a First of Many

For the inaugural entry, I have “reprinted” a post from my Livejournal. The majority of the posts in the near future will be about football since I spent over a year researching it for my thesis. There will be entries that cover other sports such as basketball, baseball, hockey, and dance. In fact, expect some musings on early baseball films and highlights in about a week.

One of the films I did not watch when writing my thesis was ESPN’s Code Breakers (Rod Holcomb, 2005) because it was made for television.

I watched it tonight and was immediately struck by the editing and camerawork in the game sequences. In many of the films I did watch for my thesis, there was consistently a sense of disorientation in the game scenes–mostly due to rapid cutting speed and close-ups. Spatial disorientation–not knowing where the players are on the field–was not as blatantly obvious. But in Code Breakers, there were many instances where i was trying to follow the action of the ball in conjunction with certain characters as presented via cinematography and editing, and it was challenging.

I had a similar reaction to the football sequences in Knute Rockne, All American (Lloyd Bacon, 1940) and Jim Thorpe, All American (Michael Curtiz, 1951). Formally, the sequences are not the same. In Code Breakers, the confusion resulted from shots that aren’t so seamlessly organized. It’s as if a certain amount of actual space or distance is compressed than should be given how much time elapsed between the action performed in shot A and the action in shot B. In Bacon and Curtiz’s films, though, I couldn’t always tell where the characters were because there were no yard lines on the field or not enough of the surrounding background is in the frame and thus, I can’t determine where the characters are on the field.

As I’m writing this thought, I’m realizing that I’m drawn to thinking about what the editing and cinematography does to the representation of the space and the human body moving through that space. I’m also interested in “why” the shots are selected in the way they are or whether or not there is some kind of aesthetic evolution–newsreel footage vs. filmed footage or black-and-white to color, or film vs. video vs. digital–and how they impact the film’s overall tone or theme.

That was a bit of a detour. Code Breakers is based on a book called Return to Glory: The Untold Story of Honor, Dishonor & Triumph at the United States Military Academy, 1950-53 by Bill McWilliams. Earl “Red” Blaik (Scott Glenn) is head coach at Army, and like any other football coach, is trying to maintain a winning team. The imperative to succeed on the field compels a group of football players to resort to unethical means to pass their classes. The Military Academy’s motto is “Duty, Honor, Country.” Cheating will not be tolerated.

As JWG remarks, A Return to Gloryis 3 books in one. It is the story of West Point’s tragic 1951 cheating scandal; Academy graduates in the Korean War, including a condensed version of the last battle for Pork Chop Hill; and the restoration of the Academy’s honor system and football program/team in the years immediately following the 1951 incident.

The film is a condensed enactment of one portion of the book, delving into the consequences of having a conscience. Code Breakers is a nice companion piece to Annapolis (Justin Lin, 2006), which is about the Naval Academy and a boxing tournament there called “The Brigades,” which is only second to the Army-Navy football game in tradition and spectacle.

The films are narratively and thematically different (Code Breakers is more about integrity of tradition and Annapolis is about identity and redemption, and is arguably more of a sports movie), but the way in which sport is incorporated achieves near identical ends. Football and boxing both discipline cadets into soldiers, turning boys into men. On this note, the documentaries that are part of the Code Breakers special features are fantastic. They are actually the reason why I started this post in the first place.

One of the documentaries talks about Army-Navy rivalry in a more general light. The second documentary follows the senior class of 2005 at the Military Academy. It begins with how their lives changed as a result of September 11 and the meaning of football for them. I got teary-eyed more than once, but especially when the seniors were in the locker room and they started crying because it was the last time they’d get to suit up and play football.

I also really want to watch an Army-Navy game now. I also want to read John Feinstein’s book on the rivarly. But i haven’t finished his Next Man Up book yet.

I found this clip on youtube that features two of the seniors in the documentary (the first part might have been extra footage that didnt make it into the final cut).

Promo for Code Breakers here.

Promo for Annapolis  here

I bought Annapolis because I like Jordana Brewster. I ended up liking the film a lot more than I thought I would–I also wrote about it for the boxing paper in the Masculinity & Violence class i took.

pics cred: amazon.com, yahoo movies

In the mean time, if you would like to see more of my thoughts on football and film, here are a few links:

Buying the Mythos

Football vs. Futbol

Head to Head: NFL vs. NHL sans uniforms and props

Defense, Offense, gloves and raquetball

Jerry Maguire

One thought on “a First of Many

  1. Pingback: Beat the Best: Doomsday Never Back Down « Sitting Pugs: Sports Movies

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