I love sports of all kinds and have tried my hand at many of them and watch as much sport as I can. I obviously love film too, so surely a film about sport has to be the stuff of dreams. Two of my favourite things combined should make for a perfect film, “should” being the important word here. There aren’t too many sporting films that really hit the mark or receive great accolades.. Some films involving sport are biographical, actually more then some, but there are those that are created from the imagination.
Boxing seems to be the sport that gains the most notice from the film studios and tends to pick up the awards. This I think is due to the massive characters in the ring, the drama that unfolds during a fight is perfect for film and the theatrics between boxers at the press conferences is sometimes bigger then the fight itself. We have films like Champion starring Kirk Douglas, Rocky starring Sylvester Stalone, Hurricane with Denzil Washington, Cinderella Man portrayed by Russell Crowe and The Fighter starring Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg. I have always enjoyed watching the Rocky films even though they became a bit too commercial as the film’s went on. Rocky is a brilliant film and the best of all six made over the last 30 years. It is the American dream devoid of the glamour and filled with blood, sweat and tears. There is a love story mixed in which is beautiful because it is real. The fights are brilliantly choreographed, with close camerawork adding to the brutality. Sylvester Stalone is the perfect Rocky because he is Rocky and no doubt wrote the script thinking of himself. Champion is very similar with a real hard edge to it without the bright lights and tinsel because back then boxing was an art, but it was also the vision of masculinity and brutality, especially outside the professional ranks. Robert Deniro gained sixty-two pounds to portray Jake Lamotta in Raging Bull, which has to go down as one of the greatest films of all time. I think boxing will be involved in film for years to come.
Athletics has also been played on the big screen a number of times, Chariots of fire being the most famous. I must confess I have never watched the film and can only talk of the famous soundtrack that many would recognise even if they had not seen the film. Let’s face it we have all run along in slow motion humming that tune as we pretend to cross the line. Steven Spielberg made the film Munich based on the tragedy at the Munich Olympics where many athletes died due to a terrorist attack, this down to the issues in Israel and Palestine. The famous record broken by Sir Roger Banister was also made into a film called The Four Minute Mile strangely enough. Jesse Owens a hero of sport and for black people at a time when Hitler ruled black people Inferior has also reached the big screen. Maybe one day Usaine Bolt will become a film star as well as the fastest man in the world.
American sports seem to be particularly well matched with Hollywood, no doubt because of the great show that is put on during games. The superbowl is massive in America and the show beforehand gives you an idea of how big it is. Can you imagine such a show before the FA cup final? I think the only wardrobe malfunction seen on FA cup final day was the Liverpool Suits in 1996. Blindside is a great film with big performances from its stars particularly Sandra Bullock who took away the Oscar for her role. Films like Any Given Sunday starring Al Pacino have critical acclaim as well as Jerry Maguire and Remember the Titans. I think everyone remembers “show me the money.” Baseball has also been created into film roll a number of times with films like Field of Dreams and A League of Their Own. Basketball seems to have missed out somewhat and I can only think of Space Jam as an example of a Hollywood film created from the basketball courts.
England is famous for inventing sports and then passing the sport around the world and watching as everyone becomes better then us. Football is the nation’s sport, but I can’t think of too many great films involving the game. Films like Escape to Victory, Fever Pitch, When Saturday Comes, Bend it like Beckham and Goal are the ones that come to mind. Bend it Like Beckham introduced us to Keira Knightly for the first time. Who’d of thought the Tom boy footballer would go onto have such a glamorous career mixing it up with the likes of Jonny Depp. Sadly I did really enjoy this film, which was both extremely British and Indian at the same time, emphasising both cultures stereotypes. Escape to Victory with its mix of actors and footballers proves to be an interesting watch as Bobby Moore makes Sly look like an amateur both on the pitch and on the screen. Even Pele gets in on the act while Michael Caine dons some shorts to get on the pitch. I think the football was worse then the acting, but it is still worth a watch.
Some English sports just wouldn’t transfer very well at all. Cricket for example would make for a very long drawn out film without any result at the end of it. Tennis has never really captured Hollywood either apart from the film Wimbledon. Rugby has made the screen from the South African perspective but the red rose has never quite encouraged a writer and director to create a hard hitting masterpiece. Invictus made the big screen because the rugby world cup in South Africa was not just sport, but the change in a nation moving on from a time of repression, violence and racism when apartheid had finally been destroyed and a new South Africa born. This shows that there is often more to sport then just kicking a ball around. Those that know the history of the Olympics will be well aware of how sport can be used.
Sport is a part of a countries culture and sports often produce exciting and historic moments that everyone can remember. Sometimes actions outside of the sport itself become newsworthy and therefore perfect for film. Sports promote those competing and participating and sometimes someone special comes along and performs unbelievable things, which become a directors dream. Sports can be political, involve crime, can test morals and the human spirit, can create drama and promote big and bold personalities. There can be amazing stories of people coming from nowhere and becoming sporting superstars. For some sport is more then a game it is a way of life and can often feel like life and death. There are tragedies, deaths as well as moral issues involved in sport. All these things make sports perfect for the big screen and make big Hollywood producers rub their hands with glee.