Tuesday, October 10, 2006

John Cleese's View

DVD Review: John Cleese on The Art of Football From A to Z, Directed by Hermann Vaske, Studio Hamburg, 2006.

I've naively enquired before about books and videos about football. My regular bookshop, Avid Reader (an excellent shop incidentally) had two books about football (Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters, and Les Murray's By the Balls), both of which I bought (nearly finished the second). But yesterday I checked out the sports section in Borders, and discovered how expensive this obsession could actually be. It's got a great selection of books and videos, and I purchased The Art of Football as well as a book, Bill Murray's The World's Game - A History of Soccer. Next Monday I'm starting work in Archives Fine Books around the corner, so I hope I don't get into trouble for linking these others. Mind you, Archives is a massive and truly glorious second hand bookstore and is barely in competition with these others. It also has a good football section, which I will no doubt get around to browsing fully. Moving along...

I watched The Art of Football last night. It's not a must-see ok? But it is a lot of fun all the same, and the brilliant and snappy snippets of football footage throughout are worth the experience on their own.

John Cleese is not at his funniest, but I'm certain he didn't write the script. Probably the funniest section is 'M for Monte Python', where they replay a game from Monte Python's Flying Circus. But there was certainly a few other belly laughs.

There's something about this film that doesn't quite work for any particular audience. It would be a perfect introduction to football for kids, with the slapstick comedy and simple structure, yet would fail them with all the subtitled interviews. For a more sophisticated audience, the device of multiple, wide-ranging voices is challenging and interesting but the A to Z structure is a bit too forced and some of the humour is just... um... laughable.

There's my honest overall impression, but I need to get to the positives because they are many, and frankly if you're as tragic as me you'll want to see this movie anyway.

The interviews, with Platini, Henry, Ballack, Kaka, Pele, many other players, various artists, musicians and directors as well as politicians Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Henry Kissinger are beautifully spliced together for each section, to give not a viewpoint of the game, but a snapshot of the full controversy, about referees for example (T for trainer) or (O for) the Off-side rule. I have no complaints about the content itself - it's really exciting.

Two outstanding sections are 'W for Women' and 'X for Xenophobia'. The footage of women's games (and interviews with various female internationals - embarassingly I can't remember their names) is inspiring and appears to confirm my suspicions about the future of the woman's game. The xenophobia section is self-consciously a statement, powerful and unambiguous, with Thierry Henry featuring in particular.

There is some light hearted jibing at America. "The wonderful thing about football is how creative it is and this is why it's never caught on in America..." The reason I mention this is that apart from where Cleese specifically refers to some of the idiosyncracies of American football, most of the anti-American comments refer just as well to Australia. At least we're trying to get over the use of the word 'soccer'.

All up, despite my negative comments about the production qualities of the film, there is a lot of fun in The Art of Football, and plenty of good content to interest pretty much everyone. There's probably no need to buy it as I did. But if you like football, it's definitely worth a borrow on a quiet Saturday afternoon.




Anonymous Guido said...


the best football book for me is 'A season in Verona' by Tim Parks.

He follows Verona around Italy for a season and each chapter corresponds a match.

He joins the Verona supporters club, and gets really into the soul of a supporter.

I found this book fascinating because while he's British. He married and Italian woman and has lived in Italy for 25 years. Not only is a ripping football book, it's the best description of Italian society I have ever read from an English-speaking writer.

October 11, 2006 2:13 pm  
Blogger Hamish said...

Guido, thankyou. I appreciate this. I'll be looking out for A Season in Verona. Cheers.

October 11, 2006 2:27 pm  
Anonymous Djecker said...

If you haven't yet read it, Nick Hornby's 'Fever Pitch' is considered a classic by many in the field of football books, from a fan's viewpoint. Even as a ManU supporter, Hornby's brilliantly written journey from progressing as a kid supporting to Gunners through to their successes in '90's is a joy to read. Well worth it.

October 16, 2006 3:05 pm  
Blogger Hamish said...

Thanks Djecker. I'll keep an eye out for Fever Pitch.

I've been scouring second hand bookshops for A Season in Verona, to no success so far. The link Guido provided is certainly intriguing.

Thanks to both of you, and when I find and read either suggestion, I'll feed back a review.

October 17, 2006 7:55 am  

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