Avant-garde cinema and football are different sides of the same coin.

10 01 2013

And now for a long-winded lead up to a one liner………………

I was on a wikipedia safari (See point 17) this morning and I somehow ended up on the entry for the Werner Herzog film Aguirre, Wrath of God. I noticed an interesting paragraph in the entry;

“Herzog wrote the screenplay “in a frenzy”, and completed it in two and a half days. Much of the script was written during a 200-mile (320 km) bus trip with Herzog’s soccer team. His teammates got drunk after winning a game and one of them vomited on several pages of Herzog’s manuscript, which he immediately tossed out the window. Herzog claims he can’t remember all of the things that he wrote on these pages”

An avant-garde intellectual filmmaker that likes football, well I never! I wondered if other avant-garde directors loved football as well. I suspected that Wim Wenders, the director of the “Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty”, might like football and  I was right;

“Time is precious for Wim Wenders, Still, he likes to chat, about just about anything—about how painful it is that his soccer team Fortuna Düsseldorf is doing so badly….”

Rainer Werner Fassbinder  was another avant-gardist with a passion for football;

“This European Championship summer would certainly have been a source of great delight for Fassbinder, who was a passionate football fan, often following a long day of filming by playing in the team he founded, “FC Alexanderplatz,” in  what were sometimes hotly contested matches with his cast and crew.”

I’ve met the “avant-garde” on many occasions. I’ve lived in a house full of art students, I’ve been to “cool” club nights and asked disdainful people the wrong questions about music, I’ve had effete tossers in ironic clothes shoot lethal looks at me. The disparate groups of this “avant-garde” had two things in common;  a self-reverential air and a disdain for humanity’s “earthier”  pursuits. It was very refreshing to see that the German avant-garde had such passion for football but then I’d should have known that the German avant-garde wasn’t like the “avant-garde” I’ve experienced. I should have remembered Kraftwerk’s fascination with cycling. I should have remembered this synergy between football and the German avant-garde;

The German avant-garde weren’t the only avant-gardists that liked football, Jean-Luc Godard was another fan;

“It is a balmy afternoon and Jean-Luc Godard is sitting by a French swimming pool, smoking a cigar and talking football. His new film, Notre Musique, has just received its world premiere. Midway through it, there is a reference to the famous match at Wembley in November 1953 when Hungary (the “Magnificent Magyars”) defeated Billy Wright’s England 6-3. Reflecting on the match, Godard, a devoted football fan as a youngster, begins to tick off the names of the Hungarian players one by one. “Apart from the goalkeeper, I remember them all,” he says. There was Puskas (“the galloping major”), the right-half Bozsik (“the deputy”), Sandor (“the mad winger”), Kocsis (“the golden head”). Stanley Matthews, he adds, is the only English player who sticks in his mind.

Godard describes first watching the Hungarian team, which revolutionised world football, as being “a discovery, like modern painting.” Most of the Hungarian players, he points out, were from Honved, the “club of the army”. The country was under Soviet occupation. None the less, Puskas (an army officer) and his colleagues approached the game in a freewheeling, marvellously uninhibited style that contrasted with the regimentation of day-to-day life behind the Iron Curtain. The only team that has come close to Puskas’s Hungary, Godard adds, was Ajax of Amsterdam during the Cruyff era. “Everybody played in attack and defence – it was like free jazz.”

These attitudes are not confined to the continental avant-garde either; Ken Loach , Britain’s very own national treasure, is also a football fan;

“……….. Loach might be Britain’s greatest living director, but he admits he was somewhat overwhelmed at the idea of meeting Cantona: “I’m not in awe of anyone in the film business – we just work together, you know, but football is something else. Cantona is a genuinely inspirational figure to millions; he has this presence which is just so strong …..”

….At the heart of it (Looking for Eric) are two pieces of philosophy that Laverty and Loach were struck by when they spoke to Cantona in France. The first was Cantona’s assertion that his most memorable moment in football was not one of his own stunning goals, but instead a particular perfectly weighted flicked pass, made to set up Denis Irwin for a goal against Spurs in 1993, which made the full-back look like Ronaldinho. “You must trust your team-mates always,” Cantona said. The second was his insistence on a great footballer’s duty to provide an instinctive gift to his supporters in every match: “You cannot surprise the fans unless you surprise yourself.”…….

…..Appropriately enough, I found myself discussing some of these things with Loach in the bar of his own football club, Bath City, half an hour before the kick-off of a Blue Square South fixture against Bishop’s Stortford. Loach, 73 this month, is a reluctant interviewee, but he is happy to talk football. In one corner of the bar the Champions League is on the telly, but no one is watching. Instead, the die-hards are buying raffle tickets, grumbling about last week’s defeat, and debating City’s slim chances of making the play-offs. From time to time, as we talk, someone in a black-and-white home scarf wanders by and nods a greeting at Loach.

The quiet camaraderie and banter in the bar make many of his film’s points for him. “The Premier League may be all about big corporations these days,” he says, “but we wanted to tap into some of this” – he gestures around the room – “that old idea of a club being a group of people who band together in solidarity and friendship. That with football and their mates and their work people like Eric Bishop are not alone.”

Loach has been a serial monogamist when it comes to football clubs. As a kid, he watched Nuneaton Borough, his hometown team, with his dad, who was a season-ticket holder. “We’d get gates of 2,000 in what was the Birmingham Combination…” When he first moved to London he would go to Craven Cottage to see the great Fulham team of Johnny Haynes and George Cohen: “The pain used to be so exquisite; they would play so beautifully and lose. When we first moved to Bath in 1974 I felt at first I could not face that pain again, but Saturdays weren’t the same, so I started to come down here.”

The Loach of Cathy Come Home and Kes immediately found a story he could relate to: the club was in a struggle to save its ground from property developers, and a group of supporters including Loach raised £250,000 to buy the principal shareholder out. Bath City is now owned by a supporters’ trust.

The commitment, he suggests, with heartfelt resignation, is ongoing. “All clubs at this level live in hope, so they pay more to players than they have coming in – it’s an endless round of quiz nights to make up the gap.” Loach hosts the odd film evening where Robert Carlyle or Ricky Tomlinson might turn up as guests. Cantona will be appearing later this week for a special screening of the film.

Loach noticed that his idea of film-making had a lot in common with Cantona’s idea of football: “As a player Cantona judged himself on his risks, and I could relate to that. Football is very much like making films in that you have to live dangerously. Some directors do everything to storyboards; that is like a manager telling his players exactly what they have to do, preventing them from improvising or making their own decisions. There is something dead about that – it produces mechanical teams and mechanical films. We always want a sense of danger on the set.”

Other film directors also love football. Jacques Tati, the 46th best Director in the world, once made a film about a Basitia v PSV Eindhoven UEFA Cup match and sometime auteur Gerard Depardieu likes Auxerre and Goalkeepers ;

“The Chateauroux-born actor fulfilled the role of goalkeeper as a young boy, and has followed the ups and downs of Auxerre from the stands at Abbe-Deschamps Stadium with his friend and club chairman Gerard Bourgoin…………….

What made you play in goal?

The unique mentality that you get with goalkeepers fascinates me. He’s the last line of defence but also the one who relaunches attacks. I have fond memories of a keeper from my childhood, Francois Remetter, and I was a big fan of Fabien Barthez later in life. Gianluigi Buffon is also a great goalkeeper, because he provides his team with momentum, while reassuring his team-mates at the same time. But it’s a position that’s becoming increasingly difficult, as the game gets faster and balls fly through the air.”

It doesn’t stop there, Dickie Attenborough is Chelsea’s Life President and Harald Zwart is;

“……the co-director and producer of the first Long Flat Balls, a Norwegian film about soccer fans from the city of Fredrikstad, Norway…………………….His trademark is that he always adds props and items that represent Fredrikstad and the football club Fredrikstad F.K. in his movies.”

Of course football may interest directors because of it’s periodic fashionable pull….;

“On the road the Cosmos sold out every game (“like travelling with the Rolling Stones,” says the club’s travelling secretary Steve Marshall). In New York they were media darlings, idols of 77,000 fans (including Mick Jagger, Henry Kissinger, Robert Redford and Steven Spielberg) and virtual residents at Studio 54. In two years, they became an organisation with the cultural visibility no other arm of the Warner portfolio could boast. It mattered not that the club did not make a single cent in their 15-year history. The Cosmos had become the hottest ticket in town; Ross even had a seat belt installed in his spot in the upper tier, just in case he got overexcited and toppled over the edge.”

Just look at these photos of Andy Warhol and Robert Redford ;

Redford Cosmos


Talking of Henry Kissinger he was a director of sorts (he directed American foreign policy in the 1970s) and he loves football so much he owns a lifetime season ticket for Spvgg Greuther Furth.

It’s amazing how one’s life can be illuminated by a wikipedia safari. Before I found Aguirre; Wrath of God’s wikipedia entry I thought that the only connection between “avant-garde” and “football” was the following phrase;


Boom boom, I thank yow!!!!



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