Monday, January 3, 2011

30 for 30: Boom or Bust?

Sports aren't as interesting to me as they once were. In the mid-90s, I played them, watched them, and obsessed over them. Boys my age growing up in Chicago were blessed. We had the Bulls, Frank Thomas, and later, Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood, Brian Urlacher. Something changed in me, though. Now, it's all about books, music, movies, and original programming on television. I don't make time for sports. Actually, Chicago summers are still exciting when you follow one of the most rewarding professional baseball franchises and get to root against one of the least rewarding franchises in all of sports. But I digress. 

An underrated genre, then, is sports nonfiction. In a sports documentary, or in a book like Black Planet by David Shields, I can rekindle my love for sports without having to actually watch sports. It's totally awesome. For their thirtieth anniversary as a television network, ESPN commissioned 30 documentaries from 30 notable filmmakers. The films are about athletes and events from the past 30 years in sports, and mostly, they are excellent.

I've seen approx. ten of the films (from snippets to full-lengthers). I'll briefly talk about three. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson was my first taste. Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams, is on some next-level shit when it comes to sports documentaries. In both No Crossover and Hoop Dreams, he examines race and community by unpacking events in the lives of talented young black athletes in white athletic institutions. Baller. 

Dan Klores's Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks makes use of hilarious talking heads to get at the frustration of New Yorkers over the NBAtitlelessness of their beloved Knicks.

The best of the bunch, Brett Morgen's June 17, 1994, weaves what Comcast's crackerjack TVguidetaggers call a 'tone-poem' about the titular day, a day in which OJ Simpson led the LAPD and the American public on an infamous car chase. Forget voice-over narration and talking heads; Morgen makes broad claims about American celebrity fixation and the palate-whetting of Americans for reality television by using only archival footage and text. He is masterful.

Thanks to ESPN for gambling on documentaries when they could have re-aired the ESPYs or Texas Hold 'Em. We're surrounded by sports, but we don't often try to make sense of what they mean to us. Hopefully, the Steve Bartman film leaves the cutting room floor. I'll be watching with the biggest bowl of popcorn and a grin that extends onto Waveland.

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