TUE STEEN MÜLLER convinced the editor-in-chief that football and documentaries have a lot in common!

Tue Steen Müller

Previous founder/editor of the DOX magazine.

 Here are some of his silly seasonal notes from the sofa in front of live doc primetime television.

Many documentarists are football fans and more skilled ‘connoisseurs’ than the average television viewers. Football is a reality show and documentarists are inspired by this game. Basically a documentary and a football match are seeking the goal: Something that goes on right now that you must orchestrate to make it interesting and/or stirring to watch. The cameras observe and look for the artistic elements. It is direct cinema with its rules, its dramaturgy, its heroes and villains, its weak and strong moments. As every good documentary it must appeal to the emotions and fascinate. Sometimes it’s dreamily passionate and nerve-racking, sometimes you get fed up or fall asleep. (At Euro2000 this was especially true whenever Norway and Sweden took the field – and were I not Danish, Denmark would have been on my boring-list as well).

This European Championship 2000 in football was excellent. Inspiration and fantasy won out over schematic and defensive tactics. The first real powerful, thought-provoking experience came when England played Portugal. Wow! England takes the lead 2-0 and Portugal beats them 3-2, because the English were restricted to a strict schematic narration. It’s all about strands and slots, in football too. All of David Beckham’s passes came from the right side of the pitch, in a precisely measured curve, like an EU-defined banana. And the tall guys like Tony Adams popped up for potential headers whenever there was a corner.

The Portuguese punished this traditional narrative structure, which, admittedly, has a high professional quality like any C4 or BBC documentary. The Portuguese players though – like their documentarists (see DOX#28) – go for the fresh and unconventional, sometimes anarchistic, but imaginative in any case. Figo, the melancholic playmaker, is all over the pitch, and more than anyone else, he confirms that today’s power lies with the storytellers. The players, the directors, the auteurs can only be stopped by the commissioners, who force them to conform to their idea of tactics.

Politics… Slovenia against Yugoslavia. Slovenia takes the lead 3-0, but at end of game it is 3-3. You sat there almost wishing for a 52-minute version of this game, because then Slovenia would have made it! The man who turned the game around was Yugoslavia’s player named Milosevic! After the game the Slovenian and the Yugoslavian coaches embraced each other. This beautiful moment was caught by a producer.

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The Latin touch: Romania against Portugal, two strong teams which were unable to make a good match because they are too similar. Any story needs a contrast, a conflict, these two teams wanted the same.

And a note on narration: I am fed up with football or documentary commentators who treat us like idiots, incessantly talking, yet saying nothing that we can’t see for ourselves.

Back to the personalities, the auteurs. Hagi, the tyrannical ‘créateur’ from Romania, plays against the Italians. His haircut is now identical to Beckham’s, who is back home with his Spice Girl. Did Hagi cut his hair to offend Beckham? Nemesis enters the scene and Hagi is expelled leaving his young team alone with the efficient Italians, who win 2-0 and can afford to have del Piero, another great ‘maestro’, sitting on the bench until the last 12 minutes. By the way, del Piero’s monthly salary equals three fully financed documentaries!

Like in European documentary today, ‘chapeau’ for the Dutch, who gave us a wonderful character-driven story. 6-1 over Yugoslavia. Kluivert scored four goals but the real star was Bergkamp, the modest playmaker who made the match very pleasant to watch because he knew that the ball never gets tired. His passes were superb, with the smoothness of a well-edited documentary.

More dramatic than smooth was France against Spain. You knew from the start that the French would win, but even so Barthez, the entertainer keeping the French goal, makes a penalty in the last minute to keep boredom at bay. Zidane and his world champion team-mates, most of them of non-French origin, have for two years now been telling the French about the fruits of multiculturalism more eloquently than hundreds of well meaning documentaries.

In the semi-finals the play grew more and more violent. The referees were constantly waving their yellow cards, and in both games, penalties were decisive. What was lacking in elegance and beauty was compensated by intensity and aggression. Between the matches, I watched Hugues Le Paige’s portrait of Jean Lacouture, who compares football to prose yet likens rugby to poetry. Though I tend to agree with him, it was pure ‘fado when my hero Figo took off his shirt and left the pitch in protest against the penalty that gave Zidane and the French a perfect and deserved score. No scriptwriter could have written this final scene better. This was direct cinema.

… and France and l’auteur Zihedine Zidane won the European championship. Good for the future of football.


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