Monday, May 16, 2011

Film Recommendation of the Week...

Hoop Dreams
Release date  October 14, 1994.
Running time 2 hours 50 minutes.

People say, 'When you make it to the NBA, don't forget about me.' I feel like telling them, 'Well, if I don't make it, make sure you don't forget about me.' "
-William Gates, in the final scene of "Hoop Dreams".

Anyone who is a basketball fan should watch this documentary, which, not surprisingly given the track record of giving bad films and bad actors accolades they don't deserve did not win the Academy Award for Best Documentary the ear of it's initial release. Not to get too far off the subject, but the snub it received from the Academy makes the whole process an absolute fraud. Here is an aspect of how films were considered for nomination as told by renown film critic Roger Ebert-"

"According to Roger Ebert, reliable sources said members of the Academy's documentary nomination committee had a system in which one would wave a flashlight on screen when they gave up on the film. When a majority of the lights flashed, the film was turned off. Hoop Dreams didn’t even make it to 20 minutes." 

Nice, huh? Despite all that, this film will go down as one of the best documentaries of the 20th Century. Initially, it was meant to be a 30-minute piece on some kids playing playground basketball, but it morphed into a five-year project that captured the lives of two young African American boys and their families in inner-city Chicago with a sensitivity and a disdain for the type of annoying and condescending platitudes that is the hallmark of lesser works that deal with this subject. Here is another quote from the "Hoop Dreams" Wiki page-

"The film raises a number of issues concerning race, class, economic division, education and values in contemporary America. It also offers one of the most intimate views of inner-city life to be captured on film. Yet it is also the human story of two young men, their two families and their community, and the joys and struggles they live through over a period of five years."

The scenarios portrayed in this film are still being played out in every inner-city in the country. Absolutely nothing has changed, except the money and exposure has pushed the recruiting of these kids well past the point of it being a system that is healthy for anyone involved. It turns basketball coaches into whoremongers and poor, desperate families into hapless saps who will believe anyone willing to take a gamble on their kid (for a price, of course).

Sadly, both Arthur Agee and William Gates suffered tragedies years after filming had stopped. Arthur's father, a man featured in the film who struggled with the usual litany of ghetto issues, was gunned down in 2004 on the streets of Chicago. Gates' brother Curtis, portrayed prominently in the film, was also murdered in 2001.

One of the most funniest cats in the film is Saint Joseph's High School basketball coach Gene Pingatore. What a character this guy is. He popped up a few years ago in Sebastian Telfair's documentary "Into The Fire", still living in the past and still talking about Isaiah Thomas, the most famous player he ever coached.

He comes across as a typical white, suburban basketball coach who is out of touch with the ghetto kids he looks for to help him win basketball games. He means well, he just doesn't speak the language and isn't very empathetic. He is an anachronism very much like Chuck Taylors and skimpy, tight-assed shorts. One of the most pathetic scenes involving Pingatore was when he approaches Agee years after he was asked to leave Saint Joe's and tells him with a straight face "I could have used you this year". What a prick. But then again, I expected nothing less from him, knowing his type.

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