I recently watched five documentaries online, and all of them were about people who were incredibly shallow, selfish, and narcissistic. They were Broke, No Mas, Pumping Iron, To Be Takei, and The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology.
The first of the films was an ESPN 30 For 30 film called Broke, and this 2012 documentary on former professional athletes that went broke after squandering millions of dollars earned is on eof those films that, if one lacks self-control, could have someone tossing something at their tv set; or at least just cursing, and during this 77 minute film I felt like doing both, but I refrained.
Note the key word: refrain. This is key because it is something these pathetic athletes lack- discipline. Yes, at some point they worked hard and showed some sort of discipline because raw skill is simply not enough to allow one to become a professional in any endeavor, but, once there, and/or in their personal lives, these vainglorious jackasses deserved everything they got.
And it cuts across all spheres- there were black and white athletes, across all sports, across all eras. The camera zeroes in on these fools- some of whom were swindled, all of whom were greedy and stupid, some of whom were hedonistic and vain. But never is there an in to these men. Director Billy Corben’s film is as shallow as its subjects. Near the end he even relies on financial advisors to try and build a perfect stock portfolio for pro athletes, AS IF that is the problem they had. Nowhere does the film get into the unneeded adulation of people who have a raw talent for sports- an endeavor that, in the end, is just entertainment. No one will care about these exploits once these men are dead. 80 to 90 years ago the name Babe Ruth was almost as popular in America and other parts of the globe as Charlie Chaplin’s was. And, yet, today, few people under twenty will even know who Chaplin was, much less Ruth. Yet, they will know Dickens or Shakespeare or Mozart.
Sports is vanity writ large, and this bloated documentary unwittingly reinforces that reality. Worse, it does so in an incoherent style that makes no practical differentiation between these losers, whose names I won’t even bother to recount, because if you are reading this review in, say, 2065, you will have NEVER heard of a single one of these men. They will be as anonymous as the legions of garbagemen, stock clerks, and factory workers that shred their time on earth. The only difference is that these humans’ folly is now recorded for as long as films exist.
The second film was also a 30 For 30 film from ESPN but it was a little bit better. This 2013 film was simply called No Mas, ran for 77 minutes, as well, and was about the second Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran boxing match, of the 1980s, that ended with the then champion, Duran (who had beaten Leonard in their first fight for the welterweight championship) quitting midway through the match after being dominated and humiliated by Leonard.
The film chronicles the events of the film in a very straightforward style, and is fairly evenhanded, yet, oddly, many critics and viewers of the film felt that it favored Leonard’s point of view. Well, given that Duran did not want to participate for all but the finale of the film, then clearly lied about his reasons for quitting, even denying he said ‘No Mas!’, despite its being seen and recorded, this is hardly the fault of Leonard, who simply comes off as puzzled and feeling like he had his grand moment of redemption denied by the selfish act of Duran. And selfishness is the only word to call Duran, both then and now. Some complain that Duran’s explanation is muted, but we hear the gist- that it was Cosell’s fault, that he was fat and runk and on and on. The thing is muted only after it becomes clear that Duran has no intention of telling the truth, and likely only did the documentary because he probably blew his millions like the dumb athletes in the film before this one.
The best parts of this film come from the non-fighters. The vintage era footage, the allegations of a fix, and so forth, would have been far more elemental parts of the story to be pursued. The first fight, which Duran won, is given its treatment, but in the years of those fights, boxing’s criminal element was all the more prominent, and the allegations of Duran’s taking a dive should have gotten more exploration. Not that it alone would have provided the answers, but the film leaves too much on the table, narratively and journalistically, to get a whole hearted recommendation.
So, in the sense that the film does a poor job of getting to the root of why Duran quit and why the film fails to do basic journalism, many of the critics have it correct; but, as for the specifics and the idea that the film is slanted toward Leonard due to a personal bias, the charge is ludicrous. Regardless, the film is only for hardcore boxing fans. Laymen should pass on by.
The best of the sports based films I watched is actually not really a sports film, although it is often mislabeled one. 1977’s Pumping Iron documentary, following the mid-1970s emerging ‘sport’ of bodybuilding introduced, most famously, Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world, as Mr. Olympia. More s than his later leading role in The Terminator, this film featured all of the things that Arnold would become known for- the vanity, the ego, the shallowness, the drive, the appeal, and other things that led to being a film star, a politician, as well as a bad husband and father.
But this 85 minute film also did more, and addressed more than Schwarzenegger, although, in retrospect, few would know that. One gets to meet Franco Columbu- a smaller bodybuilder whose career would, eventually, outstrip even Schwarzenegger’s in terms of awards won. Then there is Lou Ferrigno- a larger man with a bit less definition than Arnold’s body, but who would later go on to play The Incredible Hulk on television. Despite deafness and a speech impediment, he comes off as a nicer and more interesting person, and the tales of his family and their support make for an interesting subplot.
But, other bodybuilders also get seen. One such is a balding blond ex-professional football player for the New York Jets, named Mike Katz, whom we see fails to finish in the top three during a 1975 competition. He talks about being picked on as a kid for being Jewish, for being poor, for being nerdy and four eyed, and how all of this drove him. Of all the people featured in the film, his tale cuts the closest to relatability, especially after his rise to pro football player, and its being cut short because of injuries.
But, of course, the star of the film is Arnold- by then a legend in the ‘sport’- whose only real activity comes not in competition but preparation. The actual contest consists of posing and staring by the audience and judges. Over the nearly four decades since the film’s release, the sport has only grown, and to the point that even Schwarzenegger would likely have a rough time competing. The he-men of yesteryear seem rather tame by comparison. One of the best portions of the film comes at the end, when Ferrigno’s family drives Arnold away, and the two men joke together, with Arnold claiming Lou’s mother will set him up with Lou’s sister. It’s one of the few real moments in a film all about flash and fakery, and makes it the best of the three films watched to this point.
Then came a bad film- a REALLY bad film, called To Be Takei, which follows the narcissistic life of Star Trek actor George Takei, who leveraged a small role as a bit player on the successful tv show into a career of being a celebrity, gay rights activist, producer of bad vanity projects- like a book on his life, this film, and a stage play about being in a Japanese internment camp, and, worst of all, subjecting the world to his wife (or husband?) Brad.
If George Takei is annoying and condescending, for the great luck of having starred in a long ago television show, despite little discernible acting skills displayed within, then his husband, Brad, is the ultimate celebrity hanger on. And, no, this has nothing to do with being gay, and everything to do with being vapid, and just trailing along the coattails of his equally vapid mate.
And, if this is not bad enough, we get 93 minutes of this dull, insipid, vapid garbage. Yes, we see Takei’s rise in Hollywood, from a small role in a Playhouse 90 live television broadcast from the 1950s, through a well known appearance in a Twilight Zone episode. Then we get Star Trek, and the pettiness that Takei, who played Lt. Sulu on the show, displays, is astounding. He disses the usual suspects (most notably actor William Shatner- who played Captain Kirk) but also takes pot shots at actors from the other Star Trek projects. Some may be deserved, but one has to parallax that these criticisms are coming from- George Takei! This is a man whose life seems to revolve around 4 things: his childhood internment as a Japanese-American citizen, his remanent fame as a Star Trek alumnus, his out and about homosexuality, and his catchphrase, ‘Oh my!’
That’s it. The sum total of a life is devolved down to this. And we could get all this in three minutes. The other 90 minutes are total bloat. We see Takei across the country, at conventions, jogging, at parades, signing autographs, and so on and so forth, and the film, and Takei, don’t seem to realize, he has had a VERY easy life compared to not only 99+% of the world, but an even higher percentage of actors, many of whom have credits and abilities that dwarf Takei’s, yet, because of the insanity of America’s obsession with celebrity, just didn’t happen to stumble into a minor role in what would become a successful media property. Period.
Is Takei (or even his annoying spouse) a bad guy? No, likely not, even if he is living proof that gays can be as annoying and dull as straight people. He is just inconsequential, and the only thing this archetypal vanity documentary does right is display that inconsequentiality unwittingly.
Then came the worst. The pits, the bottom of the- well, you know what. It’s hard to believe, sometimes, the level of garbage that is put out on film or spoof, but then I watched 2012’s The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology. At first, it seems that this 135 minute mess of a film might be a straight documentary about philosophy, for its main speaker is a supposed well known Eastern European philosopher named Slavoj Zizek, and he is supposedly taken seriously, even if people call him unorthodox. And, supposedly, this isn’t even his first film with director Sophie Fiennes (that was The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema), although I had no interest in even reading up on any earlier efforts after this mind numbingly dumb, stupidly presented, egocentric trip through the mind of an…. idiot.
There’s simply no other way to describe Zizek. He’s an idiot, who spouts banal apothegms that would have made him a natural for Oprah Winfrey to endorse a few years ago, and how she missed out on this fraud is amazing. But, I go on as if one is to take this mess of a mind and mess of a film seriously. But, I don’t think one should. If one takes it as a comedy film, as example, it’s bad, but not so staggeringly bad as if seen as a pretentious piece of pseudo-philosophy.
It’s a supposed lecture on all that’s wrong with human belief systems, but, after the usual stuff- that thinking for oneself is best, the film does nothing. All we do is get what amounts to skits, sketches, and comedic (well, would be comedic) scenes of Zizek doing this or that. He’s in a badly wrought bought on fake water. He’s at a dumpster talking garbage as a bum ambles by- or is it a garbageman? One cannot be sure and one does not care. People look at Zisek, they gawk. He’s lying on a bed, clearly not caught in a moment of realism, and he’s talking. But nothing is said, nothing registers.
Wait, that’s not so. What registers is Zizek’s ego, his astounding self-centeredness. More so than Takei or Schwarzenegger or Roberto Duran or Sugar Ray Leonard or the array of loser former athletes from the earlier films I reviewed, none can compare to this utterly superfluous and meaningless man. How can the director even stand to be around him? How can anyone? I could go into some of his points, but none of them are deep, and, frankly, just an hour or so after I finished the film, and started typing up this essay, not a single cogent point (of the three or four dart tosses that were successful) remains. At least not a one that I even feel like commenting on. And why should I? I mean, the condescending and faux naïf presentation of these banalities doesn’t even deserve comment beyond this- right here.
Is this a spoof? Maybe. Zizek is like a Noam Chomsky if he removed his finger from his ass and overdosed on something. But, I don’t care if it’s a spoof or not, as it fails on that and every other conceivable level- comedy, depth, cinematic appeal, etc. The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology is an abomination of a film, and the worst of a generally bad lot of documentaries about selfish people.
Overall, the only film of the lot worth watching is Pumping Iron, because, while the people seen there are selfish and narcissistic, at least they were captured ina time when documentaries had a bit of reality in them.
Comments are closed for this blog post