example of the theft of the intellectual rights of an African artist is that of Solomon Popoli Linda who in 1939 wrote the song "Mbube" and received 10 shillings (less than $US 2) for his efforts. The song which later became the pop hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was reinterpreted by dozens of American artists without Linda or his family receiving a dime. In fact he died penniless. In 1995, the Lion Sleeps Tonight earned an estimated $15 million dollars just for its use in the movie Lion King – a movie which has since grossed about 800 million USD worldwide. Linda's descendants sued Walt Disney for 1.5 million dollars with the full backing of the South African government. Disney settled for an undisclosed sum just as the trial was about to begin. (Tande, "Undermining African Intellectual and Artistic Rights", May 23 on Scribbles from the Den)
This is not something the company is eager for its consumers to know - behind that feel-good African sound is the noise of the gear-works of colonial exploitation, turning.

Here we arrive at the big story of the sound of the world cup - the awful, awe-inspiring but terrifying sound of the vuvuzelas.

Perhaps the noise of the vuvuzela is the sound of resistance - African noise being fed back to us through the television set, a sonic interference, drowning out all else in a collective refusal to play a pretty song.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Whatever: A French Perspective on French National Team's Implosion

I've translated an article by Simone Capelli-Welter, a regular contributor to So Foot. It's a fantastic piece, and in it you can hear an all too familiar frustration with the drama, the hysteria, and the contradictory flows of media discourse on such implosions.  This an unauthorized translation - but I am so sick of ESPN/CNN's stupid reporting on this story that I couldn't help myself:
With the events that have rocked the world of its football team, and with the event that soon will not occur, France can return to its favorite activity: saying everything and its opposite, and, above all, anything whatsoever.

Above all else, France will heap the sum of its bitterness on its football players.  Guilty, guilty of course. Of earning too much money to live and think like pigs, of being arrogant, evil, of being rebellious, and perhaps for being blacks, Muslims, and for coming from the projects. The whole country is doing poorly, and we have someone to blame. Our football players.

Sociologists, politicians, population experts, anachronistic panels, Chantal and Monique, all will be asked for their opinions, their expert words, they will be persuaded to derive from the tale of a football team the whys and wherefores of a country which obviously is looking for answers. A clash of civilizations, a spoiled generation, a team of thugs, and so forth and so on. We have Finkielkraut, one example among many who talk of playing like gentlemen...And good football players? France has emptied his bag, and seems ready for whatever. [See this Europe 1 interview with the conservative and controversial Finkielkraut, in which he speaks of Anelka as thug, and the team as the "spoiled generation". Finkielkraut is infamous for his anti-immigrant statements - among his inflammatory remarks, he called the French national team, "black, black, black" - a reference to the "black, blanc, beur" anthem for the postcolonial make-up of '98 side, which itself reappropriated the nationalist "blue, blanc, rouge" of the French flag.]

And we have the opposite, the contrarian brains who must swim against the current to register themselves as pro-Anelka, pro-Domenech, pro-propaganda. Don't jump on the bandwagon, sure, but then to take the defense of a weak, incompetent or...screw it. Today, with the World Cup in full swing, France will say anything. It is reduced to declaring that the dramas of its football team are much more entertaining than the coolest TV series. We console ourselves as we can. However, this posture, adopted by many supporters of L'Equipe de France in order to avoid losing face, puts its finger on something essential. At the moment, the France football team is actually performing. As the parody of itself, finally, that it should be. The team is making its own fireworks.

By dint of playing a poor game and refusing to explain it, the players and their coach  gave instead a letter to the people, who leaped at the chance to talk about this something else, since it must to continue to talk about its football team no matter what. The ethics of its organization, its money matters, its social side – with so little to offer on the pitch, the team is scrutinized from all angles, every angle, in all its forms. Inevitably, this little game can’t be out-grown. Ours is like any football team in the world that has endured this treatment. Players will return today to face the press. Maybe, but everything works against them if they should turn back and focus on what they are supposed to do, which is no more and no less than to defend France on the football field.

There is still a game in this World Cup, but that fact is now incidental. Players of the French team are too busy looking for their traitor; the people of the federation are too busy looking for their parachute; the football world is too busy looking for its scapegoat, and the country, its sin. Reactions will not stop coming. Some will be violent, most will be stupid, and all will be out of proportion. As happens when France loses (Euro 2002, Henry's hand, etc..). As happens when France wins (1998, France black, blanc, buer etc.). France loses her head. France cannot lose, France cannot win, France does not understand football. Fortunately, though, the game goes on. - Simone Capelli-Welter, "La France du Foot" from So Foot.
And that is as good a lesson in the very French art of ambivalence as you'll find anywhere. On the other end of the affective spectrum, Ribery's rather moving appearance on Téléfoot - "People will say anything." "We been terrible, we haven't sweat in our shirts like one should." "I am speaking from my heart, and we are hurting."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Les Bleus Strike

The French National Team players refused to participate in today's practice, and issued the statement below explaining why:
With this statement, all players of French National Team, without exception, assert their opposition to the decision taken by the French Football Federation to exclude Nicolas Anelka from the squad. If we regret the incident that occurred at halftime during the match between France and Mexico, we regret even more this use of an event that belongs to our group, and which is inherent to the life of a high level team. At the group's request, the player in question made an attempt at dialogue, but his approach was deliberately ignored. For its part, the French Football Federation has at no time tried to protect the team. It made this decision without consulting the players, on the basis of the facts reported by the press alone. Accordingly, and to mark out their opposition to the highest level of French football, all of the players decided not to participate in the workout. Out of respect for the public who came to attend this practice session, we decided to only attend the meeting with the fans, who by their presence bring us their full support. For our part, we are aware of our responsibilities, those of wearing the colors of our country, as well as those we have towards our fans and their leaders, toward educators, volunteers and the countless children who look up to Les Bleus as role models. For our part, we forget none of our responsibilities. We will do everything we can as individuals, of course, but with a collective spirit so that France can recover its honor on Tuesday evening with, finally, a positive performance.
The statement was read by Domenech (see this Canal + story). Apparently Jean-Louis Valentin, the FFF's team deputy director, responded to the cancellation of the public practice session in anger and declared he was going back to Paris and resigning his position "in disgust". For the story (in French), see L'Équipe's "Players Organize Against The FFF (French Football Federation)". It is a World Cup of strikes, inside and outside the stadium. Allez les Bleus!

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Feeling Cheated: Notes on USA - Slovenia

Sport culture seems to be the one discursive space in which we can declare that we were robbed, that our team was cheated, that the game wasn't fair - and we don't come off as bitter or resentful.  This sort of anger - at being kept out of the World Cup finals by someone's handball, or at being cheated of the three points awarded to a win by a rogue referee - is perfectly allowed - a certain sense of injustice is in fact nursed into an art.

But try complaining loudly about being denied a promotion, or being paid less than the guy hired after you. It's hard to make a heroic complaint about a social slight, or feeling like you've been given a raw deal - in, say, the financing structure of your mortgage.

Because we live with a myth regarding the "level playing field" in sports, we cry loudly when that illusion is shattered. Ironically, in the place where we really need a level playing field - access to education, in professional development and mobility, access to healthcare - one is expected to stomach much more bitter disappointment without complaint.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

France Does its Penance

Just a quick note today: France needed its loss, even more than Mexico needed this win today. Les Bleus need to absolve themselves of the burden of guilt brought onto the team by Henry's handball, which kept a more deserving Ireland from participating in these World Cup matches.

Mexico showed they wanted this win, when 22 year old Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez - recently recruited by Manchester United (big, big news in these parts) - glided past France's back line to receive Marquez's long ball.  Abidal was marking Hernandez - the photo shows him moving away from his goal, to force Hernandez offside.  Video will show him stop in his tracks and throw up a hand for the call - which, quite rightly, never came.

To me, that said it all - Abidal stopped playing, he stood still where Hernandnez ran, called for the whistle rather than pressure the striker. I've fought strikers who've blown past me harder than that - huffing and puffing behind them, hoping the sound of my exploding lungs might distract them enough to send a shot wide.

Left alone, with no one breathing down his neck, Hernandez confidently handled Lloris, the 23 year old French keeper. And that was that.

French headlines are grim - So Foot declares the team to be "The Sum of Nothingness" - and I don't know who doesn't blame Domenech - he has drained all soul from this squad.  Any hope for Les Bleus rests on turns of events that will only bring them out of the group with more bad karma - defeating the host country's squad, and depending on Mexico losing to Uruguay. It's hardly something to root for. And the French know it.

Subrato to César - Riyas Komu, on football and the space between

Check out this lovely interview with Riyas Komu, about work on exhibit right now at Gallery Maskara in Mumbai. The title signals the movement from the local players - the ones you can actually see, live, at home (like Subrata Paul, India's #1 keeper) to the heroes, who are global brands (as in Brazil's Júlio César).

When viewers enter the gallery, they are confronted by a concrete wall - squeezing through a narrow opening, they discover rows of steel balls encased in glass and wood boxes, and a television monitor, playing live broadcasts of the matches. This has got to be one of the more interesting places to catch the matches!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

From Sex Machine to Lion King: World Cup Music Politics

The world is wondering what's up with the "Sex Machines" banner that appeared behind one of the goals at today's match between Serbia and Ghana (won by the latter, the youngest side in the World Cup).

Perhaps it is a reference to Hamburg fan club FSV Sexmachines, as one of my fellow tweeters suggested.  But I suspect it is (or I want it to be) a reference to Sex Machine, a lovely 2009 track from Ghanaian pop stars Ruff N Smooth, who (I assume) cite James Brown with the song's title. Ruff N Smooth are big fans of the Black Stars.

Wish someone at ESPN would hijack the network's theme music with this track.

As it happens, ESPN's music was written by a Mormon composer living in Utah. According to the Salt Lake Tribune: "With the exception of the African choir, all of the music is performed by Utah musicians." ("ESPN turns to Utah for World Cup music")

By "African choir," the article's author means the Broadway cast of The Lion King. Literally - the "African choir" in the theme song is composed of members of the Disney production's ensemble cast.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What if the women's NTs played in place of the men?

The above represents an experiment in which I imagine the 2010 World Cup as played by corresponding women's teams (click on image to magnify).  Using their (suspect) FIFA rankings and what I know of the international women's game, I project the outcome.

Many of the big names in the men's game go down early, as their national associations are terrible when it comes to the women's game. Spain, England, Argentina, France, Portugal - none of them make it to the final eight.

The tournament (in my mind) starts off interestingly with a near upset as England gives Germany a  difficult time in the "sweet sixteen" (revisiting Euro drama). Nigeria and South Africa both advance to the final eight where Nigeria unfortunately goes down to the US and South Africa falls to Germany. Japan and North Korea go head to head at this stage for a historically overdetermined fight for a spot in the final four - Japan wins that one with style - and we end up with a quarter final of usual suspects - Japan, Germany, Brazil and the US. The US beats Japan in a tough but boring game in which the American defense shuts down an otherwise exciting squad. Brazil takes down Germany in a hard-fought game leading to the grudge match of all grudge matches - USA v Brazil.

"It Isn't Easy Being Green"

So tweeted a friend, riding a global wave of empathy for the England keeper, who made an elementary blunder in today's match against the US and, well, cost England the win. At least in the headlines.

It is said that drama requires conflict. On the pitch, said drama falls largely on the defense's shoulders. Attack, defend, counterattack. Without that middle term, it's just attack and score. This narrative structure means that defenders appear to stand in the way - their job is to ruin someone else's game. And when one thinks like this, one only sees the defense playing a negative role. The positive work of defense is largely invisible to those without the patience or desire to understand the game's dynamics - without an appreciation of the art, without an appreciation of defense as the first moment of attack, one sees it at best as a kind of aggressive passivity.  As if defenders were just in the way.

Today was a great day for considering these things.  

Nigeria faced a frightening Argentina squad and held them to a single goal - that goal was won in first ten minutes, before Nigeria's defenders had settled their nerves.  Once they steeled themselves, we got to appreciate especially Vincent Enyeama's performance - stealing one goal after another from none other than God's apprentice, Messi. Enyeama seemed to enjoy the challenge - perhaps he was not happy to see Messi so frequently, but he was eager to show the world what he is capable of.

And a few hours later, the world was talking about Tim Howard - he pulled out one great save after another, and, like his Nigerian counterpart, Howard radiated energy and focus - screaming at his back line to pull themselves together after England stole their goal from yet another jittery defense in the opening minutes of play.

We are all thinking, poor Green - yes, he fumbled the ball and cost the match. But we should also lament that with the likes of Rooney, Gerrard, and Lampard on attack, England put only one ball in the net in the third minute, and then failed to score in the subsequent 90 minutes of play. This will be said, but that collective failure will not register as neatly as Green's one terrible mistake because it can't be captured in a single image, condemned as a single mistake. Howard's marvelous performance is as deserving a candidate for the "cause" of England's failure to win that match as is Green's mistake.  It gave the US room to attack - time and time again Howard collected the ball where others cannot, retaining possession to change the game's direction. But as marvelous as it is, and as much as we are all talking about Howard right now, it won't be remembered as long, or dissected nearly so intensely as Green's fumble.

And that's the keeper's curse in a nutshell.

Friday, June 11, 2010

South Africa/Mexico: A Game of Nerve

There is not much for me to say about today's match: it has already been said, not even an hour after the match's conclusion. We even broke Twitter, twice the whole network seized up - too many of us telling each other all about it.

It was a game of two halves, and two nervous teams. Throughout the first act South Africa was afraid to attack, and the whole side seemed to play stopper. Mexico was the opposite - too quick to attack, too quick to strike, throwing away one great chance after another. Siphiwe Tshabalala's 55th minute screamer was made the instant South Africa connected as an attacking side - lightening quick and strong it caught El Tri's defense completely by surprise. Mexico's one goal was both quick and deliberate - Guardado found Márquez, who was miraculously alone. With the ball at his feet, the Barcelona center back put the ball neatly and deliberately past Khune (who had had a couple brilliant saves).

The game was a great introduction for newbies to the offside rule which can confuse even experienced players and journalists, especially on corners.  Apparently Martin Taylor, ESPN's play-by-play guy got it wrong when he accused the referee of making a mistake in waiving off a goal as Mexico's player was offside. Twitter went crazy, too as we all tried to figure it out. I thought the call was wrong myself until Univision put up their graphic marker for the offside line and I could see that, indeed, it was.

Corners are especially confusing because the player who directly receives the corner kick (the "first touch") can be in an offside position - Vela did not receive the ball from the corner kick itself, however, but from a teammate - which is why he is required to be behind the second-to-last defender. Normally the last defender is the goalie, but it is not necessarily the goalie. Here, the goalie Khune was the second-to-last defender, and Pienaar was on the line alone.  For a perfect explanation of all that stuff read Erin Bolen's breakdown for News-Leader.

I watched the game at a Oaxacan restaurant with several hundred Mexico fans. We were all feeling quite broken until one woman ran up to the front of the room with a Catholic saint candle (Virgen de Guadalupe?), and placed it in front of the screen. Márquez scored shortly after. Olé!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The "Great Hollywood Soccer Movie"

The Los Angeles Times just published a story under the headline Why Is there No Great Hollywood Soccer Movie?  The sport, says the article's author John Horn, has no Hoosiers, no Raging Bull.  He writes
When it comes to soccer, though, the sport's most memorable Hollywood movie probably has been Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Pelé's cheesy 1981 World War II drama "Victory" — only a marginally better treatment of the sport, in some detractors' view, than "Happy Gilmore" was for golf.
Horn ignores a lot of films and seems to accept that we all agree on the "Hollywood soccer movie" as something we want. First off - as far as Hollywood soccer movies go, Victory is totally worth watching. The cinematography is excellent, especially the game footage, and, well - it was directed by John Huston. It's not half bad. The comparison to Happy Gilmore is unfair. Happy Gilmore does not feature footage of one of the best athletes in any sport (Pelé) practicing his craft. Sure, it's cheesy - but so is Hoosiers. Few mainstream sports movies evade the cheesy (Lindsey Anderson's 1963 This Sporting Life does, and is worth watching - it stars Richard Harris as a troubled working class rugby player.)

Maybe by some standards soccer hasn't had a Hollywood treatment, but we do have Stephen Chow's 2004 Hong Kong comedy Shaolin Soccer. And we have the wonderful independent film Gracie (2007), a traditional sports narrative excepting that it is about a girl who wants to play soccer in the late 1970s, and has no option but to play on the boys team. Neither film is mentioned in this article - both are excellent and interesting. Looking for Eric and The Damn'd UTD are also great. But, no, they aren't "Hollywood".  Having just seen Clash of the Titans, Robin Hood, Prince of Persia and Sex and the City 2 - none of which are as good as Victory - I am not sure that is something we should lament. 

Most sports are hard to incorporate into a film. Boxing and martial arts are easier - convincing fight scenes can be choreographed and a fight makes for great cinema spectacle (which is why Shaolin Soccer works). Most sports films avoid showing extended play, and center the drama on the stories off the field (eg Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights).  If we care about a completed pass, or a botched free-throw, it's because we've been made to care about the character. In terms of watching sport (rather than a movie) such cinematic moments are never as satisfying or as complex as a game. You don't watch Jerry McGuire because you want to see a football game.
There are great soccer films out there which are not mentioned in this article. Take Jafar Panahi's Offside (2006) - about women masquerading as boys to watch a World Cup qualifier in Tehran. You don't see soccer in that film, but you see fandom - and because of this focus on passion and politics, it's one of the best soccer films ever made. (Jafar, arguably Iran's most important film-maker, was thankfully just released from prison.)

Horn mentions that Gurinder Chada, director of Bend it Like Beckham, struggled to get financing for her film - he implies that this was because the film is about soccer. Perhaps whatever difficulties she may have had finding backers had more to do with the fact that it is about women players in England (where the women's game was banned for 50 years) and because the original script had a lesbian love story in it. The actual soccer in Bend It Like Beckham is, by the way, kind of lame - but it doesn't matter. It was a huge hit.  Why doesn't Bend It Like Beckham count as soccer's Hoosiers? Because it is about women? (If Hollywood ignores soccer, it's because it ignores women and people of color. That's the story implied but not explored by this Los Angeles Times article.)

Many, like Ken Loach (director of Looking for Eric), assert that soccer demands an experimental eye - the sport is by definition hard to incorporate into traditional film narrative. I disagree - only because one can say this about a range of sports. That said, some of the best soccer films out there are experimental.

On July 6, Douglas Gordon and Phillipe Parreno's art house film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait will be screened at UCLA's Billy Wilder theater.  It will be the city's first public screening of this celebrated film - a total cinema experience, in which seventeen cameras track Zidane across a Real Madrid match. Mogwai did the soundtrack, and it's gorgeous (best on the big screen). It is, perhaps, the sport's Raging Bull. And, no, it isn't a Hollywood film. But then again, filmed in black and white and with its disturbingly blank approach to violence and relatively modest box office, neither was Raging Bull.

Letter to the City of Los Angeles on the eve of the World Cup

We are surely home to more fans of the beautiful game than any other U.S. city. And there is a serious campaign on behalf of a US bid to host the World Cup in 2018/2022.  Please correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I can tell Los Angeles has no plans whatsoever to host public projections of the morning matches.

Angelenos are going to local Mexican, Hondoran, Korean restaurants/cafés/bars, Anglo-pubs, etc. Those looking for outdoor projection - which is how a city watches the World Cup - are heading to the Plaza Mexico in Lynwood for Friday's opening match between host country South Africa and Mexico.  LAist reviews a few prime spots for watching the games.

But, Los Angeles - you've let us down. We very much want to watch these games with our fellow Angelenos, and we would most like to do so in public, especially for big matches like South Africa/Mexico and England/US.

Nokia Live? Doesn't that place have a host of outdoor screens? Why is there no plan for WC screenings in downtown LA - easily accessed by bus and train, and perfectly located for the tens of thousands of people working in the neighborhood, desperate to watch these matches in a good atmosphere? There is a viewing party at the Staples Center for South Korea/Greece's 4:30am game on June 12. It's free, too. But why not use the Nokia outdoor screens for other matches? I believe they were used to air Obama's inauguration, for example. Are there no parks, no city-owned spaces at which we can watch the games, and at which fans can be seen, watching en mass? 

Again, perhaps I have been misinformed, in which case I look forward to being corrected and sharing news of a city-sponsored public projection of the tournament's big matches. 


Left Wing
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