6 March 2006 | stephen_thanabalan_fans
Scores and celebrates an impossibly new beginning for Football/Soccer Films
Until recently in history, whenever the world of film and the world of football combined, the results had often been negligible. With the GOAL! trilogy, a new precedent has been set for not only the genre, but also for the global sport itself, in terms of its plausibility in film towards its millions of demanding fans worldwide.
What this film does on the base level is to authentically present the game in high quality realism on the silver screen. However, that alone does not lend the film its credo. What makes it stand as the definitive standard bearer for films of football (given how every other sport especially American ones have managed to succeed filmwise- Bull Durham, Space Jam, Mighty Ducks, Remembering the Titans, etc) is that it carries many thematic layers on its back, pushes the frontiers of the genre with depth in the storyline, and finally aces in delivering a film that merges drama with sport, hype and overall verisimilitude in all content elements.
Obviously, every critic knows that the methodology of such a delivery is that it requires realism, and in cinematography especially- exactly what the film provides, and as a result gives it that definitive edge. Soccer films have never been entirely authentic, due to factors as diverse as action mapping, as well as dramatic scope. Furthermore, fans of the sport knew that nothing in cinema could ever approximate the sheer unscriptable drama of the actual game. Until GOAL! came along. When FIFA commissioned and granted the rights for the film to Danny Cannon, the air of realism was set in motion already, because albeit being fictional, it carries the authority of the universal game as fans know it because of its simulated parallels- real clubs, real superstars like Zidane, Raul, Shearer, etc, and realities of the game's actual hierarchies and bureaucracies have been surmised- reserves, leagues, scouts, agents and pressures.
AG Salomon/Adidas may have pumped advertising dollar into this film for placement of their teams (Newcastle United, Real Madrid) and sponsored players for marketing, but in a sense, when the result is this authentic, can you blame the corporations for input? In fact, fans might even have to thank them for producing what can be the first high profile and quality football film on record. Just recall the maudlin world of football film until the recent revival of films of the genre, which incidentally mirror the revolution of football and its branding that began in the 1990s and the likes of superstars like Beckham. In recent years, this revival has seen film entries usher in on the commercial success of football, from 1996's 'Fever Pitch' to 2002's Bend it like Beckham, but never has a film about the game itself been done the way it has been done here, in such centrality.
In fact, the very dearth of such films is an understatement and may well be the fuel for the GOAL! trilogy's impending success. Even football legend PELE alluded to the paucity of football films- or at least those of the simple concept explaining structures of wealth, class and the disparities of rich and poor in congruence with football. The plot by Butchart and Jeffries in this film stands out because of this - featuring the barrios of S.America; the institution of organized football religion in England, and a rag to riches drama, where Becker's character combines innocence and disappointments with success and 'aspiracion' in true underdog fantasy. The script is far from genius but it has depth- genuine troughs (poverty, death, rejection) and hurdles- competition, adaption and temptation (the clubbing scenes were almost a revealingly accurate précis given footballers' reputations in Europe). In fact, perhaps the only inaccurate part was about how Becker signed without a work permit and contract given he had to have been playing in at least 70% of all matches with his International side. Nonetheless, the film manages at the same time to convey the global scale of this billion dollar world obsession with the fantasy without compromising the sheer magnitude, and challenges of it all. Throw in all the other elements ranging from romance with Anna Friel's pragmatic nurse character to the gamut of football archetypes (Nivola as the playboy with conscience, Iures as the stoic gaffer, Dillane as the gentlemanly scout, the mercenary agents, an even a Souness-like hardman), on top of the fact that footage of actual matches in England has been seamlessly edited in, and you can see why the film accounts for a thorough representation of the sport. Perhaps even most exciting of all, the film shows behind the scenes footage of the teams and stars- training, grounds, gyms, dressing rooms, city streets, pubs, Toon Geordies.
How many people remember a football film that was done this way? More often than not football films have been towed by comedy or played side appendage to broader issues. From Thorold Dickinson's Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) about crime, to biopics like Yesterday's Hero (1979), or Gregory's Girl (1981) about gender, or even Eran Riklis's Cup Final (1991) about the PLO in war, most films have broader issues. The rest survive on humour, Mike Bassett (2001), being the typical example. GOAL! scores and sets the precedent for the genre from now on. In fact, there has been a rush of football films since, well accounted for at Cannes or the Berlinale festival, and probably well into World Cup 2006.
Films at Cannes included 'The Longest Penalty in the World' and "Romeo and Juliet Get Married" - a strained marriage between a Barcelona fan and a Real Madrid fan while Berlinale had 'Offside' an Iranian film. The market for soccer films has always been there, its just a case of whether filmmakers could break the deadlock with quality and authenticity, and GOAL! could well be the catalyst for the floodgates to open.
By Stephen Thanabalan