12 mars 2007

Cinematics: Sports and Cinema

First off, the excuses:
No Cinephile NYC this week due to time constraints placed on me by work. For those who don't know, I produce television at a network that covers college sports. The next few weeks are all-hands-on-deck in the college sports world, as the NCAA basketball tournament gets going. I feel really bad about this absence, as it's a little early to be copping out on this, but I promise it'll be back this week.

As far as the relationship between sports and cinema, there's a lot more in common than most film buffs think. First off, there's the primary reason I love film: its ability to tell us something about what it means to be human. But it's not as pretentious as all that - mostly, I just want to be moved. One of the other major ways/reasons to appreciate film is the formal artistry of the filmmaker, and how it creates a storytelling process for expressing that knowledge. Which is to say - how and why am I moved?

Andy Horbal's excellent post on the relationship between sports on TV, avant-garde film, pedagogy, and narrative (The Passion Of Patrick Sparks And Other Stories) speaks to how a television broadcast of a sporting event can serve as a window into the world of film studies for the novice. I suppose I'm trying to do the inverse here, hoping to convert self-designated aesthetes into armchair athletes.

In one of my comments on Andy's post, I referred to producing a sporting event for TV as "the art of documentary production in real time." Any sports telecast is constantly seeding storylines for later payoff; this is one way to keep the (non-sports fan) viewer involved. I also mentioned in the comments that after graduating from film school, I had to re-learn most of my storytelling strategies for television. In a film, you create your own rules and then keep to them; TV has a series of preestablished rules (not unlike Hollywood's 'intensified continuity') that approach storytelling as a formula to be executed. Like Hollywood cinema, however, there's a serious level of artistry involved in using these conventions to great effect. There's one major difference - in sports, everything happens live.

For a better understanding of artistry in the the sports telecast, read Andy's post. As you think about it, realize that a documentary needs to plan for a shoot and then react, but the pieces are put together in post. For a live game, though, all the assembly happens instantaneously. Without our set of rules, storytelling becomes too complex. Foregrounding form is antithetical to good game production, whose goal is to capture the game and the story of the game [sports television production shares much with the studio system].

Sports exemplify what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the decisive moment. Talent, expertise, and opportunity combine for one chance at something approaching immortality. Sports create moments that you remember forever, like the falling of the Berlin Wall or a row of tanks stopped by a single man. When you're lucky enough to see these things happen, they can change you. You can be part of a moment that stands still, one that lives forever.

The NCAA basketball tournament starts this week.

Bryce Drew
Christian Laettner
Northwestern State
George Mason

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